When Devonte’ Graham lobbed the ball toward Udoka Azubuike, what the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse saw made them cheer. Bill Self had a different reaction.
The play he was stewing over came two trips earlier down the floor.
The sequence that started the fast break for Kansas actually originated from a KU mistake. Svi Mykhailiuk had the ball on the left wing. It was poked away and into the hands of a defender.
As Fort Hays State dribbled the other way, Mykhailiuk took a haphazard swipe at the ball, leaving KeShawn Wilson with a one-on-one shot to the hoop.
Malik Newman, who had already picked up a foul, defended the layup well and the shot missed. The ensuing break resulted in the lob, but Mykhailiuk still found himself on the bench.
"It's not that complicated to me. If you're going to make a mistake, at least make it going full speed," Self said. "When you try not to screw up, that's when you screw up the most. We just need those guys more aggressive, playing with more reckless abandon."
That was the way the first half went more often than not for Mykhailiuk. The film didn’t do him any favors.
Early in the first half, Fort Hays State had the ball out of bounds with just seven seconds on the shot clock. The inbounds was eventually redirected to Trey O'Neil, who Mykhailiuk pressured all the way out to half court.
O'Neil turned and dribbled back to his right, easily getting by Mykhailiuk and scoring on a layup. It was far from his only defensive lapse.
Mykhailiuk was a half-step slow reacting to an off-ball cut but still recovered well enough to make a play. Billy Preston, however, didn’t make enough of a path for Svi to step through on the handoff, and Mykhailiuk didn't fight through the traffic hard enough to prevent the layup.
In a later stint on the court, Mykhailiuk found himself matched up with the Tigers' Marcus Cooper. He tried to cheat on a screen and was burned by a simple left-to-right crossover, again for a layup.
"Defensively we were bad," Self said after the game. "We've certainly got to do a better job of guarding the ball."
Offensively, it wasn’t much better.
Mykhailiuk shot just 1 for 5 in the first half, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Even so, it was an attempted layup that stuck in Self's craw.
Nearing the midway point in the half, Mykhailiuk executed on a backcut and MItch Lightfoot delivered a perfect pass to put him in at the hoop.
Mykhailiuk went up for the layup and, perhaps sensing potential contact, contorted his body to try and lay it in left-handed. The shot bounced off the rim.
“Guy comes to contest, he flinched,” Self said. "He's a senior. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
To be fair, Mykhailiuk wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Self.
Newman, who picked up a cheap foul early in the game, did himself no favors later in the half, as he drove into heavy traffic and nearly turned it over.
The Jayhawks got the ball back and worked it around to Mykhailiuk, who launched a contested 3. At the next stoppage, both returned to the bench.
"You don't play with activity and people minus Devonte' go 3 of 21 from 3," Self said. "That is a formula to get your butt handed to you."
Perhaps it all would’ve been forgivable, though, if the swingman found other ways to contribute.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with eight rebounds and five assists, with a majority of those numbers coming in the second frame.
As for the first half, he had the chance to thread an easy entry pass to Udoka Azubuike, but his pass sailed by the big man and out of bounds.
"When you're not making shots and you don't give us any activity, there's absolutely no reason to play," Self said.
So to start the second half for the second straight game, Self went with Marcus Garrett and Preston over Mykhailiuk and Newman.
He doubled down on the move after the game, noting that Garrett made plays neither of the other two older players could make. Self did, however, make an even stronger statement.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Self turned to his bench to put in a wing. He opted for walk on Clay Young, continuing to leave Mykhailiuk and Newman on the bench for some time.
If it wasn't obvious as to why, Self made it perfectly clear after the game.
"No, I really did think, 'Now Clay, we need you to play a certain way,' " Self joked, before shedding the sarcasm for a more serious tone. "I just didn't really think that Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you.
"I think they got the message."
For a Kansas basketball freshman, no descriptor should carry more weight from Bill Self than the word “tough.”
It’s a word the KU coach doesn’t throw around. Players have to earn it. Self assigns it far less frequently than a word representing the opposite — soft — which he can be heard shouting in disgust from the sidelines of games and practices, usually with a matching facial expression.
In that regard, Marcus Garrett fits the mold of one of Self’s favorite freshmen. The raw materials are just a little different.
“Marcus is going to be a really good player,” Self said. “I think he’s one of our tougher guys.”
Now press pause and jump back a year.
Josh Jackson’s days were numbered from the moment he stepped on campus.
Everyone knew he was a one-and-done and likely top-five NBA draft selection, despite what the swingman said, asked about that very topic in a press conference in February.
At the very least, the Big 12 coaches had a pretty good idea of Jackson's future. That included Self.
“We had a 6-8 guard that could rebound and block shots and defend, and he wasn’t a normal guy,” Self said of Jackson. ‘He was a guard, but he could do anything. And he was a matchup nightmare for others.”
Garrett will not be those things, at least at first. He doesn’t have Jackson’s athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, Garrett doesn’t have Jackson's size
Garrett can, however, replicate some of the things that made Jackson what he was. His Allen Fieldhouse debut was a step in the right direction.
