LAWRENCE, Kan. — The first year Bill Self took charge of the proud Kansas basketball program, his Jayhawks finished second in the Big 12 regular season race.
They haven't done that poorly since.
The 70-66 victory Sunday at Missouri gave the No. 2 Jayhawks sole possession of their seventh consecutive regular-season championship in one of the toughest leagues in the country.
Since 2004, Kansas players have come and gone, been injured, left early for the NBA or just decided to transfer. At the same time, other conference schools have poured millions into their own programs and hired top coaches who signed highly sought All-Americans and helped make the Big 12 a premier basketball league.
But not once in all that time has Self's Kansas team failed to bring home the trophy. Some years they've been tied for the title. But they've never been beaten out of it.
Rivals have been astounded by this achievement and fans have probably been spoiled. It's a run of regular season titles not seen in a BCS-level conference since John Wooden's UCLA teams won 13 straight.
A panel of sports writers and broadcasters, not surprisingly, made Self their overwhelming choice Monday as Associated Press Big 12 coach of the year.
"It's pretty amazing," said Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon. "Bill's done a great job. I've been here four years and it seems like every time we play them they're ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country. They have a toughness, and they win road games other teams can't win."
Probably no one admires Self more than Kansas State's Frank Martin, who was one of two Big 12 coaches to actually beat him this season.
"For Kansas to do what they've done, seven consecutive years, is remarkable," Martin said. "It's a credit to Bill Self. It's a credit to his assistants, to their recruiting, their consistency in handling young men, making them perform, and getting people to coexist and put their egos aside and play and compete. That's hard to do one year. But to do it seven years in a row is just amazing."
Self drew 16 of 22 votes from people who regularly cover the Big 12. Turgeon had three votes, Colorado's Tad Boyle had two and Martin one.
It's the third time in his eight seasons at Kansas that the affable Oklahoma native has won the honor.
"I appreciate that people recognize the success we've had, and this is going to sound like coach-speak, but it really is the players who win championships," Self said.
That may be. But ever since he began his head coaching career at Oral Roberts in 1993, success and championships have followed Self around like a puppy. Oral Roberts was not affiliated with a conference, but he took the long-downtrodden program to the NIT in his fourth year.
His Tulsa team finished first in its league his last two years and won a school-record 32 games in 2000. In three years at Illinois, he brought home two Big Ten titles.
Altogether, in his last 11 seasons as a head coach, Self's teams have won nine conference championships. The other two times? They fell all the way to second place.
Of all the championships in his trophy case, this year's was perhaps the most improbable. The Jayhawks lost two NBA lottery picks off last year's team as well as playmaking guard Sherron Collins. They also had injuries, suspensions and the tragic death of one player's mother, yet still finished 29-2 overall and 14-2 in the league, losing only to Texas and Kansas State.
It's a record to be proud of, and Self is genuine enough to admit that he is. He's also been fretting over something he's not so proud of.
"I've got to do a better job of showing our guys how much I appreciate their efforts," he said. "Their efforts have been unbelievable. They've been absolutely remarkable. It's been that way ever since we've been here. But certainly here of late, the last few years, these guys have done some things that I never in my wildest dreams would have thought they could accomplish from a winning standpoint."
When they beat Texas A&M to clinch at least a tie for this year's title, Self wouldn't let his players wear their "championship" T-shirts because there was another game to play, at Missouri.
When they won that game to claim the title outright, it was on the road so nobody cut down the nets.
"I think we're 62-5 the last two years, and we haven't celebrated yet," he said. "I think one thing I've done a very poor job of with my team is always talking about next game. And they've become very robotic in thinking next game, which is good in an NBA season.
"But in a college season, hey, this is a big deal to win a championship. And we need to enjoy the wins more from this point forward."