Popular rappers Tech N9ne, Lil Yachty and 2 Chainz have shared the spotlight with University of Kansas basketball players the past three years at the Jayhawks’ season-opening Late Night in the Phog at Allen Fieldhouse.
On Friday, it’s Snoop Dogg’s turn to help KU’s players, coaches, recruits and fans celebrate the start of the 2019-20 hoops campaign.
The 47-year-old rapper, songwriter, producer and actor figures to prove once again on Friday that music and Late Night naturally mix.
“I think Snoop is going to deliver a tremendous performance. I saw Snoop and Dr. Dre at Coachella (music festival in Indio, California) in 2012 with the ‘Tupac hologram’ (holographic image of the late Tupac Shakur). It was far and away the best performance of Coachella that year,” said former KU center Eric Chenowith, a Southern California native who has seen Snoop Dogg in concert several times.
“It’s going to be live. It’s going to be great,” Chenowith added of Snoop’s appearance at the 35th annual Late Night, set for a 6:30 p.m. start at the fieldhouse.
Snoop Dogg will be the sixth professional music act to perform at Late Night in the Phog: the four rappers the past four years, plus rock bands Nace Brothers and Shooting Star who entertained at the 1989 Late Night With Roy Williams. That, coincidentally, was the only year KU has charged admission for Late Night. It was $5 per person to help defray the cost of the two bands.
Those were the days the actual Late Night men’s hoop scrimmage started at midnight — the exact second teams were allowed to open the season in accordance with NCAA rules. That tradition changed in 2005, when the NCAA said it’d be OK for teams to hold their Late Night celebrations in prime time on Friday or Saturday nights rather than some years on school nights.
Paid acts have been rare at KU, indeed.
More common have been musical renditions from actual Jayhawks players — who on occasion have sung and/or played instruments at Late Night.
In 1999, Chenowith, Nick Collison, Jeff Carey and a member of KU’s pep band — better known as “Three Tall Guys and a Drummer,” performed a rendition of Limp Bizkit’s “Faith.” A year later, as “Blink 7-Foot-3,” Chenowith, Carey and Jeff Boschee provided an encore of sorts, offering up a heavy metal song for the 16,300 fans.
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“I think there have been several attempts to top what ‘Blink 7-Foot-3 did,’ but all attempts will fail to top our performance in 2000,” Chenowith said in a phone interview with The Star.
“Nick Collison was a great front man. He really brought it. We fired Nick and hired Jeff Boschee. He was a better singer,” Chenowith joked.
KU coach Roy Williams thought he heard noise, not music, coming from the mouths of the KU players those two years.
“I’m glad the ‘Three Tall Guys’ can rebound and play basketball. That had to be the lowlight of the night even more than my dancing,” said Williams. He annually danced with his players and KU’s Crimson Girls as a highlight of the season-opening Late Night With Roy Williams.
Williams also gave a resounding thumbs down to a 2001 Late Night singing effort by then-freshmen Michael Lee, Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien and Jeff Hawkins.
They serenaded their mothers to the tune, “My Girl,” the same song sung by Danny Manning and Scooter Barry at the 1987 Late Night With Larry Brown.
“To me, you can’t hear a blessed thing. It’s almost embarrassing,” Williams said in 2001, critiquing the building’s old sound system. “I felt for the kids. I mean it was so bad you could not hear. We’ve got to figure a way for it to be heard, or maybe 14 Late Nights is enough.”
Another coach’s thumbs down went to Carey and Todd Kappelmann, who as a duo performed a Bon Jovi selection.
“I’ve got to talk to my players and convince them if you can’t sing, what you should do is lip sync. I go back to Kenny Gregory as Michael Jackson and Nick Bradford as M.C. Hammer. They lip synched. If you are not a great singer and the sound system is bad ... maybe that’s two strikes against you right there,” Williams noted.
A more melodic effort was turned in by Williams-era player Luke Axtell, who carried a guitar and chair onto the court and played and sang some Johnny Cash songs prior to the 2000 Late Night.
He performed some of his own songs off his own album, “The River Runs Dry,” before the 2001 Late Night with Roy.
“Luke’s performance was inspiring, but it was a little bit too mellow for Late Night,” Chenowith recalled.
