Head Coach Bill Self returns a lineup decimated by graduation and transfers and as a result crucial points, rebounds, and experience are gone. KU’s leading returning scorer averaged less than six points a game last season and wasn’t even on scholarship at this time last year. Normally a situation like that would cause widespread panic throughout any program’s fan base. But for Kansas, forgive the cliché; the idea is not to rebuild, but to reload. Self has done that with three McDonald’s All-Americans and one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The Jayhawks' incoming stars will not automatically cure all that ails this year’s squad. There’s plenty of work to do and KU’s head coach lets Phog.net in on the secret to success for the 2005-2006 Jayhawks.
Boot camp is underway but the difficult morning training sessions are about much more than getting in shape, running suicides, and sharpening skills. It’s also about laying a solid foundation for a “team” atmosphere, something KU’s head coach feels is vital to the Jayhawks producing favorable results this season. Think about it…freshmen usually leave their high school as “the man” and arrive at a college campus to meet 14 others just like them. That can make for a locker room crowded with egos. It’s an adjustment but Self feels his entire team needs to check their personal agendas at the door.
“I think our freshmen have been great. I think our freshmen also realize even though some of these guys haven’t played much in the past, we have pretty good players. I see them fitting in very well as a group. They respect each other,” Self continued. “The young guys respect the guys that have been here and they certainly respect their abilities because I’m sure these guys are pleasantly surprised at how talented they are. I know our older guys certainly respect the talent level these guys have. I think they’re going to have a lot of fun together.”
After stating all that, Self was quick to emphatically explain what needs to transpire for this Kansas team to be the best it can be.
“But I also think this -- If they don’t buy into the team -- if we don’t buy into the team concept, and everybody pulling the rope in the same direction and understanding one night it may be Micah, one night it may be Julian, one night it may be Russell, one night it may be C.J. and everybody accept that and enjoy that this team won’t be as good as it can be. We’re going to have to rely on depth, and athletic ability, and guys really playing well together and not caring who the leading scorer is from night to night,” stated Self.
With youth comes inconsistency and fans will have to prepare to accept the good and the bad from each and every player, and from the team overall.
“We’ve got some really great young and talented guys that haven’t done it yet at this level and I think also the understanding is it will probably be someone different every night. It just has to be a team that really buys into the team concept because I could see with an inexperienced bunch like we have, guys could play two great games and then we’re going to have to rely on somebody else to win the game. That’s usually the way it is when you’re playing a bunch of guys that basically are going through it for the first time.”
No matter how talented they are, freshmen can’t replace seniors – they are raw and unproven in the college environment. A battle-tested senior contributes key intangibles not measured in points or rebounds, and yet so important to a team’s success. Who will provide the leadership? Who will exemplify the toughness necessary to compete in the Big 12 day-in and day-out? Those are just some of questions the Jayhawks will have to answer. With ten underclassmen Self points to some of the challenges his inexperienced bunch will face.
“I’d say probably mentally it would be being as tough as they have to play, combined with being consistent to be successful at this level,” Self said.
Hopefully these Jayhawks are quick learners because they may have to cram for their first test. Normally the beginning of the season is stacked with cupcakes but early on this squad will get their feet wet against quality competition. After facing Idaho State at home in the season-opener, KU will take part in the Maui Invitational where some of the game’s elite will be waiting.
“You want to allow yourself time to get ready to play, and with our schedule the negative is you’re playing such a competitive group early starting out in Maui with just the 2nd game of the season,” stated Self. “The positive thing is I think it puts pressure on your players to work harder to get ready for a tournament like that.”
This Jayhawk team will feature jaw-dropping athleticism, quality depth, explosiveness and quickness. These qualities will allow Self to pressure more defensively, and excel in the open court.
“I do think this team will be more versatile and a little bit more athletic-- and the best teams I’ve had in the past have had that. They’ve had a lot of interchangeable parts and some raw athletic quickness and I think this team definitely fits that description,” stated Self.
Though the positives are plenty, there are weaknesses that cannot be overlooked.
“We’ve got some serious question marks; like perimeter shooting, leadership and toughness. There are definitely some questions out there that haven’t been answered yet. But I do think this is going to be an awfully fun team to watch and a fun team to coach.”
The Big 12 will complete its first decade of competition this season and KU has been a mainstay in the conference title race. Kansas is expected to contend for Big 12 titles year-in and year-out, and it’s shown in the results. Five of the league’s nine championships belong to the Jayhawks so naturally I asked Coach Self to finish the following sentence; To contend for another Big 12 title this season Kansas has to…“Play beyond their years,” answered the KU coach.
Another conference title might be a tall order for such a young crop of talent but if the Jayhawks can remember that magic word – TEAM – I wouldn’t count them out of the Big 12 race just yet.