No offense, Ben Simmons. Sorry, Brandon Ingram. Nothing personal, Buddy Hield. Don’t get upset, Kris Dunn.
With all due respect to those lottery picks and the other big names from the 2016 NBA Draft class, if you asked me right now who I would pick to win Rookie of the Year in 2017, I’d lean toward a former Kansas basketball player, instead.
No, not second-round pick Cheick Diallo. Neither Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. nor Brannen Greene.
None of those former KU players are a threat to secure that trophy, which typically ends up in the hands of players who turn out to be all-stars or superstars. But there is one Jayhawk set to make his NBA debut next season who could easily become a force in the league for years to come.
True, Joel Embiid has not played basketball in more than two years due to injuries. But the man possesses undeniable talent.
Now reportedly 7-foot-2, the center at times during his freshman season at Kansas showed off footwork and shooting touch akin to a young Hakeem Olajuwon. So far, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft has been a disappointment for Philadelphia, but it will take only one spectacular, injury-free rookie season for all to be forgiven.
Bearing in mind Embiid’s checkered injury history — low-lighted by back trauma that robbed him from finishing his one-and-done season at KU and a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot (which he later re-injured) keeping him sidelined since — obviously nothing about his future is guaranteed. However, the 22-year-old from Cameroon appears to be healthier now than he has been since he left Kansas.
Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo told reporters Embiid, who will be held out of NBA Summer League games for precautionary reasons, has been cleared for five-on-five basketball.
Let us assume the seemingly never-ending rehab is over, all goes to plan, and Embiid plays, say, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 regular-season games next season with Philadelphia. The big man, with his powerful finishing ability and shooting range, will be given the opportunity to put up big numbers for a rebuilding franchise coming off a woeful 10-72 season.
The Sixers have no established star or face of the franchise returning to feature offensively. That role is open to be filled. While the organization likely has to temper its expectations publicly regarding Embiid because of the uncertainty that accompanies his string of injuries, you get the sense the team’s decision-makers are as excited about the potential of their inexperienced center as they are 2016’s No. 1 overall pick, Simmons.
The upcoming rookie of the year race very well could come down to the Sixers’ duo of the future, Simmons and Embiid. According to Bovada, an online sportsbook, Simmons, a 6-foot-10 ball-handling forward out of LSU, is the early favorite with 13/4 odds. Embiid is listed seventh, at 14/1, behind New Orleans’ Hield (11/2), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Ingram (13/2), Minnesota’s Dunn (15/2), Denver’s Jamal Murray (12/1) and Chicago’s Denzel Valentine (12/1).
Simmons’ biggest asset at the next level might be his combination of passing ability and size. When he drives to create for teammates, the 19-year-old Australian will find a willing and able shooter and finisher in Embiid. As a matter of fact, the two even know each other a little bit. Now teammates in Philly, they once scrimmaged together as high schoolers in Florida, according to a story from The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
"He has great footwork and can score inside," Simmons said of Embiid. "I know how to get the ball to bigger guys down low.”
Turnovers, defensive breakdowns and losses all are on the horizon for both Simmons and Embiid as featured first-year players on a bad team. But when you look at the history of NBA Rookies of the Year, winning the award basically comes down to individual scoring numbers, not wins and losses.
Here are the previous 10 winners:
2015-16: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 18.3 points
2014-15: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota, 16.9 points
2013-14: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia, 16.7 points
2012-13: Damian Lillard, Portland, 19.0 points
2011-12: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 18.5 points
2010-11: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, 22.5 points
2009-10: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento, 20.1 points
2008-09: Derrick Rose, Chicago, 16.8 points
2007-08: Kevin Durant, Seattle, 20.3 points
2006-07: Brandon Roy, Portland, 16.8 points
Philadelphia’s other recent lottery big men, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, have been the subject of trade rumors, so you can figure the 76ers won’t mind featuring a healthy Embiid ahead of those two, should they both remain with the team.
Plus, Embiid is taller, more athletic and more versatile on both ends of the floor than Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for Philly while playing just 53 games this past season. It’s not too difficult to envision Embiid replicating or surpassing that production in his first season in the league, putting him firmly in the mix for the NBA’s rookie hardware.