In 2004, at Bill Self’s second Late Night in the Phog, tuxedo-clad seniors Lee, Miles, Simien and Keith Langford didn’t sing, but bowed their heads reverently while grasping KU’s 1988 national championship trophy to conclude a dramatic skit.
“Wearing the tuxedos and getting married to the (1988) trophy, we should never have done that. We were young and dumb at the time,” Lee said last week in an interview with The Star.
“I think my fondest memories of Late Night were anything me, Wayne, Aaron, J-Hawk (Hawkins) and Keith did. We were five, but not the Jackson Five,” Lee added. “I remember Nick Bahe and (Omar) Wilkes had sunglasses on when they did a dance. Those guys were creative. I remember cracking up watching those guys. They were clowns. Nick Bahe is a funny dude, hilarious. I always liked seeing guys like Nick in their element. Late Night is great for that. I have great memories of things like that.”
Two Jayhawks have played instruments during the Self era.
In 2015, Carlton Bragg sat in front of a grand piano at center court and executed a medley of songs dressed in formal wear.
Just a freshman, Bragg at the time acknowledged being “nervous, really nervous. I don’t sing. If I could sing that would have been really amazing,” Bragg added, comparing himself to John Legend. “I can’t play as good as him. I’m learning.”
Reminded of that moment, Bragg, now a senior at University of New Mexico told The Star on Wednesday in a direct Twitter message: “One of the best moments of my life,”
Of Bragg’s piano playing, Self said at the time: “I didn’t know he was that good. He did a nice job. That was a lot of pressure. He has a great disposition.”
Last year, freshman power forward David McCormack stole the show in filling in as a drummer for KU’s pep band in the southeast corner of the fieldhouse. Holding a pair of sticks while wearing his KU jersey No. 33, the Norfolk, Virginia, big man didn’t miss a beat as he and the pep band performed Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.”
“I was extremely nervous the whole time. I wanted to make sure I didn’t mess up and kept the pace,” McCormack said. “I can’t practice too often because of my schedule. I do enjoy it. It’s a side hobby I can do to have fun and enjoy myself.”
He’s been playing the drums since he “was 8 or 9. I kind of fell off my sophomore year (of high school). The last time I picked it back up was Late Night.”
He drummed under the glare of a spotlight that focused on him.
“They said they were going to turn off all the lights and the spotlight was going to come on. I think it set the mood being Late Night,” McCormack said.
Self gave his approval: “I do think he’s beyond his years on the court from an IQ standpoint, well beyond his years off the court too and the best drum player we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Self said. “For a big guy to have a talent like that … I didn’t know he can hit a drum. He was really good.”
Players tend to leave their comfort zones at Late Night, which consists of skits and a lot of dancing that precedes an intrasquad basketball scrimmage.
“There’s a lot of anxiety. The season is starting. Practice is starting. You just finished conditioning,” Chenowith said. “The start of the season can be tense for a lot of people. Late Night is a great way to celebrate a new season, forget about what else is going on. Late Night is the best. It’s always fun to celebrate basketball season at Kansas.”
Self said “I think it’s the same every year, a fun way to start the season. It is different now though. Late Night used to be the initial start of practice. It was a big deal in that it tipped off your season. It doesn’t tip it off anymore. Your first day of school tips it off now. You can have four hours a week (up until the start of official preseason practice which this year was Sept. 24). Four hours a week (on the court) may not seem a lot, but one hour a day four days a week, that’s quite a bit.”
The Jayhawks, who take time out from their busy schedules to practice their dance routines in days leading up to Late Night, say they’ve been eagerly anticipating Friday night’s show.
“The new guys are excited. They are ready for Late Night,” said junior guard Marcus Garrett.
“I’m excited,” noted sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji. “I had a lot of fun last year. The new guys really don’t know what’s coming. I’m ready to dance. I’m ready to put on a show and have fun.”
And certainly he’s ready to listen to Snoop Dogg.
“They won’t have full production in the fieldhouse,” Chenowith said, “but I’m sure Snoop will do a great job. Trust me, he’ll do a good job.”
“I think,” Self stated, “everybody will have a great time.”
Doors for Friday’s Late Night open at 4:30 p.m. for students; 5 p.m. for the general public.