With no team positioned to jump them into the top spot during the past seven days, the Kansas men’s basketball team returned to the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday.
The Jayhawks, winners of eight in a row to open the 2018-19 season, received 57 of the 65 first-place votes, with Duke (4), Tennessee (1), Gonzaga (1), Michigan (1) and Virginia (1) all receiving the eight remaining first-place votes while claiming spots 2 through 6 in this week’s poll.
Unbeaten Nevada, Auburn (8-1), Michigan State (8-2) and Florida State (8-1) round out the Top 10.
Kansas, which survived a scare from New Mexico State at Sprint Center on Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., climbed back into the No. 1 spot thanks to Gonzaga’s loss to Tennessee.
The Volunteers, which sit at 7-1 and opened the season ranked No. 6, are likely an overtime loss to KU from sitting in the top spot themselves.
KU (8-0), Virginia (9-0) and Nevada (7-0) are the only teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 10 that have yet to suffer a loss this season. Michigan, at 10-0, also is unbeaten and rolling, but the Wolverines did not open the season in the Top 10, instead starting at No. 19.
The Jayhawks, who opened the season as the AP’s preseason No. 1, have not fallen below second this season but were jumped in Week 1 by Duke, which drubbed Kentucky to open the season, and jumped again by Gonzaga in Week 4 after the Zags knocked off Duke at the Maui Invitational.
The Jayhawks currently have two Top 10 wins already this season, three victories against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and will get a chance for two more — No. 17 Villanova (8-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Allen Fieldhouse in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s Final Four matchup and at No. 20 Arizona State on Dec. 22 — in the next two weeks.
While Self and his players generally don't put too much into the polls at this time of year, that figures to be extra true this week, with Kansas having a week between games and closing in on first-semester finals.
“Academics is the priority this week," Self said after the NMSU victory last Saturday. We’ll practice Monday through Friday even though it may be short and limited. We’re not going to get any better this week but hopefully we can maintain, just because of the limited practice time and guys’ minds won’t be there like it would be if it wasn’t Finals week. Hopefully we can maintain and play as competitive (of a) game as we will all year on Saturday.”
Here’s a look at this week’s complete poll:
AP Top 25
1 – Kansas, 8-0 (57)
2 – Duke, 9-1 (4)
3 – Tennessee, 7-1 (1)
4 – Gonzaga, 9-1 (1)
5 – Michigan, 10-0 (1)
6 – Virginia, 9-0 (1)
7 – Nevada, 10-0
8 – Auburn, 8-1
9 – Michigan State, 8-2
10 – Florida State, 8-1
11 – Texas Tech, 8-0
12 – North Carolina, 7-2
13 – Virginia Tech, 8-1
14 – Buffalo, 9-0
15 – Ohio State, 8-1
16 – Wisconsin, 8-2
17 – Villanova, 8-2
18 – Mississippi State, 8-1
19 – Kentucky, 7-2
20 – Arizona State, 7-1
21 – Marquette, 8-2
22 – Iowa, 7-2
23 – Furman, 10-0
24 – Houston, 8-0
25 – Syracuse, 7-2
Others receiving votes: Nebraska 115, Maryland 105, Oklahoma 82, Cincinnati 73, St. John's 57, Purdue 40, NC State 26, Iowa St. 19, TCU 13, San Francisco 5, UCLA 3, Minnesota 2, Butler 2, Davidson 1, Florida 1, NJIT 1, Seton Hall 1, Texas 1.
Off night and all, Lagerald Vick’s outing in Tuesday’s win over Wofford was the latest, loudest sign of the senior’s maturity
A year ago, what went down with Kansas guard Lagerald Vick on Tuesday night might have created a much different situation for the entire Kansas basketball team.
A year ago, Vick might not have reacted as well to Self’s punishment for being late to Tuesday’s shootaround. A year ago, Self might not have been willing to give Vick the benefit of the doubt.
