DePaul Gets Kaun-ed

Slow start, big finish for Kansas senior Sasha Kaun vs. DePaul, on Saturday. 15 points in just 15 minutes of play. Phog.net's Jim Williamson on the play of KU's big man, inside...

I'd been waiting for it: the clip from the Star Trek flick, "The Wrath of Khan."

William Shatner with a stylish badger perched on his head, Ricardo Montalban as the malevolent and equally well-coiffed Khan. Driven to near-madness by his archrival, Kirk can only scream, his voice laced with fear, anger, desperation…

"KHAAAAAAAAAN!"

The Allen Field House scoreboard crew finally had reason to show it Saturday afternoon.

DePaul's Karron Clarke had just made a lay-up early in the second half to make the score 51-33, Kansas, about four minutes into the second half. As soon as the ball hit the bottom of the net, KU's Sasha Kaun – all 6-feet-11, 250 of him – was off and running for the north goal of Allen Field House. With a quick inbounds pass to Mario Chalmers and a couple of dribbles, Kaun found himself in a two-on-one with Chalmers and some unfortunate boob from DePaul. Chalmers dished to Kaun about 20 feet out from the basket.

After a couple of massive strides and a few cumbersome dribbles, Kaun picked the ball up and went to the basket with malice and aforethought. He destroyed the rim with a big two-handed dunk.

It was the perfect highlight to what may have been the White Russian's best game as a Jayhawk. Kaun came off the bench to score 15 points and grab five rebounds in just 15 minutes of play. His great afternoon, however, almost ended before it got started.

Kaun entered the game shortly after the under-16 media timeout, and in two minutes, he had accounted for a block (the good news), a turnover, a foul and a missed lay-up (the bad news). He was called back to the Kansas bench by KU coach Bill Self.

Instead of a tongue-lashing, though, Self tussled Kaun's hair, went to a knee and spoke very quietly and reassuringly to his big man.

"He said, ‘Don't get down, don't get your head down. Just stay positive,'" Kaun recalled. "I don't know what happened. At the beginning of the game, I just got off on the wrong foot. Things didn't go well."

"I've spoken to him loudly many times," Self recalled, smiling, "and I thought that was not the right time to do that."

"He played good, didn't he? Got off to a terrible start. God…I took him out, he was so down. I didn't know how he'd respond when he went back in. The guys did a good job getting him the ball and after he made his first couple of baskets, he got a lot of confidence. He played with some fire. I thought he played great."

Give Self credit for how he handled his somewhat-fragile center. Sasha Kaun is a bright young man who's a great program player, but unfortunately, he hears what people say and soaks it in. Who knows, he might even read the paper and surf the internet. He's a smart kid whose confidence can be – and has been – shaken. His performance has gotten him lots of credit for effort from his coach and teammates. With the Big XII conference season approaching, though, effort won't get it done. Kaun's productivity on the floor has gotten him replaced in the starting line-up by fellow senior Darnell Jackson.

Self wasn't upset when he pulled Kaun from the floor. He said he only gets upset when Kaun isn't being aggressive. That wasn't why he brought him back to the bench. He just wanted to give Kaun a chance to regroup.

"I don't get upset with him when he's trying and things just aren't working out," Self said. "He's trying. It just hasn't worked out for him of late. He's lost his confidence a little bit."

So how big was a good day for Kaun? Bigger than, well, Kaun himself.

"I think everybody needs confidence to be worth a flip," Self said, "but when you don't have it, it's good to have something good happen so you can get it back."

Kaun readily admitted he needed a game like this.

"I think it's pretty important," Kaun said. "It's already December, and the conference race starts soon. The team needs me to play good. It was good to get some self-confidence."

Kaun said he's motivated to get back into the starting line-up but coming off the bench has had an upside.

"There's maybe just a little less pressure, in a way. In the starting line-up, you have to come out from the beginning. From the bench you get to get a feel for how the game is going and what you need to do."

The end result of Kaun's successful DePaul outing may be bigger than just leading his team in scoring and asserting himself for one game. In fact, Self said he is confident that his big man from Tomsk, Russia, will reap some long-term benefits.

"I think that today was kind of a crossroads for him. He could've gone the other way real easily. It was good to see him show some toughness and fight through that. He'll draw from this for a long time."


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