Tag Archives: jayhawks

Above the Rim

Basketball is beautiful. It really is. Even the crummy WNBA ad campaign from a few years ago centering on that concept didn’t take away the simplistic yet resonant meaning of those three words. BASKETBALL IS BEAUTFIUL.

Rustin Dodd recently listed it as the most artistic game, more aesthetically pleasing than soccer and even tennis, a game, to me, defined by the unparalleled grace of its greatest champion, Roger Federer. But Rustin is right, and I fully understood why on Thursday.

I was watching the KU-UCLA game. All my life, I’ve loved Kansas basketball. That should come as no surprise to the 13 readers of this blog. The roots of my love are superficial at best, maybe embarrassing at worst. I began loving Kansas because of the colors. My parents, Debbie and Paul Dent, introduced the concept of colleges when I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. Kansas wore red and blue. Kansas State wore purple. Red and blue was cool. And purple sucked. I was a Jayhawk.

Not long after, I began watching the basketball games because my dad viewed every one of them (and still does) like every member of the Jayhawk family, with religious fervor. I watched Steve Woodberry and Patrick Ritchie, then Jacque Vaughn and Ryan Robertson, then Jeff Boschee and Kenny Gregory, then Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, and then in the most recent times I watched Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush. Then I stopped.

I haven’t watched much KU basketball this year, nor did I watch much last year. That is what happens when you live in a city located far away from Lawrence. There are bars to watch it here in Dallas and ESPN3 is a God-send and good Samaritans illegally stream games on Justin.TV, but the games have tumbled down my list of priorities. The euphoria present with every dribble in Lawrence-KC fades away when you leave the city limits. Even when I watch the games, I am not watching them the same way I do at Allen Fieldhouse or in a Johnson County family room. I am watching them detached from what makes the games special.

But I did watch on Thursday. I was into the game more than most I see because it was a tight game. I even got a little angry at the missed free throws and when Tyrel Reed threw away the basketball with 13 seconds left. Then Tyler Honeycutt squared up, then the entire game depended on his shooting stroke, then it hit me.

Basketball is beautiful.

I prayed he would make it. I wanted to see the union of ball and net. I realized I love KU, but I love basketball more. Basketball is improvisational art. It is spontaneous, and the performances last for two hours, longer if we’re lucky. No single team or player can transcend the joy provided by the actual game; they only contribute to it. That is what happened when Marcus Morris lofted a Todd Reesing pass in transition to Markieff Morris, and it is what happened when Honeycutt pulled up six feet behind the three-point line with a hand in his face and made the shot all of us knew he would make and the shot I wanted him to make so he could prolong the masterpiece he had composed over the last 39 minutes and 50 seconds.

Of course, had the refs not interfered with art, I also wanted Kansas to destroy UCLA in overtime.

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The other Ford Center memory

The Ford Center brings with it a certain connotation, giving rise to images of weariness, disgrace and pain for Kansas fans.

Everyone remembers a night from 2005. A group of seniors thought by many to be the greatest class in Kansas history lost to Bucknell. It had been to two Final Fours and came within three points of a national title. It came within an overtime period of another Final Four a year earlier. It included Wayne Simien, Michael Lee, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles.

And those stars lost to a group of guys in pumpkin-orange jerseys named McNaughton and Bettencourt.*

*Funny how people with variations of the last name Bettencourt (i.e. Betancourt) just seem to aggravate Kansans/Kansas City sports fans.

The senior who spoke forever on his senior night missed the last shot. With about three seconds left, Simien found a spot just inside the top of the key, turned around and attempted a shot he had made hundreds of times throughout his career, the shot that fans associated Simien with…and missed. The ball bounced off the iron, the Bucknell players swarmed the court and Kansas reached what many considered the nadir of its basketball program.

I didn’t see any of it. That night I was in Guatemala City, far away from TV or radio or March Madness or any type of medium in which you could even see a bracket. The next morning at the airport my group and I wondered about the game. We, of course, assumed Kansas won. A few Guatemalans told us otherwise, but we assumed it may have been a joke or miscommunication. Only when I returned home and saw the “Death-Knell” headline in the Kansas City Star did it fully hit.

Yet none of that night has ever quite registered the way it likely has for most Kansas fans.

This week, perhaps, they’ll think of the Ford Center because Kansas is playing there again. They’ll think of that night. They’ll think of Bucknell.

I’ll think about the NCAA Tournament at the Ford Center in a different way.

***
The 2002-2003 season was the first time I hadn’t seen a KU game in person at Allen Fieldhouse in six years. My family started going to one game a year in 1997.

That season we saw Kansas defeat Brown by approximately 984 points, and it was Jacque Vaughn’s second game back from his wrist injury. The next year, we saw them defeat Baylor by approximately 983 points. Then it was a loss to Iowa, then a loss to Iowa State and so on.*

*Yeah, we were a pretty unlucky group. Kansas never loses at Allen Fieldhouse, unless the Dent family comes to watch. Later on, as a junior in high school, I was there when KU lost to Richmond, too.

