Shall I Compare Thee To Donnie Darko? (Yet Another Requiem for the 2013-2014 Kansas Jayhawks)


(Since requiems are typically defined by a hymn or composition dedicated to the departed, I am going with KU alum Robin Hilton’s selection by A Winged Victory for the Sullen, played on last week’s All Songs Considered NPR podcast. I briefly thought about Bear Hands’ Giants, with its opening lines of ‘Rock Chalk, shot a Jayhawk’, but that seemed too easy – as well as much too rockin’ for a requiem.)

It’s been over a week since KU’s loss to Stanford in the NCAA Tournament, and during that time I’ve contemplated the game, the team, and the season nearly non-stop. Okay, the first couple of days I didn’t do too much contemplation – I probably had the same dazed & disconnected demeanor that survivors on The Walking Dead oftentimes shuffle around with – but once I accepted the reality of the season coming to a close, I did. With Andrew Wiggins’ officially declaring his eligibility for the NBA Draft earlier today, it seemed like the appropriate milestone to present my thoughts. Or thought. In a word, I would consider this season lacking. Or, better yet – wanting.


For all the promise and flashes of brilliance from this team, losing in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a disappointing and unceremonious end. Now, I realize that’s nothing new. A host of articles saying the same thing flooded the intertubes the first few days after the loss to Stanford. What really struck me was when the analysis dove into the why of why KU lost and what the problem with the team was. With every article I read, post I saw, or podcast I listened to, I found myself in agreement with the root-cause assessment. Take your pick – there were enough Achilles’ heels to fill Imelda Marcos’ closet: Embiid’s back. Tharpe’s decision-making. Self’s refusal to zone or press (until too late). A team worn out by its schedule. A team that wasn’t as good as advertised. Wiggins’ lack of a killer instinct. No outside shooting. Youth. Lack of urgency and commitment due to a one-and-done culture. A leadership void. Lack of guard height. Black’s fifth foul. Just another example of KU’s bad luck. All these causes along with many more were given, and I found myself nodding to each of them. And that’s when it struck me.


This team is like the movie Donnie Darko.

Now, hear me out. What I mean by this, is that you could look at the 2013-2014 season and see whatever it is you wanted to see, ranging from a youthful and talented squad that won a 10th straight Big XII championship to a team that was overestimated and overmatched – and everything in between. In that way, it was like Donnie Darko, where you could interpret the season in about any way you wanted, right down to the team’s fatal flaw. Anything and everything could be rationalized, anything and everything could be held as a valid interpretation.

Like Donnie Darko, this team will probably be more fondly remembered as time passes as opposed to its relevance when it originally came out – particularly if Wiggins or Embiid come anywhere close to achieving their NBA potentials. Fairly or unfairly though, at a school with the tradition, excellence, and championship aspirations such as Kansas, legacies are made in March. I think that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll look back at this team and wonder how it didn’t accomplish more than it did. It will be much like how people wonder how Texas only won a single game in the NCAA tournament despite being led by Kevin Durant. Maybe a better word to describe this year would be enigmatic.


Despite this, I will say that I enjoyed watching the team develop, and the prospect of watching the other, highly touted & talented members of the freshmen class (along with others on the team, of course) grow next season and beyond is exciting. The white-hot spotlight and media attention might not be as frenzied or burn as brightly as it did at the beginning of this year, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

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KU BALLS is proud of what this year’s team accomplished, and is pleased to induct the items pictured above (with the exception of the Donnie Darko poster) into its halls to commemorate the 2013-2014 season.


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