The do-everything, hybrid guard-wing-whatever-he-is was asked to play the four, as well as in the backcourt. Garrett defended in the post and on the perimeter. He both threw and received inbounds and outlet passes. He didn't let a veteran opponent take advantage of him.
Same mold. Different material.
“He’s a really tough guy and that’s going to help us a lot,” said guard Svi Mykhailiuk.
Defensively, Garrett was tested. Several Pittsburg State players tried to go at him, to varying success.
Late in the first half, Demetrius Levarity received a pass on the right wing. He tried a hesitation dribble to get by Garrett. Then he spun back to his left to attempt a hook over his right shoulder. Garrett forced a tie-up and then ripped the ball away.
One possession later, Garrett was hounding Jabari Antwine. Antwine was trying to get the ball into the post, where the 6-foot-7 Levarity was being guarded by 6-foot-2 Devonté Graham.
Garrett’s activity forced the Gorillas to look elsewhere. They ended up getting called for a shot-clock violation.
“He gets his hands on a lot of balls. That’s what he does,” Self said. “He’s not going to be a guy that’s going to average double figures as a freshman. But he can be a guy that can steal us a lot of extra possessions.”
And yet, there are still the moments that will drive his coach crazy.
With just over two minutes to play in the first half, Garrett trailed Graham up the court.
Graham passed Garrett the ball and he shot a contested 3. The ball didn’t move from side to side, a staple of not only Self’s offense, but also that of Garrett’s former coach. The possession lasted seven seconds.
Earlier in the first half, Garrett poked a ball away. Rather than passing it to an open Mykhailiuk, who was running up the floor, he began to dribble.
Garrett turned it over and Billy Preston had to step in and take a foul to stop a layup. Self screamed in frustration from the bench.
In those moments, the freshman looked like a freshman, as compared to the “freshman, but he’s not really a freshman” Self had a year ago.
“Maybe the biggest dog in college basketball as a freshman last year,” Self said of Jackson. “I mean, he was an assassin.”
The good news for Garrett is that he doesn’t need to be just yet.
It’s unlikely Garrett will play a meaningful minute this season without two of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick on the floor, meaning his developing 3-point shot won’t need to come around overnight.
For now, Garrett can play his way. That means straight-line drives to the basket to draw fouls — he shot a game-high eight free throws — and a little bit of everything else, like the five rebounds (two offensive), three assists, one steal and one block he tallied against Pittsburg State.
By the time he’s an upperclassman, though, would it shock anyone if these words that Self spoke of Jackson last year were being spoken about him?
“God, did he play good. I mean he played good. He showed America tonight that’s about as versatile of a player as there is in the college game.”
Billy Preston’s greatest hits at Late Night weren’t exactly what Bill Self wanted to see. Let's just say, he preferred Lil Yachty's.
Playing for the Crimson squad in the scrimmage, the 6-foot-10 freshman had his moments. He knocked down a pair of three-pointers and flashed a couple of solid dribble moves.
So what’s the issue?
“I said he could be (a lottery pick). There’s no question he could be,” Self said. “But you know, him playing away from the basket is obviously not going to help his stock.”
Preston scored nine points on 3-for-7 shooting in the scrimmage. He led his team with six rebounds and also notched a block on a Mitch Lightfoot three-point attempt.
There were some bumps and bruises — like when he fouled Devonte’ Graham probably a little too hard for a Late Night scrimmage or wiped out attempting a putback dunk and ended up on his back — but there were several moments of comfort, too, like when he flashed a smooth floater early on and a quick spin off the bounce to draw a foul.
“You can see even in the little bit of bad ball tonight that he’s really skilled,” Self said. “If he’s able to put it all together, there’s not many guys out there more talented in the freshman class.”
Senior guard Devonte’ Graham echoed that sentiment, noting Preston appeared more confident on the floor on Saturday than he was throughout the summer. Graham added that he’s stayed on the freshman about being aggressive and staying in attack mode — "not hesitating," as he put it.
But let’s address the elephant in the room.
One name that wasn’t spoken by any of the coaches or players on Saturday was that of Carlton Bragg, who transferred to Arizona State following a tumultuous year on and off the court.
At a listed weight of 240 pounds, Preston is bigger than Bragg was as a freshman. He’s also projected to show more on the inside and should have less of an issue adjusting to that type of role, though it will take some time.
Self also said on the Late Night broadcast he is comfortable with Preston shooting about two threes per game, so he isn’t trying to completely go away from Preston's guard-like skill set.
Still, to find an example of the warning Self issued, you don’t have to look far.
Here's a quote from Landen Lucas last season:
“(Bragg) is just adjusting his game, knowing that he’s very talented outside, but that we need him every now and then, depending on match-ups and personnel in the game, to step inside,” Lucas said. “Coach knows what he wants from him, and I’m sure during these next couple of weeks of practice he’ll make sure that Carlton’s on the same page.”
And here's one from Self in January:
“There's no question C.B. may say that's the way he thinks,” Self said. “But that's not in his core. He's always been a guy that scored the ball pretty easy and shot a lot of jumpers and those sorts of things, which is fine. There's nothing wrong with that.”
Now let's go forward to Saturday.
