Jayhawks and Those That Love Them

In the recently renovated Allen Field House, the media room is across from the hallway that houses the men's basketball locker room. It's in the northwest corner of AFH, where the track and field office used to be. Right outside the media room is where fans congregate after every game to take photos of and gather autographs from their favorite Jayhawks...

And so it was that I was in the media room writing my game story following the Jayhawks' uninspiring 81-51 win over Belmont University (student population 5,400). I was writing about how Belmont led, 15-14, at the midway point of the first half and about how Belmont had grabbed 39 rebounds, 15 offensive, and nearly beaten the much bigger, much quicker, much more talented Jayhawks on the glass (40 boards, just seven offensive).
I'd listened to Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris talk about how badly they'd played. I'd heard and watched visibly frustrated Bill Self call his team "soft" and brand their performance as "poor." He said KU's best offensive possession of the night was one on which they started with only four players. Take a sniff. Smell that? That's sarcasm.
Yet, as I wrote, I heard the 150 or so fans gathered outside cheer like the Beatles were in town every time a Jayhawk emerged from the locker room. They sang Happy Birthday to Mario Little with the kind of gusto you rarely find outside of a Dublin pub on St. Paddy's day. And there was cake.
Keep in mind, Little is redshirting. He doesn't even play.
"Even after a snoozefest like this, they're still rock stars," I thought.
Which brings me to my question: where is this team's head at?
Self told the gathered media that the team had been practicing well lately, which makes their game night performances just that much more baffling. It wasn't the first time he's mentioned this problem this season.
It's my sincerest hope and dream that they're just bored. As a media fat guy, it amazes me that these guys can have a hard time getting up to play a basketball game in the most historic gym in the country in front of 16,500 fanatics. I can, however, understand when I look back at the schedule.
KU's nonconference schedule is littered with mutts, some of which probably didn't look like mutts when they were scheduled. Michigan and UCLA aren't what many expected. Memphis gave the Jayhawks all they wanted and then some, but that wasn't necessarily because the Tigers they're a good team. KU committed 21 turnovers and forced a ton of bad long range looks that night. They rarely drove the lane, and when they did, they did so like it was radioactive.
If they're bored, Saturday may be the cure for what ails them. They'll take on a Temple Owls team that is tough and very physical. They'll try to play this game in quicksand, limiting their own turnovers and, thus, possessions. After all, Kansas can't score if they don't have the ball.
That's exactly the kind of grinder Bill Self loves to be a part of, but he said he wasn't sure if this was going to be a team that enjoyed that kind of gutty game.
"I don't know (if Kansas is ready for Temple's style)," he said Tuesday night. "Right now we play best when it's a pretty game, and on Saturday there's not going to be anything pretty about that. The one grind-it-out game we had, we didn't play well."
We'll see quickly if it's boredom. After Temple, KU enjoys their final cupcake of the season, Cornell, and head off to Knoxville to play #14 Tennessee.
Kansas turns right around and starts conference play on January 13 with a trip to the always-tough Devaney Center to play Corn. Home games against Texas Tech and Baylor follow, and the Jayhawks make the trip to Ames on January 23.
If they're not bored, KU may be in for a rude awakening.
It's got to be a challenge for Bill Self or any elite-level coach to keep the attention of a group of supremely-confident college students-athletes, especially when they're a third of the way into their season with a perfect record.
The fans still clamor for autographs and photos. The lead of every game story starts off with the words, "The #1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks…" After that, it's probably all buzzes and clicks.
I don't know for sure if Kansas basketball players have fat little girlfriends like Texas Tech football players, but I bet they do, and I bet their fat little girlfriends are telling them how amazing they are.
Most fans – not to mention fat little girlfriends – don't get as excited as Self does when KU leads by 25 and Brady Morningstar's man grabs an offensive rebound for an easy bucket. Or when the smalls settle for jump shots when all-American candidate Cole Aldrich hasn't had a touch in three possessions. Or worse yet, when all-American candidate Cole Aldrich doesn't put himself in position to get the ball.
Boredom is fixable. The remedy – far, far tougher competition – is right around the corner.
Getting too wrapped up in your own press clippings is fixable, too. It just takes longer and all too often comes on the heels of a nationally-televised 22-point road blowout.
It's always difficult to be honest with oneself when the world is your fat little girlfriend. Saturday's contest will likely be a pretty good indicator of where this formidable Kansas Jayhawks team's collective head is at.

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