That’s on paper -- but in theory it wouldn’t be out of the question to think that KU could possibly suffer a letdown Monday after dishing out a heavy dose of payback to in-state rival Kansas State Saturday night. But KU head coach Bill Self doesn’t believe that will happen and his five seniors are a big reason why.
“It’s been a fabulous class. Our fans, players and coaches need to make sure they go out in style on Monday. It won’t be easy. We’re playing a team in Texas Tech (16-12, 7-7) that is coming in very confident after the way they played today (vs. Texas),” Self added after Saturday’s win vs. K-State.
Sunday KU’s five seniors – Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson, Jeremy Case, Rodrick Stewart, and Darnell Jackson - started to feel the latter stages of their careers closing in. None of the five came with McDonald’s All-American type hype, but all are leaving better players and having represented this university extremely well.
“It’s an unheralded class. There’s no McDonald’s All-Americans, they’re just guys that came and basically gave their heart and soul to this place,” Self stated.
All five seniors spent some time with reporters and then the five also gathered for a photo shoot after an hour-long practice Sunday. They were all smiles but make no mistake about it, they know their time in crimson and blue is nearing an end, and it is an emotional time. You can bet there will be some tears shed on Monday. Each player will get to make a speech and all five will be in Self’s starting lineup when the ball is tipped.
This group deserves a standing ovation for a tremendous list of accomplishments and for epitomizing what Kansas basketball is all about. This class is on the heels of its fourth Big 12 regular season title and has notched over 100 wins in four years of competition (107-23) – that’s an average of 26.8 wins per season. They’ve held up a trophy on Sunday during the last two Big 12 tournaments and have been part of milestone victories at Kansas (1,900th all-time victory, 50th Conference title, and 600th all-time victory in Allen Fieldhouse).
Their performances in the classroom have equaled those on the court. Jeremy Case has already graduated, and the other four are on pace to graduate in the spring. .
I’ll miss when the public address announcer says, “Russell Robinson from New York…,” and the crowd responds with “NEW YORK!” Russell epitomizes the area he’s from – a super tough kid from Rice High School in New York City that has become the heart and soul of this Kansas team. The intangibles he brings will be tough to replace. He has been the classic glue guy on a championship-caliber team. It’s the reason he’s earned the Danny Manning “Mr. Jayhawk” Award the last two seasons – he brings a ton of necessary intangibles to the court. For 143 games of his KU career Robinson has always given his all.
Russell’s mother remarked how fast the time had gone but how happy she was that her son decided to spend his four years of college at Kansas. Her son has been the pulse of this KU team. It’s been fun watching him grow into the player that he is. He may not put up the flashy number but his heart, soul, toughness, and defense is a huge part of why this Kansas team has been so successful during his time on campus.
Kaun is a stellar student in the classroom and a terrific kid off the court. This season he was pulled from the starting lineup yet willingly embraced a role coming off the bench. Kaun ranks 8th on KU’s all-time blocked shots list (140), and his offense has improved markedly over his four-year stint here at KU.
It’s also a favorite moment of mine to look up and see the video screen play a clip from the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan - the word “Kaun” is yelled by William Shatner and on Saturday night vs. K-State it was a well-timed chuckle for the crowd and for Sasha.
Jeremy has already graduated and is the only one of this bunch recruited by Roy Williams. Case was never quite able to find a regular role on this team but the kid has one of the prettiest jumpers you’ll ever see. Jeremy could’ve transferred, could’ve complained, but he’d just rather tell you the things he loves about playing basketball and being a part of this Kansas program.
Rodrick is another energy guy and is in his third season at Kansas after transferring from USC. Stewart struggled at times to find a role, but like Case, never complained. He entered this season ready, willing, and able to contribute and he’s started seven games. He played a critical role and was a huge reason KU survived a November clash against Arizona.
Stewart’s athletic ability is a huge asset and the reason the crowd gets hyped up when he gets the ball. He has thrown down some eye-popping dunks in practices and games since he’s donned the crimson and blue.
His emotionally gut-wrenching time off the court during his KU career has been well-documented. On the court no one has improved more. Jackson holds a very special place in a lot of people’s hearts because no one has endured more and came out of it as well as Darnell.
Darnell has played with such heart for every second he’s been on the court at Kansas and I’m holding my breath for this speech because I think this one will come right from that tremendous ticker he has.
There will be proud relatives in the stands and grateful fans in the seats to say goodbye to three terrific seniors.