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For this Kansas team, it's what comes next, not the end of the streak, that matters most now

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Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) fight for a rebound from Texas Tech forward Josh Mballa (35) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) fight for a rebound from Texas Tech forward Josh Mballa (35) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Say what you will about the end of KU’s 14-year Big 12 title streak, how the Kansas players and fans should react to it and what it means for the Big 12, these Jayhawks and the Kansas basketball program as a whole.

All of that, and much, much more, matters a great deal to those observing this thing from afar, even the former Kansas players who put their own work into building the NCAA record that is not likely to be broken any time soon, if ever.

But to the players who are living it, the 11 guys who suited up for Tuesday night’s 81-68 loss at Oklahoma that officially ended KU’s incredible run — and a couple others in street clothes who were there with them — the immediate response to the end of the streak has nothing to do with history, a legacy or how this team or that incredible run will be remembered.

That’s for the sports talk hosts, columnists, Twitter warriors and water cooler conversations.

What these guys are focused on is the same thing they’ve been focused on all season, a goal that has been difficult to grasp but one they’re not done grinding toward.

Whether you want them to take it harder, feel worse or reflect more profoundly on the end of the streak, the only thing that really matters to this current crop of Jayhawks is simple — getting better.

After Tuesday’s loss, freshman guard Ochai Agbaji was asked if he felt like the 2018-19 team let down all of those Jayhawks who came before them who built the streak to 14 in a row and had no plans of ever seeing it end.

Straight faced and without a moment’s hesitation, Agbaji answered, “Not really. We’re not really trying to really focus on that. I think we’re focusing on still getting better with this final stretch. I think we can actually still do something special and surprise a lot of people.”

Doing something special — which, by Kansas standards means Final Four or better — certainly would qualify as a surprise at this point.

But give Agbaji and his teammates credit for refusing to blink in the face of a tough situation.

Fair or not and tough circumstances notwithstanding, this team, these names and the dozen or so faces you’ve grumbled about all season will be the ones forever associated with the end of the streak. In time, that will mean less and sting softer. But at this time, it’s a lot to handle. Especially when you consider that four key contributors on this team are freshmen going through it all for the first time in their lives.

While we’re in the mood of handing out credit, let me throw a little more Agbaji’s way.

After Tuesday’s game, it was 18-point scorers Dedric Lawson and David McCormack who accompanied KU coach Bill Self to the media room to talk about this particular loss and what it felt like to have the streak come to an end.

But afterwards, about 10 minutes after Self was finished with his portion of the postgame Q&A session, a KU official hollered toward Agbaji on his way up the ramp and out to the team bus, requesting that he come back for a few more minutes of interviews.

A lesser person would have conveniently found it too difficult to hear above all the noise and commotion and would have quickly slipped out the back door instead of facing the music. But not Agbaji. He turned around, walked back down the ramp and found a way to stand with his head held high and his signature smile on his face as he answered questions similar to the ones that his teammates and coach were asked moments earlier.

“It’s kind of hard,” admitted the 18-year-old Agbaji, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and, therefore, grew up with the streak as a part of his childhood. “But thinking about it from a bigger picture, all the guys and all the players that have played, all the games and conference championships they won and all that, (we’re) obviously applauding them and I think it’s kind of cool looking back at that.”

Looking back on it is all anybody can do when it comes to the streak from this point forward. And, yeah, Twitter and talk radio and message boards and fan blogs were overloaded with that kind of thing late Tuesday night and throughout the day Wednesday.

And it’ll be that way — some days, weeks, months and years more than others — for a long, long time.

But inside the Kansas locker room, on the practice courts at Allen Fieldhouse and in the film room next to the players lounge in KU’s luxurious locker room, the Jayhawks figure to have more important things on their mind.

None of them wanted the streak to end. The all wanted to become a part of it. And there’s no doubt that they’re disappointed that they’re not. But following the lead of their head coach, they’re also choosing to move on.

“He just talked about getting better and getting ready for Baylor (1 p.m. Saturady at Allen Fieldhouse) and finishing the season strong and having some confidence going over and playing in Kansas City (in the Big 12 tournament),” junior forward Dedric Lawson said of the postgame message from Self on Tuesday night. “Going forward, (we just want to) take it a game at a time. We’re playing Baylor and go from there to Kansas City. We have to carry it over from practice to wherever we go play.”

Tapping into his years of wisdom and utilizing the approach that led to the streak’s creation in the first place, not to mention a spot in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Self already was thinking about what comes next on Tuesday night.

Yeah, Baylor’s the next game on the schedule and the Big 12 tournament is up after that. But what comes next for this group goes far beyond a time slot and scheduled opponent.

It’s about a mindset, an approach and an understanding that just because the streak is dead does not mean all is lost.

“Every team that played tonight, 50 percent of them lost,” Self said after Tuesday’s defeat. “And I don’t think they’re going to throw in the towel because they lost on a Tuesday night in early March. Now, you’re going to throw it in if you lose on a Friday night or a Thursday night in later March. But we’re not at that point yet.”

