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Posts tagged with 2021-22 Season

How Kansas sophomore Jalen Wilson can lean on teammates’ experiences while searching to flip the switch

Iona guard Elijah Joiner, left, and forward Nelly Junior Joseph, right defend against Kansas forward Jalen Wilson during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacob M. Langston)

Iona guard Elijah Joiner, left, and forward Nelly Junior Joseph, right defend against Kansas forward Jalen Wilson during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacob M. Langston) by Matt Tait

Struggling Kansas sophomore Jalen Wilson has two players on his own team that he can turn to while searching for a way to flip the switch and snap out of his early-season funk.

Even though they play different positions and are asked to do different things, finding out why things finally clicked for senior forward David McCormack against St. John’s would be a good conversation for Wilson to have.

After that game last Friday night, in which he scored 15 points and grabbed a career-high-tying 13 rebounds, McCormack said it was all about letting the game come to him and playing with a free mind. In short, he took the pressure off of himself and made the most of his opportunities when they came to him.

Heck, even junior guard Christian Braun had a bit of a slow start to the season — relatively speaking, of course — and then flipped the switch and has been a madman in KU’s past four games. His secret? Just play.

Braun has been in attack mode non-stop during the past four games and he has thought less and acted more, opening up opportunities at the rim, on defense and in big moments. No one on this KU roster appears to be having more fun playing the game right now, and that, it seems, has allowed Braun to become the poster child for what playing free and having fun can do for one’s game.

Wilson is the kind of player who seems to thrive under pressure, but pressing is one thing that won’t help. He knows that. But, with the way Ochai Agbaji and Braun are playing, Wilson does not need to be this team’s hero.

He just needs to be a player whose effort, energy, ability and matchup-problem potential take the Jayhawks from a very good team to a great team.

“He’s got to become one of our best players,” KU coach Bill Self said of Wilson after KU’s win at St. John’s. “He can drive it. He's a better shooter than what he’s shot it. He hasn’t made any free throws.”

Against St. John's Wilson finished with 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting (1-of-2 at the FT line) while adding nine rebounds and three fouls in 16 minutes. For the season, he's now averaging 4.5 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 32% from the floor, 33% from the free throw line and still searching for his first 3-point make after misfiring on his first eight attempts of the season.

If his teammates stay at the level they’re playing and Wilson finds his footing, he can become the guy that Self gushed about throughout the preseason. As was the case with McCormack, the Jayhawks, to a man, all believe that Wilson will find his rhythm again.

It’s been hard to come by in the early portion of this season, partly because of the self-inflicted wound that took him out of the lineup for four games and partly because KU has too many guys worthy of real minutes.

That wasn’t the case last year. So, Wilson got the chance to play a ton early and he responded by quickly turning into one of KU’s top offensive options. Despite being bigger in some areas and leaner in others, more explosive, faster and stronger heading into this season, that guy has not shown up yet.

Whatever the reason, Wilson appears to be very much in his own head when he’s on the floor. He’s overthinking things with the ball in his hands. He disappears at times when he doesn’t have it. And the confidence and swagger that made him that dude a season ago has been missing completely.

Wilson would benefit from seeing the ball go in a time or two early in games. But when he’s on the bench for the first 5-7 minutes of each game, those buckets — even if they did come — would not drop until midway through the first half. At that point, Wilson’s still feeling the game out while at 10-12 other guys on both teams have already done that.

That reality can make it difficult to operate as a primary threat. And until he starts doing that again — whatever it takes for him to get there — Wilson’s passive play may continue.

He surely knows what he needs to do. And he has the talent to do it. At this point, it’s just about clearing his head, wiping the slate clean and focusing on what happens from this point forward, forgetting about what has taken place thus far.

“He's just a better player than what (he’s shown so far this season),” Self said. “But he’ll get back. He's a little frustrated now, but that’s a whole different element to our team when he starts playing.”

Reply 4 comments from Surrealku Pius Waldman Leikness Dirk Medema Njjayhawk

Memorable former KU basketball manager eager for reunion with Jayhawks Friday night in NYC

Team manager Chris Huey gets up to celebrate a Jayhawk bucket during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Huey suited up as a walk on for the game.

Team manager Chris Huey gets up to celebrate a Jayhawk bucket during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Huey suited up as a walk on for the game. by Nick Krug

New York — After years of putting his heart and soul into all things Kansas basketball, former KU manager, Chris Huey, is a little more than a day away from facing the Jayhawks for the first time.

