Time to Give Thanks

The hangover has finally subsided. The Kansas Jayhawk nation has been rewarded with an outstanding men's basketball championship led by head coach Bill Self and his unselfish group of players who simply believed that giving up wasn't an option.

Bill Self's demeanor, his style and his belief in his players from the first whistle of the very first practice last October, led to the University’s third NCAA basketball title.  In five years, Self has managed to go through every emotion, every up and every down to cure all the ills of this program – including those left behind by his predecessor Roy Williams.

The Jayhawks over the last three games had the toughest road to cutting down the nets on Monday night.  They NOT only had to defeat the NCAA darlings from Davidson, but they had to defeat arguably the top two teams in the country in North Carolina and Memphis to be champions.

But as I’ve reflected over the accomplishments of this remarkable team the last 48 hours, it dawned on me that in order for them to be great, so many hearts had to be broken.

After Williams departed for North Carolina, not a fan of Kansas felt any loyalty or appreciation for the 15 years that he served as our head basketball coach.  But after seeing him in the Alamodome Monday night donning his black shirt with a Jayhawk decal, it brought closure to every fan at Kansas.

Of course had the Jayhawks not defeated the Tar Heels on Saturday, those feelings may have festered for another five years.  But they didn’t, and I for one believe that Williams’ success and failures at Kansas led to this shining moment.

Bill Self spoke a lot about the influence of Larry Brown who Williams replaced after the 1988 Championship.  Brown himself has said that his time at Kansas was the most special time of his life.  Even Memphis coach John Calapari indicated the same thing during his three-year tenure at Kansas under Brown.

We all know of Self’s early days at Kansas and what they meant to him and the launching pad they served as, giving him his first of what I presume could be many national championships for the Jayhawks.
Sure, I say that with the confidence that he won’t bolt to his alma mater at Oklahoma State.  But Stillwater isn’t Lawrence and nobody knows that better than Self.  This is his dream job and he can have it for as long as he wants.  Not many in his profession can feel that secure.  

And that’s at the core of being someone who is a fan of this program.  I’m sure those feelings are 100 times deeper for Self.  

In reflecting on the crazy Final Four weekend that had Jayhawk fans celebrating into the night and next afternoon after the thrilling 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis, I think one fan, Roy Williams, feels part of him still lives at Kansas.  And he wore his love for the university on his sleeve and heart on Monday night.

Because being a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks is something that never leaves you no matter if you’re in Chapel Hill or Timbuktu.  

Today, Kansas fans are champions, and this latest national title is the result of decades of dedication, loyalty and pride in what is the best basketball place on earth.

That place is Lawrence, Kansas.  

And today both Bill Self and Roy Williams probably know that better than anyone.  Combined they brought Kansas to the forefront of college basketball.  Williams guided this team for fifteen fabulous seasons, broke some hearts, cried, but he loved his players and the fans of this program.

Self built upon that tradition and closed the deal by bringing this university what it had been missing for twenty years – another national championship trophy.

Today fans should applaud both Williams and Self for carrying on what Larry Brown started in 1988.   Our university is at the Mecca of college basketball once again and it wasn’t one man, one coach or one player that made that happen.

No, it was the sum of the parts that were assembled by each of these coaches.  Self deserves the glory today but Williams raised the expectations that allowed Kansas to hire best young coach in the game five years ago.  It’s also the place where Self can become a legend like Dean Smith was at North Carolina and John Wooden at UCLA.

And so with the 2008 title in hand, Self is guaranteed his place in Kansas lore forever and soon will be rewarded with both financial and job security from the institution that loves basketball more than any place on earth.

It’s also appropriate that Kansas fans give Williams the respect he deserves for his contributions to our basketball program.  

The last three weeks were amazing but it took twenty years to get to the pinnacle of the college basketball world again.  And that’s what we all need to take from Monday’s brilliant overtime victory.

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