Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog sometimes resembles TV’s “Dancing with the Stars” more than a season-opening basketball practice, which is OK with newcomer Malik Newman.
“I am a great dancer. At least I think that,” Newman, KU’s sophomore transfer from Mississippi State, said with a smile in discussing Saturday’s 32nd annual Late Night, set for a 6:30 p.m., start in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I mean I have to be No. 1 and whoever falls under me it really doesn’t matter. It’s like I’m a 10 and they (teammates) are like 7, so whatever falls under me is just OK,” he added exhibiting fake bravado.
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The 6-foot-3 Newman, who will practice this season but not play in games in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, was asked if he’ll bust out any particular moves Saturday. Senior guard Frank Mason, for instance, has been known to perform a backflip or two at Late Night.
“No, no, nothing at all, just a good smile,” Newman said.
Newman — he stopped by Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center on Wednesday night to watch KU students compete in the Late Night men’s and women’s 3-on-3 tournaments (finals will be held Saturday at Late Night) — was in a great mood Thursday following the end of coach Bill Self’s two-week Boot Camp conditioning program.
“I think it’s a good experience,” Newman said. “The only thing I don’t like is waking up that early (for 7 a.m. drills). It’s nothing that’s impossible to do, just a lot of hard work and mental focus going into it. Besides getting in shape, it helps us get tougher and blend more as a team.”
Self on Thursday said he was impressed with his entire squad, Newman included.
“I’m surprised they did as well as they did. I thought that everybody would finish but I had no idea that the Malik Newmans and Evan Maxwells of the world would have done as well as they did being their first time going through it,” Self said. Maxwell is a 6-10 junior transfer from Liberty University who can play in 2017-18 after practicing this school year.
“It was probably one of our better Boot Camps. Certainly, the guys were pretty well conditioned, without question. They really not only worked hard, but they really helped each other the entire two weeks. I think our team got closer throughout the camp,” Self added.
The squad ran, ran and ran some more the final two days in timed “suicide sprints” up and down the court.
“I thought the last two days were tough and guys kind of got on an island a little bit, which I think is very common because it was difficult,” Self said. “I thought that Landen (Lucas), Frank and Tyler (Self) were all terrific. They were just not as vocal as they could have been the last couple days. I thought that Lagerald (Vick), Devonté (Graham), Carlton (Bragg), Josh (Jackson), Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Mitch (Lightfoot) really took a big step forward being more vocal.”
Jackson, a freshman guard from Detroit, aced his first Boot Camp.
“I don’t really think it will set in until tomorrow morning when I don’t have to wake up at 5 in the morning,” Jackson said. “It felt really good to know we accomplished something like that because it wasn’t easy to do. I think the key thing was having guys around that were going to encourage each other and bring energy every day. I think the toughest part about it was waking up every morning really early, and trying to motivated to get through it. I had a lot of help from my teammates. I helped them out by bringing energy and telling each other that we could get through it,” Jackson added.
Senior guard Mason conquered his fourth and final Boot Camp.
“It was a great feeling to know I was done with Boot Camp forever but it was a little sad to know it was my last time doing one of the toughest conditioning sessions I have ever done in my life,” Mason said.
Commenting on how the squad fared, Mason said: “No real surprises. I think everyone did a good job, honestly. Everyone was mentally tough because I think that is what it is all about. We had a few guys that were really standing out. Lagerald and Josh did a good job. Malik was out for part (with back stiffness last week) but when he came back he did a great job. Devonté, Landen, Tyler, Svi, Mitch (Lightfoot), I think everyone did a good job.”
Azubuike to return soon
Freshman forward Udoka Azubuike (strained groin) stood on the sidelines during most of Boot Camp. He should be ready to practice next week, but will not play in the Late Night scrimmage.
“Udoka got nicked up and we are still not letting him come out there and stress his strained groin. We’ve been told he should be healthy whenever practice starts. That is what our goal is for him,” Self said.
The Jayhawks will scrimmage at Late Night, then rest as a team until Wednesday, when official preseason practices begin.