Kansas Hits Hardwood Tonight

It's been seven months since KU won the national championship at the Alamodome in San Antonio and culminated the best season in school history.

For KU coach Bill Self, a lot has changed since then. He lost five starters, five NBA draft picks, and eight players off last year’s title team.

With four scholarship players returning and seven newcomers, Self’s Jayhawks will look to start another magical season Tuesday night in their first exhibition game against Washburn at Allen Fieldhouse.

Tipoff is 7 p.m. It’s Election Night, so vote early and come get your first look at the 2008-09 Kansas basketball team.

“We’re excited,” Self said. “I don’t think we’re ready to play a game, but I say that every year and it usually plays out to be true. I don’t know how many teams are ready to play this early in the season. We have a bunch of young guys, and we’ll see how they react to the bright lights.”

KU holds a dominating series lead against Washburn, 34-3, including 3-0 in exhibition games. The Jayhawks have won the last eight games, including a 92-60 victory last season on Nov. 15, 2007. Washburn actually gave KU a huge test in Self’s second year at Kansas in 2004, leading most of the first half before KU gained control in the second half for a 79-70 win.

Washburn hasn’t beaten KU since Dec. 4, 1944

The Ichabods, who went 18-11 last year and tied for sixth in the MIAA at 9-9, return three starters and welcome 10 newcomers. Returning starters Paul Byers, Darnell Kimble and Mario Scott combined to average 24.3 points and 11.9 rebounds last season. Byers, a senior forward, ranks fourth in school history in block shots with 68.

Washburn coaching legend Bob Chipman begins his 30th season at the school. He’s one of college basketball’s winningest coaches with a sterling .720 winning percentage (646-251).

Self has great respect for Washburn and Chipman.

“We know they can play with us (based on KU escaping with the 79-70 win in 2004) and we know it will be a big game for their guys, and it will be a big game for our guys since it will be our first game,” Self said. “We know their guys some. Our guys work camps together in the summer. ... (Chipman) has done a fabulous job for many, many years.”

As of last Friday, Self hadn’t yet decided on a starting lineup. But Jayhawk fans can definitely expect junior point guard Sherron Collins and sophomore center Cole Aldrich in the starting lineup.

“We got two starters now, and they tell me you actually got to start five so we got to come up with three more in the next few days,” Self said with a smile. “To me, that’s not really important. That hasn’t been our goal at all to determine who should start for the exhibition games. We’re just trying to get better and look at different combinations.”

Self will be without last year’s junior college player of the year, Mario Little. The 6-5 forward is out “for an extended period of time” with a stress fracture in his left leg.

“We don;t know if that’s two weeks from today (Oct. 31), we don’t know if that’s five weeks from today,” Self said. “ We’re hopeful he’s a fast healer, but we certainly don’t know that right now.”

“We dearly need him to be healthy,” Self added. “He’s so new that he doesn’t really know what we’re doing, so he’s missing some very valuable practice time, which will set our team behind a little bit. But it will also provide opportunities for somebody else to step up.”

While Little is out of action, fellow junior college transfer Tyrone Appleton returned to practice full time on Oct. 30 after missing three weeks with a hip flexor.

‘The 6-2 guard certainly has to catch up with all the plays in KU’s system.

“He has a chance to help us if he can pick stuff up, which I’m sure he can,” Self said.

KU begins the exhibition season (Kansas also plays Fort Hays State on Nov. 11) ranked No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 24 in the AP Poll.

“I think that’s in large part due to the great respect they probably have for us winning it last year,” Self said. “We don’t look like the 23rd or 24th ranked team on Oct. 31, but we’re not playing games today either. I think we’ll be a team that will continually get better as the season moves along. We have to develop an identify. I don’t think that happens overnight. You got to play games to do that, and hopefully it will be an identity we feel good about and one we can hang our hats on.

“I’m excited to be ranked. I’d rather be ranked than not ranked.”

Self hopes he sees a better Jayhawk team Tuesday night than what he’s witnessed in practice.

“I’m anxious to watch us play,” Self said. “I hope we’re a better game team than we are a practice team. I’ve haven’t been real pleased with practices, not because we’re not trying. We’re just careless. I think that’s primarily youth. Hopefully, when the bright lights come on, we’ll perform a little better than we do in practice because consistently lately, we haven’t been quite as good from a focused standpoint as what we were earlier. I think in large part (that’s because) we’re young and we're ready to play against somebody else.”


KU fans shouldn’t expect KU to run as much early this season like last year’s team.

“I thought we would, but one thing about running, it has to be an everytime thing,” Self said. “We’re not at a point yet where our big men run every time, where our wings run every time. It takes discipline and conditioning and those sorts of things.”

“Sometimes the faster young kids play, the more careless they become,” Self added. “We’re not going to sacrifice taking care of the basketball for the appearance of playing faster. We got to find ourselves a little bit, but I do think this team can play very fast, don’t get me wrong. But to say we can play as fast as last year’s team isn’t true yet.”

Self said his players have to make the commitment to run on ever possession, “don’t pick and choose times to run, put pressure on defense all the time.”

“We’re not disciplined (now) to do that,” he said. “I think we can get to that point. That’s our job is to get them there.”

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