Billy Preston has been on Kansas’ campus for two weeks, long enough for him to realize he’s definitely not in high school any more.
“You are always busy. Especially coming in as a freshman, you don’t have any time,” the 6-foot-10, 240-pound McDonald’s All-American from Los Angeles said after scoring 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the Red Team’s 80-73 victory over the Blue squad in Bill Self’s campers game on Wednesday afternoon at Horejsi Center.
“You’ve got weights, workouts, class, work (pick-up games) where it’s all your time and energy,” Preston said. “You’ve got to structure your time well to get everything done. You are in college now, so you’ve got to do it.”
He’s been as sped-up in early summer practices as he has been in hustling to class on campus.
“Coach (Bill) Self in practice doesn’t let me take any breaks. Anytime I’m just roaming the perimeter … anytime I find myself doing that, he’s the first to say something to me, to put me in a position he needs or feels would be best for the team,” said Preston, who labels himself a “point forward” because of his ability to play both inside and out.
He drifted outside to hit a three-pointer and also had a variety of dunks in Wednesday’s campers game.
“Coach Self was emphasizing when they recruited me … they were telling me they’d play me like a stretch 3, 4,” Preston said. “If I rebound it, I can push it — pick and pop, pick and roll. Basically the whole game is what they say they’ll let me play.”
Self previewed the versatility Preston showed on Wednesday while introducing Preston to his parent/child campers last week.
“He’s 6-10, can do everything. Right now he just wants to play on the perimeter and shoot threes,” Self said. “We’ve got to change that. He’s a consensus top 10 player in the country. You’re all going to know him.”
Preston arrived with a reputation as somebody who runs the floor as well as a guard.
“I’m still getting adjusted to the speed of the game, keeping up with the other players in practice — Devonté (Graham, 13 points, two threes Wednesday), Malik (Newman, 21 points, five threes) and Lagerald (Vick, 11 points, three threes),” Preston said of KU’s guards. “I know those guys are going to work. If I work as hard as them I should get up to par with everything.”
Preston was determined to play well on Wednesday after taking just three shots and scoring just two points while sharing the floor with the likes of Perry Ellis, Darnell Jackson, Mario Chalmers and Ben McLemore in last week’s campers game.
“I brought it upon myself to play better,” Preston said. “Playing in front of a big crowd, first time getting up and down with the alumni, I had a little bit of jitters. I didn’t play too well. I made a commitment to myself to play better.”
Former KU guard Tyler Self, who hit one three Wednesday, played on the losing Blue team with fellow KU grads Tyshawn Taylor (14 points), Elijah Johnson (four points) and some of the current Jayhawks, including Mitch Lightfoot (game-high 22 points), Charlie Moore (17) and Sam Cunliffe (11).
“You can see that he’s a beast,” Tyler Self said of Preston. “He’s strong. He can shoot it a little bit. Hopefully he doesn’t rely on it (outside shot), but I think he has a really bright future.”
Lightfoot said Preston has made steady progress in just two weeks on campus.
“I feel Billy is really settling in. He’s finding his rhythm,” said the 6-foot-8 Lightfoot, who hit two threes on Wednesday. “I feel that’s what the first week or two of college will do for you. Being with our coaches, the amount of time you spend with them in our workouts you really get to learn the speed of the game and what we expect every time out.”
Preston says he’s receptive to being coached.
“I’m taking everything from anybody that’s experienced on the team, whether it’s Mitch, Udoka (Azubuike, 18 points Wednesday) … I’m taking constructive criticism from every player, mainly Devonté, Malik and Lagerald,” Preston said.
Azubuike, a 7-foot sophomore from Nigeria, had nine inside buckets (mostly off dunks) Wednesday. He took, and missed, one three.
“If he’s dunking like that, I’ll take one (three-point try),” Preston said with a smile. “Me and ‘Doke are familiar with each other from high school (camps). Me and him just work. We mesh well together. Coming to Kansas with him, it’s like we already have a feel for each other’s game. He knows what I like to do. I know what he likes, so we can feed off each other.
“In high school he was just a big powerhouse type player,” Preston added. “He was bigger than everybody. I’ve seen his progression since he’s come to KU. ‘Doke is trying to tear the rim down when he gets the ball. He’s not seeing anything (but the rim).”
NOTES: KU sophomore transfer K.J. Lawson, who is day-to-day with an ankle sprain, did not play. His brother, Dedric Lawson, had two points … Graduate transfer Jack Whitman, who took a hard shot to the jaw at practice during campers drills on Tuesday, also did not participate because he was not feeling well Wednesday. … Newcomer Marcus Garrett played but did not score. … Winning team was first team to reach 80.
Red 80, Blue 73
Billy Preston 17 points, Devonté Graham 13, Lagerald Vick 11, Malik Newman 21, Udoka Azubuike 18. Three point goals: Newman 5, Vick 3, Graham 2, Preston 1.
Tyshawn Taylor 14, Tyler Self 3, Elijah Johnson 4, Dedric Lawson 2, Mitch Lightfoot 22, Charlie Moore 17, Sam Cunliffe 11. Three-point goals: Moore 3, Lightfoot 2, Cunliffe 1, Johnson 1.