Tag Archives: Bill Self

Finally Four…

So here it is, Saturday night of the Final Four. Four teams. Two games. Two spots in the national title game on Monday night.

There are those who love the Super Bowl. There are those who worship Sunday at the Masters. There are those who would pick the Kentucky Derby or the World Series or the NBA Finals.

But for me, this is the best sports day of the year.

What other day gives you TWO games in the same venue. Four legions of fans, all in the same building. Close to five hours of college basketball at the highest level.

I love everything about the Final Four. I love the storylines and the cheesy music and Jim Nantz on the microphone.

And I love all the stories that come out of the ultimate hoops festival.

Love the fact that you might step into an elevator with David Robinson. Love the fact that you might see legendary Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan strolling around a hotel lobby at 8:30 in the morning, looking like an old man trying to get an early start on his day of sightseeing.

Love the fact that you might randomly walk past a restaurant patio as former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon takes his seat (and a group of UCLA fans begins an impromptu chant of “EDDIE-O, EDDIE-O, EDDIE-O”).

Love the fact that you might randomly see former Wisconsin center Brian Butch walking down the street by himself and think — hey, it’s Brian Butch.

Love the college three-point and dunk contests that take place during Final Four weekend.*

*The following exchange took place during the college dunk contest at this year’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

Chris Roberts, who was a senior at Bradley this past season, had just thrown down a sick dunk and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe was waiting on the sidelines to interview him.

Rowe: So, Chris, what do you have to do to win this thing?
Roberts: Just go out, and keep making dunks

Well, sure… makes sense.

And lastly, I love the fact that you might accidentally pick a fight with a player from one of the Final Four teams just hours before the games begin.*

*All these things happened to me while I was at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, but the last one was the best. I was walking around the Riverwalk with Mark Dent and Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering, and we stopped outside in a small patio area.

Of course, the talk turned to KU’s game against North Carolina, which would take place later on that night. We were half-heartedly breaking down North Carolina’s team, and Mark and I came to the consensus that the Tar Heels’ Danny Green was ridiculously overrated.

Then, as Mark blurted aloud that he thought Green more or less sucked, we turned around and saw Green standing just 10 feet away from us with a kid who looked like his younger brother.

Two things crossed my mind:

1. I really hope Danny Green didn’t hear us.
2. What the hell is Green doing here? KU plays North Carolina in like five hours.

But there’s still one thing that gives the Final Four its soul. And it’s the players.

You probably know that Kansas’ Cole Aldrich is leaving school early to enter the NBA Draft.

He announced his decision earlier this week at a press conference in Lawrence.

Aldrich had a pretty remarkable career at Kansas. He had a triple-double against Dayton in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He never lost a game at Allen Fieldhouse. And he was a third-team All-American as a junior.

Still, as Aldrich reflected on three years at Kansas during his “I’m going to the NBA” press conference, I wonder if he thought about the night he went from little-used freshman to Kansas legend. The night he stepped off the bench and outplayed North Carolina’s national player of the year, Tyler Hansbrough, in front of the entire nation.

I can still remember the look on Aldrich face after Kansas took down Hansbrough and Roy Williams and the rest of the Tar Heels.

…The look on his face as he was asked about ripping a rebound from the clutches of Hansbrough.

It was a mix of pride and satisfaction and joy.

And that’s the Final Four. I can’t wait.

(Editor’s Note – Here is what I wrote about Aldrich on the night oh his coming-out party against North Carolina)

*****

SAN ANTONIO | Once upon a time, Cole Aldrich was an afterthought, the fourth big man off the bench — just another big body at Kansas’ coach Bill Self’s disposal.

On Saturday night against North Carolina, Aldrich etched his name onto the list of greatest relief performances in Kansas basketball history.

Kansas’ freshman center scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench in Kansas’ 84-66 victory against North Carolina, including one board which Aldrich snatched from the clutches of North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough.

“I wasn’t gonna let go,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich’s supporting performance may go down in Kansas lore if the Jayhawks follow up their Saturday night victory with a victory and a national title on Monday.

And oddly enough, Self saw it coming.

Earlier this week Self corrected a reporter who had asked how important Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur would be in Kansas’ attempt to contain North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough. Don’t forget about Cole, Self reminded.

Self’s prophecy came true.

“He may have won the game for us tonight as much as anybody,” Self said.

With seniors Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson both committing two early fouls, Bill Self faced a coaching calamity. Send Cole Aldrich, who averaged 8.1 minutes per game during the regular season, on to the floor to guard Hansbrough, the Tar Heels leading scorer and the AP National Player of the Year.

No sweat.

Aldrich responded with 13 first half minutes played, six points during Kansas’ fun-n-gun first half, and one rebound that Aldrich couldn’t help by smile about.

With 10 minutes left in the first half, and Kansas leading 31-10, Aldrich sprung from floor and ripped the ball away from a bewildered Hansbrough.

“Tyler usually outworks someone, but tonight, he got outworked,” Rush said.

Aldrich, along with help from Kaun, Jackson and Arthur held Hansbrough to 17 point and nine rebounds, a shade below his usual averages of 23.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

“I don’t think he was quite used to four guys that can hold their own,” Aldrich said.

The Kansas frontcourt also controlled the glass, shouldering a 42-33 rebound advantage against their frontcourt foes from North Carolina.

“We knew we had to keep them off the glass to win the game,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich’s 6-foot-10 frame stood tall in Kansas’ victorious locker room, searching for words to describe his nation-wide coming-out party.

Aldrich finally settled on calling it,”…a blast.”

Kansas junior Matt Kleinnmann, sitting 35 feet to Aldrich’s left, had his own take on Aldrich’s first Final Four performance.

“He played like a man tonight,” Kleinnmann said.

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Dancing in the dark

Editor’s note: It does feel like we’ve been pretty heavy on the college basketball lately. Then again, it’s March. So without further adu…

The story starts under the night sky. You leave work late on a Sunday, just as the day is about turn to Monday. You crawl into your car, and the voices emanating from the speakers start spewing advice.

Beware of the 12-5 upset. Look out for UTEP. There’s gonna be a champagne superNOVA in the South.

You rub your eyes. What are these people talking about?

You flip the dial. Another voice. Wait, an animal show? At this hour?

The voice is talking about Grizzlies and Mountain Hawks and Tigers. About Owls and Bears and Badgers and Huskies.

You take a deep breath and stare out in the deep, dark horizon. Is this a dream? Where am I? Who said that?

Better try another station.

Problem is, you stumble upon a show that’s even stranger.

A farming show? Could it be? Yes, a farming show. They’re talking about Cowboys and Aggies and Gauchos.

Click. Radio off.

Finally, you’re home. You stumble through the front door and collapse onto your couch. Perhaps you can reintroduce yourself to reality through television. It’s 12:15 a.m., so you hit the power button on the remote.

And then you realize. It’s worse than you think.

Your television has been hijacked by middle-aged men in luxury suits. Who are these guys?

They use words like “sleeper” and “upside” and “spurtability”. They ask questions about the abilities of Sam Houston and Robert Morris and Brigham Young.

