When the streak of Big 12 titles began, Aaron Miles was a senior point guard at Kansas.
In the 10 years and ninth months since his final college game, Miles has earned paychecks playing basketball in five countries.
He has logged thousands of air miles, played in hundreds of games in hundreds of arenas, and battled through both a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and a torn labrum in his hip.
He also became a father, four times over.
His oldest son, Little Aaron or “Deuce”, is 7 years old. His youngest son, Avion, will be 2 next week. In some ways, Miles has lived a lifetime of experiences in the years since he starred at Kansas, and if you want to understand the scope and length of the Jayhawks’ conference title streak, maybe it’s best to start here.
On Thursday afternoon, Miles stood near the tunnel of Allen Fieldhouse, watching the Jayhawks warm up before an afternoon practice. Eleven years ago, he was the point guard on the team that claimed coach Bill Self’s first Big 12 title. Today he is in his first season as the program’s assistant director of student-athlete development, a 32-year-old with four boys, a mortgage and all the trappings of the real world. Through it all, the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak has endured.
“It’s been a proud thing,” Miles says, smiling. “To be able to say — 11 straight.”
At 3 p.m. Saturday, No. 2 Kansas will open another Big 12 season against No. 23 Baylor, and the chase for No. 12 will commence. Which means it’s time to deconstruct the streak once more.
As the years have passed, the streak has gone from a point of pride, to a point of amazement, to a point of history, to a point of … well, something else altogether. Self believes his fan base takes the streak for granted, and this is not really a critique, but a statement of fact. The Jayhawks have lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament two straight years. They haven’t gone to the Final Four since 2012. And for all his other traits, Self can be a realist.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that people take the streak for granted,” Self said. “I think our fans do. I think, nationally, it has not got the respect in a lot of ways that it deserves, but I also understand that — what gets most of the attention now is what you do in the postseason.”
In some ways, though, what Kansas has done in the regular season is unprecedented in this era. After winning outright or sharing 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles, the Jayhawks are tied with Gonzaga for the second longest conference title streak ever. Gonzaga’s streak came in the West Coast conference during 2001-11. Only UCLA, which won 13 straight conference titles during 1967-79, has done something similar in a major conference.
“Unfortunately, people out there only think about national championships,” said Dick Vitale, the legendary ESPN college basketball announcer and former coach.
Vitale, 76, has followed the sport closely for more than four decades. In this era, he says, with the turnover of players and the one-and-done culture, the streak should be placed among the most impressive accomplishments in the game. And Self, he says, should find a place in the Hall of Fame some day soon.
“People just expect it,” Vitale said. “It comes with the territory of wearing that jersey — Kansas. When you sit and really look at it, you say, ‘Wow. People have statues built for them for doing what he’s done.’ ”
If the streak is going to survive past the next three months, Self believes it could take his program’s greatest performance yet. As of past Monday, five Big 12 teams were ranked in the top 25 and the conference was ranked No. 1 among all leagues in the Ratings Percentage Index. The schedule will be filled with arduous stretches. The first example: After playing Baylor, 10-2, on Saturday, the second-ranked Jayhawks, 11-1, will play host to No. 3 Oklahoma, 11-0, on Monday night.
A year ago, the Jayhawks finished 13-5 in the Big 12 — the program’s worst league record during the streak — and still managed to win it outright. This year, Self said, the league schedule could be even tougher.
“This will be the hardest year probably to defend it,” Self says. “That last year was a monster year to defend it. But I really think that this year, there’s more good teams our league has ever had. And when I say good team, I mean teams that have chance to be Final Four-type contenders.”
On Thursday afternoon, Miles was back inside in Allen Fieldhouse, thinking back to the original days of the streak. In four seasons at Kansas, Miles won three Big 12 titles, playing alongside Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison for two seasons and Keith Langford and Wayne Simien for four. Miles’ junior season — the last year Kansas failed to win the Big 12 title — still eats at him.
“If it wasn’t for our junior we would have won it … 14 in a row?” he asked.
Miles paused for a second. He was a junior in college more than 12 years ago, before Facebook was invented, before high-definition televisions became a staple, before current Kansas guard Frank Mason was in fourth grade. It is January in Lawrence, which means it is time to discuss the streak, to marvel at its longevity and consistency. But even Miles, a proud founding father of the streak, would prefer to be talking about something else in March.
“We want to win (the Big 12),” Miles said. “We want to win the Big 12 tournament. But ultimately, I believe everybody here, and all the fans, we would rather win a national championship than win the Big 12, obviously. But we’re going to keep doing what we do.”