Memorable moments from the 2019 KU men’s basketball banquet
Most years, the Kansas men’s basketball program’s season-ending banquet features more than a few reasons to celebrate, smile and look back on some big time moments that came in the months leading up to the April event.
This year, after finishing 26-10, falling short in both the Big 12 regular season race and the Big 12 tournament and getting sent home from the NCAA Tournament in the second round, the Jayhawks had a little less to look back on and feel good about.
But that did not stop KU coach Bill Self from making Tuesday’s two-hour event one to remember, with Self using as many humorous moments and one-liners to help offset the lack of major accomplishments to talk about.
Don’t get me wrong. This team did still win 26 games while playing the toughest schedule in the country and was a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Self even reminded folks that, when whole, the 2018-19 Jayhawks were the No. 1-ranked team in America and likely would have been as tough of an out as any team around had injuries, suspensions and a little bad luck not been such a regular part of the most recent season.
But like with any year that ends short of the ultimate goal, time usually takes care of the disappointment and frustrations that can be felt throughout February and March. And so when the Jayhawks showed up at the Burge Union on Tuesday night, looking dapper, refreshed and ready to celebrate the season, there were still plenty of parts worth pointing out, both in terms of what took place during the 2018-19 schedule and what’s still to come.
With that in mind, here are a few of the more memorable moments from Tuesday’s KU basketball banquet.
• With so many heavy things surrounding the program these days, there were some topics that carried a more serious tone with them on Tuesday night. One such topic was KU’s involvement in the ongoing federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. And while those things have been well documented during the past year and a half, Self did his part to reassure the crowd of KU supporters that things were going to be just fine in the end.
“What you have to understand is we can’t talk about what’s going on,” Self explained. “But I feel very good about having total support of our administration and I know our staff and players do, as well.”
• Another topic that has been grinding on Kansas fans is the status of KU forward Silvio De Sousa, who missed all of 2018-19 and is facing a two-year suspension from the NCAA for his guardian’s role in a pay-for-play scheme that is a part of the federal investigation.
At least four times on Tuesday night, De Sousa was singled out for the way he handled the sticky situation that has kept him on the sideline. KU AD Jeff Long referenced him during his opening remarks.
“Despite the injuries, despite the frustration and the unfair situation that my friend Silvio has had to endure, player absences and other challenges, this team has accomplished so much,” Long began.
KU broadcaster Brian Hanni even put De Sousa in the poem he penned, stealing a page out of his predecessor, Bob Davis’ playbook, saying, “Lord, please, please free Silvio, what a front court we could boast. Our depth would be rich, with, yes, Prison Mitch, manning up down in the post.”
And then there were Self’s words, saved for the end while the KU coach was introducing the team, player by player.
“The last guy, you see him all the time smiling,” Self began. “The worst hand anybody’s been dealt, in my opinion, to no fault of his own nor really to anyone, in our opinion. (For him) to sit out and have our team be affected, the fact of the matter is he didn’t let that be a negative for us. He was positive and certainly he’s one of these kids that, you know, he’s got a big W (for winner) written all over his chest and he’ll be successful in whatever he does. We’re still holding out for hope on Silvio participating at Kansas moving forward, even though we don’t have any answers on that yet. But give it up for probably as good a attitude guy as we’ve ever had, Silvio De Sousa.”
• Just before Self got to De Sousa’s situation, he touched on Udoka Azubuike, the junior center who, like many of his teammates is facing the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go decision during the next several weeks.
To date, Azubuike has not declared for the 2019 NBA Draft. In order to be eligible to workout with pro teams, get help from an agent and attend the pre-draft combine in Chicago in mid-May, Azubuike will have to declare for the draft by Sunday’s deadline.
Self, after the banquet, talked briefly about the big fella’s situation and also addressed it with Azubuike directly during his remarks from the stage.
“I tell Dok this all the time and I do believe this: He’s going to get the last laugh on everybody. But his attitude’s gotta stay great and I’m so proud, first of all, how he handled being hurt the second time, his sophomore year, and how he handled this year. He was still positive, he was not a negative guy, even though his window of opportunity was shrinking on him and, no, there was nothing he could do to change it. I thought his attitude was unbelievable. And, Dok, just hang in there and whatever you decide to do you’ve got us, no matter what. Love ya. And you’ll get the last laugh.”
Added Self of Azubuike and De Sousa’s futures, after the banquet: “Well, you know they’re staying if they don’t announce by the 21st because the 21st is the deadline. But I’m actually OK with whatever they decide to do.”
• Speaking of players with decisions to make, Self addressed the draft declarations made by freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, during his remarks on the podium, singing Grimes’ praises for growing tougher during a rough year, and deadpanning about what he thinks Dotson should decide to do.
Of Grimes, Self said: “He was there every day, he had a great attitude and sometimes you can’t control the ball going in the basket. But I would take him on my team any day, and, over time, we’ll win a lot of games. … We should all join in and wish him the best in his endeavor to showcase his talents and show people he deserves to be in the NBA. So, good luck, Quentin.”
Of Dotson, Self joked: “The guy obviously had an unbelievable freshman year and has a chance to be one of the better guards that we have had at our school, if he makes a great decision and comes back to our school.”
Added Dotson after the event of Self’s ribbing and playful comments: “He’s been supportive. All the coaching staff has been supportive of my decision, but he’s been throwing just little, like, jokes here and there, but at the end of the day they’re supportive of whatever I do.”
• As expected, Dedric Lawson was this year’s recipient of the Danny Manning Mr. Jayhawk Award, given annually to the player who embodies everything it means to be a Jayhawk, both on and off the floor.
Last year, teammates and best friends, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk shared the honor and this year, after listening to his coach joke with the crowd about whether they remembered Manning, Lawson grabbed the microphone for a brief moment.
“Coach is going to make me say a few words,” Lawson began. “So I just want to thank everyone that came out to every game and gave me the most support that I could ever ask for as a player. Coming to KU was truly a blessing for me and was definitely the best experience I had in college. Thank you.”
• A couple of injury updates from Tuesday night, Self said sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Feb. 1 yet played through it down the stretch after missing five games in February, still was not fully cleared to resume basketball activities.
And freshman guard Elijah Elliott, who was planning to redshirt and then got injured anyway, was also still on the mend after suffering a leg injury and just recently started running again. Self said the athletic guard from Southlake, Texas, would “be full-go next year and will be a great addition to our program.”
• Finally, after Senior Night came and went with no mention and his leave of absence midway through Big 12 play turned into a permanent departure and the end of his college career, KU senior Lagerald Vick received one more nod from his head coach during Tuesday’s banquet.
Vick was not in attendance on Tuesday, but his accomplishments were – in the form of trophies and highlights — and Self put a bit of closure on the Memphis guard’s Kansas career with some kind words before the end of the evening.
“I hope that everybody realizes and understands what a great career Lagerald Vick had at the University of Kansas,” Self began. “You know, he didn’t play a lot as a freshman. Obviously he was a key player as a sophomore and last year he was unbelievable, when you think about those plays he made inside the zone against Duke, to give us a chance to win, at 6-foot-4-and-a-half. Unbelievable.
“This year, he wasn’t able to finish the season with us, but that should not take away from the big picture, over time, and even though Lagerald’s not here we should recognize him and give him a warm welcome for all he did here.”