When a player signs up for men’s basketball in the Big 12 Conference, there might as well be a release form that waives his right to win a regular-season conference championships.
That’s the way it seems to work – with the exception of Kansas, of course. The Jayhawks apparently have a preordained destiny that places the league trophy in Lawrence.
Every year. No questions. No substitutions on the menu.
Let’s be up front about this thing called The Streak. It belongs to the Jayhawks and now spans 13 years. For the players at Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma and all the rest, it remains an incredibly annoying part of playing hoops in the Big 12. Baylor senior Ishmail Wainwright talked about the frustration at the Big 12’s annual media day back in October.
“Yes,” Wainwright told The Kansas City Star. “Yes. It really is [annoying].”
Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks brought out the long tables and black table clothes used for public displays of their Big 12 Conference regular season championship trophies. There are so many now that the trophies nearly stretch from one baseline to the other.
The addition of one more after Wednesday’s 87-68 victory over a drastically improved TCU team brought the title total under coach Bill Self to 13 consecutive.
Just like that, college basketball history was made again in the historic house that Phog Allen built.
And Self elevated his career status to another level. It may be time for a serious conversation about Springfield and entering the Hall of Fame.
The streak, which began in Self’s second season at Kansas, now matches the Division I record of 13 straight established by UCLA from 1967-79. Linking your name with legendary coach John Wooden is never a bad thing in college basketball.
This unique accomplishment might be the one that lifts Self into the elite company of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall. Last Saturday it was announced that Self is among 14 finalists for the Hall of Fame class of 2017. The class will be introduced at the Final Four on April 3 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Self is one of nine first-time candidates for the Hall of Fame and that may complicate election this year. But short of a second national championship, it is hard to imagine what his missing from resume. Self is 410-87 at Kansas, 617-192 overall and 220-10 at Allen Fieldhouse since arriving in 2003.
With those kind of numbers, is there any reason to keep Self waiting on his induction into Springfield, Mass.?
Kansas fans, criticized recently by TV analyst Dick Vitale for “walking out” on the Jayhawks when they trailed West Virginia late in a game that they eventually won, didn’t budge from their seats Wednesday. They stuck around for a postgame celebration with the 13 trophies and the Jayhawks (25-3, 13-2) wearing their new commemorative hats and shirts.
It was quite a sight.
“People here will take it for granted a lot, which is fine,” Self told reporters after the game. “But there’s a lot of places – we won the Big Ten back-to-bak years at Illinois and there was 5,000 people who greeted us at the airport. Here we got a hat and a T-shirt.”
Self knows this is a major accomplishment. He simply doesn’t want to dwell on the moment and lose track of the this season’s bigger goals He has an extremely talented roster led by Frank Thomas III and Josh Jackson, one of a handful of teams capable of winning the national title, and seems a lock for a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday
“This should be about these guys first,” Self said of his players.
But the constant throughout the streak has been Self. Wooden may have been the greatest college coach ever, especially based on national championships, but Self’s streak has taken place during the most competitive period in college basketball.
The Big 12 is far more intense and balanced than the Pac-8 or Pac-10 were when UCLA was the dominant team in the sport. Self has faced Hall of Fame coaches who are more accomplished and more successful. In the age of one-and-done and early entry, Self has been required to rebuild his roster more often. Wooden kept his top players for three years while several Jayhawks — Andrew Wiggins, for example — played only one year at KU.
Self is constantly changing plans to fit the strengths of his players. He adjusted his classic high-low style this season to one that features four men out and one inside. A December injury to freshman 7-footer Udoka Azubuike left the Jayhawks very thin in the middle, but Self has gotten the most from senior Landen Lucas. Devonte’ Graham joins Mason to form one of the top backcourts in the nation and forward Sviatoslav Mykhailuk is one of the most improved players in the country,
In addition to injuries and strategy changes, the Jayhawks have had distractions off the floor that led to suspensions and other punishments. Self has managed that and avoided a long-term losing streak.
Former Kansas star Brandon Rush, a member of Self’s 2008 national championship team, was back in Lawrence Wednesday to have his jersey retired Ironically, Rush was on the floor in 2007 when the Jayhawks won the Big 12 title outright with a victory over Kevin Durant and Texas. That was the 50th conference title for the Jayhawks, who lead all NCAA Division I teams in that category.
Hard to believe it would take only 10 years for Kansas to reach 60.
“There has been a lot of hard-rocking guys that have played here over that time frame,” Self said. “We’ve been really blessed to coach a lot of really good players.”
Self isn’t too shabby himself.