LAWRENCE, Kan. - When I pulled into the Allen Fieldhouse parking lot Wednesday night, I admit I was bit taken aback.
The place that I consider one of the meccas of college basketball, a place that I'd been dying to see for so many years, was an ugly, old four-story building.
I walked through the back doors of the lower level. It's more than 24 hours away from tip-off, but I hear sounds from the court. Most of it is the squealing the tennis shoes make when players start and stop. Occasionally, you hear KU coach Bill Self bellow out an instruction or two.
I can't see anything, because the practices are closed, and there are steel doors stretching across each entrance to the floor on the lower level. Wade Barnett, a cameraman from Channel 8, said he saw a replica Wilt Chamberlain jersey hanging from the rafters. Unfortunately, he was shooed away before he could photograph it.
As I perused the lower level of the arena, I expected to see tons of old photos of past Jayhawk stars. Instead, the walls were bare, save for an occasional schedule for of one of the KU teams. We are told later that many of the trophies etc. will be moved into a new Hall of Fame room currently being renovated.
As I turned the next corner, I struck paydirt. I ran into the lifeblood of the KU basketball experience - the students.
There were about 50 of them camped in the foyer of the fieldhouse. They were all shapes and sizes, young men and young women, too. Most had computers, taking advantage of the wireless network in the building, and some brought sleeping bags and there was even a blow-up bed. They were camping out for student tickets.
I'd only heard about this happening at schools like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and UCLA. It's serious business. There are only so many student seats to be had, and the best seats are coveted by these students.
Ryan Northup, a sophomore, told me there are about 40 groups representing 15 students each.
"I represent 15 students, and each student can save a seat for the game," Northup explained. "I did this last year. It's one of the reasons I came to KU was because of basketball. It's what we live for.
"We have to be here (somebody from the group) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Anybody can come in and call roll, and if your group isn't represented, you have to go to the back. A girl in our group missed her time slot, and we had to start from the back."
Carl Smith grew up in Minnesota, and one of the reasons he came to Kansas was because of the athletic programs.
"It's a great place and a good school," Smith said. "All the school offers ... good teams to watch. Basketball is what KU is about. When I was younger, I used to watch so many of the games on TV."
As you walk around the foyer, the different groups post their group name for all to see. Some even have a roster of students.
Northup's group is called the C.J. Giles Block Party, which is named after Jayhawks' 6-11 sophomore center. Smith's group is called the Price Is Wright, which is named after the Jayhawks' freshman forward, Julian Wright. Another group calls itself I'm So Moody in honor of senior forward Christian Moody.
And, their presence is appreciated by players and coaches alike.
"Coach Self will come out and talk to us sometimes before a big game," Northup said. "One time he came and talked, and about an hour later, about 50 pizzas showed up.
"Krispy Kreme had some deal with coach Williams (Roy, former KU coach). We'd get donuts once in a while sent out to us."
When you survey the area from afar, there is no line at all. Students are spread out all over the place. In the old days, camping for tickets was done outside. That's probably OK in the fall, but the days and nights in Lawrence are bitter cold. Though I doubt that after talking to some of the students on Wednesday that the numbers would go down. Basketball is religion at KU as it is at the elite schools like KU, IU, Duke and North Carolina.
This is a knowledgeable group, and a loud group. They love to make life miserable for opposing teams.
What did any of them know about Nevada?
"They have a pretty good squad this year," Smith said. "Besides that, nothing more. They are an up-and-coming program."
A LOUD GROUP
It's two hours before game time, and the doors are finally open. Students sprint to the student section. It's amazing that nobody gets trampled.
Right behind the KU basket sits a group of young men with painted blue bodies, spelling out KU on ESPN. There are other students with their faces painted red and blue around the arena.
For the next 90 or so minutes, loud music blares out for the early arrivals. The noise gets louder as it gets closer to game time.
Nevada is booed loudly, but that is drowned out by the cheers Kansas receives as it takes the court.
As Nevada is introduced, KU students, all with newspapers in their possession, bury their faces in them, showing an obvious lack of respect. When KU is introduced, the big roar starts. The students shred their papers into confetti and toss it in the air.
The students have their little rituals. When Nevada was at the line, the student section en masse leaned their bodies totally to one side, and as the shot was released moved back the other way. They take great glee when a free throw goes awry.
It's certainly something Nevada can take a lesson from. Make no mistake about it, the students can get under your skin. Nick Fazekas was an early target, and a couple of times he just smiled when the crowd got on him.
It was good to see and hear, and it was good to see a school freely give up some good seats to their student body.
Are you listening Nevada?