Updated: Jun 30, 2020
By: Chris O'Brien
For Mombo and Poppo.
The 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. I was going to put the whole book up here as one epic binge-read, but decided to split it up into two or three long parts. Enjoy and Rock Chalk!
Chapter 1 - From Roy Williams to Bill Self
The wound was still fresh. Roy Williams had left us for North Carolina.
Die-hard KU fans, and there's really no other type, still could recall that brutal post-game interview after the Syracuse loss. That moment when we thought for a second that maybe Roy didn't give a sh!t about North Carolina.
But it was time to let go of the past and embrace the Bill Self era. And, to Self's credit, he did start things off with a trip to the Elite 8 in 2004. Plus he couldn't have delivered a better 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 that we were the ultimate basketball destination because, for the first time in our iconic basketball history, we had been dumped. Flat out dumped. Roy Williams looked at another university as a better home. And, just like a high schooler going through their very first breakup, this whole thing was unfamiliar to us. Wait, why would you ever leave the Phog?
So, what do you do after you get dumped? Eat a tub of ice cream while watching The Bachelor? Go through a bowl of cereal in the shower while openly weeping? I mean, yes to both, but you also go out and act like you're doing ok. Doing just fine. Change your profile picture.
In 2004-2005, we were doing a good job pretending everything was ok. We looked at the roster and said that things couldn't be better. Especially with 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 seniors.
Maybe this could be the 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 would start this 14-in-a-row streak began the season 14-0. We--and I want to establish this right away; I'll be using 'we' rather than 'they.' Kansas fans understand that we talk about this team as if we are one of the players. So, WE had a minor hiccup against Villanova 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. And the Cowboys were still loaded, they had a Big Three of their own with Joey Graham, John Lucas III, and JamesOn Curry.
This game was the unofficial Big 12 Championship. Both teams were 10-3 in conference play. 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 legends retire without a win.
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 - Beating Joakim Noah and the Florida Gators + When Kevin Durant came to
2017-18 - Remember Billy Preston?
We are an optimistic fan base, always have been, always will be, but it was really hard to try and 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. Bragg transferred. Coleby transferred. Did we have any bigs outside of Udoka? 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 in the Bill Self era have been pretty hit or miss.
(pause, goes to check Preston's high school highlights).
Ok! Alright! I'm believing again! Start Preston at the 4, Doke at the 5. Graham can play the role of Mason, Newman plays the role of Graham from last year, and Vick, if he can just give us like a 75 percent Josh Jackson level, I'm sold. Preston changes the whole outlook.
These Jayhawks could win it all...
A team of freshmen and sophomores. Russell Robinson. Sasha Kaun. Darnell Jackson. Jeremy Case. New guys on campus: Mario Chalmers. Brandon Rush. Julian Wright. All of those 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 really 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 was bringing in star freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter. Michigan State had a group of young stars Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, and Cassius Winston. Kentucky reloaded again with their regular group of five-star freshmen.
Kansas was the veteran club. None of these teams had two seniors like Graham and Svi. Plus Vick is a junior, and Newman's 21-years-old. Four-fifths of the Jayhawk starting five can legally go to a bar after a victory; a rare feat in modern college basketball.
And yet, even with all that extra experience, we still struggled to win against a group of Kentucky Wildcats who were only six months removed from their high school graduations. 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. I mean this might be 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 were the team that 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?