Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Survive and Advance
by Jeff Herr,posted Mar 19 2012 6:28PM
Survive and advance is a mantra you hear often repeated in March. With Kansas’ 63-60 victory over Purdue Sunday night, this slogan was repeated many times over from the Jayhawk faithful. As a team, KU would gladly repeat that for the next four games if it ends with them winning another National Championship. After last night though, survive and advance seems the perfect motto for this team even beyond the confines of this year’s tournament.
Every player on this team seems to be an example of surviving an advancing. At some point in the collegiate career of each of these players they were confronted with adversity. At each one of those points every member of this team overcame those obstacles and that could be the reason some are calling this the toughest team of Self’s tenure.
The best player on this team has had possibly the most tumultuous journey. Thomas Robinson is a consensus 1st team All-American and player of the year finalist, yet hardly saw the floor on this team even just a year ago. Playing behind lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris not many would probably see much playing time. With Robinson there was an issue of not only seeing the floor, but looking very raw when he did. At the apex of Kansas’ 2011 season, against the VCU Rams in the Elite Eight, with everything on the line, Robinson only the saw the floor for 6 minutes.
Besides his struggles on the court, Robinson had to deal with much larger ones off of it. Losing multiple family members in a month’s time, Robinson was left as the caretaker for his younger sister. This is quite a heavy burden to place on a 20-year-old student athlete just trying to piece things together. It was these events that gave Robinson a greater resolve. He overcame and has played this season at an impossibly high level. No matter how many more games he plays, this will most certainly go down as one of the greatest seasons by any player in Kansas history. Survive and advance.
Tyshawn Taylor might be the most maligned leader any Kansas team has ever had. Self has even said himself that at times he’s looks like an All-American, while at others he looks like he’s never been coached. Early on in the season when the titanic matchup of collegiate blue bloods Duke and Kansas took place, it was a climactic early season battle. The supposedly undermanned Kansas team outplayed the Blue Devils. A close game late in the second half turned on a couple key turnovers by Taylor.
The response from the KU fan base could have been described as vitriolic. Here was a player who was a four year starter and still making freshman mistakes. He had 11 total turnovers in that game and there were still more awful turnovers to come. Unrest was high with the Kansas contingent. Suddenly something clicked. Taylor started playing well in conference and garnered All-American discussion. The much maligned Taylor had found his groove and finally looked like the player we all knew he could be.
Survive and advance.
Travis Releford is a Kansas City native who always wanted to play for the Jayhawks. When he signed the letter of intent to go to KU he most certainly had dreams bigger than how his career started. Coming the year after the entire starting squad from a National Championship team left, the playing time seemed up for grabs. Releford didn’t factor into the equation all that much. So much so that Self convinced him to red-shirt the following season. Even the year after that Releford still only played a little over 10 minutes a game.
This probably wasn’t what Releford imagined when he decided to go to Kansas. He could have gone to a mid-major and started. He could have gone to a lesser power and started as well. Instead he chose to go to Kansas. He took his red-shirt and did not complain. As a defender Releford might be the best on this team. A couple games in conference had the scales tipped towards KU based on his performance. He is currently averaging over 30 minutes a game.
Survive and Advance.
Jeff Withey was recruited heavily by Kansas coming out of high school. As a big man with legit skills and high upside Kansas would have been as good as any place in the country. Instead of trekking to the Midwest, the San Diego native chose to go with Lute Olsen to Arizona. When Olsen left, Withey asked to come back to his second choice of Kansas.
Upon arrival Withey also sat behind the two Morris twins and even a less experienced Robinson. He averaged 3 minutes per game two seasons ago, and only 6 last season. Coming in he started by default. The Jayhawks lost so much talent from last year’s squad there was nobody else. There were not high expectations and through the first half o the season, those were filled by Withey. Until he woke up and decided to realize that he was a top 40 recruit with legitimate skills. Inspiring songs from local media and adulation from fans, Withey had arrived as a legitimate part of this team.
Survive and advance.
Finally the hero from last night’s game Elijah Johnson. Johnson came as a five star recruit out of Las Vegas. Coming with Thomas Robinson he was expected to make a bigger impact. His freshman year consisted of only 6 minutes per game, but such is the life of a freshman under Bill Self. The following year wasn’t much better averaging only 13 minutes per game.
Whispers started coming out that Johnson was looking to transfer. Rumors persisted that he was unhappy with his playing time and wanted to go be a star somewhere. Self came out and said that it wasn’t true and Johnson was happy here. Johnson and Self both knew his time was coming and this year was his time. By many accounts Johnson has had an underwhelming year. We kept hearing great things about him from Self. He has the talent and confidence which showed it in practice. For one reason or another he was just not putting it together.
Last night, Johnson put it together. The guard hit a three-point shot early on to keep Kansas in the game and give them some life. His shot with just under three minutes to go finally put KU up by one for the first time in the game. He didn’t quit there either. A steal and an alley oop to Taylor might have been the play of the game and turned the tides. Johnson was interviewed as the star of the game afterwards with a huge grin on his face. Anybody noticing a theme here?
Survive and advance.
This team has been through more individually and as a team than most KU squad’s have to endure. They’ve been through a lot together and have garnered toughness as a team unparalleled by Jayhawk teams. Last night’s late victory over Purdue was a game this university doesn’t usually win. They have been caught in games like this before and all too often it’s ended their season. Not last night. This team did what they have been doing their entire careers: survive and advance.