Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self's comments at his press conference today.
• Andrew Wiggins is doing well. He's starting to feel more comfortable. He wants to please and not screw up. He's figuring it our fast. Each day, he's showing more of what he can do. Wiggins is a much better player than he was in June and July. He understands more what KU is trying to do. He's been more consistent with his energy. His ceiling is ridiculously high. Self doesn't think he will come close to reaching his ceiling this year, just because he'll be better at 22 than 20 because of strength and things like that. He does things others can't do athletically. His ceiling is still high just for this year.
• KU could red-shirt someone this year. The freshmen will play in the exhibition games, then Self and the staff will make a decision. Self is going to play all the freshmen in the exhibition games to see how they do. Self originally thought he would red-shirt at least one guy, but Self is not sure about that now.
• Tarik Black is the most mature guy on the team. He wants Joel Embiid to be good, and when Embiid does get good, those guys will start splitting time. Black knows that's best for the team.
• Starting practice earlier this year was good for the team. Self doesn't know if KU is any further along getting things implemented this year with the earlier start. Right now, the team tries to practice all facets. KU certainly doesn't have everything in yet.
• These exhibition games might be a little more important compared to other years. Self isn't going to try to make sure certain guys get certain minutes as he might in past years. A lot of guys need to get minutes. Self will be excited to see how different guys react in different situations.
• Self doesn't believe he's been impatient with the new guys, but he thinks he could be more patient. He doesn't think backing off the guys in practice is the best thing. He believes he should be demanding. Hopefully, Self says the guys figure out that KU plays only a certain way: hard with a lot of toughness.
• Andrew White III has emerged as one of KU's best performers in practice. He's more confident with his shot, and he's one of KU's best rebounders. He also tries "so darned hard."
• Self believes this team is better than the young 2005-06 team, but Self joked that team couldn't get it past half-court at the Maui Classic. KU is asking these freshmen to do everything from Day 1. That wasn't the case with that group in '05-'06. Self hopes this team progresses as much as the '05-'06 team did by January.
• Self says when you tell young kids to be aggressive, they think they have to go score. Self wants guys to be aggressive to open things up for themselves and teammates.
• Self said Frank Mason should change the pace every time he enters a game, because he'll only be playing 3-4 minutes at a time, whereas in practice, he goes for 2 1/2 hours and like all other players naturally wears down. Self is interested to see if his guys perform well in their new roles in a game.
• Self says his team has, knock on wood, adjusted to the new hand-checking rules well so far. Self heard one Div. II game had 72 fouls. That's bad ball. The scrimmages that KU has had, though, haven't had a lot of fouls. Self joked maybe that's because KU's guys aren't getting close enough to guard.
• Self said the five in the starting lineup haven't completely separated themselves. Andrew White III and Joel Embiid have played well enough to start some practices, and other practices, Jamari Traylor has been one of KU's best players. Those eight players, so far, have separated themselves from the others.
• Self thinks KU could be terrific defensively later in the year. The team isn't good defensively now. Self is excited for this team, because it has wings it can run through passes. But now, KU can't pressure the ball as well because of the new rules that don't let you get as physical with offensive players as you used to be able to.
• Wiggins needs to learn to deal with media, but at this point, Self doesn't see why Wiggins should have to do much more media from this point forward. He will be available postgame if he does well, but Self is going to try to protect him from getting worn down with having to do too much. Self feels for him, and he's never felt for one of his players like that. The less Wiggins wants the attention, the more he gets. Wiggins still has handled everything like a pro.
Kansas coach Bill Self opened up his full practice to media members Saturday, as the Jayhawks scrimmaged for about 90 minutes with all the European rules (24-second shot clock, wider lane, 10-minute quarters, international basketball) before spending the last half-hour or so installing plays and going over zone offense.
Here are some of the notes I jotted down about some of the players from the scrimmage:
Jeff Withey — To me, he was the best player in the gym, and it wasn't close. Defensively, he looked just as good as he was a year ago, blocking shots both at the rim and also away from it. On one instance, with time running down in the third quarter, he blocked Kevin Young's shot about 18 feet from the basket. Young retrieved the ball quickly and put up another shot, and Withey quickly bounded up to block that shot as well. The defensive effort even drew kudos from Self.
Offensively, Withey is trying to assert himself more, as he knows he'll be relied upon to score this year. Though he went after defenders when he received the ball in the post, I didn't see him attempt too many jump shots. His offensive game is still developing and isn't a finished product just yet.
