Been There Done That

After KU received its 11th one seed and the second overall seed Sunday, four Kansas seniors walked to the podium and channeled their inner Bill Self.

After KU received its 11th one seed and the second overall seed Sunday, four Kansas seniors walked to the podium and channeled their inner Bill Self.

You could hear the voices of experience, focus, determination, and joy. Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, and Travis Releford knew to appreciate the label but to remember the magnitude of the task in front of them.

"Most teams tend to use it as an advantage and that's how we plan use it," said Johnson reminding reporters KU can't rest on it's recent conference titles. "We just want to show why we are a one seed."

"It's not going to be easy," said Jeff Withey who is a 5th year senior. "We gotta look at everything like a two-day tournament almost." We know we are going to get everybody's best shot."

"Just to hear someone call you a one seed it means that you've been one of the best performing teams around. It's an honor to be a one seed," Johnson said.

"We're excited about it, happy to be one seed and know now that the goal is not to be a one seed it's to go play like a one seed," said Self.

I asked Coach Self if he had to talk to this group about what types of pitfalls the NCAA tournament could bring or not because it seems like Johnson, Withey, and Releford have seen all this tournament has to offer in during their years in crimson and blue. He immediately answered "They have".

He said to expect the unexpected in this tournament but it's doubtful anything will catch this group off guard.

Taking any opponent for granted won't be an issue. They don't need to be reminded what can happen if one day they don't bring energy or bring their best effort. There have been some harsh reminders of what happens when pressures of being one of the top overall seeds can get to you. Stinging losses like the ones to Northern Iowa and VCU are still fresh in their minds.

"It's not the most talented team we've had at Kansas in my four years," assessed Elijah. "My freshman year with Sherron, and my sophomore year with the twins those are some good teams. I felt like we had targets on our backs then and we didn't respond the way we should have."

"We've been in this situation before. We've been on teams that have been the number one seed and didn't come out with the outcome we expected so we are going into this and looking to play every game at our best and we're not looking down on any team," Releford said.

"This is a more humble team," Johnson continued. "I don't feel like we're those old teams. I feel like we know that we're not the best talented team but we're going to go out there and work as hard and we're going to go out there and do whatever we have to do. Whether that's to turn the defense up or anything that we need to do."

The veteran leadership Kansas has in the starting lineup has seen the upsets, felt the disappointment, and experienced the exultation a deep, unexpected tournament run like last year can produce.

"This group right here (Kevin Young, Withey, and Releford) - we know that March is about defense it's really not about offense," Johnson told reporters. "You get to the tournament because you can play offense but it's about who can stop a team when you can't score. We learned that last year that was something we didn't know before going through the month of March last year and we all learned that. I feel like with all of us being seniors this year we bring that to the table and there's a lot of teams in this tournament that don't have that."

"We got different pieces on this team," said Young while comparing this team to last year's. "Everybody does something different like Elijah said we are all starting to mold together and come together as a team so I don't think we really need to take too much from last year's team. I think we just keep building on what we have right now."

While digesting the lessons of the past are critical Young is right. This team is different.

"We got four seniors that all play a big part and constantly remind each other about how much we have to work and all the little things that we have to do," said Young.

Definitely not the favorite of two years ago but also not in the disrespected underdog role of a year ago. This team is right in the middle and inside the locker room the players know what gets you to March and what takes you deep into March.

It doesn't hurt that four seniors will be playing with a sense of urgency knowing the next game could be the last.

"For me personally, I know I'm going to go out there and play my heart out," said Withey who led the NCAA tournament in blocked shots a season ago. "I don't want to go home sad. I know these guys don't want to end their season prematurely so we are going to go out there and we're going to do what we do. We're going to play and we're going to play hard."

"I also think it helps when we remind each other that we're only guaranteed one game. Once we look at it like that then I think with us knowing this is our last go that we just go out there and give it our all," said Releford.

As far as how far the experience Self has will carry this team even he says he doesn't know but he hopes not having to remind these guys of any possible scenario will be an advantage.

Withey knew right away to deflect attention from who might be ahead in the bracket. He knows that Self views the first two rounds as a two game tournament and right now Western Kentucky is the only focus.

"We have a lot of work to do preparing for this team before we even start thinking about the next one," said Withey.

And when you're unquestioned leader, you're NCAA Tournament star of a year ago, steps to the podium and announces with conviction that he feels things are rounding into form perfectly with this team you believe him.

"I feel like right now is the best time. Everything is happening perfect timing. Everything feels natural, everything feels in place. There's no struggle with anything that we're doing right now. Everything feels fluent."

"I will say this about this team," Self continued, "there's less margin for error because the talent level may not be as great as what it has been with some of our other teams but when we play good we play as good as any of our other teams we had."


Phog.net Top Stories