The theme song from “Rocky” and Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played on the sound system at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday as the Jayhawks’ World University Games gold-medal-winning basketball team exited the team bus, then marched through a gate toward the pitcher’s mound.
About 1,000 fans clapped and chanted, “USA, USA,” as the players, coaches and staff members officially completed a 17-day road trip to Gwangju, South Korea, where the Americans won eight games as well as an exhibition against China.
“It was fun. I’ve never had a team pull together, get along better than what they did there,” KU coach Bill Self said at the conclusion of 28 hours of travel that included a train ride from Gwangju to Seoul, a flight to Detroit and connection to KC International.
“It was amazing how unselfish, how hard they played and competed,” Self added of 10 Jayhawks, plus SMU’s Nic Moore and Florida Gulf Coast’s Julian DeBose. “The guys played like men, against men.
“I don’t think anybody thought we could win the gold medal. I was hoping we could get out of pool play and at least make it to the medal round. I think 2009 was the last time anybody (from USA) played for a medal there, the bronze medal. The last two times we went, we hadn’t even got out of pool play, and these were (U.S.) Select Teams.”
Self called KU junior combo guard Wayne Selden Jr. “the MVP, the best player over there.”
View a photo gallery as members of the Kansas basketball team, who represented Team USA and won the gold during the recent World University Games in South Korea are greeted by fans at Hoglund Ballpark.
He said senior forward Perry Ellis was “terrific as always with his consistency,” then, in referring to junior point guard Frank Mason III, said, “We saw at game point, when it counted the most, we’ve got a little bulldog right here. He was a poodle when he got here (as freshman), now he’s up to a bulldog.”
Self said looking back at KU’s 84-77, double-overtime gold-medal-winning victory over Germany, “We stunk. We were so tired. I don’t know how we won the last game. We kind of willed ourselves, then Frank took over late. Up until the last game, I think we had one (24 second) shot-clock violation. That (clock) didn’t affect us at all. We probably played faster than anybody there, without question. I thought it was a positive. It made me trust guys to make plays for themselves, to play one-on-one as opposed to try to run offense to score.
“Competing against those teams that were so good ... Russia was great,” Self continued. “Competing against those teams made me respect my guys a lot more because they had size, they had talent, but we had heart. We really did. I think it’ll probably help me trust them more. On the flip side they’ll probably be able to play a lot faster now because they were forced to play fast.”
Self, who at 7 a.m. today catches a flight to Chicago, then later in the day moves on to New York on recruiting trips, said his “tired group” of players would head back to their hometowns at the conclusion of summer school on July 30. They’ll return for start of school on Aug. 24.
“I want them to get as far away (from basketball) as they can,” Self said, noting that “the only individual workouts the next week or so will be Cheick (Diallo), Svi (Mykhailiuk), maybe Carlton (Bragg) and Lagerald (Vick).”
Self introduced newcomer Diallo, 6-9 freshman from Mali, to the fans Wednesday. Diallo and Mykhailiuk couldn’t play in the Games because they are not from the USA.
“He’s still going through all the stuff,” Self said of Diallo needing to file paperwork to qualify academically to play this season. “It’s good to have him here. Hopefully that stuff will go well with everything (and he’ll qualify). He’s a great kid and terrific talent. People here will love him.”
Self said transfer Dwight Coleby would arrive in August. Self told Coleby to wait until the start of fall semester since he lost his passport and wouldn’t be able to arrive in time for summer school. Coleby, who is from the Bahamas, will sit out this season after transferring after two seasons at Ole Miss.
Self said the Jayhawks escaped the Games relatively healthy. Only freshman forward Bragg will need to visit the doctor. “He’ll have to get it straightened out,” Self said of the nose the 6-9 Bragg had broken in Korea.
This, that: Self said the U.S. team was awarded 15 gold medals. “No coaches took medals. We gave them to two managers and Devonté (Graham,” plus the 12 players), he said. ... Self said the Jayhawks still would hold Boot Camp conditioning this preseason. “They’ll have plenty of time to get out of shape,” he said with a smile. ... Ellis said playing eight games in a week-and-a-half was grueling. “I’m pretty exhausted from the trip coming back,” he said. “Overall, playing the games in a short period of time ... it feels great to come back with the gold. It was an honor, a thrill to be able to do this.” ... Selden added: “I feel good. My legs felt great over there. We’ve all been working hard all summer. It showed in the tournament. Guys were forced to play a lot of minutes. Guys showed up when it mattered.” ... Former KU forward Thomas Robinson of the Brooklyn Nets had successful arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp, team officials said.