Jayhawks set to open against UC Santa Barbara

Kansas head coach Bill Self takes a knee to talk with some of the freshman during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.

Kansas head coach Bill Self takes a knee to talk with some of the freshman during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Build-up for Tuesday’s Kansas University-Kentucky game can definitely wait a day or so.

The Jayhawks open the 2014-15 basketball season at home against UC Santa Barbara — and the country’s top rebounder in Alan Williams — at 7 tonight and that’s a huge happening in itself, coach Bill Self says.

“The first game of the season I think everybody is jacked,” Self said, noting the Gauchos return four starters off last year’s 21-9 team. Top returnee is 6-8, 265-pound senior center Williams, who averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 boards in earning Big West Player of the Year honors.

“I think our guys will be real excited to play and they shouldn’t look ahead because Santa Barbara can come in here and have success and put themselves in a position to win — or win. They are good enough to (win) and are well-coached enough (by 17th-year mentor Bob Williams).

“Come Saturday they (Jayhawks will) be juiced for Tuesday, so that’ll be a different type of deal. I don’t see how your first game can be a trap game because our guys should be juiced to play. The bottom line is they definitely will have our respect.”

Freshman guard Devonté Graham said the team’s focus is on the present.

“This is what we’ve been working for all summer, all preseason. We’ll be definitely fired up,” Graham stated. “We can’t jump ahead to us thinking about Kentucky. That’s how teams end up losing, not being focused. After Friday’s game ... that’s when we’ll change our attention to Tuesday’s game.”

The mere sight of Williams during warmups should put the Jayhawks in an ultra-competitive frame of mind. He had 20 points and 19 rebounds in the Gauchos’ 70-54, exhibition victory over Point Loma.

“He’s a terrific player, great rebounder, big body,” KU junior forward Perry Ellis said.

“He creates so much attention he opens things up for other players,” Self added.

Zalmico Harmon, a 6-0 senior point guard, was second in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio last year (4.6-to-1.0.). He earned honorable mention all Big West honors last season with 6-4 junior Michael Bryson, who averaged 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Greene nets the start: Self said sophomore Brannen Greene would start along with Ellis, Frank Mason III , Wayne Selden Jr., and Jamari Traylor.

Greene has had the best quote of the season so far about turning it up “when the popcorn’s poppin” during actual games.

“It’s amazing to me what some of our guys come up with. I would still like to see him turn it up once anyway, period,” Self cracked. “But he was turned up a little bit the other day. He got three offensive rebounds, and I’d say that’s a great way to go after the ball. But his responsibility is getting back every time we shoot it. He actually got three balls that he shouldn’t have gotten if he had done what he was supposed to do, but that’s Brannen for you. That’s kind of how we operate from time to time.”

Pressure: Don’t be surprised if KU continues to use some full-court pressure defense.

“I look to us doing more and more of that even as the season goes on and becoming much better at it,” Self said. “I would like to be able to extend at least pressure. I didn’t say press, but pressure and still be sound in the frontcourt.”

“We do that every day in practice,” Graham said. “We feel we have the quickness and skillset to pressure 90 feet from the basket and cause turnovers and get easy buckets.”

Self on forward Cliff Alexander: “I think you saw how Cliff runs in the exhibition games like a deer and he runs like a plow horse in practice. So there’s obviously a big difference in him turning it up all the time. That’s what I’m talking about, always keeping a body on somebody, and going after the ball with two hands. Cliff will do that. That’s who he is, but he doesn’t do that consistently yet.”

Self on guard Kelly Oubre Jr.: ”He’s got to get confidence and he can get confidence through repetition, and you’ve got to be able to play instead of think. Sometimes these guys are so screwed up because we’ve got them thinking instead of playing, but all young kids go through that.”

Frankamp update: Former KU guard Conner Frankamp, who attended Wichita State’s exhibition game last weekend, is slated to visit Colorado as a possible transfer destination, the Denver Post reports.

Student seats: Self was asked whether he finds it “weird not having the students sit behind the bench anymore.” The students’ 120 seats in Section U adjacent to the KU bench next to the northwest tunnel have gone to Williams Fund members in response to the Student Senate’s lowering of the athletics fee students pay each year from $50 to $12 per student.

“I would say probably not for me but I haven’t even thought about it because to me the students were never behind the bench because where my seat is on the bench there’s no students there. So I guess if you go to the end of the bench there’s an area there where the students were. I guess it’s a little bit different but I haven’t noticed that at all. I know why the decisions were made to do certain things and everything. There’s still plenty of good seats for the students to get though.” Self added the students “have been great.”

Undefeated Cats: SMU coach Larry Brown has fueled the expectations for Kentucky’s basketball team — the one with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster.

“If you take their first and second teams and split them up, they’d probably have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation,” former KU coach Brown told USA Today. “John (Calipari) should go 45-0 with that talent.”