So it seems like Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard was the first to unofficially break the news about KU's newest throwback uniform day. Because why wouldn't he be?
Howard will be the first to tell you that he has the best style of anyone on the team and his shoe collection and fancy game day attire has been talked about in various circles around here for years.
But for this next game — 3 p.m. Saturday vs. West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse — KU will be throwing it back to a time before Howard was even born.
It's a step back into the 1970s this weekend, with the 2018-19 Jayhawks wearing a classic and clean look that names like Bud Stallworth, Darnell Valentine, Donnie Von Moore, Roger Morningstar and dozens of other Jayhawks will remember fondly from their playing days.
KU unleashed a first glimpse of the retro uniforms on its Twitter feed earlier today and Howard began sharing his excitement over the new white threads Thursday night.
Saturday's game will mark the second home game in a row that features the Jayhawks in alternate uniforms, as KU wore the Harlem Renaissance inspired gear during last weekend's win over Oklahoma State in honor of Black History Month.
Here's a quick look at what's coming tomorrow followed by a few flashbacks (in black and white images, sadly) of some of those 1970s uniforms wore by the Jayhawks of the past.
Darnell Valentine (1978-81)
Bud Stallworth (1970-72)
The 1973-74 Team Photo
Everybody knows that Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad that will come to Allen Fieldhouse for a 3 p.m. clash with Kansas on Saturday has had a rough season and is no threat to win the Big 12 Conference.
But people might be surprised to learn just how much of an impact the 2-9 Mountaineers have had in helping determine which team will win it and how.
While Texas Tech (8-4), Iowa State (7-4) and Baylor (7-4) are all still very much alive in the race, all eyes locally have pared this thing down to a 2-horse race between Kansas (8-4) and Kansas State (9-2).
The fact that those two face each other one more time — 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse — is merely a bonus.
And that game, which no doubt is on the short list of most important KU-K-State games in the past few decades, almost certainly will have a major impact on which team wins this league. And which team doesn’t.
But there were two games earlier this season, both involving Huggins’ Mountaineers, that might wind up playing the wildest role in where the 2019 Big 12 trophy winds up.
Here's a quick look back at those games along with the similar set of circumstances that led to results that, at least as of today, have put Kansas on the outside looking in in its quest to extend its NCAA-record of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles to 15 in a row.
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019
— Manhattan, Kansas —
Already sitting at 0-2 in the league and with preseason all-conference forward Dean Wade out with an injury, the Wildcats were in a world of hurt.
Down 36-21 at the half and trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, the Wildcats, against all odds, somehow stormed all the way back to claim a 71-69 victory that very well might have saved the Wildcats’ season and sent the Mountaineers spiraling further downward.
When WVU grabbed a 42-21 with 17:53 to play in the second half, it put the Mountaineers’ win probability at 95.3 percent, according to KenPom.com. That meant the Wildcats had just a 4.7 percent chance of winning the game at that point. Yet they did.
K-State’s first lead of the game came at the 2:30 mark of the second half, when the Wildcats went ahead 68-66. A little more than 2 minutes later, KSU sealed the improbable victory when senior Barry Brown Jr. hit a leaner with 28.9 seconds to play to give the Wildcats the win.
It marked K-State’s second win in the past 11 meetings between the two Big 12 foes and put KSU on the path to nine consecutive conference wins (and counting?).
“You’re proud of them. You’re happy for them,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after the comeback victory. “Obviously, as a coach, you take a deep breath, and (ask) now can we move forward and play with that same sense of composure? That sense of urgency? That competitive spirit in the second half?”
I think Weber got his answer.
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019
— Morgantown, W.Va. —
Fast-forward 10 days to the hills of West Virginia, where a 15-2 Kansas team, ranked No. 7 in the nation, walked into WVU Coliseum as a 5.5-point favorite and walked out heartbroken.
Despite leading for more than 26 minutes of the game, including nearly the entire second half, the Jayhawks suffered a colossal collapse in the game’s final 2 minutes and walked away from a building they historically have struggled in on the wrong end of a 65-64 result.
Tied at 23 at the half, after a 20-minute stretch that KU coach Bill Self said, “set basketball back a few decades,” Kansas began to take control early in the second half.
Although they missed a handful of opportunities to run away and hide, the Jayhawks maintained a lead of between 3-6 points for most of the second half and always seemed to answer with a big shot when WVU threatened to tie the game or trim KU’s lead to a single possession.
