Ten Thousand Reasons to Love Late Night
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The University of Kansas men’s and women’s basketball teams celebrated the start of the 2015-16 season Friday evening at the 31st annual Late Night in the Phog, inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The evening’s festivities began by recognizing KU student-athletes, as men’s and women’s cross country and track & field, women’s golf, women’s swimming & diving, baseball, softball, women’s tennis, women’s rowing and the No. 10-ranked women’s volleyball team all joined together on James Naismith Court.
The Jayhawk spirit squads were next to take the court, with a combined performance of dance and cheer stunts, also featuring Big and Baby Jay.
In the tradition of Late Night, the first round of skits featured the women’s basketball team, with ‘Dancing with the Jayhawks.’ Three separate groups of Jayhawks got to show off their dance moves before concluding the performance with a final routine featuring the entire team and members of the coaching staff.
Women’s head coach Brandon Schneider then had the floor, receiving a standing ovation before addressing Kansas fans for the first time.
The women’s team returns three starters in sophomores Lauren Aldridge and Chayla Cheadle and junior Jada Brown. Sophomores Lorraine Enabulele, junior Caelynn Manning-Allen and redshirt junior Timeka O’Neal round out the group of returning Jayhawks.
It was the newcomers that shined in the scrimmage, with freshmen leading the scoring for both the Crimson and the Blue teams. Guard Aisia Robertson tallied the only long-range bucket for the Crimson team to lead the way with three points, and paired that with two impressive assists. Forward Chelsea Lott put in four points and gathered four boards, both team-high marks for the Blue squad.
“We’ve really only had two practices and probably 15 Late Night practices, so right now we’re probably a lot better at dancing than we are at executing on offense,” Schneider said. “I think it’s really important that we get through this weekend and then we’ll really buckle down and get to the real practices.”
Halfway through the scrimmage, the women all switched to the crimson jerseys to compete against the male practice squad, sporting blue.
“We saw it as an opportunity to really do something special for them because those are guys that are not all on scholarship from our program,” Schneider explained of the male practice players. “They are basically here on a volunteer basis and are extremely helpful to us.”
Soon after the women’s scrimmage concluded, the seniors from the men’s team kicked off their final Late Night experience with a lip sync battle, pairing Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor against Evan Manning and Hunter Mickelson.
The building erupted as head coach Bill Self took the floor following the seniors’ performance. After firing up the crowd with a preview of the upcoming season, two KU fans came to center court with a chance to win $10,000 directly from the checkbook of Bill Self.
The fans were given two attempts at making a half-court shot and the option of letting someone else take the shots in their place. Jerrod Martin Castro, a KU sophomore from Topeka, opted to let Director of Basketball Operations Brennan Bechard take the challenge for him. After missing on his first effort, Bechard sunk the second, sending Castro, the Kansas men’s basketball and the entire Fieldhouse into a frenzy. The shot would later be featured on ESPN’s famous Top 2 list, checking in at No. 2.
“I thought that was the highlight of the night,” Self said after the evening’s festivities. “I was really happy for Jerrod. That was why we did it, to hopefully give somebody a fun night. Whatever happens, I hope he’s cool with it because he should be buying tonight. That’s like making a hole-in-one; you have to buy the rest of the night.”
A musical performance from freshman forward Carlton Bragg Jr. on a baby grand piano precluded the three dance routines from the men’s side.
Following the skits, fans got to enjoy videos celebrating the history and tradition of Kansas basketball, including highlights of the team’s gold medal performance in the World University Games this summer.
Familiar faces led the scoring in the scrimmage. Ellis recorded a game-high 12 points for the Blue team, but it was not enough to overcome the balanced scoring of the Crimson team. Nine of the 11 Crimson players converted on at least one field goal. Traylor led the way with nine points while sophomore guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk claimed eight of his own.
“Perry feels good about everything right now,” Self said. “And he looks good.”
Allen Fieldhouse will see game action for the first time in the 2015-16 season when both the men’s and women’s teams square off against their counterparts from Pittsburg State in exhibition contests. The women’s team will kick things off on Sunday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m., and the men’s team will take the court on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.
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