Embiid wouldn’t be the first behind-schedule rookie to bring home the honor, either. Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, missed the following season with the L.A. Clippers due to a broken left knee cap, only to return to the court in striking fashion a year later.
Can Embiid do the same after spending even more time away from competition? Can he out-shine his thoroughly hyped teammate, Simmons? Heck, can he just play an NBA game?
We’ll know soon enough. Personally, I’d answer yes to all of the above.
The NBA Summer League just got a whole lot less interesting.
The July games, which are designed to give rookies, young pros and free agents a chance to put in some needed work and/or impress coaches and front offices, aren’t exactly the height of basketball entertainment. But catching an early glimpse of an incoming lottery pick or seeing how a young player buried on an NBA bench performs when he actually gets some minutes provides fans and those who follow The Association with some offseason intrigue.
Sure, this year’s summer action most likely will include top picks Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke). However, even though the Sixers will end up with one of those potential stars, it’s a top-three pick from two years ago that many in Philadelphia have been clamoring to see.
Some hope existed that a recovering Joel Embiid finally would make his 76ers debut this summer. After two completely missed seasons and a recurring foot injury, it seemed Embiid’s rehab had gone well enough of late that you couldn’t rule out a summer preview of the former Kansas center. Until now.
Speaking with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper on the state of the 76ers, Philadelphia’s new president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, squashed the idea of the 7-footer running the floor in Las Vegas and reminding everyone why Embiid might have gone No. 1 overall — instead of KU teammate Andrew Wiggins — in the 2014 draft had he not suffered such a serious foot injury beforehand.
Colangelo told NBA.com “there’s no timeline” for Embiid’s return to five-on-five basketball. Next, he gave Philly fans a sliver of hope on the Embiid front before abruptly wheeling the other direction.
“But until I hear a doctor tell me, 'No summer league,' I will always say anything's open,” Colangelo began. “But the likelihood of him playing summer league is nil. I would only say that because of where he is in the progression right now.”
Although the team boss went on to concede if Embiid made enough progress and the doctors signed off on it, there would be no reason to keep the big man out of Summer League games, he went ahead and essentially shut the door on the matter.
“I would say it's a 99-percent chance, maybe a 100-percent chance, that he's not going to play,” Colangelo said. “We just don't want to put him in a situation where he hasn't been playing competitive basketball. We probably want to ease into that and that would mean sometime after Summer League. But if he is going to come into training camp you want him to have at least a little bit of flow and a little bit of rhythm and to be in a position where he could have tested the foot to the extent that he's ultimately going to be exposed in a training-camp environment."
Bummer. Still, this is actually good news for Embiid. The organization isn’t about to rush him back onto the court and risk the years and money they’ve already invested in a center they hope can play a starring role in the franchise’s turnaround.
So those of us who miss watching Embiid’s absurd agility and footwork in the paint will just have to wait until the regular season begins. Hopefully. I mean, the 22-year-old from Cameroon hasn’t played a game since the Jayhawks traveled to Oklahoma State in 2014.
In the meantime, there’s always Embiid’s hilarious Twitter account to keep us entertained.
The regular season is over, and the postseason begins Thursday for Kansas University's men's basketball team.
Coach Bill Self doesn't yet know whether his Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 14-4 Big 12) will face Oklahoma State or Texas Tech in their Big 12 Championship opener in the Kansa City, Mo. — those two teams play in the opening round Wednesday — but he was ready to talk about the postseason Monday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
KU has lost two of its last three games, and freshman center Joel Embiid's availability at the Big 12 Tournament remains up in the air due to his back issues, making the next week even more intriguing.
Here are some of the highlights from Self's press conference, in bullet-point form:
• Self doesn't see a scenario where Joel Embiid doesn't play in the postseason. He does see a scenario where Embiid might not be able to play in the Big 12 Tournament, though. … Embiid is a lot better, symptom-wise, than he was a week ago. If the doctors say it is fine to play him this weekend, they will. Playing three games in three days at Kansas City, Mo., could be challenging for Embiid, too. Rather than manage minutes, Self would rather have him more rested for the NCAAs if that's what is best for the freshman big man.
