What? Basketball in August?

It may still be summer, but Kansas basketball is ready for action.

The defending NCAA champs practiced this week in preparation for their exhibition games in Canada on Aug. 30 and 31. KU plays two games on Saturday against McGill University (10 a.m. CST) at Montpetit Hall on the campus of Ottawa University and versus Carleton University (6 p.m. CST) at Scotiabank Place, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Then on Sunday, KU will face Ottawa University at Montpetit Hall at 6 p.m. (CST).

All three games will be broadcast on the Jayhawk Radio Network. The McGill and Ottawa contests will be heard live, while the Carleton game will air following  the KU-Florida International football game coverage Saturday night. (Kickoff is at 6 p.m. CST.) The KU-Carleton game will also re-air at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday before the Ottawa contest.

With such a limited time to prepare, KU coach Bill Self said he just focused with his team on offense this week, and not talked about defense.

“In one week, you cannot get how you’re going to guard and how you’re going to play,” Self said. “Offense is much harder to teach than defense. We’ve historically got guys to guard. I think every coach will tell you that it’s easier to get guys to guard than it is to score, so we just want to give them a base on how we’re going  to do some things offensively.”

 KU’s offense is very basic right now.

“We’re running our foundation,” Self said. “Last year we probably had 50 sets we ran in addition to our foundation. We’re just trying not to do one of those, and just get through our foundation. I think if they can do that, they’ll be able to tweak it as we go.”

“It’s brain freeze time with some guys because everything is so new,” Self added. “Even though it’s not complicated to us, it’s foreign to them.”

Indeed, Self has five newcomers to show the ropes. Two other freshmen (twins Marcus and Markieff Morris) haven’t practiced this week since KU has yet to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse about their eligibility status. Self has said previously he expects the twins to be eligible. Marcus and Markieff will not be traveling with the team to Canada.

Without the Morris twins this week, Self has been playing junior college transfer Mario Little at power forward. Little played the three (small forward) and four spot at Chipola (Fla.) Community College.

“We’re just going to play small,” Self said. “Quintrell (Thomas, 6-8 freshman forward) is coming along fine, but there’s a learning curve for him. It forces us to play Mario at the four and then we’ll play small, which we’ll do anyway. It hasn’t totally revamped how we’ll play, but it’s certainly looked how we’re going to play small, at least offensively.”

Self said that the 6-5 Little is “probably more comfortable (at the four) than he is out on the perimeter.” However, Self added that Little is versatile enough and “a good player (who) we can move around a lot like we did Julian (Wright). He’s just not as tall as Julian.”

Self is trying to blend Little and the other newcomers with KU’s returning players, which include sophomores Cole Aldrich, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Conner Teahan. Aldrich, Reed, Morningstar and junior Sherron Collins are the only returning scholarship players. Collins has participated in limited drills in practice since reporting to school overweight. Although Collins has pleased Self with his attitude and work ethic since classes began (“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do”), Self said he probably won’t play in Canada because he’s not yet in game shape.

Collins is the only returning player who averaged more than eight minutes per game last season.

“I’ve certainly coached more experience before,” Self said. “Cole played (8.3) minutes a game and (Reed, Morningstar and Teahan) really haven’t played yet. There’s not too much experience out there. We found out (during our first practice) that we were a little spoiled by having so many experienced guys (last season), but I think that’s part of the fun in trying to mold these guys into a team. I do think it will happen, but it certainly isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Self, who said he’s not concerned at all about finding a rotation or lineup in Canada, needs his returning players like Reed to be more assertive this season.

“(Reed) needs to be one of our best shooters, without question. He and Brady,” Self said. “(Just) become a little bit more aggressive in the whole mindset and approach. Last year, he probably played not to make mistakes as opposed to playing to make plays. I think he has to become more of a playmaker. I’d say that with Cole, Tyrel, Brady, and even Conner. They were just position to position players trying to survive and not score. They need to become more aggressive and realize we need them to create for themselves.”

Reed, who averaged 2 points in 6.3 minutes per game last season, seems up for the challenge.

“It was such a great group of guys last year,” Reed said. “My playing time wasn’t as  much. I got to experience it all, it was awesome. Now I have a chance to maybe play some more and do some more things on the court. I just want to keep being a better basketball player.

“Last year was last year. We got to start all over.”

KU will “start all over” in Canada as a warm-up before fall practices begin with Late Night in the Phog on Oct. 17. Reed and the Jayhawks can’t wait for the exhibition games.

“It’s going to be a good opportunity for some of the young guys, me included,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a good experience for us to get some playing time. It doesn’t count against our regular season. It’s going to be fun.”

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