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Jamari Traylor senses different vibe around Jayhawks entering this postseason

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) gets an earful of praise from Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. during a timeout in the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) gets an earful of praise from Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. during a timeout in the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Jamari Traylor has watched closely from nearby as a Kansas basketball team made a deep run through the postseason. An NCAA partial qualifier, Traylor sat out his first year in Lawrence, only practicing in the spring semester with what turned out to be a Final Four squad.

But the senior power forward from Chicago never has personally contributed to anything better than a Sweet 16 berth for KU in 2013, his freshman season. Back then, Traylor didn’t have Bill Self’s trust like he does now. Traylor played a combined 13 minutes as the Jayhawks moved past Western Kentucky and North Carolina, and lost to Michigan. He took three shots, made two of them, scored four points, but didn’t even collect a rebound.

Each of the following two seasons, Traylor’s role increased, but Kansas faltered early in March Madness, exiting with just a single tourney victory in both 2014 and 2015.

Traylor, like the most of his teammates, struggled to score inside (1-for-8 shooting) in a 60-57 second-round loss to Stanford his sophomore year, two days after dominating against Eastern Kentucky, with 17 points and 14 boards.

As a junior, Traylor’s season concluded with him contributing four points (2-for-5 shooting) and five rebounds off the bench as KU lost, 78-65, to Wichita State.

Those back-to-back Round of 32 losses don’t fall solely on Traylor’s broad shoulders, of course. KU’s core of veterans — Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III — also played key roles in those season-ending head-scratchers. But Traylor takes ownership in the program’s successes and shortcomings. That’s one reason why, as the Jayhawks head into the postseason this March, the 6-foot-8 leader senses this team can actually live up to KU’s lofty expectations.

Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) falls on top of Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) as Traylor slides to secure a loose ball during the second half, Saturday, March 5, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. At left is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33).

Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) falls on top of Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) as Traylor slides to secure a loose ball during the second half, Saturday, March 5, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. At left is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33). by Nick Krug

“It’s pretty much a different feeling,” Traylor said of the vibe, compared to the other KU teams he has played for. “I feel like we’ve got a group of guys who’s a little more hungry. We’ve tasted defeat in the postseason, so we know what’s around the corner for us. I’m a senior now. Perry’s a senior now. So we know it’s our last opportunity, so we’re more locked in.”

Even before the season began, Traylor thought the final Kansas team he played on could be as good defensively as the one he watched reach the 2012 national championship game.

What’s more, the closer the KU’s veterans get to the NCAAs, the better their defense looks. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks held opponents to 39.2% shooting. No other team registered better than 42.9% — by both West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

KU’s improving defensive effort, coinciding with the emergence of junior big man Landen Lucas, is a sign of the hunger Traylor described.

“As a younger team, I guess guys probably could feel like we could come back next year or come back the year after,” Traylor explained of the more youthful KU rosters who fell short in past postseasons. “We don’t have that opportunity. I feel like we’re more focused in and we’ve just gotta be in tune, because we know one bad mistake or one bad game we can be over.”

In March, intangibles tend to push teams closer to a Final Four. Self pointed to an immeasurable characteristic when asked what he admired most about this year’s Jayhawks.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) hammers home a dunk against Kansas State during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) hammers home a dunk against Kansas State during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

“I would say, I would probably never give my teams that much credit for being pretty tough, but I think they are pretty tough in crucial situations,” Self said. “I think that they usually — not always — usually rise to the level of what needs to be done at that particular moment, and, you know, they like each other.”

Ellis may be best known for his soft shooting touch from inside and outside, but Traylor noticed the team’s leading scorer getting tough in the final minutes of KU’s regular-season finale, an 85-78 home victory over Iowa State.

“He’s just a winner,” Traylor said of Ellis. “The last play you could tell, because he put it all out there. He dove on the court. It was the defining moment for the game. It just shows how much you want to win if you do that.”

Traylor, Ellis, Selden and Mason all will have plenty of chances, beginning this weekend at the Big 12 Tournament, to prove with their play if March victories mean even more to them now than they did in the past.

