“We need to develop it,” he said. “Each team is different. Last year’s team had that for the most part, and this year’s team hasn’t quite gotten it yet. Last year’s team at the same stage didn’t have it, but we’re going to get there. Were not there yet. We haven’t understood when you’re up eight and have the ball and you got all the momentum,’Hey, it’s ultra important, let’s have a great possession here because they may crack.' But instead, if you have an unforced error and they get a run out for a layup, all of a sudden you lose all momentum. We just haven’t quite figured all that stuff out yet. But we’ll get there.”
The Jayhawks (12-2 and No. 9 in the country) will get the next shot to develop their killer instinct this Sunday at South Carolina (10-2). Both teams come into the CBS game with a six-game winning streak.
“This will be a good road test,” Self said. “Last road game (KU lost to DePaul 64-57 on Dec. 2), we didn’t play very well. We still had the chance the win as poorly as we played and didn’t finish. Hopefully, we’ll perform a lot better. We’re looking forward to getting away. We’ve won at home even though we haven’t been overly impressive some of the outings. But to find your true worth as a team, you got to be able to win away from home.”
“They’re not an overly thick team, similar to Rhode Island in a lot of respects, but they got really quick athletes,” Self added. “And Tre’ Kelley (team-leading scorer at 16.8 ppg) is a really good guard and gives everybody problems, regardless of who he plays against. The big guys shoot threes, which is comparable to a Rhode Island team. We defended them really good for a half and really poorly for a half. There’s a lot of similarities.”
Self hopes sophomore guard Mario Chalmers can continue his stellar play against South Carolina. Chalmers has been in a groove lately, scoring 22 points each against Boston College and Detroit, and then followed that with 12 points, five assists, and five steals vs. Rhode Island. So how good can Chalmers be? Can he become an All-American?
“He can be a really good player,” Self replied. “I’m the first one to say we got good players, but I don’t know who’s an All-American and who’s not an All-American. But he has great potential. He has the potential to be one of the better guards to play here in a while, but I don’t know what level it’s going to end at.”
Self wants Chalmers and all his players to “do as well individually as they can.”
“Most All-Americans don’t average 12 points per game,” Self said. “We got guys averaging 12, 13 points a game. There’s a next step to become that, and these players have the potential to take that next step. We haven’t taken it yet. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I just think at this early juncture of their career, you need to go ahead and let them mature and develop at the rate that they need to mature and develop at. But certainly Mario has a chance to be as good an all-around guard that’s been (at KU) since I’ve been here. Kirk Hinrich was not an All-American. When you say be one of the top five players in the country, I think that’s a pretty strong stance, and could our guys become that? Absolutely. But there’s still another step they got to take.
“The biggest thing that allows guys to achieve individual honors is for a team to be really good. If a guy averages 18 points a game and the team isn’t very good, well (they might say) he must not be that good or his team would have done better. You can look at it a ton of different ways. The key is for our team to do well, and if we’re going to do really well, we need to get our best players scoring more points, which will go hand in hand and make both things working (team and individual honors). There’s been a lot of All-Americans that have averaged 16 points a game, and there’s been some guys that average 24 (points) and don’t make it. So much depends on how good your team is.”
Self will get a better idea of how good his team is this month when the ‘Hawks visit South Carolina, and then play four league road games. (Kansas opens the Big 12 Conference season on Jan. 10 at home against Oklahoma State). Self hopes that DePaul game a month ago will help prepare KU for road games ahead.
“You got to finish, and you got to get key stops,” Self said. “You got to take care of the ball. You got to execute key possessions. To me, that’s the biggest thing we got to get our guys doing away from home is understand the importance of every possession and playing the entire 40 minutes. Usually, you don’t catch the breaks so to speak as you do at home. There’s a natural comfort zone that teams get from playing at home, and you just got to be a little better when you go on the road.”
“The mindset needs to be the same (home and road games),” Self added. “Basketball is not a sport where you say, ‘OK, our mindset needs to be this this week and next week it needs to be something. You prepare and you want your mindset to be this all the time. ...The thing I want our mindset to be is you don’t look at the score, don’t study the score the first 35 minutes. There’s a certain way you need to play, and go play that way, and the last five minutes you play to the situation of the games. Whether you're home or away, you have to take that approach. The one point I will say is that huddles are usually tighter on the road. There is a more of an ‘us against the world' mentality on the road. The locker room on the road after a win is far more fun than the locker room at home after a win. It means more because you have gone into someone's house and taken from them. Just like you don’t want them to come into your house and take from you. That’s the pride thing that has to start generating with your team.”
Kansas certainly hopes to “take” from South Carolina on Sunday at the Colonial Center. Self wants his team to silence the 18,000 fans. He wants them to play with passion and purpose. And, of course, he wants the ‘Hawks to play with a killer instinct and attack the whole 40 minutes.
“I think this game will be the finishing touch on what we hope to accomplish with our nonconference schedule,” Self said. “You still got to win on the road, and this gives us an opportunity to do that before we start league play.”
Jeff Graves Update
Former Jayhawk forward Jeff Graves has been tearing up the NBDL with the Idaho Stampede. Graves scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds vs. Fort Worth on Dec. 29, and then had 24 points and 13 rebounds vs. Austin the next night. He’s led the Stampede in rebounding seven of the last nine games and scored in double figures in eight of those games. Graves has started 11 of 14 games this season and is averaging 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 60.7 percent from the field. Graves’ improved play the last nine games has coincided with his team’s resurgence. Idaho (7-7), which lost its first five games, has now won seven of its last nine contests.
“I saw him before he left but I haven’t talked to him lately,” Self said. "He supposedly had the situation worked out with the (Denver) Nuggets beforehand. Coming off the injury, it didn’t work the way he wanted it to work. There’s one way that all guys that Jeff or Billy Thomas or whoever it is, there is a way that they can get an opportunity: if they really go perform where they’re at and then have a couple lucky breaks. I hope that happens for Jeff.”
One of Graves’ teammates is 6-7 forward Luke Jackson from Oregon. Jackson, a first-team All-American with the Ducks, played against Kansas three times in college. He was held to just 10 points in KU’s 104-76 victory over the Ducks in the NCAA Tournament on March 24, 2002, but led Oregon to a 84-78 win at Portland nine months later on Dec. 7. Jackson was a first-round pick (10th selection overall) by Cleveland in the 2004 NBA Draft and waived by the Boston Celtics over two months ago on Oct. 26. He has played five games with Idaho, and is averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from three-point land.