LAWRENCE — Kansas junior Justin Wesley is averaging 4.1 minutes per game this season, a walk-on forward buried somewhere deep on the Jayhawks bench. In short, Wesley probably wasnt the most likely candidate to provide a little inspiration for a team stuck in college basketballs Dog Days of February.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
But last week, Wesley convinced his teammates to try something a little different. This strange dance craze the Harlem Shake was sweeping through the Internet world, and Wesley wanted his team to film its own version of the online fad.
So late last week, the Jayhawks gathered in the locker room, invited their head coach for a brief cameo, and delivered more than 30 seconds of goofiness, replete with Ben McLemore in a chicken costume, Jeff Withey in a Slash-inspired wig, and walk-on Niko Roberts dressed as an overgrown baby.
As you might expect, such a video has caught fire in pockets of the internet; as of Monday, it had more 800,000 views on YouTube. But senior guard Elijah Johnson says something funny happened after Wesley sold the team on his vision. The team had a little bit more juice at practice, and it perhaps showed up on Saturday night in a 73-47 victory against Texas.
That was all Justin Wesley, Johnson said. At first I wasnt big on doing it. I think everybody kind of felt the same way. But when Justin forced us to do it, it turned into us having so much energy yesterday, and then we went into practice and it kind of carried over.
Heres the disclaimer on the blurry correlation between fun and winning. Nobody can say for certain whether the Jayhawks are now playing better because theyre having fun, or whether theyre simply having fun because their racking up blowout wins again.
Its likely that McLemore wouldnt have felt like dressing up like a chicken while his team was suffering through a three-game losing streak. But after dominating victories over Kansas State and Texas, Kansas is firmly in the hunt for its ninth straight conference crown. The Jayhawks, 21-4 overall and 9-3 in the Big 12, also have a groundswell of momentum heading into Wednesdays showdown with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
We started to realize theres not too much time left, Johnson said, so enjoy it. Right now its something we can look back on and say, Hey, when we were going through a bad time, this is when it started to get fun, and weve got a video now to show it.
The end of the Jayhawks rough stretch also coincided with two straight games at Allen Fieldhouse, not a bad place to find some extra juice.
I think the biggest thing is we have played with great passion and energy, Self said Monday, which has caused us to be much better defensively, which has led us to get some easy baskets.
The Jayhawks, meantime, have worked on some on-court solutions as well. Johnson, for instance, made it a point to attack the basket on Saturday against Texas, and he was rewarded with 12 points, four assists and just one turnover. That stuff, too, can be credited with KUs surge.
I thought he was much better (against Texas), Self said of Johnson. But the big thing is, he didnt turn the ball over. He took care of the basketball. And you guys can see Naadir (Tharpe) did some good things, but we need those guys both playing (well).
Kansas, of course, will need more than energy and positive vibes to escape Stillwater with a victory. The 14th-ranked Cowboys, 19-5 and 9-3, have won seven straight, a run that included a watershed victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 2. Another loss would be crippling to KUs Big 12 title chances, and for now, thats all the motivation Kansas needs.
I dont really try to predict too far in the future, Johnson said after Saturdays win. But I think everybody in this room knows theres not too much to say. Its more so about what weve got to do, and thats all were thinking about.
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.