From Willie’s to the Bottleneck, from Watson Park to South Park, from Weaver’s to the Love Garden, from Auntie Em’s Deli to the Basil Leaf Cafe, it seems all anybody has been talking about all week are the words uttered by ESPN color commentator Bob Knight in the wake of Kansas State’s blowout victory against Kansas University on Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum.
Knight, I’m told by everybody everywhere, said that the loss could end up being the best thing for Kansas, which started the day ranked No.1 in the nation and ended it with a humiliating defeat.
Kansas coach Bill Self watches the televised feeds of games because it’s the highest-quality, but he does so with the mute button engaged. He didn’t hear Knight’s comment, but basically agreed with it.
“I turned the sound way down and watched it many times,” Self said of the game. “I made my own commentary most of the time.”
Oh to be a fly on the wall of his office during that session.
“I think a lot of times in this sport, a negative can become a positive over time,” Self said Thursday. “I bet you the Green Bay Packers had a rivalry game they lost that was a huge deal and (thought), ‘How are we going to get back together?’ and probably woke some guys up to realize that, ‘Our backs are against the wall. We have less margin for error than what we thought.’ Then they go run the table.”
In 2008, Kansas lost three times in a seven-game stretch, the last one on Feb. 23 to Oklahoma State. Then the Jayhawks won 13 in a row to claim the national title.
“We were still pretty full of ourselves until after the Oklahoma State loss,” Self said.
The untold story of why that team was able to pull it together and gain basketball immortality lay in the maturity the players showed by blocking out all the outside voices that vied for their attention as the tournament neared.
Agents use their savvy to get close to family members, who turn around and begin talking to the players about the life that lies ahead. The threat lingers that players can be told by those close to them what’s the best way for them to maximize their tournament exposure, and what they’re told can conflict with what’s best for the team.
The players on the ’08 team decided to block out all those voices and, for the final six weeks, listened to one voice and one alone, that of the coaching staff. Doing so led those Jayhawks to a national title, which in turn played a big part in five players getting selected in that year’s draft.
It took maturity for that team to block out all the competing voices and will take the same from this team, which hasn’t often been described as mature.
Each player should walk outside tonight, gaze at the stunningly beautiful full moon and make a commitment to himself: “I will listen to one voice and one voice alone for the rest of this season.” Then, when the next full moon appears, March 19, the players should repeat the exercise. Should Kansas get sent to Tulsa, the next full moon falls on the night after KU’s first-round blowout victory and the night before the challenging second-round game. The full-moon promise won’t guarantee anything, but will give KU its best shot.