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Back to 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament coverage

2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Commentary: Title mends Jayhawks’ grieving hearts

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6News Championship Celebration

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Coverage of the festivities after the Jayhawks became the NCAA National Champions.

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2008 NCAA Tournament

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NCAA Championship Game

— The game was slipping out of Kansas' grasp, the national title falling in a flurry of Derrick Rose baskets. But then, like so many people warned that it would, Memphis' fate came down to the free throw line.

And there, the Tigers gave their title away, missing three of four foul shots in the final 16.8 seconds and leaving the door open for Mario Chalmers' title-saving three-point shot at the end of regulation. With a second chance at glory, this group of Jayhawks too schooled in tragedy and too short on joy wasn't about to give that chance away.

A 75-68 Kansas victory over Memphis on Monday night represents more than a final score and a trophy. This is a score that heals a team and buoys a state.

Chalmers' three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 63 and set up a dominating overtime period for Kansas, sending the storied program back to the top of the basketball world and coach Bill Self to his first national championship.

It also sent Memphis coach John Calipari to console his fabulous backcourt of Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. They were his two best players Monday night at the Alamodome, but when Rose could hit only one of the four free throws the two were awarded in those final painful seconds of regulation, the Tigers went home empty-handed.

In Kansas, hearts once broken by grief are now mending with joy.

Where once there was sadness, now there is elation. Young men bound by too intimate a knowledge of death in their blood families now remain linked by their glorious achievement as a basketball family, the legacy of national champion forever their right.

Kansas won the national title Monday night in San Antonio, and more than rewarding an entire state for its devotion, they rewarded each other for surviving what they've been through. No, a seven-point win against Memphis will never replace the grandmother who died in a car accident, never soothe the pain of losing an infant son, never fill the empty hole left by a murdered father or a brother gunned down in violence.

Yes, these are the realities lived by too many of Kansas' players, from the mysterious death of center Sasha Kaun's father, most likely at the hands of a murderer. From Sherron Collins' premature newborn son, who died from complications shortly after birth. From Rodrick Stewart, who lost an adopted brother to gun violence and cruelly had his own Final Four experience aborted when he broke his kneecap attempting a dunk during Friday's open practice.

Mostly from Darnell Jackson, the senior from Oklahoma City who left the team in January to return home and help his shattered family. His grandmother was killed and his mother severely injured when they were hit by a drunk driver.

"It was one thing to the next thing," said Jackson, who also had a cousin and an uncle murdered. "The next person was dying, and then the next person was getting shot, and then my mom was in the hospital and my brother and sister were home with no food, no money, electricity off. I was going to give all this up to go and help them. I knew that was the right decision for me."

Kansas coach Bill Self followed Jackson to Oklahoma, finally convincing the young man the best path to assistance was through education and basketball. "I had no idea he was struggling to the point that he was," Self admitted. "He's one of those guys that whenever you see him, he'd smile and say everything is fine, never would let anybody know what's going on inside."

Once back in the apartment he shared with teammate Brandon Rush, Jackson learned to appreciate the support that enveloped him. "It means a lot for my teammates to be around me because they can look at me and know if I'm in a good mood," Jackson said.

"Even if I'm laying down in bed, Brandon would come in there, knock on the door, say 'You all right?' get a 'Yeah,' and close the door. I ask him every time, 'You want anything?' He said, 'No. I was just checking on you.'

"That means a lot because some guys don't have that in their lives."

Returning home to Kansas with the championship trophy and these young men will forever earn the loving support of a state.

"I think there is a yearning for it (in Kansas)," Self said. "When you talk about tradition and history, there's other great programs that have it, but nobody has the inventor of the game (James Naismith) as their first coach. ... It's a great responsibility to be the head coach at Kansas. It's a program with unbelievable pride, with terrific fans. It is a way of life. There's so much passion, and people care so much."

Those fans feel as if they've waited forever for this, survived so many early tournament exits, so many embarrassing first-round defeats. This year's tournament has offered relief and redemption, from getting their coach past his personal torture chamber known as the Elite Eight plateau and into his first Final Four to obliterating former coach Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tar Heels in the national semifinal.

They got to remind Williams one more time what he left behind when he bolted for Carolina after losing in the national title game, playing in front of Williams, who sat in the stands sporting a Kansas Jayhawk logo on his sweater.

Even better, they got to remind themselves that the flip side of pain is happiness, that the reward for not quitting is achieving a goal, that the sound of Kansas national champion, will never get old.

Comments

Jim Williamson 6 years, 3 months ago

I remember there were a lot of folks who didn't want Brandon Rush, thinking he was selfish and something of a head case. I think this article shows what kind of a young man Brandon is.

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niczagrocki 6 years, 3 months ago

Amazing article, beautifully well-written. Brought tears to my eyes, although I've been on the verge of joyful tears since Super Mario's 3 last night!! And I agree, Phogfan, a lot of people thought B was arrogant/selfish and I think he's truly proven over the last year what a class act he really is.

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Dr_Hawkenstein 6 years, 3 months ago

i still cannont believe it! i have already watched the game three times. it feels just like it did in '88. what a great, great game. ROCK CHALK!

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ralsterKUMed95 6 years, 3 months ago

Although this was a great team win, epitomizing THIS Jayhawk team's offense/defense and unselfishness, I would nickname the win Mario's Miracle--on a night where we shot less than 20% from 3pt! In 1988 it was Danny and the Miracles. In 2008, its Mario's Miracle.

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ChicagoJHawk 6 years, 3 months ago

That was an excellent, very, very well written article. Congrats Jayhawks, you deserved it!I'm sure Rush now has to be happy he ended up playing for KU another year. His injury truly was a blessing in disguise; I don't know if we could have won that game without him.Once again, congratulations to all the coaches and players from the 07-08 team, you will all be remembered forever! ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK GO KU!!!!

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fansincewilt 6 years, 3 months ago

I am still in shock. I had already begun preparing myself to handle the loss when Arthur, then Collings turned a 9-point lead into a 4-point lead. I put my lucky Jayhawk cap back on and went crazy for the next several minutes. I can't believe what happened has really happened.

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kuae99 6 years, 3 months ago

Awesome article. This is what I will show my friends when I tell them why I'm a such a fan of my alma mater. There are a few other schools out there like ours, but not many. From Scot Pollard proposing to his girlfriend at Late Night my freshman year to the kids we have today, it's a big family. We recruit good young men and women. Calipari, Thuggins, the Harricks, Barnes, Lavin - keep'em.This article was written out of New Jersey. This writer should get an honorary doctorate from our J-school.Rock Chalk!

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