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Jamari Traylor compares current Jayhawks with 2012 Final Four team

Kansas freshmen Jamari Traylor, left, and Ben McLemore  watch the Late Night in the Phog festivities from the bench on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas freshmen Jamari Traylor, left, and Ben McLemore watch the Late Night in the Phog festivities from the bench on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas senior forward Jamari Traylor knows what a Final Four team looks like. He saw one up close his first year in Lawrence.

Traylor, a 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago, couldn’t play for the Jayhawks during the 2011-12 season. Like his classmate Ben McLemore at the time, Traylor entered KU’s basketball program as an NCAA partial qualifier. He could practice with the Jayhawks once the fall semester ended, but wasn’t allowed to suit up for games or travel with the team.

Four years later, Traylor and his current Kansas teammates want to become the first group of Jayhawks to reach college basketball’s hallowed stage since Traylor watched Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and company get all the way to the 2012 national title game.

Traylor spent enough time around that national runner-up team to feel like a small part of its success. He witnessed how the team functioned and the kinds of intangibles that made it special.

So are there any similarities he sees between the 2015-16 Jayhawks and that Final Four team that finished 32-7?

“That team was a group of guys that just wanted to win,” Traylor recalled, “and they would do anything to go out there and compete. And defensively, I feel like, was the reason that team got so far, because at the end of the game when things would get close they hunkered down, they locked up. And I think that’s what we want to do this year.”

That particular Kansas team’s defense could prove difficult to replicate. In 2011-12, the Jayhawks held opponents to 61.7 points and 38% shooting. KU blocked 5.7 shots a game and averaged 7.3 steals. Opponents only made 39.8% of their 2-point field-goal attempts and shot 34% from 3-point range.

FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% STL BLK PTS PTS/G
Team 1023 2169 .472 801 1526 .525 222 643 .345 285 222 2867 73.5
Rank 4th 7th 31st 5th 8th 24th 112th 105th 157th 19th 5th 5th 48th
Opponent 826 2176 .380 590 1482 .398 236 694 .340 253 137 2407 61.7
Rank 271st 339th 3rd 223rd 339th 2nd 306th 313th 159th 328th 308th 316th 44th
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2015.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) tangles with Vanderbilt guard Nolan Cressler (24) and Vanderbilt forward Jeff Roberson (11) during the second half, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) tangles with Vanderbilt guard Nolan Cressler (24) and Vanderbilt forward Jeff Roberson (11) during the second half, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii. by Nick Krug

It’s obviously very early in the season, and Kansas (6-1) has yet to play with its full roster, due to the Cheick Diallo eligibility fiasco created by the NCAA and Brannen Greene now serving a suspension. But here is what KU’s numbers look like thus far. Kansas (playing at a faster pace than the ’11-12 team) is giving up 69.9 points, allowing opponents to make 40.9% of their shots and averaging 4.0 blocks and 7.7 steals. KU’s seven opponent have connected on 47.9% of their 2-point field goals, but have made just 29.3% from behind the 3-point arc.

G FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% STL BLK PTS PTS/G
Team 7 226 446 .507 161 303 .531 65 143 .455 54 28 636 90.9
Rank 66th 196th 14th 101st 149th 73rd 76th 231st 3rd 121st 147th 82nd 3rd
Opponent 7 171 418 .409 125 261 .479 46 157 .293 37 23 489 69.9
Rank 99th 109th 122nd 116th 107th 185th 100th 171st 47th 53rd 140th 90th 158th
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2015.


Traylor said the hunger, focus and mental toughness of the 2012 Jayhawks made them a strong defensive unit.

“I feel like this team could be just as good,” he added.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) and forward Perry Ellis (34) get up to defend against a shot by Northern Colorado forward Tanner Morgan (20) during the first half, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) and forward Perry Ellis (34) get up to defend against a shot by Northern Colorado forward Tanner Morgan (20) during the first half, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

According to Traylor, there aren’t any obvious player comparisons to make between this year’s group and that Final Four roster.

“I feel like it’s a really different team. Guys are a lot different,” Traylor explained. “Frank (Mason III) and Tyshawn play different. We don’t have anybody like T-Rob, nobody like Jeff. We’re a completely different team, but we’re just as good. So we can go out there and do just as good.”

The Jayhawks, ranked No. 2 in the nation this week, entered the season projected as a Final Four and national title contender, according to a number of websites and publications.

