When Alumni Association president Kevin Corbett, c’88, took the stage to welcome Jayhawk alumni and fans to the official rally before Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, he told the gathering that he and other members of the Association staff weren’t sure what to expect.
With a rally that began at 8 a.m., ahead of an 11:15 a.m. tipoff, they worried the early hour would keep fans from showing up in time for a gathering of the flock.
“And next thing we know,” Corbett noted to the crowd of about 1,000 Jayhawk faithful, “there’s a line outside the door to get in. Welcome to the Big Dance.”
The early risers soaked in the complete crimson and blue experience. With the giant inflatable Jay towering over the ballroom and D.J. Scott Simpson, ’85, cranking out the tunes, fans frolicked with Baby Jay, found themselves interviewed by television crews and scored official gear from KUStore.com, all while greeting old friends from near and far.
“We’re thrilled to have everyone back in Omaha,” said the Association board’s chair-elect Rick Putnam, c’77, l’80, a local attorney. “Every few years we get to see all of our KU friends return here for the tournament, and it’s always seems to work out well.”
The Jayhawks launched their 2008 national championship run in Omaha, and did the same on their way to the NCAA Tournament title game in 2012. Should they be fortunate enough to advance to the tourney’s second weekend three years from now, the Jayhawks could return again to Omaha, which will host NCAA regional play in 2018.
“Here we are again,” Corbett told the crowd, “ready to begin another run.”
Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, told the KU faithful about a few minutes he spent in the locker room with assistant coaches while coach Bill Self met with the media after the Jayhawks secured their 11th-consecutive Big 12 title. The coaches, Zenger said, thought back to the 72-40 drubbing by Kentucky Nov. 18; from that disappointment emerged 26 victories entering NCAA play, another outright conference championship, a trip to the Big 12 Tournament’s title game and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“The coaches said to me, ‘We’d have taken that and run,'” Zenger recalled. “What a job coach Self has done.”
Noting that KU is in its 26th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, Zenger closed with, “This is what we do, and nobody does it better.”
With the Spirit Squad and basketball band kicking the festivities into high gear, fans sang along with fight songs, the Alma Mater and, of course, the Rock Chalk Chant before descending in droves to the arena below.
The Big Dance had begun.
Check out our photos from today’s pregame party and pep rally in the slideshow below.