Updated: Aug 8, 2022
By: Chris O'Brien
For Mombo and Poppo
Two lovebirds who met at the University of Kansas all those years ago
and created one big family of crazy Jayhawks fans.
Quick note on the text - This story bounces back and forth from the final year of the streak (2017-18) to all the years that came before it. There's kind of a Godfather 2 vibe going on. Until Part 3 which only focuses on the 2021-22 season.
Also, I use the term "We" when talking about the Jayhawks as if I played for the team (or even went to the school... that's a whole other story). Die-hard KU fans will be familiar with this way of speaking/writing about OUR team.
Alright. That's all. Enjoy and Rock Chalk!
Chapter 1 - From Roy Williams to Bill Self
The wound was still fresh.
Roy Williams left the University of Kansas for North Carolina.
Die-hard Kansas fans -- and there's really no other kind -- still recall that emotional post-game interview after the 2003 National Championship loss to Syracuse. It seems foolishly optimistic now, but we thought maybe, just maybe, Roy didn't give a sh!t about North Carolina.
But, a few weeks later, Roy left for his alma mater. A coach leaving Kansas for another school? This was unheard of! It was a feeling of rejection we weren't familiar with.
Because basketball, the game itself, has roots in Lawrence, Kansas. And I mean that literally. The inventor of basketball (Dr. James Naismith) was the Jayhawks' very first basketball coach in 1898, six years after he penned the official rules of the game. Funny enough, he's also the only Kansas coach with a losing record. Talk about beating someone at their own game!
I'm not denying North Carolina has a rich basketball history of its own, but their history ultimately branches off the Kansas basketball tree. Dean Smith, the Godfather of Tar Heels basketball, the man who coached Michael Jordan, played for Phog Allen at KU. Smith was part of the 1952 National Championship team.
The story of basketball reads like the book of Genesis. Instead of going from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, it goes from Naismith to Phog Allen to Dean Smith to Larry Brown and Roy Williams. All of this to say, it wasn't crazy for Roy to leave Kansas for North Carolina, it just felt like he was heading east of basketball's Eden.
Shocked, angry, upset, however we were feeling, it was time to let go of the past and embrace the Bill Self era. Prior to taking the head coaching job, Self already had ties back to Kansas. He was an assistant coach on Larry Brown's staff in 1985.
To Self's credit, he couldn't have delivered a better opening press conference.
"Woke up this morning, and I'm driving to the office and I, on purpose, drove up on Naismith Drive. I've always thought, 'How cool would it be to office on Naismith Drive?' And now it actually gets to happen."
We needed to hear a coach gush like that over the tradition in Lawrence, Kansas. Needed to hear how we were the ultimate basketball destination because, for the first time in our iconic basketball history, we'd been dumped. Like a high schooler going through their very first breakup, this whole thing was unfamiliar to us.
Self got off to a great start. Took the Jayhawks to the Elite 8 in 2004. What made it even sweeter - Roy Williams' Tar Heels were already sent home, lost in the second round. Not like we were obsessively checking our Ex's Facebook page or anything like that...
In 2004-2005, we looked at our roster and things couldn't be better. Keith Langford, Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles all coming back for their senior seasons. Those guys had already gone to two Final Fours. Wayne had a legitimate shot at the National Player of the Year. This was an experienced group of guys.
Maybe this was our year...
Photo from Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo. Included in this KUSports.com story.
Plus, Self was already showing promise as an elite recruiter. We added freshmen Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, and Russell Robinson.
How fitting that the team who started this streak of 14 Big 12 conference titles in a row began their season 14-0. We had a *minor* hiccup against Villanova (minor is generous. This was almost a 30-pt loss) followed by a six-game winning streak. Hard to start much better than 20-1.
On February 28th, 2005, the Oklahoma State Cowboys came into Allen Fieldhouse. We were No. 8 in the AP Poll; they were No. 4. Oklahoma State had made the Final Four the year before, and barely lost to Georgia Tech. The Cowboys were still loaded. They had a Big Three of their own with Joey Graham, John Lucas III, and JamesOn Curry.
