Thursday, March 21, 2013


Opinion: Wait pays off for KU players


Remember Jeff Withey checking into a game, making a mistake and checking back out? It happened often his first two seasons of college basketball. Heading into his junior year, he had played just 207 minutes, scored but 80 points and had season scoring averages of 1.3 and 2.3.

Now he holds the Kansas University and Big 12 records for blocked shots (294) was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and MVP of the conference tournament.

High-flying Elijah Johnson arrived from Las Vegas and scored eight points in his 17-minute debut against Hofstra, or two more points than he scored for the entire portion of the Big 12 schedule. Unable to keep opposing guards in front of him, he played all of 25 minutes, never more than six in any one Big 12 game.

Johnson’s sophomore season didn’t start well. He wasn’t allowed to suit up in the first two games for off-the-court reasons never made public. He worked his way into the rotation, but couldn’t beat out starters Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed and averaged 13.7 minutes and 3.4 points per game.

Johnson again did something to incur the wrath of his coach and was suspended, along with Tyshawn Taylor, for the two preseason exhibition games his junior season. It was only natural at that point to wonder whether he ever would get his act together. He did and hit more big shots than anybody during KU’s run to the 2012 NCAA Tournament title game.

He went through a prolonged slump this season. That made his 39-point game against Iowa State in Ames all the more gratifying for him.

Three seasons into his college career — the second spent as a red shirt — Travis Releford’s highest minutes-per-game season was 10.4, his highest scoring average 3.7.

Now he plays a team-high 33.4 minutes per game. He’s too valuable defensively to spend much time on the bench. He gives Kansas its best shot of slowing down the opposing team’s best player at all three perimeter positions. Releford also averages 11.5 points and ranked first in the Big 12 and 13th in the nation in effective-field-goal percentage, a stat that blends three-point and two-point percentages.

Some players don’t have to wait as long, have their patience tested and test that of their coach and fan base, as Withey, Johnson and Releford. Some players make huge strides within one season. Perry Ellis averaged 2.9 points in his first 13 games against Big 12 competition, 10.4 in his last eight. He dunked the ball twice in his first 32 games, four times in his last two.

Ben McLemore stands alone in having enough talent to star from Day 1 of his college career, and although his one semester practicing with the team helped, it’s more than that. His overwhelming talent compensated for his lack of experience, and the same can’t be said for anyone else on this roster.

The lesson to be learned from this team that became Bill Self’s fifth in the past seven years to earn a No. 1 seed is that it pays not to read too much into first impressions. The average student arrives at college a boy and grows into a man. Why should it be any different for a basketball player?

“I feel like — and you might hear this from coach’s mouth — it’s not the most talented team that we’ve had here at Kansas even in my four years,” Johnson said. “My freshman year with Sherron (Collins) and my sophomore year with the twins (Marcus and Markieff Morris), those are some good teams. I felt like we had targets on our back, and we didn’t respond like we should have. This is a more, I feel, humble team, a more … I really don’t know the word to explain … I don’t feel we’re those old teams. I feel like we know that we’re not the best talented.”

It’s not a conceited bunch that yaps too much the way Marcus Morris did in trash-talking Richmond players a day before destroying the Spiders. It didn’t work as well later in the weekend when Morris told VCU players right before tipoff that their nice run was over now. VCU won by an upset.

Not that conceit is necessarily a prescription for disaster. After all, it was Mario Chalmers who hit the biggest shot during Self’s 10 seasons at Kansas.

But Johnson is right in pointing out that this team doesn’t feel like the others, including last year’s, which had national Player of the Year runner-up Thomas Robinson and four-year starter Taylor.

“It amazes me,” Self said. “We’ve got four seniors starting on a team that is a No. 1 seed and none are 1,000-point scorers (for Kansas). If you’ve got four guys that are starting as many games you play in a season 40 games, that’s 160 games, you’ve only got to average six points a game to be a thousand-point scorer. We don’t have one. It tells you they didn’t play when they were young. They waited their time. That’s what I’m most proud of, the fact that you’ve got four kids all from different scenarios that waited their time and made the most of it, when opportunity knocks they beat the door down. It’s pretty cool to watch from inside.”

Kevin Young has scored 1,030 points during his college basketball career, but 648 came at Loyola Marymount. His path to big-time college basketball also included stops at a pair of junior colleges.

