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Midway through the first half, with Kansas on the verge of burying American under an onslaught of perimeter shots, Naadir Tharpe found himself gliding toward the basket.
For parts of two seasons, Tharpe, a reserve sophomore guard, had been waiting to be in this position. Leading a fast break. Making plays. Dishing off to Kansas’ bevy of big-man options.
So here he was, and Tharpe figured he’d dump the ball off to Travis Releford. But for some reason, the timing was off, and Tharpe took off for the goal, looking for a foul.
Maybe last season, Tharpe would have lost his head and forced a bad pass. But on Saturday night inside Allen Fieldhouse, Tharpe was right on time, flipping the ball back to senior Jeff Withey for a monster jam.
“Luckily,” Tharpe said, “he was there.”
In this moment, Kansas was in the midst of a 16-2 run, a first-half blitz that would eventually turn into an 89-57 drubbing of American, an overmatched school from the Patriot League. And Tharpe, the guard known simply as “Na” to his teammates, was in the middle of the best night of his career, posting a stat line that included nine points, 12 assists and zero turnovers in 20 minutes.
“Nobody just comes in and is just automatically the superstar,” Tharpe said.
Tharpe always had one quality that gave him potential to fit in eventually. He’s fast, really, really fast and plays on a team at its best when flying up and down the court. But when a player looks as if he’s not quite sure he’s good enough, it’s difficult for anyone else to hop on board.
Suddenly, Tharpe’s bandwagon’s getting mighty crowded by the game and he’s at the wheel. For the fourth game in a row, Tharpe played inspired basketball and had a big hand in Kansas playing at such a rapid pace.
The most impressive individual game statistic of this getting-better-all-the-time season now belongs to Tharpe. He had 12 assists without a single turnover. He consistently attacked, penetrating into the paint and zipping passes to open shooters behind the arc and underneath. He mixed in nine points on three of four three-point shooting and picked up four defensive rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
By halftime, Tharpe had eight assists, driving, shooting and passing Kansas to a 53-26 advantage. This was more a case of a sophomore fueled by soaring confidence than a superior athlete exploiting inferior competition.
Kansas won’t again play a team as talent-challenged as American, but Tharpe's rapid improvement predated Saturday.
After Saturday’s victory against American, KU coach Bill Self lavished praised on freshman Perry Ellis, who came off the bench and recorded 11 points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes.
“It’s the best game Perry’s played,” Self said. “He was aggressive. He went after the ball."
Ellis, who has struggled to find his rhythm, entered the night averaging 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. And his numbers have decreased as the competition has become tougher. But on Saturday, Ellis became the first KU freshman to record a double-double since Thomas Robinson had one against Alcorn State in the 2009-10 season.
“I thought he looked more comfortable than he’s looked,” Self said. “I thought Perry played very well.”
…Comedian Jason Sudeikis, a native of Overland Park and best known as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, attended Saturday’s game with longtime girlfriend and actress Olivia Wilde. Sudeikis and Wilde sat behind the KU bench and visited the Jayhawks’ locker room after the game. Were KU's players excited to see Wilde?
“Our guys were pretty excited to see ... Jason,” Self deadpanned.
Kansas University defensive stopper Travis Releford has been known to pass up a wide-open shot or two on the offensive end during the course of a basketball game.
“I don’t think about it. Afterward they (teammates) all come up to me and say, 'Trav, I need that assist. You are a good shooter, just shoot it,'" the 6-foot-6 senior guard said after hitting a career-best five three pointers in six attempts in the Jayhawks’ 89-57 rout of American University on Saturday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
“This week in practice, coach (Bill Self) came up to me and said I need to look for my shot more,” added Releford, who went 7-for-8 overall and finished with a game-high 19 points. “My teammates told me to look for it more. They looked for me out there. They got me open. I stepped up and made shots.”
Other faces in the crowd included former KU players Aaron Miles, Calvin Thompson, Christian Moody and Stephen Vinson.
Coincidentally, KU’s Naadir Tharpe dished 12 assists against no turnovers on the same night Miles, KU’s all-time assists leader, was in the stands. Miles is on break from Russia where he plays pro ball.
