Las Vegas Like two heavyweight boxers promoting an upcoming fight at a Glitter City casino, media-savvy college basketball coaches Billy Donovan of Florida and Bill Self of Kansas University held respective teleconferences with reporters Wednesday morning.
In theory the press sessions were to hype Saturday's marquee matchup between the top-ranked, defending national champion Gators and No. 10-rated Jayhawks, set for 10 p.m. in Orleans Arena.
Didn't turn out that way, however, since both parties have games Friday night. In the coaching business, it's a definite no-no to look past anybody.
"I hate talking about a game before we play a game," KU coach Bill Self said politely. His 3-1 Jayhawks take on 2-1 Ball State at 7 p.m. Friday, with 5-0 Florida to meet 4-0 Western Kentucky at 9:30. "Talking in general ... getting a chance to play Florida will be a good gauge for us. It will be a great measuring stick for us to let us know where we are against the standard because they are the standard."
The Gators, who are led by Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and a star-studded cast who blazed their way through the 2006 NCAA Tournament, are just as complimentary of KU.
But hey, Western Kentucky looms first.
"I don't mean this as a slight. I have great respect for Bill and his program, but I also have great respect for everybody we play at this time," Donovan said. "We've got to play Western Kentucky Saturday. Western Kentucky beat Georgia (70-67). What we're doing is playing two opponents with great speed and quickness.
"Kansas appears to have very talented guys who share the ball very well. I think when you sign an (Darrell) Arthur, (Sherron) Collins, guys of that magnitude out of high school, it says something. These are high-priority guys. They are a deep, talented team. There is always something to be said for a program with deep-rooted tradition like Kansas and, in our league, Kentucky.
"When those kids put on the jersey, it means a lot to them. Same with Western Kentucky, which has had a rich basketball tradition. We'll find out a lot about our program this weekend," Donovan noted.
Self, who, like Donovan, flew with his own team to Vegas on Wednesday in preparation for a pair of practices today, said there would be no danger of forgetting about Ball State.
"We are not going to spend any time whatsoever on what they do," Self said of the Gators. "Our team is not mature enough to handle that. We are playing Ball State right now.
"With one day of preparation, I'm sure Billy would agree, it makes it more difficult to prepare for a team like Florida, and that is all we will have - one day."
KU has already looked past one opponent, in losing to Oral Roberts.
"You get to March, and a lot more is made of those upsets," Donovan said. "The first thing is Oral Roberts is a very, very good team. They do not get the national recognition they deserve. If a team can shoot threes on another team's floor, you are in position to win. In college basketball, I don't think any more it is about who has the most talent. The most talented guys are in the NBA.
"The talent level now ... there is not a lot of disparity. What happens to a lot of kids, they get labeled McDonald's All-Americans and Parade All-Americans, but there is in reality not much difference. The days of having (Patrick) Ewing and (Hakeem) Olajuwon are over. If you do sign one or two, you only get them one year. College basketball ... it's sort of ridiculous the amount of parity we have thanks to the NBA."
Self, needless to say, agreed.
"People don't want to hear this," Self said, "but everybody has good players today. Coach (Ronny) Thompson's team (Ball State) has been beat up (with injuries), but they have good players like everybody else. We're excited about playing, and I'm sure Ball State will be, too."
Ball State, of course, beat KU, 93-91, in the opening round of the 2001 Maui Invitational in a game in which Aaron Miles and Nick Collison suffered severe cramps.
¢ Kaun update: KU junior center Sasha Kaun scored seven points in nine minutes in his return from a right knee injury in Tuesday's victory against Tennessee State.
"He is fine today from a soreness standpoint," Self said Wednesday. "He will not play 25 minutes (against Ball State), guys. We hope physically he can give us 15, 20 minutes a game."
"We tried to recruit him to Florida," Donovan said of Kaun, who attended Florida Air Academy. "He's a big, strong aggressive guy."
¢ Chinese broadcast: The Jayhawks' Nov. 28 game vs. Dartmouth at Allen Fieldhouse will be broadcast in Chinese and streamed on the Kansas Athletics Web site, kuathletics.com. The event is sponsored by KU's Confucius Institute.
¢ No NIT next year: Kansas will not participate in the Preseason NIT next year as originally planned. KU is not enamored of a new format in which teams open the tourney with two games at a neutral site. The Jayhawks traditionally have played in tourneys with all games at one site or playing host to the first two games like this year's Las Vegas Invitational and the old NIT.
"It''s not just that, but some other stuff. We wanted to do something else," KU senior associate athletic director Larry Keating said.