Now in his sixth season with St. John’s basketball, Huey, as the Red Storm’s director of basketball operations, has had a significant role in helping SJU (5-1) prepare for its Friday night matchup with Kansas at 6 p.m. at UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y.

The Journal-World caught up with Huey in New York on Wednesday afternoon, and he acknowledged that, until that interview, he had not let his thoughts drift too much to the significance of facing his alma mater and so many former mentors and close friends.

“Talking to you makes me think about the game a little bit more,” Huey said on Wednesday. “I’ve been so locked in to making sure my family’s good getting to New York and the scouting report’s good that I hadn’t really thought in depth about it. But it’ll be great. I’d say it’s a mixture of surreal and strange.”

There were, Huey said, a couple of texts and phone calls with KU staff members Norm Roberts and Fred Quartlebaum.

“Talking smack leading up to the game,” was the way Huey described it. But those types of interactions are far from rare. He said he communicates with several members of the KU staff on a regular basis and cherishes the relationships he has with them.

“I consider most of that staff as some of my biggest mentors in basketball,” he said.

That includes KU coach Bill Self, whom Huey said he owes “my whole foundation to him.”

“Seeing how to work in the profession, that was the biggest thing I learned from him,” Huey said of Self. “How he runs a program, how he treats people. He’s just a deep-down genu-ine person. I always felt like I was cared about, and those guys were willing to help me grow and learn. I can’t say enough good things about Coach Self, just as a person, let alone a basketball coach.”

In addition to countless lessons about scouting reports, Xs and Os, building relationships and recruiting, Self provided Huey with a moment that he called “one of the highlights of my life.”

Many of you probably remember it.

The moment came in late February of 2015, when Huey, a 2014 KU grad, was in his senior year as a KU basketball manager. Two days before the Jayhawks’ home game against TCU, Self informed him that he would be suiting up for the game.

Whether he would play or not remained in question and was dependent largely on how the eighth-ranked Jayhawks fared. But with a lead large enough, Huey checked in for the game’s final minute and attempted one shot. It missed, but it hardly mattered. The experience of wearing the uniform and playing in a real game was enough for the Kansas City, Kan., native.

Officially, he played 35 seconds. Self, Huey said, remembers it a little differently.

“I saw him at a recruiting event this summer and we were sit-ting by each other and he told another guy we were sitting with the story of how I played in that game,” Huey said. “He embellished it a little to say I was the only player he’d ever coached who got up three shots in a minute, but we had a good laugh over that.”

Asked how often he thinks about that moment these days, Huey said it often comes up when he meets new people or begins working with a new staff.

“I don’t think about it all that much just because we’re so busy and have so many things racing through our minds,” he said. “I’ve definitely been reminded about it, though. Whenever I join a new staff or meet a new coach, they seem to bring it up and say they found out it happened.”

A 6-foot-7, 185-pound forward at the time, Huey spent a lot of that season practicing with the Jayhawks anyway. But the fact that Self thought enough of him to insert him into an actual game meant the world to him and still does.

“It says so much about who Coach Self is, and that staff,” Huey said. “That they would allow me to do that was really cool. Kansas will always have a special place in my heart.”

Reply 2 comments from Matt Tait Doug Roberts

More ‘human’ Ochai Agbaji still averaging 22.5 points per game for Kansas

Iona guard Joshua Duach, left, and forward Nelly Junior Joseph, center, defend against Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) who brings the ball upcourt during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacob M. Langston)

Iona guard Joshua Duach, left, and forward Nelly Junior Joseph, center, defend against Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) who brings the ball upcourt during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacob M. Langston)

Through the first six games of the Kansas men’s basketball season senior guard Ochai Agbaji has been on fire, leading the team in scoring five times and putting up consistently strong numbers no matter who the opponent.

As easy as it is to see that by looking at his name in the No. 7 spot on the list of the nation’s leading scorers or by checking the KU box scores to see that he’s shooting 55.3% from the floor and 41.7% from 3-point range, KU coach Bill Self provided another way to comprehend Agbaji’s hot start just before the team left Florida.

And he needed just a single word to do it — human.

“I thought Och played well,” Self said after KU’s win over Iona in the Orlando tournament’s third-place game. “He didn’t play as well as he had been, but he still gets 17 (points) and five (rebounds) and three dimes on 14 shots, which is pretty darn good. He’s kind of become human for us while he’s been down here, but it’s still been pretty darn good.”

