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What Christian Braun’s NBA Championship Means For Kansas Basketball

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas

Former Kansas guard Christian Bruan became a champion once again this week when the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 94-89 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Winning trophies is nothing new for Braun. He won three straight state high school titles while playing at Blue Valley Northwest, a Kansas City metro area high school. In his final collegiate season, Braun helped lead the Jayhawks to a national championship. Now NBA champion is added to his resume.

Braun is one of five former Kansas players to win a national title with the Jayhawks and then go on to win an NBA title. Clyde Lovellete, Wilt Chamberlain, Mario Chalmers, and Sasha Kahn were previous Jayhawks to win a national title in college and the pros. Braun is also one of five players in NBA history to win an NCAA national title and an NBA championship in back-to-back seasons. He joins Bill Russell, Henry Bibby, Magic Johnson, and Billy Thompson in that rare club.

 

In an instant-gratification society, seeing a player like Braun work his way up from an off-the-bench role player during his freshman season to a major contributor on a national championship team is becoming rare. This past offseason alone, the Jayhawks lost eight players to the transfer portal. We are living in an era of college basketball where the transfer portal continues to be more crowded each passing year, a story like Braun’s may be an advantage in recruiting for Kansas head coach Bill Self going forward.

The Jayhawks needed to win the transfer portal this year with all of the movement happening within the program, between graduates and transfers, and Self adjusted while adding the top player in the portal in Hunter Dickinson. Self will need to play a balancing act in future years. This year, bringing in three freshmen who can make meaningful contributions in year one will be a good start. Elmarko Jackson, Jamari McDowell, and Marcus Adams will all be names to keep an eye on.

 

Self will be able to point to Braun’s success story as a way to convince players to stick around the program, even if they aren’t getting a lot of playing time early in their careers. During Braun’s freshman year at Kansas, he came off the bench to average 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. His playing time, and his numbers, increased each year he was on campus in Lawrence. During his sophomore season he emerged as a starter, averaging close to 10 points per game.In Braun’s final season at KU, he averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, and nearly three assists per game. His spectacular play in the NCAA tournament in 2022 put eyes on him heading into the NBA combine season, and he ultimately decided to make that jump to the next level.

Braun was selected by the Denver Nuggets with the 21st overall pick. Many people were surprised he was taken that early, but it ended up being a perfect fit for both the player and the team. Braun, like early in his collegiate career at Kansas, began his NBA career in a reserve role. He averaged just 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 76 regular season games. He ended up starting six games for Denver as they clinched the top seed in the Western Conference and rested some of the regulars down the stretch. Braun was a spark off the bench for the Nuggets throughout the playoffs, but especially in the NBA Finals. He made a splash in Game 3, leading the Nuggets with 15 points off the bench. One of the highlight plays of the game was a Braun steal taken coast-to-coast for a dunk.

 

Self was in attendance for the Game 5 series-clinching win and was able to watch Braun and his teammates hoist the trophy in a postgame celebration. Self even took a selfie with his former player. Recruits love seeing that stuff on Twitter and Instagram these days. Self can tap into that moving forward.

Self got a local kid from Overland Park, Kansas to commit to the Jayhawks. He got the kid to buy in and keep working toward the goal of ultimately becoming a national champion and first-round draft pick. That led to the same kid becoming an NBA champion during his rookie season in the league. That’s one heck of a story and one that Self can use for future recruiting classes.

It will be difficult to duplicate the type of success Braun has enjoyed over the past several years, from high school championships to an NCAA championship and ultimately an NBA title. Braun’s college story may be one that is becoming more and more rare, but it is one that Kansas and its fans will cling to for years to come.

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