Archive for Monday, March 31, 2003

Jayhawks return to roost

Thousands stay up to greet KU’s finest

March 31, 2003


They waived signs praising "Amazing Graves" and "Captain Kirk," chanted the Rock Chalk, cheered and gave each other high fives for nearly three hours until their heroes arrived.

Then, at 3:50 a.m. Sunday, more than 5,000 fans inside Allen Fieldhouse decided to get really loud.

The fieldhouse erupted when Kansas University's men's basketball team walked in after the long trip back from Anaheim, Calif., where a few hours earlier head coach Roy Williams and company had put away the troublesome Arizona Wildcats, 78-75, to boost themselves into next weekend's NCAA Final Four in New Orleans.

"Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison -- if only one of those players is on, we've got the game," said Frank Randles, 26, Topeka, summing up the Jayhawks' performance against Duke and then Arizona.

"Give (Jeff) Graves a lot of credit," said Dan Burgess, 25, Topeka, who was sitting nearby.

Shortly after the fieldhouse doors were opened at 1 a.m., Jerry Bolton, 61, rural Lawrence, was one of the first few hundred fans to get inside and grab a seat.

"I told my wife, win, lose or draw I was coming here," Bolton said. "This is my team. This team, like all of coach Williams' teams, does it with class. They are a great bunch of guys."

Also among the first to arrive were KU freshmen Jenna Stainbrook, Overland Park, and Jessica Seel, Topeka. Earlier, they had watched the game on television with several other friends.

"There was a lot of screaming," Stainbrook said. "We would be here even if we lost."

"It's been real exciting," Seel said.

Karen Schraeder, a KU sophomore from Hutchinson, and Caitlin McKeown, a freshman from Barrington, Ill., made their way to the fieldhouse after celebrating with hundreds of other students along Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Wescoe Hall.

"I got very intense, but Hinrich played a lot better," Schraeder said, of watching the game. "I was worried we were getting into foul trouble."

Lawrence Mayor Sue Hack also showed up to welcome the Jayhawks home.

"This is just what makes Lawrence such a special place," Hack said, as she looked around at the crowd. "This is so much fun. These are typical KU basketball fans. We're all a little crazy."

Ashley Coffman, 13, Eudora, held up a sign saying "I love Nick," with the drawing of a heart substituting for the word "love." Next to her, Kristina Krones, 15, Lawrence, held up a banner displaying a large red "K" on a blue and white background.

"I've always favored the big guy in the middle," Kristina said. "He (Collison) is an excellent player."

Ashley agreed. "He's probably our favorite player besides Wayne Simien," she said.

Scott Lamb, 8, Lawrence, held up a sign that said "Jayhawks love crayfish," a reference to the upcoming trip to Bayou country. Scott admitted being nervous while watching the game against Arizona, but he specifically remembered when he was pretty sure KU was going to win.

"It was at 9.7 seconds," he said.

Recent talk of the possibility Williams might be wooed from Jayhawk land by UCLA or North Carolina was uppermost in the minds of some fans, including Stan Gatton, 53, Kansas City, Kan.

"I drove all the way over here to support Roy and his boys," Gatton said. "If Roy leaves, then (athletic director) Al Bohl and (Chancellor Robert) Hemenway better leave, too. This is Roy's team."

"Roy and his boys" took center court after arriving at the fieldhouse. Speaking over the public address system, Collison, Hinrich and Williams thanked the crowd for coming out.

"Hopefully we'll be back here next week to celebrate two more victories," Collison said.

"We'll do everything within our power to get the job done," Hinrich said.

Williams noted that prior to the Arizona game he had talked to his players about dreams and being successful.

"Success comes to people who have dreams," Williams recalled telling his team. "I know you have dreams. Let's do everything we can to make sure you can have these dreams become reality."

Dakota Mills, 6, Salina, who was at the fieldhouse along with her mother, Cari Diederich and stepfather Justin Diederich, saw one of her dreams come true.

Given the microphone by public address announcer Howard Hill, Dakota stood courtside and expressed her fondness for Hinrich. She then walked onto the court to meet him. A smiling Hinrich met her halfway, then bent down and gave her a big hug.

"If I would not have been able to go out there, I wouldn't have lived the dream of my life," Dakota said afterward.

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