Elijah Johnson — Nothing much to report with Johnson. He had a steal and dunk in transition and hit a few outside jumpers. It was basically what you'd expect from him.
Perry Ellis — Ellis this was the newcomer who impressed me the most. Offensively, he's further along than any other KU freshman. What he does with the basketball just appears instinctual. When he gets it in the low post, he knows what he's going to do and does it. He also has an ability to get by his defender off the dribble. Nothing about his game appears mechanical, and the game never appears to be going to fast for him. He also had a highlight throwing a high-low pass from the top of the key to Withey. Ellis spotted him, then threw a lob pass that was a bit to Withey's back shoulder, though Withey was still able to lay it in easily. Afterwards, though his team had just scored, Ellis still apologized to Withey for the pass. Ellis also looked comfortable shooting mid-range jumpers in the 15-to-18-foot range, making quite a few of them.
Naadir Tharpe — The sophomore looks to be making an effort to become more of a floor leader. He was one of the loudest encouragers on the floor and also a guy that was trying to help out younger players. He had one nice pass in the lane that drew a "Way to play" from Self. Still, there were moments where Tharpe — everyone at practice called him "Na" — was reckless. During one transition, he sprinted all the way under the rim before jumping in the air next to two defenders. Facing away from the goal, he forced up a blind scoop shot over his head that wasn't close. He was one of the primary ball-handlers, though, and on this team, that should earn him minutes.
Andrew White — I thought White was the second-best freshman after Ellis. Much like Ellis, White didn't appear to be affected by the speed of the game. For the most part, he made good decisions and smart passes. He also has good size at 6-foot-6. His best play came in the second quarter, when he went way above the rim for an offensive rebound. Though White is known as more of a shooter, it looks like he could provide KU a boost on the offensive glass as well. About that shooting ... White missed every three-pointer I saw him take — and he probably took around 10, with most of them coming from the right corner. Remember, it's just one practice in August, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised that he didn't make one.
Rio Adams — The freshman struggled Saturday. Many of his issues came from trying to make difficult passes in traffic, which resulted in turnovers. One time, while driving, he also tried to get through a group of defenders by attempting a behind-the-back dribble, which resulted in an opponent steal. His shot was off Saturday as well, as one of his three-point tries bounced off the backboard, and he also was briefly in Self's doghouse for not hustling onto the court during an offensive drill. The one thing Adams does have going for him is that, during the scrimmage, he was trying hard. On one loose ball, he was the first to dive on the floor, earning praise from the KU assistant coaches. Adams also picked Johnson's pocket once in the backcourt, which stood out as the highlight of his day.
Milt Doyle — Like Adams, Doyle appears to be struggling with the quickness of the game. He tried to force too many passes into traffic, which many times resulted in turnovers. Doyle did show flashes of offensive skill Saturday, taking a couple dribbles before hitting an 18-foot pull-up jumper on one possession and later draining a three from the corner.
Zach Peters — The freshman doesn't look timid. He's not afraid to throw his body around and bang with the bigs inside. He also didn't look fazed even after getting blocked by Withey a couple times, which I thought was a good sign. One concern for him this year could be fouls, as he struggled to play defense without drawing a whistle.
Landen Lucas — He knocked down an 18-footer, but overall, it was a quiet day for him. He appears to be another guy still getting adjusted to college basketball, as coaches were on him a few times to go full speed up and down the court.
Kevin Young — Young was silent for the first half then really good in the second half, which reminded me a bit of what we saw from him last year. He appears to be a bit more athletic this year, skying high for an offensive rebound that I'm not sure he could have gotten to a year ago. He also showed nice touch in the post, spinning to a left-handed hook from about eight feet that went straight through. Young also routinely was one of the first players down the floor on offense, which resulted in at least one easy bucket for him. It looks like KU will rely on him more for rebounds this year with Thomas Robinson out of the lineup.
Ben McLemore — I missed the first quarter because of another assignment, so I didn't get to see McLemore, who didn't play past the second quarter because of a minor hip ailment. When I first walked in, I asked who was looking good, and McLemore's name was the first mentioned by Journal-World beat writer Gary Bedore. McLemore hit two threes and an inside shot in 10 minutes. Also, with McLemore in, the blue team outscored the red, 30-15, in the first quarter.
