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Devonte’ Graham and Jayhawks playing with ‘no pressure’ at Big 12 tournament

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a three during the first half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a three during the first half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — Winning the program’s 13th consecutive conference championship — by four games, no less — veteran Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham will tell you, was not easy (see: KU’s average margin of victory of 5.5 points in league play). Still, Graham also doesn’t mind sharing the Jayhawks enter the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center virtually worry-free.

“Coach (Bill Self) keeps telling us there’s no pressure on us,” Graham, the Big 12 tourney’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, said Wednesday. “We just gotta go out and play. Just try to validate what we did in the regular season and come out and just play with a free mind.”

No. 1-ranked Kansas (28-3) knows how to do that by now, after winning all three games following their regular-season crown. That’s why no one should misinterpret Graham’s assessment that this team won’t — and shouldn’t — stress about the outcomes of this weekend’s games. The Jayhawks have big plans for the rest of the month, and what they accomplish in Kansas City will impact the fashion in which they enter the NCAA Tournament.

Graham said he and his teammates should have fun at the Big 12’s postseason showcase, because doing so also will fuel the players going forward.

“We don’t have Josh (Jackson) tomorrow, so guys gotta step up,” Graham said, referencing the one-game suspension of KU’s freshman star, “and we just need everybody to come from this tournament with a lot of confidence on the floor.”

A 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., Graham never lacks boldness on the floor, but he seems to be improving his offensive output just in time for the postseason, having nailed eight 3-pointers in KU’s final two regular-season wins (4-for-8 in each). And he definitely buys into the idea of Kansas gaining speed, strength and positive energy for March Madness.

“We get these couple wins and win the (Big 12) championship,” Graham said, “I think it’s big momentum going into the NCAA Tournament.”

An All-Big 12 second-team selection averaging 13.2 points and 4.3 assists, Graham knows Kansas should be prepared for whatever it sees and whomever it faces this weekend, due to the competitive nature of the conference and the round-robin schedule.

“We actually got a lot of people saying, ‘Why aren’t you blowing teams out?’ And it was just because a lot of the teams that were at the bottom of the league,” Graham would retort, “were really good teams. And it’s hard to play away from home. And we just found ways to win.”

KU opens the 2017 postseason Thursday afternoon (approximately 1:30 p.m., ESPN2) against TCU, which beat Oklahoma 82-63 Wednesday night.

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Wayne Selden Jr. and UConn hero grew up playing together

It didn’t take long after the Jayhawks’ Big 12 semifinal victory over Baylor for Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. to see what everyone following the game on TV and Twitter had already viewed a number of times: the reaction to Selden’s monster jam from his uncle, Anthony Pitts, watching the game from his seat behind the KU bench.

“It was funny, because he’s always been like that,” Selden said, “since I was a kid playing basketball, playing football.”

When Baylor’s Ish Wainright made contact with Selden on the play, it actually gave the high-flying KU junior a bit of a boost, according to the man who hammered it home.

Still, Selden wasn’t willing to rate his highlight-reel slam ahead of the alley-oop Jamari Traylor pulled off at Texas just less than two weeks ago.

Actually, Selden didn’t even think he had the top play of the day. The junior from Roxbury, Mass., had to give that honor to Connecticut freshman Jalen Adams, whose desperation heave in triple-overtime against Cincinnati kept the Huskies alive in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and set up a quadruple-OT victory.

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Believe it or not, the two most impressive plays in the nation came from Roxbury, Mass., natives.

“I grew up with him. We actually played AAU from third grade ’til like sixth grade,” Selden revealed.

Selden said he was happy to see the UConn freshman hit the wild shot and score 22 points.

— See what people were saying about KU's semifinal victory during KUsports.com's live coverage


More news and notes from KU’s Big 12 semifinal victory





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Bill Self, Jayhawks turn their focus toward postseason

Coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Frank Mason III after the Jayhawks overtime win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4.

Coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Frank Mason III after the Jayhawks overtime win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4.

Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and his Jayhawks finally can turn their focus to the postseason.

At a press conference Monday in Allen Fieldhouse, Self spoke plenty about this week’s Big 12 Tournament and some about the NCAA madness that follows.

Of course, the status of three guys who didn’t play for KU at Oklahoma on Saturday — Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander and Brannen Greene — came up too.

Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A:

• On being named the Big 12’s AP coach of the year: It’s nice, but it’s a reflection of the fact you have good players and a good team. There were several guys who could’ve won it.

“For the first time, I think the media actually knows what it’s talking about,” the coach joked (we assume).

