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One of the several hundred coaches at Bill Self’s annual Kansas University basketball coaches clinic appeared impressed with some fast-paced action Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
“They look more skilled than in the past,” the coach remarked while watching 40 minutes of full-court scrimmaging that concluded a two-hour practice.
The Jayhawks did exhibit speed, athleticism and a strong skill set in Friday’s and Saturday’s clinic practices — partly because of the squad’s makeup, also because a bunch of jitterbugs were all over the court with the team’s two biggest players on the sidelines.
Markieff Morris, 6-foot-10, and Jeff Withey, 7-foot, are out due to hernia and foot injuries, respectively. It leaves guys like Thomas Robinson, Marcus Morris, Mario Little, Travis Releford and red-shirt walk-on Justin Wesley manning the inside positions at 6-9, 6-9, 6-6, 6-5 and 6-8 respectively.
“I’m excited about this team because I think we’re different. I think it’s a different team than I’ve had to coach the last couple years. I really think we’re fast,” eighth-year KU coach Self said. “We throw it all over the place, but are fast, something fun to coach.”
While Withey and Markieff Morris should be available close to the time of KU’s Nov. 2 exhibition opener against Washburn, several team-oriented Jayhawk perimeter players don’t mind helping out in the paint in a pinch.
“I like to play as a guard, be able to create for other people, sometimes get my own shot and lock other players down,” senior Little said, “but it doesn’t really matter where they put me. I’ll play wherever I’m needed.
“I feel this team can get out there fast. We can switch defenses and create havoc on defense.”
Noted Marcus Morris: “We’re kind of low on bigs, so I have to stay down low and help us out. Wherever I am on the court is where I want to be. If I’m at the three, I’ll play the three. I don’t know how much time I’ll get at the three. When I’m there, I’ll make the most of it.
“We have a lot of versatile players,” Marcus added. “In the past, we’ve always had (true) guards on the wing. I didn’t have to play out there. I think coach wants to play with the cards a bit and get me out there for a couple mismatches on guys who are big like I am, but not as quick as I am.”
Self figures to use all sorts of combinations.
“Probably the four,” he said of how he sees Little this season, “but we’ll play him on the perimeter as a four man. What I see a lot is posting him and playing Marcus on the perimeter, so you get Marcus’ big man away from the basket, allow him (Little) to post a guard. I can see doing things like that.
“Marcus has not been on the perimeter as much (yet) because we’ve been so beat up with Withey out and ’Kieff out, we don’t have enough guys to practice. We’ve practiced Travis at the four and Mario at the four. It’s something we can do when we try to play small. Offensively, those guys are really good on the post.”
Self has been impressed with his squad — his skilled, undersized squad — at practice.
“Sometimes we think guys are working hard just because they are faster than others. I think this team does work,” Self said. “We’ve had a collection of guys that are good workers since we’ve been here. This ranks with as good a working team as we’ve had.
“I think we try hard. I think we’re fast. I think we’re fairly competitive. I don’t know if the competitive juices are to the point I’d like them to be. I think we’re pretty deep. I don’t know who our best players are. That could be a good thing. It adds to our practices daily. This is a less margin for error team, but a team that has a chance to be good.”
As hundreds of high school, juco and small college coaches saw for themselves Friday and Saturday.