In the final days of June, Kansas coach Bill Self sounded like a man who was ready for anything.
It was a Friday night, two days before his basketball team was set to depart for the World University Games in South Korea, and if anything, Self was still not sure what to expect. He had little information about the competition — no rosters, no video, no scouting reports.
He was set to take a basketball team halfway around the world — a hodgepodge of Jayhawks and summer fill-ins — and Self remained cautiously optimistic about how the tournament would go. His team was missing five scholarship players, he said. The Jayhawks, representing the United States in Gwangju, South Korea, would be without at least three or four rotation players.
In that moment, Self was asked if he thought of the trip to the World University Games as a business trip.
“No,” Self answered. “This is fun. It’s too long of a trip. Seventeen days is a long time to be serious. We’ll do different things all the time. Guys are going to be on time … and (we’re going to) have some fun.”
Perhaps Self really had no idea about the tournament competition — no idea that his version of Team USA would roll through Pool D with a 5-0 record. Perhaps Self simply wanted to lower expectations as his team ventured into unknown territory. He certainly didn’t seem too confident in what awaited in across the Pacific Ocean. Whatever the case, after a perfect start in Gwangju, Self’s United States team is positioned as a serious medal contender as it enters a quarterfinal matchup with Lithuania at 10 p.m. Friday. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
"Everybody played with passion," KU freshman Carlton Bragg said after a 96-57 victory over Switzerland on Wednesday night. "It was pretty fun out here, and we’re just ready for the medal round."
If the United States survives Lithuania, a country with a rich basketball history, it will face the winner of Russia and Estonia in the semifinals. With a loss, the U.S. will slide into a consolation bracket for its final games. Either way, three more games await Self and his squad in South Korea.
On Wednesday, the Jayhawks shot 10 of 17 from three-point range, a torrid display of shooting against an over-matched team. Will it continue into the medal round? For the moment, Self still appears ready for just about anything.
“Against our more competitive (opponents), we haven’t shot it very well,” Self said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing if we can carry this over and shoot the ball well (against Lithuania).”