Remembering Kevin Durant’s visit to Allen Fieldhouse: An Oral History

I sat on a wooden bench outside the gift shop of the Library of Congress after a hot, muggy Washington day in July 2008.

My mother and brother still searched through the gift shop trying to find a souvenir to take home to Kansas.

As I pondered the historical significance of the building I toured, a towering police officer approached me.

After looking me over for a few seconds he pointed to my Kansas basketball T-shirt and asked if I was from the Sunflower State.

“Yes,” I replied. I mentioned that I was a Kansas basketball fan.

“I saw my son play at Allen Fieldhouse once,” the police officer said.

“Who’s your son?” I asked.

The police officer replied: “Kevin Durant.”

There are many stories surrounding the day former Texas forward Kevin Durant played his only game in Allen Fieldhouse on March 3, 2007. It’s taken on a legend of it’s own and when most Kansas fans, media members, players and even coach Bill Self are asked about it they remember Durant. They don’t remember that the team won its fourth straight conference title and the 1,900th victory in Jayhawk history that Saturday afternoon. Most of the time they remember the first half of Durant that helped turn him into one of the best players in recent college basketball history. It was a cold March afternoon as people filed into the Fieldhouse. The student section line wrapped around the building and went along Naismith Drive. Everyone was ready to see greatness. Here’s an oral history of that game.

Wayne Pratt (Kevin Durant’s father, U.S. Capitol Police officer at the Library of Congress): I was in awe walking into the Fieldhouse with all the history and everything. I know Kevin was. It was one of the best places I’ve ever been to watch a basketball game. When the game started there was a lot of hype. It was the first time Kevin had been at Kansas, the last time actually. He was just on fire in the first half. They tried to put everybody on him and I think he had 25 in the first half. It was just an explosion.

 

 

 

 

Jason King (Sportswriter for the Kansas City Star in 2007, He now works as a college basketball writer for ESPN.com): I don’t think anyone realized just how good Durant was because they had not seen him in person at least Kansas fans, but sportswriters knew because he already had some monster games against Oklahoma State. I think everyone was kind of looking forward to seeing him in person. Coming into the year, him and Darrell Arthur were probably two of the more highly-touted recruits. I think people were wondering how they would matchup, but I think every battle with Texas back in those days was good.

The Longhorns busted out of the gates with an 18-4 run led by a stretch by Durant that included 12 straight points.

Bill Self (Kansas coach, 2003-present): We probably defended him above average and he got 25 in that first half. It was one of those days when he could’ve got 35 or 40 in a half. He may be arguably the best player to play in Allen Fieldhouse in generations.

Even Danny’s on the bench saying, “That’s a bad man. That’s the baddest man to play here,” and that’s Danny saying that who had many big games here.

Kevin Romary (6 News Sports Director, called the game on Channel 6 in Lawrence that day): I remember joking in the first half with Greg (Gurley) at some point, I don’t know if it was on the air or in a commercial break, I said ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if we saw a guy drop 50 in the Fieldhouse and then have KU win the game’ because at the time that’s kind of looked like what was happening.

Tully Corcoran (Former  sportswriter for the Topeka Capitol-Journal, He now works as a columnist for FoxSportsSouthwest.com): I remember thinking at one point in the first half that he’s going to score 60. This guy is going to score 60 in the Fieldhouse and that’s going to be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in a college basketball game.

King: I thought Kansas was guarding him really well and the shots that he was making, the defenders’ finger tips were inches away from blocking him. These were shots from 24, 25 feet that were pull up jumpers. He was just doing everything, especially in the first half. I never thought I would see the day that Kansas got run out its own gym, but this guy’s about to do it single handedly.

Former Kansas forward Julian Wright after the game in 2007. Wright last played basketball with the Maccabi Rishon Lezion in Israel): All you can do is contest. Coach was telling us to make him put it on the ground and stay on him. We threw a lot of guys on him to try to give him some different looks. He’s a great player and has a bright future.

Brady McCollough (Former Kansas football and basketball beat writer for the Kansas City Star. He now works as a sports enterprise reporter at the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette): At that point it was one of my first games at the Fieldhouse and I didn’t really have the perspective I have on it that I do now. It was striking even then the way he was able to totally quiet that place. In the first half he couldn’t miss.

