After a rough debut in Italy, Kansas freshman Marcus Garrett decided to listen to advice from those around him.
Coach Bill Self told him to relax, while teammate Devonté Graham suggested he focus on defense and let the offense come naturally.
“I started to play way better,” Garrett said.
That was obvious to those around him following KU’s 92-61 exhibition victory over Players Group on Thursday afternoon at Honey Sport City.
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Garrett, after scoring two points on 1-for-5 shooting on Wednesday, followed up with a 10-point, 12-rebound effort Friday.
“Marcus was good,” Self said. “He was the best player in the game today and the best rebounder.”
Though it’s only one exhibition game in early August, the versatility Garrett showed perhaps could lead to additional playing time. Self spoke last week about the 6-foot-5 guard’s ability to play the 1 through 4 positions, and rebounding should be a main attribute needed for anyone trying to crack into KU’s “small ball” lineup that will be required for stretches.
“I like going to the rebounds, offensive and defensive boards,” Garrett said. “I know most of people aren’t going to box me out because I’m a guard, so I know I’ve got to clip back to the lane most of the time. I just try to take advantage of it.”
Graham also was impressed with the rest of Garrett’s performance over 21 minutes, which included a chase-down block in transition and a steal.
“He’s just got a good feel on defense,” Graham said. “He knows the right spots to be in.”
Garrett admitted Wednesday wasn’t his best effort. He had two turnovers and four fouls in his 20 minutes.
“I hadn’t played a game since March. I was very nervous and sluggish,” Garrett said. “But today, I kind of put that behind me.”
For a second straight exhibition game, KU wasn’t challenged in the second half by its Italian opponent. A second recurring theme also was Udoka Azubuike’s dunking, though in this game, the storyline wasn’t him nearly tearing down the goal, but instead completing a rarely seen attempt.
During a breakaway in the second half, Azubuike threw the ball off the backboard to himself before putting in a slam, drawing a stare from Self before the coach finally relented and shared a chuckle on the bench with his assistant coaches.
“What was he doing?” Self asked after the game with a grin. “Yeah, he won’t do that again I don’t think, at least once we get to the States.”
Azubuike led KU with 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting while physically overwhelming Players Group defenders.
Malik Newman contributed 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting, while Charlie Moore (12) and Graham (11) also added double figures.
The Jayhawks played less than six hours after completing a walking tour of Vatican City, where stops included Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.
“It just blows your mind on how pristine everything is,” Self said. “People here should be very proud of what they have.”
With the win, KU improved to 2-0 on its Italy tour with two games left to play. The Jayhawks will take Friday off while traveling from Rome to Milan before facing a Milan Players Group team at noon Central on Saturday.
“I’m actually looking forward to the train ride tomorrow as much as anything, because they say it goes about 210, 220 miles an hour,” Self said with a smile. “That’ll be fun.”