It’s a year like no other.
The season after a title brings challenges. KU head coach Bill Self
will have to replace a depleted roster, deal with loftier recruiting
expectations, and knows his team has an even bigger bull’s
eye on their chests.
But in case you haven’t noticed, Self is not one to back away
from a challenge. His Jayhawks might be picked to finish 3rd in the Big
12 but Self continues to aim high.
“Expectations will be the same. I’m not
going into the season hoping to finish in the top four in the league.
Our goal will still be to win the league, regardless of who we
have,” said Self referring to the inexperience and youth on
his roster. “That’s a pretty lofty goal when you
have so many new guys, but I don’t think you want to bail
your guys out by lowering the expectations just because
When Self was at Illinois his team coined the motto “youth is
no excuse” and this team will attempt to follow in the
footsteps of a young Illini team that started three freshmen and a
sophomore yet finished a couple of ticks away from a Big Ten title.
That being said replacing names like Robinson, Rush, Kaun, Jackson,
Chalmers, and Arthur is never easy - six players who accounted for more
than their fair share of defense, scoring, leadership, and immense
“We’re not as talented as we were last year. We
lost five guys to the (NBA) draft and replaced them with young kids.
But we are comparable to where we were three years ago when those guys
that got drafted were all real young,” Self continued.
“So we could be looking at this team three years from now and
say that is parallel to the team that finished up in 2008. I hope
that’s the case. We have good young players,
there’s no doubt about that.”
Self’s new roster features five freshmen including the Morris
twins who bring much-needed frontcourt help. Markieff (6-9), and
brother Marcus (6-8) travelled a long road to eligibility at KU and
were not allowed to participate in the practices leading up to the
team’s trip to Canada in late August. The two Philly natives
were an important part of Self’s recruiting class.
“Without those guys, we would have been tiny. But Marcus can
score. He can make plays for others. Markieff is a good shooter. When
you look at it, we haven’t really had any pick and pop guys
that can stretch the defense beyond 15 or 16 feet. These two guys can
do that, probably better than the other guys that we’ve had
over time,” said Self.
After having to fill so many roster spots Self also dipped into the
JUCO pool of talent to pull out two guards - Tyrone Appleton and Mario Little. Little was voted preseason Newcomer of the Year in the
conference and Big 12 coaches are well-aware he was one of the
nation’s best JUCO performers at Chipola College.
Seven newcomers in all will be adjusting to the speed of the college
game at the highest level, and the perimeter players will be adjusting
to a new three-point line. Backing the line up has been talked about
for years and finally one foot later we have the new distance of
20’9”. The hope is that it will keep the marginal
shooter from shooting the three and improve shooting percentages, and
coaches are hopeful it will clear the congestion inside the lane.
“I think it’s going to affect all teams,”
Self stated. “I don’t think we’ll have as
consistent of a perimeter shooting team as we had last year, because
when Mario (Chalmers) and Brandon (Rush) lined it up, there was a one
out of two chance it was going in. Sherron (Collins) wasn’t
far behind in that regard.”
Rush and Chalmers combined for over 150 treys last season. Collins shot
a lower percentage (below 40 percent) than Rush and Chalmers but will
be expected to pick up the slack. The three-point line was a dangerous
weapon for KU last season but it remains to be seen how effective the
Jayhawks will be behind the new line.
“I don’t know if we will utilize the three-point
line as much as we did last year. The lines will affect everybody.
It’s just new. I think over time, over two or three years,
everybody will look back and say that’s been good for our
game. I do like it.”
Two national championship mainstays will be expected to step up their
game a notch this season. There’s no reason Collins and
forward Cole Aldrich won’t be much-improved. Aldrich is still
riding the wave of momentum after his Final Four performance vs. North Carolina last year. Cole proved he can play with any player in the
country and has used that as a springboard for his sophomore season.
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be
one of the better big men performers in our league. He may not be a 15
point a game guy, but you should be able to pencil him in for double
figure production and seven to eight rebounds every night.
He’s got a great skill set, and he’s getting
tougher all the time,” Self said about his 6-10 center.
“The North Carolina game did wonders for his confidence in my
opinion. He had a great offseason in large part because he was so
confident throughout it.”
“It’s exciting, it’s really
exciting,” Aldrich said. “I went through last year
knowing that we had some great guys on our team like Shady (Darrell Arthur), Darnell (Jackson) and Sasha (Kaun). I knew it was going to be
tough to get some minutes from those guys, so I just took practice
everyday as my game and I learned a lot from those guys.”
Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush took turns being the team’s
clutch player last season. One would assume that role will be filled by
junior guard Sherron Collins. Collins has certainly succeeded at KU in
his share of big moments including a critical steal during the waning
stages of regulation in last year’s title game.
“I look forward to taking big shots. I might not always be
able to take the shot, but as long as I can make something happen for
my teammates I am fine with that as well,” said Collins who
was selected first team all-league by the coaches.
Collins was challenged early on by Self after returning to Lawrence out
of shape but word is Collins put in the work and is ready for action.
It’s a new season with an emotional Memphis victory in the
rearview mirror. So tonight at Late Night while managing to tip their
hat to last year’s title run, the Jayhawks will officially
shift their focus to the year ahead.
“I’ve thought about last year a lot,”
Self admitted. “It was a great season. I’ve thought
a lot about last year, and why last year was so special, and how we can
put ourselves in position to duplicate that in the near future.
It’s going to be difficult, but it is for everybody.
I’ve given a lot of thought as to why that was great. We
think we have a pretty good handle on it, and hopefully we can get our
guys to perform at some point in time at the same level those guys
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