There was also the connection between Bill Self and Oklahoma State. Ok State was Self's alma mater. He played for the Cowboys and served as an assistant coach for 8 seasons, learning the craft from one of the greats, Eddie Sutton
This game was the unofficial Big 12 Championship. Both teams were 10-3 in conference play. Both ranked Top 10 nationally. And you know how these games can sometimes go, a ton of hype followed by a big letdown. Not the case here. Both teams played their best games of the season. It was lights out shooting; Kansas shot 66 percent, OK State not far behind at 59 percent.
Wayne Simien scored 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also set the school record for consecutive free throws made in a row at 34. Aaron Miles hit a late-game shot to give the Jayhawks their final lead, 81-79.
It was the type of game where even the losing coach (Eddie Sutton) had nothing but good things to say about his team.
"What a great college basketball game," Eddie Sutton said.
"When both teams play like that, it is a shame that one has to lose."
Eddie Sutton is a legend, retired with 806 wins, has the floor named after him at the Gallagher-Iba arena, but he finished 0-11 in Allen Fieldhouse during his time at Oklahoma State. That's what Allen Fieldhouse is all about, even all-time legends retire without a win in the Phog.
For all the other programs, Big 12 titles don't just happen every single year. Oklahoma State, for example, was looking for their first back-to-back title since the 1950s.
And there we were about ready to start a multi-decade streak.
Chapter 2 - Billy Preston, Beating the Champs, and When Kevin Durant came to Allen Fieldhouse
2017-18 - Remember Billy Preston?
We are an optimistic fan base, always have been, always will be. But it was really hard to argue that this team had a Final Four or National Championship ceiling.
We lost National Player of the Year Frank Mason, the first Player of the Year at Kansas since Danny Manning. We lost freshman superstar Josh Jackson to the NBA Draft, picked No. 3 overall. Glue guy Landen Lucas, also gone. Carlton Bragg Jr. transferred. Dwight Coleby transferred. Did we have any bigs outside of Udoka Azubuike? Was Mitch Lightfoot ready to play significantly more minutes? I guess this Billy Preston guy is supposed to be pretty great, but one-and-dones during the Bill Self era have been pretty hit or miss.
(pause, goes to check Preston's high school highlights).
Wow! Ok! I'm believing again!
Start Preston at the 4, Doke at the 5. Devonte' Graham can play the role of Mason. Malik Newman plays the role of Graham from last year, and LaGerald Vick, man, if he can just give us like a 75 percent Josh Jackson level, I'm sold. Preston changes our whole outlook.
You know what, I think these Jayhawks could win it all...
A team of promising freshmen and sophomores.
Sophomores: Russell Robinson. Sasha Kaun. Darnell Jackson. Jeremy Case.
New guys on campus: Mario Chalmers. Brandon Rush. Julian Wright. All of these freshmen were 5-star recruits.
A team this young is bound to have a few early season stumbles. The '05-06 season began with a rough trip to Maui where the Jayhawks went 1-2 with losses to Arizona and Arkansas. The Jayhawks started the season 3-4 and notched Bill Self's second loss in Allen Fieldhouse, a loss to an unranked Nevada team (who turned out to be pretty good. The Wolfpack made the NCAA tournament and had a First Team All-American candidate in Nick Fazekas).
That year's Kansas team proved to be extremely coachable and played with a whole lot of heart. They went 10-0 in conference play from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21. They got their doors blown off at No. 7 Texas, 80-55, but won their next two games to split KU's second straight Big 12 regular-season title.
And, to make it even sweeter, these guys went down to Dallas and won three straight to take home the Big 12 Conference Tournament title, avenging that Texas loss with an impressive 80-68 win.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk, the Bill Self era was starting to find its stride.
2017-18 Season, Champions Classic
The Champions Classic was loaded with star talent. Duke had Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III, and Wendell Carter. Michigan State had a group of young stars Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, and Cassius Winston. Kentucky reloaded with their latest group of star freshmen including Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
But these were all young teams. Kansas was the veteran club. No one had two seniors like Graham and Svi. Plus Vick was a junior and Newman was 21-years-old. Eighty percent of the Jayhawks starting five could legally go to a bar after a victory. They were playing against a bunch of kids who were 5 months removed from their high school prom.
And yet, even with all that extra experience, we still struggled to beat Kentucky. Graham shot 3-of-14. Our bench only added three points. As a team, we shot just 35.3 percent!
And sure, the glass-half-full interpretation would say: it's only November. It's early. Maybe this was a good sign; we shot 35.3 percent and still beat a team ranked No. 7 in the country on a neutral court.