• Self's first year here, Keith Langford hurt his knee and didn't practice the last few weeks of the season. The next year Wayne Simien had a similar situation. This isn't new territory for Self. Still, no one on the coaching staff is an expert on how to bring Embiid along. They will rely on what the doctors say. … Embiid is pain-free now, but that could change if he took a hit or bump at practice or in a game. … Embiid about "threw a fit" the last time they told him he couldn't play against TCU. He wanted to play.
• Oklahoma State is the No. 8 seed in the Big 12 Tournament — that shows how tough the league is. KU could play the Cowboys Thursday. That's good for KU. Self would like to face a real quality opponent.
• After losing at West Virginia Saturday, Self wants to see KU play tougher. The Jayhawks need to have more pride in guarding the ball, and keeping guys from getting to the rim.
• On Kansas point guards: Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe, as well as Conner Frankamp, are the guys in charge of making sure KU plays well. But, really, it's on Tharpe to make that happen more than anybody else. KU needs its guard play to be sound, and they need to be a little more aggressive on both ends of the floor than they were at WVU.
• Big 12 awards turned out about the way Self thought. He has never understood, though, why voters are able to cast votes before the regular season is over. … Self thought Iowa State's Melvin Ejim deserved Player of the Year. Andrew Wiggins could've and should've been right there. … Self thought Rick Barnes deserved the Coach of the Year, but Lon Kruger deserved it, too.
• Big 12 Tournaments have always been competitive. But this year, regardless of what seeds end up in the championship game, it shouldn't surprise anybody. No. 8 seed OSU was picked to win the league before the season began. "It's gonna be a pretty special weekend."
• The last time KU played OSU, the Jayhawks lost. The guys should be excited to play the Cowboys again, considering they got outplayed at OSU.
• On playing away from Allen Fieldhouse: He wishes the W-L record was better (5-6 away, 4-1 neutral) but the competition had a lot to do with it. Villanova (lone neutral site loss, at the Bahamas) could be a No. 1 seed.
• Wiggins keeps getting better. He was fantastic, not just because of 41 points at WVU, but because of his energy level. Wiggins has proven he can take over. Self told Wiggins yesterday he needs to play at the level he has proven he is capable of. … With KU playing form behind, there was no margin for error, but the basket does get bigger. You can't make too much of the comeback because of that.
• On playing a junk zone defense, such as a triangle-and-two: Situations and personnel on the other team determine when they do that. KU hasn't done it much this year. Kansas should be able to stop people, even without Embiid on the floor.
• On the possibility of being in the same bracket as Wichita State: Self would welcome whatever bracket the Jayhawks end up in. It doesn't matter who the other top seeds are in that region. They want to play the other top seeds, regardless of who they are.
• Playing well this weekend is the key. A No. 1 seed could still be in play if KU wins the Big 12 Championship. … Regardless of what sites KU gets in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas fans will travel well.
• Perry Ellis needs to play well defensively for KU to have its best chance. But he is capable.
— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self on dealing with Embiid's back issues, Big 12 Championship
After Self's session, KU sophomore power forward Perry Ellis came out to answer questions from the media.
Kansas University men's basketball coach Bill Self fielded questions from the media for about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
The No. 5 Jayhawks (22-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12) play at Oklahoma State (18-10, 6-9) at 8 p.m. Saturday night. Self commented on that game and much more, including the rise of Wichita State to national prominence and whether the Jayhawks could add the Shockers to their schedule.
Here are the highlights in bullet-point form:
• Winning the Big 12 outright is a small part of the motivation on Saturday. The big part is playing an Oklahoma State team Kansas has developed a little rivalry with lately, as well as playing on a national showcase in prime time on ESPN.
• Oklahoma State is different now that Marcus Smart is back. He can impact a game and not score. His defensive anticipation is as good as anyone who KU will play against, and not just this year. Smart has totally dominated the games since serving his suspension.
• OSU is playing better because Phil Forte is playing better. He thrives when Smart is on the floor. They're kind of like the Morris twins in the way they feed off of one another. You can't leave Forte open. That's what makes him hard to guard.
• Self thought this game at OSU would have conference title implications, as far as who would have the best shot to win it. It's nice to go down there with a tie already clinched, but the Jayhawks want to take care of business. KU needs to play well to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
• On Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor: They're a big part of why KU is better. They provide a needed energy presence, and give the Jayhawks a different look than the starting frontcourt players, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis.