• One other note I found interesting: Self stopped practice at one point to instruct the guys on inbounding the basketball.
It sounds like a tiny thing, but really, it's not. The person inbounding the ball has to call a play and make sure that everyone hears them.
Self told his guys to call that play while still standing on the court. The reason? If the player goes out of bounds to call the play, many times an official will hand him the ball, and the five-second count starts before the team's play is called. If a player calls the play from on the court, then there is no danger of the official handing him the ball and starting the count.
I thought it was a pretty interesting example of Self's attention to detail on something that many of us would never even think about.
Be sure to check back to KUsports.com over the next week and a half for coverage of the KU men's basketball team's exhibition games in Europe, as I'll be heading to Switzerland on Sunday.
The plan is to live blog each of the games from the arenas, starting with Tuesday's noon CST game against the Swiss national team.
Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey unlikely to assume same offensive roles as Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson
With eight new scholarship freshmen on the roster, it's hard to predict exactly how the Kansas men's basketball team's offensive roles will establish themselves for the 2012-13 season.
If history is any indication, though, KU fans shouldn't expect seniors Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey to do the same heavy lifting offensively that departed players Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson did in 2011-12.
The reason for this is a 2007 study from Ken Pomeroy that attempted to look at players' offensive roles from one year to the next.
For this study, he used possession percentage, which is the percentage of possessions a player ends by making or missing a shot or creating a turnover with a few adjustments made for offensive rebounds and assists (20 percent is average).
After looking at possession percentages of players one year to the next, Pomeroy came to the following conclusion in his study:
"Players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress the other way. Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player's role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season."
One of the examples he used from the time was Duke's Josh McRoberts. After playing his freshman year with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, most Blue Devils fans expected him to carry the load offensively during his sophomore season.
There was only one problem: McRoberts played passively his freshman year (17.1 percent possession percentage), and it's hard for a player to dramatically shift his role from one year to the next.
Though McRoberts' possession percentage went up to 21.9 percent his sophomore year, Pomeroy said the forward still received criticism for not taking over games.
Let's take a look at last year. Did Taylor and Robinson have the offensive profiles to suggest they could become go-to guys?
Here are both of their possession percentages from the past two seasons, according to KenPom.com:
2010-11 — Taylor 21.2 percent, Robinson 26.7 percent
2011-12 — Taylor 27.7 percent, Robinson 29.7 percent
Taylor's jump in offensive involvement was significant — according to Pomeroy's study, only about 1 in 20 players will experience a usage increase this large from one season to the next. Still, Taylor was an above-average offensive contributor his junior year, so a jump to 26.7 percent wasn't completely crazy.
Robinson, meanwhile, was a high-usage guy even when he wasn't the focal point of the offense his sophomore year. It shouldn't have come as any surprise that he could handle a go-to guy role for KU last season.
So what about Johnson and Withey, the two guys who are being expected to produce the most offensively for KU next season?
Here's a look at their possession percentages from a year ago:
Johnson — 17.5 percent
Withey — 18.0 percent
At times last year, both players drew criticism for being too passive offensively. For Johnson, this was mostly focused on his lack of aggressiveness with penetration, as he had just 46 free-throw attempts while hoisting up 64 more three-pointers than two-pointers.
Withey also rarely looked for his own shot, with many of his attempts coming off open looks created by assists (before the Final Four games, a whopping 79.7 percent of his "close twos" were assisted last year).
So what does this all mean?
Well, if Pomeroy's study holds true today (he told me that it should with the amount of data he used), KU fans shouldn't expect Johnson and Withey to immediately step in and become the offensive contributors that Taylor and Robinson were a year ago.
Though Pomeroy told me it's not impossible for players to make possession percentage leaps from the teens into the high-20s, more than likely, both players will end up in the 20-24 percent range.
That would leave a lot of possessions unclaimed for KU.
So who might pick those up?
Kevin Young is a possibility (19.3 percent), though he needs to improve his defense and reduce his fouls to pick up increased minutes.
Travis Releford, meanwhile, seems unlikely to take on a huge role, as he posted the second-lowest possession percentage of KU's regulars last season (13.9 percent).
It appears, then, that there is an opportunity for freshmen Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis (and potentially Anrio Adams and Andrew White) to make a big offensive impact for KU in their first years.
In all likelihood, KU's offense will be more balanced in 2012-13, with the Jayhawks needing a few good freshmen to immediately step into scoring roles.