March 3rd, 2004. Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas vs. Nebraska. In their rematch, Kansas avenges a February loss to the Huskers and wins 78-67. This date marks the last home game I attended as a student at KU.
Last night, I had the opportunity to travel down to Lawrence, Kansas with a few friends to watch in person the Jayhawks take on the Long Beach State 49’ers. Approximately 4,654 days have elapsed between the March 3rd, 2004 and yesterday.
We arrive in Lawrence from I-70 West around 6:30pm. We hoped to arrive earlier and eat down on Mass Street, the main thoroughfare bustling with unique shops and restaurants located in the heart of downtown. However, we ended up leaving Omaha slightly later than expected and I settled for spicy chicken strips and cheese curds from a Culver’s in Platte City, Missouri. We enter the campus from 15th Street and the cars are bumper to bumper. We’re not even 100 feet past Templin residence hall and we spot a guy outside the Pi Beta Phi house lazily holding a white cardboard sign. Scrawled on it in jagged permanent marker: “PARKING $20.” Given the 7:00pm tip-off and not wanting to take our chances finding a parking spot further in on campus, we decide to take it.
As we park and step out of the car into the cool night air, I take a minute to take in the surroundings. Everything is familiar, yet different: The Jayhawker Towers, one of the student housing complexes I briefly lived at for two months in 2002, has undergone dramatic renovations since I last darkened its doorways and is barely recognizable. McCollum Hall, affectionately known as “Big Mac” and the place I called home and work for two years, is missing from the Daisy Hill skyline; it was demolished in November 2015 to make way for newer, more modern residence halls. Irving Hill Road, the street leading up to the residence halls on Daisy Hill, is closed off by a chain link fence. At the base of the road, construction has recently begun on a mammoth parking garage; its steel skeleton gleams in the moonlight as we make our way down to the Fieldhouse.
We enter the Fieldhouse ten minutes before tip-off. Again, a sense of familiarity hits me as I walk through the doors. We ascend three flights of stairs and settle into our seats. From my vantage point, I survey the entire Fieldhouse: The hi-def video board is new. Five national championship banners hang intimidatingly from the ceiling, and the student sections – where I spent many hours cheering on the Jayhawks – are a joyous and frenzied mass of humanity. The mascots, Big Jay and Baby Jay, happily mingle with the crowd and pose for pictures.
The next two hours fly by. Unsurprisingly, KU wins handily, 91-61. Over the course of the game, I feel like I’ve been transported back 12 years. All of the chants, the claps, the fight songs…I remember them all. After the game, we spend 20 minutes or so wandering around the Fieldhouse. Since I was last there, the KU athletics department built a museum to honor the past players and their contributions to the program’s accomplishments. As we walk around and take it all in, I feel like I’ve died and gone to basketball heaven.
I leave Lawrence feeling bittersweet. I may have only spent three years down there, but I have so many fond memories during my time at KU. Memories of being on my own for the first time, making new friends, of growing up and finding myself. Memories of being a part of something bigger than me and thinking I could change the world. Now in my mid-30’s with some life experience under my belt, I look back on my time at KU with a mixture of wistfulness and sadness, as with hindsight, I now realize how much of that time I took for granted. As a young and naive college student, life was full of infinite possibilities and endless freedom; how foolish I was to think it would last.
Modern day philosopher Axl Rose succinctly reminds us, “Nothin’ lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change.” Lawrence and KU will always hold a special place in my heart. I can never go back to those days, but I can choose to look back on them fondly for how they helped to mold me into the person I am today.