• Kansas isn't in competing with Wichita State for a No. 1 seed, despite the arguments media or people want to have about it. Self thinks WSU deserves the No. 1 seed line if the Shockers keep on winning. It's hard to win on the road, especially when you're everybody's Super Bowl game. … Self isn't in the least bit concerned with anything but the teams on KU's schedule. The Jayhawks have a long way to go before they will be a No. 1 seed. It all depends on how they finish the season.
• Wichita State's success is great for the state. Iron sharpens iron. When others are good in your area, it makes you better. It's good for Kansas to have Wichita State and Kansas State playing well.
• On returning to Oklahoma State, where he played in college: The first time he coached KU down there, Self toured every place and talked with a lot of good friends. KU got rocked in that game. Now he approaches it as a business trip.
• Going into the NCAAs, you start thinking more about seeding and the tournament itself. It's too premature to give much thought to those things now.
• Kansas keeps making the NCAA Tournament despite turnover in the roster. That's because the players are good and the assistant coaches are good. Those are the constants, the jobs those assistants have done. KU has brought in talent and has been able to overcome inexperience.
• On the Big 12 player of the year coming from KU: Self would like to see Embiid as a candidate but numbers tend to drive that award and people might not include him despite the impact he has on the floor. Andrew Wiggins is a leading contender. People should wait to draw their conclusions until the Big 12 season is over.
• On KU assistant coaches: Self thought Barry Hinson was positive, but Fred Quartlebaum (director of student-athlete development in his first year at Kansas) makes Hinson look like a the sky is falling and the sun will never come up personality. Jerrance Howard is a younger coach, has more energy and fun to him than Self and Kurtis Townsend. One thing you can't undersell is having someone who has been in the fire. Norm Roberts was a head coach in New York for St. John's. KU has a nice blend on its staff, and has for a while. Different personalities on the staff offset each other, and that's a good thing.
• On highly-ranked recruits: The key with Kansas has been evaluating and projecting what they could become. You can look at players who are ranked in the top five or 10 and you know they will have a huge impact. But there isn't much difference between 11 and 50. Those recruiting services, though Self appreciates them, are overrated. KU coaches have done a good job of plugging in guys that fit the program.
• Wayne Selden is getting it. Embiid and Wiggins deserve the majority of the attention, but if KU didn't have those two, Selden would be a guy that would be in consideration for freshman of the year in the Big 12.
• Naadir Tharpe has given KU point guard play that has allowed the Jayhawks to do well in the Big 12. He has gotten better, but one area where he can get better is on the defensive end.
• Wiggins has learned to impact the game with his athletic ability. People line up and what to get a piece of him, because he got so much attention. He has had the best season of any player on the team to this point. Wiggins has been the most consistent. That's pretty good when you don't have upperclassmen to show you how to do it, plus all the expectations on him. He has been himself and not tried to be what he's not. No disrespect to Embiid, but it's easier when there is less pressure. Now Embiid is feeling the way Wiggins has all season.
Wiggins is so nice. He might be the most polite kid KU has ever had. Nice is OK, except for two and a half hours a day. Wiggins couldn't have handled it better with all the hype. He just plays. Some of the things that are said about him register for him and motivate him.
• Oklahoma State is capable of beating anybody, particularly when they're playing at home. OSU is right at the top of the Big 12 in terms of raw talent.
• Self wouldn't say Kansas would never play Wichita State. KU is pretty locked in schedule wise, and that wouldn't be a part of what they have planned right now. KU will schedule strictly on what the program thinks is best. It might be better for KU to play out in New York or Los Angeles or Philadelphia. You want to do what's best for the program. When Self was at Illinois, the program had a presence in a lot of metropolitan areas because they were in the Big 10. It doesn't hurt now that he's at KU to be able to go play at Georgetown or another major city.
• Self thought against Texas Kansas was at the level it needs to be defensively. They didn't carry that over to the Oklahoma game. Kansas needs to make other teams play poorly. That's what got the Jayhawks to the title game in 2012.