A year ago, those eight minutes that Vick sat on the bench to open KU's victory over Wofford at Allen Fieldhouse instead of taking his normal spot in the starting lineup could have created a domino effect that impacted the rest of the game, the rest of the week and potentially even the rest of the season.
But this is not a year ago. And Lagerald Vick, the senior, appears to be a much different player than Lagerald Vick the junior.
Self, and anybody else who’s been paying any kind of attention, has seen that since Vick decided to return to KU for his senior year this summer instead of leaving early, and it’s been smooth sailing for Vick and the Jayhawks since then.
As a leader, Vick has stepped up in ways many never knew he could, talking to teammates whenever necessary, encouraging them through the tough times, teaching them through mistakes and celebrating with them whenever possible.
As a player, Vick has been a major catalyst in so many early-season victories, games that Kansas might have lost had the senior from Memphis not been so aggressive, so hot, so experienced and so fearless.
All of that led to Tuesday, when Vick showed up late for shootaround and both Self and the KU senior had a decision to make.
For Self, the decision was easy. Rules are rules, Vick broke one and he would have to pay the price by sitting on the bench to open KU’s 72-47 win over Wofford.
For Vick, settling on a reaction could have been tougher. But from the looks of it, he never blinked. Instead of pouting or snapping back into that me-against-the-world mindset, Vick thought first of the team.
“There was no message except, ‘We’ll see how you react,’” Self said after Tuesday’s victory. “When I told him Marcus (Garrett) was starting and I said, ‘Scout team go get a shirt on,’ he went to get a shirt on because he didn’t think he would even play. It didn’t warrant that, just him being late. But I think it’s a pretty good lesson, though.”
That reaction, and so many others like it during the actual game, may very well have been the direct result of the conditions put on Vick’s return.
When Self and Vick discussed him coming back this summer, the KU coach made it crystal clear what Vick would have to do to be welcomed back. And being a good teammate and putting the team first was at the top of the list.
Vick has done that throughout the early portion of the 2018-19 season and he did it in the most visible way yet on Tuesday night.
There was not so much as a hint of pouting on a night when his stat line featured more zeroes than any other number. If anything, Vick at times still looked to be down on himself for being late. But his vibe was not that of a player who felt he was being screwed over by the coaches or that of a player pressing to make up for the mistake. Instead, it simply looked like Vick wanted to make things right and get back to helping his team win.
It never really played out that way. In fact, the Jayhawks were at their best, ripping off that ridiculous, 27-0, second-half run, with Vick back on the bench.
But before that, as he waited by the scorer’s table to check into the game for the first time, Vick was actively engaged in the action, eyes up, eager to go, cheering on his teammates and watching intently as things unfolded in front of him.
He took a couple of bad shots, gave away a couple of careless turnovers and missed everything when he was out there. But he didn’t let that have a negative impact either. Instead of pressing further or forcing the action, he pulled back and allowed Dedric Lawson, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson to carry the load on the offensive end.
In some ways, what went down Tuesday — the performances not the tardiness — may have been exactly what the second-ranked Jayhawks (7-0) needed because they won’t achieve all of their goals or win at the level they want to win if they spend the season waiting for Vick to take games over. He’s done that a few times this season already, but carrying that kind of burden can get heavy if the walk is too long.
“He’s been on a roll,” Self said. “And when your head’s not quite right, you’re probably thinking about some other things and you kind of have a hard game. But I thought it was great. When things are right and thoughts are pure and that kind of stuff, you play lights out. And when it gets a little bit congested up there, you know, you don’t maybe play quite as well.
“So I think that’s not an awful thing for anyone to see. But he was a good teammate and his attitude was great.”
After blistering the nets by making 15 of 20 3-point shots in back-to-back home victories that resulted in new career-highs, Kansas senior Lagerald Vick opened each of KU’s games in Brooklyn, N.Y., by lighting it up from the outside as well.
In the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal against Marquette, Vick hit his first three before cooling off, temporarily pushing the astronomical figure to 18 of his last 23 3-point attempts, or a white-hot 78.3 percent.