Traylor sees some important characteristics that could help the Jayhawks make a long NCAA Tournament run come March — something the Jayhawks haven’t been able to accomplish the past two seasons, when their season ended before the Sweet 16, in both 2014 and 2015.

Kansas players Wayne Selden Jr., left, Jamari Traylor and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have a laugh on the bench during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Wayne Selden Jr., left, Jamari Traylor and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have a laugh on the bench during the second half on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

“We’re a deep team, top to bottom. We’ve got guys at every position,” Traylor said. “We’ve got seniors and juniors — we’re an old team. And we pretty much know what it takes to get there, and we’ve got a great group of young guys, too, so pretty much we’ve got everything we need. We’ve got all the tools necessary, great coaching.”

Of course, the development of Diallo, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Kayes, Mali, in Africa, might play into KU’s potential — especially on defense — more than any other factor in the months to come. Traylor said Diallo has a unique set of skills that should help the Jayhawks’ already deep front-court rotation as the freshman grows more comfortable.

“He’s just a freak of nature,” Traylor said of Diallo. “He gets up and down the court, he runs like a deer. He’s gonna help us a lot. He can go out there and block shots. He’s young, so he’s got a lot to learn and everything, but his upside is crazy.”

The Jayhawks have plenty of promise this season, too. If they reach their ceiling, Traylor might actually get to play in a Final Four in his final year with Kansas.

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So many bigs: KU’s front court could be crowded this season

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and forward Perry Ellis (34) smother a shot by Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (0) during the first half on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and forward Perry Ellis (34) smother a shot by Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (0) during the first half on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida. by Nick Krug

When Kansas University junior forward Landen Lucas contemplates the quantity and quality of big men in KU’s basketball program right now, he almost can’t believe it.

The Jayhawks rarely lack in the depth department down low. Now entering his fourth season in Lawrence, Lucas (who red-shirted his first year) has played alongside or practiced with interior contributors such as Tarik Black, Joel Embiid, Kevin Young and Jeff Withey in the past. Still, the 6-foot-10 Lucas said the 2015-16 KU roster is more crowded in the front court than any he has seen.

“It’s weird to say that,” Lucas admitted earlier this summer, “because I feel like the last couple years we’ve had that kind of depth. But this year there will be an insane amount of people who have either started here, started at other schools — Hunter (Mickelson) started at Arkansas — mixed in with (high school) All-Americans.”

Indeed, KU seniors Perry Ellis (71 career starts), Jamari Traylor (19 starts) and Mickelson (25 starts in two seasons at Arkansas), like Lucas (14 starts), know what it’s like to be one of the first five on the court. Even 6-9 junior Dwight Coleby, who will sit out this season after transferring from Ole Miss, has seven career starts.

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Plus, Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff brought in highly touted freshman big men Cheick Diallo (Rivals.com’s No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2015) and Carlton Bragg (ranked No. 21 by Rivals).

If the NCAA Eligibility Center clears Diallo to play, upon completing its review of his academic records from Our Savior New American High, in Centereach, New York, the Jayhawks will have six players available to use at power forward and center.

Lucas said just four big men in a rotation allows for aggressive play in the paint. He thinks the collective assertiveness of the front court should only improve with more options.

“Hopefully it will get people to go out there and play hard,” Lucas said. “If you go out there and you don’t, there’s somebody who’s ready to come in and do that.”

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot in Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory against Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot in Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory against Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

Each available big figures to bring something a little different to the floor.

The 6-foot-8 Ellis can score in a variety of ways.

Also 6-8, Traylor is quicker than most big men and has shown the ability to use that to his advantage.

Thus far a backup at KU, 6-10 Mickelson looked like a steady rim protector, as well as an effective scorer and passer as the Jayhawks won gold medals at the World University Games this summer.

And Lucas might be the best defensive rebounder among the veterans.

Without Bragg and Diallo making an immediate impact, though, the Jayhawks will only have a comparable version of last season’s front court. If the two rookies prove game-ready, KU could drive opposing teams mad inside.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg (15) drives to the basket for two of his 9 points in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg (15) drives to the basket for two of his 9 points in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

While playing in South Korea this summer, the 6-9 Bragg showed he can run the floor, play with toughness and knock down open jumpers.

