It was yet another testament to how this Kansas team has matured and grown as a unit.
“Last year we started out 10-0. When you start 10-0 you're supposed to win the league, and we finished (league play) 2-4. This year we started out 1-2 and nobody thought we had a shot. To come back and go 13-3, winning 12 of our last 13 with a team that started 1-2, I think makes it special,” said Bill Self at his weekly press conference on Monday.
The journey from sub-.500 to ranked, has been an enjoyable one for the Jayhawks. Team success is usually followed up by individual accolades. Monday, it was announced that Brandon Rush was named Freshman of the Week, AND Freshman of the Year in conference. The league’s leading freshman scorer also took home first team all-league honors, an award his coach feels he was extremely deserving of.
"He deserves it,” said Self about his freshman guard who’s averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. “If you're going to tie for the championship, you at least would have to get one guy up there, you would think. I thought Mario (Chalmers) deserved third team, and I thought Russell (Robinson) deserved honorable mention, but there are a lot of other coaches that say the same thing about their players. Brandon certainly played at a certain level and led us from start to finish. He's deserving of that."
Sophomore guard Russell Robinson received All-Defensive team honors and the praise of his coach.
"I don't know if one player spurred it (team chemistry) on more than others, but I do think Russell Robinson, from start to finish, has been the heart and soul of our team," said Self.
Self was also honored as the Big 12 Coach of the Year, an award he humbly accepted.
"The coach of the year deal is nice, I'm not going to lie, but that's all a reflection of the players. That's the way it always works. If you have good players you have a good chance to win those things. If you don't have good players, you don't, and certainly we have good players and good people,” said Self.
"The coach of the year award doesn't make a season more gratifying. Having a team that's young, win six road games and all of them by double figures, that to me is gratifying because we're so young,” explained Self who was also named WAC Coach of the Year in 2000.
Now that the “celebrating” is over its back to business for Self and Co. You can be sure KU’s third year coach will be having a talk with his young team this week about the ramifications of an off night in the postseason. The toughest test is yet to come for the Jayhawks.
"I think they're eager. I haven't talked to them since the K-State game since we took yesterday off, but they'll be eager. Every team in our league will be excited to play. We better be eager or else we'll get beat the first game. We could go try really hard and still come up empty. There isn't a big discrepancy in talent level. This will be a great test for us to see just how mature we are,” Self stated.