Vick finished that game 3-of-5 from 3-point range and made just three of seven in the title game against Tennessee.
So, yeah, after entering New York on a 75 percent heater, Vick left the Big Apple having shot just 66 percent from 3-point range in his past four games.
Forget the numbers for a minute. Anybody who expected Vick’s shooting to continue to look more like the 15-of-20 clip and less like the 6-of-12 mark he hit in New York was living in some kind of La La Land. Heck, even LaLa Vick herself probably didn’t expect that.
But what was so impressive about Vick’s performance in New York City was the way he stayed involved throughout the game, on both ends of the floor, without the aid of the wave of emotion that comes from catching fire.
No one will ever compare Lagerald Vick to Golden State sharpshooter Steph Curry, but there is plenty of evidence out there that shows that Curry is a much better all-around player when he catches fire as a shooter. He’s a better ball-handler, has better vision and plays harder on the defensive end, as well.
His personal 8-0 run against Tennessee completely flipped the feel of that game, putting KU ahead instead of behind and bringing the KU fans in the Barclays Center out of their seats and into the game.
“I told the guys, when we watched tape, ‘You guys remember in fifth grade when you were playing Biddy Ball and whoever had the ball everybody just ran to it to try to get it,’” Self said Tuesday on his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show. “That’s exactly what he did in that play. And he ends up going and getting it, basically stealing it from Charlie, and then making the 3.
Vick didn’t need to stay red hot in order to continue to make those other things a priority, and that fact might be the best sign yet of the senior’s growth and maturity.
“Lagerald, as you guys know, has been off-the-charts good,” Self said on “Hawk Talk.” “He has been fantastic. … The thing that I like most is he’s competing, he’s got energy, he’s smiling when he’s playing. He’s really playing with joy and he just looks so aggressive.”
Self also talked about Vick’s start to the season after the Tennessee victory and, for the third or fourth time since Vick elected to return for his senior season last July, Self described Vick’s contributions as “a 10.”
“Oh, Lagerald’s been great,” he said. “Lagerald’s been great from an attitude standpoint, leadership standpoint, playing standpoint; he’s been a 10 so far. I’m very excited about Lagerald being part of it. He’s been terrific for us and I’m very happy we have him back.
“He’s seeing a big basket right now. I certainly hope it can continue.”
After a busy week in New York City, it was time to jump back into the routine, with a regular chat with Rock Chalk Sports Talk host Nick Schwerdt.
Among the many things we talked about during this segment were:
• A discussion about who is KU's third big man right now and what that means for Bill Self's rotation.
• Where KU sophomore Silvio De Sousa might fit into the mix if KU ever learned that he was, in fact, eligible to play in the eyes of the NCAA.
• Les Miles' recruiting practices and whether he should lay off high school players who are already committed.
• And a discussion about what Les Miles' first KU recruiting class needs to look like, from total number to positions of need and types of players it includes.
Give it a listen below and be sure to also look for Tait's regular weekly appearances with Kevin Kietzman on Thursday afternoon's on 810 WHB in Kansas City.
Sidelined for last Friday's showdown with No. 5 Tennessee in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kansas sophomore Marcus Garrett is on his way back.
But he’s not there yet.
Speaking to a live audience during Tuesday’s “Hawk Talk” radio show at Johnny's West in Lawrence, KU coach Bill Self provided an update on Garrett’s status after the Dallas native was held out of KU's win over Tennessee because of concussion-like symptoms he experienced leading up to Friday's game.
“Well, he’s with us, and certainly you look at him, you think he could play," Self said Tuesday night. "But he’s still having some headaches and dizziness and so he actually hasn't done much.”
Outside of some limited drill work during the past couple of days, Garrett has not practiced at all following the Jayhawks' return to Lawrence last Sunday.
And with the team slated for its second practice of the day at 8 p.m. Tuesday — the KU coach said Tuesday's second session (the second time that's happened in a week) wasn't exactly punishment, more an emphasis on making sure the required work gets done — Self said he expected it to stay that way for at least the next day or so.