• Re-focusing after clinching a share of the Big 12 title. Whenever you win your league, that's a good year. But good years aren't good enough. The whole focus now is what are they going to give to make good become great, and can they become special. It's hard to take those steps. If they're not motivated by that, then there is a problem.
• As the road team for a College Game day game: It's not too different from another road game. Except when guys are laying around watching TV, there will be a lot of talk about the game, which should get the Jayhawks amped up.
• Self's parting shot: "This may have been the longest press conference I've ever done."
— Hear the complete press conference by clicking here: Bill Self discusses what lies ahead for KU
— Listen to a Q & A with guard Wayne Selden: Wayne Selden discusses learning as a freshman, the Big 12 title
With Saturday's home game against No. 19 Texas coming up, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse to talk about the rematch with the Longhorns, who handled the No. 8 Jayhawks in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 1.
Here are the bullet-point highlights from the Q & A:
• On Texas freshman guard Isaiah Taylor: "I thought he totally controlled the game." Texas had KU on its heels the whole time. The Longhorns' transition offense was better than KU's defense, and the Jayhawks' ball-screen defense wasn't any good at all. KU did a bad job on the boards at Texas, too.
• UT bigs Cameron Ridley and Demarcus Holland gave KU problems. The Jayhawks usually win the battle of the boards in Big 12 play this season. But the one game they didn't "we obviously got whipped" on the glass. That was a big reason why Texas controlled the game.
• On clinching the Big 12 title in the weeks to come: We can't talk about anything past Saturday, because if KU doesn't win against Texas, it's down to a one-game lead, as opposed to a three-game lead. To him, this game isn't even about the league race as much as it is playing a Texas team that smacked the Jayhawks around already.
• February can be a tough time of the year, and part of it is playing teams a second time. Self watched a little of Syracuse's loss to Boston College on Wednesday night. Regardless of what people think, in 35 games or so of basketball, it's hard to be jacked up every game. Emotion plays a big part of your energy level.
When another team gives you your best shot and you're off a little bit, that negates a talent advantage that might be had. Playing a team the second time, it's harder to get easy baskets, players are better scouted. If two teams play the first time and it's a wide margin "I guarantee the second game is always gonna be much narrower." Teams raise their level the second time if they've been handled easily the first time. Top-five teams in the country are laboring to win, especially on the road. It's been that way every year. That's likely what happened with Syracuse.
• KU has been ranked as a top field-goal percentage defense team most of Self year's in Lawrence. This season, the Jayhawks are one of the top offensive field goal percentage teams. KU entered the week No. 1 in the nation in field goal percentage. (Currently, they're at 50.3%.) Self would rather Kansas be good at making it difficult for its opponents to score. No matter what a team's offense is like, there are going to be some nights where it is off, like at Texas Tech. You have to figure out a way to win those games when shots aren't falling.
A lot of times, guys have the sense that it is easy to out-score foes if shots are falling. Defense is a better formula for success over time. You're not always gonna make shots. "Defense always travels."
Self figured this team would be really good defensively and average on offense. It's kind of been the reverse. "And we're still not great, offensively."
KU might not be as bad defensively as he plays it up. In order for KU to be great, Jayhawks have to be great defensively. This team just has different pieces and personalities from teams in the past. Some personalities are more laid back than past intense guys on defense like Thomas Robinson or Travis Releford.
"We're better defensively when we suck offensively."
• Can players get tougher once they arrive at a college program? Coaches can improve on it, but you can't turn a guy into a junk yard dog. You can improve them on a scale — if they're a 5, they can go to an 8. There's room for improvement. It's also a team thing.
• Self would like to see KU's point guards "cut the head off" defensively. Past guards like Tyshawn Taylor, Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers might have been taken for granted. Naadir Tharpe isn't as big as some of those guys, but he and Frank Mason can do a better job of forcing opponents to play poorly offensively.
Self isn't just picking on Tharpe and Mason, that's just kind of the way KU is playing.
• Joel Embiid seems to be fine. Self talked to him this morning. He assumes his back is fine. It's his back that would give him problems, if anything.
• Embiid is about to set the KU freshman blocks record. He's currently tied with Eric Chenowith at 62. He is good, but could be great. There is another step he has to take.
