While celebrating the Big 12 Tournament championship at center stage, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor held up a single finger, a symbol that meant a lot of things.
The moment came just before No. 1 Kansas received its second league trophy of the season following its 81-71 victory over ninth-ranked West Virginia in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.
“We’re No. 1 in the Big 12, we’re No. 1 in the tournament, and hopefully we’ll be the No. 1 seed,” Traylor said. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”
There was plenty of joy in the moments afterward.
KU guard Devonte’ Graham grabbed a bucket of red and blue confetti, waiting until cameras were around before dumping it on coach Bill Self’s head. Traylor took the hardware and proudly popped it above his head in one corner of the arena. Freshman Carlton Bragg danced with a Big 12 championship sign as lingering fans watched.
“It just put a stamp on us in the Big 12,” Traylor said. “We won it in the regular season, and this is just the little exclamation mark at the end of it. It showed we just wanted it.”
It also continued a season of the Jayhawks accomplishing whatever goals they’ve set.
That started way back in the summer, when KU represented the United States in the World University Games. The Jayhawks went 8-0, wrapping up a gold medal with an 84-77 double-overtime victory in the championship game over Germany.
After that, KU turned its attention to the regular-season Big 12 championship and extending a streak of conference titles to 12 years. After starting 5-3 in league play, the Jayhawks rattled off 10 straight victories, winning the title by two games.
Saturday marked the completion of a third goal. After falling short the last two years, KU guard Frank Mason said some of the players had gathered to talk about the importance of validating the regular season with a strong conference tournament showing.
“I think that guys took a lot of pride in making sure we got that done this year,” Mason said.
The standout once again was Graham, whose 27 points Saturday were enough to earn him some extra swag.
After the net had been cut down, and forward Perry Ellis had made the final cuts, Graham approached Ellis in the locker room after being chosen Big 12 Tournament MVP.
“Yo, P., let me get this one,” Graham said to his teammate.
“Yeah, you can have it,” Ellis said, turning the net over to Graham after keeping the first net from Allen Fieldhouse for himself.
“I appreciate him for that,” Graham said with a smile, wearing the net around his neck during postgame interviews.
Of course, the team that is 30-4 and accomplished all it has set out to do has its greatest obstacle coming up.
The Jayhawks, who almost certainly will be the No. 1 overall seed when the brackets are released Sunday, haven’t advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in two years. They also haven’t made it past the Sweet 16 since 2012.
“You come here to make Final Four runs, to make deep runs in the tournament, to win national championships,” KU forward Landen Lucas said. “The Big 12 is awesome, and it’s something that I love being a part of. But it’s that next level that you come here to these prestige schools like a Kansas to do.”
KU’s players, winners of 14 straight, sense something different about this year’s team. That includes Lucas, who was one of the most distraught Jayhawks in the locker room following last season’s 78-65 season-ending defeat to Wichita State.
Lucas believes goals were different a year ago. The team would set some, but if it didn’t follow through, it wasn’t a world-ender. The team simply tried to move on.
“We’re not doing that any more,” Lucas said. “We’re getting each one, and we’ve got one more left.”
Self’s message was similar in the team’s postgame meeting.
He told his players he was proud of them, especially with the way they had come out and fought.
Of course, it’s what’s ahead that will forever define how the 2015-16 Jayhawks are remembered.
“We did what we wanted,” Traylor said, “and now, the real fun’s going to start.”