Individual attention on the rise for Jayhawks waiting in the wings
Although most of what the Kansas men's basketball program does during the season is rooted in team-oriented activities, in practices, at shoot-arounds, during film sessions and on off days, a question crossed my mind this week.
Has KU coach Bill Self had been able to spend more individual time working one-on-one with his core players this season because of the Jayhawks' thin roster and smaller-than-usual number of eligible players?
The answer? Not exactly.
“I would say probably not,” Self said Thursday. “Most of our individual stuff is primarily done during the offseason.”
Save for his highly publicized individual free throw work with sophomore center Udoka Azubuike a few weeks ago, Self has continued to operate with that team-first mentality despite having just seven players in his regular rotation.
Just seven players have played in all 30 games this season, with regular starters Devonte' Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Azubuike starting 93 percent of the time, and Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot playing in every game but starting just nine times.
Although Self has had plenty of one-on-one or two-on-one conversations with his top seven throughout the season, most of his practice time with that group has been spent keeping them together as one cohesive unit, playing against the likes of red-shirt tranfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore, Sam Cunliffe, Billy Preston, when he was still here, Silvio De Sousa from time to time, and walk-ons Clay Young, Chris Teahan and James Sosinski.
“The advantage is, if there is an advantage, when we practice at home you can keep your core seven or eight together all the time,” Self said. “So a lot of times, if you've only got 10 guys out there, you're switching jerseys and doing that stuff. So that may be a little bit of an advantage, keeping your team together, spending more time with your team, that could possibly play than having to switch jerseys a lot.”
Beyond the obvious advantage of allowing that core group to get used to playing together and fine-tuning specific roles while doing so, Self's 2017-18 squad has benefitted from facing four players on the scout team that have started elsewhere during their college careers — the Lawson brothers at Memphis, Moore at Cal and Cunliffe at Arizona State.
Facing that kind of challenge day in and day out has pushed KU's top players and Self said Thursday that there was one member of that group who has made the challenge harder than any other.
“Dedric, we don't have anybody that can guard him,” Self said. “He's really a talented, very skilled, skilled guy.”
He also figures to be a huge part of KU's future.
And while his presence on the red team has helped pushed KU's starting five and rotation guys, Lawson's ability to play with two or three teammates who will be out there with him in key roles next year also has benefited that group and given them a bit of a head start on the 2018-19 season.
As he has tried hard all season to keep his starters fresh, not by resting them on game night, but by limiting their work during the week, Self and his assistant coaches have taken advantage of more opportunity to work with that group that's waiting in the wings, teaching them not only the ins and outs of how to run scout team offense and defense for that particular foe, but also everything they need to know about the KU system and culture so they'll be even more ready when their time arrives.
“If you're talking about doing more stuff with Charlie and Dedric and K.J., I would say the answer is yes,” said Self of being able to provide more individual attention this year compared to previous years. “(Wednesday), the other guys didn't practice, (so) the focus was on the guys that didn't start. So maybe a little bit (more) with those guys.”