“As long as he’s still feeling a little bit of dizziness or whatever, we don’t play until Saturday so there’s no reason to put him out there and risk him getting hit again," Self said.
With or without Garrett, the second-ranked Jayhawks will return to action at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when they play host to Stanford at Allen Fieldhouse.
It marks the third year in a row that the Jayhawks have faced Stanford on their schedule. And it will be the second return to Allen Fieldhouse for former KU guard and current Stanford head coach Jerod Haase, who was cheered adoringly by the home crowd when Stanford came to town in 2016.
Self said he hopes the KU crowd again will shower Haase with love on Saturday.
As for Garrett’s status, Self said it was very likely that Garrett did suffer a mild concussion, though noting that it was't "very, very serious," and he praised team doctors for their handling of the situation.
Since his early days as a head coach back at Tulsa and throughout his career at Kansas, Self has taken concussions very seriously any time a situation like this surfaced.
“I don’t know if people remember Zach Peters,” recalled Self of the former KU player who never lasted just part of one season. “He never really got started for us strictly because of concussions. I had two players at Tulsa whose careers were ended by concussions — I mean their career — because they had got so many in a short amount of time. We don’t think there’s any problems with Marcus, at least the medical staff (doesn’t) in doing all the tests. This is more precautionary than anything.”
For the second time during this young college basketball season, the Kansas men’s basketball program was jumped in the Associated Press poll without losing.
This time, however, the Jayhawks (5-0) did not fall, rather they stayed in the same spot they were in a week ago, despite No. 1 Duke losing.
Kansas, which won the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn last week, stayed at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 but watched Gonzaga jump from No. 3 to No. 1 behind the strength of its victory over former No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game.
Duke, meanwhile, fell back behind Kansas to No. 3.
The numbers show that this was no run-away from the Zags, who landed in the top spot with 1,590 points and 32 first-place votes.
Kansas, meanwhile, earned 1,584 points and 31 first-place votes.
The 1,584 points are the most Kansas has received in a single week this season, even more than the 1,581 the Jayhawks recorded in earning the preseason No. 1 ranking.
Duke and Virginia each received one first-place vote and landed at No. 3 and No. 4, with Nevada rounding out the Top 5.
Tennessee, which fell to Kansas in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off dropped a spot to No. 6, while Michigan State moved up two spots from No. 11 to No. 9, which gives Kansas two Top 10 victories already this season.
The strength of those two victories was foundation for the argument that KU belonged back in the No. 1 spot, which was where it opened the season. But evidently enough voters — just barely — believed that Gonzaga’s victory over a powerhouse Duke program that looked virtually unbeatable in destroying Kentucky at the Champions Classic earlier this month was worth more clout than two wins over Top 10 teams.
KU junior Dedric Lawson was asked about the Top 25 after KU knocked off Marquette in the NIT semifinals last Wednesday, and after first saying that he “definitely” thought KU deserved the top spot after Duke’s loss, Lawson backtracked when he learned it was No. 3 Gonzaga that beat the Blue Devils.
“Definitely, if they lost,” he said. “I think that’s what happens when you lose, you drop.”
When told that Duke’s loss — 89-87 — came to the No. 3 team in the country, Lawson laughed and quickly began backtracking.
“Oh, shout-out to Gonzaga,” he said with a smile. “Gonzaga is a pretty good team, as well. So I guess I’ll leave that to the professionals.”
Seems like a good idea. After all, Kansas coach Bill Self has never put too much stock into where his team is ranked in November and December and the Jayhawks, as a whole, seem concerned only with where they will be ranked at the end of the season.
Two Big 12 programs made the jump from unranked into the Top 25 this week, with Texas (5-1) soaring all the way up to No. 17 and Texas Tech (6-0) landing at No. 20.