Six games into a senior season in which he vowed to be more assertive, Agbaji has been exactly that. He leads Kansas in scoring (22.5 points per game), shot attempts (94), 3-point attempts (36) and free throw attempts (21).

He hasn’t given much on the rest of the stat sheet yet, but his ability to get a bucket at any time and in a variety of ways has been more than enough of a contribution for this Kansas roster.

After flirting with the NBA draft last summer, Agbaji said it was a conversation with the GM of the Toronto Raptors and other team officials that served as his light bulb moment for a return to school.

During that talk, he heard the word “assertive” and knew all he needed to know about what the Raptors and other NBA teams wanted to see from him. So how many times did he hear that word during his conversations at the pre-draft combine?

“Just once,” he said.

That was all it took.

“That's kind of just been on repeat in my head since that moment that I got told that,” Agbaji said. “And I'm just trying to keep it going throughout the season.”

Asked to elaborate on the specifics of the conversation, Agbaji obliged.

“If you go back to school, that's the one thing, being assertive, assert yourself more on the defensive and offensive end,” Agbaji recalled being told. “Just be more aggressive about my game and my mentality.”

After three seasons as a role player, Agbaji knew he needed to step into more of a leadership role for this team. But rather than force it, he let it happen naturally, and he said it did not take long for him to see that the transition from supporting actor to leading man

“Everyone was on a different wavelength of just like, ‘He's the guy. He's the guy that's going to lead us,’” Agbaji said. “But I still look up to other people on our team as leaders also. It's not like I’m above anyone else on my team.”

While that approach has gone a long way toward building chemistry on a roster with a whole bunch of new faces, Agbaji said the respect he feels from his teammates is the direct result of them seeing how much work he has put in and how much he cares.

“Really just everything about my game,” he said when asked what was different this season. “My mindset towards it, my approach towards the game, my approach in practice and even when I'm just working out by myself. I think my whole mind space has just changed.”

While Self has been more than pleased with Agbaji’s newfound aggressive mentality, he still would like to see Agbaji — and others — attack the basket more than they have.

“As much as those guys have the ball, when CB (Christian Braun) and Och combine for one free throw (vs. Iona), they can still be more aggressive,” Self said.

Reply 3 comments from Rodney Crain Dirk Medema Mallory Briggans

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self shares appreciation for Jalen Coleman-Lands’ approach to fighting through toe injury

Kansas guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (55) puts up a three after saving an out-of-bounds ball and catching a pass on the wing during the second half on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (55) puts up a three after saving an out-of-bounds ball and catching a pass on the wing during the second half on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

As the Kansas men’s basketball team sits on the brink of getting one Jalen back from suspension in the coming days, head coach Bill Self delivered some serious praise for the other Jalen on the roster on Wednesday.

In the team’s first two regular season games without sophomore Jalen Wilson, super-senior Jalen Coleman-Lands has averaged 7.5 points in 11 minutes per game while picking up some of the slack created by Wilson’s absence.

All of that came while Coleman-Lands battled a toe injury, which Self said he reaggravated during Tuesday’s practice.

Self revealed Wednesday that Coleman-Lands’ injury, which was believed to be improving last week, is a cracked bone in one of his big toes. It’s not an injury that keeps him on the sideline, but Self said the opportunity to bother it exists pretty much every day.

“In basketball, there’s a chance somebody can step on your toe at any time,” Self said. “But he’s been good.”

So good, in fact, that Self recently pulled him aside to deliver positive feedback and a message of encouragement in hopes of inspiring Coleman-Lands to keep pushing through the discomfort as he waits for the toe to heal.

“I said, ‘I know I’m on your butt, but I promise you I notice that you haven’t complained one time, you don’t mope around, we know you’re not 100% — you’re probably at 80% — you get treatment all the time, you do everything you’re supposed to do,’” Self said. “And, to me, that’s a form of maturity and toughness.”

While Self felt good about picking the Iowa State transfer up with a few ‘atta boys,’ he also recognized that words can only do so much and that Coleman-Lands would probably be far happier to be playing at 100% again.

“I see it,” Self said of the veteran guard’s good attitude. “But it still hasn’t allowed him to be who he is yet.”

