Here's an observation:
Travis Releford is a soft-spoken kid.
In front of the media he's always polite and humble, shoving any questions about personal success on to the shoulders of his teammates. He seems, as do many young athletes, slightly uncomfortable with a score of microphones, reporters notebooks and cameras in his face.
Here's another observation:
Winning the Big 12 Player of the Week award is a pretty big deal.
Sure, Kansas fans may have gotten used to seeing a representative from their team take home the weekly conference honor. That's a testament to the caliber of player that has walked the hallowed hardwood of Allen Fieldhouse during the tenure of Head Coach Bill Self. It doesn't make the award any less special.
Thomas Robinson has already been tabbed for the honor a handful of times this season. Monday, Releford was selected for the first time in his career, and deservedly so (but more on that later). Later that afternoon, during the program's weekly press conference in the Fieldhouse media room, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior small forward was asked how it felt to win the award.
His answer was classic Travis Releford.
"When I first heard about it, I was a little surprised," he said. "I've never been Big 12 Player of the Week, or came close to it. I'm just happy about it I guess."
Concise, to the point and, as always, understated.
Of course, Self was more effusive in his praise for Releford, who Monday was coming off two career performances in the week prior. In the Jan. 4 conference opener versus Kansas State, he posted a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Three days later, in Norman, Okla., he exploded for 28 points - as well as three rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals - versus the Sooners.
On the defensive end, Releford has become a monster, using his length, strength and athleticism to hound opposing guards - such as Kansas State standout Rodney McGruder, whom he effectively nullified in the first half of the victory over the Wildcats, helping Kansas to build an ultimately insurmountable lead.
In practices of late, Self said Releford has ramped up the aggression, which provided a hint that a breakout was coming.
"To me, the problem I have with Travis - when I do have one - is that he loses some aggressiveness sometimes," he explained. "He's been more aggressive. I think he's worry about things you can't control every night. You can control your energy and loose balls, and defense. You can control that. And when you worry about the right things it seems like you naturally score more."
Many of Releford's 28 points versus Oklahoma came in transition or when attacking the basket, but he's fashioned himself into a weapon from beyond the arc of late as well. In the two recent games, he was a combined 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
His percentages have always been high, Self said, but now he's shooting with confidence and become someone opposing teams cannot afford to leave open. In short, he's making himself a more complete offensive threat - but it still begins and ends with the defense.
Releford knows his bread is buttered on the defensive end. As Self said, he knows who he is - and that knowledge is both a rarity amongst college basketball players and one of his most valuable assets.
"Coaches get a lot of credit sometimes when players get better," Self added. "The biggest reason players get better is because they want to get better. Travis has a great attitude. I think that we coach them up pretty good. I'm not saying we don't - I think the majority of coaches out there do. But if you have a mindset that, 'Hey, I want to do something with this,' you're probably going to do it."
"We came out and we knew some things we'd have to do early on to get key wins," Releford added. "And Coach, he wanted me to stay aggressive and take what the defense is giving me. I'll continue to do that."