Kansas coach Bill Self wanted his players to think long and deeply about their identity. As his players looked on, he pulled out some coaching materials and began reciting the Jayhawks' team statistics compared with their Big 12 men's basketball rivals.
Kansas, Self told his team, ranked dead last in the Big 12 in team field-goal percentage (42.6) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (41.9). The two facts led into a simple question:
"What do we do?" Self asked his players. "Tell me what we can hang our hat on. What is our program?"
A few moments passed, and the deliberation began, and when the discussion had ended, the players had settled on one trait.
"Well, we find a way to win games."
OK, so maybe there is not quite an existential crisis taking place in the Kansas locker room these days. The 12th-ranked Jayhawks are 11-2 after playing one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules. But as Kansas prepares for its Big 12 opener at Baylor on Wednesday night, it appears it is time for a January tradition: asking if this is finally the year Kansas doesn't win the Big 12.
"A lot of people do have doubts about us, I would say," Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre says. "That's what I've been looking at. But it just gives us a little bit more motivation."
For the last 10 years, Self and Kansas have won at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title, which makes part of this conversation slightly humorous. This always happens, right? People doubt Kansas. People worry about the Jayhawks. Then Kansas wins anyway.
In 2006, the Jayhawks opened 1-2, including back-to-back losses against Missouri and K-State. The team started three freshmen. It won a share of the league title anyway.
Three years ago, the Jayhawks lost to Davidson at the Sprint Center leading up to Big 12 play. Former walk-on Conner Teahan was the team's sixth man. It won the league anyway.
And then there was last year. The Jayhawks lost four times in nonconference. Again, Self was starting three freshmen. Again, the Jayhawks had questions at point guard. Again, Kansas won the league by two games.
"Even when we won it in 2008 (the year Kansas won the NCAA title), we still lost three out of five in our league over 2 1/2-week period," Self says. "So there's been numerous times it didn't look very good."
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Although this is not one of Bill Self's most talented -- or defensive -- teams at Kansas, it is still good enough to win at least a share of the conference title for the 11th year in a row. Beating the Jayhawks (11-2) inside the fortress that is Allen Field House is always problematic and gives them a leg up on the rest of the league. On a team with more highly rated players coming out of high school, sophomore point guard Frank Mason has been the team's most efficient player. Life will get easier for Kansas if highly regarded freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander step up their games.
ESPN ($) projects the Big 12
There is a floor-to-ceiling graphic pasted onto the wall outside the Kansas locker room, just beyond the tunnel leading to the hallowed floor of Allen Fieldhouse.
The court itself forms the background of it. But stretching across the top are images of 10 rings, each encrusted with enough diamonds to make Marilyn Monroe blush. Together, they represent the string of Big 12 perfection that the Jayhawks have compiled over the past decade.
Ten years. Ten championships.
On Wednesday night, the No. 12 Jayhawks head to No. 21 Baylor to begin pursuit of their 11th straight. That would tie Gonzaga for the second-most in major college basketball, and move within two of matching the 13 straight Pac-10 championships that UCLA won in the 1960s and '70s.
But listening to Bill Self, this may be the most difficult yet. Given a chance on Monday afternoon, the Kansas coach rattled off four other teams that he thinks have shots at the Big 12 championship. Texas, he said, could win the national title. And given their unsteady non-conference performance, the Jayhawks — for once — may not be the favorites.
"There's multiple teams," he said, "but the great thing about it is, from my standpoint, if you're good enough to be considered in winning our league, you're probably good enough to be considered a contender to make a great run in the NCAA tournament, too."
Kansas University sophomore Brannen Greene missed one three-pointer in his eight-minute stint in KU’s 76-61 win over UNLV on Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse.
He’s been slowed by a sore neck.
“It’s been bothering him a while,” coach Bill Self said, noting there is no structural damage. “Sometimes he wakes up and it feels better than other days. There’s nothing structural we can do with it except just rehab. He had his best practice he’s had all year (Saturday). I thought he was going to play great today. Before the game he said, ‘Coach, I don’t even think I can play.’ He wanted to give it a shot. He wasn’t himself moving. We wanted to try it. It didn’t work out very well.”