Every season, we saw one game. That was pretty much the rule, and it was generally a game that no one else would want to see, thus the reason why we could actually get/afford tickets.

But we didn’t see one in 2002-2003. Oh, I would have liked to have seen one. It was Nick Collison’s last year. Same with Kirk Hinrich. Two of Kansas’ all-time greats were going to graduate, and I wouldn’t get to see them in their final season.

It wasn’t exactly a tragedy along the lines of, say, Oedipus Rex or Macbeth, but I was a high school kid living in Kansas who had studied KU basketball for years. It sucked.

Then the NCAA Tournament rolled around. The Jayhawks earned a No. 2 seed and would play their opening round games at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. I’m sure I could use a quick Google search to determine who they played in the first round but at this point, I am feeling lazy and just wanting to stream of conscious everything, so I will just say that they smoked their first round opponent.

In the second round, they would face Arizona State. The Sun Devils had a power forward named Ike Diogu who was supposed to be one of the best power forwards in the nation. I assumed, like for all the games, that I would watch it on TV.

Then my dad, Paul Dent, had this crazy idea. The day before the game, a Friday, he suggested that we travel to Oklahoma City to watch Kansas play against Arizona State.

It was a five-hour trip. Oklahoma was playing in the other second-round game, meaning all those football fans would be more than happy to sell their tickets and watch replays of Josh Heupel, Jason White in their basement.

We would have an opportunity to see Nick and Kirk, not to mention Keith Langford and Aaron Miles. Yes, it was a great idea.

My brother, sister, dad and I (my mom had some sort of open house thing, whatever that means, and couldn’t go) left early in the morning in my dad’s Toyota Avalon.

You get to Oklahoma City on I-35, a devil of a highway that pretty much runs from Canada to Mexico. It seems that everyone in the Midwest must traverse I-35 to reach any destination. It also seems that I-35 intentionally drags through the ends of the earth regardless of its latitudinal location.

Once you get past the Flint Hills and Wichita the only destinations between there and Oklahoma City are rest stops with broken vending machines and sketchy bikers wearing jean jackets. Diners with names like “Grab and Dash” and “Manny’s” pop up every 50 miles or so but that’s it.

After stopping at Braum’s (and thankfully not “Grab and Dash”), we found a hotel in Edmond, Okla., the hometown of Bill Self. This being 2003, none of us knew or cared about that then. We cared about finding tickets. And that would be a problem.

The Ford Center was buzzing. Oklahoma would play the first game of the day and you could tell.

Men and women in red shirts milled around outside, each desiring tickets like us and scanning for the either nonexistent or unapparent scalpers. My dad looked puzzled. My sister joked that she should try and persuade a security guard to let us in. I could have sworn I saw someone from my high school, not that that would have helped.

At this point, nothing helped. Kansas would be playing inside the arena looming tall in front of us in about two hours, and we had no idea how we could move from the sidewalk to the cheap seats.

So we didn’t. We kept walking, and my watch kept ticking, moving closer toward game time. With about an hour to go and elusive scalpers still very much elusive, we decided watching the game at a restaurant was better than not watching anything at all.

Bricktown’s red hues rose up within walking distance of the Ford Center, and we settled on a restaurant there. TV screens showed Gonzaga lose to Arizona in a second round overtime game before the Kansas game started.

My brother and I split a pizza. We would watch Kansas on TV again, just in a slightly different location.

And for a while we did. Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford dominated Arizona State like we all expected.
Then something funny happened. CBS switched broadcasts. The screen went from that awkward split-phase to full-blown coverage of something else, something that wasn’t Kansas.

We drove five hours in one day, and now we couldn’t even watch the Jayhawks on TV? This was a new low. The game involving our favorite team, with two of its greatest players of all time, was taking place five minutes from where we sat and we couldn’t see it.

Powered by the thought that there had to be some sort of TV screen showing this game closer to the Ford Center, we walked back. Like before, hordes of people in red Oklahoma shirts walked outside.

This was different, though. They were leaving the arena en masse. They saw the ensuing KU blowout victory as CBS did, a worthy diversion for one half but not for anything longer.

Problem was, empty seats didn’t make a difference. We couldn’t just ask for their tickets because, upon leaving the arena, they were voided.

One half of basketball was left, one half that seemingly nobody in Oklahoma City wanted to see but us, and we couldn’t see it.

Then we had an idea, my sister’s desperate idea. I don’t know how we came up with it or who exactly suggested it, but we ran with my sister’s joke from earlier about just asking a security guard to let us in the arena.

An old man wearing a yellow jacket guarded one of the side entrances. He appeared to be a volunteer, the type of person excited about sports and helping others. My sister asked the question. Would he let us in?

