Devonte Graham called up his former teammates at Kansas a couple of weeks ago, offering them encouragement in the midst of a rough season and gently reminding them about “the streak.”
The one Graham helped keep alive for four seasons. The one that stretched back 14 years.
The one that is now history.
The Jayhawks’ unparalleled run atop the Big 12 ended with a thud Tuesday night when a team that has been gutted by injury and absence was dominated by Oklahoma. The defeat left the Jayhawks two games behind Texas Tech and Kansas State with one game to go.
“All good things come to an end,” Graham, a point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, told the Associated Press. “But as a guy who was there and part of the streak, you always want to keep it going. But I am definitely bummed that it came to an end.”
The run of 14 consecutive conference championships began in 2004, the second year Bill Self was on the sideline. It survived years in which he had to replace an entire starting lineup and years when injuries and inexperience conspired against him. It survived against some of the best players in Big 12 history — Kevin Durant, Buddy Hield, Trae Young — and plenty of off-the-court strife.
“There’ll be a lot of players from the past 14 years that will look at this team that broke what they started, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Self said. “A coach more than anybody knows the potential and ceiling for every team. For us to be 22-8 right now, even though we’ve had some pretty bad losses on the road, I don’t think is anything for this team to hang their hat on.”
Indeed, plenty of things worked against the Jayhawks this season.
• There was the FBI investigation into apparel supplier Adidas and college basketball corruption in general, which has yet to implicate Kansas but nonetheless was a distraction.
• There was the NCAA probe into sophomore forward Silvio de Sousa, whose name surfaced in the pay-for-play probe that rendered him ineligible for this season and next.
• There was the season-ending injury to Udoka Azubuike, their 7-foot center and arguably the most game-changing back-to-the-basket big man in college basketball.
• There was the mercurial season of senior Lagerald Vick, who had a few big games early but fell out of favor and has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons.
• And there were two gritty, defensive-minded and experienced teams in Texas Tech and Kansas State that took advantage of an opening.
“The streak they had was unbelievable. I’m a big fan of Bill Self and the Kansas program. I was very close to going there,” said Young, in his first season with the Atlanta Hawks. “I’m happy that Oklahoma broke it, though.”
The Red Raiders and Wildcats are tied heading into their finales Saturday. They will share the title, or one will win it outright.
“We’re putting so much emphasis on winning the league,” Self said. “What we need to be putting our emphasis on is what is the ceiling of this team and what does this team need to do to play better?”
To put it into perspective, the Jayhawks went 196-43 in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. And they parlayed their league success into reaching three Final Fours, two title games and beating Memphis to win the 2008 championship.
The streak goes back so far, the Big 12 was actually 12 teams when it began.
“We’ve taken most people’s best shots most every night,” Self said. “And we’ve had teams that were tough enough to be able to combat that. And talented enough. … We have talent now. It’s just young talent.”