• The mood after KU’s loss at Oklahoma was positive. The Jayhawks played hard, and fought and just got beat.

Losing on the last play again, like at West Virginia, made it harder to stomach. KU didn’t make shots the first half and did much better in the second half. The Jayhawks played better than they had the week prior, too.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) drives against Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue (22) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) drives against Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue (22) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

• Perry Ellis will be evaluated tomorrow, as he has been every day. The hope is he will be able to go full speed at practice by Wednesday. If that’s not the case, he won’t play Thursday.

Ellis will wear a brace the rest of the season, regardless, for precautionary measures.

• Self has never thought it is that important to win the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks want to go and win, just like every team. But it’s the only game where you can lose and immediately be recharged and looking to what’s next.

As soon as you win it, your whole focus turns. There is no relishing it. You want to win it because you’re competitive and it’s against your peers, but it’s not the end of the earth if you don’t.

• One could make a case for seven or eight different teams winning the Big 12 Tournament if they get hot. You could also make a case that if those same teams don’t come out ready on Thursday, they will lose.

• Self might watch some other games this week if they’re on TV, but he won’t study them.

Kansas head coach Bill Self slaps hands with center Joel Embiid as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 86-64 win over Georgetown on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self slaps hands with center Joel Embiid as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 86-64 win over Georgetown on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

• In terms of preparing for the NCAA Tournament, Self will do something differently this year. Last year the team thought it was going to get Joel Embiid back and prepared for him to play. That was a mistake. The Jayhawks should’ve prepared not expecting him, and if he came back it would be a bonus.

KU spent too much energy thinking Embiid would come back. So this year, Self won’t count on Cliff Alexander coming back. If he gets cleared, KU will plug Alexander in.

• Based on Self’s limited information, which he read on the Yahoo! report, he doesn’t really know where Alexander’s situation stands.

So Self is planning not to have Alexander available.

“He’s a stud… He’s down.. But his attitude’s great,” Self said of Alexander. And the freshman big man probably has practiced better than ever.

Every good player in the country has “somebody meet with somebody.” It becomes illegal if there are things beyond that. And Self doesn’t have enough information on it to comment on that part of it.

• The players feel bad for Alexander, but there won’t be a negative situation if they don’t get him back. The guys are prepared and focused.

• Landen Lucas, Self thought even before the sophomore’s big day at OU, would be good enough to start at Kansas one day. He is a good player and a part of the program’s future moving forward.

• Brannen Greene should play on Thursday. He has handled his business since Saturday’s suspension. He needs to keep doing that.

• Self hasn’t talked to Wayne Selden Jr. since the game at OU, but the report from the trainer is he is fine. He should be 100 percent by Thursday.

Selden also has suffered from the flu.

“We checked everyone’s schedule and there is no time for anyone to get sick,” Self joked.

• Both Kansas State and TCU — KU’s potential opponents on Thursday — guarded Kansas really well in the regular season.

• The play KU ran to get Frank Mason III fouled on a three-pointer at the end of the Oklahoma loss worked out well. They call it “home run,” and probably every team in America runs it or something close. It is like the famous Valparaiso play.

• There is so much hype on the NCAA Tournament, it means more in people’s minds and you have to deliver. From KU’s perspective, you know the difference between some of the seeds is very small, even if some people think of certain outcomes as monumental upsets.

Everybody can beat everybody.

• Kentucky is “really good.” They won games where they didn’t play well and that’s what is impressive about their undefeated mark at this point.

But if something happens and they don’t win it all, it won’t be monumental. The best team doesn’t always win.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dives out of bounds for an attempted save before the Jayhawks' bench during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dives out of bounds for an attempted save before the Jayhawks' bench during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

• Jamari Traylor’s season has been up and down, but the last two games he has been really good. “He’s not big enough to do what he does,” Self said. Last year the role was easier for Traylor because he had big guys like Embiid and Tarik Black ahead of him.

Self just wishes he would defensive rebound the ball a little better. He’s on an uptick right now.

• Nothing that happened Saturday at OU will hurt Kansas, it can only help the team.

• You don’t want your guys practicing more than an hour and 10 minutes or so at this time of year to avoid fatigue. You might work on a couple of late-game situations a day and have some refreshers, but you don’t necessarily spend more time on those sorts of plays.

• “The Big 12 Tournament should stay in Kansas City.” That’s not because it is close to KU, it’s because it is the best setup. You’re guaranteed sellouts. At other conference tournaments there will be tons of empty seats in those early rounds.