What? You’re confused. Why are they comparing a former Governor of Texas with a major financier of the American Revolution? And what does Steve Young’s great-great-great-grandfather have to do with anything?

And then you realize. You’ve descended into madness.

*****

So yes, it all starts with the bracket. Sixty-four teams spaced evenly on that small white piece of office paper. Yes, there’s a random play-in game place somewhere off to the side. But that’s OK. It’s a small flaw overshadowed by perfection.

So yes, let’s start with the bracket.

And to do so, we must take a trip back in time. Before the internet. Before printable brackets ran up printing costs at offices around the country. Before ESPN had a network called ESPNU – and 87 straight hours of NCAA Tournament talk. Before the talking heads saturated our heads with cinderellas and upsets and chalk.

Yes, let’s go back to a simpler time. When it was just a kid and a bracket. Such a simpler time.

The tradition went like this: I would wake up on a Monday morning and search for the special NCAA Tournament preview section in the Kansas City Star. Inside, on page C6-7, would be the holy grail. The NCAA bracket. The first opportunity to see every matchup, laid out across the kitchen table. The Final Four logo was always in the middle, reminding us of the goal. Salvation didn’t lie within, it awaited your team in Indianapolis or San Antonio or St. Louis.

*****

Of course, the next part was the best.

You grabbed a pen and made your picks. Simple, right? Easy, right?

You studied the first-round games. You looked for any sort of hint. You analyzed coaches and matchups and the strength of each conference.

You probably made a few homer picks. You knew you had to pick a few upsets. You learned tricks along the way. Always pick at least one 12-5 upset. Nine-seeds actually beat eight-seeds more than 50 percent of the time. 16-seeds? Forget ‘em.

You found teams with great point guards. You searched for teams with experience and chemistry and intangibles.

And in the end. None of it seemed to matter. Your bracket would inevitably go bust. Sure, sometimes you would hit on a big upset. But nobody can be perfect. Nobody.

*****

So what’s the secret? Well, first, you must realize that there is no secret. Yes, you can use modern tools. You can look up offensive efficiency ratings. You can compare advanced RPI metrics. You can use it all. But there is no fail-safe.

Still, there is strategy.

For example:

1. Put all ones, twos and threes through to the second round.

2. Go through the other first-round games and go with your first instinct. If you have to think about it, skip that game and come back.

3. At least one No. 1 seed will make the Final Four.

4. There’s a reason why – since the inception of the 64-team tourney in 1985 — only two double-digit seeds (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006) have made the Final Four.

5. Pay attention to coaches. Sure, they might not make much of a difference during the actual games, but there’s a reason why only 15 coaches have won National Titles in the last 20 years.

Breakdown by coaches (* means there actually in the field)
1. *Mike Kryzewski (2)
2. Roy Williams (2)
3. *Billy Donovan (2)
4. Jim Calhoun (2)
5. *Bill Self (1)
6. *Jim Boeheim (1)
7. *Gary Williams (1)
8. *Tom Izzo (1)
9. *Tubby Smith (1)
10. Lute Olson (1)
11. *Rick Pitino (1)
12. Jim Harrick (1)
13. Nolan Richardson (1)
14. Dean Smith (1)
15. Jerry Tarkanian (1)

6. In the same vein, only 13 different schools have won titles in the last 20 years.

Last 20 champs by conference breakdowns (Now, not at the time of the title)

1. ACC (7)
2. SEC (5)
3. Big East (3)
4. Pac-10 (2)
5. Big 12 (1)
6. Big Ten (1)
7. Mountain West (1)

7. If you need a tiebreaker, go with the coach with Final Four experience

Other coaches with Final Four’s in the field (number in parentheses)

1. Kentucky’s John Calipari (2 *though both were vacated…ouch)
2. San Diego State’s Steve Fischer (2) *won a title at Michigan in 1989)
3. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt (1)
4. Georgetown’s John Thompson III (1)
5. Texas’ Rick Barnes (1)
6. Ohio State’s Thad Matta (1)
7. Villanova’s Jay Wright (1)
8. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (1 *at Cincy)
9. UNLV’s Lon Kruger (at Florida)

9. Lastly, work fast

*****

So let’s do it. Here it is… My 5-minute bracket. A little science… and a little speed.

Midwest Regional

(1) Kansas over (16) Lehigh – Duh
(9) Northern Iowa over (8) UNLV – Panthers are tough and experienced
(5) Michigan State over (12) New Mexico State – See Izzo, Tom
(4) Maryland over (13) Houston – Cougars lucky to get in
(11) San Diego St. over (6) Tennessee – Old coach strikes again
(3) Georgetown over (14) Ohio – Duh
(7) Oklahoma State over (10) Georgia Tech – first instinct… who knows?
(2) Ohio State over (15) UC Santa Barbara – Duh

Second round

(1) Kansas over (9) Northern Iowa – Going with chalk
(5) Michigan State over (4) Maryland – Going with coach with more Final Four’s
(3) Georgetown over (11) SDSU – Going with talent over Fisher’s coaching experience
(2) Ohio State over (7) Oklahoma State – Talent and coaching advantage for Buckeyes

Sweet 16

(1) Kansas over (5) Michigan State – Revenge for Jayhawks
(3) Georgetown over (2) Ohio State – Interior play carries Hoyas

Elite Eight

(1) Kansas over (3) Georgetown – Easy: talent and coaching on KU’s side

West Region

(1) Syracuse over (16) Vermont – (Just nod and move along)
(8) Gonzaga over (9) Florida State – Instinct pick; Who really knows?
(5) Butler over (12) UTEP – Hoosiers was filmed at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse
(4) Vanderbilt over (13) Murray State – Tough matchup for Murray St.
(6) Xavier over (11) Minnesota – Gophers are a fraud
(3) Pitt over (14) Oakland – Going by rules
(7) BYU over (10) Florida – Ignoring rules; love Jimmer Fredette
(2) K-State over (15) North Texas – (Nodding…)

Second Round

(1) Syracuse over (8) Gonzaga – Talent… check. Coaching…check.
(5) Butler over (4) Vanderbilt – Chitwoods pull it out.
(3) Pitt over (6) Xavier – Toughest call yet, but Panthers are battle-tested
(2) K-State over (7) BYU – Great defense over great offense

Sweet 16

(1) Syracuse over (5) Butler – Probably dumb, but going with Boeheim
(2) K-State over (3) Pitt – Teams are similar; Love Pullen and Clemente

Elite Eight

(1) Syracuse over (2) K-State – The ‘Cats ride ends in the regional final…

East Regional

(1) Kentucky over (16) East. Tenn. St. — (Breezing along)
(9) Wake Forest over (8) Texas – Longhorns are lesson in dysfunction
(12) Cornell over (5) Temple – Cornell almost beat Jayhawks, who destroyed Temple
(4) Wisconsin over (13) Wofford – Anybody know where Wofford is?
(6) Marquette over (11) Washington – Yea, I’ll sell on the Pac-10
(3) New Mexico over (14) Montana – Steve Alford primed to take Lobos deep
(10) Missouri over (7) Clemson – Dream draw for Mizzou
(2) West Virginia over (15) Morgan State — Love Bob Huggins’ sweatsuit

