Party Time!

This is how you throw a party. This is how you celebrate a berth in the Final Four. This is how you celebrate arguably the greatest moment of your life.

It all happened after Davidson’s Jason Richards’ desperation 27-footer missed wide left and clanged off the backboard at the buzzer.

KU 59, Davidson, 57.

The Kansas players jumped out of their seats and rushed the court. The players hugged, they shouted, they rejoiced.

After that bitter loss to UCLA last year in the Elite Eight, after a grueling preseason boot camp, after all those practices since Late Night in October, after 38 games, this was now the Jayhawks’ time, their moment to shine.

There was a lot of love on the court that magical evening on March 30 at Ford Field in Detroit. There was also relief, chills, and a once-in-a-lifetime feeling the players, coaches, and their families never wanted to let go.

Photographers hurried on the court to snap pictures and capture the excitement. Reporters soon joined them to record a piece of history.

And here is some of what they saw.

They saw the players stand on the stage to receive their Midwest Regional Championship trophy, with each one getting his turn to hold the prized hardware. Stars like Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, and Mario Chalmers. And reserves who pushed these starters in practice every day to be the best like Matt Kleinmann, Jeremy Case, and Tyrel Reed.

With their Final Four hats and shirts, all the players mugged for the cameras while the KU fans cheered.

And, of course, they cut down the nets.

One by one, with scissors in hand, the players climbed the ladder to cut the twine. One by one, the players waved to their fans and loved ones, who had all gathered on the court to join the party.

“Go Conner,” a KU fan screamed as freshman Conner Teahan cut a piece of net.

Assistant coach Joe Dooley’s wife, Tanya, and their son, Max, watched the celebration unfold with great pride. Assistant Danny Manning’s son, Evan, smiled from ear to ear. Chalmers embraced his mom, Almarie, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He then hugged his sister, Roneka.

Chalmers had dreamed of making the Final Four since he was a little kid, a dream he always shared with his family. And now this moment was theirs together.

Almarie once won a NAIA national championship at Methodist College. Now, her son was two games away from winning his own national title.

“She’s always been there for me,” Mario said in the locker room afterwards. “I love my mom to death. Just to have her right there with me was a great feeling. She said, ‘We finally made it. Great job.’”

KU Athletics Director Lew Perkins got in on the fun, embracing everyone in the Jayhawks’ family. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius was even here, watching the net-cutting ceremony and reveling in the celebration.

“It’s terrific,” Sebelius said. “This university is on a real roll. It’s my alma mater so I’m a proud Jayhawk. To win the Orange Bowl and to be on the way to the Final Four, a great coach, a great team, it’s just thrilling. It’s great for the student athletes. That’s what it’s all about.”

Sebelius said she had no doubts this game, despite the close battle.

“I was with the ‘Hawks all the way,” she said. “I was sure they would pull it out, but they made it very exciting.”

Off to the side of the court, seemingly finally at piece with all the family tragedy they have endured, senior Darnell Jackson and his mom, Shawn, soaked in the moment.  Darnell had his right arm around his mother, the strong woman who had him at 16, the resilient woman who lost her mom, Evon, in a car accident on May 29, 2005 in Las Vegas, the death that shook her and Darnell so hard.

Shawn had suffered numerous broken bones in the accident and had several surgeries afterwards. But she persevered and never lost hope.

For Darnell, he wondered if he’d ever get over the pain of his losing his grandma, if he’d ever make it to his senior year, if he’d ever make it to this night. Basketball gave him salvation and helped him heal. And now here he was, sharing the greatest night of his life with his greatest role model and also his teammates and coaches.

“It’s a great achievement,” he said. “I never imagined anything like this happening to me ever in my life.  Everybody’s got a smile on their face. It’s been so long (2003) since we’ve been to the Final Four. There are a lot of guys on this team that kept fighting and making unbelievable plays. Everybody’s so grateful we’ve got a chance to go to the Final Four.”

Finally, there was KU coach Bill Self, the one who led his team to this moment, standing on top of the ladder to cut down the final piece of twine.

After four previous trips to the Elite Eight and four heartbreaking losses, Self was on top of the world and indeed got that monkey off his back.

Or was it a 800-pound gorilla?

“I thought it was 1,200 pounds,” Self with a smile at his postgame press conference. “Eight hundred may have been a little light.”

After the net came down, Manning was already looking forward to getting back to Lawrence to prepare for North Carolina in the Final Four, the school he would have attended 25 years ago had his dad, Ed, not received the assistant coaching job at Kansas with head man Larry Brown.

“Let’s go home,” Manning said.

“Let’s go get ‘Carolina,”  a KU booster shouted.

The players soon left the court to continue their celebration in the locker room. But there Shawn Jackson stood alone, still smiling, still in shock, still so thrilled for her son and so moved by this experience.

“Right now,” she said, “I’m still like ... it will get to me. I’m so happy with his whole decision to come back to KU (Darnell thought of quitting last year) and look how it turned out for his senior year and to go to the Final Four. I think they can go all the way, and I’m just ready for that.”

Shawn admitted she had some doubts whether the Jayhawks would hold off Davidson.

“I really did. (Davidson star Stephen Curry), he needs to go on home,” she said, laughing. “He was real good. It was just a fight like the Texas game for the Big 12 Championship. They stayed the course.”

And last, Shawn spoke of how proud she was of Darnell and what he’s accomplished through severe adversity. In addition to his grandmother, Darnell lost several other family members during his KU career.

“He overcame everything that he went through to stay on track,” she said. ‘”I got him to understand that we were going to get through this. Once I got that through his head, he stayed on track to do what coach Self asked him to do. It’s turned out to be a very productive year.

“He’s a part of something that’s going to go down in history.” Top Stories