The college basketball landscape is full of state-of-the-art basketball arenas, but only a handful are classics. Among them are UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. In the heartland, we have our fair share, but maybe none with the history and home court advantage of Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse.
Named in honor of the coach who brought the University of Kansas its first of three NCAA basketball national championships, Allen Fieldhouse has been home to the Jayhawks since 1955. Recording multiple home court winning streaks of 30+ and 50+ games, “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chants have followed home victories more than 70 percent of the time.
As one of the all-time winningest basketball programs in college basketball, KU proudly shows off the arena and the school’s sports history with a Hall of Athletics in the lobby of Allen Fieldhouse. A visit is a true walk through sports history.
Hoops inventor as first coach
For a school whose first basketball coach was the man who invented the game itself, Dr. James Naismith may actually rate lower on the Who’s Who of Jayhawk athletics. With basketball greats like Wilt Chamberlain calling themselves a Jayhawk, KU’s roster includes several successful standouts who went on to fame in the National Basketball Association. Jojo White won multiple NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. Danny Manning, now a college basketball coach, played on the 1988 national title team and later in the NBA. All told, more than 80 Jayhawks have played pro basketball.
Other famous athletes wearing the school colors include football great Gale Sayers, Olympians Jim Ryun and Billy Mills, and women’s hoops star Lynette Woodard.
Naismith, who invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, served as KU’s first basketball coach from 1898 to 1907. He’s also the only coach in KU history with a losing record, 55-60.
Forrest “Phog” Allen coached Kansas for 38 seasons, compiling a win-loss record of 590-219. KU won its first NCAA tournament in 1952. It has since won national championships in 1988 and 2008. Allen also won two Helms national championships before the NCAA hosted its own tournament.
Larry Brown leads Jayhawks to title
Kansas has had its fair share of great coaches. Larry Brown, best-known for jumping from one basketball team to another every few years, spent five seasons leaving the Jayhawks during the 1980s. He coached the team to two Final Four appearances, winning it all in ’88.
He was followed by Roy Williams, who took KU to four Final Four appearances in 15 seasons. His teams finished as the national runner-up twice. He left to take over his alma mater North Carolina following the 2002-03 season.
The school has had four coaches named to the college basketball hall of fame – Naismith, Allen, Williams and current coach Bill Self. Self took over the program following Williams’ departure and led the Jayhawks to a Big 12 conference record of 14 consecutive regular-season championships. The streak ended this year.
Self, who has also coached at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois, led KU to its last national title in 2008. In compiling a 447-96 record at Kansas, Self’s teams have reached three Final Fours and the national championship game twice.
2nd in all-time wins
As a program, Kansas owns the second all-time winningest record with more than 2,200 wins. KU trails only fellow blue blood Kentucky.
While Kansas men’s basketball dominates the school’s athletic program, other teams have enjoyed their fair share of success. The women’s basketball has had its own run of victories on the hard court. With five Sweet Sixteen appearances, the women’s team has developed as one of the best programs in college basketball. Marian Washington won 560 games as the KU coach from 1973 until 2004.
Kansas football carved out a nice run during the 1960s featuring great players such as Gale Sayers and Bobby Douglas. Suffering through more losing seasons than winning during the ’70s through ’90s, Kansas enjoyed a renaissance in the early 2000s. With Mike Mangino as the coach, the Jayhawks found themselves competing for Big 12 conference titles and playing in major bowls like the Orange Bowl.
KU sports history
KU’s sports history dates back to the 1890s. The Booth Hall of Athletics celebrates the school’s athletic history with displays highlighting each decade since. The exhibit also features a sports Hall of Fame, recognizing contributors to the athletic programs.
With a miniature basketball court near the lobby, where fans can reenact their favorite moments in Kansas history, the cherry on top of the self-guided Fieldhouse tour may be viewing the basketball arena itself. Visitors can stand just inside Allen Fieldhouse, above midcourt taking in the court, seats and championship banners that hang on all sides of the court.
A short walk down a corridor and you can view a photo of KU’s basketball founders – Naismith and Allen. A copy of basketball’s rules is encased behind protective glass. The handwritten rules were penned by Naismith. You can also listen to a radio interview with Naismith. A mural of Naismith was created using the rules as the pattern.
A visit to Allen Fieldhouse needs to be on any basketball fan’s bucket list. The history is impressive and is well-to-do at the free attraction.
For more information on Allen Fieldhouse, visit the KU athletic department website.