New Orleans – Of all the wide smiles, big hugs and starry glances that took place on stage as the Kansas Jayhawks captured the 2022 National Championship trophy, there was a moment that proved to be the perfect exclamation point for a crazy season .
Just minutes after the Jayhawks’ – from Kansas, not Kansas City – held up their shiny new trophy for the whole world to see, Kansas coach Bill Self looked to the left and saw a squirming KU guard experiencing complete euphoria.
While he was dancing and smiling and posing and laughing, KU point guard Remy Martin caught sight of his head coach and the two exchanged a quick high-five. It was nothing special, nothing unique, just a moment between a coach and one of his players that some thought would never come.
Photo by Nick Krug
Through what can only be described as one of those you-have-to-live-it-to-believe-it seasons of Martin, Self waited patiently for the transfer guard to rely enough on his injured knee to get back on the floor. As he did so, the Jayhawks took off, and Martin added his name and chapter to the book on the legends of Kansas basketball.
Of course, his statistics will not be coherent. But his influence will. In short, the Jayhawks are not waking up as national champions today, if not for Martin.
Even said so much on more than one occasion this postseason. He said it again Tuesday at the welcome party at Memorial Stadium.
But before all that, before the pictures with the trophy, the festivities through the night and even a hug between a coach and a player who grew to love each other, there was that high-five.
That it came on the scene where Kansas was officially crowned as the national champion of the year was exactly how Martin saw it in when he decided to come to KU.
“These guys have been amazing,” Martin said of his coaches and teammates during the celebration of Monday night’s 72-69 victory over North Carolina. “I’ve been injured, gone through ups and downs, and these guys stayed consistent. I’m just so glad I was able to help this team win a national championship. I’m honored to wear this jersey. I love Kansas and I love Bill Self and my teammates. Thanks to everyone. ”
View a gallery of photos from the 2022 National Championship match between the Kansas Jayhawks and North Carolina Tar Heels at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
That love is absolutely mutual, and Martin and Self, as it turned out, ended up being good to each other.
In Self, Martin found a head coach who could push him to levels he never knew he could reach. He did so by demanding more, expecting perfection and not letting Martin fall short of living up to the standards found within the Kansas basketball program. As a result, Martin became a national champion.
In Martin, Self found a player who forced him to operate out of his comfort zone – even if only for a brief moment – and an insane player who could be so dynamic and electric one moment and so laboriously careless the next. But Martin’s presence, as well as his importance, forced Self to become familiar with watching and training that type of player. As a result, Self took its second national championship.
Both Martin and Self had plenty of help getting them to Monday’s stage.
Martin said throughout the season that it was his teammates who kept him positive and his mood high as he tried to return from the bone bruise in his right knee that kept him out for a month late in the season.
“These guys have been amazing throughout the process,” Martin said of his teammates Monday night. “They have always kept me going and they have always given me confidence. I could not demand a better group.”
The patience and support of the whole group – many of whom first met Martin last summer – always seemed easier for the players than it was for Self. This is where his growth came into play.
After seeing the vision he had for what Martin could and would be in Kansas become blurred, Self held on tight. And then he let go. He reached a point, at least in public, where he decided that the best move with Martin was to hope for the best and not plan anything. Martin, himself knew, would return when he was ready. And while all sorts of people hoped it would happen sooner than it did, Self discovered that it was best to move on without so much as a glimmer of hope of what Martin would be when or if he returned.
“Boys, he did not contribute much,” Self reminded reporters Monday night when asked to reflect on Martin’s journey one last time. “He had an average of 3 points a game in the league for the year.”
Through all the quiet moments, however, Martin remained confident behind the scenes. He worked. He healed. And he prepared to do what he could to help Kansas run. That was the whole reason why he came to KU in the first place, you remember. And there was no way Martin would go down quietly.
“He was injured,” Self said Monday. “But he kept saying to me, ‘just wait until March.’ Well, shit. So you expect me to trust you in March when you have not shown us all year round? ‘ He said, ‘I’m not healthy. When I’m healthy, just wait’ until March. ‘And he certainly delivered what he said.
“He’s a great guy,” Self added. “I do not know that there are many out there who can switch a contact that he potentially can.”