Kansas’ basketball players practiced at 6 p.m. Monday after reconvening from a three-day Christmas vacation, then were back in the gym for another workout at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
After a short lunch break, they served as instructors to 550 youngsters during KU’s annual men’s basketball holiday clinic that ran from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse, Horejsi Center and the Jayhawks’ practice facility.
“It’s a way to get them back in the groove of what’s going on,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said of the players keeping a busy schedule heading into Friday’s Big 12 opener against TCU at 8 p.m. at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
“They’ve been home with their families enjoying it (the holiday). We’re getting them back into good shape because you’d be amazed how quickly you can get out of shape being off for a couple days. Our guys came back in pretty good shape. We had a good practice this morning.”
Coach Bill Self, who was feeling sick on Tuesday, headed home after the morning practice to rest up before the team’s next practice session.
“He’s not feeling well at all, so he wasn’t able to be around the team,” Roberts said. “That’s why he can’t be here today (for the clinic). He didn’t want to make anybody sick.”
Self was battling a bug Tuesday, which happened to be his 54th birthday.
“He is old. He’s two years older than me,” Roberts said with a smile. “We’re all happy for him, not happy that he’s not feeling well and can’t be here today, but happy for him. Our guys all said ‘Happy Birthday’ to him in text.”
The players, who did not speak to the media at the clinic, ran various stations in the three facilities.
“No walking. No walking. Run, run,” junior guard Devonté Graham told the boys and girls in first through sixth grades as they headed from the stands onto the Allen Fieldhouse court for stretching drills led by senior guard Frank Mason.
Roberts said the Jayhawks appear focused as they begin preparing for the start of the Big 12 season.
“Guys like Frank and Devonté in practice on Monday night even said to the guys, ‘Hey guys, it’s all different now — league schedule, league games, every game is a war. We have to take a different attitude, different focus right now because every game is going to be a battle,’ ” Roberts said.
KU and TCU will enter Friday’s game with 11-1 records. The Jayhawks will be aiming for their 13th straight league crown this season.
“You want to win every game,” Roberts said of KU’s nonconference season, which will include a Jan. 28 game at Kentucky. “Obviously the first game of the year (a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana on Nov. 11 in Hawaii) we played well in spurts, didn’t play well enough to win the game. But to come from that tough loss and get 11 straight wins has been pretty good. We’ve been happy with our guys because I think we are getting better as a team. Our big guys are playing better of late. Our perimeter guys have played terrific.
“We also had to win a couple of games when we didn’t shoot it well. That’s been something that’s been encouraging,” Roberts added.
Of the KU players’ participation in the clinic, Roberts said: “It’s a fun time for our guys to get out and engage the fans. It’s a good time for everybody. We want our players to engage, be out there because in reality the coaches don’t run this clinic. Our players do. It’s an opportunity for them to engage with the families, moms and dads as well as the kids.”
KU trio stays in U.S. for Christmas
KU junior forward Dwight Coleby, who is from Nassau, Bahamas, visited friends in Louisiana over his three-day Christmas break. Junior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who is from Ukraine, stayed in Lawrence. Freshman center Udoka Azubuike, who is from Delta, Nigeria, and out for the rest of the season because of torn ligaments in his left wrist, spent time with friends in Florida, where he attended high school. He is scheduled to be back in Lawrence on Wednesday.
Roberts said the three-day break is important.
“Coach tells them all, ‘Go have fun.’ Guys like Frank Mason, Devonté Graham, even Josh Jackson, let those guys rest up because their bodies are kind of worn down a little bit. They need that break,” Roberts said.
Josh Jackson nets Big 12 honor
Jackson on Tuesday was chosen Big 12 player of the week in a vote by a media panel that covers the league. Jackson scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had two blocks in a 71-53 win over UNLV on Dec. 22 in Las Vegas. He had 14 points in the first half.
Jackson is the first KU player to be selected as both player and newcomer of the week in the same season since Ben McLemore in 2012-13. Jackson has been newcomer of the week twice this year.