Second Round

(1) Kentucky over (9) Wake Forest – Wildcats chalk it up
(12) Cornell over (4) Wisconsin – Big Red will be tourney darlings
(3) New Mexico over (6) Marquette – Lobos have Big East-type talent
(2) West Virginia over (7) Missouri – Bob Huggins puts clownsuit on Mike Anderson

Sweet 16

(1) Kentucky over (12) Cornell – Sad to say… Wildcats have too much talent
(2) West Virginia over (3) New Mexico – Lobos lack muscle to stay with Mountaineers

Elite Eight

(1) Kentucky over (2) West Virginia – Wildcats have NBA talent and coaching — a potent combo

South Regional

(1) Duke over (16) Play-in winner – (nodding head)
(9) Louisville over (8) California – Honestly, just going with the nine-seed here
(5) Texas A&M over (12) Utah State – Aggies over Aggies… fun.
(13) Siena over (4) Purdue – Let’s hope Gus Johnson calls this upset
(11) Old Dominion over (6) Notre Dame – And the south region implodes
(3) Baylor over Sam Houston State – Bears’ Carter and Dunn play at home in N’awlins
(7) Richmond over (10) St. Mary’s – (nodding head)
(2) Villanova over (15) Robert Morris – (still nodding)

Second Round

(1) Duke over (9) Louisville – Coach K over Pitino — barely
(5) Texas A&M over (13) Siena – Saints not as good as 2009 version
(3) Baylor over (11) Old Dominion – Udoh makes difference for Bears
(2) Villanova over (7) Richmond – Once again, going with coaching

Sweet 16

(1) Duke over (5) Texas A&M – Blue Devils are efficient — Coach K’s OK, too.
(3) Baylor over (2) Villanova – Baylor wins playing “home” game in Houston

Elite Eight

(1) Duke over (3) Baylor – How’d Duke get this bracket again?

Final Four

(1) Kansas over (1) Syracuse

Payback for 2003. But really, it’s about Jayhawks being the more complete and efficient team.

(1) Kentucky over (1) Duke

Blue Devils are talented, but they just can’t run up and down with Wall, Patterson and Cousins.

Championship game

Kansas over Kentucky

This one feels like destiny. And it feels like 2008. Self versus Calipari. Kansas versus an uber-talented freshman guard. I believe the result would feel the same, too.

Kansas 75, Kentucky 68 – in regulation

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Senior Day Eve…

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow is Senior Day for the Kansas basketball program. Yep, around these parts, it’s a proper noun. Senior Day at Allen Fieldhouse. Here at The Brewhouse, we’re preparing a special essay for Senior Day… but for now, here’s an old look at the greatest KU class that never made it to Senior Day.

***

One was a point guard from Alaska with a sweet stroke and a chilly demeanor. One was a gangly forward from Chicago with a heart of gold. One was a 6-foot-8 mystery from the Northwest. And one was a member of the first family of Kansas City hoops, a misunderstood soul with superstar potential.

They arrived on campus together in the fall of 2005. Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright, Micah Downs and Brandon Rush. They might just be the most important recruiting class in the history of Kansas basketball. And tomorrow is their Senior Day — well, it would be if they were still here.

Of course, we knew from the start that the recruiting class of ’05 would never make it to Senior Day intact. They had too much talent, too much athleticism, too much of the greatness gene. But did we know that on March 6, 2009, the eve of Senior Day, they’d all be gone? Maybe not, but perhaps we should have.

● ● ●

OK, here’s the problem. There’s no way to decide which Kansas basketball recruiting class was the greatest. First of all, what are the criteria? Wins? NCAA titles? NBA success? Do we factor in grades and intangible things like grit and integrity and loyalty?

So what’s the greatest recruiting class of all time? Is it the 1999 recruiting class that featured Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich? They won a ton of games, and went to two Final Fours. Each was picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and each has his jersey hanging in Allen Fieldhouse.

What about the class of 1984? They went to two Final Fours, won a title in 1988, helped Larry Brown turn Kansas back into a national power, and of course, had a young man named Danny Manning.

You could make an argument for the 2001 class too. Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien, Michael Lee and Keith Langford won 110 games, went to three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and they all graduated. Hard to argue with that.

What about Clyde Lovellette and his classmates? They won a title. Or better yet, how about the class of 1904, which featured a kid named Forrest C. Allen? You could make an argument that Phog Allen was the greatest recruit in Kansas history.

And then we come to the class of 2005. And I’m not sure what to think. The class certainly has a case. They helped Kansas win a title. They helped Bill Self become a Kansas legend in his fifth season. As Lew Perkins likes to say, they brought the swagger back to Kansas. And that’s not all they brought. Julian brought joy, Brandon brought highlights, Mario brought The Shot. Maybe they do have a case.

So I suppose it’s kind of odd to think that the greatest recruiting class in Kansas history was only together for 17 games.

● ● ●

Micah Downs was the first to leave. For some reason, Downs never seemed to fit in at Kansas. Maybe he couldn’t handle competing with Rush for playing time, maybe he didn’t mesh well with the coaches, maybe he was just homesick. Whatever the reason, Downs packed up after 17 games and went back home to Washington. He’s at Gonzaga now, averaging 8.8 points per game.

Of course, Julian Wright was the next to leave. He played two years in Lawrence, and it seemed like Kansas fans had found their next sweetheart. A humble, hard-working kid with sublime skills, Wright could dominate, but he could also disappear. He was a player without a position, and it looked like, maybe, his skills were more suited for the NBA.

Wright had always said that he wanted to play at Kansas for three years, graduate early, then scoot off to the pros. When he walked off the floor after Kansas’ loss to UCLA in the 2007 Elite Eight, he reiterated these feelings.

But in his heart, he knew he had to leave after two years. He loved Kansas, but the riches of the NBA were too good to pass up. It was his time. Now, Wright is sitting on the bench for the New Orleans Hornets. He’s not playing much. And it’s been reported that the front office in New Orleans has been quietly disappointed in Wright’s development. Wright still tells reporters that he doesn’t regret the decision. Even when he sat in the front row at the Alamodome and watched Mario’s Miracle, he didn’t waver. He was at peace with his decision.

Rush tried to leave in 2007, too. We know what happened. A torn ACL deflated his draft prospects and he limped back to Lawrence for his junior year.

I still remember the first time I ever saw Brandon Rush play. It was at a Kansas City high school holiday tournament in 2002. Rush was an underclassman at Westport High then, but everyone knew who he was. That’s what happens when you are the younger brother of two the most famous Kansas City high school players ever — I’m, of course, talking about his older brothers, JaRon and Kareem.

Rush’s story is, perhaps, the most unbelievable. He came to Kansas with the reputation of a malcontent, the reputation of being immature and selfish. He left as a national champion. He’s in Indianapolis now, finally in the NBA.