And the goal for the Jayhawks from here on out, wherever they go, whoever they face and whatever they’re seeded, is to do everything in their power to avoid reaching that point.

“Kansas was a 6 seed and won a national championship (in 1988),” Self continued. “Of course, they had one guy (Danny Manning) that was a little bit better than everybody else’s. But the whole thing is anything can still happen.”

He continued: “Being realistic, you don’t have the margin for error. Like, in the past, if you’re not playing well, you still have maybe enough talent to overcome some things. But, hey, scouting report or health, a whistle, whatever is more magnified now when you’re not more talented than the other teams. You’re playing against a level playing field. If you just watched OU and us play tonight, you’d say, ‘God dang, their players are every bit what our guys are. Maybe more.’ And that’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the way. Because we’re not going to play any games where we’re big favorites and we’re not going to play any games where we’re big (underdogs). It’s just going to be whether or not we can just get it done that night.

“We can still do special things. But what’s special for some teams is different than what’s special for other teams.”

For Kansas, an unprecedented streak of 14 consecutive conference titles delivered by some of the biggest and best names to ever put on a Kansas uniform, is special.

But so, too, is making a run in the NCAA Tournament, expected or unexpected.

There are enough reasons to think that that kind of finish is not in the cards for this team. But there’s also enough time left in the season for them to prove otherwise.

The time to talk about the streak has passed. It’s time to talk about what’s next, whatever that may be.

Comments

Jay Scott 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't tell the Chicken Littles but there's a great chance that everyone is back and healthy. If that happens, Kansas will be the team to beat next season.

Let them have their anger and bitterness now, after 15 years of whining, they've earned.

Matt Tait 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't want to burst your bubble here, but I'd be pretty surprised if everybody from this team is back next year. I'd bet on at least 2 or 3 guys leaving and maybe more.

Dane Pratt 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I would LOVE to see Dedric in a KU uniform but I don't think he can improve his NBA stock with another year of college. Just hope when he enters the draft he does it without an agent. So who else do you expect to leave?

Rae Bricil 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Interesting you see 2-3 leaving. The two on the draft boards, for late second round are Dok and Dedric. Not talking trash here but not sure what either can do in the NBA in its current form--30 years ago both would have been lottery picks. Now you have 7 footers as ball handlers and 3 point shooters--where does Dok fit in the current NBA. The same for lawson while his game is nice i just dont see how it translates to the NBA. Would love someone to throw out someone else's game his is comparable to. All that said i dont doubt that both leave given Dok's injury history--should go for the money while he can---and Lawson's ceiling--dont see another year of college really benefiting him.

So would the 3rd person be DeSousa bc of the ruling. If so that is quite sad--his college career taken from him due to the ridiculousness of the NCAA.

Anyone else?

Matt Tait 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't know that it's to the point yet where I'm expecting any specific players to leave, but it certainly would not surprise me if a few guys left.

• If Dedric leaves, you have to wonder if K.J. will go with him.

• I could easily see Grimes deciding to enter the draft.

• I think Charlie Moore could look to move on given what KU has coming in and coming back on the perimeter.

• And then there's Udoka, who, even though I think he should come back, is a wild card of sorts.

• There's also Silvio. The bottom line there, at least in my opinion is this: If they win the appeal, he'll definitely be back. If they don't, he might look to leave. But even that is not exactly a given just yet.

Rae Bricil 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Interesting. Would be curious where KJ would go---wouldn't think he would want to sit out another year.

Hopefully Grimes doesn't leave i feel it could create the wrong trajectory for what could be a long NBA career.

Moore makes a lot of sense.

Jay Scott 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Are you trying to make wild assertions to stir up discussion? If not, you're way off track. Sorry Matt.

2-3, maybe. Moore, Dedrick, Dok and Silvio all make sense. Grimes and KJ... Huge stretch.

Matt Tait 2 months, 2 weeks ago

OK. Not trying to stir up discussion in any way. Just telling you what I think. Take it or leave it as you see fit. We'll know soon enough anyway.

Tim Orel 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't forget, Vick is leaving as well. Sure, he's not with the team now, but he's still technically a member and can't return.

I think it's possible Dok might return. I'd love it if Dedrick and Sylvio return. If they all do, KU might have the team I was dreaming about for this year.

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

IMO, I dont expect Dok or Lawson back..given Dok's injuries, he might wanna cash out now while he can..Lawson's game is old school..not sure if he has the foot speed to deal with the more agile NBA PF, but at the age he is now, he'd be too old to draft if he stays one more year..plus I think he has peaked ......Grimes is 50/50..he could leave on potential, but his NBA stock you would assume has plummeted greatly..if I were Silvio, I wouldnt bother sticking around..Id thank KU for their efforts, but I dont see the NCAA changing their mind..I think KU is in good shape with their back court for next season with or without Grimes..its their front court that scares me...with no big men signed for next season, if Lawson and Dok leave, that leaves DMAC and lightfoot as the only bigs...signing Hurt is crucial.....but have to admit, the possibility of everyone staying is enticing...but it all matters for not if the NCAA puts sanctions on us by banning us from post season play..

