Thousands of Jayhawk fans welcomed home Tuesday their beloved men’s basketball champions. With a chilly breeze, cloudy skies and occasional sprinkles in Memorial Stadium, adoring fans greeted the team as they returned to bask in the glory of a national title.
Wearing pieces of the game nets and national champion gear, the 2022 national champions delivered the NCAA trophy to the 50-yard line and waved to their giddy fanbase.
When the confetti finally fell, the University of Kansas had defeated the University of North Carolina 72-69 in New Orleans, claiming the coveted title as well as the biggest comeback win ever in the national championship game.
Coach Bill Self called the weekend “unbelievable” and joked about his team’s “absolutely great” play, with the exception of the first 20 minutes of Monday’s game. He called his team tough.
“We’re so proud, and I think a lot, and our coaches do as well, how cool is it to coach at such a tradition-rich place. How cool it is to coach young men that give you, give us everything every day. And I was just thinking, how much fun is it for you to love on these guys right now.”
The crowd erupted. Self gave props to all his players, and especially senior Ochai Agbaji.
“This guy had a decent year. First team all-American, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 champion, Big 12 tournament champion, national champion. And in all honesty, there’s only one player that I know of that’s had a decorated year as this guy has in the history of Kansas basketball.”
Agbaji also won the national title Most Outstanding Player. He described his team and coaching staff as special in his short speech.
“I couldn’t be more thankful. When I made the decision to come back this year, this is how I envisioned it. It’s great. We got helicopters and you can feel the energy. Rock Chalk!”
Self lauded senior center David McCormack and said he deserved to share in the national award.
“This guy carried us against ‘Nova. He put us on his back last night the last three or four minutes against Carolina.”
McCormack told fans he loved them.
“We just can’t thank you enough. Rock Chalk ‘till I die.”
Team leader and ambassador — as Self referred to him — sixth–year senior Mitch Lightfoot praised his coaches for their inspiration and the fans for their support.
“Sixth man” senior guard Remy Martin reminded the crowd of his senior night speech.
“I said that I appreciated everybody in this community. You guys mean the world to me. And now that I get to come back here and talk to you guys again being in a national championship with these guys … And I just want to say thank you all again. It’s been a tough journey, ups and downs, but everybody sticks together and this is what Jayhawk basketball is all about is bringing a national championship back to you guys, so thank you.”
Senior guard Chris Teahan said he might “be feeling himself from last night” and would keep his speech short.
“I said when I came back from the Elite Eight, we didn’t come here to play in the Final Four. We didn’t come here to play in the National Championship. We came here to put a banner up in those rafters.”
Sophomore Dajuan Harris Jr. changed the game with his defense, Self said, and sophomore Jalen Wilson “played his tail off” in the second half Monday night.
Junior guard Christian Braun pumped up the crowd when he implied the celebrations had only begun.
“We do this stuff for y’all. We got a long week ahead of us y’all, so be ready.”
Self wrapped up by praising KU’s administration and urging fans to attend the opening practice of next year’s basketball season.
“Every year at Late Night I always say that we’ve got to set the groove and it’s about time we did it again. Come to Late Night this year, and we’ll be dropping another banner.”
Besides the speeches, the band and spirit team kept the crowd hyped alongside Big Jay and Baby Jay. The Jayhawk faithful also had their eyes on the Jumbotron, watching the grueling last minute of the game. Although fans knew the outcome, they acknowledged the game’s tension.
Gina and Phillip Amaro watched the big screen, still questioning some of the game’s calls and revisiting their anxiety.
“It was tough,” Gina said. “It was hard to watch.”
The couple has lived in Lawrence 27 years and were here in 2008 when KU’s men’s basketball team captured its previous national title.
Felipe Anaya, a lab director and instructor in KU’s department of chemical engineering, brought his 3-year-old son James to the celebration. From Colombia, Anaya moved to Lawrence less than a year ago. James, he said, has reached the age where he’s beginning to love sports.
“I’m just actually getting into basketball. I enjoyed the team playing this season and then all the way to the championship. It’s pretty cool.”
Travis Goff, KU’s new athletic director, called Self the “best men’s basketball coach” and referred to fans as the best too.
“We felt the love and the passion, the support down in New Orleans. These guys played for you, left it all out there, emptied the tank to bring this trophy back to Lawrence where it belongs.”