SAN ANTONTIO (BP)–Before Kansas goes for its first NCAA championship in 20 years, the Jayhawks players will watch more video of the Memphis Tigers and review their game plan one last time.
But one Kansas player, freshman guard Tyrel Reed will engage in what he sees as an equally critical preparation — reading his Bible and joining the team in prayer.
“I can’t play a game unless I read my Bible first,” Reed told Baptist Press.
The Jayhawks, coached by Bill Self, a professing Christian, punched their ticket to the national title game with a semifinal rout of North Carolina, but despite the joy of victory, a number of Kansas coaches and players are keeping their focus on the main thing regardless of tonight’s outcome.
“God has given us this platform and He deserves all the glory,” assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said. “We’re going to give the glory to Him.”
Townsend added, “Tuesday morning we’re still going to be praising Him. It’s another opportunity to witness to others and to know God.”
Assistant coach Ronnie Chalmers, a Wayland Baptist University graduate, said he marvels at how God has placed the team at the brink of NCAA glory.
“I’m a big believer that God has a plan for this team. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my pastor, and our prayer is, What you do, do it well,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers and others praised Self not for his bold, verbal witness, but for setting a moral and Christian standard for the team.
“The Bible says it helps when two or more are in agreement,” Chalmers said. “God will be there also. Coach Self, Coach Townsend and myself, we don’t pray together, but we each pray and His Word says the Spirit dwells within us.”
While Kansas players and coaches pray before and after every game, as many teams do, they also pray before every practice.
“We’ve been doing that ever since Coach Self got here,” Townsend said.
Junior center Matt Kleinmann said he traveled with Self when the coach gave his testimony at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes coaches forum two years ago, and he felt blessed to be playing for a fellow Christian.
“Sometimes with a coach, there is a bunch of yelling back and forth, but it’s good to talk with them as a Christian brother,” Kleinmann said.
Neither Kleinmann nor Reed start for the Jayhawks, but each said their faith keeps them grounded in the highs and lows of college basketball.
“These players have overcome a lot to be here,” Kleinmann said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys grow in their faith on this team and that’s thanks to Him.”
Townsend’s faith was tested when he was fired as an assistant coach at the University of Miami after only one year following the 2004 season.
“Being fired after only one year is the toughest thing possible,” Townsend said, “but we don’t always know what is best.”
The following year, Self was hired at Kansas and one of his first hires was Townsend as an assistant coach.
Townsend said he learned of how God blesses a faithful witness 15 years ago — and being on the brink of a national title was only the latest chapter in his faith journey.
“Fifteen years ago, I was an assistant coach at California making $1,200 a month and looking for a career change. I had a faith-filled wife and she said we needed to pray and tithe our money. I found when you tithe your money, even $1,200, God will stretch it for all you need,” Townsend recounted.
“I had never even been to the Final Four in 17 years and now I have a front row seat for the final game. I’m a man of faith because I know God’s way works best.”
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press and director of ministry relations for Marketplace Ministries in Dallas.