At the 2:35 mark of the second half, with Kansas leading 64-58, the KenPom.com win probability model gave the Jayhawks a 94.6 percent chance of winning, which meant that the Mountaineers’ chances of pulling off the comeback sat at just 5.4 percent at that time.
However, like K-State 10 days earlier, the Mountaineers found a way to defy the odds, holding KU scoreless the rest of the way and closing the game on a 7-0 run that led to a 1-point victory, which became official when Lagerald Vick elected to take — a miss — a jumper in the game’s final seconds instead of trying to drive to the rim for an easier shot or the chance to get fouled.
Drawing a foul, which certainly was no guarantee, but no doubt would have been the better play, would’ve put Vick at free throw line for 2 shots with very little time remaining.
“Broken floor. Double bonus. Down one. You drive it,” Self said.
Kansas didn’t, and the Mountaineers came away with one of their two Big 12 wins to date.
Two struggling teams facing a roughly 5 percent chance of winning a game in mid-January found a way to get it done. One benefited Kansas State. The other hurt Kansas.
And just like that, you’re talking about a 2-game swing in the conference standings.
Had the two teams that were on the extremely high side of KenPom’s win probability totals those particular nights come through, the Jayhawks would enter this weekend’s rematch with the Mountaineers at 9-3 in the Big 12, instead of 8-4, and Kansas State would be sitting at 8-3 instead of 9-2. At least theoretically, and assuming all other outcomes remained the same.
The Jayhawks, therefore, would have a half-game lead with 6 to play instead of trailing by a game and half.
All of that because of two January games involving a West Virginia team that probably cannot wait for the 2018-19 season to come to an end — one WVU collapse and one WVU comeback.
Self has always been a big fan of pointing out that, when it comes to an 18-game, round-robin conference schedule, all games matter the same, even if there are some contests — a showdown between the top two teams in the league standings or a late-season, must win for the team on top — that seem to carry extra importance.
These two games, and what transpired because of their outcomes, are a great example of what Self means.
Ever since he injured his left ankle back on Feb. 1 during a KU practice, there was some hope that sophomore guard Marcus Garrett would be able to return in time for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse, but that hope has all but dwindled.
Self said Thursday that Garrett had done “nothing in practice” and added that “he will not go Saturday.”
“That is the game plan as of today, unless something changes after this morning,” Self said Thursday afternoon.
Garrett, who has been out of the walking boot he was wearing for about the last week was able to practice once last week but has been sidelined ever since.
“Nothing in practice,” Self said. “He’ll get on the side and maybe run or do some sliding stuff or whatever. He got out there one day and it really swelled up after one day so he’s been very limited in practice.”
Garrett, who is widely known as this team's best defender and also is one of the more experienced perimeter players in uniform despite being just a sophomore, has missed the past 4 games — vs. Texas Tech, at K-State, vs. Oklahoma State and at TCU — and the Jayhawks are 3-1 in that stretch.
No news on Vick
Self was asked Thursday if there was any change in the status of senior guard Lagerald Vick, who took a leave of absence from the team last week and been away from the team for the past two games.
“No. No,” Self said. “No reports on that at all.”
The Jayhawks are 2-0 without Vick and have shown in the past week the ability to come together and bring good energy to game night and their practices, which has helped them overcome the loss of their most experienced player.
Self called the locker room celebration after the TCU win on Monday night the best the Jayhawks have had this season and indicated Thursday that the good vibes from that night have carried over into the rest of the week.
“There’s no question,” Self said. “We’ve had better shoot-arounds. In the last week, we’ve been better at everything. We beat Tennessee, we’ve beaten Marquette, we've beaten Michigan State and none of those locker rooms were as good as it was the other day, but it’s also just a bunch of young kids out there having fun, too, and everyone contributed so that probably added to it as well.”
West Virginia, which recently endured its own roster news, when Bob Huggins dismissed starters Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris for a violation of athletic department policies, is entering Saturday’s game with Kansas in a similar situation, with the Mountaineers, like the Jayhawks, forced to redefine their identity late in the season.
“The last game they played, they didn’t play the way they had hoped, being at home, but they were going through some crap and it may have been just that day, when there were so many changes in their roster,” Self said Thursday. ‘Sometimes those are hard to come back from in a short amount time, but usually when you have some time to practice and do some things, sometimes those things can become advantages for you, too, to make the team closer.”
There’s a funny flow for how injuries impact athletics that kind of falls in line with that idea of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.
Take the case of current Kansas junior Mitch Lightfoot as a good example.
