Journey to the heart of hoop
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

LAWRENCE, Kansas -- As a young man, Bob Dole was a good enough basketball player that he set his sights on earning a scholarship to play basketball at Kansas. He never did, though. While serving in World War II, Dole suffered such horrible wounds that he returned from Europe paralyzed and in a full body cast. He spent three years in and out of the hospital. He nearly died twice. He lost more than 70 pounds. And though he eventually recovered the use of his legs and left arm, his right arm remained so shattered that he couldn't lift it above shoulder height.

Roy Williams
Coming or going, Roy Williams is greeted by the Jayhawk faithful.
Yet Dole still so desperately wanted to play for Kansas that, as Richard Ben Cramer describes in his masterful book, "What It Takes," he would strap that useless right arm to a beam in the family garage and hang there, hoping to straighten it out so he could play basketball again. One day, he dangled from the beam so long that his family found him there unconscious.

Kansas basketball has that sort of power over people.

Is there a school with a longer, prouder basketball heritage than Kansas? Sure, there are a handful that have as rich a tradition as Kansas, but richer?

Kentucky? No. Remember, Adolph Rupp learned his game here at Kansas as a player and, when he still was years away from allowing blacks on the Kentucky roster, Wilt Chamberlain was leading Kansas to the Final Four. Indiana? Maybe, but the man who invented the game didn't coach there (Bobby Knight just acted liked he did). Duke? Please. No amount of those "clever" Dukie chants can begin to touch the haunting "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" chant. North Carolina? Perhaps, but then again, Dean Smith played here, too.

How good a basketball school is Kansas? Look at it this way: The only coach with a losing record at Kansas was the man who nailed up the first peach basket, James Naismith.

"Answer this: How many basketball arenas are named after Jayhawks?" Rob Farha asked. "Rupp Arena. The Dean Smith Dome. Allen Fieldhouse. What does that tell you about Kansas basketball?"

Farha is the owner of The Wheel, a KU drinking institution since Chamberlain was a student here (Larry Brown ate here several days a week and Roy Williams eats here Friday afternoon). He bought it from John Wooden.

OK, sure, he wasn't that John Wooden, but after experiencing Kansas as the third campus on my Final Four tour, I wouldn't have been that surprised if he was.

Pi Kappa Phi
Kansas in the Final Four? The men of Pi Kappa Phi won't forget that -- ever.
How big is Kansas basketball? When the Jayhawks returned from winning the West Regional late last Saturday night, thousands of fans showed up at Allen Fieldhouse at three in the morning to welcome them. "Of course," one student said when I visited the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity Wednesday, "half of them don't remember being there."

But it wasn't just drunk college students. Parents woke up their children, got them out of bed and brought them to the gym to pay their proper respects.

This stuff is barely even worth mentioning at KU, where the morning after a game, students head to Allen Fieldhouse to go through a lottery that establishes their spot in the waiting line for the next game. But there's a catch. Someone from every student group with a number must be present inside the fieldhouse from six in the morning until 10 at night every day until the game. Roll is called regularly and, if you aren't there, you've lost your space.

"It's surprisingly civil, too," senior Kevin Seaman says. "It's not sanctioned by the University, or at least not as far as I know, but everybody just goes along with it. They don't need any police to keep us in line.

"Roy Williams is always at the fieldhouse, and he always takes time and always treats us with such respect. One time, he came out and showed a group of us the locker room. He brings us pizza. He brings us donuts."

If all this sounds insane, consider that in the old days there wasn't the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. grace period. Students had to be at the fieldhouse 24 hours a day, morning, noon and night. And no matter the weather, they weren't allowed inside, either.

How big is Kansas basketball? At the Hawk, the eight-decade-old bar down the block from the Wheel, the jukebox plays the Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk chant.

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, K-U . . .

The Jayhawk -- so revered that Kansas basketball players aren't allowed to step on its image in the center of their locker room -- is everywhere at KU. There's the main drag, Jayhawk Boulevard (which runs parallel to the old Oregon Trail). And there is the Jayhawk statue in front of Strong Hall. And there are the Jayhawk logos on the walls and floors throughout the Union. And there are all the Jayhawks on the caps and shirts of thousands of students.

The Hawk
John Heleniak is proud to be the owner of the Hawk, a campus institution since 1919.
And then, of course, there is the Jayhawk mascot itself, the big goofy bird that looks like Woody Woodpecker on steroids.

The current Jayhawk is in his second year, and he would like to continue but isn't sure how many years of eligibility he has remaining. "I think I could keep going if I went to grad school," the Jayhawk says, "but it's a little fuzzy whether I'm considered a student-athlete or just another employee of the university."

Even if he has eligibility, he must survive the intense audition that takes three days and includes one afternoon in the costume spent learning cheers and moves. "They'll yell, 'Your tail is on fire!,' and you have to show how you would react to that."

The Jayhawk is so popular that KU fans occasionally request its presence at their weddings. "We usually come in during the reception, and then play the fight song and meet and greet people," the Jayhawk says. "I don't kiss the bride, they mostly kiss us on the beak.

"I've heard we've gone to funerals, too, but that was before my time. I think that's a little frightening."

It isn't easy being red and blue, though. The temperature can get as high as 120 degrees inside the Jayhawk suit, so you need to stay in shape. You certainly don't want a weak mascot in the Big Dance. Look what happened to the Oregon Duck, who had his headpiece torn off by the Utah State mascot in the tournament's first round.

The Jayhawk swears it won't happen to him. "I could take the Duck."

Maybe, but what about the Stanford Tree?

Kappa Alpha Theta
No one typifies the friendliness of KU more than the women of Kappa Alpha Theta house.
"Last year during the second round of the tournament when we played Stanford, I put a couple KU stickers on the tree and he didn't even know about it. He never noticed until someone told him about it at the end of the game, and then he was pretty mad. So, yeah, I could take him."