But we should at least be closer to our eventual ceiling. Kentucky, all of their guys are 18 and 19. They're gonna get a lot better throughout the season. Same with Michigan State and Duke. Can our veteran guys make the same type of jump?
Or were we already at our ceiling?
2006 – 07
It was right around Thanksgiving. The Jayhawks were on the road, about to play in the Toyota Las Vegas Invitational championship against the ultimate opponent: The No. 1 Defending Champion Florida Gators.
There may never be another college team like those 2006-07 Florida Gators. They won the National Championship in 2006 and their core veteran guys (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey) all came back for another season, deciding against the NBA. Four juniors and a senior. All five with a ring already.
What better way to measure how we stacked up than going up against the defending champs?
We were ready for the battle. Julian Wright scored 21 points. Freshman Darrell Arthur had 19. Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush each had 13. Russell Robinson had 12.
Still, the game went into overtime. Champs don't go down easy. Florida took an 80-77 lead with 1:22 left, but wouldn't score again. The Jayhawks finished OT on a 5-0 run and completed what would be their biggest win of the year. Feels a little bold to say, but this might be one of our biggest regular season wins in all of KU history.
After the victory, Bill Self's contract was renewed through 2011.
Kansas thrived in Big 12 play going 14-2, winning Self's third straight conference title. This one was even sweeter since it was the first outright title of the Bill Self-era. The Jayhawks also won the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
And there were only glimpses at the time, but Sherron Collins, a freshman point guard from Chicago, seemed like he might have a chance at becoming a special player someday.
Oh, one more thing. We've got to talk about the
Kevin Durant game.
The NBA's age restriction forced the once in a generation talent Kevin Durant to play college basketball for a year. If you've ever wondered what a future Hall-of-Famer looks like in a complete state of flow, playing like a god amongst mere mortals, just go ahead and replay that KU vs. Texas first half in Allen Fieldhouse.
Durant came out on fire, scored 12 of Texas' first 18 points. The Longhorns took a commanding 18-4 lead.
The points kept piling on. Every shot went in. And it wasn't as if Kansas was playing bad defense on Durant. When a guy is seven-feet tall launching NBA threes, there's really not much you can do.
Jason King described it best in his article for ESPN:
"I thought Kansas was guarding him really well and the shots that he was making, the defenders' fingertips were inches away from blocking him. These were shots from 24, 25 feet that were pull up jumpers. He was just doing everything, especially in the first half. I never thought I would see the day that Kansas got run out of its own gym, but this guy's about to do it single-handedly."
My brother -- who, unlike me, actually went to KU -- had the privilege of being at the game in the student section. He'll be telling his grandkids about that first half. How when Durant fell down with an ankle injury, 16,000 people went funeral silent. It was as if Durant was one of our own guys. We were witnessing greatness in its purest form and to see him exit with an injury was devastating -- even if it gave us a much greater chance of winning the game. That didn't matter. Jayhawks fans, we love basketball. It's an art form to us, and Durant was painting a masterpiece.
Afterward, Bill Self praised both Durant and the home fans.
"The thing that was cool was after he goes back to get re-taped, after he tweaked his ankle, our fans gave him an ovation when he came back out," Bill Self said. "Where else in college basketball would you see that?"
Self, always tough on his teams, especially about defense didn't have any suggestions.
"We probably defended him above average and he got 25 in that first half," Self said. "It was one of those days when he could've got 35 or 40 in a half. He may be arguably the best player to play in Allen Fieldhouse in generations. Even Danny's on the bench saying, 'That's a bad man. That's the baddest man to play here,' and that's Danny saying that who had many big games here."
Danny Manning. Wilt Chamberlain. Jo Jo White. Paul Pierce. Nick Collison. Allen Fieldhouse has definitely seen its fair share of greatness, but we may never see a first half to rival the Durant game.
Chapter 3 - Steph Curry, Avenging (and Forgiving) Roy Williams, and "The Shot" by Mario Chalmers
2018-19, Billy Preston's Car
Billy Preston didn't have Kevin Durant or even Josh Jackson type of hype, but he was a very highly ranked and sought after prospect. The type of one-and-done who can instantly make you a Final Four contender.
Unfortunately, Billy Preston didn't play at all against Kentucky. He sat on the bench in street clothes.
