Jayhawks arrive in Omaha for NCAA opener

Kansas guard Devonte Graham picks up his luggage after the Jayhawks arrive in Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday.

Kansas guard Devonte Graham picks up his luggage after the Jayhawks arrive in Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bill Self didn’t take a catnap on the relatively short, three-hour bus ride from Allen Fieldhouse to the Downtown Hilton Garden Inn on Wednesday afternoon.

“I watched a little bit of video and I watched a movie. I would tell you what it was, but it was definitely boot-legged, so I’m not going to do that,” Self, Kansas University’s 12th-year basketball coach, said with a smile.

He was in a good mood Wednesday and not because the Jayhawks barely beat rush-hour traffic in the town that will host NCAA second- and third-round games Friday and Sunday. The Jayhawks open against New Mexico State at 11:15 a.m., Friday, in CenturyLink Center.

“We’ve had a good day,” Self said. His squad practiced on Wednesday in Allen before leaving Lawrence at 1:35 p.m. “We went very hard yesterday and backed off today. Perry (Ellis, slowed of late by sprained right knee) looks really good in practice. He’s getting his explosion back and he feels more and more confident each day on his knee. Obviously we’re not whole, but we’re as close as we’re going to be whole, more than likely.

“I like our chances. Our guys’ attitudes are very good. We’ve got a tough road here in Omaha. New Mexico State is very good. They are crazy athletic, freakish athletic.

“If we are fortunate enough to advance, the winner of the next game will also be a high-quality opponent (Wichita State or Indiana on Sunday). I’m excited and the guys seem to be focused.”


Self said junior forward Ellis and sophomore forward Landen Lucas (hip, knee, back injuries) did not practice Monday. Ellis practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and Lucas Tuesday, but “(Lucas) took today (Wednesday) off.

“Beginning tomorrow we’ll have all our pieces and that’s just precautionary measures. We’ll have all our pieces ready to go,” added Self, whose squad will hold a shootaround open to the public from 1:30 to 2:10 p.m. today in CenturyLink Center.

“Perry wasn’t very good in Kansas City (playing in two of three Big 12 tournament games),” Self said. “That’s not a knock to Perry at all. It’s just a knock to timing, a knock to confidence, a lot of things. He’s a lot more confident today. His timing is better. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but I don’t even care about that. I just want a guy to have confidence to go make plays. He was a little hesitant in Kansas City. That’s why he was out there, so hopefully that hesitancy was last weekend and wouldn’t be this weekend if it was his first time to get out there (after missing 21⁄2 games with the injury). He has more confidence now.”

Cliff not in Omaha: KU freshman forward Cliff Alexander did not travel with the team to Omaha. Self said nothing had changed in regard to Alexander’s status for the tournament — that is, he’s currently ineligible to play in games until if/when the NCAA makes some decision on his status.

“There’s no news ... don’t have anything (to report),” Self said. “We have elected not to travel him strictly because he’s not eligible to play — and with everything going on with the NCAA and what has been told to us — I hate it for Cliff but it is the reality of it. He is not traveling during the tournament as long as he’s not cleared to play. That’s the way it usually works with all guys that are ineligible.”

Asked if KU could have brought Alexander on the trip, Self said: “I don’t know if it was positive he could or couldn’t (travel). I think it was kind of left up to us to determine it and based on prior history the smart thing has always been not to travel. It wasn’t a knock to him. It wasn’t an admission of anything. What it was was all parties trying to do the right thing.”

Self would not comment about Internet rumors Alexander had a meeting with the NCAA on Wednesday. Alexander’s attorney did not return a text from the Journal-World asking for comment about that issue.

On Tuesday, Alexander had Tweeted: “At the end of the day I still have a smile on my face can’t nothing hold me back #bepatient.”

Great city: Self said he is a fan of Omaha. “For me personally it’s great. The last two times we’ve been here it’s been a lot of fun and led to a pretty good run both times,” he said of KU winning two games in the 2008 NCAA title season and two in 2012 when KU reached the national title game.

“I love Omaha. I was so pleasantly surprised, not saying anything negatively to begin with, this area downtown, what do they call it? Old Town? It’s great. Certainly it’s cool our fans will be able to enjoy that. We won’t be able to, much, but it’s always nice when your fan base has a good time.”

Asked if he thinks KU fans will travel well to Omaha, he said: “I’d think our fans would have known for the last month or two there’s better than a 50⁄50 chance we’d be playing in Omaha in the first weekend. I hope they were able to secure tickets. If they haven’t got them, I’d think if they are creative they can still get them. Because I know Iowa State figured out a way to get them in Kansas City,” Self said. “I think our fans have always been creative and have always figured out ways to get them wherever we were playing. Hopefully Omaha will not be an exception.”

KU-WSU talk: Self was asked about publicity concerning a possible KU-Wichita State game.

“I’ve seen a couple ESPN national broadcasts where maybe it’s been mentioned. The mention on that is so minimal compared to what’s going on with all the other teams or Kentucky’s quest for 40-0. That’s been the talk I’ve heard,” Self said. “It’s gotten minimal play nationally. You know if both teams win Friday, it’ll be 48 hours of pretty good buildup which it should be. I’ve been able to stay out of that and plan on staying out of it.”

The defense: Self on Iowa State scoring 47 points on KU in the second half of Saturday’s 70-66 win in the Big 12 title game.

“I wish I’d gone to zone earlier in the half instead of waiting until about six minutes left,” Self said. “I think it told some of our better defenders supposedly, ‘Hey we’ve got to turn it up some.’ Some of our better defenders got treated pretty poorly there in the second half. With that said, you’ve got to be able to guard the ball in the NCAA Tournament. A lot comes down to guard play.”

Recruiting: USA Today reported Wednesday that KU spends more money recruiting basketball players than any other public school in Div. I.

KU checked in about $2.1 million over a five-year study. Louisville is second at $2 million and Kentucky third just under $2 million, the paper says. KU spent an average of $432,872 per year from 2008-09 to 2012-13. Kansas State was ninth overall at $260,777 per annum.

Pierce likes alma mater: Former KU forward Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards picked KU as his national champion on the bracket he filled out on Instagram. He has KU beating Virginia in the NCAA title game.