And then there’s Mario. Little kids in Kansas will be acting out his shot for decades. And there’s not much else to say about Mario. He’s playing for the Heat now, and he’s starting as a rookie.

Of course, he’s not a star and he probably never will be. It looks doubtful that Rush and Wright will be either. Downs will be lucky to get a look in the D-League.

They’re spread across the country now. They didn’t make it to Senior Day. So maybe they can’t be the greatest recruiting class in Kansas history. It’s too bad. Senior Day would have been a sight.

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The Pistol, Durant and basketball memories

So in most aspects of my life, I am very reluctant to spend money. I’m not necessarily cheap — for instance, when I do spend money, I seem to have pretty expensive tastes — but I guess I’m just not that into buying, well, stuff…

There are a couple of exceptions. And these include airports and gas stations.

Of course, these places seem to have one thing in common: I’m usually only at an airport or gas station when I’m traveling.

Perhaps this will sound strange, but when I go to an airport, or when I stop at a gas station on a road trip, I have to buy something.

It might be a magazine, or a bag of Doritos, or a Quik-Stop cappuccino. But I have to buy something. I just have to.

This phenomenon surfaced a couple of weeks ago when I was flying back to Kansas City after visiting my brother in Washington D.C.

I was flying out of Reagan airport, and there happened to be a Borders bookstore in the airport. Now this was a real treat. Usually, of course, there is one of those small magazine stands, and maybe it has a small rack of books — you know, the latest Danielle Steele and Dan Brown novels.

But this airport had an entire Borders, or at the very least, an “airport-sized version of a Borders”.

I had just finished reading “The Blind Side” a couple of days before, so I peaked around the store, looking for something interesting to read on the flight home.

I ended up settling on “Pistol”, Mark Kriegel’s brilliant biography on Pete Maravich*.

*The book came out a few years back, and I now remember that another Maravich biography, called “Maravich”, came out at about the same time. Yep, two biographies on Pete Maravich in the same year. I guess that’s kind of like the time the two volcano movies — “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak” — came out at the same time, or the time “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” came out in the same summer.

Anyway, it took me about three weeks to slog through “Pistol” — it was essentially a father-son tale about the relationship between Pete and his father Press.

It detailed Press’s upbringing underneath the clouds of smog spewed by the mills of Pennsylvania. It detailed Pete’s career at LSU, when he averaged more than 40 points per game for three straight seasons. And it detailed Pete’s fall into alcoholism and depression.

It’s a great book, poetic and rhythmic, and it’s exquisitely researched.
I knew Pete Maravich’s basic story. I remembering watching a movie about Pete Maravich (a movie that came out in the late 1980s) when I was a young kid. And I knew some of the drills that Maravich made famous.

But perhaps people forget — especially people under the age of 40 — about Maravich’s greatness*.

*Pat Conroy isn’t one of those people. Conroy, as you probably know, is the best-selling author of the timeless book, “The Great Santini”. He also played basketball at The Citadel during Maravich’s era — and he would eventually write a best-selling memoir about his time at The Citadel entitled, “My Losing Season”.

“I grew up possessed by the legend of ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich,” Conroy once wrote. “I’ve marveled at the supernatural skills of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant—all of them were greater basketball players than the ‘Pistol’. Yet none of them could touch the magical, otherworldly qualities he brought to the court, the genius and wizardry and breathtaking creativity. He could light up a crowd like a match set to gasoline. His game was lordly, inimitable and he should have been the greatest player to ever play the game.”

*****

There’s something about Conroy’s words that I can’t stop thinking about. Something about the way Conroy viewed Maravich. Something about that fact that, 30 years after Maravich retired (and more than 40 years since he played in college), Conroy could still find joy in memories of Maravich. He could remember what it felt like to watch Pistol Pete, and those memories transported him to a different place.

I think this is one of the simplest and most concise explanations for why we love sports.

There’s something else in those words, too. You see, for a person that uses numbers to measure greatness, Maravich might as well be a saint. He was the kid who scored more points than anyone in NCAA history, the kid who averaged more than 44 points per game for a season… he was the Pistol.

But here’s the thing: For the people that saw Maravich play, the numbers were secondary. Instead, people remembered the moves, the artistry, the way he floated around a basketball floor.

There’s a great line from Bob Dylan (Kriegel uses it in the prologue of his book) about watching Maravich play.

“He was something to see,” Dylan said. “Mop of brown hair, floppy socks, the holy terror of the basketball world, high flyin’, magician of the court.

*****

So here’s the moment when I finally get to the point.

I think we may have found our Pistol.

He’s 21 years old… and he lives Oklahoma City… and he may be the most perfect offensive basketball player we’ve ever seen.

Of course, only time will tell.

But I do know this: I’ve seen some great basketball players play in person.

I saw Paul Pierce display his all-around versatility while playing at KU. I saw glimpses of Chauncey Billups’ competitive fire while he played at Colorado. I saw Ray Allen stroke the most gorgeous jumpshot I’ve ever seen. And I saw Derrick Rose nearly shoot down Kansas in the 2008 NCAA title game.

But I’ll say this with confidence: None of those guys could touch the sheer brilliance of Kevin Durant.

*****

Kevin Durant Memory No. 1

Sports memories are a funny thing. They flicker somewhere in the back of the brain, ready to be recalled, ready to be triggered by the senses.

But with each passing day, those memories become a little grainier. And, of course, you can’t replace a memory.

You can try — and perhaps you can go back and look at an old picture, or watch an old game — but then the memory is no longer pure. It’s simply a memory of a memory, a copy of the original, or something like that.

And here’s the thing: I don’t want to forget the first time I saw Kevin Durant play.

I remember it was a Saturday.* I remember Kansas was playing Texas at Allen Fieldhouse with the Big 12 regular-season title on the line.

*I think it was the first week of March, but I may be wrong. It might have been the last week of February. See what I mean?

If KU won, then Bill Self and Jayhawks earned the title outright. If Texas won, then both teams would share the crown.

I remember it was an afternoon game. And I had to wake up around 10. And I had to borrow a ticket from one of my roommates, who had decided he’d rather sleep in.

I remember walking to the Fieldhouse, and I remember watching Durant glide on to the basketball floor for warm-ups*.

*Durant is still skinny. I imagine he will stay relatively thin forever. But when he was a freshman in college — and barely 18 — he seemed to be all knees and wrists and elbows.

I remember the first half, when Durant poured in 25 points and seemed to barely ripple the net on every shot*.

*His line in that first half will go down as one of the best halves of basketball in the history of Fieldhouse. 25 points. 10-of-14 shooting from the field. Five of five from the three-point line.

I remember the hopeless feeling in the Fieldhouse at halftime*.

*This guy is ridiculous. There’s no way he’s not scoring 50. We’re toast.

I remember thinking this: Well, if KU is going to lose. I hope he does score 50. Hell, I hope he scores 60. Bring on history.

Of course, he wouldn’t score 50. He wouldn’t even score 40.

He would finish with 32 points. He would snatch nine rebounds. He would make six of eight three-pointers.

Of course, Kansas would rally in the second half. Mario Chalmers would hit five three-pointers and score 21 points — and Kansas would win 90-86, clinching the Big 12 title.

