As the final seconds of last night's national title game slowly ticked away, I just stared at the TV screen taking it all in. Watching another team celebrate a title, our players slowly dragging themselves off the floor towards the locker room, having come so far only to come up short in the end. Despite all my disappointment, I couldn't help but smile. This had been one of the craziest seasons we have ever experienced as KU fans, and this team taught us a lot along the way.
What will always stand out to me is what our players went through when they could have taken the easy way out. With no depth due to our top recruits being ruled ineligible, there wasn't the usual amount of competition for playing time for Bill Self's squad. Jeff Withey was guaranteed a starting spot the moment the Morris twins bolted for the NBA. Travis Releford finally cracked the starting rotation and his backup was a walk-on. Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson had the guard spots to themselves, with only that same walk-on and a little-used freshman backing them up. Thomas Robinson had millions of dollars waiting for him at the end of the season.
It would have been easy for these players to get complacent, enjoy their new roles and coast through the season. Instead, every one of them worked as hard as they could to get better. Every one of them did get better. They put in the long hours, bought into what their coach was preaching, and never stopped trying to become the best basketball players they could be. With no one pushing them for their playing time, they pushed themselves.
Nothing ever came easy for this group. Tyshawn Taylor is the only player who saw major minutes the minute he arrived in Lawrence; every other player had to wait their turn behind more talented and experienced guys. Releford and Teahan were forced to take redshirts when the roster was too loaded. Taylor had to battle public criticism few Jayhawks ever face. Jeff Withey was looked upon as a joke. Thomas Robinson endured more tragedy in one month most of us will ever face in a lifetime.
They never quit, never complained, and never stopped fighting. The personal struggles and turnmoil made them tougher. The fought and clawed their way through a grueling 18 game league slate to win an eighth straight league title. They overcame a 19 point deficit to Missouri. They fought back from three double digit leads in the NCAA tournament. They crashed the Final 4. They beat Ohio State with Jared Sullinger. They stood toe to toe with the most talented team in the country in the final and nearly pulled off an 18 point comeback.
We owe this team a giant "thank you" for this season. They earned much more than our respect this year, and they taught us a lot along the way. They never settled, never stopped improving, and never stopped battling. I've never been prouder to say that I and am a Kansas fan, and I'll never forget this season.