You Play Like You Practice

Larry Brown preached practice when he was head coach at Kansas. So did Roy Williams. And Bill Self is no different. In fact, if you ask any basketball coach in America, they'll say the same old mantra: "You play like you practice."

For Bill Self’s Jayhawks, that’s been particularly troubling lately. Self talked about his team’s struggles in practice after Kansas lost to Massachusetts, 61-60, at Sprint Center in Kansas City on Saturday.

“To be honest, I didn’t think we played well, and I think UMass contributed to us not playing well,” Self said. “But this is how we practice. When you practice this way, then you’re obviously going to play this way some. There’s times in practice 30 minutes in, ‘OK, let’s start again.’ Same way to start the games.

“We just have to come more ready in that regard. And we just can’t put it on the young kids; certainly the experience we have is guilty of it also.”

Just like in practice, KU (7-2) got off to a slow start against UMass. The Minutemen controlled the first half and started a 22-4 run midway through to lead 32-18 with 3:17 left before halftime.

“This is really frustrating,” junior Sherron Collins said. “We just weren’t ready to play from the start of the game. We didn’t lose on our last shot or our last possession; we lost it from the beginning of the game. We weren’t ready to play.”

Kansas also came out flat in its previous game against Jackson State on Dec. 6. The Tigers (1-7 at the time) opened the game with a 10-4 lead and even led 26-25 with over four minutes remaining in the half.

Self knows better effort in practice will translate into better games. And he’s trying to ingrain that workmanlike attitude into his players where they go hard every play in practice. They’ve yet to catch on consistently.

“We haven’t been practicing with a lot of intensity,” freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “Some of us have, not all of us. Myself, I haven’t. We just got to pick it up.”

KU will get a chance to “pick it up” this next month during semester break. (Final exams end Friday.) Expect Self to ride his young team hard with many two-a-day practices until spring classes begin Jan. 15.

Winter break is a time when teams throughout the country usually come together and show great progress. With such a young Jayhawk team featuring seven newcomers, this time will be even more vital.

As former Boston Celtics coach and current Louisville head man Rick Pitino might say, former Jayhawk practice warriors Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase and Kirk Hinrich aren’t walking through the Allen Fieldhouse doors.

But KU has stars Collins and Cole Aldrich. This KU team has to find their way in practice, and the two leaders must show them how.

“It’s my job to do it,” Collins said. “I got to do it.”

KU’s road certainly doesn’t get any easier. The ‘Hawks face Temple at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, which just upset No. 8 Tennessee, 88-72. Kansas then plays at Arizona on Dec. 23 and opens January with huge tests against Tennessee, Siena and Michigan State before conference play begins on Jan. 13.

“Starting today, out schedule started,” Self said after the UMass loss. “We got probably as tough a non-conference stretch as anybody has in the country over the next four weeks.”

This young team needs to improve and grow up quickly. The sky certainly isn’t falling by any means, but Self expects better performances than the last three games.

“It’s a long season, and one game doesn’t make a season until you get down to crunch time,” Self said. “But you got to see progress, you got to get better. You got to take steps in a positive direction and we have not done that since the Kent State game (on Dec. 1).

“We’ve been kind of laboring around. I get the impression that people look at us doing pretty good because we’re so young. And we are young. But youth is no excuse. You lace ‘em up, and you got to be ready to play.”

The Jayhawks need to get help for stars Aldrich and Collins; they can’t carry the load alone. Collins needs to trust his teammates more, freshman Marcus Morris must emerge as a solid four man, freshman Tyshawn Taylor and sophomores Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar need to become more consistent at guard, and freshman reserve Markieff Morris has to be a factor when Aldrich goes to the bench.

KU will obviously get a big lift when last year’s juco player of the year Mario Little returns (he’s been out for several weeks with a stress fracture in his left leg, but is practicing and might play against Temple) and as freshman wing Travis Releford develops. This will solidify the small forward position and allow Morningstar and Reed to flourish at shooting guard.

The pieces to the puzzle will eventually fall into place and this young team will mature. Until they do, you certainly won’t hear the players using youth as an alibi.

“We can’t use that as an excuse that we’re young because we’re playing at Kansas,” Aldrich said. “We can’t use excuses like that. We got to fight through whether we have eight freshmen or we have one freshman and eight seniors. That’s something we have to do is come together as a team and just keep fighting through when things aren’t going our way.”

Before positive results show during games, KU will have to come together in practice.

“You play like you practice,” the mantra goes.

Self certainly hopes this next month of practices during semester break will do wonders for Kansas.

“I’m not discouraged with our team,” Self said. “I think we can be a good team. I don’t like how we’re playing right now, though.

“We need to practice, but we need to practice right. ... We have to become a better practice team over time, and we’ll play better over time.”

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