Here was Self's response, in full, the first time he was asked specifically about Preston:
“I said he could be (a lottery pick). There’s no question he could be. He’s big. He’s 6-foot-10. You can see even in the little bit of bad ball tonight that he’s really skilled. He can put it down. He’s an above average passer, but he’s a pretty good shooter. Got range, but, you know, him playing away from the basket is obviously not going to help his stock because he’s got to be able to rebound his position. And that’s the thing that he’s got to do. He can play facing, but he’s got to be able to score back to the basket, and he’s got to be able to rebound in traffic. Those are things that will determine whether or not he’s able to be what you mentioned. But if he’s able to put it all together, there’s not many guys out there more talented in the freshman class.”
Here's another comment he made:
“...Dedric Lawson didn’t get within 10 feet of the paint. Billy Preston didn’t either. You’re never going to win that way.”
“We should be a good shooting team. I think there’s a lot to like, it’s just there’s not much depth. You just don’t know if you’re going to have an inside presence on both ends. But I think we can get our guys to do that.”
That’ll be the challenge for Preston in the 2017-18 season.
It never worked for Bragg. Then a sophomore, the former five-star recruit was taken out of the starting lineup early in the year and never looked comfortable when he had to fill in at the five.
It may or may not work with Preston — only time will tell.
But if there’s one thing that might help his cause, it’ll be heeding the words of Self and Lucas last year, or even those of Graham on Saturday. After all, the message really hasn't changed that much over time.
“He’s just got to get the feel for what coach likes,” Graham said. “And we’ve got practice Tuesday, so (he’ll) get it started.”
Dancing with the ‘Hawks: What to expect — and what not to — from the men’s basketball team at Late Night
Author's note: This is intended to give some insight into the dancing process at Late Night in the Phog, but don't worry — what you read here is just a taste. There are still plenty of surprises to look forward to.
Clay Young didn’t want to continue anymore.
No, he wasn’t tired. The 45-minute practice paled in comparison to the rigorous work of boot camp and fell well short of a typical three-hour practice his newfound ‘coaches’ participated in. But after a mix-up with choreography led to Young dropping his dance partner, the JUCO transfer was a little frazzled.
“He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.’ He didn’t even want to finish the dance,” said Keaten Olson, then a KU freshman and first-year member of the Rock Chalk Dancers. “I was like, ‘No, keep going. Keep going.’ ”
As Olson recalled, she was going over Young’s shoulder, and he was supposed to grab her arms. He didn’t and she fell straight toward the ground, laughing as she popped up, ready to get back at it.
Olson, who appreciated the comedy of the moment — and the video, which she’s since saved on her computer — took it all in stride. After all, nobody said the task at hand was going to be easy.
“They’re used to lifting weights, not girls,” she joked.
Some more than others.
The ringleaders —
Devonte’ Graham is expected to have a big role on the men’s basketball team this year, but he might also have the best moves.
Katie Lomshek, a senior Rock Chalk Dancer who worked with Graham in advance of this year’s Late Night, said the senior guard has impressed her in a number of areas.
“I’ve seen him over all four years ... become so comfortable with what he’s doing,” Lomshek said. “Especially since this year with the battle, when blue is competing against us, he’s up in their face, trying to battle back and get us to get more hype for when it's our next song.”
If there’s one thing the dancers agree on, though, it’s that there’s plenty of talent — and excitement — for the routines this time around.
Perhaps no battle will be bigger than the one-on-one match-up of Graham and junior Lagerald Vick, who Olson said was her pick for best dancer.
“Insanely talented at dance,” Olson said. “Honestly, Lagerald Vick is so good. I didn’t really notice him last year, … but Lagerald is on my side. He is such a talented dancer.”
He's also got the cerebral part of it down.
“I started choreographing and he was like, ‘No, no, no, no. You gotta do that part slow because then it really builds up and the fans are going to be so impressed,'" Olson added. "So he was like teaching me dance moves and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ I think he’s really confident with his dance moves.”
Outside of those two, Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe should be a fun player to watch, though the original plan that called for him to leap through the air and over walk-on Chris Teahan was vetoed.
Big man Udoka Azubuike should also get the chance to show off his moves with a solo performance, as he'll look to make a big leap — at least as a dancer — from his freshman to his sophomore year.
"Our practices have been so fun," Olson said. "Last year it took a while to break them out of their comfort zone. This year, kind of from the start, they were throwing out ideas."
The ideas — (Warning: Spoiler Alert)
Without giving too much away, the theme of this year's dance for the men's basketball team, first suggested by marketing, will be a dance battle between two halves of the team.
Within that, though, there have been plenty of ideas from the players — some good and some bad.
One idea, from red-shirt sophomore Malik Newman, had some promise.
“I don’t know if this idea is going to go all the way through," Lomshek said, "but I know Malik on our side wants the players to walk in with masks. Like a Jabbawockeez mask."
Some ideas, however, are not so great.
For example, an unnamed player suggested his team begin the dance by surrounding the dancers in a circle and wobbling onto the court before backing away for the big reveal.
“The idea didn’t go very far,” Olson said. “It obviously wouldn’t have worked, but I just think it’s so cool how they’re so into it.”