Despite the injury, Coleman-Lands has shown a willingness to bring maximum effort to the floor for all 21.5 minutes he has played. That has been particularly evident on the defensive end, where he slides and works to guard as hard as just about anybody on the roster.

On the offensive end, Coleman-Lands has hit 5 of the 9 shots he has attempted, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, which was largely considered to be his specialty when he arrived at Kansas.

A career 37.1% shooter from 3-point range, Coleman-Lands shot 39.5% from 3-point land at Iowa State last season and is off to a good start at KU. In last week’s win over Tarleton State, he hit all four shots he attempted, including a 2-for-2 clip from 3-point range.

The third-ranked Jayhawks (2-0) return to action at 7 p.m. tonight versus Stony Brook at Allen Fieldhouse.

Reply 1 comment from Thomas Harrison

Kansas basketball thankful for all aspects — good and bad — of season-opening win over Michigan State

Kansas' Dajuan Harris (3) passes away from Michigan State's Julius Marble II (34) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. Kansas won the game 87-74. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas' Dajuan Harris (3) passes away from Michigan State's Julius Marble II (34) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. Kansas won the game 87-74. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York — Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self has never put too much stock into what happens at the Champions Classic — win or lose.

It’s early in the season. Mistakes are inevitable. And most of the Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State teams that have played there in the past 11 years have transformed into something drastically different — both good and bad — as the seasons have progressed.

So, yeah; Self was happy his team won on Tuesday night, knocking off a tough Michigan State team 87-74, behind a career-high 29 points from senior guard Ochai Agbaji. But the rest of the week has been about Tarleton State (Friday's opponent) and getting ready for Stony Brook (Nov. 18) and the upcoming Orlando tournament far more than what went down at Madison Square Garden on the first night of the season.

“I don’t think this game means a ton in February,” Self said after Tuesday’s victory. “It’s too early in the season. I do think it’s one of those games that (when) you look back and start adding good and bad, this is definitely a mark in the good space for us.”

It also only remains that way if the Jayhawks gain confidence from the things they did well and obsess over correcting the things they did poorly.

It’s Self’s job to make sure they do that, and he was already pushing that message on Tuesday night.

“We can’t be happy with winning,” he said. “We’ve got to get better. I don’t know my team that well yet, but any time you play Michigan State or leave this Classic with a win, it’s a very positive thing.”

The list of things that need to be addressed is long.

“We don’t know what we’re doing yet,” Self said Tuesday. “That’s probably pretty evident. We’re hard to scout because we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Putting the pieces together and finding consistent flow and rhythm on both ends only figures to get more complicated three games from now, when returning starter Jalen Wilson is back from his four-game suspension.

Self said Tuesday night that he cannot foresee playing 10 or 11 guys on a regular basis throughout the season. So, distributing the minutes and figuring out how to give everyone on this roster what they deserve likely comes down to who earns it — day by day and week by week — and a few situational coaching decisions.

Beyond that, Self does not seem to think that playing super-small, with Dajuan Harris Jr. and Remy Martin on the floor together for large chunks of time, is a sustainable way to compete at the highest level.

And then there’s the ongoing effort of figuring out just how Martin and his game fit into the Kansas basketball philosophy. Other individuals also have areas they can — and need to — improve in, as well. Most notably, senior big man David McCormack needs to show that his slow start in the season opener will not translate into a slow start to the season like it did a year ago.

All of those issues and the others that will show up on film, when the Jayhawks rewatch this one, are easier to stomach because of the outcome.

Said Self of the annual season opener: “It’s not a game that hurts you if you lose, but it can help you if you win.”

From a confidence and good vibe perspective, that’s exactly what the 1-0 Jayhawks got.

“It was extremely fun,” Martin said after the win. “And it means a lot. We know it’s a long season and we’ve got a lot of games left, but Michigan State was a great first matchup.”

Reply 1 comment from Mallory Briggans

Four members of KU’s 2022 recruiting class sign national letters of intent to officially join Jayhawks

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

While much of Wednesday was spent with the Kansas men’s basketball program basking in the aftermath of a season-opening victory over Michigan State on Tuesday night, the day was also pretty significant for KU’s future.

Four members of the Class of 2022 made their oral commitments official by signing national letters of intent on Wednesday.

Five-star wing Gradey Dick (6-7, 195), of Sunrise Christian Academy, and four-star forward Ernest Udeh Jr. (6-10, 232) were the first to sign, around noon.

