In the end, it was just an early season November basketball game, but what it provides is invaluable to the Kansas Jayhawks and their head coach Bill Self. Inside Chicago's United Center, the Jayhawks rode the emotion of an up and down game loaded with talent as far as the eye could see and fought their way to a 94-83 victory over the Duke Blue Devils.
The win gave Kansas its first victory in the three year existence of the Champions Classic and while it's just one win that improves the team to 2-0, it's the experience of playing such excellent competition that provides Self with a golden opportunity to teach and grow the talent and basketball knowledge of his very young team.
You could argue that Kansas would have lost this game in previous years, even with the talent they've had throughout Self's time in Lawrence. In 2005, his young team of mostly freshmen had trouble just getting the ball across halfcourt during that season's Maui Invitational. Three years later, many of those same players won a National Championship.
On Tuesday night, another team of mostly freshmen led Kansas to a comeback win over a team that many expect to contend for the title, just as they do the Jayhawks. Led by Andrew Wiggins, the nation top recruit, Kansas kept scratching clawing, possession by possession against the nation's number two ranked recruit Jabari Parker. Who lit the Jayhawks up, as Wiggins could only sit on the bench and watch because of foul trouble (this will be a theme for everyone this season).
Parker scored 27 for the game, but it was Wiggins that stole the show late, outscoring him 16-8 in the second half and adding a couple of game sealing shots and dunks late that surged Kansas ahead for good. However, it wasn't just Wiggins.
It truly was Kansas against Duke and that's fitting, as it should be encouraging. This Jayhawk team is loaded like perhaps none other has been. Fellow freshmen Wayne Selden and Frank Mason each scored 15 points, including buckets at key moments.
Then, sophomore Perry Ellis quietly turned in a Tim Duncan like performance of 24 points and nine rebounds. The fact that it was relatively quiet (much like Duncan again) should scare future opponents. No longer a timid freshman, Ellis has become a man, which started late last year. He's special and will get even better. He could very well go down as an all timer at Kansas when it's all set and done.
Yes, it was just a game in November, but for one night, it sure felt a lot like March. The fact is, Self and Kansas fans should be excited and eager for each chapter in the storybook of a season that is unfolding before your very eyes. It was only the second game of a long season, but the Jayhawks took on one college basketball's best and responded, again and again.
This battle featured 19 lead changes and 13 ties. We should all be so lucky to watch a game of this magnitude and class in March. The Jayhawks took on one of the big boys and turned a mammoth effort of their own, out-rebounding the mighty Blue Devils 39-24. They out dished them 18-15 to show fans what is possible when they play together.
Yes, it's just the second game of the season and it was played on the 12th night of November, but Bill Self has a tremendous teaching tool as a result of this game and a message to deliver as a result. For, his Jayhawks showed themselves to be young and supremely talented, but in addition, they showed knowledge well beyond their years and when this collection of rare talent truly gels and the lights get brighter sometime early next spring, they can look back on a mid November night and point to this as where the journey truly began. Then, perhaps they will all say that the rest was truly history, etched into the fame lore of one of college athletics' most historic of programs.