LAWRENCE — Its early. The Jayhawks are young. Its a work in progress.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Listen to Kansas coach Bill Self talk about his team, and most of the thoughts include these words. Its not even Thanksgiving, the leaves are still on the trees around Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas has played just three games.
But if Self has seen one troubling trend in the seasons opening weeks, its the kind of thing that flies in the face of his basketball DNA.
We dont play very tough yet, Self said.
Its been a common theme for Self in the seasons first few weeks, as his Jayhawks have lumbered through a couple less-than-pretty performances. The Jayhawks fell to Michigan State on Tuesday in Atlanta before coming out flat against Chattanooga on Thursday night at Allen Fieldhouse. Some of it is to be expected. The Jayhawks have added three freshmen to their regular rotation, and it could take weeks or months before KU is at full tilt.
But unlike last years team, which excelled when the games got a little murky, Self is looking for stronger leadership and toughness from his upperclassmen.
We had two guys last year that were assassins, Self said, mentioning forward Thomas Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor.
The implication is that KUs seniors namely Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey need to develop some of those assassin characteristics. The next opportunity comes tonight, when No. 7 Kansas takes on Washington State in the semifinals of the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center. If the Jayhawks win, they will play the winner of Saint Louis-Texas A&M on Tuesday night.
Kansas City is not quite Maui the tournament where the Jayhawks came together last season but the friendly confines could fit KUs needs just fine.
Its gonna be good for the young guys to be on the road, Withey said, but not really on the road.
Its not all toughness, however. In the days after the Chattanooga game, Self had another directive for his team: Play faster. In three games, including two against some small-school competition, the Jayhawks are averaging 69.0 points per game while shooting just 24.5 percent from three-point range.
Were not even close to being where we need to be, Self said. Our timing is not any good. We dont know where our shots are coming from. Our big guys havent figured out how to score.
Some of this is to be expected. But some of the efficiency issues may be helped if Kansas can find some easy baskets off turnovers and in its secondary break. The Jayhawks have the athletes and speed to do it, but Self used the word lazy when describing how his team except for freshman Ben McLemore has run the court this season.
We cant play fast enough, Self said. Hey, lets just call it like it is: We dont look athletic to me at all. We look athletic in one spot: McLemore. The other guys are just average athletes, as far as being able to run.
Self added that KUs other guards, including senior Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe, need to pick up the pace.
Are they average athletes? No, Self said. But theyre playing slow. And it starts with your point guard. Elijahs playing extremely slow. Our bigs dont run for a purpose at all. Travis isnt playing fast at all. Naadir gives us no pace. Im disappointed in how fast were playing.
Speed, of course, was rarely an issue last season, when Taylor drove the Jayhawks from the point-guard spot. It wasnt always beautiful to watch. Taylor was good for at least one inexplicable pass per game. But he also played fearless, with a purpose. And that is something, Self says, that these Jayhawks must learn to do.
We didnt win pretty last year, Self said. Theres no difference. The difference is this team just isnt quite as tough yet. Thats the biggest difference.
• LUCAS REDSHIRTING: Self confirmed Sunday that freshman forward Landen Lucas would definitely redshirt this season. The news, which was expected, came during a Q&A with fans at the College Basketball Experience.