"This team needs to climb a mountain..."

As the final 30 seconds ticked off the clock in KU's shocking loss (78-71) to Oral Roberts Wednesday night, a scattering of Golden Eagles fans in Allen Fieldhouse chanted, "ORU, ORU." When the game ended, the chant got even louder. Soon, the Oral Roberts players were greeted by their fans behind the bench, who gave high-fives to their heroes.

For all Jayhawk fans, the unthinkable had happened. Sports Illustrated’s No. 1 team had been beaten at home by a team from the Mid-Continent Conference.

KU coach Bill Self talked afterward about how disappointed he was in the team’s lack of focus, energy, and preparation. Kansas mishandled passes, missed defensive assignments, and missed free throws (11-21 FT). Sophomore star forward Julian Wright even missed a dunk.

It just wasn’t KU’s night.

“This team needs to climb a mountain,” Self said about the great accolades and high expectations surrounding his club. “We can’t start there. We’re not mature enough, not hungry enough yet. ...I do think there’s a general mindset that, ‘Hey, no matter what, things are going to be OK.’ That’s not the way competitors and great teams are. They’re not OK, and you got to work to change them and prepare to change them all the time. We obviously need to do a much better job of that.”

Two days after the heartbreaking loss, Self elaborated on his feelings about his team and the SI cover (college basketball preview issue), which came out Wednesday and pictured the 6-8 Wright and “sidekick shooting guard” Mario Chalmers with the caption: “Big is Back: Will it be a big year for the Jayhawks?”

“Guys that have been on the past covers from Kansas are Pierce, Vaughn, Manning, Collison and Chamberlain,” Self said. “You just don't have guys on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It is great for us from an exposure standpoint, but these guys are still young and trying to find their way. We are not the most mature team to handle the things that have come our way.  We haven't earned what people thought of us, but we have earned what people have thought of us over the last 36 hours. Things like Sports Illustrated, if you are not very mature, can certainly make you think or forget why we played well last year.  We may have lost a little bit of edge that we had last year.  We won't be a very good team until we get that back and hopefully this will help us.”

Indeed, a wake-up call may be the best prescription the doctor could order for Kansas, which came out lackluster in practice since the big opening win against Northern Arizona (99-69) last Saturday night. Those bad practices carried over to Wednesday night’s poor showing. Self hopes, though, that the loss could eventually benefit his team.

"In the scope of long-term goals, I could see this happening,” he said. “It could be something we can look back on and say that this is something that helped our team.  In the short term, I don't see anything positive. I didn't see anything the other night where I thought we could tell our players we could build off this.  Over time, the mindset, the spoiledness, the softness, the lack of preparation and the non-aggressiveness may help us achieve our goals. I think it could be a positive for us, but it remains to be seen whether we are mature enough to spin a negative into a positive."

Self realizes his club has many areas to improve. Perhaps above all, he wants them to gain an identity.

"You have to develop that common denominator — toughness, energy, enthusiasm, things that you can fall back on when other things aren't going well,” Self said. “The thing that was the most disappointing the other night was we allowed them to be good and we didn't do anything to stop ourselves from being bad from an intangible standpoint. The key to having a great season is winning the games that you don't play well because no team plays great every night. You have to win the games where you are average or below average, and that was something we did not do the other night."

The KU coach needs his players to renew their passion and play 100 percent every practice and every game.

“My wife (Cindy) knows very little about basketball, but she said something the other day that was totally accurate,” Self said. “She said, ‘If you love to play, that is really love to play, what does it matter who you're playing? Why does it matter, if you love to play, that you have unbelievable practices some days and pitiful practices the next day? Wouldn't it be really good and average as opposed to great and pitiful? ...Every time you lace them up, you should enjoy being out there, if you really love to do it.' To me, that is what is really frustrating. Two games into the season, if you really love to play, your batteries should still be charged. And we didn't come out Wednesday like our batteries were charged.”

And then there is the question of leadership, which Self said “has been an issue since day one.” Self referred to freshman guard Sherron Collins as a “natural leader” in preseason, but knows he has to learn the system first and become comfortable in that role. Self is hoping junior point guard Russell Robinson, whom he has called the “heart” and “pulse” of the team, can evolve into a true leader and become more vocal.

“We have guys that are capable of being leaders, but we don't have one guy yet that can make things right by taking matters into his own hands,” Self said. “That is what great teams have.  I haven't had that since I have been at Kansas.  One guy can change the whole mindset of a team from a toughness and responsibility standpoint.  We have a bunch of really nice kids that are responsible on their own.  Coaches can help, but this isn't something that happens overnight.  I am hopeful that Russell can do this for us.  He is a good leader, but he isn't there yet.  We need to become a better talking team." 

Robinson and company will get their next chance to improve their game leadership Sunday night, when Kansas takes on Towson. The Tigers are led by 6-4 guard Gary Neal, the nation’s leading returning scorer (26. 1 ppg) who broke loose for a career-high 41 points against Samford Thursday night.

"He can score,” Self said. “I watched some tape on him and he can get it going both ways. We need to do a better job on the opponent's best player. If we allow him to have a big night, he could score 40 points. Averaging 27 points a game is very good and he can obviously get the ball in the basket."

And while Towson was just 12-16 last season, Self knows they’ll be extra hungry to knock off the Jayhawks.

“Every day we're going to get another team's best shot,” Self said. “Oral Roberts is a good team, but they shouldn't come in here and win. When you take every team's best shot, good players are going to play great and average players are going to play good. That's what happened the other night."

Self just trusts his team will be focused and prepared on Sunday and come hungry to play and get the bad taste out of their system.

“It's been a miserable last 36 hours,” Self said. “It's early in the season. We’re young and we're going to need to learn some hard lessons."

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