Jayhawks prep for exhibition tour

Saturday, Head Coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks held the last of 10 allotted practices before embarking on an exhibition trip to France and Switzerland. The program opted to give media access to the full practice - as well as the players and coaches afterward - and Phog.net was on the sidelines. Here are a few impressions and notes from the action.

* Bill Self sees everything. I have no idea how he does it, but he misses nothing on the court. During a fast-break drill the players were running at the beginning of practice, most of us were just tracking the ball on its way to the hoop. Not Self. He was barking at freshman Perry Ellis for not being in correct position to rebound, or Elijah Johnson for not timing a pass correctly.

Toward the end of practice, he pulled 10 guys back onto the floor and drew up a new play like it was nothing. Point guard Naadir Tharpe asked him what he should call out when Self told them to run it, and he responded with "I don't know." So that's what they called it.

* Speaking of Ellis, he's going to be good. Actually, let's back up here for a moment. There needs to be a rather sizable caveat attached to this entire article. It was one practice. Late Night in the Phog is still more than two months away. A starting lineup hasn't been set.

So anyway - Perry Ellis. There's just not a whole lot the kid can't do on the court offensively. He scored over both shoulders with hooks, he showed smooth footwork in position himself for looks, he drove the lane and hit mid-range jumpers. He's an extremely versatile player and the staff pushed him hard. It's obvious they see a great deal of potential in him.

* Ben McLemore is another oft-mentioned newcomer - well, technical newcomer anyway. Fans have been drooling over the thought of him in Kansas uniform for more than a year, and now his time has finally come.

He's an ultra-exciting talent, and the year he spent redshirting has done him some serious good. He looks bigger, stronger and more athletic, which is saying something as he's always been a skywalker. He showed an understanding of how Self wants him to play defense, and he scored. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well during either of the basketball camp scrimmages this summer, but that changed Saturday. He cashed a trio of threes during the first quarter of a 40-minute scrimmage, tallying double digit points before a minor leg injury (He said he was fine afterward, so step off the ledge) sidelined him for the rest of practice.

* Fellow redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor is going to draw a boatload of comparisons to Thomas Robinson for the way he plays, so people may as well get used to it now. It's not that anyone is expecting him to come out and be a first-team All-American and top five pick in the NBA Draft. Putting those type of expectations on any player who has yet to play a minute of college basketball is completely unreasonable.

It's just that their games share similarities. Traylor is a little shorter and a little smaller overall, though still possessed of an impressive physique courtesy of Andrea Hudy, and showed an absolutely relentless drive on the glass. Additionally, he's an extremely explosive athlete who had a couple of powerful dunks in traffic.

* Writing about Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey is tough. On a team full of unknown - if highly regarded - talents, these three are the rocks. They each played a major role in Kansas' incredible run to the national championship game last year, and as returning starters will be asked to shoulder the leadership load.

Saturday, they looked like better versions of their junior selves, which probably has something to do with added confidence and self-assurance. This is their team now, after all. Elijah looked at home running the point, Travis was a lockdown defender who seemed more aggressive offensively and Jeff not only blocked his standard handful of shots but looked more comfortable and assertive in making scoring moves in the post.

Such a luxury for Kansas to have at this point.

* Though it's their team, they won't have to lead alone. After an up and down freshman year during which he struggled to find a place in the rotation and on the floor, Naadir Tharpe has had an excellent summer insofar as public scrimmages go, and Saturday he continued that trend.

In this group, he's practically a wily veteran despite being just a sophomore, and he shows no hesitancy in taking control and directing traffic as a point guard should. Even working against Johnson with the ball he was under control, knifing through traffic for layups when appropriate, distributing the basketball and hitting a couple of deep jumpers. It seems like it will be tough for any of the freshman guards to steal his spot as EJ's backup this season.

* Speaking of freshman guards, Milton Doyle has one heck of a poker face. Seriously, he never changed expression once during the almost two hours of practice - asking questions, taking instruction and just soaking everything in.

He played primarily off the ball and was on fire with his jumper - by my count he didn't miss a shot until the fourth quarter of play - but his unflappable demeanor was probably the most impressive thing about him. Most freshmen talk about the game moving too quickly at first, but it just didn't seem as if Doyle was afflicted with that particular malady. He just always looked so under control. He's also fairly tall (Looked to be of a height with EJ), a nice athlete and has some seriously long arms, so the potential is there for him to be a great defender.

* Andrew White's shot wasn't falling during the scrimmage, but during drill work it looked as good as advertised. He's a shooter, it was just an off day. He's big, looks every bit of 6-foot-6 and has an impressive physique. He also had the play of the day when, in the half court, he shook Releford with a behind the back dribble and burst into the lane for an acrobatic layup over the defending bigs.

* If any of their number looked a little hesitant or lost out there, it was Anrio Adams. Which absolutely makes sense. While they haven't been able to practice officially with coaches, the team can play pickup, and the other freshmen have been on campus for a month longer than Adams, learning from each other and adjusting to the enhanced level of play. Adams is still finding his sea legs.

He did show a couple of flashes though. He's so quick and is an exceptional athlete. He handled the point guard duties when he was on the floor and appeared to play more minutes than anyone else by a fair margin. The staff rode him hard, but they were also there with the encouragement when he made a good play.

* After covering the Jayhawks last season, I wondered how in the world they would replace Robinson's presence on the glass. It's not as if anything has been proven definitively or that curiosity allayed for good, but after watching Zach Peters and Landen Lucas - as well as Traylor, Ellis, White and McLemore - I'm much more confident they can do so, and maybe more.

Peters is a little bit more of a polished offensive threat than Lucas, flashing some of the ability Ellis has to use a quick first step to get by his opponents away from the hoop. Lucas is stronger on the block and able to establish deeper position, so its a contrast in styles. Peters is likely a four, Lucas a five.

Both played extremely physical basketball Saturday, which is encouraging. Peters in particular was diving on the floor for loose balls and basically throwing his body in front of metaphorical trains to grab rebounds, which appeared to please the staff. Less pleasing were the seven or so fouls he racked up during the scrimmage due to over exuberance and poor positioning.

After a season during which they were extremely thin in the post, there are a glut of bodies working for a spot in the rotation now. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

* Last but certainly not least - Kevin Young. Young helped the team immensely in tight spots last season as an Energizer Bunny of sorts who, despite his thin frame, used his athleticism to grab key rebounds and buckets. It's not inconceivable he could player a bigger role this season by any means, but he continued to do those same things Saturday, slashing in for boards, blocks and dunks.

* Oh, and the competitive spirit the guys showed was exciting to see. It may have just been a practice but they treated every three-pointer and dunk as if it were a game. They sold out for boards, played tough defense and worked at a really, really fast pace. There was a ton of energy in the building, and it's hard to ask for more as they prepare for their exhibition trip.

That's all for now! Be sure to keep up with KUAthletics.com for coverage of Kansas basketball during the next week, as they take on the Swiss National Team and professionals from France.


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