How about Pete Purdue, the Boilermaker?

"Pete's a pretty big guy. I'd like to see that fight. It would be tough, and it would take a couple rounds, but I could take him."

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, K-U . . .

Maybe it's the Final Four. Maybe it's the 85-degree weather. Maybe it's the trees blooming across the gorgeous campus. But whatever the reason, these Jayhawks are the friendliest people on earth. One student chased me down on Jayhawk Blvd., to invite me to his fraternity. A minute later, Molly Kocour invited me to the Kappa Alpha Theta house.

I swear, this never happened to me when I was in college.

The favorite woman I met Wednesday, though, was Claudine (Scottie) Linglebach, who was among the fans who cheered on the team as it left for New Orleans. Lingelbach has been a Jayhawk fan since 1940, when she was an unmarried freshman named Claudine Scott and a member of KU's Jay-Janes cheer squad.

Following her freshman year at KU, she volunteered for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and was assigned as a staff assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Her job was delivering top secret documents between the war department and the White House and, as such, she was one of the few people privy to the most important secrets of the war, including the date of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

"The night before, I knew it was going to take place so I asked them to give me a call as soon as it started,'' she said. "I received the call and I immediately phoned my parents. I said, 'Turn on your radio. Something big is happening.' "

When the war ended, she married her University of Kansas boyfriend, Dale Lingelbach, who had been so severely injured fighting in the liberation of France that his recovery took two years. "So I don't have much patience with the French right now," she says.

Claudine Lingelbach, Carol Floersch
Claudine (Scottie) Lingelbach and Carol Floersch have supported the Jayhawks for decades.
At least Dale Lingelbach came back alive. The interior of the Campanile that rises off Memorial Drive is lined with the names of the KU students who died in WWII. The Union building and the football stadium are dedicated to the students who died in World War I. Just down the road from all three is a Vietnam memorial.

"I've always found it so sad that you can stand in one spot, right by where you parked, and you can almost see all the war memorials from there," Lingelbach says, as her voice cracks and she fights to hold back tears. "I had hoped we wouldn't have had to build any more war memorials."

Meanwhile, in front of Strong Hall are new bright yellow ribbons that KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway tied around two trees Wednesday afternoon. Hemenway estimated 30 KU students are serving in Iraq, a total that doesn't include assistant basketball coach Joe Holladay's son, Matt, who is there as well.

"We gather together to make visible our feelings of support for all U.S. servicemen and women," Hemenway said. "But we hold especially close to our hearts those students, staff and alumni who would rather be spending this beautiful spring day on Jayhawk Blvd., studying for finals or preparing for the Final Four.

CAPLE'S TOUR
All this week, Page 2's Jim Caple will be visiting the campuses of each of the Final Four schools. Here's where he's been so far:

  • Day 3:
    Winter wonderland at Syracuse

  • Day 2:
    Al lives on at Marquette

  • Day 1:
    Toga party at Marquette
  • "To them we say, 'We treasure you. We value your enormous personal sacrifice and we look forward to a day when we can welcome you home to Lawrence.' "

    Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, K-U . . .

    As Williams thanked the fans and boarded the bus Wednesday, the biggest question was whether the man with the highest winning percentage in school history will return to Lawrence. North Carolina needs a coach, Williams went to North Carolina and he doesn't get along with the Kansas athletic director, but would he really leave KU?

    As Williams thanked the fans and boarded the bus Wednesday, the biggest question was whether the man with the highest winning percentage in school history will return. North Carolina needs a coach, Williams went to North Carolina, and he doesn't get along with the Kansas athletic director, but would he really leave KU?

    Lingelbach dismissed the possibility with a wave of her hand. It can't happen. The rest of the fans around her were just as certain (though the boys on Frat Row weren't so sure). Fiercely proud of their town, their school and their program, KU fans can't think of a reason why Williams would go elsewhere.

    Kansas is the geographic center of the United States and folks here consider Allen Fieldhouse to be the center of the universe.

    The gym opened in 1955 and other than a few concessions to the modern age, it still appears as rooted in that era as fins on a Cadillac and "I Love Lucy'' reruns. It has survived everything from the widening of the key to nuclear war itself (KU and Lawrence served as the setting for the post-apocalyptic movie, "The Day After").

    Jim Caple
    Allen Fieldhouse has barely changed since 1955 -- thank god.
    The limestone exterior is darkened by soot. The paint is cracked and fading on the seats. There aren't any luxury suites. And it's absolutely beautiful. It's like Wrigley Field, only with championship banners. Why, it's so old school that there's a Longines' clock on the wall. You expect to see players in Chuck Taylors and tight satin shorts run from the locker room and start practicing two-handed set shots.

    When I walked in Wednesday, the lights were off, the stands and court were deserted and the Jayhawks won't play here again for seven months, but that was all right. The banners were there. The hardwood was there. The history was there. The spirit of Kansas basketball was there, real enough you could almost hear Phog Allen's whistle blowing during line drills.

    How special is Kansas basketball? I'm not saying it's worth hanging from a beam until you pass out and I'm not saying it's worth wearing a 120-degree bird costume and setting your tail on fire. But had someone started the Rock Chalk chant when I was inside Allen Fieldhouse, I think I would have grabbed a sleeping bag, cleared a spot in the hallway and camped out in the ticket line for next season.

    Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.





    ROAD TRIP!

    ALSO SEE:


    Jim Caple Archive

    Neel: Grading the Final Fours

    ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament coverage

    Who's got two for the Final Four? Everyone

    Superdome: Three finals, three memorable finishes





    ESPN TOOLS
     
    Email story
     
    Most sent
     
    Print story
     





    espn Page 2 index