Athletes who must wait as long as the majority of KU’s players waited for a shot tend to not to take what they’re about to experience for granted. If they don’t reach their common goal, lack of effort or an abundance of conceit likely won’t be what made them fall short.


dehawk 8 years, 7 months ago

"That’s what I’m most proud of, the fact that you’ve got four kids all from different scenarios that waited their time and made the most of it, when opportunity knocks they beat the door down." That is what I love about KU basketball. And what I love about our players. And this quote is why I no longer feel so upset about losing a Randle. I am ready for the next group that has sat back patiently to have their turn to beat the door down.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

Not so fast. Having guys that have been around are great, but you dont mind having McLemore on the team do you? He's a OAD also. It's not about giving up three or four year guys IN FAVOR of one and dones. You should be able to have BOTH!

I feel sick about losing Randle.

Phil Leister 8 years, 7 months ago

Still don't understand why people don't realize McLemore is a OAD. The fact that this is his second year in Bill's system is very much responsible for his high productivity. He wouldn't have been this good if he could have played last year.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

Hawk...good argument. But here is how to tease it apart. In terms of "experience", he's not a one and done. But in terms of his contribution on the floor, he IS! Now if you're talking about what a kid is going to give you in terms of helping your chances to advance in the tournament, only what they give you on the floor counts. If you want to talk about how McLemore grew personally or contributed to the development of other players in practice in his red-shirt year, that is another matter. Leastwise, Im not entirely sure McLemore wouldnt have entered the draft last year with Robinson if he were allowed to play. That was a team that pushed far into the tournament, and McLemore could only have helped. Judging from how he contributed to practice last year and how he progressed, Id venture he would have figured prominently into the line-up by last March. Now you take that kind of kid with all of that ceiling who ends up playing in a national championship game, and he would have come out last year. No question. So he is a one-and-done player in every true sense of the term, and that doesn't deny that he made progress while he was on campus for a year not playing in games.

Phil Leister 8 years, 7 months ago

You gotta be kidding me. "He is a one-and-done in every true sense of the term". That's so ridiculous. The "true" sense of the term is one year in college then NBA. Now, for all the reasons you pointed out, is McLemore basically a OAD? Yes. But is he truly, literally, actually a OAD? Of course not, because he's been in college for two years. I'm not sure why that's so hard to grasp.

Lash 8 years, 7 months ago

Why do you want a kid that doesn't want to come here? It was apparent early on that Selby wasn't happy here and couldn't wait to move on. Did coming or leaving after one year work out good for Selby, don't know don't care 'cause he didn't let the door hit him in the a$$ when he left.

As far as getting many one and dones we never will as long as HCBS is here.To play for Kansas you have to play defense and that means hard work. No guarantees.

I'm sure that is brought to their attention at other schools while they are recruited. Come here, not KU we don't stress defense that much and you know they don't play defense in the NBA. It's human nature to take short cuts to met your goals.

I'll take this system, Self's system. He's 2 victories away from 300 at KU and that's in 10 years. 30 wins a year-- not bad for a guy who doesn't recruit OAD's very well.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

Lash...youre making a retrospective argument. No, if he doesn't want to be here, then I dont want him. But neither one of us could have known that two days ago. When I say I sick about losing the kid, Im basically saying Im disappointed that he didnt WANT to come here.

Ill take this system too. Self's. But hey...even Coach Self is actively recruiting the OADs! That has to count for something.

JayHawkFanToo 8 years, 7 months ago

I have not heard that Selby was unhappy at KU. Having to sit nine games at the start of the season (his fault, not KU) plus an injury put him way behind and he did not play well enough to become a starter. TTBOMK, he left KU in good terms and has been back a couple of time. He definitely needed and extra year and in the NBA he was first sent to the D league by Memphis, traded to Cleveland, sent to the D league again and then cut. He has the talent to play in the NBA, but the NBA seems to have little patience with some players and lot with others, i.e. Oden.

