LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Winning conference titles has become so commonplace at Kansas that there were no scissors or celebrations after the Jayhawks wrapped up a share of their 10th straight championship.
No cutting down nets. No confetti falling from the rafters.
You see, the fifth-ranked Jayhawks can win the Big 12 outright with one win in their final three games, perhaps as soon as Saturday at Oklahoma State. And as tempting as it was to throw a party with 16,000 friends in Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night, there’s a lot to be said for standing all alone on the top step of the podium at the end of the season.
So the trophy stayed in the box, at least for a bit, and the celebration began and ended with a brief message in the locker room from coach Bill Self.
“It’s kind of anticlimactic,” he told his players, “because the season has so much left in it, you know? Three games left and you’ve already clinched a share of the league. But what you guys have done, nobody can take away from you that you’ve had a good year.
“Now,” he said, “if you guys really want to do something, we can make it a special year.”
That’s how seasons are measured at Kansas. Winning a share of the Big 12 title is just the start, something that’s been happening every year since star freshman Andrew Wiggins was 9 years old and playing pickup basketball with his older brothers at the park.
In the decade since “The Streak” began, no other school from a power conference has won more than six league titles. Texas Tech is already on its fifth coach. No other Big 12 school has made the Final Four much less win a national championship, which Kansas did in 2008.
“It’s something you know coming in, when you come here, that’s the standard,” said freshman guard Wayne Selden Jr. “You know you have to come out and compete.”
Lest you be part of the team that finally allows the streak to slip.
It hasn’t always been this easy, wrapping it up with more than a week to go. There was a year that Kansas lost two of its first three conference games then had to run off 10 straight wins to forge a tie for the title. Just last year, the Jayhawks lost three straight in early February, yet bounced back to win their next seven games and a share of another championship.
This will be the 18th year of the Big 12, and Kansas will have won at least a share of 14 regular-season crowns. Texas is next with three, and Iowa State has two.
“It shouldn’t be any pressure though,” said junior guard Naadir Tharpe, who’s been a part of three of them, “because we’re all just playing basketball. At the end of the day, that’s how we look at it. Just playing basketball and everything takes care of itself.”
Maybe that’s why the success has been sustained with a revolving door of players.
More than once, the Jayhawks have won a championship with five new starters, including his season. Some of the key contributors have been lost to graduation, but nearly as many left early for the NBA draft, putting Self in the position of filling unexpected holes.
Somehow, he’ managed to do it every year.
“That’s just a phenomenal accomplishment,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s not like you’re doing that in a bad league. They’ve done it in very good league with a lot of good teams, and it’s certainly a tribute to Bill and the job he does and the program in every way.”
In fact, Self now has more Big 12 title rings than losses in Allen Fieldhouse.
“To me, in a power conference, to do something where the whole key is consistency, you have to be blessed to have good players,” Self said.
That’s precisely what John Wooden would always say when folks asked him about the 13 straight Pac-10 titles that UCLA won, first under his watch and continuing under Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham in the 1960s and `70s. And it’s almost certainly what coach Mark Few would say if you asked him about the 11 straight West Coast titles that Gonzaga won from 2000-11.
Otherwise, no other school in men’s Division I basketball has won more consecutive league championships than Kansas. Two others, UConn and UNLV, have managed to win 10 straight.
“We’ve had so many good players. It’s been a great run. You don’t win unless you have better guys than the other guys, and we’ve had better guys,” Self said. “It’s been a good year. When you win the league, it’s a good year. Now we need to go make it a great year.”