NCAA Final Four: Travis Releford, Playing an Old Man's Game
NEW ORLEANS -- In many ways it has been the dominant post offense of Thomas Robinson and the quick slashing drives to the basket of Tyshawn Taylor that have been the story for Kansas this season. At least that's the story that most are telling about this year's surprise team. Maybe you've heard about the athleticism of Elijah Johnson or the leadership of recently announced Naismith Coach of the Year Bill Self.
While those have all been major plots to the unfinished drama, there is a story that is not being repeated over the air of sports radio and ESPN. He is a fourth year redshirt junior from Kansas City. Not the Jayhawk side of town, Travis Releford was raised in the rival territory of Missouri.
It was in his sophomore year of high school that Releford transferred from Central High School on the Missouri side of Kansas City to Bishop Miege, a private catholic school in the quiet Kansas suburb of Fairway.
He brings a calming presence to the team in the locker room and on the court. He does not play with the speed of Taylor, the power of Robinson, or the athleticism of Johnson. Instead he plays with deceptive quickness, and intelligence. He plays with a smoothness that never seems to be affected by the pressure of the game.
"He has the best old man's game of anybody I've ever seen for a young guy," Self said describing Releford's style of play following a 16-point, 11-rebound performance against Kansas State.
Travis Releford is redshirt junior. He's been in the program for four years. He has accepted his role as a role player. It is so rare to find a player in this age that has gone through the recruiting process of being ranked as a top recruit in his class, awarded a scholarship to one of college basketball's most celebrated programs and is still willing to sit on the bench for three years before joining the starting rotation.
The best players struggled for Kansas in the first half of their Final Four game against Ohio State. Releford remained calm, waiting for his opportunities to be revealed. Just before the end of the half, Travis caught a pass running full speed, took a dribble and barely got off a lay-up to bring Kansas within nine as the half-time buzzer sounded. It was a play that can't be overstated. It was a play that made a comeback feel possible after an awful half by the Jayhawks.
In the second half with the game on the line, Releford stepped to the free-throw line, a spot on the floor that has not been kind to him ever since his days back at Bishop Miege. He knocked down both shots. Just a minute later he made it to the hoop yet again and was fouled. Yet again, he knocked down both shots.
After the game a reporter asked Travis about those free throws, he said he did the same thing he always does; dribble the ball three times and shot it. It was the response that a champion would give. More importantly it was the response of a player that has grown into a man in his time at Kansas.
As Releford entered the team's hotel lobby an hour or so after putting on a game winning performance in what was the biggest game of his life the crowd cheered him, chanting "MVP! MVP! MVP!"
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