1 or 11: It's up to Jayhawks how many days are left in their season
Omaha, Neb. — As top-seeded Kansas enters its Sweet 16 matchup with Clemson, a board on a wall inside the Jayhawks’ locker room back home feels more relevant than ever.
Sometimes it is referenced, other times just thought of but unmentioned. Either way, it has been on the minds of KU’s players this week.
The essence of the board inside Allen Fieldhouse traveled easily to CenturyLink Center. KU coach Bill Self mentioned its message on the eve of his players’ next NCAA Tournament game: the Jayhawks could have one day left in their season, or they could keep playing for 11 more.
“It’s pretty simple,” sophomore Mitch Lightfoot related. “We go out here and compete and we can win and keep this team together. I think that’s what we all want. It’s a pretty close, tight-knit team. We’re looking to go out there and play for each other.”
The board displays various other significant countdowns, too, for easy referral as the Jayhawks grind their way through the season.
“It shows how many days left ’til the Final Four, how many days left ’til this, left ’til that,” Lightfoot shared on Thursday. “Everything else is erased. There’s no days left ’til the Big 12 tournament, there’s no days left ’til the NCAA Tournament. It’s here. The Final Four’s up there, and I think we all understand that it’s either one day left of 11 days left with this team, and we all take that to heart. I think we go out there and play that much harder for each other.”
While Self has brought up the dwindling number of days left on the college basketball calendar, Lightfoot said it hasn’t necessarily become a talking point from KU’s seniors, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Clay Young.
If he were in their adidas, Lightfoot probably wouldn’t want to make it a constant topic of discussion either.
“I just think they love this place so much. Svi, Clay, D’tae, they’ve given so much to this organization, and I think it’s gonna be hard for them to leave,” Lightfoot said. “I think we’re going to go out there and play for them and send them out right.”
Mykhailiuk said the seniors are keenly aware of both how close they are to their ultimate goal of cutting down nets in San Antonio and just how quickly their careers could come to an abrupt, undesired conclusion.
“It’s one or 11, so we’ve just got to leave it on the court and on the practice court,” Mykhailiuk said. “It might be one day we could be with each other or it might be 11 left. We don’t know. We’ve got to take it as a last practice or last game. We’ve got to leave it on the court and compete as hard as we can.”
Because Mykhailiuk and Graham have played on the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight stages each of the past two seasons, they know better than any of their teammates what type of efforts the Jayhawks will need to get past Clemson. But the senior from Ukraine wasn’t worried those of his teammates who will be asked to perform on this stage for the first time. He trusts they grasp the gravity of the situation.
“I think everybody knows. Coach has been talking about this to us and I think everybody realizes how important it is,” Mykhailiuk said, “and how important it is to come prepared and know what you’re doing and compete as hard as we can to get a win.”