Self joked, Fred Hoiberg would rather it be in Des Moines. But other league coaches like it in Kansas City, Missouri, too — not just Self.

• If KU hadn’t played such a good schedule the Jayhawks wouldn’t have had the same chance at a high seed as they do now, with a 24-7 record. The Jayhawks are used to playing hard schedules.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self talks Big 12 Tournament, March Madness and more

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Bill Self looking forward to Big 12 Tournament

The regular season is over, and the postseason begins Thursday for Kansas University's men's basketball team.

Coach Bill Self doesn't yet know whether his Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 14-4 Big 12) will face Oklahoma State or Texas Tech in their Big 12 Championship opener in the Kansa City, Mo. — those two teams play in the opening round Wednesday — but he was ready to talk about the postseason Monday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.

KU has lost two of its last three games, and freshman center Joel Embiid's availability at the Big 12 Tournament remains up in the air due to his back issues, making the next week even more intriguing.

Here are some of the highlights from Self's press conference, in bullet-point form:

• Self doesn't see a scenario where Joel Embiid doesn't play in the postseason. He does see a scenario where Embiid might not be able to play in the Big 12 Tournament, though. … Embiid is a lot better, symptom-wise, than he was a week ago. If the doctors say it is fine to play him this weekend, they will. Playing three games in three days at Kansas City, Mo., could be challenging for Embiid, too. Rather than manage minutes, Self would rather have him more rested for the NCAAs if that's what is best for the freshman big man.

• Self's first year here, Keith Langford hurt his knee and didn't practice the last few weeks of the season. The next year Wayne Simien had a similar situation. This isn't new territory for Self. Still, no one on the coaching staff is an expert on how to bring Embiid along. They will rely on what the doctors say. … Embiid is pain-free now, but that could change if he took a hit or bump at practice or in a game. … Embiid about "threw a fit" the last time they told him he couldn't play against TCU. He wanted to play.

• Oklahoma State is the No. 8 seed in the Big 12 Tournament — that shows how tough the league is. KU could play the Cowboys Thursday. That's good for KU. Self would like to face a real quality opponent.

• After losing at West Virginia Saturday, Self wants to see KU play tougher. The Jayhawks need to have more pride in guarding the ball, and keeping guys from getting to the rim.

• On Kansas point guards: Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe, as well as Conner Frankamp, are the guys in charge of making sure KU plays well. But, really, it's on Tharpe to make that happen more than anybody else. KU needs its guard play to be sound, and they need to be a little more aggressive on both ends of the floor than they were at WVU.

• Big 12 awards turned out about the way Self thought. He has never understood, though, why voters are able to cast votes before the regular season is over. … Self thought Iowa State's Melvin Ejim deserved Player of the Year. Andrew Wiggins could've and should've been right there. … Self thought Rick Barnes deserved the Coach of the Year, but Lon Kruger deserved it, too.

• Big 12 Tournaments have always been competitive. But this year, regardless of what seeds end up in the championship game, it shouldn't surprise anybody. No. 8 seed OSU was picked to win the league before the season began. "It's gonna be a pretty special weekend."

• The last time KU played OSU, the Jayhawks lost. The guys should be excited to play the Cowboys again, considering they got outplayed at OSU.

• On playing away from Allen Fieldhouse: He wishes the W-L record was better (5-6 away, 4-1 neutral) but the competition had a lot to do with it. Villanova (lone neutral site loss, at the Bahamas) could be a No. 1 seed.

• Wiggins keeps getting better. He was fantastic, not just because of 41 points at WVU, but because of his energy level. Wiggins has proven he can take over. Self told Wiggins yesterday he needs to play at the level he has proven he is capable of. … With KU playing form behind, there was no margin for error, but the basket does get bigger. You can't make too much of the comeback because of that.

• On playing a junk zone defense, such as a triangle-and-two: Situations and personnel on the other team determine when they do that. KU hasn't done it much this year. Kansas should be able to stop people, even without Embiid on the floor.

• On the possibility of being in the same bracket as Wichita State: Self would welcome whatever bracket the Jayhawks end up in. It doesn't matter who the other top seeds are in that region. They want to play the other top seeds, regardless of who they are.

• Playing well this weekend is the key. A No. 1 seed could still be in play if KU wins the Big 12 Championship. … Regardless of what sites KU gets in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas fans will travel well.

• Perry Ellis needs to play well defensively for KU to have its best chance. But he is capable.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self on dealing with Embiid's back issues, Big 12 Championship

After Self's session, KU sophomore power forward Perry Ellis came out to answer questions from the media.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njYi8WOBcJ4

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