One always gets chills when they walk into historic Allen Fieldhouse, but what happened on Monday was enough to overwhelm the human spirit. To celebrate the last 60 years of Kansas basketball at the hoops shrine, the last four coaches to pace the sidelines came together for an evening of storytelling and reflection.
Coaches Bill Self, Roy Williams, Larry Brown and Ted Owens spoke to a crowd of around 7,500 with proceeds going to charity and shared laughs and even some tears, as each recalled fondly what it was or is like to coach basketball at Kansas.
“It’s a great way to pay homage to this building on this is a very unique night,” Self said. “This really came about when we were talking about how to raise money for our foundation. Cindy (Self) and I do big fundraisers every year and when we came up with the idea for this – coincidentally the 60th year tied into it. It’s been very well-received, the coaches jumped on board immediately and, of course, our fans have been unbelievable.”
ESPN’s Jay Bilas served as the master of ceremonies for the event, fitting as he has always regarded the building with the most reverence for its history, tradition and its place in college basketball lore.
“If you love basketball; if you love and respect the history of the game, every road leads back to Lawrence, Kansas,” Bilas said. “This magnificent building cannot be captured in words. This building has a soul. It’s a cathedral of college basketball. It is the ultimate bucket list place for every player, every coach, every fan, every official – everyone.”
The biggest reception came for the return of Williams, who guided the Jayhawks from 1988-2003 before departing for North Carolina, amid some animosity from fans. The return was a long time coming and the fans showered the very popular coach with love and appreciation for what he had given the program.
“I haven’t been back in this building since the last practice in 2003 and it brought back some wonderful memories,” Williams said. “It was 15 years, I said it this way and I really believe it. For 15 years, I gave my heart, my body and soul and I loved it.”
Each coach was introduced by a former player. Bud Stallworth introduced Owens. Chris Piper introduced Brown. Scot Pollard introduced Williams and Tyrel Reed introduced Self. Following the speeches by each coach, the four had a sitdown conversation with Bilas about what it meant to lead the program and coach in the building.
The night paid homage to the past, but set the tone for the future, something that has never been lost on the current leader of the program.
“This is very humbling for me, to be part of something so much bigger than myself and to be the caretaker of something so precious,” Self said. “There is no place and no fans that love their players the way they do in Lawrence, Kansas.”