You’re used to seeing at KU, in the big games at Allen, the crowd, and the KU defense and Bill Self’s man-to-man defense teams just stifling them and taking them out of their rhythm, beating by 10, 15 even 20 points in games in the first half.

And here Durant is, totally unphased by it, loving it. And you could tell he loved being at Allen Fieldhouse and he respected the venue. He’s just drilling shots in people’s faces and the crowd, it starts with an “ooh and aah” and by the end of the first half the place was quiet.

Looking back on it now it’s so rare. I’ve never seen a player come into Allen Fieldhouse and do that. I’m not sure someone will ever do it again like he did that day. It was just an eerie feeling and you felt as it was happening, you were seeing something special.

Although most Kansas fans were frustrated with Durant lighting them up, but many took the time to appreciate what kind of historic performance they were watching.

King: I remember sitting there thinking, ‘ I’m witnessing greatness.’ At the college level this as closest to greatness as I’m ever going to get to watch. It was just a special. It was once in a lifetime or once in a decade.

 

 

 

Self: It was probably the best half, especially when the total defense was designed to stop him.

Corcoran: Yeah it had to be the best. (Michael) Beasley ended up with 38 the time he played there, but it wasn’t like it was all in the first half. It was insane. The guy was a 6-foot 10-inch shooting guard. I mean, what are you going to do with that? Kevin Durant knew, ‘This is the only time I’m going to play in this building.’ This historic college basketball building and he had this huge sense of ‘I’m going to do something special.’ To me that seems like that’s what was going through his head.

McCollough: The best performance I’ve ever seen live is Kevin Durant in Allen Fieldhouse in 2007, maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen in any sport live, which I would have to think about that, but it was up there. Especially considering he was 18 years old and totally unfazed by everything around him.

Mario Chalmers (Kansas guard 2006-2008): He was on fire. Once a good player get going like that. It’s hard to stop him. We just had to make some adjustments and figure out how to stop him.

At halftime in the locker room Bill Self leaned on assistant coach Danny Manning for advice after watching the Durant half from the sideline. 

Matt Kleinmann (Kansas center 2004-2008): I remember Danny Manning would always sit in the corner of the locker room and Self would look down and ask him kind of these rhetorical questions. He always looked for a “yes” or “no” and he always phrased it in a way where Danny always enjoyed saying yes or no.

Coach asked one of those questions and said: “Not since Wilt Chamberlain has somebody put 25 points in a half, have they Danny?”

And coach Manning says, “Nope.”

It kind of put our minds at ease and we said “Yeah this guy is having a legendary, historic half of basketball.

Kansas made a few halftime adjustments, but in reality the big move was putting Brandon Rush on Durant during the second half.

Corcoran: I don’t know if that was a brilliant move because I think it was more out of desperation. I do think that it was the moment that it became clear that Brandon Rush is an elite defender and that was something he could do in the NBA. 

Chalmers: We just wanted to switch it up and put a little more speed on him. At first we had Ju-Ju (Julian Wright) guarding him and then Brandon did an excellent job on him in the second half.

Kleinmann: There’s never anything that really changes. I think that’s a testament to coach Self’s philosophy. We are who we are. We do what we do. There’s never a point to kind of panic and change the set. That goes back to the law of averages that we’ve already prepared to win the game. We’ve already prepared to do what we need to do to make that happen. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tweaks here or there, but for the most part, we aren’t going to change our offense, we aren’t going to change our defense. We’re going to guard them the same way we guard everybody.

I remember Coach Self was so cool and collected. You expect him to blow up on anybody for 25 in the Fieldhouse, but to watch that half was a work of art. We all kind of knew at that moment that this guys legit. He’s the best we’ll probably see in our lifetimes.

Former Kansas guard Brandon Rush after the game in 2007. (Today he plays for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.) : In the second half he started going a little cold. He wasn’t taking as many shots as he did in the first half, but I think we did a pretty good job on him in the second half. He’s the best I’ve ever faced in my life. He’s the best by far.

Durant’s magical game took an unfortunate turn when he twisted his ankle with 11:20 remaining in the game. He was driving through the lane, just as he had several other times throughout the game, but this he landed funny and the ankle turned.


Pratt:
I do believe him twisting his ankle took his aggressiveness away a little bit too because it was still sore and when I came down to check on him he was still hopping around a little bit. I don’t think he was as aggressive.