The announcers mentioned it had something to do with a car accident. Preston wasn't hurt, it wasn't even a bad car accident, but when they found out what car he was driving it raised all types of questions. How did he afford this vehicle?
Given the big news in the pre-season about Adidas scandals and FBI wiretaps and players taking money from shady individuals, this whole thing just didn't look good for us. Why? Because Kansas has the largest contract with Adidas. We had to play things safe.
And so Billy Preston sat. And sat again. And sat some more...
There were no new updates anywhere on the internet (believe me, I was checking every day). Couldn't even find what type of car it was. Were we talking like a nice new Acura or a $250,000 Ferrari with an Adidas logo on the side?
The Jayhawks were 7-0, but let's keep things in perspective. We were blowing out mid-majors. How would we handle the tougher competition? And what chance did we really have of making it far in the NCAA Tournament without Billy Preston?
2007 – 08, Road to the Final Four
This team had it all. The most talent since that 1997 KU squad with Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef Lafrentz, Scott Pollard, and Jared Haas.
Our starting five: Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson.
The bench: Sherron Collins, Sasha Kaun. We also had freshman big man Cole Aldrich who didn't play a ton of minutes but would have one of the most memorable moments of the season against North Carolina.
The Jayhawks started the season 20-0. Destroying teams. We played consistently great defense and our offense was consistently capable of scoring in the 80s. Our first loss of the year came, sadly, at Kansas State who was led by the dominant freshman Michael Beasley.
This was the second season college basketball was feeling the effects of the NBA's age restriction. The season before had the sensational play of Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, this season had a whole batch of talented one-and-done guys in Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, OJ Mayo. Top programs landing a superstar freshman would become a significant theme of the next ten years.
Kansas only took two more losses by a combined four points. Split the Big 12 title with Texas (our fourth in a row) and won the Big 12 conference tournament.
The Jayhawks were 34-3, made it through their first three games with relative ease. But waiting for them in the Elite Eight was No. 10 seed Davidson.
As good as those first years had been in the Bill Self era, there were two glaring NCAA Tournament losses against midmajors. Bucknell in 2005 and Bradley in 2006. Would Davidson be the next double-digit mid-major to add to this agonizing list?
To thicken the plot, this double-digit mid-major just so happened to have future NBA superstar Steph Curry.
By the time we met Davidson in the Elite 8, Curry was already America's Sweetheart. This skinny little guy, who was practically swimming in his jersey, led a tiny school -- they only have like 1,800 students -- to upset victories over Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin. All big-time college basketball programs. Curry was sensational in the tournament scoring 40, then 30, then 33.
What better way for their story to end than a Final Four berth and a win over the biggest name in college basketball. That's the story everyone wanted to see happen. The ultimate 3-point shooting David taking down Goliath.
Well, everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas...
With 54 seconds left, Curry drilled a deep three, just like all 3,000+ he'd go on to hit in the NBA playing for the Golden State Warriors. This shot pulled the game to a way-too-close-for-comfort 59-57. Things would get even scarier after a Sherron Collins miss. The ball rolled out-of-bounds. Davidson ball.
Davidson had it with 13 seconds left. The script was heading toward a CBS dream scenario:
Curry for the win... HE GOT IT! DAVID(son) HAS SLAIN GOLIATH!!
Curry brought the ball up the court. Ten seconds, nine seconds. Brandon Rush was locked in on defense. Davidson sent the high screen. Rush got caught on the screener's foot, fell to the ground. But Mario Chalmers seamlessly switched onto Curry.
Six seconds. Five seconds.
We had to be careful. Curry was obviously the major threat, but Davidson's Bryant Barr was 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Curry had no space whatsoever. Three seconds. Sherron Collins hopped over for the double-team, Curry had no choice but to pass. Richards caught it. Wide-open.
For the win!
Off the backboard.
Game over. Jayhawks win.
Jayhawk nation let out a huge sigh of relief and then started to party. Kansas was in the Final Four. Two wins away from a National Championship.
Side note - The show Pardon The Interruption on ESPN used this game as part of an April Fool's joke two days later. They said that because the refs miscounted the fouls on a KU player, the NCAA determined they would replay the final sixteen seconds. Something like this had recently happened in the NBA a few nights earlier so it was pretty believable.
Kansas fans, well, we're not always the most emotionally balanced when it comes to our team. I remember sitting there in horror for thirty seconds listening to Tony Kornheiser deliver the new. Are you kidding me? This WOULD happen to us!
