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