Five-star guard MJ Rice (6-5, 200) and four-star big man Zuby Ejiofor (6-8, 220) made their commitments official just after 5 p.m.

That group makes up the No. 4-ranked 2022 class in the country, according to Rivals.com.

Each player brings a different set of skills to the court, but all four seem to be in line with the type of versatile and athletic talent that Kansas coach Bill Self brought to the program this offseason.

The Jayhawks could still add another player or two to the 2022 class before it’s all said and done. But they’re unlikely to add another in the early signing period, which opened Wednesday and runs through Nov. 17. The Division I basketball regular signing period runs April 13, 2022 through May 18, 2022.

Here’s a look at some of the action from today’s official signings.

None by Gradey Dick

None by Garland High School

None by Marquise (MJ) Rice

Reply 5 comments from Dirk Medema Doug Merrill Layne Pierce Jim Stauffer Rae Bricil

Champions Classic victory leaves Kansas point guard Remy Martin pleased with KU debut

Kansas' Remy Martin (11) drives past Michigan State's Max Christie (5) and Tyson Walker during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas' Remy Martin (11) drives past Michigan State's Max Christie (5) and Tyson Walker during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York — Kansas senior Remy Martin’s official KU debut will be remembered for three things — a slow first half, a strong second half and a victory.

And that’s just the way Martin likes it.

Surrounded by around a dozen members of the national media, all wanting to hear for themselves what the free-spirited Martin expects from his final season of college basketball, the first-year Jayhawk left nothing to the imagination in repeating a refrain that he has uttered often since he committed to KU.

“I came here to win,” Martin said.

On Tuesday, during the Jayhawks’ 87-74, season-opening victory over Michigan State at the Champions Classic inside Madison Square Garden, Martin had moments where he contributed to the victory.

He also had moments where he sat on the bench or deferred on the court, and he was fine with all of the roles he played in the opener because of the outcome.

“I didn’t come here to score points,” Martin said after the victory. “I didn’t come here to be the face (of the program). I came here to win, and I’m just very happy to get the first win and want to keep it going.”

If Martin and the Jayhawks are going to win at the level they all want to, Martin is going to be a big part of it. But he showed on Tuesday night that he is mature enough to pick his spots — when to put the pedal down and when to pull back, when to attack and when to facilitate.

The funny thing about that dichotomy is that it really requires very little thinking by Martin.

“I just go out there and play my game,” he said after Tuesday’s victory. “These guys want me to play how I play, and I love it here. I love the Kansas culture and I’ve bought in and I just want to win.”

It does not take long to see that Martin is driven, in almost everything he does, by pure emotion.

Before Tuesday’s game, while the nine other players starting for their respective teams gathered near mid-court for the opening tip, Martin was under the south basket, leaning up against the support padding while talking to himself to get into the right frame of mind for the game to go live.

He lingered there so long that senior standout Ochai Agbaji, who led all scorers with 29 points in the Kansas victory, could be seen looking around, almost as if he was searching for Martin or whoever was supposed to be KU’s fifth player on the floor.

It’s those moments — Remy being Remy — that will become more familiar to his new teammates and the KU coaches as the season progresses. But it’s not as if there’s some sort of timeline that indicates when it’s all going to click.

Because he’ll be at Kansas for just one year, and because he’s still so new to everyone at KU, the work to understand who Martin is, how he plays and what he does best and why likely will be an ongoing effort that lasts from the season’s beginning to end.

All parties involved can accept that because they all know it going into it. But Kansas coach Bill Self is hoping that Martin, over time, will fully examine what his new coaches are asking him to do and what his new team needs him to be.

“I haven’t quite figured Remy out,” Self said after Tuesday’s win. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way. He’s a guy that gives energy and plays with personality. So, he’s going to be a big bonus for us in that regard. But if he can get 15 a game the way we play, it’s going to be a huge, huge bonus for us.”

The key to that will be Martin getting his within the Kansas system. Agbaji did exactly that on Tuesday night, which made his 29 points seem a little on the quiet side. And Martin did that in the second half, when Self elected to spread the floor more to give him space and lanes to attack.

The result was 15 points on nine shots in 16 second-half minutes, with Martin playing with more aggression and purpose than he did in the first half, when he did not attempt a single shot.

Again, the two halves showed that the KU guard has a clear — albeit early — understanding of what’s possible for him at Kansas.

