The honor, if you want to call it that, goes to the Dead Man of the Day. Sometimes the Dead Man is sprawled out on the locker room floor, a hand covering his face. Sometimes he is hugging the top of a plastic trash bin. Sometimes, he, quite literally, looks dead.
The honor also has rules. If you are a member of the Kansas basketball team, for instance, you don’t want to be the dead man. That goes without saying. Bill Self’s annual boot camp began on Monday morning, and that means two weeks of grueling workouts, early-morning wake-up calls, and lots of exhausted players. So, no, you don’t want to be the target when junior forward Jamari Traylor pulls out his smart phone, snaps a picture and posts the Dead Man to his Instagram account — a funny blend of inside jokes, old photos and pictures with puppies.
“There are some days where you can’t help but lie on the floor or crash,” says sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. “But I try to not be the victim.”
Selden has a rather simple strategy for this. He usually tries to assist Traylor during the daily hunt for the dead man.
“I help him,” Selden says, flashing a slight smile.
You might say this sounds like a veteran move, and you would probably be right. Selden is a sophomore now, an instant veteran in the world of college basketball. He doesn’t want to concede that boot camp is easy as a sophomore, because, well, such comments might get back to the coaching staff. And that would be very bad, he says. But perhaps he can concede that it is easier.
“It’s not as hard as it was last year for me, personally,” Selden says. “I feel like I shouldn’t say it’s easy for me, because I don’t want anybody to hear about it. But I’m not struggling too bad.”
For Selden, it’s an encouraging sign after undergoing a minor knee procedure last spring. A former McDonald’s All-American, Selden played on an injured knee for most of his freshman season. The setback hurt his productivity. (He averaged 9.7 points per game while shooting 43.7 percent from the floor.) But his numbers were also naturally limited while playing alongside future lottery picks in Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Now after an offseason of workouts, Selden feels healthier and stronger, ready to be a leader as boot camp stretches into its second week.
“The mental toughness part of it, that’s the biggest thing,” Selden said on Thursday, the fourth official day of boot camp. “(It’s) seeing who is really mentally tough, seeing who can fight through it. If you fight the toughest battle before the season starts, when the season comes everything else is going to be easier.”
That’s the goal for Kansas as it prepares to reload again in Self’s 12th year. The Jayhawks lost Embiid and Wiggins to the NBA, but added another heralded four-man freshman class, feature McDonald’s All-Americans Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. It’s become the norm in Lawrence. Stars leave early, others replace them. But as the season countdown continues, Selden is working on being a returner who makes a sizable impact.
On Thursday afternoon, in the hours before another full-squad workout, Selden spoke about his offseason goals and his new status as a veteran. He believes he could play some point guard this season — if that’s needed. He believes he could play on the wing as well.
“I feel like I could play the point, play the two, play the three, wherever they need me to play,” Selden said. “I feel I could do any of those. And it’s more so guarding that position would be the challenge.”
It’s not that Selden will be needed at the point guard spot — though some added versatility would be helpful. The Jayhawks enter the fall with three players capable of earning minutes at the one. Sophomores Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp return to the backcourt, while freshman Devonte’ Graham is an intriguing talent from Brewster Academy.
“I feel like I’m doing well,” Graham said. “I feel like we’re all doing well. We won’t really know (on the point guard spot). It’s still a daily battle with all positions; no position is guaranteed. So just keep battling and see what happens.”
For the moment, the daily battles include conditioning drills with names like “Figure Eight Closeouts” and lots of running. Practice doesn’t officially start until Oct. 3, and so boot camp will continue. But it will also include some friendly competition and a simple goal.
Don’t be the Dead Man.