Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Coverage of the festivities after the Jayhawks became the NCAA National Champions.
Get your March Madness fix at KUSports.com.
San Antonio The shot was in the air as the game clock ticked down to 2.1 seconds. The right guy shot it. Just another big shot in a lifetime full of them for Mario Chalmers, who witnessed a Final Four in the same building in 2004. It misses and it goes down as another near miss for another outstanding Kansas team.
It swished, of course. Kansas dominated the overtime, defeating Memphis, 75-68, Monday night for the national title. Now it can be said: Bill Self's 2007-2008 Kansas basketball team (in every sense of the word) is the greatest in the history of the storied program.
It didn't come without first dragging such a passionate fan base through agony, because that's just the way it works. Down nine points with less than two minutes remaining, the team with nine lives had one left.
These Self-made champions, authors of cardiac comebacks before but covering so much ground with so little time left, brought Kansas its third NCAA championship and fifth national title, counting 1922 and '23, when the Helms Foundation awarded them the honor in pre-tournament days.
As always, Self wrapped the present with names of Kansas greats of the past when talking to his players.
"I told the guys last night and today, Kansas basketball," Self said after winning the national title. "Dr. Naismith. Rupp. Allen. Owens. Brown. Williams. Wilt. So many great teams. This is the winningest team in the history of the program. I told the guys we'd be remembered as the best team ever if we took care of business today. It's a humbling thought. All the great teams. This will go down as the best ever."
So many of those who were such a big part of Kansas tradition witnessed the coronation of team left for dead as Memphis players were getting ready to cut down the nets.
All four living Kansas basketball coaches were in the Alamodome. Roy Williams, wearing a Jayhawk sticker over his heart on a black shirt, sat about 10 rows behind the Kansas bench, next to his daughter, a KU graduate. Kitty-corner from there, in the best seats given to Kansas fans, Larry Brown, who coached KU to its last title, sat next to his friend, Lawrence businessman Doug Compton. In the row in front of Brown, a few seats over, Ted Owens, the coach after Dick Harp and before Brown, sat next to Illinois State Tim Jankovich, a former Self assistant.
Danny Manning, the star of Brown's 1988 national champions, wore a suit this time, sitting on the bench as a member of Self's staff. The big men Manning tutors made him proud, dominating the boards, 39-28, and drawing the Memphis bigs into foul trouble.
"I told our staff at pregame that Danny's part of it now, he was a huge part of it then," Self said, looking back on '88. "Went through Nebraska, went through Detroit (in '88 and this tourney). And then when I saw the official line, Ed Hightower's refereeing. That sounds weird, but Ed refereed the championship game in '88. I thought to myself, the stars are aligning for whatever reason."
Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, the greatest champion in the history of sports, was a spectator, watching a group that played the same sort of relentless defense and unselfish offense that made the Celtics the Celtics.
Self has a clear vision of what he thinks a college basketball team should look like, and he put this team together with that vision in mind. First, it has to be athletic, defensive-minded and tough. He believes in balanced scoring and an inside-out philosophy. He believes players should know their roles and that part of one player's role is to take the big shots. Self's clear vision of what a basketball team should be was on display in the national title game.
Balanced scoring? Four players reached double figures, led by Darrell Arthur (20 points) and Chalmers (18).
Inside-out? Kansas attempted just 12 three-pointers, compared to 22 for Memphis.
Tough? Two words: Sherron Collins. He leads with his chin. Memphis point Derrick Rose will be one of the first two players chosen in the NBA Draft. Except for one second-half stretch in which Rose outscored Kansas, 10-2, Collins played him even on the night in a battle of great Chicago guards.
Since midway through his freshman season, Chalmers became the guy Self wanted taking the big shot.
"He has no memory," Self said Monday night. "The next thing that happens is the only thing he's ever thinking about. It's just remarkable that a guy can have that much poise when the pressure's on like that."
Self, noted for hitting buzzer-beaters as a high school big shot in Oklahoma, remained poised through first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley in back-to-back years.
"I never saw it as the lowest of the lows, but it was a down moment in my coaching career, no question," Self said.
He didn't get down on his team when it lost at Oklahoma State, 61-60, either.
The season began with a 20-0 streak, sputtered with a 4-3 stretch, and finished with a 13-0 flurry. Kansas avenged two of its three losses, to Kansas State and Texas, in rematches.
Now KU will attempt to avenge its only other loss, to Oklahoma State, though the revenge can't come on a basketball court. Naively not even thinking about what a terrible spot they were putting the coach they desire in, Oklahoma State officials thought it would be a good idea to force coach Sean Sutton out at the beginning of the biggest week of Self's coaching life.
Self obviously kept it from being a distraction, but the sloppy handling of the Sutton ouster certainly has to be lodged in Self's brain as a reminder that his alma mater isn't buttoned-up in terms of how to do things in a big-time fashion.
It has been believed for the past couple of years that oil and energy trading magnate T. Boone Pickens would make a run at Self, a former basketball player at OSU. That run could commence as soon as today.
The pull of returning to his alma mater will not be the issue, as it was in part for Self's successor, Roy Williams, whose North Carolina team lost 84-66 to KU in Saturday's semifinal. Williams left for a place he thought would be even easier to draw recruits. Self, should he accept Pickens' millions, would be leaving for a place more difficult to land blue-chippers than Kansas. He also would be trading a boss, athletic director Lew Perkins, with whom he enjoys working, for a more murky situation. Would he be working for AD Mike Holder or for Pickens?
Monday night wasn't the night to ask Self about that. All that was on his mind was celebrating a national title with a 37-3 team he loves for a school he loves, on a night Chalmers hit the biggest shot in Kansas for the best team in school history.