The last time Kansas basketball coach Bill Self had addressed the local media — two practices into the 2016-17 season — he reported that the Jayhawks “did not look very good.”
“We’ve actually stunk,” fans might recall him saying at the Oct. 6 Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff event at Bartle Hall.
It was time for an update a week later — on Thursday at KU basketball media day. As one might expect, his assessment of daily drills had improved a bunch.
“We’ve gotten better,” Self said, delving into details. “We’re pretty athletic, and we’ve got good guards. It’s still going to be a struggle whether or not we can score consistently inside. That’s not saying anything negative.
“You lose Perry (Ellis), even though he wasn’t a great inside scorer, he’s a great scorer, and replace him with Carlton (Bragg), who is the same type of scorer — outside-in type scorer. We’ve got to figure a way to get the ball to the rim and score in tight. But I do think we have potential to be very good defensively.
“We have depth in the perimeter positions,” Self added, “and I think we can play different. Last year I never felt like we could probably play different because certain guys were kind of locked in their position, and I think this year we’ll probably be a little bit more versatile moving guys around.”
The players say practices have been going quite well with 2 1/2 weeks still left before the Nov. 1 exhibition opener against Washburn.
“It’s the biggest competition of my life. Every practice you go to war,” freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “Everybody is fighting for playing time, and to make each other better and the team better.”
“I don’t know if ‘physical’ is the word for it — maybe ‘mayhem’ or ‘controlled chaos.’ It’s so much fun, though,” the 6-foot-8 Lightfoot added.
“Coming from high school, where there’s not a bunch of guys who can physically go with you to college where everyone is so competitive and bigger … you go from the biggest guy on the court to not so much here at Kansas.”
The Jayhawks have three scholarship freshmen in Lightfoot, Udoka Azubuike and Josh Jackson.
“They are picking up stuff at practice real quick, better than my freshman class and Carlton’s freshman class did,” said junior guard Devonte’ Graham. “We’ve been going over plays that they are picking up real fast — press break and stuff like that, things a lot of people struggle with. They are willing to learn (with) no ego. I think it’ll be a great class. I like them.”
Protest during anthem possible
The national anthem wasn’t played at Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog, so it’s not yet known if any Jayhawk players will follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead and sit or kneel during the playing of anthem before a game, as a form of protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.
If there is any form of protest before the Nov. 1 game against Washburn, it will not take any KU players or coaches by surprise.
“We spoke on it (issue) briefly,” senior guard Tyler Self said at media day on Thursday. “Everybody has, and is entitled to, their own opinion. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. We did ask if somebody were to make a stand in whatever way they wanted, we discussed it first as a team so nobody is blindsided by anything. That’s about all we’ve gotten to with that.”
Tyler’s father, Kansas coach Bill Self, recently said on Topeka’s WIBW radio: “Before we do something we should at least visit about it to make sure we understand everything that goes along with it. Because a lot of times — I think we all do this but primarily young people — you see something, it sounds so good and it’s right, but sometimes we don’t totally understand all the consequences or repercussions of that because it hasn’t been talked about.
“That’s what we’ve talked about to our players before — it’s fine to feel that way and fine to do what you’ve got to do. You will not be encouraged or discouraged, but I think being blindsided on something makes it hard for anybody associated with an organization to deal with. If you know going in, these are the feelings we have as a group or individual, you are better off. I respect my guys regardless of how they feel.”
Ellis does 5-on-5 work
Former Kansas forward Perry Ellis, who has been sidelined since undergoing sports hernia surgery on Aug. 30, has reportedly been doing “some 5-on-5 work” at practice, according to the Charlotte Observer. It is possible that Ellis will play for Charlotte’s NBA Development League affiliate in Greensboro, N.C., this season.