Here’s a look at the rest of this week’s AP Top 25:
1 – Gonzaga (32)
2 – Kansas (31)
3 – Duke (1)
4 – Virginia (1)
5 – Nevada
6 – Tennessee
7 – Michigan
8 – Auburn
9 – Michigan State
10 – Kentucky
11 – North Carolina
12 – Kansas State
13 – Virginia Tech
14 – Iowa
15 – Florida State
16 – Ohio State
17 – Texas
18 – Oregon
19 – Purdue
20 – Texas Tech
21 – Buffalo
22 – Wisconsin
23 – Villanova
24 – Maryland
25 – Mississippi State
Others receiving votes: Arizona St 156, Clemson 135, Furman 72, Creighton 65, LSU 41, Indiana 35, UCLA 30, Iowa St. 22, St. John's 19, Minnesota 17, Miami 10, TCU 8, Syracuse 8, Arkansas 6, Nebraska 6, Notre Dame 4, UConn 4, Florida 3, UCF 3, Houston 1, Davidson 1.
Looking for a Monday morning jolt to shake them out of their Thanksgiving food hangovers and the start to another full work week, Kansas Basketball fans may well have started counting down the minutes and hours until the newest AP poll gets released.
That will come in a couple of hours and we’ll know then whether two Top 10 victories in their first five games will return KU to the No. 1 ranking or if yet another team — Gonzaga — will jump the Jayhawks for the second time this young season.
That’s certainly possible given the Zags’ recent win over No. 1 Duke. And you know what else is possible? Kansas could drop AGAIN without actually losing a game.
How, you ask? Well, all of that love for Duke after Week 1 could linger and pollsters could drop the Devils just a spot to No. 2. In order to make room for that possibility, the Jayhawks (5-0) would have to fall to at least third.
Fair or not fair, you know who doesn’t care about any of that this morning?
You guessed it — KU coach Bill Self.
He’s more worried about the following things, which might not have had an impact on where KU is ranked today but could go a long way toward determining where Kansas ends up ranked in April. And isn’t that all that matters?
1 - Where has Quentin Grimes gone?
After opening the season with six 3-pointers in a big win over Michigan State at the Champions Classic, the KU freshman has hit an early-season slump. It’s not just his shooting that has fallen off — Grimes has hit just 3-of-9 from 3-point range since the red-hot start and 7-of-22 (32 percent) overall from the floor in the past four games — but his ability to be on the floor.
Grimes’ confidence is clearly shaken — a temporary thing, if you ask me — and he appears to be overthinking everything he’s doing instead of just playing. That has kept Self from leaving him on the floor, with Grimes playing just 21 minutes in KU’s latest victory and spending most of the second half on the bench.
Asked why his talented freshman had hit the slump, Self said simply, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
At this point, Grimes likely just needs to see the ball go in again so his confidence can rise. But there’s no doubt that getting him going is near the top of the list for this Kansas basketball team, though it’s unlikely that Self and company will force the action to try to make it happen.
2 - How does KU play with two bigs?
It seemed so promising in the preseason and absolutely still could be effective at some point. But so far this season, Kansas has utilized smaller lineups more often than anyone might have thought it would instead of riding with two big men the entire time.
Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson — both still in the starting lineup — have played together plenty, but Self also has elected to use Marcus Garrett and K.J. Lawson at the 4 for key stretches of games. That’s been partially because of the look of KU’s opponents, partly because of foul trouble and also because the floor just gets a little too crowded when the wrong combination of two KU big men are out there together.
That’s kept David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot mostly on the bench and created times when Self has had to rotate Azubuike and Lawson as the lone true big man on the floor.
Getting those two clicking together and finding ways to still keep things spread out and flowing on the offensive end figures to be a major point of emphasis for the Kansas coaches in the weeks ahead.
3 – Rotation tweaks
Just when it looked like the Jayhawks were close to settling in on some kind of set rotation — Marcus Garrett and Charlie Moore in, Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes out, Lightfoot as the third big — Garrett suffered a concussion, Grimes started slumping and K.J. Lawson played out of his mind.
So now what?