Diallo, meanwhile, might be the exact kind of player KU lacked this past season. The 6-9 big man is expected to play with manic energy on the defensive and offensive glass, protect the rim and compliment Ellis’s scoring inside.

Mickelson said transitioning from the high school ranks to high-major college basketball is different for every player, and although getting acclimated can be difficult, Bragg and Diallo shouldn’t have too much trouble. Freshmen, Mickelson added, usually can pick up drills and plays quickly enough, but KU’s veterans will be sure to remind them about other aspects of the game, such as body language or how to approach different situations.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) makes a hustle play on a loose ball in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) makes a hustle play on a loose ball in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

“There’s just little tweaks and stuff like that that you can point out to help them,” Mickelson said.

In June, before playing in the World University Games, when asked what his weaknesses were, Bragg replied “everything.” The humble freshman’s point: he wanted to improve as much as possible every day. Bragg said KU’s veterans help him stay positive and let him know what to expect.

“They’re getting me ready, mentally,” the young big from Cleveland said. “Going through what they went through their freshmen, sophomore years, how coach was getting on you.”

Traylor already seems convinced Bragg will fit right in at KU, noting Self has said as much in complimenting Bragg’s feel for the game.

“But as far as natural stuff and natural athletic ability and instinct,” Traylor added, “he’s gonna be great for us.”

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) delivers a tomahawk dunk against Team Canada forward Chris McLaughlin (12) during the third quarter of Friday's World University Games exhibition at Sprint Center.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) delivers a tomahawk dunk against Team Canada forward Chris McLaughlin (12) during the third quarter of Friday's World University Games exhibition at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Because KU only has two newcomers inside, Traylor said it will be easy for the veteran Jayhawks to take Bragg and Diallo under their wings. It won’t be like the past couple seasons, when KU had first- and second-year players all over the floor — inside and out.

“We’re pretty much an old team now, so things are pretty much going quick,” Traylor said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

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Bill Self expects improved toughness, defense out of Jayhawks

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor is photographed while filling out a humorous list of questions during Kansas basketball Media Day on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2014.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor is photographed while filling out a humorous list of questions during Kansas basketball Media Day on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2014. by Nick Krug

Thursday marked the very unofficial start of the college basketball season at Kansas University, where Bill Self and the Jayhawks went through media day at Allen Fieldhouse.

Self provided some insight on what’s to come in the months ahead for KU, as well as some of the shortcomings that impacted last season, and what he, the coaching staff and the players learned from those experiences.

• KU has three smaller point guards. He doesn’t know yet what the norm will be. Kansas needs more ball-handling and play-making from its lead guards. That position didn’t play as he hoped in 2013-14. Wayne Selden, a bigger option, could play point with two big wings or Frank Mason or Conner Frankamp or Devonté Graham could be out there running things.

• The Jayhawks could be very versatile this season. Self sees them playing small a lot, but could play Kelly Oubre or a bigger wing player at the power forward.

• Junior forward Hunter Mickelson is a “prototypical” four-man. He faces up. The challenge will be for him to play bigger than he is. Self can’t see anybody beating Perry Ellis out for power forward minutes. With Mickelson’s skills, he’ll have to do some more things to see playing time. He is the team’s best shot-blocker. Mickelson blocked more shots than Joel Embiid did last year in his last season at Arkansas.

• Self likes who Ellis is. He doesn’t want to get him too much out of his comfort zone in some aspects. Ellis won’t be a vocal leader. Leading by example involves doing your job. If Ellis adds a little leadership to his repertoire, it will make KU a lot better. Self wants Ellis to go score. That’s who he is.

• Brannen Greene has really improved. He was very talented last year, too, and didn’t play much. He is in a loaded position, with Selden and Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Greene is arguably as good a shooter as Kansas has. He still has to buy into guarding on the other end.

• So far Mykhailiuk is transitioning great. "Svi" understands the language maybe less than Joel Embiid did when he first arrived. The only knock on Svi is he is young. He is going to be really good. His youth could be a factor in how much he plays. A defender could knock him off his line pretty quickly. He may have played against the strongest competition, among current KU players, in his international experience.

