What I'm Thankful For

Posted by: JFish26

What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 11:11 AM

It was over.

Just like a player can be so under-rated he’s over-rated (see: Dorsey, Joseph), Kansas’ season was over so many times it became cliché. It was over when KU lost to Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. for the first time in a quarter-century. It was over two weeks later when the Jayhawks fell to the only quality team they would face in the regular season, Texas. And you had better believe it was over when Kansas suffered a defeat at the hands of Byron Eaton and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It was over. It had to be; three losses in two-and-a-half weeks made it so.

And then, all of the sudden, it wasn’t. Kansas trounced K-State in primetime and, like a hurricane over warm water, built upon itself many times over before the Senior Night contest against Texas Tech. The Jayhawks sent the Knight-less Red Raiders back to wherever Lubbock, Tex. is with a 109-51 shellacking. With this momentum, Kansas steamed right on through the rest of the regular season and the Big XII tournament, besting Texas in the pre-NCAA Tournament Game of the Year (take that, Tobacco Road).

The #1 seed in the Midwest Region and two easy victories the next weekend followed. After gently nudging Villanova off the dance floor, a tango with Cinderella awaited. With the weight of four Elite Eight losses on his aww-shucks shoulders, Bill Self found his team down five points to Davidson late in the second half. Kansas had come out tight and the upset momentum was building. Each wasted possession was a punch to the stomach and each Steph Curry jumper was the right cross that followed.

It was over, all over again.

And then it wasn’t. Worn down by the NBA-quality defense of Kansas’ quartet of guards, Curry ran out of gas. Point man Jason Richards’ long bomb at the buzzer fell off wide left and Bill Self’s Final Four drought? Ancient history. So, too, would be the Jayhawk faithful’s long wait for a showdown with Roy Williams and the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina.

Thirteen minutes and eleven seconds into the game, Kansas freshman center Cole Aldrich hit a turnaround jumper to make the score 40-12 Jayhawks. The very last outcome even Kansas fans had expected was becoming a reality. Williams’ players had not been prepared for the kind of swarming defense played by the Jayhawks. In the most anticipated National Semifinal of the last 25 years, Kansas was putting on a performance for the ages. North Carolina’s players were incapable, its program embarrassed, and its coach, widely vilified by a fanbase which deified him for more than a decade, was exposed. By the under-8:00 media stoppage, the game, which should have been an instant classic, was over.

And then it wasn’t. UNC stormed back, trimming Kansas’ lead to just four points by the under-12:00 media timeout in the second half. The game was every KU fan’s worst nightmare. Surely, it seemed, Roy Williams and North Carolina were destined to win this game and Kansas, a program spurned by Lady Luck so often and at the worst possible times, would be The Team That Gave Up a 28 Point Lead in the Final Four. This was, truly, an undeserved fate for Bill Self’s 2008 squad. Kansas, which had soared to a gargantuan early lead and just as easily given it up, found itself at a pivotal point in the storied history of the program. Would it fold, and further add to its reputation as a regular season juggernaut and tournament choke extraordinaire? Or would a team which had been through tremendous personal and collective adversity shed any soft appellations and close a game the hard way?

Toughness, an adjective so rarely associated with Roy Williams’ Kansas teams, prevailed. Kansas finished strong, extending the lead to 21 points tallied by a characteristically high number of Jayhawks (six). In defeating the Tar Heels, Kansas advanced to the National Championship game for the first time since 2003. This wasn’t the only progress on KU’s part, however. In the eyes of every rational Kansas fan, the victory officially put the Roy Williams Era in the rear view mirror. After a painful, emotional breakup, it was over. Finally. Kansas fans woke up the morning (or perhaps, in the students’ cases, afternoon) of April 6 with one day and the Memphis Tigers separating their beloved Jayhawks from the National Championship.

The game, it goes without saying, lived up to its billing. The teams were the two best from the most powerful Final Four yet assembled. For the first thirty-one-and-a-half minutes, the teams played to a virtual standstill. At some point during the game, each team held the largest advantage the other had faced during the NCAA tournament. At the 8:30 mark, Kansas owned a one-point margin: 47-46.

And then it happened. Derrick Rose happened. Over a span of 3:01, the freshman from Chicago’s Simeon High School went on a personal 8-0 run. Kansas was on the ropes and gasping for breath. Momentum--that fickle property perhaps best defined as “the quality which one most fears his opponent to possess”-- was completely with Memphis. If Kansas was to have a shot, the cynical fans proclaimed, something positive needed to happen immediately.

Down seven points with 4:52 left, Sherron Collins entered his bid, winding his way through traffic to convert a contested lay-up. With the lead trimmed to five and Memphis stifled for the first 32 seconds of the shot clock, Kansas seemed to have regained the elusive momentum. Memphis still had possession and would have to inbound the ball from the baseline.

It was one of those plays--the kind which, though often omitted from the Cliff’s Notes version which would summarize the game for casual fans, might be the most important of the contest. If Kansas could just keep Memphis from scoring for the next three seconds, the lead could be cut to a single possession the next time down the floor. Kansas fans had one unified thought: don’t let Rose get a clean look. And he didn’t. Defended well by Sherron Collins and Darnell Jackson, Rose was forced into a hurried, off-balance attempt from distance. It sailed high and to the left and, for the briefest of moments, Kansas had its stop.

And then it didn’t. The shot, off its mark by more than two feet, somehow banked its way into the basket. After a review of Rose’s takeoff position, the two-point score, labeled by Jim Nantz as, “the shot of the tournament,” gave the Tigers a 56-49 lead with just over four minutes to play. The lead would be extended to nine points at the 2:12 mark by two Robert Dozier free throws which might have been named ‘dag’ and ‘ger’. After the second make, Kansas could not even settle on which player would inbound the ball. Fans held their heads in their hands and all thought, though no one could quite say, “It’s over.”

