A couple of things to keep an eye out on in Kansas' Friday night regular season opener with Southeast Missouri State are seniors Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson and how they respond after essentially being challenged by head coach Bill Self.
Heading into the Jayhawks matchup with Southeast Missouri State, Self was pretty clear in his meeting with media of needing see more from both. With Withey, the idea is to be more aggressive and get back to doing what made him successful a year ago.
A guy that big has got to be able to block and he's got to be able to go get it after he blocks it or go get contested rebounds in traffic," Self said. "That's what he can really improve on that last year. He did an okay job with it but Thomas (Robinson) got most of those. And Jeff needs to be the guy that delivers that for us, and every team needs one that can do that, and he needs to be the guy for us."
With Johnson, it's a different challenge. In that he will be the primary ball handler after the graduation of Tyshawn Taylor. For Johnson, it's all about relaxing and continuing to improve.
"The thing about it is Elijah's trying to do what he thinks we want him to do but he's forgot about playing. It's what he does best. He's thinking instead of playing, too, because it's a different deal for him so everybody's going to have to kind of adjust, so to speak," Self said.
As the season is set to begin, one certainty is that Johnson is vital to how far Kansas will go this year, as leader on the court and in the locker room. His importance is not lost on him or his coach.
"Elijah's probably as important a player as we've had in our program to the success of our team as anybody we've had since I've been here. You know, Aaron Miles would rival it. We used to run offense for Aaron to handle pressure, initiate it, and let's make sure we get the ball back to him so he can make the pass to finish the play. Elijah's not quite to there but we'll rely on Elijah more than we relied on Ty because we don't have a second handler as much. Ty could take possession as often as Elijah can do it. This year it's going to be a little different because our second handler is Travis (Releford). Last year, he was our third handler so it's going to be a little bit different for him. The ball needs to be in his hands and that's why he's got to be very, very good for us." Self said.
Both players grew tremendously in 2011-12, but in their final year at Kansas, it'll be the growth this year that will take them further than they could have imagine and could be the catalyst behind the Jayhawks success in 2012-13.