• Alexander can be a physical player. He will have to learn how to guard and pick his spots. Self sees some similarities with Thomas Robinson and Alexander. Alexander has to get where he goes after every ball. If he plays his best and everyone else does, too, Alexander should be their most physical player.

• Without seeing this team going up and down a lot yet, Self doesn’t know for sure what the team and some young individuals will look like. But Devonté Graham is a well liked guy that pushes the ball up the floor and is certainly capable of challenging for starting minutes. Graham reminds him of Aaron Miles. He is a leader and can make a shot. His intangibles will probably allow him to play more immediately. The Marines who worked with the Jayhawks picked Graham as the best leader. But Oubre and Selden will be leaders, too.

• The Jayhawks need to be better defensively than last year. They “stunk” last season on defense. Embiid could cover up mistakes. They don’t have that this year. But Self expects KU to be better defensively.

• KU has a lot of things that will be good for recruiting, with the DeBruce Center and McCarthy apartments and new locker room renovations.

• Self used to do more micro-managing when he was young. Now that he is older he doesn’t think as much about things that don’t impact wins and losses, such as where guys sit in a locker room and things like that.

Junior forward Jamari Traylor attempts a long 3-point basket before a team photograph during the 2014 KU men's basketball team media day, Oct. 2, 2014.

Junior forward Jamari Traylor attempts a long 3-point basket before a team photograph during the 2014 KU men's basketball team media day, Oct. 2, 2014.

• Mason didn’t guard last year like he can. Graham can pressure the ball. Svi can slide his feet and anticipate defensively, he is so quick and athletic. Jamari Traylor does some things with pressure and running the floor, as well. Self isn’t a big press-defense advocate. You play a style that gives you the best chance to win in the postseason. When you play good teams they have good guards, and good guards often love to see a press. Full-court pressure won’t be a staple.

• Landen Lucas might have had as good an offseason as anyone. He is fighting for major minutes.

• Frankamp, in high school, was a volume shooter, as most high school stars are. Then he only got a few looks as a freshman and he felt like he had to make them. His whole play was based on whether he made a shot. Strength has been a factor for him some in the past, but he can help the team in other ways, besides shooting the ball. He had to make shots for minutes the way it played out last season. … Frankamp has to get stronger. Everybody has something they have to get better at. Strength and shooting are key for Frankamp becoming great.

• Self learned something through “The Program” they went through with Marines. KU has some guys who are really good at what they do and they don’t want to take away from who they are. Kansas needs Graham and Selden to be leaders.

• Selden, Self thinks, needs to play more consistently and knock down more shots from three-point range.

• It is hard for Self to make a complete evaluation of Oubre yet. And Oubre is good enough that he won’t be at KU very long. He can do some things that a lot of wings don’t typically do. He is a talented player.

• You always think about a starting five before the season begins. Whether he will tell anybody publicly right now is another thing. Guys have to earn it. By Big 12 play, Self has a team in mind but a lot has to do with how fast the young guys pick stuff up.

• Top to bottom, this Kansas team reminds him a little bit of the 2008 team. That team’s best player was Brandon Rush and he went in the NBA lottery. That team had pros. This is a team like that, there isn’t a top-three pick right now, but KU has a whole bunch of good players and depth. There isn’t much size, but they are skilled and deep. A lot of balance.

• There isn’t hoopla this year like they had with Andrew Wiggins, who handled it well. But KU has players that will be as good at the college level as Wiggins and Embiid. Kansas has more guys who can impact the college game this year.

• Self doesn’t know who would be a candidate to red-shirt this season. Right now he doesn’t think it will be a possibility.

• Late Night is always big for recruiting. It is big for the players, too. Guys look forward to it. Last year there were some issues with getting people in and those have been resolved. Only twice has KU had to turn people away, Self’s first year and last season.

• Self may talk about last year’s NCAA Tournament performance with this year's players. But that team wasn’t truly who the Jayhawks were. That team on the floor wasn’t a No. 2 seed. They didn’t have Embiid. That could be their motivation, to not let that happen again this coming postseason. But sometimes unexpected things just happen in sports. They didn’t have a lot of margin for error last season.