Sophomore guard Frank Mason III rubbed his right leg at various junctures during the game.
“I got hit in my shin. It was sore from last game. It brought back a little bit of pain from last game,” he said.
Also, sophomore Tyler Self didn’t suit up for the game because of a concussion sustained at a recent practice. He’s expected to return to action soon.
Landen Lucas did not play, while Svi Mykhailiuk was used two minutes (coaches decision). Eight players were used.
...Freshman guard Devonté Graham (sprained right big toe) has started “light running, some light cutting. He’s doing some individual shooting,” Self said. “We’re going to continue that, and I’m hopeful we can put him in some type of practice situation later on this week.
“He’s in terrible shape, obviously, but I think he can get his shape back, and he can get back where he can play spot minutes in a week, I would think, for sure. But we are not going to put him out there too early.
“We are going to make sure that he has total confidence in it, but I don’t know when that will be.”
Self said there’s still the chance Graham could use a medical red shirt if he doesn’t respond well once he starts practicing full-go.
...Self said Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk should receive a lift this week when his parents visit from Ukraine. The 17-year-old freshman’s mom is Inna, a high school biology teacher, and dad is Iurri, a college history professor.
“Mom and dad will come see him this week. We’ll be excited to have them here, give him (Svi) a hug, and I’m sure he’ll be feeling a lot better,” Self said of Mykhailiuk, who Self said is “really laboring now.”
He has scored five points in KU’s last three games.
“I talked to him a long time after practice today,” Self said on his “Hawk Talk” radio show. “He is the nicest, sweetest young man you could ever be around. Add the fact he’s two years younger than everybody, add the fact his parents are 5,000 miles away, it’s not an easy deal for him. I still think from a prospect standpoint he may be as good a prospect as we have if you grade everybody at age 21. He’s in a phase where he was more confident against Kentucky and Michigan State than in practice. I think he agrees with me.”
Kansas freshman wing Kelly Oubre Jr. is starting to find his groove in college basketball.
…Oubre has all the intangibles that an NBA scout loves. He possesses a 7-foot-2 wingspan that elevates above the rim, a polished ball handler and has a smooth 3-point jump shot that resembles former Kansas star Ben McLemore.
Oubre is currently projected as the No. 9 pick in the 2015 Draft by DraftExpress.com but could rise higher with recent performances.
“His stock truly was never that down,” one NBA scout told SNY.tv. “Just learning how to compete every night at the college level. It takes a different commitment at both ends of the floor to be successful as a college player especially when playing for Bill Self. He is now playing with more confidence.
Often it takes time to transition from high school to college basketball. Bob Knight once told me a few years ago that just because a player was great at the prep level doesn't mean he's ready to contribute at the collegiate level. The 6-foot-7 Kelly Oubre was one of the more highly sought after college prospects in high school and played unbelievably well in the so-called all-star games last spring. But what people fail to understand is that all of that had no bearing on whether or not he was going to be able to help Kansas win games this season. Oubre needed to be coached. He needed Bill Self to be on him every day for not blocking out and not going as hard as he could on each and every possession. What are the results? Oubre is averaging 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds over his last three games all while shooting an impressive 8-for-15 from long distance during that span. Self said a few days ago that the Jayhawks' starting small forward spot was officially Oubre's and in essence we knew eventually it would be.
1/5/15, 7:34 AM
The most noticeable part of Kelly Oubre's transformation for Kansas? His impact on the boards. Has tallied 34 rebounds in his last 4 games.
1/5/15, 5:48 PM
Congrats to @22wiggins, Kia NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December! He's the first #Twolves to win award twice in a season.
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
Big 12 / College News
Scores of coaches during the next two months will boast about the strength of their respective leagues. The Big 12, which is devoid of a top-five team, has been stronger in the past at the very top of its standings. And this season's ACC appears more formidable at the top with three schools — Duke (second); Virginia (third) and Louisville (sixth) — near the top of the rankings.
