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Saturday, April 16, 2022

The 2022 Miracle’ - National champion Jayhawks rode balance, team-first mentality to NCAA title

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle during the first half on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle during the first half on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

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For years, decades even, Kansas basketball fans have celebrated the national title run by Danny and the Miracles and the national-title saving shot known as Mario’s Miracle.

Both feats, in 1988 and 2008, respectively, identified a single player who played the biggest role in KU winning it all.

With Manning’s squad, the national player of the year was Mr. Everything for those Jayhawks, leading the team in most major statistical categories and putting them on his back in their run through the 1988 NCAA Tournament.

With Chalmers’ team, there was plenty of talent around him, and KU coach Bill Self has said on many occasions that it was sophomore forward Darrell Arthur, and not Chalmers, who was the Jayhawks best player during the 2008 title game. Yet, when the game, the season and the title was on the line, it was Chalmers who the Jayhawks turned to. His 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation forced overtime with Memphis and essentially delivered the title back to Lawrence.

Both players will tell you that they never could have done it alone. Their love for their teammates was real and ran deep, and those teams came together the way teams have to come together to be able to cut down the nets in their respective years.

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Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) comes away with a steal from North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA National Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

Even still, those individual players have always been associated with those runs and those championships.

This year, there was no single shot that won the title nor just one player who carried Kansas. Instead, all seven of KU’s core contributors took their turns.

Sure, Ochai Agbaji was the most consistent from start to finish. And, yeah, David McCormack and Remy Martin were red-hot in the NCAA Tournament. And then there was Christian Braun’s fire, Jalen Wilson’s grit, Mitch Lightfoot’s leadership and reliability and Dajuan Harris Jr.’s steady hand.

Calling this group any one of those guys’ team, however, would not have been wholly accurate. That’s why Self refused to do it.

“I think all seven of these guys would be totally content after being around them all along that this is The 2022 Miracle,” Self said during the post-celebration press conference in New Orleans. “I think they'll enjoy it more not having a name attached to it because that’s how we played all year long.”

Here’s a look back at just how balanced and together this team was during its run to the 2022 national title.

• Seven different Jayhawks led this team in scoring in a single game, with Agbaji topping out as KU’s leading scorer 22 times. In the NCAA Tournament alone, four different players led KU in scoring, with Martin taking the cake three times and McCormack and Wilson tying for a team-high 15 points in the win over UNC.

• Five different Jayhawks led this team in rebounding in a single game, with McCormack leading the way as KU’s top rebounder 15 times. Wilson was right behind him with 14 games as KU’s top board-getter and Braun was right there, too, with 13 games as the team leader in rebounds.

• Five different Jayhawks led this team in assists in a single game, with Harris leading the way as KU’s top assist man a whopping 26 times.

• Eleven, yes ELEVEN!, different Jayhawks led this team in steals in a single game, with Harris leading the way as KU’s top defensive menace 21 times.

• And nine different Jayhawks led this team in blocks in a single game, with McCormack and Lightfoot each leading the way as KU’s top rim protector 12 different times.

While that covers the entirety of the season, let’s zero in a little more on the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament run. After all, that’s where the big trophy was won and, more to the point, that’s where everyone was healthy and clicking.

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Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) signals to the bench after hitting a three during the first half of the NCAA National Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

The regular season was not an entirely level playing field when you consider injuries, suspensions and what that did to this team’s — and each player’s — overall rhythm.

In the NCAA Tournament, Martin led Kansas with 84 points. He was followed closely by Agbaji, with 82, and McCormack, who scored 79. That’s a difference of a couple of shots or a rebound here and there.

Beyond those three, Wilson finished close by with 72 total points and Braun chipped in with 67.

All of them were critical in KU’s run, and for there only to be a 17-point difference from first place to fifth over a six-game span shows you how balanced this team really was.

The rebounding numbers weren’t quite as bunched up, but Wilson led with 57, Braun added 44 and McCormack, who played the two biggest games of his life at the Final Four, finished with 38 boards in six games, with exactly half of them (19) coming against Villanova and North Carolina.

