The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
“Out of that whole Final Four run, people ask ‘What do you remember?’ and that (stadium reception) has got to be near the top of the list … It was just pure joy.”
— Mike Kelley, Wisconsin point guard
for 2000 Final Four Badgers
BY MIKE LUCAS | UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
Very little was expected out of Wisconsin going into the 2000 NCAA basketball tournament. Although the Badgers had won five of their last six games, including upsets of Indiana and Purdue, they were still a No. 8 seed with 13 losses overall and a .500 record (8-8) in the Big Ten.
Moreover, they didn’t have a single player receive honorable mention recognition on the all-conference team. They didn’t have history on their side, either. The year before, as a No. 5 seed, they had suffered an embarrassing 43-32 loss to Southwest Missouri State in their opening game.
But, now, they were out for postseason redemption for themselves and coach Dick Bennett. Riding the hot hand of Jon Bryant while staying true to their system — tenacious defense and prudent shot selection — they stunned Fresno State, Arizona and LSU by holding them to season-low point totals.
In the process, they upended a No. 9, a No. 1 and a No. 4 seed.
That set up a rematch with a familiar Big Ten foe, Purdue, in the West Regional final at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bryant set an early tone by knocking down three straight triples and the Badgers went on to a 64-61 win that propelled them into the Final Four for the first time since 1941.
Point guard Mike Kelley recalled his conversation with ESPN’s Andy Katz, a UW grad.
“I remember Andy telling me that they were going to have something for us at Camp Randall Stadium when we got back to Madison,” Kelley said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool.’ But no one knew what to expect or how many people would be there.
“The stadium is so big, you thought, ‘How is this going to go over?’ When we flew in, the first angle you saw was the side of Camp Randall where people weren’t seated. We kind of banked around and then you saw a growing crowd, a substantial crowd on one side of the stadium.
“All of us got giddy at about what was to come and we couldn’t get off the plane and over to Camp Randall fast enough. Out of that whole Final Four run, people ask ‘What do you remember?’ and that (stadium reception) has got to be near the top of the list … It was just pure joy.”
As they waited in the tunnel to be introduced to the Camp Randall Stadium crowd — numbering between 30,000 and 35,000 fans — the anxiety began to build for the players who seven hours earlier had experienced the ultimate high by cutting down the nets after clinching a Final Four berth.
“We waited for what felt like an eternity,” said point guard Mike Kelley, conceding they had really waited only a handful of minutes but his concept of time was out of sync because of the adrenaline rush. “Once we finally got introduced, we ran out on the football field, which none of us had ever done before.
“Running out of the tunnel, it kind of felt like you were a football player running out for the pregame. The crowd went crazy. We didn’t know what to do so we all ran over to the fence and just started hugging people. We finally got assembled and they had an order of how they wanted it to go.”
Select players addressed the raucous gathering.
Senior guard Duany Duany shared his countdown, “64, 32, 16, 8 … Now there’s only 4.”
A Final Four of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Florida and North Carolina in Indianapolis.
“Just to be on that field, and feel the cushion of the turf and to look out and see the size of the massive stadium, it was just amazing. You felt like a real-life gladiator in this open-air arena with all the fans cheering for you. It was such a rush and very different from being in a gym.”
— Mike Kelley
Meanwhile, Kelley recalled coach Dick Bennett struggling with PA feedback in the stadium.
“There was an echo,” he said, “and people thought Coach Bennett had a few drinks in him.”
Bennett confirmed an audio conundrum.
“I’d say something and I could hear myself say it,” Bennett told the Capital Times. “I remember Tony (Bennett) told me afterwards, ‘Everybody thought you were drunk.’ I would say something and feedback would say it again and I was getting all fouled up with what I was trying to say.”
Despite a few starts and stops and pauses, Bennett still got his message across. “He had his whole speech about the animal kingdom,” Kelley said, laughing, “because we took down the Bulldogs (Fresno State), the Wildcats (Arizona) and the Tigers (LSU). It was classic.”
The players who spoke were aware of the bewitching hour that was approaching: bar time.
“All of us did our best to incite riots, I think, on State Street,” admitted Kelley. “Every one of us said, ‘We want to see all of you people on State Street.’ Of course, that led to big cheers. And I remember when it was all said and done, people rushed the field.
“It was wild. Our roommate ripped his jeans and broke a couple of ribs jumping the chain link fence between the stands and the field,” said Kelley, who roomed with Andy Kowske and two non-athletes. “We later stapled the ripped jeans to the wall of our apartment as a memory of that night.”
As they tried to exit the stadium, Bennett and his wife Anne were mobbed by the fans.
“We were engulfed,” Bennett, then 56, told the Capital Times. “People were grabbing my butt, my hair, my back and arms. I felt for a minute like a rock star. Anne and I were trying to get out of there and, all of a sudden, big Steve Sasso (a security guard) came blowing in there like a big pulling guard.”
Sasso cleared a path for the Bennetts to the parking lot.
Kelley and Kowske made their way back to their campus apartment, next to Wando’s.
“We exceeded the capacity in our little apartment,” Kelley said.
To this day, Kelley has not forgotten the Camp Randall experience.
“Just to be on that field, and feel the cushion of the turf and to look out and see the size of the massive stadium, it was just amazing,” he said. “You felt like a real-life gladiator in this open-air arena with all the fans cheering for you. It was such a rush and very different from being in a gym.”