But when it comes to depth, this season's Big 12 is unrivaled. During one week already this season, a league-record seven teams were nationally ranked. Nine of the 10 teams have been ranked or received votes.
This time the Oklahoma Sooners kept their emotions in check.
There was no trash talk, no swagger, no upside-down "Hook'em Horns" sign to incite the Texas Longhorns and their home crowd. For the No. 16 Sooners, there was nothing but dominating basketball in a 70-49 of their Big 12 rivals Monday night.
Buddy Hield scored 13 points, four other Sooners scored in double figures, and Oklahoma forced Texas into a school-record low for points in a half in a Big 12 game. Oklahoma led 33-14 at halftime and the game was effectively over.
Texas fans stuck around for a while hoping for rally, but only a few thousand were left by the time the Sooners had put the finishing touches on humiliating the Longhorns on their home court.
"We were just telling each other don't let them come back. Stay focused, stay humble," said Sooners forward TaShawn Thomas, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Two years ago, the Sooners let Texas rally from 22 points down in the second half to win in overtime. That rally was sparked after an Oklahoma player flashed and upside-down "Hook'em Horns" hand sign after an emphatic dunk.
Oklahoma was much more methodical in putting away the Longhorns this year, giving them no chance at a comeback.
Zach Auguste’s basket off an offensive rebound with 1:07 left helped No. 13 Notre Dame hold off No. 18 North Carolina 71-70 on Monday night.
Auguste’s basket got the lead back for the Fighting Irish (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who had led by 11 points in the second half only to see the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-1) briefly push ahead late. Then Notre Dame survived two shots by preseason all-American Marcus Paige in the final seconds, the last a desperate 3-point heave that wasn’t close as the horn sounded.
Now Notre Dame is 3-0 in league play for the first time — Big East or ACC — and off to its best start in 15 seasons under Mike Brey.
Complete ESPN Networks schedule
Big 12 Composite Schedule & Results
Carlton Bragg (http://foxs.pt/1ywEial ) announces on Thursday. Kansas appears to be the heavy favorite.
The first domino in Kansas’ 2015 recruiting class could be close to falling into place. Carlton Bragg, a five-star big man from Cleveland, will make his official announcement Thursday, according to Rivals.com.
Bragg, a 6-foot-9 forward, is choosing among Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois. He is rated as the nation’s No. 14 overall recruit by Rivals.com. Bragg will make his announcement at his high school — Cleveland-Villa Angela St. Joseph — during a ceremony at 1:45 p.m., according to Rivals.com.
Bragg has been one of Kansas’ prime recruiting targets in the 2015 class. Coach Bill Self said last summer that he wanted to focus on big men in his 2015 recruiting class. The Jayhawks, who have zero scholarship seniors on the roster, currently have two open scholarships for next season. They could also have more, should any players opt to leave early for the NBA. To this point, KU has no oral commitments in its 2015 class.
Bragg's patience could end up being tested if he chooses to play at Kansas. Head coach Bill Self doesn't care where you are rated by recruiting services because he will only play those who can help the team win.
Highly touted freshmen Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander have struggled to get consistent playing time for much of their first year with the Jayhawks despite their obvious talent, and Bragg could receive the same treatment.
That being said, this type of coaching might end up being the best thing for these players going forward. Self has certainly gotten plenty of top recruits to the next level by forcing them to focus on defense while improving overall self-control on the court.
For all of Bragg's talents, he often forces jumpers instead of trying to get an easier shot inside. He also needs to learn better fundamentals on the defensive end to go with his elite shot-blocking ability. Playing at Kansas could help turn him from a high-upside prospect into a legitimate star.
More importantly, the opportunity will be there to showcase what he can do. Kansas has utilized a short bench this season that seems to be shrinking every game. Only seven players saw more than two minutes in the recent win over UNLV.
If Alexander and Oubre declare for the draft, the Jayhawks will need some immediate reinforcements. While they are finalists for many top recruits in the 2015 class, no one has given a commitment yet.
Even though he has much to learn, Bragg could make an impact early on as one of the focal points offensively for a team constantly on national television and in the public eye. This seems to be the best of all worlds for the talented youngster, making it the most likely destination among three great choices.
Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, thinks Kansas lands both Carlton Bragg and Malik Newman.
Meyer, who already had Bragg going to the Jayhawks, just changed Newman from Mississippi State to Kansas.
UK fan site
Everyone wants to know about my recruitment so let’s talk about that.
Right now I’m taking a visit to Ohio State on January 24-26. That’s the only visit that has a date attached to it, but I’ll also be visiting N.C. State, Kentucky and Kansas. I don’t know about the dates right now on those. I haven’t cut my list or anything and that doesn’t mean those schools are my top four or anything like that; they’re just the schools that I’m going to visit for now.
I still like other schools, too.
People always ask me what I like about the different schools and, honestly, I pretty much like the same things about all of them. All of the schools recruiting me are great looks!
Malik Newman blog USA Today
A few days before Malik Newman’s high school team left Mississippi to play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest, he snuck out of his house at 4 a.m.
But it was not a bad thing.
“He snuck out at 4 a.m. to go get some shots up in the gym. He knew that I wouldn’t let him go, so he snuck out, called (coach) Dave (Sanders) and went to the gym and got some shots up,” said Horatio Webster, the star guard’s father.
Webster said it is “real fun” to watch his son, who is one of the nation’s top players in the 2015 recruiting class and a Kentucky target, play.
“He puts in so much hard work. He is a kid that gets up at 4 or 5 in the morning on his own all the time to work. Just to see him doing what he loves to do, as a father you have to be happy,” Webster said.
Webster is a former player at Mississippi State. His son, a five-star recruit, recently set a school scoring record with 50 points in a holiday tournament with UK coach John Calipari watching. He’ll be back in Kentucky this weekend playing in the McCracken County Mustang Madness Friday and Saturday.
Newman has a well-rounded game that he showcased here by hitting 3-point shots, driving inside or scoring in transition.
“I have to give him the credit. That is all him. He has put in the hard work for it,” Webster said. “It pays off when he is playing. Fans like to see him and the glamorous stuff he does, but he puts in hard work and to see him get his reward is great.”
Newman has yet to really narrow his recruiting list and said here again that he was still open to being recruited by any school.
“We hear it and don’t hear it,” Webster said. “At the end of the day, he has to make a decision. He is going to make that decision and whenever he decides he is ready, he has to make it and we will take it from there. No pressure or anything like that.”
...“He’s signing late. That’s all he told me. My wife asked me as late as last night, ‘Where do you think he’s going?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’ We’re not even talking about it.”
Webster said Newman “doesn’t at all” talk about recruiting even if he is asked.
Newman does watch college basketball more now than he did in his earlier high school days.
“Back then he wasn’t, but as it’s closer, he’ll start watching and paying attention to style of play, Kansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, N.C. State, everybody,” Webster, who is not sure what coaches have watched Newman play in person this year, said.
Link Kentucky article
The recruiting train keeps on jugging for Arizona Basketball.
The Wildcats beat up on rival Arizona State Sunday night in front of Class of 2015 top-five talent Ivan Rabb.
The five-star point-forward from Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd made an official visit to Tucson as he tries to decide where to play his college basketball next year.
Rabb opted not to ink during the early-signing period this past fall. He is considering the Wildcats, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and California.
The Cats also have an interest in a younger teammate of current signee Allonzo Trier. Findlay Prep junior Derryck Thornton, Jr. is scheduled to make a campus visit to Tucson in February, according to the recruiting website Zagsblog.com.
Trier too was in attendance Sunday night at McKale Center.
Thornton is originally from Simi Valley, California. He played at Findlay Prep last year as a sophomore.
In the Pilots two games in Scottsdale at HoopHall West, Thornton scored 20 points and dished out six assists in victory over Our Savior New American (NY) and had 16 points and five assists in a 72-48 win over Phoenix Pinnacle.
My Late Night in the Phog videos, 60 Years of AFH Celebration videos, KU Alumni games videos, 2011-12 Final Border War videos, Legends of the Phog videos, KC Prep Invitational, Jayhawk Invitational Videos and more, now on YouTube