• Naadir Tharpe hasn't shot it great the past week. But he's been a consistent shooter this season and is a good passer, creates shots off penetration. KU needs him to be good for the Jayhawks to be great. Self is pleased with Tharpe, but he would like to see him and others guard the ball better.
• On the Kansas vs Texas series: There have been some really good players and games between the two programs since Self's arrival at Kansas. Hopefully this one will be a classic, too.
• If Kansas isn't good defensively, that's on Self. There's no excuse for not being good on that end.
— Hear full audio from the press conference by clicking here: Bill Self discusses KU's upcoming rematch with Texas
— Listen to Jayhawks freshmen Conner Frankamp and Joel Embiid talk about Saturday's game.
Apparently it's better to be elite than perfect.
With two of the most talented freshmen in the nation wearing Kansas University basketball uniforms, even crunch-time blunders from Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid turned into gold for the Jayhawks Tuesday night, as they escaped Lubbock, Texas, with a 64-63 victory over Texas Tech.
No. 8 KU (20-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12) didn't play awful at United Spirit Arena, home of the Red Raiders (13-13, 5-8), but the outcome might have flipped had center Embiid not had guard Wiggins' back — and vice versa — in the final minute.
Returning to the Kansas lineup after sitting out a game with an ailing back and knee, Embiid's final two points on an 18-point night came on his third offensive rebound, when he jammed in a missed dunk by Wiggins with just more than 30 seconds left in the second half.
Wiggins had pulled off a similar baseline drive and slam earlier in the night, but he hesitated for a split-second when TT big man Dejan Kravic slid over as a help defender. That threw Wiggins' timing off just enough that his dunk attempt hit the rim. But the 6-foot-8 guard's drive drew so much attention, Embiid had no problem gathering the mistake and stuffing it home to finish 6-for-7 from the floor.
After Texas Tech's Robert Turner hit two bonus free throws to put KU in a one-point deficit, Kansas had to get a basket to avoid its third conference loss. Embiid received the ball on the right block, and as he spun toward the baseline, he lost his handle. Wouldn't you know it, Wiggins was there to grab the loose ball and lay it in for the win, and finish with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
A couple of unlikely and remarkable plays end up making the difference, offensively, in the final minute of a game controlled by Texas Tech from a pace standpoint — KU's 42 field-goal attempts were its second-lowest total of the season (Baylor held the Jayhawks to 40 attempts on Jan. 20).
Kansas was obviously the more talented team, and like it or not, that's how a lot of college basketball games are decided when the disparity is drastic between two rosters. Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who knows the game as well as anyone, had a terrific game plan and his players executed it to near perfection. In the end, it simply wasn't enough.
“Good teams like Kansas make plays like that. Great players make plays like that," Smith said. "Andrew’s a great player and great players make plays like that.“
You won't hear Kansas coach Bill Self complaining about his team winning in a tough situation on the road, but he surely will let his players know the kind of effort they gave late in the first half and through chunks of the second half, when Texas Tech was in control, won't win them many games in the postseason, which is now less than a month away.
Three reasons to smile:
1 — The Red Raiders easily could have won this game. "Wait, why am I smiling about this?" you may ask. Well, the Jayhawks didn't let them win. With a coach of Smith's caliber, in a packed house full of hostile fans and with Tech players likely believing a victory over KU could get them out of relative irrelevancy and one step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth, Kansas denied the Red Raiders the résumé-building victory they so desperately needed.
And despite the game-winner Wiggins converted on offense, his defensive stand seconds earlier had as much to do with the KU win. Texas Tech only turned the ball over nine times, hit 47% of its shot attempts and 6 of 12 from three-point range, but KU's defense came through in the final minute (with the exception of Embiid getting whistled for a blocking foul on Turner with 16 seconds left).
On Tech's previous last-minute possession, Wiggins blocked a Jaye Crockett jumper with the shot clock winding down, and when the denial fell back in Crockett's lap, Wiggins contested another jumper. The long rebound went to Tech's Jordan Tolbert, but Kansas forced a held ball, with the possession arrow in its favor.
2 — The real Joel Embiid is back. That evil twin of Embiid's — the one whose back and/or knee issues limited his range of motion and kept him to 7.5 points in his past four appearances — that guy is gone.
