Self Likes Jayhawks' Leadership, Talent

Kansas head coach Bill Self showed off his refurbished Jayhawks basketball squad in refurbished Allen Field House at Media Day 2009 Thursday afternoon, and he was even more relaxed than usual.

Then again, you'd be pretty laid-back, too, if were looking at the upcoming season with a team as loaded as this year's edition of the Kansas Jayhawks.

There's even been a little talk of hanging another national championship banner in April.

"It's been mentioned," Self said. "We've talked about it with Cole (Aldrich) and Sherron (Collins). They have a chance to leave their mark on this place like few others have. But here we are talking about (another championship) and we ain't even playin' our first game."

Self even drew some favorable parallels between this year's team and the 2007-08 national championship squad, primarily when it came to talent level, but he liked some of the differences.

"I don't know if this team's quite as athletic but it may be bigger. I think this team is probably deeper. If a key injury occurs, if your key players go out, it's going to hurt, but maybe if a key injury or two occurs, we have enough depth to overcome it."

The biggest differences between the two, however, are the character and resiliency acquired by the '07-'08 team in a first-round NCAA tournament loss in March of 2006 and a grinding 2007 elite eight game in which they couldn't buy a basket and were outmanned terribly . Self said those losses left the Jayhawks "hungry" and battle-tested."

"I hope this team is as driven," he said.

The Jayhawks also find themselves in a situation vastly different than in 2007-08 because the foundation of the championship team was the older guys like Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson and Darnell Jackson, but the talent on the team was among younger players like Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur.

Now, Self said, "our most talented guys are our old guys, and our foundation is our old guys. So, there should be no hesitation on anyone's part to know who to look to. That's positive: it puts less pressure on those young guys to deliver."

Once again, according to Self, the lynchpins of KU's success will be junior C Cole Aldrich and senior G Sherron Collins. They need to be as good if not better than they were last year when they led the upstart Jayhawks to a nice sweet sixteen run. Self thinks they're primed to be even better – especially Aldrich.

"Cole's lower body strength is better. Hopefully with (7-0 transfer C Jeff) Withey back there and some other guys, he won't be forced to guard the other team's best big guy at all times, especially if he's got a foul situation. I do think Cole can be improved, no question about it, but he amazed me last year at the level he played at, because he continually got better each and every week. If he continues to do that, he could go down as one of the better big men to play (at Kansas) ever.

Aldrich is also showing much stronger leadership skills, which should benefit Collins by taking some of that load off, allowing him to focus on other areas.

"This year, I think (Collins) will welcome it being his and Cole's team. Sherron will still be the mouthpiece, Sherron will still have the ball in his hands, but Cole's getting more and more comfortable in that role and guys do listen to him."

Self said Collins' doesn't need to lead the team in scoring this season because he has so many more scorers to dish to. That ability to rack up assists is what his coaches – and NBA scouts – want to see.

"He's got some  guys this year he can distribute to and that he has some confidence in that are maybe a little more proven from a scoring capability. I still want him to look for his shot, but I don't think he'll feel the pressure of last year."

Kansas will likely start the season with a nine-man rotation, maybe 10, Self said, but once the year is in full swing, he wants have his group narrowed down to nine players – four bigs and five smalls. He even theorized he might go with just eight, thanks to the development of 6-8, 225 sophomore F Marcus Morris.

"What we could do this year, though, the rotation could easily be eight, because if Marcus Morris continues to develop, we can play him on the perimeter. I don't know that that's all going to play out but my gut hunch is we'll play nine."

The abundance of talent in Lawrence has some wondering if there are enough minutes to go around. The reality is, some players who would likely start at other schools might end up pretty restless on the end of the Kansas bench. Self said he doesn't ever worry about that.

"I think if you have guys on the bench who aren't restless because they're not playing, you recruited the wrong guys," he said. "You want to have guys who want to be out there."

Self also reminded the media that players who arrived on campus with reputations for never having met a shot they didn't like, like Rush and Chalmers, had to be prodded by Self to be more aggressive.

"On the flip side, if the guys who aren't playing are young guys, we can throw a red shirt on two or three of them, too, and that eliminates some of those things you're talking about."

Self was quick to throw a wrench into the rumor mill, however, insisting that he hasn't talked to anyone about red shirting, but he suggested, "If I'm a young guy and I thought I had a chance to start here eventually, I'd want to red shirt, and that could happen with a couple of guys. Once practice starts, the minutes have a way of figuring themselves out."

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