In his opening comments at Big 12 media day on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he likes his roster and talent, but it may take a while for the Jayhawks to hit their stride.
“We have a lot of puppies,” Self said of his freshman class. So far, Self said he’s been pleased with their effort level during practice.
“I told them that I would be as hard on them as any group I’ve ever been,” Self said. “But I don’t know if that’s actually true. Because they try so hard, I haven’t had any reason to really be frustrated with them.”
KU returns four seniors and adds seven scholarship freshmen. And rotation options appear numerous. Self said that KU could go as many as nine or 10 deep this season.
The biggest difference, Self said, will be learning to play without Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. (“We don’t have star power,” Self said.) But Self added that, more often than not, when you give players an opportunity, they generally rise to the occasion.
• KU center Jeff Withey spent his summer on the prestigious camp circuit, going up against some of the best college big men in the country. The competition included Duke center Mason Plumlee and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, and Withey is hopeful that successes there will translate to his senior campaign.
The main emphasis is on offense, where Self is hopeful that Withey can score close to 13 or 14 points per game. It would be an improvement of two or three baskets per game from last season, and it starts in the paint.
“He can make jump shots, pick and pop (and) score over his left shoulder,” Self said. “But he has to get where he can score over his right shoulder, and we’ve been working hard on developing a left-hand jump hook or go-to move.”
• For now, Self says there’s no clear choice for who will start next to Withey at the No. 4 spot. The prime candidates appear to be senior Kevin Young and freshman Perry Ellis, but Self added that redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor continues to improve.
“Kevin, to me, is ahead of everybody because of his energy,” Self said. “But Kevin’s not a natural scorer. Perry is a natural scorer. So which complements Jeff? I think we’ll get into that later on.”
• Kansas was ranked No. 7 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll, which was released Wednesday. It’s the 21st time in the 24-year history of the coaches’ poll that the Jayhawks have been ranked. And it’s the seventh time during Bill Self’s tenure that the Jayhawks enter the season ranked seventh or higher. Missouri was ranked 17th and Kansas State received votes.
Indiana was No. 1, followed by Louisville, defending champion Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan.
Baylor, at No. 18, and Texas, tied for No. 24, were the other Big 12 teams in the poll. The Big Ten had four teams, including three of the top five.
• Self was also asked if he believed it was a “replenishing” year for the Big 12 after the league lost a slew of first-round draft picks. In short: No, Self said. Self once again complimented Oklahoma State’s talent and said he thought there were plenty of pro prospects in the league.
“I think our league reloads,” he said.