So it’s the first Friday in April. That typically means that the NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament National Semifinal games are tomorrow. I’m reminded of Kansas and what they did in 2008…when they thumped North Carolina and old Roy Williams—he’s still a traitor for leaving—in the Final Four and overcoming Memphis in the title game. It was a great moment watching it on TV. The best part of it was hearing Jim Nantz say “Rock Chalk championship…Kansas takes the title.
How I first came across this moment? I was in Tokyo at Yokota Air Base in the CES Customer Service Office. All of the guys were watching the game. It was a Tuesday morning on that side of the world and it was a slow day so we tuned into the game. I was in and out watching the game because I was prepping for meetings but I got a chance to see the last 8 minutes of the 2nd half and all of overtime. To be honest, I thought the way Memphis was executing between the 8:00 and 2:00 marks were eerily similar to the way Syracuse executed in the 2003 National Championship Game. That scared me a bit but Kansas ended up pulling it out and they brought home the title.
What it meant to me then? It meant everything to me at the time. I used to be a member of an email group of Air Force guys called Da Wire. We discussed sports and issues men faced in today’s times and I was always crushed because of Kansas’ failures in late March and early April. I remember getting crushed when Kansas lost to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round in consecutive years. I remember when one of the guys threw it all in my face when his squad—the Florida Gators—won back-to-back titles in those years Kansas went home early. I remember not being able to publicly root for Kansas during the 2006-2007 season because I lost a bet. I had to sit in silence while they made an Elite 8 run that ended in San Jose, California amongst a partisan UCLA crowd, even though Kansas was the #1 seed in the region. Winning the 2008 national title was huge. It gave me bragging rights. It reinforced that what Bill Self was doing in Rock Chalk Land was worthy of winning championships.
What it means to me now? That was Kansas’ last championship. In the years since, we’ve had numerous #1 seeds and we’ve failed…notably the Northern Iowa and VCU losses, which probably cost us national championships. We made it to the championship game but fell against a very talented Kentucky team. That 2007-2008 team was a team of mostly juniors—a heralded 2005 recruiting class that included Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Micah Downs, and Julian Wright. They took their lumps in that 2006 tournament with the 1st round loss, gained some respectability with the Elite 8 finish the next year. They broke through as juniors. Last season, Kansas brought in the best recruiting class since 2005 with Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, and Frank Mason. They went 25-10, disappointed all year with their inconsistency. Wiggins bolted for the NBA much like Julian Wright did. Selden, like Rush, is staying as is Mason and Frankamp. I think this group will lead Kansas to another championship…may not be next year in Indianapolis but I’m thinking it’ll be in Houston…in 2016.