Highlights from Thursday’s Kansas basketball banquet

The Jayhawks watch with anticipation as several half court shots go up at the end of practice on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

On Wednesday, Kansas fans across the country got to hear from KU basketball coach Bill Self, who met with the media for the first time since March 8 to provide an update on his health and the KU basketball roster.

At Thursday’s Kansas men’s basketball banquet, several KU supporters got to see Self in person.

And while Thursday’s annual banquet, held at the Burge Union adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse, was in part about Self sharing his appreciation for the love and support he received during his recent health scare, the primary focus of the event was to honor and celebrate the 2022-23 team.

Many of the players and coaches were in attendance, even a few of those who had already entered the transfer portal.

During the portion of the evening when Self addressed the roster, he asked all of the players to stand up and thanked them for their hard work and efforts this season. He then specifically singled out the players who had entered the portal and told them that the entire KU fan base and program would be rooting for them to kill it at their next school.

Consistent with Wednesday’s theme of being more inspired than ever and his desire to move the program to even greater heights in the years ahead, Self spoke to the packed house of KU fans, supporters and staff members for roughly 30 minutes, addressing everything from the people behind the scenes who make the program go to the players themselves and his favorite moments from the 2022-23 season.

Self wrapped up his remarks with a glimpse into what he thinks will be a brighter future than ever for the storied program.

“We’re on a big uptick right now,” Self told the crowd. “And not only in basketball and in our athletic department, but across the board on our campus. One thing that I have learned in my little bit of time coaching is when things are going good, you’ve got to go for the throat. It’s time to pounce on this opportunity and right now we’re in a position to do that. So stay with us right now and enjoy the ride because I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a fun one.”

Here are a few of the other highlights from Thursday’s banquet:

• Kansas forward Jalen Wilson was the recipient of this year’s Danny Manning Mr. Jayhawk Award, given annually to the team’s MVP at the banquet.

“This year’s winner, it’s no decision. It’s a slam dunk,” Self said. “The way he’s represented KU in the four years he was here, the accomplishments on the court, the role he’s played in a leadership role, also the role he’s played in our community and on campus, the Danny Manning Award this year goes to, who else, Jalen Wilson.”

Wilson then briefly thanked the crowd, joking at first that he did not even know he had to give a speech.

“Thank you all for supporting us all year through the ups and downs,” Wilson said. “I’m going to miss you guys so much, but this will always be home and I’m just looking forward to the future and this place keep getting better.”

• After addressing the players who had entered the transfer portal and wishing them well, Self noted that redshirt freshman guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. was still undecided on his future, saying, “I don’t think Kyle’s made a decision yet.”

• KU Chancellor Douglas Girod joined Athletic Director Travis Goff in addressing the crowd before Self spoke and after the viewing of a highlight video that wrapped up the 2022-23 season. Both pointed to the unprecedented success that Self has achieved at KU and discussed their appreciation for what the 2022-23 team accomplished while playing the toughest Big 12 Conference slate in the history of the league.

“You all bring so much pleasure to so many people, year in and year out,” Girod told the players.

He then noted that 41% of KU’s total student population comes from out-of-state students.

“You cannot do that unless you have a national brand,” he added. “We’re on a roll, guys, and we can track a lot of the reason for it to the people in this room.

Goff emphasized the concept of family, both in the room and throughout the athletic department and said he was particularly impressed by the two themes that the 2022-23 men’s basketball team most demonstrated during its 28-8 season — character and culture.

Goff said those two traits are “most profoundly demonstrated in the face of adversity” and that Self’s most recent squad had plenty of opportunity to let those characteristics shine. He finished with the thought that winning a national title in New Orleans in 2022 was great but that he was just as proud of this year’s team for what it accomplished and believed everyone else should be, too.

• During his opening remarks, which included the traditional poem that summarized all that went down last season, broadcaster Brian Hanni, the voice of the Jayhawks, reminded fans that KU picked up six more wins on Kentucky in the all-time wins race and now sits on top of the all-time list by 10 games over the Wildcats.