During his days at Arizona State, there was no decision to be made. It was go, go, go and then go some more. Both Self and Martin referenced that in Tuesday’s postgame press conference, with Martin explaining the way he thinks now and Self emphasizing that even better days are ahead for Martin as long as his mindset remains in the right place.

“If Ochai has a hot hand, I’m going to get him the ball,” Martin said. “If Dave (McCormack) is sealing, give it to him and get out the way. If those guys can do those things, my job, as a point guard, is to win basketball games.”

Added Self, who, no doubt, would like to hear that assessment of Martin’s role: “I don’t think he’s even remotely comfortable playing the way we want to play. And I don’t think he can see yet how he can benefit from playing the way we want to play, even though I thought he did a nice job the second half.”

Reply 4 comments from Mallory Briggans Brjam Surrealku

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self hoping to see blend of composure, enthusiasm vs. Michigan State in season opener

Kansas guard Remy Martin (11) and Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) have a laugh on the bench during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Remy Martin (11) and Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) have a laugh on the bench during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

New York City — Kansas basketball coach Bill Self knows what he would like to see from his third-ranked Jayhawks against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in tonight’s season opener.

But the fact that it’s Game 1 of a new season couple with the fact that his team features eight new scholarship players has Self fully aware that things figure to be far from perfect against Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

“Deficiencies will and should be exposed,” Self said this week ahead of the matchup. “And that’ll give us plenty of stuff to work on.”

What he wants to see take place around those mistakes and shortcomings is a Kansas team that showcases pride and purpose.

“I hope that we play with composure and I hope we play with unbelievable excitement and pace and enthusiasm,” he said. “Sometimes when you do that it leads to carelessness, and I hope we kind of have a blend there where we can be sound and still yet be really excited to go play.”

Asked if he expects the Jayhawks to be able to deliver in those areas, Self said simply, “I don’t know yet.”

“We’ve got a piece or two that hasn’t been here,” he added. “And I don't know why we wouldn't be (composed and excited), but the thing about it is there will be guys more nervous for this game than there will be guys nervous for the first round the NCAA Tournament game, just because we haven't had 30 games under our belt or 35 games under our belt to get used to what's getting ready to happen in the tournament.”

While some Jayhawks, like Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot have had plenty of experience with both, several others have no experience with either. Beyond that, this team, as a whole, has next to no experience playing together on a stage as big and bright as the one it will encounter tonight.

“This is totally new to everybody and we’ve got eight newcomers out there,” Self said.

For some that will mean a chance to shine in front of a national audience on what amounts to college basketball’s Christmas morning.

For others, there will be moments of frustration, sloppiness and anxiety.

Regardless of which players fall where on that spectrum, Self said it would be largely up to the players to find their way through it. And he’s looking forward to seeing how his guys react and handle it.

“Once we get into the game, if the atmosphere is affecting the players, I don't know if there's really much of coach can do (other than) call a timeout and say, ‘Calm down, take a deep breath.’”

KU junior Christian Braun said heeding those words of wisdom and locking in on every possession can be the difference between a good night and a bad one or a good stretch and a sloppy one.

“It’s super exciting,” KU junior Christian Braun said. “You know, it's your first game, your first road game of the season, so you're super excited and just juiced up and ready to play. You’ve got to stay focused, and the guys will be turned up and ready to go.”

Tonight’s tipoff is set for 6 p.m. central on ESPN.

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Jayhawks arrive in NYC fully vaccinated and ready for season opener at Madison Square Garden

The Kansas men's basketball team heads to the locker room through the fog in preparation for their scrimmage during Late Night in the Phog, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Kansas men's basketball team heads to the locker room through the fog in preparation for their scrimmage during Late Night in the Phog, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

New York City — The Kansas men’s basketball team arrived in the Big Apple on Monday evening with a roster full of coaches and players who were fully vaccinated.

Kansas coach Bill Self said on his “Hawk Talk” radio show last Thursday that many players and staff members had even received their booster shots.

“Some of our athletes, if not all, had that available (on Thursday),” Self said. “Maybe not every one of our guys got it, but the majority of our guys got a booster as well.”

While the vaccine status of players throughout sports has been a hot-button topic in recent weeks, it took on significance for the Jayhawks because of the rules in place at Madison Square Garden, site of tonight’s 6 p.m. season opener against Michigan State at the Champions Classic.

