A whopping nine Kansas University basketball newcomers will be playing before a crowd in Allen Fieldhouse for the first time tonight.
Five true freshmen scholarship players — Rio Adams, Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas, Zach Peters and Andrew White III — will be joined by two red-shirts from the Class of 2011 (Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor) and two incoming frosh walk-ons (Evan Manning, Tyler Self).
It’s a party of nine that impressed 10th-year KU coach Bill Self on his team’s summertime tour of Switzerland and France.
“We’ve got a good group of freshmen ... you’ve got to throw Ben (McLemore) and Jamari (Traylor) in there, too,” Self said of red-shirts ineligible to participate in Late Night a year ago. “It is a young group, but I think a pretty talented group. I think it can go down three or four years from now as one of our better recruiting classes. But it still remains to be seen how soon they’ll be able to deliver. I’m hopeful soon because we are going to need them to play,” Self added.
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For the first time in a long time, there’s a new point guard running the show at Kansas University.
…Johnson said he’s planning on letting his true personality flow freely his senior campaign.
“Not to say I’m this fancy, flashy basketball player, but last year I did everything how it’s supposed to be done — out of the book,” Johnson said. “I didn’t add an ‘Elijah Johnson flavor’ to it. I just did what I’m supposed to do, but this year ... I plan to have a little more fun because you’ve definitely got to rile some of these people up.
“There’s a little more freedom that comes with the years. I don’t think coach will have a problem with me being comfortable out there doing what I do as long as it’s beneficial.”
Coach Bill Self said Johnson has earned his trust.
“It is one of those things that I am going to hold Elijah responsible for how the freshmen perform. If he wants to be a leader, he is going to have to make sure those guys’ heads are right to give us the best chance,” Self said.
…Johnson said he learned a lot from his buddy Taylor, who like Johnson, enjoyed talking to the media.
There is one difference between the two, however.
Taylor liked to express himself on Twitter; Johnson not so much.
“I’m not big with social networking,” Johnson said. “I feel you should think about things rather than just stating an opinion for a few seconds that might change tomorrow. I stay off all the social networking. I get on and I read because it’s definitely interesting. I choose to not really share too many thoughts on there.”
Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor learned things about each other last year. Personal things. The things people learn about each other on long car trips.
Since McLemore and Traylor weren’t eligible to play for Kansas, they would bum rides to road games with KU’s student managers. The details are best left unsaid, but it’s safe to say McLemore and Traylor got plenty of time to bond in the car.
“Maybe a little too much time in the car,” Traylor said.
The most memorable trip, McLemore said, was the drive to New Orleans for the Final Four. Kansas advanced all the way to the national title game before falling to Kentucky, and coach Bill Self couldn’t help but wonder how the Jayhawks would have looked with McLemore on the court.
“I think Ben could have been a difference maker,” Self said Thursday at KU’s media day. “We line up against Kentucky with Ben, and now we match up with them on the perimeter better.
“That doesn’t mean our team would have been as good — maybe chemistry wouldn’t have been as good or whatnot — but I do think he has a chance to be one of the special ones that has come through here.”
Video interview McLemore
Kansas University freshman basketball forward Zach Peters will be out four to six weeks because of a left shoulder injury, KU coach Bill Self reported at Thursday’s Media Day in Allen Fieldhouse.
Peters, a 6-foot-9 freshman out of Plano, Texas, has a rotator cuff injury that will not require surgery.
…Evan Manning, who missed about a month with a severely sprained ankle, said he should be able to play in tonight’s Late Night in the Phog scrimmage. Ben McLemore, who suffered a hip flexor injury in August and played sparingly during two of KU’s four games in Switzerland and France, said he’s close to 100 percent. He said he hoped to be able to ram a dunk or two for the fans at Late Night. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., today, with the show to begin at 6:30 p.m.
The first thing you notice about the Kansas basketball team this year is that it’s big.
Not in height, though 7-footer Jeff Withey stands out, but in numbers.
There are a lot of players on the roster this season, 17 to be exact, and for the most part they land on the extremes of experience. The main contributors will be either seniors who were part of a national title run last season or wide-eyed freshmen who watched the Final Four from afar.
“We have so much experience, at the same time, we have a lot of freshmen, so it’s going to be a fun season,” said Withey, who emerged last season as a shot-swatting All-America candidate.
“It’ll be fun for the older guys to teach the young guys. We have all this experience,” Withey said. “The game has slowed down to us — for them it’s fast motion — so it’ll be fun for us.”