The real Embiid looked comfortable running the floor, and making assertive moves in the post. He finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and a block, but the most promising number for KU is that he played 32 minutes. As Self talked about after the win, the 7-footer hadn't even practiced that much in the past week. Embiid said he felt like he was at about 90 percent.
So, barring any more injury setbacks, this is the kind of performance the Jayhawks can expect out of their center from Cameroon going forward.
3 — These young Jayhawks have confidence. Any time a team can pull off a last-second win, it gives the players an experience they can draw from in the future. The next time Kansas finds itself down a possession in the final minutes, Self can say, "Hey, remember how we finished strong at Texas Tech, and Jo Jo and Wiggs made those clutch plays? That's the mentality it's going to take to win this one."
What's more, the Jayhawks didn't let their struggles at Tech hold them back in the final minutes. Freshman guard Wayne Selden hadn't scored in the second half, and had only made 1 of 7 shots on the night when he rose up to drain a critical thee-pointer with less than three minutes to play.
Even when the Jayhawks are down, they believe they will win a close game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 — Although Embiid returned, Texas Tech beat Kansas in points in the paint, 30-24. Embiid's defense might not have caught up with his offense quite yet, and Kansas only blocked three shots (one for Embiid, two for Wiggins). That total, though, isn't as troubling as how easily Tech scored inside at times. Defensive breakdowns led to open dunks/layups. Kravic, a senior 7-footer only averaging 6.4 points a game — scored 13 on 6 of 8 shooting.
Part of Tech's success inside came with its 13 offensive rebounds. KU had 13, too, and out-rebounded TT, 28-26, overall. But the Red Raiders scored 19 second-chance points, compared to KU's 14.
2 — Perry Ellis didn't make a shot, and barely made an impact. After a career game against TCU on Saturday, the sophomore forward contributed to Kansas losing the points in the paint battle. Ellis missed all three of his shot attempts, found himself in foul trouble and was the only Kansas starter to not play 30-plus minutes (he played 26). All four of his points came at the free-throw line and he only secured two rebounds.
Hardly the only culprit for KU, Ellis was one of five Jayhawks to play at least 10 minutes but not produce more than six points as Wiggins and Embiid carried the load. Selden and Naadir Tharpe each scored six, Jamari Traylor had five in 12 minutes and Tarik Black scored four in 10 minutes.
Between Ellis, Selden and Tharpe, they combined to hit 3 of 18 field goals.
3 — Texas Tech made 47% of its shots. Since Self arrived at Kansas, his teams have won so often because of defense. In eight of Self's previous 10 seasons at KU, his teams have led the Big 12 in field-goal percentage defense. Currently, the Jayhawks are fifth in that category, at 41.2%.
Six of KU's last eight opponents have made 42% of their shots or better. For the Jayhawks to truly be considered one of the nation's top teams this season, they just need to turn it up a notch on the defensive end, and force foes into more difficult attempts.
One thought for the road:
There is no shame in winning ugly. Especially on the road. Even though Kansas had season-lows in rebounds (28) and assists (six), the Jayhawks managed to win. The ongoing struggle for this team seems to be getting everyone to produce to his fullest (or in that neighborhood) each and every game. A lot of that has to do with the team's youth. Consistency is the most difficult thing to grasp for most teams. Because KU starts three freshmen and a sophomore, that is inherently more challenging. If junior point guard Tharpe (1 of 7 shooting, 2 assists, 4 turnovers at TT) can set the tone in that department, the rest of the team likely will follow his lead.
Thanks to Iowa State's 85-76 win over Texas on Tuesday in Ames, Iowa, the Longhorns enter Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game at Allen Fieldhouse two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings. A win for the Jayhawks would avenge their road loss to UT and put them even closer to a 10th straight Big 12 championship.
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.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Friday afternoon to talk about the Jayhawks' upcoming home game against West Virginia, as well as a variety of other topics.
No. 8 KU (17-5 overall, 8-1 Big 12) plays host to the Mountaineers (14-9, 6-4) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Here are the highlights from Self's comments in bullet-point form:
- On West Virginia: They're obviously playing well (won three in a row, four of five), have some good wins (Oklahoma and Kansas State) and had close losses. They could've beat Oklahoma State twice. Probably have as good a pair of guards as there is in the league.