Buried on the bench despite a significant role in 2017-18, including starting KU’s first two games in the NCAA Tournament, Lightfoot was quickly starting to look like a man running out of opportunities.
He received back-to-back DNPs during a home victory over Iowa State and a road loss at Kentucky in January — Lightfoot, as a sophomore, played 17 combined minutes against those teams during the 2017-18 season — and played single-digit minutes in the three games that came before those.
Not only was his time limited, but what he was being asked to do when he was on the floor was limited, as well.
Nothing ran through Lightfoot, of course. Then again, that’s nothing new. And, with Kansas at one point favoring more of a 4-guard approach, his minutes on the floor — and those given to freshman David McCormack — generally amounted to the coaching staff saying, ‘Hey, Dedric Lawson needs a rest so go try to help us survive until we can get him back out there.’
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Lawson’s an All-American candidate and the kind of player you want on the floor as much as possible. But if you’re competitors like Lightfoot or McCormack, that role might have left a little to be desired.
But then Marcus Garrett, one of KU’s most reliable players and one of those four guards, suffered a severe high ankle sprain and Self and company had little choice but to return to their 2-big-man lineups and see what happened.
What happened was a major resurgence for the always-confident Lightfoot and a significant step forward for McCormack.
In the past two games alone, that duo has combined to play 73 minutes — 34 in a win over Oklahoma State and 39 in Monday’s win at TCU — and delivered 14 points, 23 rebounds and 7 blocks during that time. That amounts to an average of 7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game and that’s pretty good production from the 5 position that’s out there playing next to a guy like Lawson, who is averaging 19.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game himself.
Beyond the numbers, which KU certainly does not mind but does not always need, Lightfoot, and to some degree McCormack, have brought something much more important to the floor during KU’s most recent wins.
“The things that he did are the intangible things that this team needs as much as anything,” Self said of Lightfoot’s recent outings.
Competing for every rebound, whether he gets it or not. Defending the paint with a sense of pride. Not backing down from anything or anyone. And giving everything he’s got every time he’s out there.
Those were the contributions that extended minutes have afforded Lightfoot the opportunity to provide. And his pride, effort and intensity have rubbed off on the rest of the team, including McCormack.
“You should look at them as a whole, don’t look at them individually,” Self said of Lightfoot and McCormack. “If you combine the intangible things that David and Mitch do, that’s 35-40 really good minutes that we got from that position (against TCU), just like we did against Oklahoma State. On a night when Dedric wasn’t as sharp as he’s normally been, we needed those other guys to come through and they did.”
The area where that showed up the most was on defense, where TCU center Kevin Samuel finished with just 4 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes on Monday night, a far cry from the 12 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes he put on Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse back in early January.
“Samuel wore us out here,” Self said. “And both of those guys did such a good job on him (Monday) that he wasn’t nearly as effective.”
While Garrett is expected back soon and even though senior Lagerald Vick feasibly could return from his leave of absence, don’t expect Self to go full bore back to the 4-guard lineup when his roster is closer to full again.
Lightfoot and McCormack have come through when Kansas needed them. Both bring the toughness and physicality that this team needs. And both have proven in recent weeks that, when given real minutes, they can deliver.
“Coach does a great job of getting us opportunities,” Lightfoot said recently. “He’ll get you in there when it’s important. That stems from freshman year. He put me in games when other coaches might not have put me in and you’ve got to take that opportunity and make the most of it.”
There are a lot of players doing that for Kansas these days. And that could be the reason that this team is starting to come together.
Lightfoot and McCormack will get another shot at an encore performance at 3 p.m. Saturday, when shorthanded West Virginia comes to Allen Fieldhouse.
Even with serious matters such as the appeal over the NCAA’s recent Silvio De Sousa ruling and the fast-approaching start of Les Miles’ first run with spring football at Kansas, first-year KU Athletic Director Jeff Long is still finding time to connect with KU’s student-athletes in the ways he enjoys the most.
From attending games and events to surprise visits to practices, Long seems to be most in his element when he’s able to connect with KU athletes from all across campus.
Two of the best examples of this came this week alone, when Long roared into the postgame celebration with one KU team and showed up at another’s mid-week practice to deliver his own version of the old pat on the back.
Monday night, after KU’s wild overtime victory at TCU, Long made his way to the Jayhawks’ locker room in Fort Worth, Texas, and immediately sought out sophomore K.J. Lawson, whose shot with 25 seconds to play sent the game to OT and second big bucket midway through overtime put Kansas ahead for good.
