Bill Self walked to the front of the boat Monday, just as players Chris Teahan, Sam Cunliffe, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike were posing for pictures.
“How are we going to win any games with those four guys up there?” the coach joked with a grin, drawing laughs from Kansas fans around him.
It was one of many relaxed moments for Self and his players Monday, as they spent their final full day in Italy on a boat tour of Lake Como.
“The best thing we got out of (going to Italy) was traveling and team chemistry and camaraderie,” Self said. “I think we probably learned a lot about each other.”
Self also made some discoveries about his team basketball-wise, despite the fact that the Jayhawks won four blowouts and didn’t play any game closer than 28 points.
“I think maybe we learned how to play faster offensively,” Self said. “Even though there was obviously a quickness difference, I think different guys did a better job of driving the ball.”
The biggest improvement came from senior Svi Mykhailiuk, with Self saying he “drove the ball better than he has since he’s been at Kansas.” The 6-foot-8 guard told the Jayhawk Radio Network on Sunday that he’d lost 25 pounds over the summer.
“I don’t know why it happened. I think it’s helped me a lot,” Mykhailiuk said on the postgame radio show. “I think with less weight, I feel a lot faster. I can play faster and go inside, dunk, do everything faster.”
Mykhailiuk was part of an impressive backcourt performance in KU’s final game Sunday, as he had 26 points, Malik Newman posted 32, Lagerald Vick contributed 20 and Devonté Graham added 10 assists and seven steals.
“The way that we play, it could be Devonté (scoring). It could be Svi. It could be Lagerald,” Self said. “Of course (Sunday), it was Malik. It’s nice to have four guys out there that can shoot the ball like that.”
This week also might have shifted how Self views this year’s lineup. In April, he seemed committed to going back to a primary three-out, two-in look while believing the Jayhawks didn’t have a perfect fit as a small-ball 4 to replace Josh Jackson.
Circumstances have changed since. Forward Jack Whitman quit the program, leaving the Jayhawks with only three scholarship big men. Mykhailiuk and Vick’s strong play in Italy also gave a glimpse of KU’s potential with those two alongside Graham and Newman.
“We’re going to be a pretty small team for the most part,” Self said. “We’ve got a couple of bigs, but we’re going to play small a lot. In order to do that, you’ve got to be able to spread the floor and have some shooters out there.”
Freshman forward Billy Preston — also a candidate to start — showed progress in Game 3 with strong post moves before sitting out KU’s final contest with a sore knee. Self said Preston likely would have played if there was more at stake.
“It was probably good for Billy to have a good day like he had (Saturday), but it was probably also good for him to see that we could actually play without him,” Self said. “I think those are all good team lessons.”
Newman, who played in his first games for KU since transferring from Mississippi State, led the team in scoring with 19.3 points per game.
“It was great to come over here with the guys, play, have fun, run,” Newman said. “It was all I could ask for. As long as we’re winning, everybody’s having fun.”
KU was scheduled to leave Milan early Tuesday morning for its flight back home. Self, who would have preferred better competition in Italy, said the 10 extra practices helped his team along with the extra time together.
“I think we’ve been tight(-knit) at times, and there’s been times we haven’t been,” Self said. “It’s good to get to know each other.”