Layne Pierce 2 months, 2 weeks ago

jAY For that to be true, every player is going to have to get better.
Maybe the real key guy is Big Mac. He needs to get 10pts, 5rebounds, everytime out, whether starting or off the bench.

Grimes has got to improve fundamental thinking. He does not think about his passes. He things too much about his shooting.

Dotson has to use his speed to not only score, but to set up his teammates. Devonte and Frank were scorers, but they could really set up teammates.

If Dedric comes back, he needs to let the game come more to him. Ochai needs to do the same thing, and he needs to take the short jump shot, same as Grimes. Too many times we crashed into 3 people, when we could have just stopped for the 5 to 8 ft jumper.

Mitch bring it every night.

Again, for me it's not that the streak ended, but how it ended.

RCJH

Jay Scott 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Really hard to imagine a bunch of 18-20 year old kids improving.....

OOPS...no, it's not.

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

same here..the fact that every road loss (except for WVU) was a blowout...thats alarming because it shows a lack of toughness..I would have been happier if KU would have showed fight and barely lost..they came out as flat as they have in every road game

Tony Bandle 2 months, 2 weeks ago

It could have been worse.....we could have lost the streak on a buzzer beating, half court, three point desperation shot by a Kansas State walk-on in Allen Field House thus giving the title for 2018-19 exclusively to Kansas State at which point Bill left for the NBA!!!!

Tony Bandle 2 months, 2 weeks ago

PS ,,,after blowing a 30 point lead at half time!!

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Self isnt leaving KU..i dont care what team his son works for...

Edward Daub 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If Gregg Popovich retires, R.C. Buford's first phone call will be to Bill Self. That scenario wouldl be the Litmus Test.

Marc Frey 2 months, 2 weeks ago

We went from Final Four in November to today and "I hope we make it out of the first weekend". For next year...staying out of probation is the first issue on my mind.

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

me too...if the NCAA tells KU they cant play in next years post season then it wont matter who stays an goes who they recruit

Brian Wilson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Interesting statement Tait. I see maybe 3 scholarships opening. Vick, Silvio, and maybe Moore is feeling odd man out with Agbaji and Dotson and will transfer again. NBA prospects appear to be thin this year so I see all the big guys back. Otherwise maybe someone is homesick. Garrett and Grimes are both from Texas and I would hope that made it easier....I'm just not seeing it.

Bj Cassady 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Grimes could xfer, D Lawson could exit as could DeSousa, Doak. I hope not but Grimes has heard all the chatter this season and he may want a fresh start somewhere.

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

if Grimes leaves it will be for the NBA draft..if he transfers he'll have to sit a year..I dont see a kid with that talent opting to sit when he can go pro or play for a top level team like KU....plus the fact that Self has stuck with him even with him struggling has to have won Self some "cool" points....Silvio should leave..the NCAA wont change their mind,

Edward Daub 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Self said "Danny and the Miracles" were a 6 Seed in 1988! Wow!

Somebody posted recently about how UConn won the NCAA Title a few years ago. That aroused my curiousity to look that up. Yes, in 2014, 7 Seed UConn defeated 8 Seed Kentucky in the NCAA Final! The UConn Coach was Kevin Ollie, in his second year, after replacing Jim Calhoun. Ironic that Ollie was fired a couple years later.

To add Insult to Injury, UConn also won the Title in 2011, their 3rd Title in the Jim Calhoun Era. UConn a 3 Seed defeated Butler an 8 Seed in the NCAA Final! I hate to ruin anybody's life, but 2011 sure Rang my Bell! VCU made the Final 4 after toppling KU in the Elite 8, that loss still stings and will always hurt.

As Yogi Berra used to say "It ain't over till It's over"! KU will definitely make the NCAA Tournament. I can only dream that 2019 is the Year of "Dedric and the Miracles". I will need to temper my expectations, possible but not probable.

David Friend 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt Tait; you stated 2-3 will not be back. I see your statement as a trick statement. The three are Dedric, Silvio and I have been saying all year I would not be shocked if this is Self's last year.

Chad Smith 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Self isn't leaving after this season. He's been on record saying he wants to coach until about age 60, that means he's got at least a couple more seasons here. He's not going to just up and leave KU in the state that it's currently in, which is below its standard. He'll hand it over in great shape after a couple more years. Maybe after the 2020-2021 season.

He'll be motivated as hell to produce a championship product on the floor this offseason.

David Friend 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Chad. I never said he is just would not be shocked. I tend to agree he won't leave with the program in this state. It is quite possible with it may take two more years to get back to where we were last year.

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