What followed appeared to catch most of the KU players by surprise, including Lawson, who was at the center of Long's celebration.
Later in the week, on Wednesday afternoon, Long dropped by the KU swimming and diving practice to personally congratulate KU’s water warriors for setting a KU athletic department record with a 3.70 team GPA for the fall semester.
That mark, which broke the old record of 3.69 set by the women’s cross country team in 2016, helped deliver an even bigger athletic department GPA record of 3.11 by all of KU’s athletic teams for the fall semester.
Baseball, women’s basketball and women’s track and field joining women’s swimming and diving in setting team semester GPA records. And 12 of KU’s 16 team sports finished the fall 2018 semester with GPA’s above 3.0.
Several representatives of each team were honored during an on-court ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse last week, but the swimming and diving team was unable to attend.
So Long took the party to practice and made a memorable splash for everyone who was there.
The hope all along was that injured sophomore Marcus Garrett would return by Saturday’s home game against West Virginia.
But that timeline appears to be moving back just a little.
KU coach Bill Self, during his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show Tuesday night, said the sophomore guard and regular KU starter was still dealing with up-and-down days during his recovery from a high ankle sprain he suffered on Feb. 1.
“He’s making some progress,” Self said. “But it’s slow.”
Garrett has missed KU’s last 4 games and his return to the lineup for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game vs. West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse is certainly no guarantee.
“The training stuff feels that he’s not in a bad place at all,” Self said Tuesday. “But he’s in a bad place considering what we wish he was. With those high ankle sprains, he’s hurting. And when he works out and does certain things, sometimes swelling occurs again and those kinds of things.”
What is a guarantee is that, even if Garrett does return Saturday — or even next Saturday (Feb. 23) at Texas Tech — it’s unlikely that he will be fully healed.
“He may be weeks away from being 100 percent,” Self said. “But the reality of it is, we thought it would be very hopeful and maybe realistic to get him back by Saturday. But based on where he was (earlier this week), I don’t know that that’s as realistic.”
Before traveling to Texas Tech for their next road game, the Jayhawks play just once in the next 10 days, which should give Garrett time to rest, rehab and potentially return to practicing in full.
“We need to have him practicing by next Tuesday (Feb. 19) or so to have him be close to (having) some game rhythm before we play on the following Saturday (at Texas Tech),” Self said. “If there is a good thing about it, it’s the fact that we have a week off next week, so that may give him a little time to try to get right.”
Despite the injury being one of the latest in a line of setbacks and adversity Self’s program has had to battle with this season, the Jayhawks are 3-1 this month without Garrett, who has emerged as one of the top defensive players in the Big 12 and long been called the best defender on this Kansas team.
KU is currently a game and a half behind Kansas State — which won at Texas on Tuesday night — for first place in the Big 12 standings, with six games to play.
Getting Garrett back for any of the final six, heading into the postseason, clearly would be a lift for a KU team that faced the reality of nearly having to put a walk-on in during Monday’s win at TCU after three Jayhawks fouled out in overtime.
Another road loss sent the Kansas men’s basketball team falling in the polls, but the Jayhawks managed to hang on to a spot in the Top 15.
Kansas fell one spot from No. 13 to No. 14 in The Associated Press Top 25, released Monday afternoon.
The Jayhawks, who sit a game-and-a-half behind first-place Kansas State in the conference race, remain the highest-ranked team in the Big 12 Conference, with Texas Tech (14), K-State (18) and Iowa State (23) not far behind.
Monday’s foe, TCU, and Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns were among the eight unranked teams who received votes in this week’s poll.
Tennessee (22-1) held on to the top spot but gave up some ground in terms of first-place votes to No. 2 Duke (21-2), which picked 24 first-place votes this week — compared to 40 for the Volunteers — after an impressive road win over then-No. 3 Virginia last weekend.
Virginia (20-2) flipped spots with Gonzaga (23-2) and the Cavaliers’ only two losses this season have come to Duke.
Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Houston and Marquette round out this week’s Top 10.
In all, KU this season has played eight teams currently ranked in the Top 25, recording a 6-3 record against those teams.