They say the most talented or the highest ranked team doesn’t always win the NCAA Tournament. And that has proven to be true time and time again, with Kansas falling on the wrong side of that reality on more than a couple of occasions.

But almost always, it’s the best team that wins it all, simply because it takes a tight team to successfully navigate winning six games in a three-week span against intense competition and with the stakes as high as they can possibly be.

These Jayhawks were a true team in every sense of the word, and that’s why they’ll be remembered as such.

“I was super blessed to be a part of this group,” Lightfoot said in New Orleans. “Just getting to see these guys work day in and day out means the world to me. I was glad we were able to get one (a national title).”

Still basking in the glow of getting a second title, Self said on multiple occasions that “good parenting” deserved some of the credit for the makeup of this selfless bunch of Jayhawks.

“They care for each other. They truly do,” he said. “It's the closest-knit group. We've talked about that. We've had some great teams, but I don't think we've had a team closer than this team.”

Comments

Dale Rogers 5 months, 1 week ago

A lot of credit for the closeness of the team goes to those doing the recruiting, making sure the chemistry would work and not overlooking fit with the others in order to get the best scorer, etc.

Tony Bandle 5 months, 1 week ago

It's been awhile since we've had a OAD isn't it? Coincidence?

Lance Hobson 5 months, 1 week ago

Absolute joy of a team. The drama and bad press probably scared off the OADs but what we got was a solid collection of ballers who put the team first.

I also feel like the lucky breaks we got in this tourney help even out some of the bad luck KU saw in 10, 11, 13, and 16&17.

Benjamin Shear 5 months, 1 week ago

I am not a fan of pushing the "miracle" moniker on this team. I really like the "Comeback Kids" as a nickname for them. This team won as a team. They were just a bunch of scrappy kids that believed they could no matter what. They did this all season long, and they did it when it was all on the line.

Bryce Landon 5 months, 1 week ago

Tony - No coincidence. OADs haven't gotten us to a Final Four, much less won the national title for us. If we want more Final Fours and national titles, we need to pass on the OADs and get the guys who want to be here for 3-4 years.

Benjamin - I'm in the same came with you. This was no "miracle", unlike 1988 and 2008. The 2022 title should be remembered as "Comeback Kansas" or "The Comeback Kids" because of what they did in the title game.

I would have replied to both of you guys individually, but the damn REPLY button is still not working.

Roger Tobias 5 months, 1 week ago

They are the " Magnificent Seven." Simple as that. Sorry a movie title preceded their championship, but the tag should stick nonetheless.

Lee Short 5 months, 1 week ago

Agree this wasn't a "miracle", so to speak, by KU, the only number 1 seed in the elite 8 and ranked #3 go.

It was well deserved given how KU and NC came out in the second half. As Barkley noted in the post-game, clearly KU was the better. NC could just not keep KU down for another 20. NC could also not keep playing above their normal level for another 20. I do think some really tough games during the season, helped KU keep confident that they could do it this time as well.

As to NC, I remembered what the 2nd half was for NC against Baylor, Baylor almost had a much bigger comeback than we did against NC.

St Peters was the "miracle" of the tourney.

Jonathan Allison 5 months, 1 week ago

Agreed that this championship was not a miracle. This was a solid team that was not the best team all year but were the best when it mattered.

They had a star player who wasn't always their best player, it was a true team effort and effort is the key word that defines their March domination in my opinion.

It was the effort that they played with, particularly on defense that really pushed them passed the competition.

They remind me of the 2004 Pistons in a lot of ways. They were a collection of talented players who really bought in and on different days had a different player stand out. They played as a team and were just too much for the opposition because of the team defense the number of weapons at different positions and on different days.

Layne Pierce 5 months, 1 week ago

Well said, Jonathan

That is why this will always be one of my favorite KU teams. Many so-called more talented teams, did not get it done. Danny and the Miracles got it done, but they still depended so much on Danny. This team depended on each other, game to game, and that is special.

