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Adjustment to Lawrence should be cake for new KU AD Sheahon Zenger
After spending three days in Normal, Illinois, I’ve come to the conclusion that Sheahon Zenger is not going to need much time at all to adjust to his new surroundings in Lawrence.
For one, Zenger’s a Kansan by birth and figures to feel right at home at KU. In addition, Zenger’s coming from a place that reminds me an awful lot of Lawrence, right down to some of the some of the craziest and quirkiest coincidences.
Look no farther than an Uptown Normal apparel store known as “Campustown Supply” for proof. Shortly after meeting with Illinois State University men’s basketball coach Tim Jankovich (a former Jayhawk) and ISU’s interim AD, Larry Lyons, I strolled the streets around ISU’s campus to soak up the feel of where Zenger is coming from.
Called into Campustown Supply by the hypnotic effect of the vibrant red clothing lining the store’s window, I walked in and was astonished by what I saw. There, in the front of the store, on the very first rack I saw was a red shirt that red, “Buck Fradley.” Apparently that whole “Muck Fizzou” thing isn’t the only clever creation of its kind.
Bradley, as far as I can tell, is ISU’s chief rival and the one game a year that the fans here get geared up for in every sport, every season. But my random encounter with an awesome T-Shirt was not the only thing that reminded me of Lawrence, and KU, while I was in Normal.
Like Kansas, Illinois State also has a historic-looking fieldhouse on campus. This one, named Horton Field House, was home to the ISU basketball programs for years and reminds me a lot of K-State’s Ahearn Field House or the old Hoch Auditorium. It’s similar to Allen Fieldhouse, too, although far smaller and no longer functioning as a basketball facility.
Too bad, too. Horton was home to some of ISU’s most memorable games, including several played by ISU alum Doug Collins, a former NBA player and coach who is honored here with his jersey hanging in the rafters and a statue outside of the north entrance to Redbird Arena.
The people here go crazy for Collins, and one ISU athletic department staffer told me that dozens of ISU alums claim to have been (1) best friends and/or (2) roommates with Collins during their college days.
I met the real thing in the form of ISU alum, Don Franke, a local developer who is one of the school’s biggest backers and biggest fans. Great guy. Great family.
I had no idea what to expect when I came up here Monday. Everyone I told about my trip said I should expect next to nothing. Maybe they were here too long ago to remember or maybe they’re guilty of what so many others around here are — taking this town for granted. The Normal I encountered was a charming
Because I have next to no shot of getting all of my great experiences into my Sunday story (look for that one on the front page of Sunday’s Journal-World), I’ll wrap up this blog with a few quick-hitters that stood out during my stay in a town that I’ll always remember fondly.
Best story I heard: This one was easy and it came from Franke, who was answering my question about whether Sheahon Zenger was “tough enough” to tackle the job at Kansas.
“At a basketball game two years ago, I looked a couple aisles over and saw Sheahon squatted down talking to the president of ISU, Al Bowman,” Franke said. “Sheahon’s easy to pick out in a crowd, he’s got that blue suit on, that red tie, white shirt, dark hair. I noticed the usher had come down and said something to him and then walked back up to the top. About two minutes later the usher came down and said something to him again. I didn’t know what was going on.
Halftime came a couple minutes later and I walked over to Sheahon and said, ‘You better get a stronger drink than that Sierra Mist you have,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m so frickin’ mad right now I can’t see straight.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ That usher came down there and told him he had to find a seat. So Sheahon said OK. When the usher came down again, he said, ‘Sir, I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to find a seat.’ At that point, Sheahon showed him his badge. A couple minutes later he came down and said, ‘I’m gonna remove you from here,’ or whatever words were said, and then halftime came.
Well, that guy was gone at halftime and they brought a new usher in for the second half. I’d never seen that side of Sheahon. He used to be a football coach, you know. So he can be tough.”
Best place I ate: With all due respect to the legendary, Pub II, a college bar and grill just off the ISU campus, the nod here goes to Destihl, a local brew house with excellent food, outstanding beer and exceptional service. Read more about it in my Day 2 blog.
Best surprise: It has to be the fact that I couldn’t find a single person — and I talked to dozens — who would say so much as a luke-warm thing about Zenger. The people here love him and they always will. I’m sure it was tough for him to leave this place, but I think someday very soon Kansas fans will be glad that he did.
If it’s not that, it’s Redbird Arena. What a cool place. Don’t get me wrong, it can’t hold a candle to Allen Fieldhouse, but for what it is and for the size of school it serves, it’s a pretty neat venue.
Best thing I did: My visit with Jankovich was pretty cool. We talked a lot about KU hoops and mutual friends and I thought it was really cool to see how much he still cares about Kansas. To be fair, though, I enjoyed every single person I interviewed and/or interacted with. Everybody was beyond friendly.
Worst thing I did: Monday night, after pulling into town after a foggy and wet drive, I cruised around a little to get my bearings for the next day. As I was driving around, I found myself facing the wrong way on College Avenue.
It didn’t take me long to figure it out — thanks to the guy who flashed his brights to alert me — and, luckily, it was late enough that there wasn’t much traffic. Seriously, though, why are there so many one-way roads in Normal?