LAWRENCE — Only four power-conference teams in the last 50 years have managed to win six regular-season league championships in a row. It is a rare feat in modern college basketball, and the Kansas Jayhawks joined an exclusive club on Monday night by showing off the rarities on their roster.
A freshman guard talented enough to play in the NBA at this very moment. A senior guard talented enough to have made the jump to professional ball at any point during his career. Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins may have arrived at KU at different times and with different expectation levels for the length of their respective stays in Lawrence, but they have shared a common goal.
Kansas stomped overmatched Oklahoma 81-68 at Allen Fieldhouse to clinch at least a share of its sixth straight Big 12 regular season title, and, watching Henry and Collins play together, you could see how beneficial big-time college basketball can be for a young player with pro aspirations — no matter what the circumstances.
Henry had a game-high 23 points, including 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the first half, and Collins had 17 points and 6 assists in the second-to-last game he'll ever play at Allen.
"We all come in here All-Americans, highly-recruited, scoring 30 a game," Collins said, "and they can get you to buy in. You gotta sacrifice. That's' what everybody has been doing — sacrificing."
Monday's spanking of the Willie-Warrenless Sooners guaranteed that Collins, with 124 career wins, will leave KU the winningest player in school history during a four-year period (Brady Morningstar will also join him atop the list, but Morningstar redshirted the 2007-08 season and missed the first semester this season due to suspension).
"It means a lot," Collins said. "I tried not to think about it too much before it happened, just because it would be a distraction. Now I can talk about it."
Collins will be the first to say that the honor is a team accomplishment, and he's right. Over four years, he has played with all kinds of talent: current NBA players like Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush and future NBA guys like Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. But until this year, Collins and his Kansas teammates had never shared the floor with a player like Henry, one with the intention of making the most of only a season at KU before making his way to the NBA.
All Henry has done is buck the stereotype of the one-and-done player, trying to fit in with his teammates above all else. Early this season, Henry admitted that he was conscious of not wanting to be seen as a ball-hog. At that point, it appeared that he could score 25 every night if he wanted.
But Henry ran into a freshman funk as soon as Big 12 play began. Maybe the intensity was unlike anything he had experienced, maybe his shot just wasn't falling, but nobody could deny that Henry was struggling playing the game of basketball for the first time in his life.
Of course, there has been a lot of debate about the NBA's age limit of 19 years old. Is it good for players like Henry to have to spend one year in college? Is it good for the programs not knowing how long the player will stay? Is it good for college sports in general to welcome players to campus who may not be interested in taking classes for more than a year?
Well, Henry made it pretty clear on Monday against the Sooners that this year in Lawrence — whether it will be his last or not — has been good for him.
"He was great," KU coach Bill Self said. "He scored in traffic, he scored by posting, he scored off the bounce and he scored off the catch. That right there was a pretty complete way for a wing to score."
No. 1 KU, now 27-1 and 13-0 in the Big 12, joined UCLA (1967-79) and Kentucky (1968-73 and 2000-05) as the fourth team and third power-conference program to win six league titles in a row since 1960.
Certainly, what's been good for Henry has been good for Kansas.
"It wasn't that hard to us, I guess," Henry said. "We're 13-0, and it doesn't really seem too difficult for us. They say it's a real tough conference, and it is tough, don't get me wrong, but we've been playing good lately, and it just seems like we're gonna keep running with it."