Kansas, which is 1-6 in true road games this season, will face TCU at 8 p.m. tonight on ESPN's Big Monday at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
Check out our latest KU Sports Hour podcast for a deeper look at KU's road woes and whether the Jayhawks can find a path to success away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Relative struggles aside, Jayhawks still winning and capable of more; Will they deliver is the question
As positive as ever and happy to tell anyone who would listen that he was born without the part of the body that allows people to give up, Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was in no mood to hear about what a rough year it has been for the Jayhawks following last Saturday’s 84-72 Oklahoma State loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I know people around here have probably been freaking out because they’ve lost four games in the league,” Boynton said of Kansas and its fans during his postgame opening statement Saturday. “But they still have a Hall of Fame coach, still (have) got a really, really, good, probably first-team All-American-type player, and they still have one of the best home courts in all of America. Hats off to Kansas for finding their way after a tough loss on Tuesday.”
That coach, of course, was Bill Self. That player Boynton spoke of was junior forward Dedric Lawson. And that home-court advantage delivered by Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks are now 13-0 this season, has kept Kansas in the race despite those four Big 12 road losses.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Boynton said. “We competed. We just didn’t have enough to stave off that run that they made in the second half. That’s part of what makes this league as good as it is. That’s part of what makes this place a hard place to play, because those things can come pretty quickly.”
So, too, can a season full of struggles.
Kansas encountered this, of course, through injuries to Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett, the eligibility saga of Silvio De Sousa and, most recently, its lone senior, Lagerald Vick, taking a leave of absence for an undetermined length of time.
Vick missed Saturday. He won’t be in uniform tonight. And there’s no telling when, or whether, he’ll return before the end of the season, though several Jayhawks, including Self, have said they expect to get him back.
Even with all of those unusual occurrences, the Jayhawks’ plights look somewhat minor compared to what Boynton and the Cowboys have endured.
Whether you’re talking about OSU’s rough record, the Cowboys’ depleted and injury-ridden roster or the fact that midseason adversity also hit Oklahoma State hard, when Boynton dismissed three players reportedly because of their connection to a vandalism incident in Stillwater, Okla., Boynton’s club has had it just as bad as — if not worse than — the Jayhawks during the 2018-19 season.
Yet there the Cowboys sit at 9-14 overall and 2-8 in Big 12 play, with records that reflect their struggles, while Kansas, despite all of its issues — of which there are many — is rolling along at 18-6 overall, 7-4 in Big 12 play and still in pursuit of extending its Big 12 title streak to 15.
For a half, the two looked like equals and the scoreboard indicated that, with OSU and KU tied at 36 at the break on Saturday.
But in the second half, the Hall of Famer, the All-American candidate, the handful of former McDonald’s All-Americans and, of course, that home crowd made the difference.
The Jayhawks, even in their current state, have that in them. They’ve shown that in enough games, or at least halves, to move forward believing that, when things are clicking, they can still play and win at the level they’re used to.
Passion and pride seem to be the key to that, and these guys appear to be grasping that more and more each time out.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Self began. “I think we’ve been a bunch of duds in some ways. You can’t put it on the guys who can’t play, but the guys who can’t play can have a role in bringing energy, too. Hopefully we’re getting better at that.”
There’s no time like the present to find out.
Asked after the game what his team needed to do to bring the past two Allen Fieldhouse efforts on the road with them, KU junior Mitch Lightfoot spoke of consistency.
“Carry this feeling over,” Lightfoot said. “It feels good to get a win and to do it in a good team way and we’ve got to learn from this. If we can continue that energy we have, that we’re all feeling right now, I think we’ll play some good basketball.”
Kansas sophomore Marcus Garrett will miss his third consecutive game because of the high ankle sprain he suffered in practice one week ago.
KU coach Bill Self confirmed Garrett’s status in a meeting with reporters before Friday’s practice.
“Marcus will be out tomorrow,” Self said. “So we’re going to be down, at least some men. But we’ve still got to go out and play and just step up and play better than what we played on Tuesday.”
The Jayhawks are 2-1 without Garrett in the lineup, with a win over Texas Tech and a loss to K-State this week. Garrett also missed KU’s win over Tennessee last November after suffering a concussion in the win over Marquette.
According to Self, the combo guard from Dallas who has emerged as KU’s best defender and one of the top defensive players in the Big 12 Conference returned to practice on Thursday but went about half speed and was not able to participate fully.
“We were pretty encouraged (Thursday) and then today, he didn’t take a step backwards but he was very sore,” Self said Friday. “... We’re hopeful that he can practice Sunday, maybe Monday. But the reality of it is we’re looking at next Saturday (as the) best-case scenario (for a return).”
Garrett's injury and the recent leave of absence taken by senior guard Lagerald Vick leaves the Jayhawks with just 8 healthy and eligible scholarship players for Saturday's game.
