Jeff Hawkins smiled wide, carrying the Big 12 championship trophy outside the northwest tunnel at Allen Fieldhouse along with former teammate Aaron Miles.
Hawkins had long made plans to be at Saturday’s game to celebrate his son’s birthday. But when asked that morning if he’d help this year’s Kansas team celebrate earning a share of its 12th straight conference title … well, the 33-year-old couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.
“It brought back chills and memories,” Hawkins said. “Just glad to see those guys happy to take the trophy off our hands.”
Hawkins and Miles eventually turned the hardware over to KU senior Jamari Traylor, a symbolic gesture following No. 2 KU’s 67-58 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Just how long has this crazy streak gone? Perhaps it makes sense to start with two guys there at the beginning.
Hawkins averaged 20 minutes on that 2004-05 team that tied Oklahoma for the league crown with a 12-4 record.
Sometimes, that seems like ancient history. Hawkins’ son, Mavrick, is now a third-grader who just turned 9.
“It’s like, ‘Gosh, where did time go?’ ” Hawkins said. “But that just shows the preparation and the amount of work the Jayhawks do day in, day out.”
Miles, who works on KU’s basketball staff with student-athlete development, remembers tracking the Jayhawks during his days playing overseas, whether he was in France or Spain, Greece or Russia.
“That’s one thing you look for every year — that your team, your university, your school, your alma mater is doing well,” Miles said. “Just always proud for all of us to sit there and say, ‘Look at my Jayhawks. Look at our boys.’ That’s where the pride comes in.”
Old letterwinners shouldn’t have any trouble bragging about what the Jayhawks accomplished this season.
After starting 5-3 in conference, KU won its next eight Big 12 games to clinch a share of the league crown with two contests remaining. That included four wins on the road, three victories over ranked teams, and one over a top-five opponent in Oklahoma.
“I think sometimes when this team does some stuff, people talk about 12. I wish you’d talk about one,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Because this is a pretty special effort by these guys.”
Self made sure his players savored the moment.
In the final seconds, with the game’s outcome decided, the coach stood to applaud his team’s effort. He then made his way down the bench to shake the hand of every player.
The Jayhawks’ run ranks second in NCAA history, trailing only UCLA, which won 13 straight league titles from 1967-79.
“I hope our fans appreciate winning (the league), because sometimes consistency can look very boring,” Self said. “I hope they don’t take it for granted. I know that our players won’t, and I know that our staff won’t.”
Though Self previously has had instances where he decided not to celebrate shared titles, he gave the OK this year. After the game, each KU player cut off a snippet of the net on the north goal, with senior forward Perry Ellis taking his turn last as fans chanted “Per-ry! Per-ry!”
“It felt great,” Ellis said. “Just thinking back on all the memories, it’s a great feeling.”
Self wanted his players to enjoy this day. Though KU has a quick turnaround — playing at Texas on Monday — the coach said he planned on celebrating himself before watching Longhorns film later Saturday night.
“Sometimes winning is a relief, and losing is the end of earth. This feels better than a relief,” Self said. “I’m really proud of our kids.”
Jesse Newell: @jessenewell