Then Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon put on big smiles.
April Fool's Day!
The Final Four in San Antonio was the first time all four Number 1 seeds made it. On one side there was a battle of young talent in Memphis vs. UCLA featuring a who's-who of future NBA stars with Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, and Russell Westbrook.
On the other side, the big one, Kansas vs. North Carolina. The first time we would face Ol Roy.
"Forgive that guy" wasn't the f-word of choice for the majority of KU fans. Sentiments still ranged from "we don't say his name in our house" to "Roy who?" It didn't help that Roy won the 2005 National Championship; the same year we went home at the hands of Bucknell. Sadly, Roy seemed to be doing just fine without us...
And, although we'd pretty much gotten over our ex, we still wanted revenge in the Final Four.
Saturday night. Roy delivering a pregame talk in one locker room. Bill Self standing in front of our guys in the other.
"There is absolutely no pressure," Bill Self addressed the team. "This is the week we relax and go have fun. My challenge to you tonight is you have as much fun playing as I have coaching. And if you do that we're gonna have a great time, I guarantee you that. We're playing a very good team, a team with great history, great tradition. And you know what, they're playing a very, very good team, and a program with unbelievable history and tradition. You came to Kansas to play in this game."
The Tar Heels were supposed to come out and run us off the floor. And how could we ever match their star big man Tyler Hansbrough? It's hard to say there are favorites or underdogs in a Final Four of all Number One seeds, but it felt like we were the underdog.
Until the jump ball. Kansas came out on fire taking an unimaginable 40-12 lead. 40-12! We were beating North Carolina at their own game, playing like the high-octane, fast-break squad.
The moment of the night, freshman Cole Aldrich checks in, gets a few blocks and then rips an offensive rebound right out of Tyler Hansbrough's hands. Our fourth big man just outmuscled North Carolina's National Player of the Year.
I forgot how weirdly close this game got in the second half. With just under eight minutes to go, Kansas only had a 58-53 lead. Announcers were starting to bring up how this would be the biggest comeback in Final Four history. Greaaaattt... How much would that suck? Roy breaks KU's heart again! Another round of "Jayhawks choked" storylines.
But the Jayhawks closed the game on a 26 to 13 run, final score 84-66.
This team had done enough, right? Final Four. Avenged the fan base against Roy. Hard to ask for anything more.
But I mean, if we're in the National Championship game... might as well go for the win, right?
Sadly, with a couple of minutes left, it looked like this incredible season would come to an end in bitter disappointment, reminiscent of our loss to Syracuse in 2003. Just insert freshman and future NBA star Derrick Rose for Carmelo Anthony.
We all know what happened next. The greatest comeback in Kansas history. 60-51 with 1:56 to go became 60-53 after an Arthur midrange jumper. Steal by Sherron Collins, three by Sherron Collins. 60-56. 1:46 to go. Five points in ten seconds.
Fast forward to 10.8 on the clock. Derrick Rose on the foul line. Makes both and it's essentially over. Misses the first. We'll have a chance... Makes the second. Have a chance to tie.
Sherron Collins rushes the ball down the court. Tripping, falling. Gets the ball out of his hands over to Mario Chalmers. Five seconds. Four seconds. Three. Mario let's it go. High arc, perfect rotation.
Little Easter egg - You can actually see Julian Wright in the crowd, next to that guy in the red shirt. Kind of cool to go from the Mario and Julian SI cover as underclassmen to this shot.
It's good! Nothing but net! 63-63. Overtime.
Five minutes later, it was over. For the first time since 1988, the Kansas Jayhawks were National Champions. We were back on top of the college basketball world.
Side note - During the National Championship game, Roy Williams was shown on camera wearing a KU Jayhawks sticker. I remember being with my brother at his fraternity house and everyone was getting ready to boo, then we paused. Followed by cheers. There we go, Roy!
This win over Memphis was a complete basketball baptism. We now had full faith in the new Bill Self era, but also could finally forgive ol Roy. We could appreciate what Williams did for this program without being bitter about the ending.
All of our wounds were healed. KU didn't choke. We didn't come up oh so short once again. We were National Champions. New banner going up in Allen Fieldhouse.
Finally, we could appreciate the Roy Williams' past while believing our future would be even brighter.