I have been the Athletics Director at the University of Kansas for just a short time, but I truly feel like I have been a part of the KU family for much longer than that.
My mind has wandered these last few weeks back to the years I spent as a youth in Lawrence. My earliest and fondest memories involve rooting on the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium. I will be forever grateful to former KU Chancellor Gene Budig, who convinced me in the early ‘90s to pursue a Ph.D. in Lawrence. That allowed me to work with great educators like Ed Meyen, Del Shankel and countless others. I experienced first-hand the greatness of KU. Now, as we settle in for March Madness, I cannot help but pause and convey to you my humble thanks and pride that Chancellor Gray-Little selected me to be a part of all of this.
Over the last several weeks we have watched with delight and wonder as Coach Bill Self’s basketball team stormed back from two games behind to win the Big 12 Conference regular-season title outright. That’s an amazing seven straight championships — an unheard of feat in today’s world of the “power conferences.”
We watched with pride as the Jayhawks avenged their in-season loss to Texas, defeating the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship final. That’s four of the last five Big 12 tournament titles the Jayhawks have won — another terrific feat.
Then we watched as the NCAA Basketball Committee validated KU’s outstanding season by awarding the team a No. 1 seed — the fourth time in the last five seasons that Coach Self and his staff have led their teams to that distinction. (We should all take time to appreciate the enormity of that accomplishment! In this era of outstanding players leaving college early to play professionally, the best college basketball staff in America has successfully maintained KU among the most elite of college programs.)
We should all be proud of our student-athletes, who have overcome the ultimate emotional adversity this season en route to yet another Big 12 Championship. The way the team and the entire Jayhawk Nation surrounded Thomas Robinson’s family was inspiring. And, having lost three players from last year’s squad to the NBA, who could rightfully have expected the kind of season we’ve witnessed? It happened because of the dedication, pride and focus displayed by these terrific student-athletes.
With the regular- and conference-tournament seasons behind us, we turn our attention to the third season — the Championship season. This is KU’s 40th appearance in the NCAA Championship and 22nd in a row. No other program in America is currently riding such a streak.
Nothing for me can compare to the breathtaking history and tradition of Kansas basketball, and I am honored that I can now enjoy this experience as part of the KU family. As we traveled throughout the state of Kansas in recent weeks, I was repeatedly reminded of the great love and passion that our fans feel for KU and the Jayhawks. Now, as we head to Tulsa and hopefully beyond, I look forward to many more reminders.
So let’s enjoy the journey together. Go Hawks!