Good question. It looks like, at least for another week or two, the rotation will remain in flux, with Garrett, Lawson and Lightfoot all still auditioning for minutes and roles.
Freshman big man David McCormack appears to be No. 10 in KU’s current rotation, but don’t bet on him staying there the entire season. He’s still young and things are moving fast. But by the end of winter break, he might be closer to being ready to contribute in a key role.
The bigger question is what happens with K.J. Lawson, who played more minutes against Tennessee (19) than he had in all four of KU’s games before that. Most of that came out of necessity, with Garrett sidelined and Grimes struggling, but K.J. delivered and looked good doing it.
He’ll be worth keeping an eye on in the weeks ahead.
4 - What’s the latest with Silvio De Sousa?
You guessed it. Nothing. Self talked about it on a recent “Hawk Talk” episode but didn’t have much to report. And he hasn’t said much outside of that in the past few weeks.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello asked Self about De Sousa in New York and Self characterized the De Sousa situation to Borzello as being in a “holding pattern.”
It figures to remain there for a while and, with the holidays approaching, it’s looking less and less likely that some kind of resolution could happen before the start of Big 12 play.
There’s still time for that to change quickly, but it does not appear to be moving in that direction as of today.
Raise your hand if you’re shocked.
1 – Devon Dotson – Once again set the tone for Kansas as an attacking, tough team. And this time he scored, too. Others had numbers that were more or just as impressive, but Dotson had moments where he was the only Jayhawk on the floor playing to his potential. Without that, Kansas loses.
2 – Dedric Lawson – Another double-double (24 points and 13 rebounds) and a fairly dominant overtime period. He still stumbles at times and it’s not all smooth all the time, but it looks as if the junior from Memphis is starting to get comfortable.
3 – Lagerald Vick – Started with a 3-pointer, got red hot during a personal 8-0 run late and showed up big as a veteran with some grit to him. Shot 6-of-12 for the night and added 15 points and four assists in a game-high 43 minutes.
4 – K.J. Lawson – There’s no two ways about it. Kansas does not win this game without K.J. Lawson. Scored eight points, grabbed six tough rebounds and swiped two steals in 19 minutes. That’s pretty good for anybody, but it’s real good for a guy who has struggled to even get in most games.
5 – Charlie Moore – Got to the rim and played big minutes with Marcus Garrett out with a concussion. Didn’t shoot it great, but helped the offense find its flow and loosened up the Tennessee D with his fearless drives to the rim, none bigger than the one that fouled out Tennessee’s Grant Williams late.
6 – Mitch Lightfoot – Three tough rebounds and a block in eight minutes. Nothing that’s going to lead SportsCenter, but absolutely what Kansas needed in those eight minutes.
7 – Udoka Azubuike – Talk about an off night. Five fouls. Four turnovers. And just 17 minutes. Azubuike just never got going and rarely looked right.
8 – Quentin Grimes – The rough stretch continues for the Kansas freshman, who played just 21 minutes and scored five points and grabbed four rebounds. Shot just 1-of-4 from the floor and no doubt wants to perform better. The upcoming week off could do him well. But he was all smiles as the Jayhawks collected their hardware after the game.
9 – David McCormack – Two turnovers in four minutes with one foul and one rebound. He’s still just not quite game ready.
- Lagerald Vick - 33
- Devon Dotson - 32
- Udoka Azubuike - 26
- Dedric Lawson - 24
- Quentin Grimes - 21
- Marcus Garrett - 16
- Charlie Moore - 15
- Mitch Lightfoot - 12
- K.J. Lawson - 10
- David McCormack - 10
A little more than nine hours before No. 2 Kansas and No. 5 Tennessee got to work in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center, the Jayhawks got a bit of bad news from the recruiting trail when four-star power forward Zeke Nnaji announced his commitment to Arizona.
Nnaji, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound prospect from Hopkins High outside of Minneapolis, announced the news in the Hopkins gymnasium with friends, family members and teammates in attendance.