Three of the top uncommitted high school senior basketball prospects in the country will attend tonight’s Late Night in the Phog in Allen Fieldhouse.
They are: No. 5-rated (by Rivals.com) Aaron Gordon, 6-8 forward, Archbishop Mitty High, San Jose, Calif.; No. 23 Wayne Selden, 6-5 combo guard, Tilton (N.H.) High and unranked Joel Embiid, 7-foot center, Rock School, Gainesville, Fla. They’ll be sitting behind KU’s bench with future Jayhawk Conner Frankamp, a 6-0 guard from Wichita North, who has orally committed to KU. He’s the No. 28-ranked player in the class of 2013.
Here’s a closer look at KU’s guests:
Aaron Gordon, 6-8, 205: Gordon has a list of KU, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Kentucky and Cal. He’s the brother of former UCLA player Drew Gordon, who transferred to New Mexico.
“They got a word to describe Aaron Gordon where I come from.......PRO,” Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi tweeted after watching Gordon play last spring.
...Wayne Selden, 6-5, 225: Selden, who has a list of KU, Florida, Missouri, UCLA, Syracuse and Ohio State, was originally a member of the Class of 2014 who decided in June to reclassify to the Class of ‘13.
“I’m physically ready and my grades are good,” Selden told cbssports.com. “I’m physically ready for the college level.”
No doubt about that. Eric Bossi of Rivals.com has tapped Selden one of the 10 most physical players in the entire class. In all, just Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Zena Edosomwan were slotted in front of Selden.
…Joel Embiid, 7-foot, 220: Embiid, who is originally from Cameroon, has a list of KU, Florida, Louisville, UCLA, Marquette, Texas, DePaul, Wake Forest and Virginia. The 17-year-old Embiid started playing basketball just a year ago.
…High school junior prospects to attend Late Night: Clayton Custer, a 6-0 point guard from Blue Valley Northwest, ranked No. 100 by Rivals.com; Lourawls Nairn, a 5-9 guard from Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita ranked No. 79 and Elbert Robinson, a 6-10 forward from Lakeview Centennial in Garland, Texas ranked No. 43.
Today’s season-opening Late Night, set for a 6:30 p.m. start in Allen Fieldhouse, is generally regarded as the single greatest recruiting tool of the school year — a way to show high school and/or junior college prospects a good time in front of 16,300 adoring Jayhawk fans.
Late Night is something else, as well: It’s a reward for the current players for their efforts to improve in the offseason.
“My favorite part,” Johnson said of Late Night, “is being in the tunnel before we come out — just the suspense. Getting to see the (highlight) video for the first time ... the freshmen and everybody being excited for it. You can’t wait to get out there. That’s the best part.”
Doors for Late Night swing open at 5:30 p.m. today with the actual program running from 6:30 until approximately 9:30 Admission is free.
“My favorite part is just being out there in front of all the fans again, being able to play and just knowing we’re that much closer to the season,” said fifth-year senior Travis Releford, a native of Kansas City, Mo.
“I’ve been going to Late Night since my freshman year of high school. That’d be nine Late Nights. They’re always a lot of fun,” he added.
This Friday, elite recruits from around the country will visit prospective schools to take in the start of the college hoops season.
We caught up with a handful of players to find out what they’re most looking forward to at this year’s Midnight Madness events.
Brannen Greene, Senior Shooting Guard
High School: Tift County (Monroe, Ga.)
Midnight Madness Spot: Kansas
Most Excited About: “Seeing how the fans greet me. Also, I’m excited to see the team and coaches. I’ve built strong bonds with some of the guys on the team, so I’m excited to hang out with them and the staff.”
Aaron Gordon, Senior Small Forward
High School: Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)
Midnight Madness Spot: Kansas
Most Excited About: “Seeing the tradition there. That’s where James Naismith was and so I’m really interested in seeing all of the different traditions that they have there.”
USA Today (Greene has decided to use his visit for the College Gameday event at Kansas instead.)
1988 National Championship team and coach Larry Brown
But the Kansas Jayhawks winning at least a share of the Big 12 title? That one is pretty close. The conference coaches re-affirmed the Jayhawks' dominance on Thursday, unanimously picking Kansas to win the Big 12 title in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.
KU, which is coming off an appearance in the NCAA title game, has won a piece of eight straight Big 12 titles.