Hanni also noted that KU last season picked up wins against Duke, Kentucky, Indiana and, of course, Missouri.

• When talking about the team as a whole, Self said he was most proud when his peers tell him that his team plays harder and more together than most teams. That, he said, was the biggest compliment he can receive.

He also added that his own personal measuring stick for a team’s success is how close it plays to its ceiling. Self believes the 2022-23 team played to its ceiling and, one last time, he marveled at his most recent team’s fight.

“I was amazed at our ability to love to compete,” he said. “We didn’t really start having fun until it got hot.”

• In a quick moment while his players were standing in front of the crowd, Self informally awarded freshman big man Zuby Ejiofor with the “best dressed” award. He then gave comments on his five starters, one by one.

• On Gradey Dick: Self said he knew Gradey was going to be good and that they had landed a kid who was going to give all he had to the program. But he didn’t know he would be this good this quickly. Self said the way Dick closed out the Duke game with three remarkable plays was the first time he realized for sure that the freshman would be a one-and-done player at Kansas.

“We had all thought Gradey would be here for more than one year, until we played Duke and then we knew his ass would be out of here after this year… Gradey, you’re going to kill it. We appreciate everything you’ve done for us and we’ll be watching everything you do.”

• On Dajuan Harris Jr: “Dajuan Harris is maybe the greatest story that we’ve ever had. He’ll go down as my all-time favorite. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”

Self noted that every team Harris is ever on in practice always wins and also said he doesn’t think everyone around the country truly values everything he does.

“And because of COVID, we’ve got him for two more years,” he added.

• On Kevin McCullar Jr.: When talking about the highlight video, which featured so many big shots and big baskets, of which McCullar had a few, Self noted that the thing that stood out most about the Texas Tech transfer was the plays he made that helped KU win.

“You looked at winning basketball plays across the board,” Self said of what was featured on the video. “He is a winner, he’s tough, he played injured and I will tell you this, I mean this sincerely, I want you back. But that also may not happen because he may have better things moving forward. But we were all so blessed to watch you for a year and I was very blessed to be your coach.”

• On KJ Adams: Self opened his remarks on Adams with a joke: “You averaged 1 point a game last year, KJ? I thought it was 0.8.”

“What he did this year, folks, was remarkable,” Self added. “He went from a guy to the vast majority of the season he was the best big man in our league. He wasn’t just the most improved player in our league, he was the most improved player in college basketball.”

Self said the fact that Adams delivered such a consistent and strong season while his mom and dad were dealing with his mother’s health problems made his story “even cooler.”

“That guy right there, you can go to war with him any day you’re going to come out on top,” Self said of the sophomore forward.

• On Jalen Wilson: Self said the growth and maturity that Wilson showed throughout his KU career was remarkable.

“When Jalen had a little incident last year before the season, that’s when we found out who Jalen Wilson really was. Stud,” Self said.

Self noted that the sacrifices he made in his own game on a national championship team a season ago for the betterment of everybody else, “didn’t go unnoticed.”

Self reminded the crowd that he believed before the season that, in order for KU to be really good, Wilson had to play at an All-American level, and he did, averaging 20 points a game and leading the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding.

“He is the biggest winner that I think I’ve ever coached,” Self said. “We’re going to miss you and we hope you go kill it.”

• Self finished the night by looking ahead to next season’s schedule, which features a Champions Classic clash with Kentucky, a loaded field at the Maui Invitational (Tennessee, Syracuse, Gonzaga, UCLA, Marquette and Purdue), a home game against UConn, another home game against Mizzou, a trip to Indiana and the addition of Houston into the Big 12 Conference.

“The schedule’s tough,” Self said. “And I expect us to win it again next year. … When we come back here next year, I expect us to celebrate something even greater than we did this year. Appreciate and love all you guys.”


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