“It’s funny, because he was at practice yesterday. He was working with us,” Tharpe said of Miles. “He probably hit me with a little bit of his assists or something. I don’t know what it is.”
Stat of interest: “Our top six minutes guys had 23 assists and two turnovers. I don’t know if I ever had a team get that many assists with that few turnovers before,” Self said his five starters plus Tharpe.
Popular video: Self was subject of a “Pop-Up Video” on the big screen during the second half. The fans gave Self and/or the video a standing ovation after it played.
The Jayhawks shot 15-of-24 from three-point range, one make shy of tying the school record for three-pointers in a single game. The Eagles felt every one of them.
"It wasn't one or two guys," Jones said. "It seemed like it was the entire team."
Added American senior Stephen Lumpkins, who led the Eagles with 16 points: "It was tough to defend them. We really tried to focus on protecting the rim and not letting them get a bunch of easy dunks. It's tough when a team gets going like Kansas did."
When asked what he did — or at least tried — to counter KU's hot hand from behind the arc, Jones' answer provided a glimpse into just how helpless his defense was in this one.
"It'd be one thing to say, 'Get up on 'em and contest,'" he said. "But with Tharpe, he was getting into the lane and, if you're playing good help defense then you're reacting to that penetration. ... The way they were shooting the basketball, we just didn't have much of a chance."
“Tonight was a good night for us,” coach Bill Self said.
Here’s how good it was: With 18 seconds to play, freshman Tyler Self launched a 3-pointer that would have tied a school record for 3s made in a game. The shot missed by only a foot or two, and KU settled for a 15-for-24 performance from behind the arc.
“We’re going to call an attorney and see about a name change, maybe,” said the elder Self, who was stifling laughter along with the rest of his staff after the baseline shot sailed long.
Since a blowout was virtually inevitable, the Jayhawks made sure to enjoy it. The highlights included Jeff Withey trailing a fast break and soaring for a one-hand slam, Travis Releford throwing down a windmill dunk and Jamari Traylor chasing down his own steal for a dunk and a foul. And that was just the first half, which ended with KU ahead 53-26.
If two quick fouls on Ben McLemore were the basketball gods’ way of leveling the playing field, it didn’t work.
The Jayhawks were just fine with their leading scorer on the bench, as sophomore Naadir Tharpe checked in and dished eight assists in the first half.
…Tip-off for KU’s Jan. 6 game against Temple will be announced Sunday. The game, slated for national broadcast on CBS, will begin at 12:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. depending on the NFL playoff schedule.
Coach Self on CBS pre game on Russ Rob in 2008: "Kansas fans knew he was our leader even if the nation didn't."
12/29/12, 3:38 PM
Much LOVE for a great a coach and mentor @CoachBillSelf #kubball ROCK CHALK BABY!
Russell Robinson (@Next718star)
Long term, the question is what type of role McLemore can grow into in the NBA. Is he a “3 and D” player, meaning a spot-up 3-point shooter, transition finisher and defensive stalwart, or can he be more than that? Most starting shooting guards in the NBA need to be able to function in pick and roll and isolation settings, which is something he doesn't do at Kansas very often (under 10% of time according to Synergy Sports Technology). It really depends on what the expectations from him well be, which will be decided in large part on where he ends up being drafted.
Draft Express NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: Ben Mclemore
“Junior year in high school, I went to LeBron James’ camp and to Paul Pierce’s camp,” McLemore said in a recent interview. “First time meeting Paul Pierce, watching his footwork and style of play, I said, ‘That’s how I play. That’s my game.’ I started moving in slow motion just like him, told myself, ‘I need to imitate his game and see how far I can go with this.’”
Funny, Pierce’s name has been coming up a lot lately in the same sentence as McLemore’s, as in, “KU’s best player since Paul Pierce.”
McLemore also has studied LeBron’s game.
“He’s such a great player, offensively and defensively, giving 110 percent every night,” McLemore said. “He’s just aggressive every night. He’s 6-8, what, 250? And he’s so quick on his feet. Awesome player. I really like his game. He’s always in attack mode. He’s strong, and he’s fast, and he’s ready to play every time.”
