A Wednesday afternoon tour of renovated Allen Fieldhouse begins fittingly outside the northwest tunnel of the 54-year-old building.
It’s the tunnel the Jayhawks sprint through — as they enter and exit James Naismith Court — each and every basketball practice and game.
On the top of the tunnel — perhaps to daily remind the Jayhawks what they’re playing for — is signage that says, “National Champions 1922, 1923, 1952, 1988, 2008.”
There are inspirational messages over the other three lower-level tunnels: “Hail to Ole KU” in the northeast corner; “Rock Chalk Jayhawk ... KU” in the southwest corner as well as “Pay Heed All Who Enter, Beware of the Phog” in the southeast corner.
Back to the area around the northwest tunnel, however, where a huge collage now adorns the wall where the fans line up to gather the players’ autographs after games.
There are renderings of KU coach Bill Self hoisting the net after the Jayhawks’ 2008 national title victory over Memphis, center Sasha Kaun and Co., holding up the NCAA title trophy as well as a plethora of other shots including Danny Manning and Larry Brown hugging after claiming the ’88 crown.
There are two corridors heading from the northwest to southwest part of the building — one open to the public, the other closed to all but players and coaches.
A new basketball history hallway — available for all fans to pass through — features men’s and women’s timelines chronicling the best players in KU history, including, of course, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning and Lynette Woodard.
The other corridor — which takes the punching in of a code to enter — leads to the bulk of the $7.8 million improvements made to the fieldhouse since last April 4.
They include brand new locker rooms, coaches’ locker rooms, training rooms, film rooms and lounges for both the men’s and women’s teams as well as a shared dining hall where teams will feast on their pre-game meals and meals before departing on road trips.
There’s also a shared cardio room where players and coaches can work the treadmill while watching TV at the same time.
“Cool,” is one word KU men’s coach Bill Self used to describe the extensive renovations.
“First-class” is another uttered by women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson.
Henrickson, in fact, opened her Media Day session Wednesday by gushing about the fieldhouse improvements.
“I think I’m going to move into the locker room,” she said with a smile. “You walk in there and there’s a feel of ‘first-class.’ I remember what Ritch Price (KU baseball coach) said after moving into their new clubhouse for the first time. There’s a difference, a change in attitude, feeling first-class, like a championship team.”
Both the men’s and women’s locker rooms feature huge wooden stalls for each player with four shelves.
Above the names of the men’s players are the numerals “1922, 23, 52, 88, 08” and the words “Are you next?”
Scripted on the wall just outside that locker room is the message, “Respect those who played before you. We are Kansas basketball.”
Above the names of the women’s players are the words: “Together we’re better: Big 12 champs.”
“That locker room is the nicest I’ve ever been in,” KU senior Sade Morris said. “The lounge is beautiful,” she added of a mammoth room with huge leather couches and several televisions. “We can all watch what we want,” she added.
“It’s amazing what they (administration) have done for us. People (recruits) will walk in the locker room and say, ‘Wow, I want to go there.’’’
A luxurious donor atrium — where boosters will be able to eat and drink (yes, alcoholic beverages are allowed) before games, at halftime, and after games — is located on the level right above the locker rooms.
A huge shot of Mario Chalmers’ three-point shot that sent the ‘08 title game into overtime is plastered on the south entrance wall and old shots of campus and the fieldhouse on the north end.
Donors have a perfect view of the new men’s and women’s hoops practice facility from all parts in the atrium.
“The practice facility is connected by Horejsi Center on the south, Wagnon (Student Athlete Center) on the north and the donor atrium on the east side,” KU assistant athletic director Brad Nachtigal said, in describing where the men’s and women’s practice gym sits. “It’s squeezed between the three buildings basically.”
KU hasn’t ignored the east side of the fieldhouse. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics has been expanded.
“We’ve added more interactive elements we think the fans will love,” KU associate AD Jim Marchiony said.
Indeed there is an area where fans can actually sit in front of a microphone and make their own broadcast recording of Chalmers’ big shot versus Memphis. There also are displays where fans can check their height, wingspan and vertical jumps and a new display featuring the title trophies and plaques of KU’s five national title teams.
“We knocked out a wall and pushed everything back. There’s more space for the fans to move around,” Marchiony said of the Hall.
Fieldhouse renovations also include new a new visitors locker room in the southeast corner and refs’ locker room on the donor atrium level, wider concourses on the first and second floors, new concessions, restroom improvements and installation of terrazzo floors throughout the building. Also, there’s a bridge connecting the parking garage to the fieldhouse on the north end.
“Fans won’t see much change inside,” KU coach Self said, noting the fieldhouse floor, seats and scoreboards have not changed a bit. “The building will still have the same feel, but we will see amenities that are second to none. I don’t know how many places could encompass the history, tradition and feel and still have all the modern amenities surrounding it.
“This is a big-time deal,” Self added. “What they did is put this building in position to be here another 50 years. It’s now maybe the coolest place in the country, a building second to none.”