In one sense, the poll results weren’t exactly unanimous. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team, and KU coach Bill Self cast his first-place vote for Baylor. But Kansas nabbed the other nine first-place votes.
Kansas State, which is entering its first season under new coach Bruce Weber, came in fifth in the preseason poll. Other notables: Baylor just edged Oklahoma State for the No. 2 position, while Texas was voted fourth. West Virginia, in its first season in the Big 12, was slotted in behind K-State at No. 6.
It’s the 11th time in league history that Kansas is the coaches’ choice to win the league. Last season, the Jayhawks were picked as co-favorites with Texas A&M. Kansas has won an NCAA-record 55 league titles in their program’s history.
2012-13 BIG 12 PRESEASON POLL
Team (first-place votes); Points
1. Kansas (9); 81
2. Baylor (1); 63
3. Oklahoma State; 60
4. Texas; 58
5. Kansas State; 54
6. West Virginia; 45
7. Oklahoma; 34
8. Iowa State; 28
9. Texas Tech; 18
10. TCU; 9
On Thursday morning, the sun rose. The morning paper landed on doorsteps around the country. Traffic jams stalled its highways.
And Kansas was picked to win its ninth consecutive Big 12 crown by the league’s coaches.
No surprise, right?
To date, Bill Self’s program has won at least a share of the conference championship each of the last eight years.
The league announced Thursday that the Jayhawks were the unanimous picks to win the conference title for the 11th time. Kansas was followed by (in order) Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU.
It’s easy to justify this prediction. Jeff Withey might be the best interior defender in the country. Multiple weapons from a team that lost to Kentucky in last season’s national title game return. There’s also a strong recruiting class led by Perry Ellis.
But it’s not a flawless projection. Yes, I think the Jayhawks will win the league, too.
Here’s why it’s not a guarantee:
Jeff Withey’s offensive game: Maybe he won’t need one. But the Jayhawks lost 34.3 ppg with the departures of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Withey recorded just three double-digit efforts in the last 11 games of the 2011-12 season. He was 2-for-8 in the national title game. I know he spent a lot of time working on his offensive game this summer. So improvement should be expected. The Jayhawks need more from him on that end of the floor.
The point guard situation: Kansas has won without true point guards in the past. Tyshawn Taylor wasn’t really a true point guard last year. But he was a playmaker. Elijah Johnson, who will probably play the role for Self’s squad this season, will make better decisions and his performance in the NCAA tournament proved that he’s capable of leading the program. But he’s also the team’s greatest scoring threat – although Ben McLemore could eventually assume that role. And I think he’s better playing on the wing next to a point guard who handles the ball the majority of the time. Until we know if Naadir Tharpe and/or Anrio Adams can play point guard within Self’s system, Johnson will take on that responsibility. It’s not a question of “Can he play point guard?” But “Should he play point guard?” is legitimate. Right now, he doesn’t have a choice.
Baylor and Oklahoma State: If the Marcus Smart buzz is accurate, then Oklahoma State could shock the league in 2012-13. Both Smart and LeBryan Nash are pro prospects. Markel Brown (10.5 ppg) could explode this season, too. If Travis Ford’s squad plays smarter and enhances its defense (No. 107 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings), it will shock the Big 12 and the country. The Jayhawks’ more immediate threat is a Baylor squad that possesses one of the top backcourts in the country (Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello) and a shot-blocking 7-footer who can also handle the ball (Isaiah Austin). That might not be enough to end Kansas’ streak. But both teams could prove to be serious threats.
Replacing Robinson: With a blue chip program such as Kansas, elite athletes rotate in and out each year. Ellis is one of the top freshmen in the country. He’s expected to step in and immediately contribute. And he won’t have to do it alone inside with Withey returning. But Robinson spread his toughness throughout the program. Proof? Missouri-Kansas Round 2. Robinson’s heart carried the program in its toughest moment of the regular season. And I think the Jayhawks will miss that. Other leaders will emerge. But how will they match Robinson’s intangibles and spirit? He played with a grit that ultimately defined the Jayhawks as they reached the national title game. Who will play that role this season? Who will Kansas turn to in those difficult stretches?
You can’t win them all: At some point, a team must fall, right? Kansas hasn’t tasted second place in nearly a decade. And with the personnel the Jayhawks will have this season, it’s unlikely that they’ll experience that feeling in 2012-13. But, never say never. The Jayhawks can’t win forever. Or can they?
ESPN Myron Medcalf
10/8/12, 8:28 PM
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Kansas 2012-13 Schedule