But I will always remember the moment in the second half when Kevin Durant went down.

He turned his ankle in the final minutes, after KU had started its massive run and appeared to have the game in control.

And as he limped off the floor, the KU fans slowly came to their feet. It was like watching a young colt break down on the backstretch of the Kentucky Derby. And the Fieldhouse crowd recognized this.

So they stood for him. And they clapped for him. They had too. He was that good.

Three years later, the memory of that Saturday is still clear.

And now, we have an entirely new perspective.

At least 10 players from that game will play at least one game in the NBA. It could be more.

Texas had Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and a young and overweight Dexter Pittman.

Kansas had Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sherron Collins.

Sasha Kaun could also play in the League someday. So could Russell Robinson.

And yet, on a court filled with future pros, Durant made them all look like end-of-the-bench scrubs.

“I thought for a minute in the first half (Kevin) Durant could get 60,” Bill Self would say.

“He’s the best I’ve ever faced in my life,” Rush would say, “He’s the best by far.”

*****

Kevin Durant Memory No. 2

The voice at the podium was familiar. Deep — yet scratchy and southern.

Questions were flying at Mike Anderson, the head basketball coach at Missouri, and he was answering them in his own soulful way.

It was the fall of 2007 — six months after Kevin Durant had left school early, and just three months after he had been selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Draft.

Anderson was sitting in a full ballroom at the Plaza Marriot in Kansas City. The Big 12 basketball season was commencing with media day — and each Big 12 coach was taking his turn at the podium.

And somehow, Durant’s name kept coming up.

“Thank God he’s gone,” Anderson cried out. “Thank God.”

I’ll always remember the way Anderson said those words. Complete sincerity. Complete conviction. His eyes were opened wide. It was as if the memory of Durant had caused him to flashback to a nightmare.

Good lord, that kid could play. Don’t want ever see him again. Thank God.

That same day, somebody asked Kansas coach Bill Self how many points he thought Durant would average as an NBA rookie.

“This year?” Self asked, pausing a moment to think. “I’d say 17.”

Durant would average just a shade more than 20.

*****

These are just numbers, proof of what Kevin Durant is doing on a basketball court. We don’t need these to know Durant’s brilliance — but I think they help.

Kevin Durant has not turned 22 yet. He won’t until Sept. 29.

But here is what Kevin Durant is doing this season:

40.0 minutes / 29.8 points / 47.9 FG% / 37.6 3P% / 7.5 rebounds / 2.9 assists

The following is a list of players who have had comparable seasons before the age of 22.

1. Magic Johnson – 1980-81 (second year)
37.1 minutes / 21.6 points / 53.2 FG% / 17.6 3P% (3 for 17) / 8.6 rebounds / 8.6 assists

2. Michael Jordan – 1984-85 (rookie)
38.3 minutes / 28.2 points / 51.5 FG% / 17.3 3P% (9 for 52) / 6.5 rebounds / 5.9 assists

3. LeBron James – 2005-06 (3rd year)
42.5 minutes / 31.4 points / 48.0 FG% / 33.5 3P% / 7.0 rebounds / 6.6 assists

4. Carmelo Anthony – 2005-06 (3rd year)
36.8 minutes / 26.5 points / 48.1 FG% / 24.3 3P% / 4.9 rebounds / 2.7 assists

5. Tracy McGrady – 2000-01 (fourth year)
40.1 minutes / 26.8 points / 45.7 FG% / 35.5 3P% / 7.5 rebounds / 4.6 assists

And just for reference, here are the seasons of a few others…

6. Kobe Bryant 1999-00 (4th year)
38.2 minutes / 22.5 points / 46.8 FG% / 31.9 3P% / 6.3 rebounds / 4.9 assists

7. Dwight Howard – 2006-07 (third year)
36.9 minutes / 17.6 points / 60.3 FG% / n/a 3P% / 12.3 rebounds / 1.9 assists

8. Chris Bosh – 2005-06 (3rd year)
39.3 minutes / 22.5 points / 50.5 FG% / N/A 3P% / 9.2 rebounds / 2.6 assists

9. Chris Paul 2006-07 (second year)
36.8 minutes / 17.3 points / 43.7 FG% / 35.0 3P% / 4.4 rebounds / 8.9 assists

10. Allen Iverson – 1996-97 (rookie year)
40.1 minutes / 23.5 points / 41.6 FG% / 34.1 3P% / 4.1 rebounds / 7.5 assists

*****

The story on Kevin Durant has yet to be written.

And this makes him even more interesting. He is in that rare moment in an athlete’s career. For the most part, his slate is clean.

Some people write that he is the most underrated player in the NBA. Others write that he is the third best player in the league behind LeBron and Kobe. Others question his defense. Some question whether he will be able to lead a team to a championship*.

*He can score, yes, they say, but will his skill set lead to championships?

Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard no doubt asked the same question when he selected Greg Oden over Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Durant will score, people said. But you win titles with big men, and Oden will win you titles.

Of course, people write and say many other things. And it is too early to know what Kevin Durant will be.

“Kevin Durant is a more athletic Danny Manning,” Jay Bilas once said.

“He is kind of a cross between George Gervin and Bob McAdoo,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar once said.

So many comparisons, so many new expectations. People no longer wonder whether he’ll have a better career than Durant. Perhaps it’s premature — perhaps Oden’s young career will have a renaissance — but nowadays, people ask different questions. Some of those questions even involve a man named — gasp! — LeBron.

And yet, you can ask Nick Collison, the former Kansas great who has played with Durant for nearly three seasons, and he’ll tell you that Durant can rise above it all. He won’t be swallowed by the hype.

“There’s nothing fake about Kevin; he is who he is,” Collison told Sports Illustrated last month. “It’s kind of refreshing, someone with that much talent and ability, a guy who’s been on the cover of magazines since he was 18, but all he wants to do is play basketball and hang out. He’s not trying to rule the world or become a global marketing icon—he just wants to play ball.”

Yes, we’ve found our modern day Pistol.

He’s not a physical specimen like LeBron. And unlike King James, he doesn’t want to build an empire.

He’s not built like Kobe — so we’ll be spared from comparisons to Jordan. He’s not moody like Kobe either.

He’s still young. Still acts like a kid. Still watches cartoons. And still sends out funny tweets.

A few weeks ago, he participated in the NBA’s HORSE competition during All-Star weekend. Boston’s Rajon Rondo was in it. So was Sacramento rookie Omri Casspi. It really was brutal television. It seemed like all three guys had just been plucked off the street*.

*Hey, you want to be in this HORSE competition? OK, Great. We’re doing it right now.

Of course, Durant won. He stepped up on his first shot and casually drained a 35-footer.

And afterward, he said, “It felt like Game 7 of the NBA finals… not that I’ve been there.”

I didn’t hear Durant say these words. He might have said them in jest. He might have been having a little fun. But part of me thinks Durant was halfway serious.

Charles Barkley was present during the game of HORSE. So I was reminded of something Barkley said on TV a few weeks ago.

