For the Kansas Jayhawks, the 2013-14 basketball season is arguably the most highly anticipated basketball season in the history of the program. Head coach Bill Self landed arguably the nation's top recruiting class and with a group of returning players that make up a nice nucleus, Kansas has it's sights set on another National Championship banner to hang in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
The eyes of the college basketball world will be focus upon Lawrence, Kansas, but leave it to the ever even keeled Self to keep things in perspective as his 11th season atop Mount Oread begins.
"From what I can tell this is the most anticipated start of the season that we've had since I've been here. But I'm not sure that's 100 percent reliable because I don't talk to a great portion of the fan base. But based on what people have told me there seems to be no shortage of anticipation."
"I think this team is different than most the teams we've had here if not all the teams we've had here. We are as deep as we've ever been. We've had as many good players in the gym as we've ever had. And we certainly are long and can play with five or six bigs where in years past we have been a little limited in doing so. It really doesn't make a huge difference except in practice unless injuries occur and foul trouble occurs. We have had success playing primarily six guys and we've had success playing nine or 10 guys. I do think it's a team that can play with more reckless abandon especially defensively because foul problems hopefully won't be as big a concern as it has been in years past. I'm excited, we are talented, but by no means do we know how to play and by no means are we ready to play,"
In Self's words lie the best fact about the possibilities that surround the Kansas program heading into this season. In addition to being supremely talented, they are extremely versatile and will be able to beat teams in many ways. The possibilities will make for a nightmare for opposing coaches looking for ways to beat them, particularly when conference play gets underway in January.
Before that, the Jayhawks will run a brutal gauntlet of a non conference schedule, that includes great teams such as Duke, Florida, New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State, just to name a few. KU will almost taste defeat more than once, as even with this collection of talent, they'll experience growing pains.
"I think maybe this year we overextended ourselves a little bit; I think we go Duke, three games in Atlantis, at Florida, Georgetown, San Diego State and New Mexico. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I don't know if there is any team in America that would be doing anything like that. But I do like the fact that we are playing a hard schedule. But hard schedules expose yourself, what your true weaknesses are. So it's not camouflaged by maybe playing some opponents that you can get by with some things. In the end it will help us playing a hard schedule, there is no question about that," Self said.
The dreams of Jayhawks fans everywhere were set into motion with the recruiting class that self and his staff brought in, culminating with the jaw dropping addition of Andrew Wiggins late last spring.
"Getting Andrew is something that made people, maybe even nationally, look at us in a different light. We've recruited a lot of good players but we haven't really had a ton of success recruiting the top three or four players in their respective classes in the country. He obviously has that distinction. I think from a standpoint of other recruits it brings instant attention to our program. But after he gets here none of that matters anymore. He's very talented and has a ton of potential, but he's just a freshman. He's going to find his way like everyone else. The expectation that have been put on him by outside factors or media members comparing him to this person or that person are really not fair at all. He has a chance to become a great player. I would not say he's a great player yet but is a great prospect. And hopefully he will develop in a way where he can become a great player quickly."
In addition to Wiggins, Kansas adds dynamic wings Brannen Greene and Wayne Selden, sharpshooter Conner Frankamp, strong point guard Frank Mason, big man Joel Embiid and if that wasn't enough, they finished it up with Memphis transfer Tarik Black, a bruiser who wants to end his college basketball career on the ultimate high note, while serving as a leader on the court and in the locker room.
While the talent is insane, it will come with an added pressure, as the Jayhawks will firmly have a target on their backs, a spot that in reality comes as nothing to the Jayhawks. Still, despite the collection of talent, Self will be the first to tell people that nobody is bigger than the program at Kansas and the goal is and will always be the team.
"This year may be a little bit different because people are saying so many good things about a group of kids that have done absolutely nothing, from a collegiate standpoint. In their minds they think they are ready, but even in the short time they have been here they realize that this is a little bit different than what they had anticipated. I don't think it will be a huge problem but certainly it's going to be one that we have to talk about a lot and if we can focus in on us being good, it will work. If we focus in on the individuals being good it won't work, because if we are good that means the individuals have played very, very well themselves individually. You can have a guy play well and our team stink but it would be hard for our team to be really good and not look at our team and say ‘Hey, that kid preformed pretty well.'"
In the age of one and done players in college basketball, Kansas hasn't exactly been known as a destination for them, but with this class, the future could be altered, opening the Kansas program to any and everybody. This is of course could have some drawbacks as well, not that it should sway Self and his staff from recruiting them.
With the extra riches comes some pressure, but it's a challenge that Self, often the coolest guy in the room embraces.
"Since I have been here I have never felt any pressure. I think there is pressure being a coach at a high-profile place all the time. But is there extra pressure? No. I think that my staff has done pretty good job in developing guys and certainly a lot of it falls on me, I know, but we aren't going to please everybody. Certainly we are going to go through ups and downs where people think we shouldn't be going through downs, but usually the downs are what allow us to be good in the end. So we won't get hung up on that, but is there pressure for us to be good? There is every year. But the ultimate responsibility still falls, if you're talking about developing individuals, on the individuals and we've got to put them in the right spots and certainly allow them to utilize their skill set and motivate them a certain way, but still they've got to want to work. If wanting to work is not part of the equation, then the individuals will never live up to the hype. But if this group wants to work, I do think there is a chance they could all be pretty pleased in the end."
If they do gel together and with the already talented players that will make up the returning members of this Kansas team, their fans' wildest dreams will be realized inside AT&T Stadium in early April, the same stadium where their biggest nightmares were realized this past March. With the greatest collection of talent to grace a Kansas basketball floor, a happier ending can be written.