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SI FOR KIDS
KU ushers in new season in poor taste -- on purpose
Posted: Wednesday October 14, 1998 04:41 PM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- Last year, Ryan Robertson was one of the Jackson 5: Tito, he thinks, or maybe Jermaine. He can't quite remember.
This year -- Friday night, in fact, in front of 16,300 Kansas basketball faithful at 43-year-old Allen Fieldhouse -- Robertson will grab a microphone and do his best Jerry Springer. Robertson's Kansas teammates will play guests in the take-off of the famously trashy TV talk show. It'll actually be funny, at times, and maybe embarrassing at others.
Mostly, though, it'll just be bad ... in a good sort of way.
Bad acting, bad singing and bad dancing have become an annual rite of fall in Lawrence, Kansas, a way to usher in the college basketball season. It's called "Late Night with Roy Williams," and it's Kansas' version of Midnight Madness, something the Jayhawks have been doing since Larry Brown was coach back in 1983.
Many college teams, like Kansas, already have begun informal conditioning workouts, without coaches. But teams are allowed to practice for the first time Saturday, so schools around the country have geared up with fan-pleasing extravaganzas that finish with the first team workout at the stroke of midnight Friday.
"It's great fun for us, and great fun for the fans," Robertson, a 6-foot-5 guard from St. Charles, Missouri, says of the "Late Night" festivities. "We have to do dances and skits and things like that. It's fun for us to get out there and goof around and make fools of ourselves. It's a real exciting night -- kind of the calm before the storm."
Friday night also serves as an awesome recruiting tool. Subjecting prospective players to the cheers and madness of a packed house -- for a preseason practice, for goodness sake -- can prove to be better than an in-person trip to the recruit's house.
That's one of the main reasons that schools throughout the country have embraced Midnight Madness, making it as much of the basketball season as 3-pointers and Bobby Knight's sweaters. The NCAA doesn't keep track, but it's safe to say the majority of the 310 Division I men's basketball programs now have some sort of celebration marking the start of the season.
Friday night's practice usually doesn't accomplish much as far as the team is concerned, other than to give coaches a chance to show off their new players.
"It's basically just a scrimmage, just a good pickup game, a chance to show off our new uniforms," Robertson said. "The coaches aren't expecting anything."
The next day, though, teams throughout the nation get down to the real business of getting ready for the 1998-99 season. The Jayhawks will meet for an afternoon practice Saturday, and the light-hearted mood from the players -- and especially the coaches -- will be gone.
For Kansas, whose .840 winning percentage (263-50) is the best in the country in the '90s -- Kentucky, Arizona and North Carolina are 2-3-4 -- the '98-99 season begins without stars Paul Pierce (who opted to leave a year early) and Raef LaFrentz. The Jayhawks were 35-4 last year, losing in the second round to Rhode Island in the NCAA tournament.
Without Pierce and LaFrentz, expectations are quite a bit lower. But, starting Friday night at midnight, Robertson and his teammates aim to begin raising them again.
"Things around here are a lot different than they have been in the past. Not too many people have picked us as national champion," Robertson said. "I'm excited to see how we react to that. For once, we're going to have to prove how good we really are."One thing's for sure: They won't be as bad as they'll be Friday night.
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