Bill Self delivered a stern message to his current Kansas basketball players before exiting Horejsi Center prior to tipoff of Wednesday’s camp contest between the 2017-18 Jayhawks and an alumni team that included Ben McLemore, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Perry Ellis and Keith Langford, to name a handful of former KU stars.
“Our present team better win. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Self exclaimed into the public address system after introducing all the competitors to several hundred campers.
KU coach Self — he couldn’t stick around for the (first-to-score-80 points) game in accordance with NCAA rules — would be happy to learn later that the Devonté Graham (28 points) and Malik Newman (18 points) led Jayhawks downed the alumni, 82-75. The foot-stomping campers were electrified by the dunks of KU sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike and McLemore of the Sacramento Kings, as well as the three-point shooting of Graham (eight threes) and Newman (four).
“Real bad,” KU sophomore combo guard Newman said of his desire to beat the alumni team, and not just because Self ordered the younger Jayhawks to prevail. “Those guys (alums) are in the pros. They’ve been through what we’ve been through. They’ve been successful making it to the next level. It was almost like a measuring stick for us,” Newman added.
The alumni team members were impressed with the current Jayhawks.
“They are going to be great. I have high expectations for both of them (Graham and Newman), especially Malik Newman,” said former KU combo guard Chalmers. The two-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat is gearing for a comeback through free agency after missing a year and a half because of an Achilles tear.
“They’ve got to pick up the slack from Frank (Mason, who has graduated). They are two good guards we need up top,” added Chalmers, who Wednesday participated in his first actual game with contact since rupturing his right Achilles as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies on March 10, 2016.
The 7-foot Azubuike — who said he weighs a few pounds off his ideal playing weight at 279 pounds — was a handful to guard for former KU power forward Darnell Jackson.
Jackson, who played in Poland last season, grinned when asked to reveal what he said to Azubuike right before the opening tip.
“You want the truth?” Jackson said. “I told him to get his money (in NBA). The sky is the limit for that guy. He’s unbelievable. When I first saw him play and just watching him out there today, I have no bad words to say about the young fella. I wish him the best.”
Azubuike said Jackson “was joking that ‘I’m a big boy.’ ’’
Jackson also complimented the backcourt duo of Newman and Graham.
“They both will help. They can shoot the ball, are athletic, can get to the basket,” Jackson said.
Newman — he practiced but could not play in games last season after transferring from Mississippi State — said he thoroughly enjoyed competing before the campers.
“That’s why I came here, to play with an awesome group of guys in front of a great crowd,” Newman said. “Even though it wasn’t like the fieldhouse, it was still a great crowd with the campers. I think we did well for our first time together.”
The 6-foot-3 Newman played point guard much of the camp game.
“With the sit-out year, that’s something I worked on a lot. I know Devonté is not going to be able to bring the ball up the whole game by himself,” Newman said. “I’m just trying to give him time to play off the ball and get a break off of it.”
Newman said it was quite difficult enduring a red-shirt season.
“It felt like forever,” Newman said. “It feels like one of the longest things I’ve had to do. Considering it only being a year … it felt way longer than a year.
Wednesday’s camp game was tied at 70 when Newman and Lagerald Vick stroked back-to-back threes. Graham answered a Langford three to make it 79-73. Tyshawn Taylor followed a missed Azubuike dunk with a bucket to cut the gap to 79-75, leaving it up to Graham to end the contest by hitting a three.
“I definitely feel older. That’s what happens,” the 31-year-old Chalmers said of losing to the younger KU players. “You grow up, pass the torch on. That’s what this is all about.”
Chalmers had a Cavs’ workout
Chalmers had a tryout of sorts with the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season when it was apparent Cleveland needed some help at guard off the bench.
“I did. I had a workout with the Cavs but during that workout I felt like within myself I wasn’t really able to contribute like I wanted to and wouldn’t be the same person they expected me to be,” Chalmers said. “I decided to take the whole year off.
“It will continue at all costs,” Chalmers added of his career. “It does have to be the right fit. I’ve kind of got a name in the league, some credentials. I am looking for the situation that will be right for me.”
Azubuike getting in shape
Azubuike said he needs to get in tip-top shape after sitting out six months following left wrist surgery.
“I did running but not like basketball running,” the Delta, Nigeria native said. “It’s tough coming back. I need to get running to get back in shape. I don’t think it will take long. Every day I’m in the gym trying to get better.”
As far as his wrist, he said: “The doctors said I could do everything now. It can get sore, but through the process it’s gotten better.”
CURRENT TEAM (82)
Udoka Azubuike 6-7 1-2 13, Malik Newman 6-8 0-0 18, Lagerald Vick 3-7 0-0 8, Devonté Graham 10-14 0-0 28, Mitch Lightfoot 5-8 0-0 12, Billy Preston 1-3 0-0 2, Dedric Lawson 0-1 0-0 0, Sam Cunliffe 1-1 0-0 2, Marcus Garrett 0-3 0-0 0. x-Azubuike was not credited for his free throw make. Three-point field goals: Graham 8, Newman 4, Lightfoot 2, Vick 2.
ALUMNI TEAM (75)
Perry Ellis 4-4 0-0 9, Mario Chalmers 4-6 0-0 12, Darnell Jackson 2-8 0-0 4, Keith Langford 5-6 0-0 13, Sherron Collins 2-3 0-0 6, Russell Robinson 0-1 0-0 0, Tyshawn Taylor 5-9 0-0 10, Elijah Johnson 2-3 0-0 6, Mario Little 0-3 0-0 0, Ben McLemore 7-12 0-0 15, Conner Teahan 0-1 0-0 0. Three-point field goals: Chalmers 4, Langford 3, Collins 2, Johnson 2, McLemore 1, Ellis 1.