According to the Garden’s website, the arena is following the “Key to NYC” vaccination requirement, which went into effect in mid-August. It requires individuals to show proof of vaccination to gain entrance to all of the city’s entertainment venues.

The Garden’s official website also notes that, “government mandates for attending indoor events at venues such as the Garden, currently state all guests 12 and older are required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. This means you’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to attending. Guests may also show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. This means the day of your event is at least 14 days after your final vaccine dose, which, depending on the type of vaccine, may be one dose or two.” According to the Garden website, fully vaccinated guests are not required to wear a mask in the building.

“All our guys are vaccinated, so we’re happy about that,” Self said on Hawk Talk. “So that won’t be an issue at all.”

Expected to be at or near capacity, with a limited number of tickets still available on the third-party market, tonight’s KU-MSU game will be the Jayhawks’ first real game in front of a full venue since March 7, 2020.

On that day, roughly 19 months ago, a sellout crowd of 15,098 filled United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas, to watch KU knock off Texas Tech, 66-62, in what turned out to be the final game of the 2019-20 season before COVID-19 shut down the sports world.

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Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji poised for climb up KU’s consecutive starts list

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) elevates for a shot over Emporia State guard PJ Johnson (20) during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) elevates for a shot over Emporia State guard PJ Johnson (20) during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

When Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji steps onto the floor as a starter in Tuesday’s Champions Classic clash with Michigan State at Madison Square Garden, he’ll move into a tie for 11th place — with Greg Dreiling — on KU’s all-time consecutive starts list.

Dating back to a regular season game at Texas on Jan. 29, 2019, and carrying through into his senior campaign, Agbaji has started every game for the Jayhawks during the past two and a half seasons.

“I can remember that moment when I was getting introduced at Texas,” Agbaji said recently, when asked about the streak. “It was a big deal. And from then on it was just like, ‘All right, you’re expected to start.’”

After initially planning to redshirt, the 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas City, Mo., started the final 16 games of his freshman season in 2018-19. He followed that up by starting all 31 games during the 2019-20 season and all 30 a season ago.

“I’ve never really thought about that (but) 77 games is a lot of games, a lot of starts,” Agbaji said. “I’m just trying to continue that and stay healthy throughout the season.”

If things go well, Agbaji has a shot to finish the season in the top five on KU’s all-time list of consecutive starts. He needs 25 more to pass Wayne Selden Jr. for fifth place.

If things go really well, and the Jayhawks make the kind of run in the postseason that they’re both hoping and expecting to make, Agbaji could move into the top three. Thirty-four more in a row would move him past Frank Mason III and Aaron Miles, who currently sit tied for third on the list at 110 starts in a row.

The absolute highest Agbaji could climb this season would be into second place, one spot ahead of Raef LaFrentz, who started 116 consecutive games during his Kansas career from 1995-98.

Passing LaFrentz would require 40 starts this season and the Jayhawks would need to play three games at the Big 12 tournament and reach the national title game in the 2022 NCAA Tournament for Agbaji to make it happen.

Unless Agbaji elects to use his COVID year to stick around for the 2022-23 season, the idea of catching Danny Manning, with 141 consecutive starts from 1985-88, is likely a pipe dream for everyone.

Still, Agbaji said he was proud of his current streak and thankful that he has a chance to add to it. He views the role of being a starter at Kansas as an honor that should not be taken lightly.

“It does come with a lot of responsibility,” he said, noting that it’s important both on game night and in the big picture of representing the program and university. “Getting off to a good start (is key). That’s the vibe that coach puts out there for the whole entire game.”

KU's all-time consecutive starts leaders:

1 - Danny Manning - 141 - 1985-88

2 - Raef LaFrentz - 116 - 1995-98

T3 - Frank Mason III - 110 - 2014-17

T3 - Aaron Miles - 110 - 2002-05

5 - Wayne Selden Jr. - 101 - 2014-16

6 - Jacque Vaughn - 100 - 1994-97

7 - Keith Langford - 98 - 2002-05

8 - Cedric Hunter - 89 - 1984-87

9 - Jo Jo White - 84 - 1966-69

10 - Devonte' Graham - 82 - 2015-18

11 - Greg Dreiling - 78 - 1984-86

12 - Ochai Agbaji - 77 - 2019-Present

13 - Kirk Hinrich - 73 - 2000-03

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