‘We don’t want to be in the highlights again’: KU, K-State try to move past brawl

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As he prepares for Saturday’s Kansas-Kansas State rematch, Casey Scott, K-State’s executive associate athletic director and event manager, said he has one objective: avoid a repeat of the ugliest scene in college basketball this season.

“Everybody knows that was not a good thing and it should never happen in our game and it should never happen again between these institutions,” said Scott of the Jan. 21 meeting that ended in a massive brawl and resulted in multigame suspensions for four players.

While fights in collegiate sports happen regularly, the difference in January’s incident was the way it escalated, compromising the safety of spectators sitting courtside.

To recap: In the closing seconds of KU’s 81-60 win over its in-state rival, Kansas State’s DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from Kansas’ Silvio De Sousa, who was attempting to dribble out the clock in a game that had long been decided. De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot attempt, then stood over him, launching the melee. James Love III, an incoming Kansas State transfer, jumped into the mix and scuffled with De Sousa. Kansas’ David McCormack got involved, too. Multiple players from both teams spilled into the courtside seating area. The fight, which was stamped by the image of De Sousa holding a chair above his head, unfolded near Allen Fieldhouse’s wheelchair accessible seating. Some fans with disabilities had to flee the chaos.

That’s why the approach to Saturday’s rematch isn’t centered only on the court, for those charged with planning and maintaining a safe environment for the rematch.

“It’s about the safety of everybody coming to the game,” said Kansas State public information officer Lt. Bradli Millington. “It’s all-inclusive. We’re trying to keep everybody safe.”

Those plans extend beyond Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum. Local police intend to boost the number of officers at gathering spots prior to the game, a typical practice for major events at Kansas State. Per the norm, a popular game-day hub known as Aggieville will be stacked with officers. For game days, security personnel have cited the value of their presence to deter any malfeasance.

“As far as police presence, we place officers where we believe there will be calls for service based upon the analysis of past calls for service during certain events,” said Riley County (Kansas) police captain Richard Fink. “I am not sure that most people even see the police unless they are specifically looking for them.”

The collective goal: make sure everyone gets in and out of the game safely, including Kansas players and staffers.

“We don’t want to be in the highlights again,” said Millington. “If anything, we’ll try to get more personnel on the court.”

Meanwhile, though on-court tension is inevitable in a rivalry game, both coaches say they’re focused on avoiding a repeat of last month’s ugliness.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said he has pulled players from games after chippy moments since the melee, “because you just don’t want something to happen.” Weber said while he expects his team to play with the appropriate level of sportsmanship on Saturday, he also feels a responsibility to discuss last month’s incident with his players in the days leading up to the rematch.

“You hope it’s understood,” Weber said. “But you know the old saying: ‘You assume and it makes an ass out of you and me.’ You gotta talk about it.”

Kansas coach Bill Self said he expects a competitive rematch without last month’s drama. While De Sousa remains suspended for his role in the incident, McCormack and others who were involved have returned to the court.

“Our message, I guess, is prepare and focus and compete,” Self said. “Rivalry games guarantee your opponent will do the same.”

To be clear, the stakes for this game will be very different for the two teams in this installment of the rivalry. Top-ranked Kansas, which defeated then-No. 1 Baylor last Saturday, has emerged as a favorite to win the national title in April. Kansas State (9-19) has lost its past eight games, spiraling into one of the worst seasons in school history. The Wildcats will be looking to play spoiler.

Scott, the Kansas State administrator, knows the emotion a Wildcats win would provoke, and the risks behind it. He was at Bramlage on Feb. 23, 2015, when a K-State team with a losing record took down a top-10 Jayhawks group, 70-63. As Wildcats fans stormed the court, Scott rushed through the crowd and tried to help Self, who was pinned to the edge of the court by the horde.

“It’s embarrassing,” Scott said of that incident. “I don’t think there’s an event manager like myself that doesn’t take pride in their operation and how we treat the visiting team and the officials and the fans and trying to put on a great show. I felt, in 2015, in that situation that we let our university down and we embarrassed the athletic department because it made national news for the wrong reasons.”

Nearly four years later, the rivalry generated headlines for the wrong reasons again, this time in Lawrence. Will Saturday’s game produce more fireworks after what happened in the first game?

“I don’t think so,” Self said. “But it will obviously heighten the energy on the court.”

Added Weber: “You can’t do anything about [last month’s fight]. You just hope they play the right way on Saturday. I hope they’ll be shaking hands after the game.”

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