Imagine being a 10- or 12-year-old child and playing for a national basketball championship on the famed floor of Allen Fieldhouse.
Talk about your hoop dreams.
But a couple of recent news items make us wonder whether such an idea has to be confined to the imagination. First, was a Journal-World article about Lawrence being chosen as the host city for this year’s U.S. Specialty Sports Association’s Winter National Basketball Tournament. The three-day event in March is expected to attract about 4,500 participants to Lawrence from all over the country. For Lawrence merchants, the event ought to be prettier than a perfectly timed alley-oop.
The second item was the hiring of Sheahon Zenger as Kansas University’s next athletic director. Zenger’s connection to Lawrence — for a time he lived a few blocks away from the fieldhouse — has created considerable enthusiasm. Zenger is not a man who has to imagine the excitement that Allen Fieldhouse can create for a sports-loving child. He’s experienced it.
All this may create a significant opportunity for Lawrence. What if the community and KU Athletics could come together on a plan to open Allen Fieldhouse for one week out of the year to host championship games for the premiere youth basketball tournament in America? How many families from across the country would travel to Lawrence if they thought their son or daughter had a chance to play in one of basketball’s most historic venues? How much would that add to Lawrence’s economy and reputation? Could Lawrence land itself on national television for a week like Williamsport, Pa., does for the Little League World Series?
It would be fun to find out.
Lawrence has the chance to excel in many economic endeavors. We’re a fine university community, well situated, with talented and hard-working residents.
We’re also basketball crazy.
Lawrence truly has the potential to be known as the Basketball Capital of America. Excitement is building over the possibility that Dr. Naismith’s original rules of basketball will be coming home to KU. Those rules, perhaps housed in a new facility worthy of such an important piece of history, could be a cornerstone for the Basketball Capital title. A youth basketball tournament that crowns a true national champion at the center court of Allen Fieldhouse could be another.
If we’re serious about such an effort, there will be much to build: a marketing effort, a team of volunteers, a bank account, adequate housing, etc. But, of course, what does not need to be built is the venue. Allen Fieldhouse is the Fenway Park of college basketball. It’s the Lambeau Field. It’s the Boston Garden. Its history lies not in its lobby displays but in the fact it is the place where history-makers actually displayed their talents.
Here in Lawrence, we know all of this. The really good news is that many people across the country know it too. We don’t have to build that. We just have to open its front door a little wider.