A look behind the curtain of KU's 2008 national title win from 5 players who were there
By now, almost 10 full years after Mario’s Miracle and the Kansas men’s basketball team’s run to the 2008 national championship, many of the stories about that team, its tournament run and the title game against Memphis have been told.
Everyone knows that “Chop” is the name of the famous play that delivered Mario Chalmers’ 3-point bucket that sent the game to overtime. Everyone knows a few key missed free throws by Memphis allowed Kansas to crawl back from a nine-point deficit in the final 2:12. And everyone has heard KU coach Bill Self’s pregame speech — some as many as 10 or 20 times — that prophetically featured Self thanking his team for the celebration they would have later that night, long before the ball was ever tipped off.
But what about the untold stories?
What about Tyrel Reed watching from the bench, jumping higher than he ever had in his life when Chalmers’ shot went through?
What about Matt Kleinmann rushing the floor at the final buzzer a fraction of a second too soon and drawing a jab from Self about how he could’ve been hit with a technical foul and cost KU a national championship?
Review of the replay, which Kleinmann paused, revealed that the guy they called “Big Red,” was, in fact, on the court starting the celebration with a little over one second remaining on the clock.
“I didn’t play a minute in the game,” Kleinmann joked on Thursday night.
What about Sherron Collins revealing that the only play the Jayhawks ran throughout the entire five-minute overtime was called “Hang Loose,” complete with the surfer hand signal involving one’s thumb and pinky finger moving back and forth?
• PHOTO GALLERY: Check out the scene from Thursday's KU Basketball Season Tip-Off Party
Those stories and many more were the highlight of Thursday night’s first ever KUsports.com KU basketball season tip-off party at Abe & Jake’s in Downtown Lawrence, where Collins, Reed, Kleinmann, Jeremy Case and Brennan Bechard joined the KUsports.com crew to watch the final few minutes and overtime of the Memphis game, providing commentary and insight as the comeback unfolded for the 200 or so people who attended the event.
Designed to both usher in a new season of Kansas basketball and recognize the 10-year anniversary of that 2008 title team, Thursday’s tip-off party was a celebration of all things Kansas basketball.
For the former Jayhawks who joined on Thursday, — many members of that title team are still playing in the NBA — the opportunity to sit down and watch the win over Memphis in the title game was rare. All of them had seen bits and pieces of the game throughout the past 10 years, but not all of them had watched the game in its entirety and a couple of them had never watched it.
“I’ve only watched it once,” Jeremy Case told the crowd.
“I’ve never watched this game,” Tyrel Reed revealed.
“I’ve only watched it twice,” Kleinmann said. “Once at The Wheel and once to show my wife because she’s a Missouri Tiger.”
Sitting there together, watching with a big crowd cheering behind them, gave all five guys the opportunity to relive every moment of that incredible final eight minutes, which featured an 18-3 run by Kansas during a 4-minute stretch that spanned the end of regulation and start of overtime.
Seeing what each former player remembered about the various moments during that comeback, the highs and lows, the good and the bad, was terrific entertainment.
Collins, who was on the floor during most of the game’s final 10 minutes, talked the most about the comeback victory.
He shared memories of specific moments and single plays and also recalled the emotions and overall vibe that went into the KU comeback.
Although the rest of the players at Thursday’s party did not play in the title game, each one had a front row seat for the improbable comeback and offered a unique perspective on one of the most incredible games in Kansas basketball history.
Take Kleinmann, for instance. From his view at the end of the bench, he saw and heard everything that happened, yet even he still had questions for Collins on Thursday night.
“Sherron, before Mario hit the shot, who was the best player in the game,” Kleinmann asked.
The answer: “Shady,” said Collins referring to Darrell Arthur, who tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds in that title-game victory. “No doubt,” added Case.
We also learned, both by watching on the screen and from his teammates ribbing him about it, that Case’s default position during close games was hands and knees in front of his seat, in what Collins once referred to as “push-up” position.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the other notable moments, insights and soundbites from Thursday night’s viewing:
• Sherron Collins on his steal of an inbounds pass with just under two minutes left that led to his 3-pointer from the corner and pulled Kansas to within four, 60-56.
“I couldn’t believe he threw it so soft,” Collins said. “With the seriousness of the game, for him to throw that pass like that, it was meant for us to win because I shouldn’t be able to steal it. But my eyes got big. It was right there. I just had to grab it.”