Sure, he said.

We didn’t even think of ascending the stairs toward the upper levels and instead focused on seats located a few rows behind the Jayhawks’ bench. Four of them awaited.

For one half, we watched, the best view I’d ever had at any sporting event when 30 minutes earlier it seemed we wouldn’t get to see any of it.

I don’t remember much about that second half now. Kansas extended its lead, and I’m sure Hinrich and Collison led the way; but it’s really just a hazy image of fast-breaking, turnover-inducing Roy Williams basketball at its finest.

I do remember the end. As we walked out, a few older people decked out in KU garb waited by the same exit. I recognized one of them as Wayne Sr., or at least that’s what they always called him during the game broadcasts.

He was Wayne Simien’s father and came down to watch even though his son couldn’t play because of a shoulder injury. Feeling content from all the night’s events, I approached Wayne Sr. and told him I wished for a smooth recovery for his son.

He shook my hand. He told me he appreciated everything.

In two years, this man’s son would miss a shot in the same arena that would send fans fuming and writing threatening letters to Bill Self, a shot that people still remember and probably will for quite some time.

I won’t. I’ll remember Wayne Sr.’s handshake.

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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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Deep thoughts, only not so deep

Here are two random, unrelated thoughts. One is about KU basketball, and the other is about going green. Neither is likely productive, or even sensible.

1. I’ve been playing a decent amount of FIFA lately for XBOX 360. Those who follow soccer casually know there is a famous player named Thierry Henry.

Henry plays on the French national team and for Barcelona. He’s known as a superstar, even a French legend. Of course, he’s also known as the guy whose handball cheated Ireland out of a possible berth in this year’s World Cup.

Americans unfamiliar with Henry probably don’t correctly pronounce his last name. It is not “Hen-ree.” It is “On-ree.”

Kansas has a basketball player whose name causes great mispronunciations as well. That player is Xavier Henry.

People not familiar with Kansas basketball or college basketball in general often call him “Zavier,” using the common American pronunciation. In fact, he is “Zauv-e-ay.”

That pronunciation comes from Belgium. During the early years of his childhood, his parents lived there. The natives called him “Zauv-e-ay,” and his parents liked the way it sounded. So “Zavier” became “Zauv-e-ay.”

His last name, though, is normal. It is “Hen-ree.”

But here comes the random thought. Henry should start pronouncing his name in the European way, a la Thierry Henry.
His first name is pronounced in the European way, so too should his last. It would also sound more cool, and more natural for that matter. And it would invite comparisons to Thierry Henry.

Henry is a legend, a spokesman for Gillette and a guy so good that apparently referees don’t even call handballs against him. Who wouldn’t want to be more like him?

2. I came home to my apartment complex the other day and saw shiny orange plastic bags sitting in front of everyone’s front door. At first, I thought it might be a gift. Maybe our rent money isn’t just for rent. Maybe the pirates who run the woefully corporate-sounding Jefferson at the North End actually do care.

I wasn’t completely off base. Without picking the bag off the ground, I peered inside and saw it did contain something. Each one stored a brand new phonebook.

Once I saw the phonebook, I closed the bag, not brining it inside the house or throwing it away. I left it there. My roommates did the same. They left it there.

The next day, when walked out of the apartment for work, the majority of the orange bags still rested in front of everyone’s doors. No one wanted their phone book. No one cared.

Because, really, who uses a phone book? And here comes the random thought. Let’s get rid of them.

Think about it. Every metropolitan area in the country releases a white-pages phonebook and a yellow-pages phonebook once a year. These contain thousands and thousands of pieces of paper. A study, by the online phonebook service WhitePages, showed that five million trees are cut down every year for this worthless endeavor.

Every single of one those phonebooks is also placed in a plastic bag. As we all know, plastic bags will never ever ever decompose. When we leave this planet for Mars, the moon, or high-tech spaceships with powerful laser guns in 500 years and robots like WALL-E are the only things left, he’ll be puttering around on his robotic legs picking up those damn plastic orange bags.

And all of this is done, once a year, so we can leave the phonebooks on our front stoop until finally someone yells at us to bring it inside where it can waste away in that cupboard in our house we never open.

At best, a family with young children might use the phonebook as a booster seat for dinner time. But that’s it. People look up numbers on the Internet nowadays.

Look, phonebooks aren’t completely evil. Opt-in movements are gaining steam, meaning that phonebooks might soon be delivered only to those who request them.

They can be recycled – although the previously stated study suggested that only 16 percent of Americans do it – but why not just get rid of them altogether.

This move wouldn’t save the environment. It wouldn’t even come close. But it would be a start. We have the technology to move beyond the phonebooks’ perilous paper trail; let’s do it.

Then again, I do work for a newspaper, so maybe someone else should write this letter to their local congressman.

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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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