While Saturday night officially was the first practice of the 2017-18 Kansas basketball season, don’t think for a second that the coaching staff or players viewed it that way.
For starters, the Jayhawks hardly broke a sweat and played loose and free, laughing, smiling and trying things they may not otherwise have tried.
Beyond that, KU coach Bill Self, the newly inducted Hall of Famer who is set to open his 15th season in charge of the program, did not have a whistle and may not have even raised his voice once outside of his “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” shout that ended his short speech at the annual Late Night in the Phog season tip-off extravaganza.
In short, they had too much fun.
That all figures to change Tuesday, when the Jayhawks get down to business for real at practice No. 2 of the fast-approaching season.
The NCAA requires a team to take 12 days off during the 42-day stretch before its season opener — in KU’s case, No. 10 at home vs. Tennessee State — and Self, as he did last season, tried to set this year’s schedule so the Jayhawks would get at least a few of their 12 off days out of the way early.
While it remains to be exactly what the Jayhawks emphasize during their first real practice, Self on Saturday made it clear what would not be a focal point for Tuesday — chucking up fast shots.
“Thirty-eight threes in a 20-minute, running-clock game? That’s just ridiculous,” said Self of his least favorite statistic from last Saturday’s Late Night scrimmage. “Dedric Lawson didn’t get within 10 feet of the paint. Billy Preston didn’t either. You’re never gonna win that way. They never threw the ball to (Udoka Azubuike) unless it was an uncontested dunk. We’re never gonna play that way once we start practicing on Tuesday.”
Even though Tuesday marks the official official start to the season, Self’s squad enters October with a bit of a head start.
Because the Jayhawks played four exhibition games in Italy in early August, they were granted 10 mid-summer practices, which allowed them to get a roster half-full of newcomers up to speed on the terminology and philosophy associated with Kansas basketball.
It also created a bonding opportunity that both Self and senior point guard Devonte’ Graham said helped tremendously.
“It’s getting better,” Graham said Saturday, when asked about team chemistry. “From Italy to now, I think it went up a couple notches. We’ve been playing pick-up together and practicing and Tuesday we get to start really practicing so it’s just gonna keep building and building.”
Added Self of his team’s togetherness: “It’s better now than it was then.”
With just eight of KU’s 12 scholarship players eligible to play during the first semester, the team camaraderie, especially among the Jayhawks’ regular rotation, figures to get even tighter in the coming weeks.
Both Self and Graham talked after Late Night about the idea of this being a Final-Four-or-bust type of season for a Kansas squad that has ended its run in the Elite Eight during the past two seasons.
“We haven’t talked about it as a team, not with coach, at least,” Graham said. “But I know I’ve talked to the guys about it, about getting over the hump and stuff like that. It’s definitely that time.”