Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self admits Saturday’s senior night game against Iowa State will be more emotional than many he’s attended.
A big reason for that? Forward Jamari Traylor will be playing his final home game after five years at KU.
“He’ll go down to me as one of my all-time guys,” Self said, “just to see where he started and where he is now is totally remarkable.”
Traylor’s journey has been well-documented. He spent part of his time in high school homeless, sometimes sleeping in abandoned Chicago cars with no heat.
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“He was dealt a hand that most of us will never see, fortunately,” Self said. “There are multiple hands that would impact any young man, whether it be family crisis, whether it be economic situations, whether it be being homeless for a period of time, having to fight and scrap for shelter and food, which at age 15 or 16, that’s not something anybody would wish on any kid.”
With help from mentor and AAU coach Loren Jackson, Traylor eventually made it to play basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He was first spotted by KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend during a recruiting trip to see top-10 player DeAndre Daniels.
“I think (KU coaches) said I was in the gym, and I was dunking and stuff like that,” Traylor said. “They opened their eyes to me, and they started recruiting me then.”
Traylor — he picked KU over offers from Oklahoma State, Indiana and Texas Tech — had to sit out his first season with the Jayhawks after being deemed a partial qualifier by the NCAA. That helped motivate him academically, which led to him graduating in four years with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“When I first got here, I felt like some people were trying to rule me out before I even stepped foot here,” Traylor said. “I just had to hit the books.”
Traylor also has had an important role on KU’s basketball roster.
Guard Evan Manning says Traylor has the type of personality that allows him to be approachable. He also is someone whose voice is respected.
“He’s a really smart basketball player,” Manning said. “Whenever there’s someone asking a question, the first one they go to is him.”
Traylor, who averages 13.7 minutes per game, also has taken it upon himself to become a more vocal leader. That was especially the case after KU’s 86-67 road loss to Oklahoma State in mid-January.
“In the locker room after that game, I was just chewing guys out,” Traylor said. “If we wanted to be a serious team, we can’t have games like that. I didn’t have a great game, and nobody really did. We all just had to own up to it and come back at practice and get better.”
KU improved after that point. Following a road loss two games later at Iowa State, the Jayhawks have put together a current 10-game winning streak.
Self says one can’t overlook Traylor’s contributions, calling him one of the two or three best leaders on the team.
“There’s just so many things that he’s done,” Self said.
Traylor also appreciates the coach that took a chance on him. Back in 2013, during a KU summer camp, Self raved about Traylor so much that the big man started to cry in front of a few hundred kids in the stands.
The bond between coach and player has only grown in the last three years, with Traylor saying that connection “means a lot to me. He loves me off the court, my personality.”
“He tries to understand me sometimes, and I feel like that’s really cool,” Traylor added. “I’ve got nothing but love for coach Self.”