KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Kansas basketball hosts a game at Sprint Center, the Jayhawks bring much of the pomp and circumstance of Allen Fieldhouse along with them.
The intimidating pregame hype video. A full-force spirit contingent featuring the band, cheerleaders and dance squad. Public address announcer Eric Danielson and his familiar “Svi for 3” call. Despite underwhelming results in recent Sprint Center appearances, all of these elements make the 42-mile difference between “The Phog” and the downtown arena seem insignificant.
One more recognizable Allen Fieldhouse tradition makes the trek to Kansas City, though it’s far less visible in this setting.
Shown on the jumbotron at home games, Bill Self’s pregame tunnel entrance elicits a roar from the crowd and bows from the student section. At Sprint Center, though, the coach’s entrance is far more low-key and often goes relatively unnoticed.
That doesn’t mean Self leaves behind what has become his most well-known superstition.
Walking through the tunnel ahead of Wednesday’s game against Washington, Self cupped his hands, brought them to his mouth and blew into them. It’s a scene seen countless times in Self’s 15-plus seasons at KU, often accompanied by the band’s rendition of “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. And, as illustrated this week, it’s an act the Hall of Famer takes on the road.
Self recently shed light on the previously mysterious pregame ritual.
Answering an audience question on the superstition’s origin during this week’s edition of his “Hawk Talk” coach’s show, Self revealed the process actually began out of necessity years ago inside a much different — and chillier — Allen Fieldhouse.
“Just blow on your hands because it was cold,” Self said. “But we played well a couple times, so I figured because it worked, might as well keep doing it.”
Keep doing it he has, even on unseasonably muggy days where the Fieldhouse feels more like a greenhouse and his players battle in-game cramps.
Let Self explain.
When he first arrived ahead of the 2003-04 season, entrances and exits at Allen Fieldhouse had only one set of doors. This included the northernmost entrance, which is only about 20 feet from the path Self and his players take from the locker room to the court.
“(Allen Fieldhouse) was built in the early ’50s, so the whole thing was, whenever we left our locker room right there, the door stayed open,” Self said. “So if it’s 15 degrees, the doors are open … and then the breeze of the draft goes right into the tunnel, into our deal.”
Self had many Allen Fieldhouse upgrades in mind in those early years — new paint jobs, a new scoreboard, etc. — but the tweak the team “really needed” first was entrances with double sets of doors and buffer spaces between. He put that at the top of his renovation request list and, with the help of former longtime university architect Warren Corman, the idea — along with many other upgrades over the years — came to fruition.
“When we came here in ’03, the building was tired,” Self said. “It’s the greatest building ever, but every building that’s 50 years old would get tired if you don’t do some things to kind of bring it back to life a little bit. I think through the generosity of so many, that’s about as cool a building as there is.
“I mean, that building is 63 or whatever years old and it has the feel of a field house and the modern amenities of a brand new building. It is perfect. It is perfect.”
Superstitious or not, Self is clearly doing something right at home, where he has lost only 4.4 percent of his games. Self will look to extend his distinction as the winningest coach in Allen Fieldhouse history when the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (7-1) host No. 16 Arizona State (7-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday.
With an Allen Fieldhouse record of 225-10, Self was posed one more audience question of note during his radio show: Does he remember the defeats?
Without missing a beat, Self listed them off: Richmond, Oral Roberts, Nevada, San Diego State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Iowa State twice.
“That’s 10 too many,” Self said. “It’s pretty sad when you remember all of those. … I think that coaches remember the losses far more than the wins.”