The Kansas basketball team had an iffy 14-0 start, looked all-world at Temple, and floundered in a two-game funk with Cornell and Tennessee. Maybe the Nebraska victory is that mid-course correction many great KU teams have needed.
Before Wednesday, at least five key guys periodically took disappearing potion. For all his contributions, Sherron Collins too often hogs the ball in key situations when he should be forcing others to join the chorus. Leadership is a lot more than mere points if this club is to contend seriously for a national title.
KU has the finest collection of personnel in its history. Until there’s the chemistry and unselfishness that sparked other great teams, particularly the 1988 champions, Kansas won’t make the NCAA Final Four.
Consider how KU’s three NCAA title teams overcame critical bumps in the road. The key to their success was chemistry, which the current Jayhawks sorely lack until somebody evolves into an all-around leader.
KU’s 1952 NCAA-Olympic kings started 13-0 and got sidetracked at Kansas State and Oklahoma A&M;, so coach Phog Allen commanded assistant Dick Harp to “do something.” Dick developed a pressure defense format that iconic John Wooden later called “one of the turning points of college basketball.” John featured it in winning 10 NCAA titles.
From Feb. 2 on, the ’52 Hawks soared to a 15-1 record en route to NCAA and Olympic glory. Lots of leaders. The current team needs at least one dependable whip-cracker.
How could there be any more improbable national champs than Danny and the Miracles in 1988? They began their NCAA quest with a 21-11 record and a third-place finish in the league. They had one four-game losing streak, and got knocked out in the second round of the league tournament by Kansas State. A team with 11 losses could survive and advance?
Danny Manning, Chris Piper, Milt Newton, Jeff Gueldner and Kevin Pritchard showed courage and cohesion in a 6-0 run to the title. They got an A-plus in the chemistry class where the current team needs to be sent.
The 2008 Jayhawks caused concern when they lost to Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma State in one seven-game stretch. Then with four-year seniors Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson as the rudders they reeled off 13 straight victories. Sure, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins contributed mightily, but steady seniors gave KU the crucial thrust it took to prevail, when poise can be so vital.
How pathetic it will be if this tremendous collection of Jayhawks keeps frittering around and doesn’t even make the NCAA Elite Eight. Coaching? Sure it’s important as the Phog Allen-Dick Harp, Larry Brown and Bill Self leadership reminds us.
But when there’s the floundering and groping KU has displayed recently, apparently due to some guys with their noses out of joint, the best coach for any erratic star is The Bench. Sit down those who waver and whine and install hard-nosed hustlers who will produce for THE TEAM. If somebody’s unsure of his role, let him get a fresh perspective as a spectator until he learns, or doesn’t.
KU has too much potential for another national title to allow self-serving distractors to muck it up.