I went all over town —from downtown bookstores and coffee shops to west Lawrence 4.69 miles from Allen Fieldhouse at the popular Zig and Mac’s Sports Bar & Grill — probing the hopes, wishes, dreams, and New Year’s resolutions of the crimson and blue faithful. Here’s what I discovered, and even a little bit more.
Liz Scheibler, a KU graduate student from Overland Park, Kan., began going to KU games when she was 13 years old in 1997. She was overwhelmed that first game in Allen Fieldhouse with the deafening noise and fan dedication. Scheibler, 23, will never forget the chants, songs, and all the fans waving the wheat. The 1997 team went 34-2 and featured six future NBA players.
“Paul Pierce was definitely my favorite,” Scheibler said.
However, Pierce and company lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16. Ten years later, Scheibler wants redemption.
“I want them to at least make it to the Elite Eight and at the most, make it to the national championship,” Scheibler said. “I don’t know if they’re capable of going that far, but that’s my wish. I’d like Julian Wright to keep up what he’s been doing since I feel like he’s really progressed, same with Mario Chalmers. They’re my favorite players right now because I feel like they’re more consistent than the others.
As for her own goals supporting KU hoops?
“I’d like to make it to more home games,” Scheibler replied. “I used to go to every one, but this year I haven’t. I’ve only gone to a few.”
Erin Walker, a KU sophomore from Prairie Village, Kan., is also a rabid Jayhawk fan. She was 14 when she attended her first Jayhawk game in Allen Fieldhouse and fondly remembers Jeff Boschee and the crazed crowd.
“I just got really excited and wanted to be a part of it,” Walker said.
Now, she’s a special part of Kansas basketball as a KU student and cheers on her classmates. And her wishes for the team in 2007?
“I think beating MU and K-State are pretty good goals,” said Walker, who works at Zig and Mac’s. “I think Julian Wright is doing really well right now and I’d like to see him progress and to have everybody work as a team and get as far as they can. March Madness is a big deal, and KU fans go crazy. I’d like to see a lot of teamwork and a lot of effort, and have the whole KU hype. I think that would be really fun in Lawrence.”
So does Justin Tiner from Eudora, Kan. Tiner, who has been going to KU games “off and on” since he was 7, wants a “national championship, of course.” However, he thinks the Jayhawks “need a little more consistency. It seems like they can turn it on, but I think they just need to be able to do that a little more consistently. I think we have a lot of talent and everything, and we have a lot to build on. I guess I can see us going far this year, but I just think they have a lot to build on for next year. I see us doing a lot better next year. We have a lot of young guys. We’ll do a lot of learning this year.”
Patrick Wilbur, who was born in Lawrence in 1966 and lived here all his life, also doesn’t want to get his hopes up too high. A 1991 KU graduate, Wilbur knows there are other great teams fighting for the grand prize.
“I’d just like to see them improve as a team and reach their potential,” he said, “and if that means Final Four, then great. There’s a lot of good teams across the country and a lot of parity out there, so I think to expect a Final Four, to expect a Final Eight is probably unfair. But if they can continue to improve and hopefully win the Big 12 and get better and better as each week goes by, that would be my main hope.
“I think more in terms of team (goals), but obviously the freshmen have the potential to be much better by the end of the year, and then (Darrell) Arthur is already making those strides. I think especially the sophomores, along with (Russell) Robinson are the ones who need to lead the team. They’re the ones who will be playing the bulk of the minutes. They need to just keep getting better and hopefully improve every week. If they do, I think they should be able to win the Big 12 this year. The (NCAA) Tournament is such a crapshoot, especially after the last two years. It’ s naive to expect any type of huge success, but they definitely have as good a chance as anyone if they play up to their potential.”
Wilbur doesn’t think KU needs a “go-to guy” to make a deep run come March.
“I’ve never bought into that,” he said. “That’s more NBA than college basketball. I don’t think you need a go-to guy. Somebody just needs to step up at the right time, whether that’s Chalmers or (Brandon) Rush. It doesn’t matter. I would say this. I think (Sasha) Kahn is going to need to be much better by the end of the year if they’re going to go a long way.”
Like Wilbur, Kieran McBride can talk all day about KU hoops. On this early Friday evening at Aimee’s Coffee Shop (1025A Massachusetts St.) in downtown Lawrence, McBride is completely immersed with his headphones on and working at his computer. But when I approach McBride and ask him if he follows KU basketball, well, the KU senior from Lawrence is more than happy to drop what he’s doing and voice his opinions and goals for the ‘Hawks in 2007.
“Julian goes out and drops 21 on Florida, and then kind of disappears for a little while and then pops back up again,” McBride said. “I’d like to see more consistent performances from him. I’d really like to see Brandon step up and start getting more shots and really start taking over a game like we know he’s capable of. Some of those young guys (“other than Darrell,” who has started seven games and played prominent minutes) like Sherron (Collins), I’d like to see him get more PT. He’s got a good outside shot. I’d like to see some of the young guys get more playing time since they’re going to be the future of the team in the next couple of years. That will also add to the depth in the (NCAA) Tournament if those guys get used to playing good time, pressure situations.”
“I don’t mind if they lose a little bit as long as they finish strong and peak at the right time because I think we’re kind of tired of them going out in the first round,” McBride added. “As long as they peak at the end — I guess they did that last year — so it’s kind of hard to gauge whether or not it will be a measuring success in the tournament. I’d like to see Brandon score more and I’d like to see Julian grow an afro and wear some knee high socks. That would be really cool. I think they’re a sharp looking team and will come around from their early season losses. We’ve got so much talent on the team.”
Nick Philipp, a KU senior from Olathe, certainly knows Kansas is loaded. He’s been to every game this season and has extremely high hopes for the Jayhawks. Philipp doesn’t hesitate when asked his goals for Kansas in the new year.
“Win it all,” he replied. “We got the team this year. I’d like to see the freshmen step up, the sophomores step up and show some leadership and not leave after this year even though they all could. And not lose to no-name teams. That’s kind of disappointing. We should win the Big 12 easy. There’s no reason to lose to any Big 12 teams this year.
“It’s the year to do it (win NCAA title) if we’re going to do it. Yeah, this is the year.”
And oh, what a wonderful year that would be.