When you’ve won 12 consecutive conference titles, you tend to have a pretty clear understanding of how to handle the spotlight that shines on your program while people wonder if this will be the year the streak ends.
For Kansas coach Bill Self, the preferred style of coping with the inevitable questions is to point out that each Kansas team that added a chapter to the streak was not gunning for No. 5, 8, 10 or 12 in a row, rather seeking merely to win one title that particular year.
Self on Wednesday again showed his mastery of handling the pressure that comes with the Jayhawks’ conference title streak by explaining that his team has talked little about it and instead has focused its energy on finishing ahead of Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State and all other challengers during the next two months of Big 12 basketball.
“You could use the motivation of, ‘Hey, do you want to be the team that didn’t do it,’” Self said. “But I don’t know if you should motivate negatively like that. We want to win this year — 2017 is the year that we want to win the league. Other players in the past have certainly put (us) in position where it could be talked about. But that’s not what guys should be motivated by. Guys should be motivated by getting this team’s first championship, and I think they will be.”
It’s the excitement of gunning for a title, not the expectation of continuing the streak, that has the third-ranked Jayhawks (11-1) most looking forward to kicking off Big 12 play at 8 tonight at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.
Like Self, junior Devonte’ Graham said the Jayhawks don’t focus much on the streak because “everybody knows about it and that’s all everybody talks about.”
“What we’ve been talking about lately,” Graham explained. “Is just, conference play is here, it’s time to take another step and every game is gonna be tough and we’ve gotta come out and play every night.”
Asked if he could remember his first experience with flipping the switch from non-conference play to battling in the Big 12, Graham smiled and said the biggest challenge that accompanies the 18-game conference grind is the Jayhawks’ obligation to play the role of the hunted.
“It’s just that target that we have,” he said. “Everybody wants to see Kansas lose the Big 12. Every game means something even more now than non-conference games. Everybody’s coming for us. So you’ve gotta take more time and look at scouting reports in more depth and with our mentality in the weight room. We’ve just gotta be more focused now.”
Although the Jayhawks do not spend their days emphasizing the streak and its importance — which is greater this season now that the Jayhawks are attempting to tie UCLA’s all-time record — Graham said, year after year, there has been a strong belief in the locker room that nobody wants to be a part of the team that fails to keep the streak alive.
“We’ve said that to each other before at practice,” said Graham before adding that, even with that in mind, nothing really changes about the Jayhawks’ day-to-day operations. “But we don’t look too far down the road ... It’s the same approach as always.”
Added Self: “Whether UCLA won 20 or nine or whatever, I don’t think it would be any more motivation for me personally. I just want this team to be as good as it can be. It would be nice to tie that record because that is a pretty cool record. But I don’t lay up at night thinking, ‘Oh God, if we could just match UCLA.’ I don’t think that way.”