Kansas basketball's Remy Martin experience ends on an incredible high

Kansas guard Remy Martin (11) looks for the applause of the crowd as the Kansas Jayhawks celebrate their 72-69 win over North Carolina in the NCAA National Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

Kansas guard Remy Martin (11) looks for the applause of the crowd as the Kansas Jayhawks celebrate their 72-69 win over North Carolina in the NCAA National Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

New Orleans — Of all of the wide smiles, huge hugs and starry-eyed looks that took place on the stage where the Kansas Jayhawks collected the 2022 national championship trophy, there was one moment that proved to be the perfect exclamation point to a crazy season.

Just minutes after the Jayhawks’ — from Kansas, not Kansas City — held up their shiny new trophy for all the world to see, Kansas coach Bill Self looked to his left and saw a squirrely KU guard experiencing complete euphoria.

While dancing and smiling and posing and laughing, KU point guard Remy Martin caught the eye of his head coach and the two exchanged a quick high-five. It was nothing special, nothing unique, just a moment between a coach and one of his players that some thought might never come.

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Kansas guard Remy Martin (11) reaches out to slap hands with the band as the Jayhawks celebrate their 72-69 win over North Carolina in the NCAA National Championship game.

Throughout what can only be described as one of those you-have-to-live-it-to-believe-it seasons by Martin, Self waited patiently for the transfer guard to trust his injured knee enough to get back on the floor. Once he did, the Jayhawks took off and Martin added his name and chapter to the book of the legends of Kansas basketball.

His stats won’t stack up, of course. But his impact will. Simply put, the Jayhawks do not wake up as national champions today if not for Martin.

Self said as much on more than one occasion this postseason. He said it again on Tuesday at the welcome home celebration at Memorial Stadium.

But before all of that, before the pictures with the trophy, the celebrations through the night and even a hug between a coach and a player who grew to love each other, there was that high-five.

The fact that it came on the stage where Kansas was officially crowned this year’s national champion was exactly the way Martin pictured it when he decided to come to KU.

“These guys have been awesome,” Martin said of his coaches and teammates during the celebration of Monday night’s 72-69 win over North Carolina. “I’ve been injured, going through ups and downs and these guys stayed consistent. I’m just so happy that I could help this team win a national championship. I’m honored to wear this jersey. I love Kansas and I love Bill Self and my teammates. Thank you to everyone.”

That love is most definitely mutual, and Martin and Self, as it turned out, wound up being good for each other.

In Self, Martin found a head coach who could push him to levels he never knew he could reach. He did it by demanding more, expecting perfection and not letting Martin fall short of living up to the standards that exist within the Kansas basketball program. As a result, Martin became a national champion.

In Martin, Self found a player who forced him to operate out of his comfort zone — even if only for a little while — and a maddening player who could be so dynamic and electric one moment and so painstakingly careless the next. But Martin’s presence, as well as his importance, forced Self to grow comfortable watching and coaching that type of player. As a result, Self picked up his second national championship.

Both Martin and Self had plenty of help in getting them to Monday’s stage.

Martin said throughout the season that it was his teammates who kept him positive and his spirits high as he tried to return from the bone bruise in his right knee that kept him out for a month late in the season.

“These guys have been amazing throughout the whole process,” Martin said of his teammates on Monday night. “They’ve always kept me going and they always gave me confidence. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”

The patience and support of that entire group — many of whom first met Martin just last summer — always seemed easier for the players than it was for Self. That’s where his growth came into play.

After seeing the vision he had for what Martin could and would be at Kansas become cloudy, Self held on tight. And then he let go. He reached a point, at least publicly, where he decided the best move with Martin was to hope for the best and plan for nothing. Martin, Self knew, would return when he was ready. And while all kinds of people hoped that would happen earlier than it did, Self discovered that it was best to move forward without so much as a glimmer of hope for what Martin would be when, or if, he came back.

“Guys, he didn't contribute much,” Self reminded reporters on Monday night when asked to reflect on Martin’s journey one last time. “He averaged 3 points a game in the league for the year.”

Through all of those quiet moments, though, Martin remained confident behind the scenes. He worked. He healed. And he prepared himself to do whatever he could to help Kansas make a run. That was the whole reason he came to KU in the first place, you’ll remember. And there was no way Martin was going to go down quietly.

“He was hurt,” Self said Monday. “But he told me all along, ‘Just wait ’til March.’ Well, crap. So you expect me to trust you in March when you haven't showed us all year long?' He said, ‘I’m not healthy. When I’m healthy, just wait ’til March.' And he sure enough delivered on what he said.

“He’s an amazing guy,” Self added. “I don’t know that there’s many out there that can flip a switch like he potentially can.”

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