KU's Frank Mason warms up for first pitch at the K
Normally, Bill Self gathers his Kansas basketball players for a welcome-back-to-school meeting the day before the start of first-semester classes.
Not this year.
The 14th-year KU coach delayed that session until Monday — opening day of the 2016-17 school year. On Sunday, rather than conduct official business, he allowed the Jayhawks a trip to Kauffman Stadium for “KU Day at the K.”
Starting Tuesday, the Jayhawks will begin their regular school-year regimen of weight lifting, competing in unsupervised pick-up games and working out two hours a week with coaches in accordance with NCAA rules. The two-hour-a-week mandate lasts until the starting date of preseason practice, which this year is the Oct. 1 Late Night in the Phog.
“The way the rules allow you to practice two hours a week … it’s kind of anticlimactic the first (regular-season) practice,” Self said. “I don’t think it will be anything different than what we’ve been doing, but we are going to turn it up. We’ve actually had a pretty lax summer. We’ve had a good summer, but they (players) haven’t been stressed. It’s time to start stressing a little bit.”
Self said he will hold his annual Boot Camp conditioning program for two weeks starting Sept. 19.
“You can start practicing 42 days before the first regular-season game, but you you have to take 12 days off,” Self said.
KU opens the two-game exhibition season against Emporia State on Nov. 1, with the first regular-season game against Indiana on Nov. 11 in Honolulu.
After Late Night, the squad will break until Oct. 5 in order to get a significant chunk of off days out of the way.
“That way we’d have already taken four days off,” Self said. “Last year it got to the point we had to take a day off every two days to make sure we got our 12 in. We’ll back it up a bit.”
Self remains quite upbeat entering season No. 14 at KU.
“I think this will be a fun year,” he said. “I love our team. I don’t say that often, especially in the summertime. I think we have a chance to have a special team. We recruited pretty well. We have some great returning guys who have been through battles and are pretty tough.
“We’ve knocked on the door the last few years and haven’t beaten it in, yet. Hopefully this could be a year we could remember with great fondness, kind of like we did six or seven years ago,” he added, referring to the euphoria of the 2007-08 national title season.
He’s pleased that junior forward Dwight Coleby, who had left knee surgery Oct. 17, has “been cleared (for full practice).”
“There shouldn’t be anything holding him back,” Self said. “The one thing that has been hard on him is confidence. He didn’t have the confidence this summer to let it go. That’s why we kind of held him back. It’s been enough time. The doctors say he’s in good shape physically, so he’s got to let it go.”
Transfer Malik Newman, who had some nagging injuries his one season at Mississippi State, also is healthy after only taking part in shooting drills during summer school.
“I’m excited to see Malik,” Self said of the combo guard who cannot play in games until 2017-18 in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, “because we haven’t seen Malik play yet. He wasn’t cleared when he was here this summer. He shot it some but didn’t really get after it. I’m excited to see him as well.”
During the third inning of Sunday’s Royals-Twins game, Self spoke with Royals radio play-by-play announcer Denny Matthews about Frank Mason throwing the ceremonial first pitch in the dirt past catcher Devonté Graham.
“I predicted he’d throw it against the screen. I thought it’d be in the air, not roll it back there,” Self said with a laugh. “In defense of him, his battery mate — his fellow guard — made an awful effort to try to catch it. He didn’t give up his body at all. He bailed big time.”
Greatest athlete banter
The emcee of KU’s Traditions Night fired some quick-hitting questions at the coaching trio of Ray Bechard (volleyball), David Beaty (football) and Self (basketball) on Saturday night in Memorial Stadium.
A question that drew oohs and aahs from several thousand Jayhawk freshmen seated in the football stadium was … “Who is the greatest athlete of all time?”
“Outside of Perry Ellis, Danny Manning and (Andrew) Wiggins, I’d say Muhammad Ali,” Bechard said.
Beaty went with Michael Jordan.
“I’ve got to be different. I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the Jayhawks’ freshman guard who enters as the No. 1 recruit in the country as rated by Rivals.com.
After hearing Self name one of his own players, Bechard changed his pick to KU volleyball player Kelsie Payne and Beaty switched to Fish Smithson of the KU football team.