• When KU was down nine with just over two minutes to play, Collins said Self called the team together and calmly told everybody to relax and focus in because they could still win the game. Asked if Self remained calm when the furious comeback began, Collins said:
“Nah. I don’t think anybody was calm during this time. Coach does this thing with his hand where he does this (demonstrates sliding thumb and forefinger together along his hair line). That’s how you know he’s nervous.”
• Asked who the best player for Memphis was during that 2008 national championship game, Collins said:
“Chris Douglas-Roberts. For sure.”
Asked, “Better than Derrick Rose?” for clarity’s sake, Collins, who grew up with Rose in Chicago, added, “This game, yeah.”
• One time, after famed official Ed Hightower made his way onto the screen, Reed paused the game and offered his thoughts about the veteran NCAA official:
“I felt like we never got a very good whistle from him. We won the game, but we never seemed to get a call.”
Case, who is a current member of the KU coaching staff, quickly interjected with, “We love Ed Hightower, now.”
Kleinmann then shared a story about former KU assistant coach Danny Manning getting on Hightower for what he thought was a bad call and Hightower responding to Manning with, “That’s the same call I gave you in ’88.”
• Brennan Bechard on whether the Jayhawks could feel the game slipping away from Memphis in the moment:
“I think you could sense it a little bit. Once a team starts coming back, your neck always gets a little hot and you can start feeling the pressure, so you could sense it a little bit.”
• Collins on a deflection out of bounds with 31.3 seconds remaining that was given to Memphis with KU trailing 62-60. Collins said he thought the ball should have been KU’s ball.
“Right here, D-Rose just lost the ball. I did not touch it. I was asking the crowd if they see it. I’m telling you, he just lost the ball.”
• Collins on the frantic final moments running “Chop” before Chalmers drilled the 3-pointer to send it to overtime:
“Right here, I hear (Memphis coach John) Calipari tell Derrick Rose to foul me. Normally, this play I’m supposed to stay on the outside and keep it as close to the sideline as I can, but him hollering foul me, I heard it, and, if he would’ve fouled me we would’ve shot two free throws and would’ve never been able to tie the game so I didn’t want to get fouled so that’s why I crossed over and made the play a little bit more difficult than what it was.”
Asked by Tom Keegan if he was fouled before the pass to Chalmers, Collins showed a sly grin and simply said, “No.”
• Collins on the feeling on the court as the two teams walked to their benches and the end of regulation:
“You could see it,” Collins said. “We sucked the life out of them, we took their best shot and, at this point, we knew it was over and we were gonna win.”
The four other guys on the stage agreed 100 percent with Collins.
• Collins, when asked if Coach Self had any words of wisdom for his team before they took the floor to start overtime.
“He didn’t really have to say anything. We all just knew.”
• Collins on his pass across mid-court by Collins to Russell Robinson to beat the Memphis pressure, with Kansas leading, 71-68, with 51 seconds to play in overtime:
“Russell saved me on that one.”
• Collins on slipping out of bounds right in front of the Memphis bench with 28.3 seconds to play in overtime, giving the ball back to the Tigers, who trailed by five:
“Honestly, I think they put water on the floor in front of the bench right there, because it was so slippery right there and I couldn’t stop and it didn’t happen to me all game. Pay attention how they go and wipe it up.”
• Collins on the feeling, up five, going to the free throw line with 18 seconds to play in the game, and whether it had started to sink it that KU was going to win a national championship:
“It probably sunk in when we got back to Lawrence. That was a game, to be honest, I say we were supposed to win, a lot of people say we (weren’t). Incredible comeback. I don’t even know what to say right now, still to this day. It’s just a game that we just worked hard and everything we worked for came to light.”
• Bechard on the team’s postgame celebration after the 75-68, overtime win over Memphis:
“I may or may not have ended up in the Riverwalk at 3 a.m. that night, cannon ball style.”
“He about got arrested,” Collins added.
“I talked my way out of it,” Bechard said with a shrug.
• On what happened to the game ball that Collins tossed into the air after dribbling out the clock to seal the championship:
“I know exactly what happened to it. Case has it,” Collins said.
“Yeah, I took the ball. I’ve got it at my house,” Case said.
When Keegan jokingly asked, ‘How much you want for it?” Case responded, predictably, with, “It’s not for sale.”