Highlights and one-liners from Tuesday's KU basketball banquet
The news last night came from the opportunity to talk to Devonte’ Graham for the first time since he announced on Twitter last Sunday that he was returning for his senior season.
So that’s what I wrote. But there were plenty of moments from last night’s Kansas basketball banquet that were more of the light-hearted variety and produced some memorable laughs and good one-liners.
KU coach Bill Self, not surprisingly, was the source of several of those and here’s a quick recap of some of the highlights.
• As the featured speaker of the event, Self took the stage after the season highlight video had finished. He was introduced as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and received a standing ovation when he went to grab the mic. His response? “I appreciate that deeply,” he said. “But I know it was a long video and everybody just needed to stretch.”
• In talking about strength coach Andrea Hudy, who has worked wonders with dozens of Jayhawks during her time at Kansas, Self referenced Devonte’ Graham and his tendency to flex after big plays, be them by him or a teammate. Self’s jab? “You need to get in the weight room if you’re gonna do that,” he joked.
• And then there was Josh Jackson, the Big 12 freshman of the year and second-team All-American whom Self marveled about for his strong season and steady growth and improvement. “I don’t tell our guys very often how good they are,” Self began. “But do you guys realize how good Josh Jackson is? Danny was a really good player here and he averaged 14 as a freshman. (Andrew Wiggins) was a really good player here and averaged a little bit more, he averaged 17 and Josh averaged 16.5. But Josh came in here and this dude shot 44 percent in league play from 3. He has unbelievable vision. And we asked him to guard (Purdue big man) Caleb Swanigan. And what’d he do? He locked him up. That’s just who he is. So competitive. And to see him grow as the season went on was so fun to watch.” Then, never missing an opportunity to take a shot at former Jayhawk and current KU broadcaster Greg Gurley, Self jokingly said to Jackson, “You passed Greg Gurley in freshman scoring, which was kind of a goal of ours...... in Game 1.” Naturally, the crowd of more than 600 on hand cracked up at that line, Gurley included. Looking back, it actually took Jackson four games before he passed Gurley’s freshman output of 47 points, but the point still stands.
• Scott “Scooter” Ward was in attendance at Tuesday’s banquet and Self said KU’s academic counselor was, “close to being 100 percent and back at work with us.... One wasn’t enough, he had to have two torn aortas to prove how tough he was, as if we didn’t know that already.”
• After going through the roster, player by player, with a funny story, memorable moment or both about each guy, Self got to the seniors and explained how the 2016-17 KU basketball team had a solid trio of senior leaders. “They say your team is only as good as your seniors allow ‘em to be and we had three studs as seniors,” Self began. “One of ’em, obviously, his mother wished he’d play a heck of a lot more,” Self grumbled. “But he did have his shining moment in the NCAA Tournament.” That senior, of course, was Self’s son, Tyler.
• There were, as you know, a couple of players on the roster who did not play this season, in transfers Sam Cunliffe (Arizona State) and Malik Newman (Mississippi State), and Self addressed both of them while sounding optimistic and excited about their potential for the future. “Sam Cunliffe is as good a athlete as we have in our gym,” Self began. “He won’t be eligible until next Christmas, but, Sam, you’ve got a huge responsibility ahead of you to work like the guys before you to put yourself in a position to help win trophies like this. And then one other transfer, Malik Newman, you know, I’ll be disappointed if Malik’s not an all-league or All-American player next year. I mean, he’s talented. He’s good. And these guys played such a huge role in any success we had this year as far as competing and pushing guys and making ’em better.” Self added: “To think that you’ve got Udoka (Azubuike) and Sam and Malik sitting out, that brings me so much excitement about what’s getting ready to happen next year with our program.”
• And then there was Frank Mason III, whose national player of the year trophies sparkled on the stage and ferocious competitive spirit served as one of the themes of the night. Self became emotional and occasionally had to fight back tears when talking about Mason to close the banquet. I can’t remember ever seeing that. Self is not a guy who is easily moved to emotion and to see it happen while he was talking about the player that he has called before the toughest player and best guard he’s ever coached. “You always want good things to happen to good people,” Self began, with his voice cracking toward the end of that sentence. “I think we all wanted Frank to win these awards, but it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. What he’s given us goes way beyond an award or awards. He’s just so damn tough and he’s so competitive and he has done as much for our culture as anybody that we’ve ever been around. I’m not gonna sit here and say that Frank’s the best player to ever play at Kansas. No offense, Frank; you’re not. I know everybody’s kissed your tail and said you’re the greatest, but, nah, nah. Wilt played at Kansas. To just think about the consistency and everything.... to think about the break we got. Thank God for that government teacher.”
• Before giving Mason the team MVP award known as the Danny Manning “Mr. Jayhawk” Award, Self also shared a story about Mason’s stubborn nature. “You can’t tell him anything at all without him thinking he knows better,” Self said. “He’s having one of his practices that he was maybe a little moody, a little stubborn and I said, ‘Frank, you don’t get it. If you would just, basically, pull your head out, your name’s gonna live up in the rafters forever. Because you’re gonna be Big 12 player of the year.’ Little did we all know, he was the best player in our league, but he was the best player in the United States, and, Frank, I appreciate everything you’ve done.”