Nnaji picked Arizona over Baylor, Kansas, North Carolina, Purdue and UCLA. The Minnesota native had made official visits to five of those six schools, including Kansas around Late Night, and also took an unofficial visit to UNC last weekend after the Tar Heels jumped in on him late.
Nnaji, who is ranked No. 37 overall in the 2019 class by Rivals.com, becomes the second high-profile power forward to pass on Kansas in the past month. Top 10 prospect Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, of IMG Academy by way of Bishop Miege High, elected to join the Villanova program a few weeks ago instead of staying close to home with Kansas.
Friday’s news leaves Top 10 prospect Matt Hurt and four-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley (No. 31, with finalists KU, UCLA and Oregon) as KU’s most important remaining targets in the 2019 class.
Because Hurt and Nnaji played AAU ball together, many believed the two could wind up at the same college, but a handful of recruiting analysts have reported that Hurt and Nnaji are not necessarily a packaged deal.
The 6-9, 200-pound Hurt, No. 6 per Rivals.com’s latest rankings, is expected to make an official visit to KU sometime this season and make a college decision next spring.
New York — In addition to facing off against the likes of Marquette (6 p.m. Wednesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn), Louisville and Tennessee over the next few days, the Kansas men’s basketball team also will have a couple of down days in the land of skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.
But don’t expect KU assistant Jerrance Howard to be first in line to climb to the tallest buildings the Big Apple has to offer.
See, Howard, now in his sixth season as an assistant to Bill Self at Kansas, has a serious fear of heights.
It’s been with him for as long as he can remember and, until recently, had kept him from even considering climbing to the top of even moderately tall buildings.
But then the Salute to Service night happened at Allen Fieldhouse, and, as the military members were setting up for their chance to rappel down from the top of the scoreboard to center court before the start of KU’s win over Louisiana, Howard found himself in position to conquer his fear.
“Me, coach Rob (Norm Roberts) and (Jeremy) Case are walking back from lunch at the DeBruce Center and we see them doing it and I was just playing, but I said, ‘I’m about to do it,’” Howard recalled to the Journal-World. “I’ve always wanted to go up in the catwalk and check that out, but I’m afraid of heights. And I chickened out. They strapped me in and I didn’t feel comfortable and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”
That was all that Case needed to hear to take a couple of jabs at his good friend. Remember, Case this summer rappelled down the eight-story building in Downtown Lawrence for charity. So putting his money where his mouth was was not going to be a problem if it came to that.
“He knows I’m a little competitive,” Howard explained. “So he hit me with, ‘Hey, man, if you’re not going to do it, let me do it.’ That kind of got me and I was like, ‘I can’t let him just punk me.’ He knew what he was doing so I credit all of it to Jeremy Case. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. First, to overcome my fear of heights, but then, for it just to happen, it wasn’t planned or anything. That was the cool thing about it.”
Howard’s fear of heights surfaced when he was just a kid. When his friends and family members were running off to get in line for their favorite roller coasters at various amusement parks, Howard always had a different agenda.
“When we would go to Disney or wherever, I was the guy that always held everybody’s coats and jackets,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been like that forever.”
More recently, during Howard’s first season as an assistant coach at SMU in 2012, his old Illinois teammate and dear friend Derron Williams executed a move Case would have been proud of.
“Derron Williams tricked me,” Howard said. “There’s a place in Dallas he rented out for his brother of like these big-time roller coaster rides, and he was like, ‘Hey, fam, we’re going to go on this one. All it does is go straight up and come right back down.’ And it went straight up and then went around in circles. He has it on video, but he can’t release it.”
It wasn’t just Williams who drew Howard’s ire that day.
“I got mad at the guy running it because he started laughing when he strapped me in, and I told D-Will, ‘Oh, you tricked me.’ And the guy wouldn’t let me out,” Howard recalled. “I went from being angry to being scared just like that.”
So while there might be a trip to the top of the Empire State Building or a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the Jayhawks’ immediate future, don’t expect Howard to do any looking over the edge while there.