McLemore said the highlight of the James camp came when he played on a team that played against LeBron’s team.
“We were winning the whole game, and then he just took over,” McLemore said. “I had a smile on my face the whole camp.”
After what amounted to a most productive basketball summer school for McLemore, he set about trying to apply what he had learned.
“My senior year in high school, I tried to put those two (Pierce and James) together and play my game of basketball,” McLemore said. “I have the same mind-set of both players, and I try to put them together as me.”
Since coming to Kansas, McLemore said he has studied the game of Travis Releford, whom he calls “a great player. He knows what he’s got to bring to the team.”
Does Kansas – not Kentucky – have the best freshman in the country in Ben McLemore?
Braziller: McLemore is a tremendous talent and Kentucky has a number of elite freshmen, but the best newcomer in the country doesn’t belong to either blue blood program. That title belongs to UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, an athletic freak averaging team-highs of 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 forward isn’t just a dunking machine, though watching him soar for slams is a treat, as he’s also shooting over 35 percent from beyond the arc, a major reason UNLV is off to an impressive 11-1 start. He’s been remarkably consistent, with four double-doubles and and has yet to score in single figures.
Sulla-Heffinger: Bennett is great, but I have to say yes, the Jayhawks have the best freshman in America in Ben McLemore. McLemore is playing 30 minutes a game, unheard of for a freshman, leading in scoring (16.8 PPG), is second in steals (1.2) and is third in rebounding (5.7) and assists (2.3) for the No. 6 team in the nation. If that is not enough, look at his .488/.860/.408 shooting line and tell me that he is not the cream of the crop amongst first year players.
…Does Temple’s upset over Syracuse mean anything in the long run?
Braziller: It spoke volumes about Syracuse’s weaknesses as we near Big East play. Despite its surprising home loss to Canisius, Temple’s a good team. Khalif Wyatt is a big-time talent capable of taking over games against the finest teams in the country and forward Anthony Lee can be a handful, but that’s hardly news. The Owls gave Syracuse’s Big East foes a blueprint of how to beat the Orange: Make Michael Carter-Williams a scorer, not a distributor, and challenge Coach Jim Boeheim’s team in the paint. Temple stayed with shooters Brandon Triche and James Southerland and Carter-Williams was unable to carry the scoring load, making 3-of-14 shots from the field. Additionally, underclassmen Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman weren’t quite ready for primetime. It’s just one game, so I’m not ready to say Syracuse’s first 10 wins were the result of a soft schedule, but the loss to Temple raised several red flags.
Sulla-Heffinger: You know what it means? It means I have been right all along when I say the A-10 is one of the best basketball conferences in America. Temple’s upset of Syracuse is the second time an unranked A-10 school has beaten a top-three opponent (Butler’s dethroning of Indiana was the first). Now that I’ve stroked my ego a bit, I’ll get into why it means a lot for the Orange. Zach hit the nail on the head here, and this is what MCW will need to work on if he’s going to be the lottery pick that he can be, and that’s shooting. At any level of basketball, you need to have confidence in your primary ball handler to be able to make shots and hit his free throws, two things that Carter-Williams did not do at the Garden on Saturday, and that is a huge problem. Also it shows what happens with Syracuse actually has to play an opponent outside of the Carrier Dome and one that isn’t taking a massive pay day to play Jim Boeheim’s club.
CBS Video: 75 Years of March Madness: A coach's perspective (Coach Self)
LJW: Years in Japan shape KU forward Landen Lucas' outlook
TCJ: Cold nights on street help Traylor find true warmth
At the rate he’s been celebrating 40th birthdays, Kansas coach Bill Self shouldn’t have much trouble catching Mike Krzyzewski for the all-time wins mark in Division I basketball.
“I turned 40 this year,” said Self, who actually celebrated his 50th birthday on Thursday. “It’s embarrassing to say, but I turned 40.”
Self, who spent his birthday conducting his annual holiday youth clinic at Allen Fieldhouse, didn’t spend much time reflecting on the milestone, except to say he was glad to be around to see it.