RCJH

Dirk Medema 5 months, 1 week ago

Kansas Komeback for me 😉

So much has been written about the distinction between the halves, but it really was just the last 6-ish minutes of the first half. The score was tied at 22, which was also right about the time that David went to the bench with his 2nd foul. He and Bacot were totally unique in the game and we weren’t able to find a way to exploit mismatches without him.

Calling a foul for the moving screen when he wiped out JWil could have totally changed the game as well.

At least the deficit lit a fire under our guys. They were definitely the aggressors in the second half. Also helped by being the fresher team.

Kenneth Johnson 5 months, 1 week ago

This team made up for the NCAA's lack of designating them national champions in 2020, after the tourney was cancelled due to the pandemic. It should also be noted that many of the tourney announcers kept saying that KU were national champions only four times. Actually, they were the NCAA national champions four times, but they were also named national champs by the Helms Foundation in 1922 and 1923, so KU has been national champions SIX times. And, if the NCAA was any good, they would have given KU another championship in 2020.

Kenn Johnson, Ph.D., (KU MS ’70) Author of Kansas University Basketball Legends (2013) and More University of Kansas Basketball Legends (2014), both published by The History Press, and available at KU Bookstores and Amazon. Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/kennjohnson
p.s. A new third KU BB book is forthcoming soon, covering the unparalleled success KU has had in the basketball Olympics.

Rodney Crain 5 months, 1 week ago

We have to face facts - we were lucky, we were experienced, and we happened to being playing our best ball at the exact right time.

We got every break we needed. Every Time we needed something to help us in the next game it seemed to happen. Lucky for sure, and it was our turn to be on the receiving end this time.

Our experience, both this season and the past few seasons paid off in spades. Been there done that. Every time we faced long odds, the team knew how to deal with that. Add a great coaching staff to the mix and we won it all.

As Remy started to emerge, with Self's vision on when to play him, and the team stringing wins together with defense and the use of multiple weapons offense, we started to look like a team who could win it. Add a win in the B12 tourney, and a convincing win to get us out of the gate, it showed that we were as ready as anyone to win the whole thing.. It was a thrilling ride.

Lee Short 5 months, 1 week ago

Let's face facts.

Every team has a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of being unlucky. NC was extremely lucky to win against Baylor. Just an untimely missed FT allowed it to go into OT. There was no more luck involved in our 6 games, including the final, in the tourney than for anyone else. Charles Barkley, the professional basketball commentator, was spot on in his analysis of the game. You can point to a certain amount of "what if this would have happened" or what if this is "what if this would not have happened" in almost any game. Losing players do that all the time. There were some highly questionable calls against KU in the game as well. I put in on replay. None of us could see what the ref called. It was also fortunate for NC that DMac got in foul trouble early and had to be pulled allowing for some momentum for NC. That call was questionable as well. No, we did not catch every break.

NC was lucky OA did not play up to All-American, Big 12 POY, status. NC was lucky to see all those missed free throws.

No reason to call out luck. However, if luck is to be called out, KU could have very easily won that game by 10+ with a little luck, but for NC "catching" some luck.

Rodney Crain 5 months, 1 week ago

Lee why do you keep embarrassing yourself?

We were lucky.

Becot turning his ankle against Duke, now that was lucky for us. He was sore right up to pregame, it effected his play in that last game.

Did you see Self say that a lot of things set up perfectly for us in those 6 games? I mean if Self can admit we got a lot of breaks why can't you? You are not saying Self was wrong are you?

Keep trying Lee one day you will get one right.

Armen Kurdian 5 months, 1 week ago

This year, the stuff that happens to KU seemed to happen to most everyone else. But KU never lost a game it should not have lost. Every other 1 seed was upset. Some 2 seeds were badly upset also. KU did what it was supposed to. Experience won the day.

Yeah, I don't like the 'miracle' moniker either. I'll twist together a couple of suggestions above and call out the 'Komeback Kids'. Or "Welcome Back Kids".

Or even better, let's call them "Welcome Back Kotter." Be back in a bit...have to take my meds.

Rodney Crain 5 months, 1 week ago

Team effort Barry. Remy was part of the team. That is the answer.

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