“There’s no better place to coach, there’s no better place to go to school, there’s no better place to play.”
Those words about Allen Fieldhouse, uttered by former Kansas University basketball coach Larry Brown, have given goosebumps to thousands of Jayhawk fans.
Aside from providing one of the biggest home-court advantages in the country, KU’s gym plays another role that, at times, flies under the radar.
“One of the things that is a great (recruiting tool) for us is being able to take (recruits) to a basketball game,” said KU football coach Turner Gill last week on signing day, when he revealed the 34th-ranked class in the country. “People that have (seen) really good basketball programs go into this arena and say there’s nothing like it.”
Some prospects come to Lawrence thinking only of football and luck out that the Jayhawks are in town. Others, such as newly signed quarterback Michael Cummings, arrange their official visits around big games.
Cummings, a 6-foot-1, dual-threat prospect from Killeen, Texas, committed last June, but put off taking his visit until KU played Kansas State on Jan. 29. The Jayhawks drubbed the Wildcats that day. ESPN’s “College Gameday” was in town, and the atmosphere, from sun-up to sun-down, was classic Allen Fieldhouse.
KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self knows how important his program is to KU’s other athletic teams. He likes that. Gill likes it, too.
“That’s one thing that gives us a major plus, going to a basketball game,” Gill said. “A lot of people who see that say they’re going to make sure that passion carries over to the football program.”
This is not a one-way street. While Gill reaps the benefits of being able to parade recruit after recruit into one of college basketball’s elite arenas, Self desires the same for his program.
“Football plays a huge role with us,” Self said. “Kids want to go where there’s atmosphere. Sometimes kids visit places and get emotional and commit right there just because the football team won that night or they stormed the field. So, certainly, having a full Memorial Stadium is just as important for us as it is for their kids coming in.”
Self continued: “I hope that we play a role when recruits come to town.”
This you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours philosophy is rare. Too often, coaches want too badly for their sport to be top dog. Not at Kansas. Basketball is king here. It always has been and always will be. Although it may seem like a no-brainer for coaches — especially those with high profiles — to want to help other athletic programs at their universities, it doesn’t always work that way. Ego, greed and a number of other factors can get in the way. The fact that the basketball coach at Kansas realizes football’s place in the big picture benefits everybody.
That might not have brought Gill to Lawrence. But it might play a big role in making him want to stay forever.
“All the people involved, from basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, and (their) staffs keep us engaged with our student-athletes coming in here and us doing the same for them. It helps all of us,” Gill said. “We have a tremendous amount of coaches and staff here who want to help us.”