There’s a lot of sweat — and little payoff at the time — for Kansas University’s basketball players, who work on their bodies and their individual skill-sets during the months of April, May, June, July, August, September and early October.
“The momentum never stops really,” KU senior guard Elijah Johnson said of the period of time following KU’s last game — a national title loss to Kentucky on April 2 — and today, date of the 28th annual Late Night in the Phog.
“Guys are putting in the hard work and they don’t know why. Now they get to see (why),” Johnson added.
Today’s season-opening Late Night, set for a 6:30 p.m. start in Allen Fieldhouse, is generally regarded as the single greatest recruiting tool of the school year — a way to show high school and/or junior college prospects a good time in front of 16,300 adoring Jayhawk fans.
Late Night is something else, as well: It’s a reward for the current players for their efforts to improve in the offseason.
“My favorite part,” Johnson said of Late Night, “is being in the tunnel before we come out — just the suspense. Getting to see the (highlight) video for the first time ... the freshmen and everybody being excited for it. You can’t wait to get out there. That’s the best part.”
Doors for Late Night swing open at 5:30 p.m. today with the actual program running from 6:30 until approximately 9:30 Admission is free.
“My favorite part is just being out there in front of all the fans again, being able to play and just knowing we’re that much closer to the season,” said fifth-year senior Travis Releford, a native of Kansas City, Mo.
“I’ve been going to Late Night since my freshman year of high school. That’d be nine Late Nights. They’re always a lot of fun,” he added.
It’s a nice way for KU’s freshmen to become acclimated to the atmosphere of the fieldhouse.
“All the years before I got here I got the chance to come up here and see how it is. It’s a great experience,” said forward Perry Ellis, a freshman from Wichita. “Now I get a chance to be in it. I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting, the venue, all the people. It’s cool.”
Andrew White III, a freshman from Chester, Va., said Late Night, “means a lot to me and the team because you know it’s ‘season time.’ I know I’ve heard we have to dance a little bit. That won’t be too good for me, but I’m going to have fun with it,” he added of the annual skits and dancing. “I look forward to the scrimmage (to conclude Late Night), seeing all the fans. I also have about four family members that are flying in. It should be a great experience, a great way to get the season started.”
The players annually get a kick out of the dancing, which is a way to show off their personalities.
“I am just prepared to show people what they are planning to see out of me,” said freshman guard Rio Adams of Seattle. “Of course it’ll be exciting, definitely a show.”
“It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait,” said Plano, Texas, freshman forward Zach Peters.
KU coach Bill Self is hoping his 10th Late Night is KU’s finest. Though he cautions to not expect too much out of the annual scrimmage.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I do believe this, though, we are not very good right now. I don’t know many teams that are, but we’re not. I think we have a chance to be good. I think fans should be excited, because it’s their new group coming in. Of course Ben (McLemore) and Jamari (Traylor) had to sit out last year. Throw in the other six or seven new guys we’ve got ... it is kind of an exciting deal. The unknown ... I love the unknown, trying to fix it, mold it, shape it the way you think would give you the best chance. I like the process. Hopefully the fans will enjoy the process as well.”
As far as Late Night ... he’s a big fan. “It’s a celebration to start the season. At KU it works and works well. It’s kind of become a ritual with us. People take pride in it. It’s certainly one of the most fun nights of the year for us,” Self said.