Alex Thiessen 8 years, 7 months ago

Don't feel sick. Lash is right. He didn't fit the system. Whatever offer Self gave him didn't fit his plans. Every day I care less and less about recruiting because all we really get is a name and a number. The coaches actually go watch them play and talk to them. I'm never again going to worry about a Bill Self recruiting class and that's a good feeling.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

Agree Herbisco. Totally. But again, same point as I made to Lash. You argue the point a different way if you know retrospectively he doesnt want to be here, versus MY feeling (prospectively) that I wish he could have seen the value to himself in coming to Kansas, and the value Kansas would have had in the kid.

finestack 8 years, 7 months ago

The Northern Iowa ad is not cool, LJW. Understand you're running a business, but there need to be some limits?

Phil Leister 8 years, 7 months ago

LJW doesn't run the ads. The website uses personalized advertising based on browser history and cookies. So, you should probably stop visiting Northern Iowa's website?

bad_dog 8 years, 7 months ago

Is that why I have Snorgtees ads everywhere ,-)

Don't understand why I have a Long island Nissan ad showing right now. Don't own a Nissan, never searched the web for one, haven't been to NYC in 10 years. Perhaps part of the ad content is random?

Danny Hernandez 8 years, 7 months ago

And Trav would have played more his soph year except that he I believe hurt his ankle during the Michigan game.

Still am upset that Randle chose Kentucky and for all intensive purposes fell in love with Calipari long time ago. I really feel he jerked not only Kansas around but the other programs. He wasted our Coaches time when it could have been spent recruiting another player. And his parents are to blame as well because they put this charade out there that every program had a chance and it wasn't true. We were used and Kansas is better than that. I have zero respect for Randle and his parents and if others tell me I'm sour grapes, so be it but just think for a moment how much he really liked Cal and Kentucky yet we were used to see how we match up to them, rather than the other way around. No way Kansas was going to win that battle. In the end, everything works out for a reason and Kansas will always be KANSAS.
At least we don't have an NIT, first round loss next to our name...

bad_dog 8 years, 7 months ago

I believe the phrase is: "for all intents and purposes", not "intensive purposes". Think about it in context for a moment. What the heck is an "intensive purpose"?

Please, not trying to embarrass/irritate you, but that's twice in the last couple of days and that kind of stuff just slays me. I always thought it better to be corrected than to continually repeat an error. For example,many years ago I used to say "irregardless" until attention was directed toward my error. A year or so ago there was another poster regular readers might recall that referred to "term oil" rather than turmoil. Everyone knew what was intended, but it sure butchered the word much to the amusement of all.

As for Randle, I wish he would have committed to KU. He didn't. I'm not sick over it. I'm moving on. We've got bigger fish to fry right now...

Joel Thomas 8 years, 7 months ago

Reasonable aberrations aside, it was a bummer Randle didn't choose KU, but we've still got players. It's like having the best ingredients in the world to make the best cake you can make.

JHawk74 8 years, 7 months ago

I believe Randle looked at our current roster and decided he wasn't going to start as a Freshman next year and decided to choose a different school. We don't have very many true freshman start at Kansas. In recent history a few guards will start but generally a Big Man don't start at Kansas as Freshman. Ellis is a perfect example he has the talent to start but took time to adjust to the college basketball speed. Look at Thomas Robinson he had huge potential and waited his turn to start. Self probably told Randle he didn't have a guarentee starting spot next year and he went elsewhere. I'm not opposed to OAD but we have had success without the OAD players.

Lash 8 years, 7 months ago

JHawk74 Don't you think he tells all the recruits there are no guarantees. As for Randle thinking he wouldn't start next year, I doubt that crosses the mind of a OAD. If he can't start at a college how is he ready for the NBA?

Jack Jones 8 years, 7 months ago

I will never be anything more than like 1% naturally disappointed when we aren't successful in recruiting any player ~ especially those who are projected as only playing one year of NCAA - level ball ~ and with all due respect to Ben Mc. (Who knew?) - and as others have pointed out, he has had 2 years of experience/Bill Self coaching. One simply has to compare Self's over-the-years record ~ molding very talented players over several years, with the records of those programs that year after year go for the top 5-top 10 ranked HS players. Obviously, no better example than this years team. While W's and L's will always be used as a measure of success by many; over my 60+ years of being a Jayhawk, I take much more pride in the fact that ~ while we are inarguably the most successful NCAA basketball program by that standard ~ even more importantly to me, is the fact that regardless of who our Head Coach has been ~ that person has placed even greater emphasis on assisting that individual in becoming an exceptional young man ~ in addition to an exceptional basketball player. That life lesson will last long after his playing days are behind him. And again, no better example than this years group of young men who have perhaps over-achieved on the court ~ but off the court as well.;

optimist 8 years, 7 months ago

Every indication is that KU would have a good chance at getting either Randle or Wiggins but not both. While nobody at KU or in the fan base would complain about landing a kid with Randle's talent I always felt like Wiggins seemed like the better "fit" at KU. My opinion is based on more than just talent. He seems like a really solid kid with a good attitude that doesn't crave the spotlight. He doesn't seem like the "all about me" type if you know what I mean, reminiscent of Ben McLemore. I for one will be far more disappointed if KU misses out on him.

