The energy in downtown Lawrence was electric in the hours leading up to KU’s appearance in the men’s basketball national championship game.
There were festivities lined up all over Massachusetts Street, including balloon animals, mini golf and more for fans to enjoy as they waited for the 8:20 p.m. tipoff.
Even at 2 p.m., well before the game’s start, people were trading high-fives as they passed each other and the game was all anyone could talk about, said Josh Aeschliman, a KU alum who drove six hours to return to Lawrence and watch KU compete in the Final Four and national championship games.
A national championship run was a great excuse for Aeschliman to reunite with his friends from college — made even more special by the fact that this team is the last one with any players from their time as students. Aeschliman and his friends went to San Antonio for the Jayhawks’ appearance in the 2018 Final Four. As a student, he said there was nothing like it. Now, it’s an “entirely different experience,” though still a great one.
“The energy in the city is just unmatched,” he said. “It’s been more than 10 years, so we’re all united and excited about the same thing and finally all have one common enemy tonight in North Carolina.”
Deon Turner II was converted from a Tiger to a Jayhawk when he came to Lawrence 10 years ago. Now, this championship run means “everything.”
“This is everything I dreamed of. This is why I came to Lawrence,” he said. “… This is what I wanted — to be here for something like this.”
Turner said that being a part of such a large celebration after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic makes these celebrations even sweeter, but ultimately it’s KU’s championship culture that is so exciting.
“It feels great. Feels like things are finally getting back to normal. But even that set aside, I’ve never been around a championship culture. This is my first time being around it and I feel it,” he said.
Aeschliman said he was happy for the students who get to experience a championship run because it “elevates” the student experience.
“It’s something that the entire campus is pulling for all at once, no matter what school, major, or part of your academic career you’re in,” Aeschliman said.
KU student-athletes Anna Vedral and Gabrielle Hoke are witnessing this firsthand.
“Honestly, this is kind of crazy,” Vedral said. “I grew up in a really small town in Nebraska, so this is something I’ve never really even seen before.”
A transfer from the University of Indiana, this is Hoke’s first year at KU, and she said she can certainly tell the difference.
“The atmosphere here is so different. It’s a really good time to be out on the road with everyone and celebrating Kansas,” Hoke said.
They were both excited by the festivities, but, as track athletes at KU, they were even more excited to see the community’s support for KU athletics.
“Being a part of Kansas Athletics, I think it’s really cool just to see the community of Kansas as a whole being so lively about athletics and the basketball team. I just think that’s like a really cool atmosphere and culture to be a part of, for sure.”
Some were quite nervous about the outcome of tonight’s game, but KU fans Matt and Mary Stein were not. They said the formula for tonight’s success is simple: their son graduated in 2008, and he has now returned to Lawrence.
“That’s all you need to know,” Matt said. “We’re going to win.”
@lawrencekstimes Downtown #lfk before the game! #rcjh ♬ original sound – The Lawrence Times
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Emma Bascom (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from December 2021 through May 2022. Read more of her work for the Times here.