Senior Night is awesome. It might be my favorite part of the basketball season, which I think shows that I’m aging a little bit. I’ve become a sucker for saying thank you and goodbye to the players that have represented your team for four years. I love looking back and seeing how players have grown over their four years on campus, both as players and people. And perhaps my favorite part is how, at least at KU, it seems like the guys at the end of the bench who never get to play always come up big on Senior Night (Big being relative, of course).
Oh, and it helps when you win by 58 points. The scrubs not only held the lead, but they pushed it out a bit!
I’ve been to some great Senior Night games: the Mizzou game in 1992, which was meaningless in the standings but was played at the highest level and saw Anthony Peeler go crazy; the Oklahoma State de facto Big 8 championship game in 1995, when Bryant Reeves went scoreless but Randy Rutherford out Peelered Peeler; a year later, again against Mizzou, when super-scrub TJ Whatley not only started but scored a couple buckets in the opening minutes; and as my OSU friend will hate to discuss, the ’99 game that went to overtime and was won on a cough controversial foul call as the clock ran out. Great games all, terribly entertaining and drammatic, but last night might have been the most fun Senior Night ever. I wish I would have been there for this one as well.
I also like how Senior Night, when it works right, is a moment of rest between the long, hard slog of the regular season and the pressures of the conference and NCAA tournaments. For one night it is ok to stop thinking about conference title races, tournament seeds, and possible match-ups down the road and just enjoy basketball and the guys you follow. Or at least that’s what I did last night. It might have been different if it was Texas and the conference crown was on the line (Obviously, I can’t compare last year’s season ending UT game because there were no seniors on that team, so it really was just another game).
In closing, some quick thoughts on the Jayhawks who will not play competitively for KU in Allen Fieldhouse again after last night.
Jeremy Case: I admire him for sticking with it. He clearly could have transfered to a smaller school, where his size was less of a disadvantage, and not only played a lot but probably have been a really good player. We kept waiting to see the shooting prowess that lead Roy Williams to recruit him. Last night, we finally got a glimpse. Seems like a nice kid.
Sasha Kaun: Sasha has become one of my favorites this year. He may not be the most gifted, or asthetically pleasing baller out there, but the guy works his ass off every minute he’s on the court. I’ve enjoyed watching him blossom a little this year, as the time he’s spent with Danny Manning has clearly paid off. This March, I won’t be quite as nervous when he’s on the court as I was a year ago. Another guy who seems solid off-the-court.
Rodrick Stewert: He never really showed the skills that lead him to be rated the 25th best high school player in his senior class. He’s supposed to be a phenomenal athlete, but my enduring image of him is when he falls down on defense once a game. Still, he’s played some huge minutes this season, and may well play some important minutes in the coming weeks. It can’t be easy to play after what he’s gone through in the last week.
Russell Robinson: I’ve had a tough relationship with Russ. I love his heart and his toughness. He’s clearly been the guy who keeps everyone together as this team has grown over the past three seasons. But I also wince when he struggles to do too much, secretly hoping that we could get Sherron Collins back on the court or he would hand the ball off to Mario Chalmers. Like last year, though, his game seems to be taking a step up as the calendar turns to March. I can see Russ hitting a few big shots in the coming weeks.
Darnell Jackson: Hasn’t he become every KU fan’s favorite Jayhawk this year? After his moment of confusion a year ago, when he briefly left the team, his play as been an almost uninterrupted arc up. He peaked in March last year, and this season has built on that momentum to become a complete player rather than a role player. Every team has a <i>human interest story</i> that the media beats to death. Darnell’s story deserves every minute of airtime and inch of column space it has received. Of all the players, I’m most happy for him, as basketball seems to be helping him find peace. I think he’ll got a shot with someone in the NBA, but more likely will be playing in a smaller league next year. I hope that is the ticket to happiness for him, his mother, and the others who have been with him through the tough times.
They’re all Jayhawks, though, so I love each one.
Now, onto College Station, Kansas City, and whatever comes after that…