They were showing highlights of Durant on the postgame show on TNT — and once again, Durant had posted a 30-point night.

“He needs a nickname,” TNT’s Kenny Smith said.

“I like something like the “Total Weapon” because he can score from anywhere,” Barkley said. “He could score at a funeral.”

Yep, we may have found our new Pistol. And Kevin Durant just wants to ball.

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The story of Self

LAWRENCE | The story begins here, on Naismith Drive on a bitterly cold December night.

Start here, on the sidewalk, with a college freshman decked out in a blue T-shirt.

Can you see him? He’s walking fast, among a pack of disgusted fans. He is furious, talking nonstop to no one in particular.

“That was embarrassing,” he says.

The throng of fans, a jagged line of bundled-up fans, leads all the way back to the front of Allen Fieldhouse.

It is dark. And it is winter. And the Kansas basketball team has just lost a heartbreaker — 72-70 to Nevada on the first night of December in 2005.

“Are you kidding me?” the kid in the blue T-shirt says. “Nevada? Are you kidding?”

The pack of fans is quiet. There is no response. There is no reason to.

They had all seen the same thing. A lanky kid named Nick Fazekas had ravaged the Kansas defense for 35 points. And with the loss, Kansas had been humbled again.

They had started the season 2-3. But, of course, there was more.

This was Bill Self’s third season, his first without the leftover mainstays from the Williams era.

Simien, Langford and Miles were gone. J.R. Giddens had the left program, too. And his departure — the muddied result of a stabbing incident at a Lawrence club — had left a stain on the program

Can you see the freshman in the blue T-shirt?

“Nevada, are you serious?”

But, of course, there was more. Just eight months earlier, a 3rd-seeded Kansas team had fallen to Bucknell — yes, Bucknell — in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

And dating back to Feb. 14, 2005, Bill Self’s Jayhawks were 5-9 in the program’s last 14 games.

So can you see him, the kid on Naismith Drive? Can you hear him?

“It’s Bill Self, man,” he says. “This guy can’t coach.”

******

I thought of that story on Monday, as Kansas dismantled Texas 80-68 in Austin to improve to 23-1 and 9-0 in the Big 12.

How did we get here? How did we get from that angry young freshman on Naismith Drive to here.

Here, Bill Self is coaching the No. 1 team in the country. Here, Self is on track to lead the Jayhawks to their sixth-straight Big 12 title. Here, Self and Kansas are just 22 months removed from a National Championship — 22 months removed from The Shot.

KU has an All-American candidate at point guard, an All-American candidate at center, and a future first-round draft pick on the wing.

And on Saturday, Self and Kansas will welcome Iowa State to Allen Fieldhouse — a building in which they’ve won 55 straight games.

And so Kansas will most likely win, and Bill Self will win his 400th career game.

How did we get here? How did Bill Self, at age 47, become the best college basketball coach in America?

There is no easy answer. Yes, Self can recruit. And yes, Self can coach. And so yes, Self wins.

But there has to be more to it, right?

There is no easy answer — but there are moments.

So let’s take a trip back in time, before Sherron cemented his place in history, before Cole Aldrich’s NCAA tournament triple-double, before Mario’s shot, before Brandon Rush tore his ACL, before Bradley and Bucknell… before it all.

*****

On the day we met Bill Self, the city of Lawrence was still in mourning, still reeling from the national championship game loss to Syracuse, and still in shock that Roy Williams was gone.

Roy? Gone? It was supposed to be forever, wasn’t it?

The press conference happened on a Monday — April 21, 2003 — one week after Williams boarded that private jet for Chapel Hill and said that he was a “Tar heel born” and he’d be a “Tar Heel dead”

One week after Wayne Simien stood outside Allen Fieldhouse and, with his emotions flowing, told reporters that he’d “given his arm” for Williams.

So with the wounds still gaping, with the heartache still fresh, Bill Self showed up in Lawrence and introduced himself.

“It’s a tough act to follow,” Self would say, mentioning Williams’ legacy of success. “But you know something, Larry Brown was a tough act to follow… And Ted Owens went to two Final Fours and was a tough act to follow… and Phog Allen was a very tough act to follow… and the guy who started it all, is the toughest of all acts to follow, Dr. Naismith.”

Self was the guy Kansas had wanted. And now they had their man. But there seemed to be one collective thought among Kansas people after Self’s first press conference.

Man, this guy sure does stutter a lot.

*****

So how did we get here?

Here’s another story about Bill Self.

Perhaps it will help us on our journey. Perhaps it won’t.

But if you squint really hard, you just might just be able to find the exact moment that Bill Self made the KU program his own.

The moment that Bill Self stopped being “that guy who took over for ROY WILLIAMS” — and instead, Roy Williams became “that guy who was at Kansas before BILL SELF”.

The moment came six weeks after the painful loss to Nevada.

KU was 10-4 at the time, and the freshman trio of Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright was still finding its way.*

But after losing to Saint Joseph’s at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 6, the Jayhawks had churned out six wins in a row, including a 73-46 mugging of Kentucky.

There was hope.

*As you probably remember, the fourth freshman that year, Micah Downs, skipped out and headed back home to Washington during Winter break.

But that hope would soon diminish as Bill Self — the man who couldn’t coach, the man who lost at home to Nevada, the man who wasn’t Roy — would have his worst weekend at KU.

It started on Saturday, January 14th, when a Jim Woolridge-coached Kansas State squad would walk into Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas 59-55. The loss would snap KU’s 31-game winning streak against K-State.

“It is disappointing,” Self would say, “because we are a better team than what we played today.”

Two days later, Kansas would travel down to Columbia, Mo., to play Mizzou on Big Monday.

This was the Christian Moody game.

Yes, you remember. With the score tied with 0.4 seconds left in regulation, Moody — the player whom Bill Packer called the “greatest walk-on ever” — had two free throws to win the game.

He clanked both.

Of course, this was also the game that Thomas Gardner would score 40 points.

That Missouri loss would drop Kansas to 10-6 and 1-2 in the Big 12.

You could hear the whispers. They circulated in dorm rooms and fraternity basements and on message boards.

Will this team even make the tournament? Does Bill Self know what he’s doing? Can this guy coach?

*****

We can’t know for sure what happened after that Missouri game. We just can’t.

But we do know this number — and it’s staggering.

Since KU lost in overtime to Missouri, Bill Self is 135-19

Yes, 135-19 — He’s won 87.6 percent of his games.

Of course, the numbers don’t stop there. And if you look closely, the numbers point to Bill Self being the best coach in college basketball.

During the six-plus seasons Self has been at the helm, Kansas is 192-41 (an 82.4 winning percentage)

During the same period, Roy Williams is 189-48 at North Carolina. Coach K is 190-44 at Duke. Jim Calhoun is 172-55* at Connecticut.

*We should note that John Calipari, who won many games at Memphis before taking over at Kentucky before this season, is 203-39 during the same period. Of course, we’ll also point out that Calipari racked up nearly half of those wins playing in a picked-over Conference USA.