Asked if Garrett was in good spirits despite sitting out to nurse the injury, Self scoffed.
“Yeah,” he said. “He’s tough. He’s the toughest kid we’ve got. And if he could play, he’d play. There’s just no chance of that right now.”
KU hosts Oklahoma State at 11 a.m. on Saturday and will travel to TCU for a Big Monday matchup at 8 p.m. Monday night.
The Jayhawks then will be off the rest of next week until hosting West Virginia on Feb. 16.
It’s next to impossible to tell what the ramifications of Lagerald Vick’s leave of absence from the Kansas basketball team will be without first seeing how this team responds.
But the opportunity is there for his departure to actually help the Jayhawks.
First, the bad news.
Without Vick, the Jayhawks will be a man down, which is scary in terms of depth and severely lacking in 3-point shooting. Not only is the Memphis senior the team’s best 3-point shooter statistically speaking — 45.5 percent through 23 games — but he also has experience taking (and making) big shots and has proven that he can be absolutely deadly when he catches fire.
Replacing that won’t be easy. But the burden of doing so also shouldn’t fall on one player.
Although he’s had some unconscious nights from behind the arc, Vick still averaged just 3 3-point makes per game. That means between Charlie Moore, Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Marcus Garrett and even Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot, those 8 Jayhawks need to find a way to make 3 more 3-pointers per game to pick up the slack.
None of them quite have Vick’s pure jumper and ability to make tough, guarded 3-point shots, but they won’t all have to. One game it could be Moore, Grimes and Lawson and the next it could be Agbaji, Moore and Dotson.
Either way, filling the void left by Vick’s ability to get hot from 3-point range will be as much about philosophy and mentality as it will be about guys stepping up and becoming shot-makers.
The ball needs to move. The floor needs to stay spread. And the shots need to go up with confidence, much the way former Jayhawk great Devonte’ Graham both played and pleaded with this team to do a week ago.
And that brings us to the good news.
Whatever it is that Vick is going through clearly weighed on his mind heavily. And you can’t help but feel for him in that regard.
Remember, while Kansas basketball is life for a lot of the Jayhawks’ adoring fans, these players all have lives outside of the game. None of them are immune to family struggles, relationship issues, problems with peers or in the classroom. And all of them are susceptible to all of the stress and struggles that the real world can throw at college students from all walks of life.
With that in mind, it was quite clear that Vick’s thoughts had been elsewhere, at least at times, during the past several weeks.
KU coach Bill Self said as much on his “Hawk Talk” radio show Thursday night and reminded folks that those thoughts had kept Vick from being his best for the Jayhawks during that time.
So how is any of that a good thing? Well, for one, this team belongs to those young guys now.
Rumors of a player’s only meeting on Wednesday crossed my desk and that can only be viewed as a good thing for this group, which needs to get on the same page and start operating with a different mindset if it wants to close out the final 8 games of the regular season in strong fashion.
The absence of Vick can only help that.
Part of the reason Vick was benched for the final 16-plus minutes of the first half in Tuesday’s loss to K-State was his willingness to play the blame game and bark at his teammates.
To some degree, that’s a natural part of every team and every game. Guys yell at each other, the intensity increases and things can get hot out there on the court. That typically happens in the spirit of everyone trying to do the right thing.
That may have been the deal in Vick’s case, too, but it looked as if it had an adverse effect on his teammates.
I’m certainly not going to speak for any of them here, but we’ve all been around that person — at work, at school, in social settings, wherever — who can create a tense environment and put everyone a little more on edge than they would like to be.
If Vick’s recent issues created that kind of atmosphere for this team, it’s entirely possible that these still-young Jayhawks will play with much more freedom and much looser with Vick back home in Memphis.
Who knows which players will benefit the most — or if it will benefit any of them at all — but the opportunity is there for talented players like Dotson, Garrett, Grimes and Agbaji to step up and become more assertive without having to worry about deferring to a senior or what that senior might have to say.
Self has talked a lot — both this year and throughout his career — about there coming a point in every season when a team bonds together and truly becomes a team.
It looked as if the Silvio De Sousa ruling could be the catalyst for that type of situation with this team, but then the K-State game happened and all of the gains from that big win over Texas Tech were gone.
Beyond that, this team never had Silvio. They did have Vick. And now they don’t.
That reality, far more than trying to rally around someone who never played, could wind up being the very thing that brings these guys together and gets this group firing as one unit.