Archive for Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Smith: Finals MVP continues Jayhawks’ banner ‘08

June 24, 2008

We should have seen this coming.

It was evident way back in January, just three days into the new year.

When Kansas University defensive back Aqib Talib picked off a Virginia Tech pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl, we should have known that 2008 would be the year of the Jayhawk.

Don't bother consulting one of those paper placemats at your favorite Chinese restaurant. It will try to convince you this is the year of the Rat.

Not so. Just look at what Jayhawks past and present already have accomplished this year.

Following that Talib pick, the KU football team went on to beat the Hokies, 24-21, to cap an amazing gridiron campaign and jumpstart what has proven to be a remarkable 2008 for the Jayhawks and their fans.

At the time of the BCS bowl win, the KU men's basketball run was just getting warmed up.

Bill Self's boys were 13-0 entering the new year and, of course, finished the season just as perfectly by winning their last 13 games, which gave the Jayhawks Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles as well as that grandest of prizes, a national championship.

But the string of success doesn't unravel there. Last week in Boston, Paul Pierce, probably the best NBA player who pit-stopped in Lawrence since Wilt Chamberlain, finally won a championship a little more than a decade removed from his time at KU when he played for three spectacular Kansas squads - the 1996 Jayhawk team that lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight, an insanely deep 1997 squad (34-2) that was upset by Arizona in the Sweet 16 and a talented 1998 team (35-4) that fell to Rhode Island in the second round.

Named NBA Finals MVP 10 years after being selected 10th in the draft by the Celtics, Pierce earned that distinction, which will likely get his number in the new Garden's rafters when he retires, by averaging 21.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds in the 4-2 series victory. He also earned MVP honors by giving the man whom he spent most of the six games guarding, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant (routinely referred to as the greatest basketball player on the planet or in the universe, depending on who is talking) fits, holding the league's regular-season MVP to his lowest scoring average of the playoffs (25.7).

So what's next in this banner year? For starters, the NBA Draft Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

There, if draft projections hold, three KU underclassmen will be selected in the first round. In doing so, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers, who helped the Jayhawks capture their first national title in 20 years, will each garner one of those fat, guaranteed, first-round contracts. Moreover, Self told reporters last week that he thinks Kansas graduates Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun will be picked in the draft's second and final round.

After the futures of those KU products are decided, it will be a while before we find out what's next in the year of the Jayhawk.

Who knows? Maybe a Big 12 football title? Or a Todd Reesing Heisman?

Wait and see:

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