University of Kansas

KU’s Bill Self: Injuries not keeping Cliff Alexander from playing his best

Kansas’ Cliff Alexander blocked a shot by Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte during a game earlier in the season.
Kansas’ Cliff Alexander blocked a shot by Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte during a game earlier in the season. The Kansas City Star

He’s battled a balky back and a bruised sternum, playing through the nagging ailments during his first season of college basketball. For Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander, the injuries have slowed him at times — and caused some added pain and discomfort — but KU coach Bill Self says the issues aren’t severe enough to keep Alexander him from being at his best.

“I think Cliff’s body probably feels more beat up than it ever has in his life,” Self said on Thursday. “I think he’s holding up fine.”

Alexander played just six minutes in Kansas’ 62-61 loss to West Virginia on Monday night. That came after Alexander was limited to just four points in 21 minutes in a home victory against Baylor on Feb. 14. In all, Alexander has been in double figures just once in the Jayhawks’ last seven games.

But Self says Alexander’s lack of playing time has usually been situational — and not necessarily due to any injuries or other issues. Against West Virginia, Self felt more comfortable playing sophomore Landen Lucas against the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure. Against Baylor, Self believed Lucas was more prepared to play against the Bears’ zone.

“The last two games, it’s easier for (Landen) to play good than it is Cliff,” Self said. “Without being critical, Landen is much better against the zone. He has a feel on gaps. He’s much better in pressure, handling the ball, passing the ball than Cliff. It was easier for him to look better in the last two games than Cliff.”

Alexander suffered his bruised sternum while taking an elbow to the chest in practice earlier this season. The injury has persisted into conference play, and can be aggravated with contact.

“You have a bruised sternum, every time you get hit, it hurts,” Self said. “Then he has had some other things. But you know what, everybody’s got something, especially this time of year. To me, when people don’t feel good, obviously you want them to feel better and that stuff, but you also got to will yourself, ‘Hey, I’m fine.’

“As soon as you start believing something’s wrong with you, your brain will tell your body that it is. He doesn’t have anything that should remotely keep him from playing at a high level.”

Self says Ellis will ‘be fine’

Kansas forward Perry Ellis was noticeably down on Monday after missing a potential game-winning layup at West Virginia. On Thursday, Self sought to deflect any blame from Ellis’ miss, saying that he was “pleased” with Ellis’ play against West Virginia.

“One play doesn’t decide a game, even though everything is magnified,” Self said. “Coach (Eddie) Sutton used to say that. All phases of the game are the most important, but the last five minutes by far is the most important because you don’t have time to recover from mistakes.”

Leading 61-60, Kansas allowed a layup to West Virginia’s Juwan State in the final seconds, but still had an opportunity to win when Jamari Traylor found Ellis on the run with a full-court baseball pass. Ellis missed a point-blank layup just before the horn.

“In that particular game, Perry played great,” Self said. “I was so pleased with Perry’s play. Not knowing the time (left in the game), it’s hard to know the time in a situation like that. He probably rushed a little bit, but was probably also a little off balance.

“We had numerous opportunities to secure rebounds, handle pressure better the first half, whatever it was, to put us in a position where it wouldn’t come down to one play.”

KU target Thon Maker shifts to 2015 class

Thon Maker, a 7-foot basketball prospect originally from Sudan, was ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class, according to Rivals. He was, at least, until he announced this week that he is on track to graduate high school this year and will re-classify into the 2015 class.

Maker, who spent part of his childhood in Australia, is currently a student at Orangeville Prep in Ontario, Canada. Kansas and Kentucky are thought to be among the leading suitors for Maker, who has remained somewhat tight-lipped about his college decision. Maker has also taken non-official visits to Missouri, Duke, Louisville and Maryland. After announcing his decision to move into the class of 2015, Maker was slotted in as the No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2015, according to Rivals’ rankings.

Maker, though, could have other options beyond college basketball. He could, for instance, opt to play overseas for a year before heading to the NBA, a path taken this year by former top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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