With the next game still six days away, this week the Kansas men’s basketball team will shift their focus from the court to the classroom. The freshmen are about to experience yet another part of their “new” life – final exams. Basketball will be in the background this week and will act as more of a release or a “break” from studying. Thanks to Saturday’s win against Cal, the Jayhawks head into their “break” with a positive outlook. Head Coach Bill Self’s fragile young team got a much-needed confidence boost by playing their best basketball of the season in the second half vs. the Bears. Part of the reason KU was able to overcome its Pac-10 foe – senior guard Stephen Vinson. Phog.net thinks this is the perfect time to point out fans and players can learn a lot from the former walk-on.
I remember the very first Kansas practice I attended. I marveled at the quality of play from Stephen Vinson and Nick Bahe. It wasn’t the flash – let’s be honest – they’re not going to throw down any rim-shaking jams anytime soon, they’re not going to sky above the rim to block a shot, and they’re not going to throw one around their backs in traffic. They grabbed my attention because of how hard they worked and how hard they made their teammates work. If one of these guys was guarding you I guarantee you left the gym knowing you worked for whatever you got.
Their foot speed was lacking and chances are they weren’t going to have an easy time creating off the dribble, but you better not leave them open because they would make you pay by burying the J.
Neither player lacked enthusiasm. No matter what drill was being run or how many times they were asked to play defense against the starters – they clapped, they smiled and most of all, they worked.
Every team needs guys like these - players who aren’t necessarily blessed with god-given athletic ability and superior skills. These are guys who have truly had to work for whatever they’ve gotten.
One of the things I appreciate most about Coach Self is that he rewards these players. He proves that hard work, blood, sweat, and tears will get you somewhere in life and in basketball. Vinson is playing right now because he’s EARNED that opportunity through his work in practice, just like he earned the scholarship that allowed him to shed the “walk-on” label.
Micah Downs can shoot it, Brandon Rush is so incredibly talented, Julian Wright is the definition of versatile, Mario Chalmers can score from the point guard position, but Vinson does the all the things that don’t show up in the box score that Self believes are so critical to a team’s success. Vinson may not lead in any statistical categories but he leads in the intangibles, not to mention he’s in his fourth year, while the aforementioned quartet are in the fledgling stages of their careers. They’re learning – hopefully they’re learning a lot from Stephen.
The early stages of the game vs. Cal brought questions from some fans. Is Self the right coach for KU? Why doesn’t his system work? Those were just a few of the inquiries being batted around. Once KU got it going in the latter part of the first half did that mean the system and the coaching suddenly got better? Or did the senior Vinson simply come in and do the things necessary to win games and execute the offense?
Remember the old K-I-S-S philosophy? Keep it simple stupid? Well that’s really what Stephen does for this KU squad. He’s a stabilizing force in a sometimes not-so-stable environment.
So why do the players with the pedigrees not perform up to the level expected? We’ve mentioned it before – there will be ups and downs with this team and Self looks to the older guys like Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody, Stephen Vinson, to be the “rocks” he can count on. Put simply, a guy like Vinson doesn’t try to do more than he’s capable of. He values the basketball, he moves it and he plays solid defense. Brandon, Micah, Mario, C.J., etc…right now they are at times, victims of their own ability. They ARE capable of many things which in turn results in them trying to do MORE instead of remaining within the team concept. In high school, things came easy for the four stars but now they’re being asked to fit within a team concept and give effort like they never have. Again, they’re learning and seeing someone like Stephen can only help speed up that learning curve.
On his Hawk Talk Radio show yesterday, Self pointed to one statistic he feels was primarily responsible for the win. Times on the floor – KU 17 Cal 7…Christian and Stephen combined for eight of the 17 times on the floor – the rest of the team eight. Don’t think Self won’t point to that statistic and say, “Fellas, this is what it takes to win games – and these guys are doing it.”
If you’re one of those people who needs to see more proof in the numbers, check out Vinson’s stat line for the year. 6 Games played, 10.0 minutes a game, 16 points, 6 rebounds, 6-6 FT, 4-8 FG, 2-6 3-pt FG, 3 steals, 13 assists, 3 TO’s – put a circle around the last two numbers because that’s proof he’s a stabilizing force for KU this season. Against Cal, Vinson had six assists to only one turnover.
Senior Stephen Vinson may end up teaching this young squad a valuable lesson by the end of the season.
"How can you not respect someone who feels worse than anyone else in the gym? Also who practices harder than anyone? He should be the standard on how we base our effort. There is nobody close to how Stephen competes,” Self stated after the Cal game Saturday. “He had five assists in the first half. He's a ball mover. Stephen pays attention to detail more than anyone."