“I used to be a young coach,” Self said. “Now I’m one of the older coaches around. I guess when you get to be on the downward half, or spiral, or whatever it is, birthdays are great, because that means you’re still having them.”
Self’s birthday — and the fact he’s just 14 victories away from 500 for his career — led to a question Thursday about the possibility of him someday approaching Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record for all-wins by a Division I coach. Krzyzewski, 65, is at 938 victories and counting, and a recent Sports Illustrated story suggested that Self may have the best chance among current college coaches.
“Zero,” Self said. “Whoever wrote that, doesn’t know me very well. I don’t think that I’ll want to coach near that long.”
In case you’re wondering, Self averaged 29.8 victories during his first nine years at KU after recording 207 wins at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois. If he continues on this pace, he would surpass 900 victories right around his 65th birthday.
Junior forward Justin Wesley has returned to non-contact practice after suffering a broken pinkie on Dec. 13. Self said Wesley, who is averaging five minutes per game, should return to contact practices within a week.
In today’s Arizona Republic, Coro didn’t have to try very hard to get Markieff to open up about the NBA lifestyle. And, specifically, the ultimate goal of Morris: Be the NBA’s best dresser. He thinks he has a secret weapon to do it, too: His “hundred million,” “hundred-thousand trillion” swag.
Q: How many pairs of sneakers do you have now?
A: I’ve got about 50 or 60, maybe 100. I have a lot of shoes I don’t wear but I keep them close just in case I might pull off something that goes with them. I’m a casual guy. You’ve seen me dress before. I’m the best dressed guy on this team by far.
Q: Can you outdress Marcin Gortat? He says he wants to be the best-dressed European in the league.
A: He wears suits and stuff. He can only get away with suits. I’m not wearing any suits. I’m a casual guy. Long sleeves. Rolex. Louis Vuittons. Guccis in there. Jeans. Casual but look nice.
Q: You’re just shooting for best-dressed on the team?
A: I’m going to be best-dressed in the league by next year, for sure. It’s just that my style doesn’t come with a lot of different styles. I have my own swag. My swag is hundred million. A hundred-thousand trillion.
The Rockets fell at home on Saturday despite Marcus Morris' season-high 24 points, which included four 3-pointers.
Morris was 9-of-14 from the field overall, and he grabbed six rebounds with one steal in 32 minutes.
Kansas 2012-13 MBB Schedule
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Big 12/College News
Baylor has suspended post player J'mison Morgan because of a violation of university policy.
Bears coach Scott Drew said in a release Saturday night that the 6-foot-11 Morgan, a fifth-year senior who has played only one game this season, will not return to the team.
Drew didn't elaborate, and Baylor officials said there would be no further comment.
Texas showed signs of progress in the second half of a 57-41 win over Rice on Saturday at the Erwin Center. After a sluggish 26-26 first half against a 3-9 Owls team ranked in the 300s in most categories, the Longhorns (8-5), an 18.5-point favorite, turned up the intensity and defense and held Rice to 15 points after intermission.
“Locking down defensively, that’s been our main focus,” point guard Javan Felix said. “That’s what we preach every day: defense, blocking out and finishing possessions.”
The Horns are as stingy as they come. They are No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (33.2), and they helped that number by holding the Owls to 31.9 percent.
Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad scored seven of his game-high 27 in overtime as UCLA took down No. 7 Missouri Friday night 97-94 at Pauley Pavilion.
Muhammad was clutch all night long and with a minute to go, Muhammad knocked down a 3-pointer to give UCLA a 95-93 lead, a lead they would not give back. Missouri would make it a one-possession game, however UCLA would respond from a pair of UNC transfers. Larry Drew, like he did on the Muhammad three, found Travis Wear inside as he hit a shot in the lane with 12 seconds to go to put the Bruins up 97-94.
Missouri had two looks to tie it and send it to a second overtime. Phil Pressey’s three was off the mark, Laurence Bowers grabbed the offensive board, but he couldn’t get a look at the rim.
UCLA's Parker homesick, not transferring?
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has ceased his pursuit of a major event to open the 2013-14 college basketball season and entertain U.S. troops in Texas.
"It's off," Hollis said today after emailing officials at the other seven schools that were going to participate with MSU in the event at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas — site of the 2014 Final Four.
