The first player I remember lighting up Allen Fieldhouse was a forward. He played a major role for Roy Williams’ final Jayhawk team in 2003. He took a pass on a fast break, elevated, and dunked with a force strong enough to elevate a stadium of 16,000 to their feet in less than a second, a force I’ve come to know well. I was eight years old, and he became the guy who embodied the electricity and power of Kansas Basketball to me going forward.
His name was Bryant Nash.
Bryant Nash, as I’ve come to realize, was a role player who averaged 2.9 points per game that season. He never started more than two games in a season and once Bill Self took over, his time on the court significantly diminished. I recognized the stars of that season – Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, Wayne Simien – but for the one game when I was in the stadium, Bryant Nash dunked twice. I’d never seen anyone do that in person before.
I may have just witnessed my final men’s basketball game in the Fieldhouse (and, yes, it’s “The Fieldhouse” to me. I know there are other Fieldhouses. This is mine). Definitely my final game as a student. Even if I come back in a few years to see another, it’ll never be the same. The Jayhawks will never feel like my team again. I’ll never be a part of this particular student body, watching this rotation of eight players – the point guard who never leaves the floor, the Ukranian shooting guard whose arrival I read about in a tweet during my Freshman year, the Nigerian center I’ve watched physically dominate men a foot taller than myself – I’m never going to be a part of that again.
Several times on February 26th, I looked around at the students and spectators, seated or standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, and I recognized that I’d never feel this again. Not for a game like this. The way that I’ve experienced basketball, the way that I’ve known the Jayhawks since those first games in 2003, has been through specific plays and memories in the Fieldhouse. Most of those names in the rafters have their own moments-
Mario Chalmers I remember not just as the guy who hit the shot, but the guy who blew my mind as a ten year old when he dunked on a fast break. He seemed too small to elevate like that.
Brandon Rush blocked Oklahoma’s last shot on Valentine’s Day in 2006, cementing a fifteen point comeback, in probably still my favorite Fieldhouse game ever.
Cole Alrich was the freshman who came in during an early season game and dominated some mid-major in the post back in the fall of 2007.
Darnell Jackson made maybe the most physically imposing plays I’ve ever seen, he just dunked with so much goddamn force.
Frank Mason I’ll remember as the guy who hit the free throws to put KU over West Virginia for the league title in 2015, then almost hit a half-court shot to beat Kentucky in 2016, then cried as he waved to his son during his senior night speech in 2017.
Perry Ellis was so universally beloved, unlike any other player I’ve ever seen. He was also the lanky junior forward from Wichita Heights who destroyed my high school’s team during the state tournament in 2011, the one time our pep band got to make the trip down to Wichita during high school. I played trombone, I nearly broke my phone trying to tweet about something and getting ready to play at the same time.
I remember players. I just wish I remembered more. I’d love to go back and watch the specific Julian Wright dunk that I remember blowing minds. I’d love to see the moment that made me figure out that Embiid kid had something special. Perhaps it’s a good thing those years aren’t well documented on YouTube, because I’d spend too much time rewatching old games, trying to rekindle what those games would come to mean to me.
I only started thinking about what those moments could mean to me once the time became finite. The aforementioned half-court attempt from Frank Mason came during my junior year, and prompted two thoughts as it clanged off of the rim.
First, it would’ve been much more poetic if that shot had gone through. That would be something I’d tell everyone about for years. I’m at a loss for moments like that in my life, I have little memory of the sorts of moments that go in highlight montages. I don’t remember watching the Chalmers shot. I was in my family’s van, listening on the radio when Kerry Meier caught the touchdown. I was playing video games in my childhood bedroom when Svi probably traveled and won the game against K-State on a layup. Had that shot gone in, I would’ve had a specific story, a real memory, not just an aesthetic and general feeling that I’ll miss.
The second thought was the question of whether we would’ve stormed the court had the shot gone in. That was a debate of the time, KU kept losing games on the road and the opposing students kept severing the invisible wall that separates them from the players. Something about that feeling of staying put even after big wins made it even better, like we were so used to winning that the spontaneous explosion of emotion that resulted in feet on the court just didn’t come to us.
This was the feeling that years of winning bred. This was the aura that entering the Fieldhouse had for me in college. From my enrollment in fall 2013 to my graduation in winter 2017, KU lost only five times at home. That breeds a sort of confidence, a knowledge that every entrance in the Fieldhouse welcomed a victorious exit. Most of them, anyway. Regardless, all of them for me, I got lucky and missed all the losses – I still haven’t witnessed a loss in the Fieldhouse since Oral Roberts got through in 2006.
It’s become almost cliché to refer to the Fieldhouse as a sort of basketball cathedral, but I find it more like a great art museum. The work within changes, but the quality is consistent. I regard the feeling of standing in front of a Gauguin or Mondrian or Turrell work with the same reverence that I remember watching Mason and Ellis play. The Fieldhouse, the banners, and the Kansas jersey is a sort of pedigree for basketball fans. There has been, is, and always will be excellent basketball within.
I’m going to miss the Fieldhouse. There’s been so little else like it for me, so few places have been the same ever since my first entrance. A few things change, sure, some seat-backs and a video board get added every now and then, the players on the court age in and out, and the font on the uniform changes. But those feelings, be it Nick Collison or Udoka Azubuike dunking the crowd to euphoria, they don’t. It lights up all the same.