• Looking at the All-Big 12 preseason team, Self was surprised that not one of KU’s players got a vote other than Ellis. “That may be something that we tell our guys.”

• KU might be picked to win the Big 12 when those predictions come out. But Texas could be a top-5 team nationally and plenty of other teams appear to have top-25 talent.

• With the personnel KU had last year, the Jayhawks weren’t as tough as a typical Kansas team. The staff didn’t do a good enough job fixing that. Coaches will emphasize toughness this year. Personalities and youth probably had a lot to do with that last season.

• Just a bit off topic, on the Kansas City Royals… It’s awfully cool to watch. It’s fun to see guys having the time of their lives. They had the fastest guy in baseball (Jarrod Dyson) dancing at third base in extra innings on Tuesday and he hadn’t even scored yet. That’s cool. Self gets a kick out of all the strategy, too. The Royals are really good.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Self talks 2014-15 expectations at media day

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Bill Self press conference notes: Feb. 13, 2014

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self had his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, two days before the No. 7 Jayhawks (18-6 overall, 9-2 Big 12) play host to TCU (9-14, 0-11).

The Jayhawks rolled past the Horned Frogs, 91-69, on Jan. 25.

Here are the bullet-point highlights from Self's Q & A with the media.

• Joel Embiid's status: No update at this point. The freshman center feels better. The MRIs and things like that have been done, and they show that his injuries should get better quickly. A lot of his availability for Saturday depends upon whether he can practice on Friday. You think about it longterm, and they're not gonna do anything to jeopardize his health down the road. A lot of times there is no reason to hold guys out if they're healthy. Embiid's not doing anything at practice. Just dressed out for practice on Wednesday. No activity. Didn't even shoot free throws. He looks a little different — not exploding, not as likely to initiate contact. The big man just hasn't looked like himself.

• On Jamari Traylor, who didn't play against Kansas State due to disciplinary reasons: Self will visit with Traylor today and hold off on a decision until after they visit, but he anticipates that visit going well.

• KU's dribble-penetration defense: If you look at KU against K-State, the Jayhawks scored "all their points" on dribble penetration. It's the hardest thing to guard. In that particular game, KU didn't defend the rim "worth a flip" and allowed K-State to get inside off the bounce. Sometimes it is a matter of pride and want-to. Players have to be tough and mentally into it. On Monday, the Jayhawks didn't have that type of mindset.

• KU's ball-screen defense: There is a toughness element in fighting through it. K-State probably scored five baskets off ball-screen offense against Kansas. Three of those, KU's players probably weren't in tune to what they should have been doing.

• Self doesn't know what the players have learned from the K-State overtime loss, because they haven't played yet and have only had one 75-minute practice since then (the team had Tuesday off). Syracuse and Wichita State are the only teams that haven't had tough losses. KU is playing in the best conference in America and is 9-2. The Jayhawks aren't doing badly. But KU needs to be better at making other teams play poorly. They didn't do that at K-State.

• Brannen Greene was a spark against K-State. He was good late and helped KU's comeback to force overtime.

• You only play roughly 35 games in a season, so players should be excited every time they play. There are dog days in baseball, football can become more of a grind late in the season. The key in basketball is how does a player's body feel. A lot of guys are sore but they're not hurt. That's natural at this time of year.

• On Conner Frankamp playing well in limited minutes: All the role players have done well but they haven't had the same opportunities as their starters. All the players have done well, and that's great for the team moving forward, even into next year as guys who are coming back will be chomping at the bit to play a bigger role.

• TCU is winless but they'll get one before the year is over. It's just a matter of time. They were actually close in the second half at Iowa State, and Melvin Ejim scored 48.

• SMU emerging under Larry Brown and Tim Jankovic: To see the interest level and the new arena and brining college basketball excitement back to the Metroplex is very cool to see. They probably did that faster than a lot of people thought.

• Saturday, Monday format of the Big 12 is great preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

• Several former players have said they will be back for this weekend with the NBA All-Star break. Self probably won't find out until about 5 p.m. Friday that they need tickets. "That's kind of how my guys operate."

— Click here for complete audio from the press conference.

— Hear from freshman Brannen Greene and senior Tarik Black by clicking here.

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