- On WVU junior guard Juwan Staten (18.1 points, 6.0 rebounds): He never comes out. It's hard to average more than 40 minutes a game. Strong for his size. He has a great opportunity to be first-team all-league.
- KU's defense: Self is more critical than most coaches might be about this team. He is used to better defense. KU didn't guard at Texas and did better at Baylor. He wouldn't put this team in the same group as past teams he has had at KU, but this group will get better.
- On Naadir Tharpe: He's shot the ball well and doing a better job of being more vocal and being a better leader on the team. He has improved 70 or 80 percent since early in the season when Self wasn't happy with him.
- The Big 12 race: A lot of times when you have everybody in the league with losses it gives a sense of mediocrity. But it's the same way in the Big 10… Sometimes when there are three teams in the top 10 of the rankings from the same league, it's because the bottom of the league isn't capable of beating the elite teams. That isn't the case in the Big 12 this season. The race is still wide open… Self didn't see there being this much balance before the season began. Oklahoma and West Virginia lost key players and have improved through the season. Texas lost a lot of players and got a lot better. That's what makes the Big 12 so good.
- On Joel Embiid: It's easy for him to pick up scouting reports and the feel for the game. He's a bright guy and he knows where everyone on the floor is supposed to be on a play. … He needs to get stronger, especially in his lower body. Sometimes Embiid defers too much on offense. He can improve in anything. He's just scratching the surface.
- Players leaving early or not: KU has had kids say one thing and end up doing something else. It shouldn't have any bearing on how the staff prepares from a recruiting standpoint. The coaches need to have players ready to bring in. Self likes all the guys they have that are coming back, regardless of who stays or doesn't stay. Coaches hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The one-and-done guys are the easiest to replace. The hard ones are the ones that come out of nowhere and end up leaving early, such as Ben McLemore last year. Self doesn't know if KU would've got Andrew Wiggins if McLemore came back. High-level guys know your roster.
- At this time of year, sometimes players start looking ahead. Self doesn't think it is the players as much as the people around them who are thinking about NBA potential at this point of the season. It doesn't help them make more money to be thinking about leaving early in January or February. It's important for the players to realize there is no reason to listen to that talk right now. The best thing possible is to focus on the season, what is going on.
- On Wayne Selden guarding Heslip at Baylor: He totally gave himself up for the betterment of the team. Looked a lot like Travis Releford. Self was proud of Selden.
- This time of year, guys should have a pretty good idea what Self wants defensively. It's not from a lack of trying, but sometimes they are less enthusiastic about doing that job.
- On Conner Frankamp: He's done fine. He and Brannen Greene kind of drew the short straw on minutes, been the odd men out. He's healthy.
- KU's confidence: Coming off a good road win, they're pretty confident. KU got in a situation where maybe the Jayhawks lost their edge a little bit at Texas. This is a team that Self wants them to believe they're good, but he might compliment them a little too much when things went well. He can't allow them to get soft by praising them too much. "We better get better or it's (the season) gonna end sad."
- The difficulty of going unbeaten in a regular season: To Self, that was never a realistic thing for any of his teams. With Wichita State and Syracuse, he wouldn't think about running the table. He'd think about winning the next game and where the team is at right now. In Self's opinion, it's hard to be great "unless you go through some crap." Still, a coach is going to coach every game to win, obviously.
- Scouting an opponent: The majority of the focus is "How do we stop them?" The second time you play a team in league play or again in conference tournament, it gets even tougher to execute against them because of the familiarity.
- West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over (9.8 giveaways a game in Big 12 play). They really added a lot of perimeter shooting since last year, too. They will be a real challenge to guard. WVU will pressure KU. Self thinks Bob Huggins will have his guys trying to create take-aways.
- Who is the best dunker Self ever coached? "Wiggs could be if he wanted to be. I'm not sure it interests him that much. It takes energy to do that." Probably Ben McLemore. JR Giddens was a great dunker. Those guys are probably the best, and McLemore liked to show off how athletic he was more than any other guy they've had. He'll do something funky in the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
— For complete audio from the press conference, click here: Self press conference.
— Hear from sophomore Perry Ellis and freshman Frank Mason by clicking here: Player media session.