1. Louisville will win the national title. After picking Indiana in the preseason, a few things have changed my mind: The Cardinals' No. 1-ranked defense has been stingier than it was last season, allowing 0.802 adjusted points per possession --- and that's even with interior anchor Gorgui Dieng missing the past six games with a broken wrist. He'll be healthy well before March. Louisville's offense, which was mediocre in 2011-12, has been surprisingly strong due to the huge scoring-efficiency strides made by guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. And finally, I'm just not convinced that Indiana's interior D is national-title caliber, whereas Louisville is, without question, the best defensive team in the country.
2. Kentucky won't recover in time to win the SEC or make a Final Four run ... but they'll open 2013-14 at No. 1. The Wildcats have plenty of room to improve, but their offense seems too flawed to ever be dominant. This feels like a "finish third in the SEC, get knocked out in the Sweet 16" kind of season, which, while a letdown, will be incentive for at least two of their freshmen to stay out of the NBA draft. They'll then serve as key contributors on a team heavily favored to win the 2014 title. John Calipari's next recruiting class, with the Harrison twins, James Young and (very likely) Andrew Wiggins, should fix all of UK's offensive issues.
SI Luke Winn
As hard as it is for Creighton's Josh Jones to give up basketball, he says it's not worth risking his life to keep playing.
Doctors advised Jones to stop playing after he underwent a procedure Dec. 18 to locate and correct an atrial flutter. He faces more procedures to treat the heart condition that caused him to faint before a game three weeks ago.
He said he wanted to let their words soak in a few days before he made his announcement this week.
''My life is more important,'' he said Thursday as teammates practiced behind him at the Vinardi Athletic Center. ''The game has gotten me this far. I'm the same person with or without it. But right now, and maybe forever, I'm just stepping away from the game.''
The NCAA released a package of proposals Friday that would change the recruiting calendar, lift restrictions on how and how often coaches can contact recruits and allow athletes to accept more money for participating in non-scholastic events.
All the proposals are expected to be voted on Jan. 19 at the NCAA's annual convention near Dallas. If approved, they could take effect Aug. 1.
It was the first detailed glimpse into how the NCAA intends to rewrite its massive rulebook and Jim Barker, chairman of the NCAA rules committee working on the plan, said the goal is "smarter rules and tougher enforcement."
If the package is approved, the overall result would provide coaches with more leeway in recruiting. The hope is that athletes will build more meaningful relationships with their coaches, and they will get more opportunities to showcase their skills in front of college and pro scouts.
One key recommendation would create a uniform recruiting calendar for all sports and allow coaches to begin contacting potential recruits after July 1 of their sophomore year, though coaches would still have to abide by the no-contact periods.
"The rules group believes that the uniform recruiting date will create significant ease of administration on campus, make the rules more understandable and allow for better recruiting decisions from both the coach and prospective student-athlete," said Barker, the Clemson president.
CBS wire report
Big 12 Composite Schedule
With Dick Vitale in attendance at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla., top 2013 prospect Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (W.Va.) was expected to put on a show at the prestigious City of Palms Classic.
The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 31 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots as the Express beat HCYA North (Houston) 77-50 in a showcase game Thursday. Wiggins connected on 15 of 22 field goal attempts.
A woman with a Kentucky key chain came up and wished him a Merry Christmas and good luck. A Florida State fan started chanting, "Go Noles, Go Noles." Wiggins' father, a former NBA player with Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia, and mother, a Olympic sprinter, both went to Florida State.
Wiggins is expected to choose between FSU and Kentucky.
Jackson (Miss.) Callaway topped Tifton (Ga.) Tift County, 59-43, in the consolation semifinal on Friday afternoon.
Callaway sophomore Malik Newman led all scores with 21 points. The 6-foot-3 guard is currently ranked No. 3 at his position by ESPN and is being recruited by Kentucky, North Carolina and Arizona.
Sophomore guard Tradic Jackson paced Tift County with 17 points. Kansas-committ Brannen Greene, a 6-foot-7 guard, added 16 points.
City of Palms Tournament scores and stats, links to news articles
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