But it wasn’t. Darrell Arthur hit an 18-foot jumper described by Billy Packer as, “the worst shot you can take in basketball at this time.” And then, in a feat of basketball sorcery even more powerful than Rose’s bank at the buzzer, Sherron Collins stole the inbounds pass, flipped it over his head to Mario Chalmers while flying out of bounds, and recovered to catch and bury an open three from the corner. If Rose’s shot had been a full house for the chip leader, Collins’ effort was a royal flush for a team that was all-in. Momentum, at very long last, was with Kansas, but there were still four points between the teams and just 1:46 remaining.

On the strength of two points each from Chalmers and Arthur and a 3-7 showing from the free throw line for Memphis, Kansas had the ball with 10.8 seconds remaining, down 63-60. Collins, having blown by Rose on a vicious crossover, stumbled and nearly lost the ball to Antonio Anderson, who was guarding Mario Chalmers. Collins recovered the ball and Anderson, who sold out looking for the steal, had lost Chalmers. Collins had not, finding the junior guard with 5.0 seconds left. Chalmers put down one dribble and elevated over Derrick Rose. In a shot remarkably similar to an overtime-inducing effort in the 2007 Big XII Championship game, Chalmers floated the ball straight and true over Rose’s outstretched arms. No glass was necessary for this miracle—Chalmers had come through, tying the game with 2.8 seconds remaining. After a wayward half-court attempt, the game headed to overtime.

For as epic as the last eight minutes of basketball had been, the overtime was, for Kansas fans, deliciously devoid of drama. Kansas, on the shoulders of Brandon Rush, opened the extra period with a 6-0 run. The lead would come down to three on a made triple by Chris Douglas-Roberts with 59.0 seconds left, but that would be Memphis’ final basket. Kansas added four free throws, and Collins, fittingly, would dribble out the clock, securing Kansas’ third tournament title.

It was over.

This time, there is no reversal. There were no ticks left on the clock, no games remaining on the schedule, and no team but Kansas which could claim the championship. For the first time since 1988, the Jayhawks won the very last game of the season. More than 40,000 people jammed Lawrence’s five-block downtown to celebrate long into the night. The next day, the team returned to nearly the same number at KU’s Memorial Stadium, home of the school’s Orange Bowl champion football team. Two days after this victorious homecoming, Bill Self ended all speculation of his departure, agreeing to remain at Kansas for years to come.

Next fall, there will be much local celebration of the championship team of 2008. At Late Night in the Phog, a banner will be unveiled, a trophy paraded for all to see, and players from Kansas’ past, present, and future will witness a jubilance still frothing months after the game. And then the season will start. Games which should be won will be lost. Games which should be lost will be won. And Kansas fans, forever seeking whatever is next, will have a renovated roster of Jayhawks to cheer.

There will be other phenomenal players and other unbelievable plays. There will be other Final Fours and, likely, other championships. But there will never be another tournament just like this one. Surviving Stephen Curry and Davidson. Going 1-0 versus a Carolina Blue Roy Williams. The wizardry of Sherron Collins. The composure of Mario Chalmers. The admission of Bill Self into the cadre of super-elite coaches. There will be other unpredictable brackets, other amazing shots, and other teams hoisting the trophy, but never anything like the 2008 National Champion Kansas Jayhawks.
Posted by: KUSU

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 11:39 AM

good lord, that's a hell of a post!

I'm thankful for Bill Self!
Posted by: JFish26

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 11:44 AM


good lord, that's a hell of a post!

I'm thankful for Bill Self!

haha don't worry...it was written a couple days after the game
Posted by: stalez

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 11:46 AM

great read, thanx jfish.
Posted by: Morgansraider

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 03:21 PM

This just proves to me that there are at least 10 people on this board who could outwrite the LJW staff. JFish is definitely one of them. A terrific post......
Posted by: supermario15

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 08:25 PM

I'm thankful Cole Aldrich picked KU
Posted by: jojojhawk

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/08 08:41 PM

I agree, great read, jfish. Excellent summary of the season!
Posted by: JFish26

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 02:36 PM

Bump, for old times' sake.
Posted by: jkjhawk

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 05:56 PM

Quality writing, JFish. Thanks for the bump.
Posted by: Cinema4life

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 07:42 PM

Excellent read! In my 28 years, that season was extremely memorable. Great time to be a Jayhawk fan! Thanks JFish!
Posted by: Geezer

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 08:31 PM

Posted by: hasbeen1

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 08:48 PM

Posted by: KUHawkhead

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 10:37 PM

That I do not live in Missouri.
Posted by: Skip_Towne

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/24/11 10:51 PM

Goosebumps, even this much later. Thanks.
Posted by: bridg137

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/25/11 09:50 AM

Very nice. Thank you, JFish...that brightened up my gloomy day at the office.
Posted by: ROKCHOK

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/25/11 10:49 AM

Never gets old. Nice bump!
Posted by: meldhawk

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/25/11 06:39 PM

Re-living that moment never gets old. Thanks for the post!
Posted by: PHOGUSHER

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/26/11 10:00 AM



Posted by: sensei

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/26/11 12:15 PM

WTF was that? I ain't reading that.
Posted by: PHOGUSHER

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/26/11 01:28 PM

It was a youtube video...nothing to read...unless you are referring to jfish lengthy post that originated this thread....a nice and inspiring read....4 years removed....
Posted by: larryb

Re: What I'm Thankful For - 11/27/11 10:26 AM

I'm thankful that I got laid in the 80's and 90's. Just sayin'.

Still a great read Fish!