There are other numbers to look at. Yes, Ol’ Roy won national titles in 2005 and 2009, and Billy Donovan won two at Florida, and Calhoun won another title at UConn in 2004.

But how about this?

Bill Self is 47 years old, and he will win his 400th game this season. We can’t know the future. We can’t know if he will eventually move to the NBA, or if he’ll eventually lose the passion to recruit and replenish his program.

But let’s assume that Bill Self stays at the college level for the next 10 years. And let’s say he averages 25 wins* per season.

If he does that, he’ll have more than 650 wins by age 57.

*It might be a little conservative to say that he’s going to win 25 wins per seasons. He’s averaged 28 wins over his first six seasons, and he’ll surely win more than that this year.

*****

Let’s end here, outside Allen Fieldhouse — the place it where it all began. Let’s walk on Naismith Drive, let’s walk past Phog Allen’s statue, and let’s go inside and see the 2008 National Championship trophy.

There’s a great story about Bill Self.

It was the morning after the Memphis game, the morning after The Shot, the morning after the confetti had dropped.

Self had a morning press conference in the Alamodome. Russell Robinson and Sasha Kaun were there, too.

They were still holding the NCAA championship trophy.

Self talked about how’d he been woken by a phone call from the president. He talked about how the team had celebrated together at the team hotel. And he tried to explain how the past night had changed his life.

And then he brought up a conversation that he’d had the night before with assistant coach Joe Dooley.

“Coach,” Dooley had said. “We got to find a way to do this again.”

Of course, the NCAA tournament can be the cruelest of sporting events.

Kansas fans know this better than anyone. But right now, it seems likely that in March, KU will be favored to win its second title in three years.

Bill Self is doing it again.

And one day, when it all ends, Bill Self will be one tough act to follow.

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Just thinking about Sherron

He looks like the old man in the rec league out there, the one who doesn’t quite understand that his legs and game have deserted him.

He weighs a little more than everyone else. Maybe that’s why. His back aches, and his quads aren’t firing. Maybe that’s why.
Whatever the reason, he is stumbling. This is ESPN Game Day. This is against a rival. This is Bramlage Coliseum. This is the Octagon of Doom or whatever the heck they’re calling it.

And Sherron Collins looks like that damn old man everyone at the gym would pay if he promised to never play again.

They take him out. They stretch his lower back. They massage his upper legs. When they put him back in the game, he hobbles around for a while longer.

So then it makes perfect sense that he makes the game’s most important shot.

***
A couple of weeks ago, a cousin of Nic Wise tried telling me that his Arizona point guard relative played the game of college basketball better than Collins.

Of course I laughed.

A friend of mine who graduated from Kansas State said point blank that he would prefer to have Jacob Pullen on his team rather than Collins.

Another K-State fan soon told him to shut up.

Reason prevailed during these arguments. Notions of basketball insanity were quickly dismissed. But a worry still lingers. These people erroneously questioned the value of Sherron Collins, and I fear it happens on a larger scale.

It seems strange. Collins is flashy, and he’s undersized, and he loves crunch time. He shoots the three. He often drives like a mad man. He’s been part of a national championship. He has what casual observers might refer to as intangibles.

These characteristics normally pop out for admirers of college basketball.

Yet the devaluation occurs. Sherron Collins, a fireball, one of the gutsiest players to wear a Kansas uniform, always does what he needs to do. The moment calls, and he’s there. Situations and games change, and he’s there.

***
Go back to early November, 2, 2006. In his first college game, an exhibition, Collins came off the bench for 24 minutes. He dribbled wildly, navigating his own way to the basket where he missed as many layups as he made.

He would score eight points and contribute five assists.

The crowd would pine for Shady.

Yep, Darrell Arthur did everything that night. He flashed NBA-ready post moves, jammed a couple of times and, of course, he introduced us to that nickname, Shady, one people would repeat for a long time*.

*And Dave Armstrong would improperly join the nickname with his last name, calling the big man “Shady Arthur” for the next two years and producing an untold number of cringes for listeners.

I remember walking home with a fellow group of KU fans. Someone talked about getting Arthur’s jersey. Another person told him not to bother because with that kind of game he would certainly leave after one season. Someone else said he couldn’t believe that he was a year older than Arthur.

What about Sherron? What about that 5:1 assist-to-turnover night? What about the way he darted into the lane, so quick that his own body sometimes couldn’t react?

***
Go back to April 2008. For the major KU fans, I suspect I don’t need to recount the date. However, for the less studious, it was Monday the seventh, and the game was the championship, and the opponent was Memphis.

We all know what happened.

Mario Chalmers stroked a fall-away three-pointer that sent the game into overtime. It would send the Lawrence crowds pouring out of Mass. Street bars and into the streets. It would send the “One Shining Moment” editor scrambling to make that the permanent ending.

Everyone, rightfully, raved about “The Shot.” Few noticed “The Pass.”

The pass came three months after a fight erupted in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Well, it wasn’t quite a fight. People who use the thesaurus too often would probably refer to it as a fisticuff or something.

It started when Boston College’s Rakim Sanders took offense to Chalmers. Chalmers had accidentally slipped into his chest, and Sanders started jawing at him, a little too close for just friendly chatter.

A second later, Collins was there. He could have knocked Sanders’ head off – and probably wanted to – or he could have played the role of peacemaker. In the end, he really didn’t do either. Darnell Jackson calmed the situation down.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Collins. He ran from the other side of the court in a second to be there for his teammate. I had never seen a person move quite like that when no one else really saw the argument coming.

And it illustrated a point. When his team needed something, Collins would do anything, and he would do it reflexively, as though it were second nature.

And that’s what connects Boston College with “The Pass.” No man could have consciously done what Collins did on that play. It was reflex. It was natural.

View after view on YouTube can’t bring about a clear picture. One second, he’s dribbling, the next he’s falling and still dribbling and making a perfect pass all at once. It almost seems like he skips a frame, like he transcends time.

Joe Posnanski ( I think) would later write a column about Collins’ pass. I unfortunately can’t find it.

This gave “The Pass” its due, its rightful justice. Only, it didn’t. Nothing could. Collins defied basketball logic with that play. He saw an opening few could have seen, burst through it and did something that can’t even be properly interpreted on film.

****
For a while, Collins struggled with his role as the man. And at the beginning of last season, he had to be the man. He couldn’t quite trust anyone else.

Cole Aldrich was still unproven. He had outplayed Tyler Hansbrough months before, of course, but this wasn’t the Aldrich Kansas could lean on just yet.

Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins were enigmatic at best. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed hadn’t become the ultimate glue guys and so on.

So against Syracuse, he tried a little too hard. Jonny Flynn made him. Flynn plays basketball with what the players like to call swagger.

Nobody outswaggers Collins, and he wanted to prove it. He did in the first half, scoring 15 points to Flynn’s eight. Then Flynn started scoring and talking and running with a little more energy. He scored 17 points the rest of the way.

Collins tried to keep pace, and made just one shot in the last nine minutes of regulation. At one point, he tried driving on Flynn, who stripped the ball, and Syracuse then went on a 13-2 run.