Corcoran: You don’t know what to make of it. Kansas beat Texas, but Durant was injured for half the game. It kind of became academic at that point because, OK, Kansas beat Texas, and they won the Big 12 race and all of that. It was kind of disappointing because you didn’t get to see what would really happen on that day.

As Durant reentered the arena the crowd applauded, something not seen for an opposing player.

Self: The thing that was cool was after he goes back to get retaped after he tweaked his ankle, our fans gave him an ovation when he came back out. Where else in college basketball would you see that?

Romary: We’ve seen some pretty good individual performances, but people loved Kevin Durant. He was just a likeable guy and KU was winning, maybe if they were losing the reaction is a little bit different.

I think people get excited about here about seeing history in this building. There’s so many great things that have happened and so many great stories and I think people in the building that day wanted to be apart of another thing as long as Kansas won. People wanted to be able to say ‘I was there the day Durant dropped 50, but Kansas won the game.’

King: At Kansas so much of what you do and your success is aided by the crowd and it depends on the crowd and how far behind they get. Early on when they came out in that second half and got back in the game the crowd got back behind them. Allen Fieldhouse was everything it was known for at that point.

After trailing by 14 points, Kansas went on a 22-6 run in the first four minutes of the second half, and eventually gained a 64-61 lead. A few big plays by center Sasha Kaun and Rush predicated this comeback, but it was two clutch shots by Chalmers that ended up leading the Jayhawks to the eventual victory. In fact, he hit two shots from almost exactly the same spot on Naismith Court. One was at the 16:40 mark, the other with 11:50 remaining in the game.

Chalmers: We needed somebody to step up. I think we were getting down because Durant was going off like that. I just tried to do what I can and my teammates do what I can.

Self: Mario was great that day but it was all overshadowed by Kevin. I knew Mario could make big shots going back to his freshman year. I didn’t need to wait to see it then, and everybody always talked about with that team once we got into it everybody knew who our go-to guy was even though we didn’t publicly state that.

Corcoran: He always did that against Texas. He was like the UT-Killer. At that point the jury was still out on who Mario Chalmers was.

 

 

 

 

McCollough: Mario Chalmers was the only guy you ever wanted taking that big shot with that collection of players. That game definitely was probably the first time where he really kept taking huge shots, three pointers, and nailing them in clutch situations. Those moments probably contributed, in some small way, to take the shot that eventually changed the history of Kansas basketball.

King: Mario loved moments like that. You look to the best games in his career when the lights were the brightest and the stage was the biggest. It didn’t surprise me that he came through at the end because that’s just who he was. He gets a ton of credit for that win just like Rush does.

There was some Kansas basketball history made that day as well. The Jayhawks won their 1,900 game in program history and their fourth straight conference regular season title. Final score: Kansas 90, Texas 86. 

Kleinmann: At that moment in time. There was still a little bit of a trepidation for KU. I think there was still a little bit of uncertainty about who we were as a team. We were coming off Bucknell, Bradley. We were gearing up for a tournament where the only thing our team had to show for were two of the biggest embarrassments to us and to the fan base, at the time that KU ever had. And I think that moment that these guys weren’t just under-performers and this Self guy actually knows how to coach.

 

 

 

 

In the hallway to the locker room after the game, Durant gathered himself together after expending an exorbitant amount of energy to bring the Longhorns on the brink of tying the game.

Pratt: He’s a very, very intense competitor so of course he wanted to win. So he was like ‘we had this game and we let it step away.’ It was a great game.

McCollough: He was sitting there in a chair and was sitting in hallway outside the Texas visiting locker room and he was really despondent. He was really quiet and he answered the questions, but you could tell he had obviously given everything he could and it still wasn’t enough.

He probably realized at that point that there was a reason he was so revved up to play in Allen Fieldhouse because it’s the type of venue that can overcome the most amazing of opponent’s feats just with it’s kind of magic and aura.

That’s definitely one of those days when you didn’t feel like Kansas won the game you, you felt like the Fieldhouse won that game.

Self: It was like everybody knew that they were watching greatness that afternoon. It was a fabulous performance by Kevin, and certainly a game that fans will talk about for years to come.

Highlights from the game:

Link to the Box Score from March 3, 2007. 

Bonus Audio Clip:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Updated Feb. 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm