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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Why the most important development of the Kansas Jayhawks was not lifting the Big 12 trophy

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The Big 12 Conference commissioner walked to midcourt, a glass trophy in his hands, and as the T-Mobile Center’s public address system announced the league’s player of the year, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji took a couple of steps forward.

Over his left shoulder, Remy Martin stood in the background, clapping his hands and pointing to the crowd for a louder ovation. This was his award, or at least it was supposed to be before the season started, before this became the Agbaji team and then the Agbaji conference.

Two days later, in the final tune-up of the NCAA Tournament, Martin stole it all.

Martin scored 12 points off the bench Saturday, slipping back into the spotlight and then returning KU to the Big 12 championship net-cutting stairs: a 74-65 win against Texas Tech that doesn’t happen without the new point guard. alternate.

And suddenly, on the eve of Selection Sunday, Bill Self has one of those good problems.

Martin is healthy again after a knee injury robbed him of much of the conference schedule in his only year in Lawrence. His wayward knee is once again the launching pad for the outburst he feared he wouldn’t return.

He is the fastest player on a team that wants to play fast. Even sharing a list with the guy who lifted that crystal trophy earlier this week, Martin is the best guy in KU to go for a bucket. The one that, as Self said, “can allow you to have a good possession even if you don’t really have good things.”

And he might as well have been describing the difficult moments that are sure to be part of an NCAA Tournament.

Self needed to use this week to see what Martin could offer him in the next few weeks. That answer has changed. It goes without saying that this team has a higher ceiling than it did just 24 hours earlier, not because it lifted its 12th Big 12 Conference Tournament trophy, but rather because why took that stage.

Martin’s explosiveness is something the Jayhawks had prepared to play without this March, because, frankly, they literally played without it during the most critical stretch of their season. As a player falls behind, the timeline advances.

Two weeks ago, Martin said he could feel during practice that he might be back. That the knee injury could finally be behind him.

After it met in downtown Kansas City, the aftermath presents an interesting dynamic for the biggest tournament that awaits next week.

Was that unique?

Or did we just see a player rediscover his game, and his explosion, at the right time?

Because it sure looked like the latter. Had he parachuted into the T-Mobile Center to see KU for the first time on Saturday, he would have identified Martin as the Alpha of this team, as his personality, his pulse.

On Saturday, Self had no choice but to play Martin in the first half after starting point guard Dajuan Harris drew his second foul. Martín played because he had to.

A half later, he played by preference, Harris relegated to spectator on the bench.

And you know what? The Jayhawks were better.

Better than they have been lately.

Better than they seemed capable of being. A day ago, KU had the foundations of a team that they should advance to the second weekend of the tournament and could advance to the Final Four.

Up the ante now. KU just beat one of the top 15 basketball teams in the country despite making 5 of 22 3-pointers. They haven’t thrown it worse in a win all season.

This wasn’t supposed to be a part of his equation because Martin hasn’t been a part of his equation. Not really, anyway. In fact, he’s the difference maker they envisioned when he signed last summer.

We have been waiting

It’s more than your score, too. A rebound pass to Jalen Wilson in traffic might have been his best play. He led to a tray. He stole two possessions from Texas Tech in the second half, one when he ran up the field and another when he stuck his face into the mix for a fumble near midcourt.

“He brings a different element to our team,” said teammate Christian Braun.

When it’s out there. It’s important to note that just two days earlier, Self left Martin on his bench for most of the second half because he “wasn’t that committed.”

It can’t happen now.

This trip may still have the same conclusion Self, Martin and the Jayhawks always planned, even if they took a detour along the way.

In the closing seconds of Saturday, as KU dribbled down the clock, Braun looked for Martin. The two-high-fives, the opening celebrations of a championship before a stage was rolled to the ground. Then Braun offered a few words.

“That,” Braun later recalled telling Martin, “is why you came here.”

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