Vince Brown 8 years, 7 months ago

@dannyboy4hawks... "for all intensive purposes"? How 'bout "for all intents and purposes"?

Gary McCullough 8 years, 7 months ago

Another really cool thing about having these seniors will be watching them walk down the hill in May...I always get misty at graduation.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

I do like Keegan's point in this article. Waiting in the program DOES seem to benefit most players. I think not only of the development of Withey, Robinson, the Morris twins, Cole Aldrich, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson, and on and on, but also about the number of players who left early and hurt themselves by doing it. Julian Wright, Josh Selby, and Xavier Henry all quickly come to mind. If these latter players would have stayed, their game would have improved and their chances at longevity in the NBA would have been more secure. But there is a lack of patience among kids nowadays. The money and fame are too irresistible to put off a year or two. Personal financial pressures, agents, and overblown fear of injury or a down year push these kids into coming out half-baked. One-and-dones are immune to logical reasoning of being a two-and-done (McLemore sort of fits this description, though he would have benefited less than an actual TAD because he was only a partial qualifier and saw no game time his first year). Keegans point is that waiting benefits most players, and I whole-heartedly agree.

Rick Arnoldy 8 years, 7 months ago

My advice to hot shots - stay at least one more year than your posse tells you to.

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

The issue of these guys waiting their turn at KU is a non-issue.

Players on every D1 team in the country wait their turns every year.

Players on every D1 team in the country that can jump early jump early.

Something amazing is going on at KU, but it has nothing to do with guys waiting at KU that do not wait at other schools.

What is amazing is how awesome Self is at getting guys to:

a) keep getting better no matter how long they stay; and

b) finding ways to combine their often limited skill sets into 30 game winning teams.

Its really incredible.

Every other team in the country that signs 3-4 star big men sees them stay a full four seasons.

What does not happen on every other team in the country, is that these 3 and 4 start players keep getting a little better all the time and KU and Self, unlike most of the other coaches around the country, figures out some amazing new way to fit the developed puzzle parts together and win 30 games.

I would say it were impossible, if it were not happening. :-)

Really, the other schools are full of guys that stay four years.

But those coaches can't find a way to win 30 with them.

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

P.S.: We know Self is doing some amazing puzzle fitting, because even his best players are not lighting up the NBA. They are at most role players in the L--even Mario Chalmers. And many of them can't cut it at all, once they get there--not because they aren't extremely well developed and skilled, but because they all tended to be missing certain dimensions of to their game, and missing the XTReme Talent the L requires. Self fits them together. Self masks. Self innovates variations on strong basic principles. Bottom line, for the most part, Self gets more out of his guys than the pros can. And this to me is the one and only reason Self should ever consider going to the pros now that he has F.U. money. It must be very tempting for him to wonder if he could fit the puzzle pieces together and mask in the pros a whole lot better than the currrent pro coaches do? I didn't use to think that he could, but now I do. He has an extraordinary capability in this regard. I don't think he could get a lot of NBA players--especially the spoiled ones--to buy into some of the team work his approach requires. But there are so many guys hanging around the NBA that would want to buy in; that would love that Self can scheme around a lot of their weaknesses, and build a team out of a few talented guys and a lot of role players. Self reminds me of Jerry Sloan and Chuck Daly and Phil Jackson in this regard, but Sloan especially. Nobody but Jerry Sloan could have gotten what little he did get out of Ostertaag. Self could find a role for Cole and the Morri in the L. Self could probably find a role for Sherron. It must be very tempting for him sometimes. So many guys with special abilities, not just a broad set of NBA abilities. If Self could just get a couple of superstars, think what he could do with the role players hanging around the NBA. They would die for him, because he would make the game meaningful for them again.

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