Kansas had a big lead. It lost in overtime. And it was easy, and probably rightful, to blame Collins.

A month later, he shot the ball too many times against Massachusetts. Kansas lost again.

Then came the Tennessee game. Bill Self said then that it was the kind of victory that could turn around a season. And something changed in Collins, too.

This was the first time since the Massachusetts debacle that Kansas played a tight game. Collins could have reverted to old form and tried to do too much. He didn’t.

In the last five possessions, the last few minutes, he got to the free throw line, and he passed the ball inside to Aldrich. The occasion called for that, and he delivered.

Of course, the occasions change. That’s why he shot and made all those three-pointers against Oklahoma. That’s why he came in at just the right time on Saturday against Kansas State. That’s why, though he could put 25 up if he wanted, sometimes he lets the Morris twins and Xavier Henry do most of the work in other games.

It goes back to his natural ability to respond to situations. He understands the subtleties of the given game and then delivers.

***
Go turn on ESPN. You may have to wait a few hours, or likely just a few minutes, but at some point on any given day, a talking head will gush about John Wall.

Everybody loves John Wall. Did you know he hit a shot to beat Miami of Ohio? Did you know he may or may not have feuded with his hot-headed coach over the weekend?

Wall averages gaudy numbers. He deserves much praise. But he gets it largely because of the numbers and general freshman hype.

Collins doesn’t always put them up. Against Missouri, he hardly scored. He really didn’t have to.

Last night, against Colorado, he hardly cared in the first half. He didn’t have to. Then in the second half, he erupted.
Collins just does what he needs to do, reflexively.

“The kid’s legacy to me is, there’s been a lot of good players here,” Bill Self said, “and he’s gonna win more games than any of them.”

Self said that to the Kansas City Star the other day, and I think you can read even further into the quote.

Collins isn’t just some guy who ends his career with a bunch of victories because he played on good teams.

Of all the recent Kansas players and all the college basketball players in general, no one does more to get his team those wins. There’s no other player who wins games like Collins.

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Thursday YouTube Sesh

I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it one more time.

I can still remember the first time I heard about YouTube. It was 2006 — it must have been late January — and I was a freshman in college.

I was sitting in Professor Chuck Marsh’s “Media and Society” class in Budig Hall at The University of Kansas.

There were about 800 people in the class, mostly college freshman, and Old-man Marsh* used to start every class period with a segment called “The Hot Topic.”

*That’s not really Prof. Marsh’s nickname, but hey, it makes the story sound better.

Basically, Marsh would pick a controversial issue in the media, or a new trend, or whatever — and we’d have a class discussion about it. Of course, this is more interesting than it sounds, considering the fact that there were 800 people in the class, and it takes a certain type of personality (read crazy) to speak out in a class of 800.

Well, one day in late January, Marsh comes into class talking about a new website called “YouTube” and a hip, new word — “mash-up.”*

*Back in those days, it did seem that there were very few videos on YouTube, and most of them were movie preview mash-ups. Like this one and this one…

But the original one, the one that started it all, was the mash-up “Brokeback to the Future”. And on that day in late January, Marsh introduced me to a world I’d never imagined…

“Brokeback to The Future*”

In the last four years, that video has been watched more than 5.5 million times.

And like Windows and Google and iTunes and Facebook and Twitter, YouTube has become part of the fabric of our daily lives.

There are YouTube sensations and there are videos that go viral, getting passed around from friend to friend. And personally, I’ve spent way too many hours watching soccer and basketball highlights on the old laptop.

But for me, it all started four years ago.

OK, now fast-forward three years.

I’m working as the sports editor at The University Daily Kansan, and in an homage to the great former Kansas City Star columnist Jeffrey Flanagan, I created a daily Page 2 column entitled “The Morning Brew.”

Long story short, I started a weekly tradition called the “Thursday YouTube Sesh”. Why? Because sometimes, there are just videos that must be shared.

I saw one of those videos today.

If you’re a Kansas basketball fan, you probably know that KU beat Baylor 81-75 on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

If you’re a big fan, you probably know that Baylor coach Scott Drew created a mini-controversy before the game.

You see, about four years ago, when Kansas renovated Allen Fieldhoue and added a modern scoreboard that hangs above center court, they started playing a pregame video montage. The montage highlights KU’s incomparable basketball tradition — from Naismith to Allen to Manning to Mario — and works the crowd into a frenzy.

Here’s one version of the video here…

Well, Baylor’s Drew wasn’t having any of it. And he had his team walk out into the Fieldhouse’s concourse during the video. It’s not that surprising. More than one opposing team has looked visibly intimidated while watching the video.

Of course, it’s also true that KU’s Bill Self and Drew have what could be described as a rocky relationship.

Self and Drew battled over Darrell Arthur — and Arthur, in one of the more mysterious recruiting stories in recent memory, picked KU at the last minute after having “a dream” about playing at Kansas.

Let’s just say that Drew was not happy. And according to many reports, he told former KU recruit Dwight Lewis — who eventually went to USC — that he shouldn’t go to KU because KU does a poor job of graduating players (or something to that effect).

So yea, Self was not happy.

“We’d never do that,” he said about Baylor’s walkout.

Drew, for his part, said he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful.

“It was simply because we knew we only had a minute and we wanted to go over what we wanted to do to start the game,” Drew said after the game. “There are no rules against it or anything. We met in the hallway and discussed how we were going to handle the beginning of the game.”

One thing is for certain. And it brings us to our Thursday YouTube Sesh.

There’s no way Baylor would have walked out on this pregame video.

OK, where do we start? First a little background. Apparently, this is the pregame pump-up video for the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey program. The Nanooks, as they are called, are a legit Division 1 hockey program. They play in a 4,500-seat arena and compete in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Other teams in the hockey-only CCHA include: Michigan State, Ohio State, Miami (Ohio), Michigan and Notre Dame,.

There are 12 members in all, but this explains why the polar bear drops bombs on the Ohio State, Miami and Michigan State campuses.

Of course, this doesn’t explain why the giant killer bear must use a hockey stick to chop a trapped oiler tanker in half. And it doesn’t explain why the fighter pilot polar bear must drop a bomb into a volcano and blow up the planet.

No matter how you slice it, this video just doesn’t make much sense. I just wish I was in the room when the creators of the video were brainstorming ideas*.

Person 1: Ok. We start with a polar bear rising up from the arctic and attacking a huge ship.
Person 2: Yes. Yes. I like that. And then we could cut to a polar bear in a jet fighter.
Person 1: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Person 2: Danger zone?
Person 1: Oh my god, Yes!
Person 2: OK, he could drop bombs on our rivals. And then, what about if we had him drop a bomb into a volcano and blow up the entire planet?
Person 1: Wait, the entire planet?
Person 2: Dude, this would be sweet.
Person 1: You’re right, screw it. I’m in.

Part of me thinks the creators were being a little ironic. I mean, polar bears destroying the planet, that has to be a subtle hint about the state of the environment, right?

In the end, all I know is that any video that includes “Highway to the Danger Zone” and polar bears blowing up stuff must be cherished. So enjoy.

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