Reed All About It - Excerpt No. 3

Oct. 14, 2011

EXCERPT #3

REED ALL ABOUT IT: DRIVEN TO BE A JAYHAWK, is written by former Jayhawk Academic All-American guard Tyrel Reed. REED ALL ABOUT IT: DRIVEN TO BE A JAYHAWK, from Ascend Books of Overland Park, Kansas, will be available October 21 at most local book stores as well as amazon.com and ascendbooks.com. This title is also available on all popular e-book platforms including ipad, Kindle and Nook.

KUathletics.com will present excerpts from the book between now and October 21. In today’s excerpt, Tyrel talks about his freshman year, the march to the 2008 Final Four…a players-only meeting that changed a season, and lifting the “Final Four Monkey” off his coach’s back.

Our first big road test that year was at Southern Cal, which had O.J. Mayo, who was one of the top players in that class.

We were up by two points in the final minute, but the clock was such that unless we got an offensive rebound on a miss, USC was going to get another possession. With a few seconds left on the shot clock, Mario took a deep three-pointer that probably wasn’t a very good shot at the time. I’m guessing Coach was thinking that was a terrible shot so late in the clock, but once it went in I think all was forgiven. We didn’t know it at the time, but there was some foreshadowing in that shot.

We had a couple other tough road games that year. We won a close one at Georgia Tech, and played really well at Boston College, blowing them out.

Our record was 20-0 when we went to Manhattan to play K-State. We had never lost in Bramlage Coliseum before, and it was 24 years old. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty crazy. Bramlage was always the toughest arena I played in, and I have no idea how those teams that came before us never lost there.

We went over there expecting to win, just the same as we expect to win every game. But I think K-State had no doubts they were going to win that game. They had Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and it was supposed to be a big year for K-State.

Well, it was their night. The building was so loud and they played really well. That was January 30. We lost again at Texas on February 11 in a game I don’t think there is much to say about. The one that really shook us was two games later, at Oklahoma State. The week leading up to that game was a tough one for us, especially Darnell. He had been through a lot of tragedies already in his life, and his cousin had been killed earlier in the week. Sherron was hurt too, and didn’t play much (11 minutes).

That loss shook us up a little bit. We realized we weren’t invincible, and one of the outcomes was the realization some things needed to be said, some things needed to be heard and we needed to sort it all out as a team. The manifestation of this was that some guys on the team – I can’t remember who – decided we ought to go to Henry T’s for dinner as a team, an event which I am now aware has taken on something of a legendary quality. I assume this is at least partially because nobody outside the team knows exactly what happened there, except that we never lost again that season.

So here’s the story: Henry T’s is a sports bar known for its wings and burgers. It has one extra large booth in one of the corners, which suited us fine. There was nothing “official” about this meeting. It was just sort of like, “Hey, we’re going to Henry T’s,” and everybody showed up.

I imagine the other people in the restaurant were pretty curious about all this. Because we all have different schedules, it’s pretty rare to see the entire basketball team in the same place at the same time unless we’re playing in a game or something. But there we all were. The idea was that if you had something to say, this was the time to say it. If you had some issue with a teammate or a coach, get it off your chest here and now. You could say whatever you wanted to say, no holds barred. In other words, what we said mattered less than the fact we were saying things.

I think it was a turning point. There might have been a little animosity and guys were maybe saying stuff to other people instead of coming out in front of everybody and saying how they felt. It was a 45-minute meal and we were out. I think we grew closer that night. I wouldn’t expect people to fully understand what that was all about. There are probably 3,000 different stories going around, and although I don’t think it happened in this case, sometimes players like to kind of mess with the media a little bit, or say something they don’t understand.

We beat Iowa State in Ames in our next game, and then it was on to the rematch with K-State. Allen Fieldhouse was on fire that night. So loud. It’s like that any time we play K-State, but I think the fans were a little extra pumped because Michael Beasley had said they were going to beat us in Manhattan, they were going to beat us in Lawrence, and they were going to beat us in Africa. Now, as players, we’re all the same age and we realize we say dumb things at times. I’m guessing Mike would like to have that one back. Or maybe he wouldn’t. I don’t know. At any rate, it turned him into an even bigger target for our fans than he already was (which was pretty big).

KU got up by 24 in the second half and won 88-74.

We had one more chance for a revenge game that year, and it came in the Big 12 championship game against Texas. The memorable thing about that game was how well both teams played. It was almost surreal to watch. If you’re a basketball fan, that had to be fun to watch because of the pure skill and talent on display. That’s one of the better halves of basketball that I’ve witnessed.

The NCAA Tournament is a totally different animal from the regular season. You get funky game times, you don’t know who you’re going to play. It’s weird. The stands are often half full and even the half that is there is a mix of a few different teams’ fans.

We played Portland State in the first round. Then we had a nice game against UNLV and whipped Villanova pretty hard in the Sweet 16. Which put us in the Elite Eight, where we had lost the year before, against Davidson, who was everybody’s Cinderella story.

As much as you try to ignore everything, there are certain facts that people just won’t let you forget. We were aware that all of Coach Self’s best tournament runs had ended in the Elite Eight. It had happened to him at Tulsa, Illinois, and twice at Kansas. And we were also dealing with the Cinderella thing. Everybody wanted them to win, and they were on a roll. Stephen Curry was great, and they had another guard that was very good and a big guy, also.

There is a lot of pressure to perform well. Not just at Kansas, either. But you really feel those NCAA Tournament losses. You feel like you’re letting people down.

Anyway, we played like we felt the pressure that night. It was a tight, low-possession game. On the last possession, we put Brandon on Curry. He was our best overall defender and we were pretty sure Curry was going to be taking the shot. But Brandon fell down, Mario took Curry and he passed it off to their other guard, who put up a long three that would have won it. I was on the sideline, I’m sitting there, leaning out, and it looked like that shot was going in.

My heart was thumping. I think Coach Self’s was, too. He collapsed to the floor. I can only imagine what a weight was lifted off his shoulders. The locker room was funny. When we got in there, we were all calm and cool. Coach Self walked in there and he was like, “What are you guys doing? Let’s celebrate.” He was jumping around, we threw a bucket of water on him, we started throwing water on each other. It probably got out of hand and we had to stop.

I guess Darnell said Coach Self teared up. I don’t remember him bawling or anything, but there were definitely those emotions overtaking him at that time. I can only imagine coaching in college basketball for so long and coming so close. You’re so defined by that last game in college. I think we need to be held accountable for losing in the NCAA Tournament, but we try not to let it define us as a team. Things happen. It’s tough when people say we had a bad season. You wish it wouldn’t be that way, that you went 35-3 but didn’t have a good year. I think at a lot of places that would be a pretty good year.

The Davidson win was really a pressure release in a lot of ways. I felt like once we got to the Final Four, there was a sense of calmness.