The positive affirmation came quickly, in the form of tweets and Instagram comments and the usual social media flow. In the moments after Kansas’ 75-62 victory at Texas on Jan. 24, Kansas junior Jamari Traylor pulled out his smart phone — the standard post-game routine for any millennial — and began scrolling through his phone’s notifications and alerts.
There were many.
Traylor had finished with just two points and four rebounds in 20 minutes, but his phone was flooded with messages — his Twitter timeline loaded. On that day, Traylor had completed what Bill Self would call the best play he had seen since being at Kansas. And the Internet world, Traylor learned, had taken notice.
“I go check my notifications sometimes, and I have a lot of them,” Traylor said. “So it’s always good.”
Traylor, a redshirt junior, is averaging just 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds entering a matchup with Kansas State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. And at 6 feet 8, he is a slightly undersized big man playing alongside 6-foot-8 power forward Perry Ellis in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt. But Traylor has carved out a spot in the KU starting lineup mostly on his ability to play with energy and reel off the kind of hustle plays that spark a team on the floor and become viral sensations on Twitter.
“That’s him,” Ellis says. “That’s Jamari Traylor.”
The essence of Traylor Ball could be described as thus: It’s part basketball, part American Gladiators — a manic blend of reckless dives and emphatic blocks and quick-twitch movements. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of basketball Self always falls in love with.
“You need to have enthusiasm in everything that’s going on,” Self said on Friday. “I feel like when we’ve had that, we’ve been really good.”
Traylor pulled off another moment of Traylor Ball during Wednesday’s victory at TCU. In the span of one possession, he jumped to contest two shots, dived out of bounds to save a basketball, and still recovered to block a shot just seconds later.
“I feel like that’s what I’m on the floor to do,” Traylor said. “I feel like I do a pretty good job at it.”
On the whole, though, Self wasn’t pleased with the Jayhawks’ energy level in a 64-61 victory. The Jayhawks gave up 26 offensive rebounds and nearly coughed up a nine-point lead with two minutes left. When Kansas plays with the right level of energy, it has proven it can play with just about any team in the country. When the Jayhawks don’t, they leave their head coach saying things like this.
“We were awful,” Self said of the TCU performance. “I don’t know if you can play less intelligently.”
So in the days after the close call at TCU, Self focused primarily on two messages at practice. He dialed up the physicality on rebounding drills, with coaches and managers using heavy pads to harass would-be rebounders. He also preached energy — the kind of enthusiastic focus that was lacking at TCU.
“(It’s) not that they’re not trying,” Self said. “But there is a difference between trying and competing. Part of competing is getting yourself mentally ready and energetic to go do it. That to me is the biggest thing. We’re not always going to play well, without question. We’ll turn it over or shoot a bad percentage or miss a block-out. We’ll do things. But when we play with energy, you can do those things (and still win).”
To put it another way: Self wouldn’t mind if the tenets of Traylor Ball rubbed off on the rest of his roster. At times, it’s not pretty. There are body parts flying, and there are awkward movements, and sometimes you wonder if what you’re watching is actually basketball. But at its core, Traylor says his style is about one: Energy.
“I feel like I uplift everybody else to play a little bit harder,” Traylor said. “And when I start games off playing hard, I feel like that affects the game.”