Consider this the first lesson, Paris style. In the moments after KU’s 74-73 loss to AMW France on Saturday in Paris, the Jayhawks’ first loss during their four-game European tour, Kansas coach Bill Self had a chance to remind his team that it’s still August — and the Jayhawks have a long way to go.
“Oh, we’re not very good at all,” Self said to reporters after the game. “We could improve on everything.”
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In a Paris gym — Stade Pierre De Coubertin — that was filled with KU fans, the Jayhawks had displayed all the hallmarks of a young team trying to integrate eight scholarship freshmen into the rotation during the heat of summer.
Self wasn’t happy with the turnovers, of course. Or that his team didn’t appear ready to play. Just three days earlier in Switzerland, the Jayhawks had finished off the first leg of their trip with a two-game sweep of the Swiss national team. On Saturday, Self delivered a message that sounded like something you might hear after a rugged nonconference performance in November. Except this one came in August.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Self said. “Maybe Paris can do that to you.”
Well, sure, the baguettes probably won’t go down too easily on Sunday. The Jayhawks did, in fact, snap a 41-game winning streak in exhibitions that dated back to 1995.
But for all of Self’s dissatisfaction, it still came down to the wire. After trailing by as much as nine in the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks took a 70-69 lead in the final minutes and then a 73-72 lead on a dunk from senior Kevin Young with 22.2 seconds left.
But AMW, a team of French professionals, retook the lead on two free throws by Antoine Diot, and KU sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe clanked a three-pointer in the final seconds.
Senior guard Travis Releford led the Jayhawks will 10 points, but the offense was fighting from behind all day. The Jayhawks trailed 52-42 in the third quarter and 69-64 with just more than four minutes left.
“I would just like to be able to pass and dribble and catch,” Self said. “That would be a good starting point. Forget about shooting or guarding or anything.
“ But I’m probably most disappointed in the play of our returning guys — even though the newcomers had a tough night. But our returning guys didn’t play very well, and certainly didn’t do the things you have to do to have a chance to win on the road.”
Meanwhile, freshman Perry Ellis added eight points off the bench, while senior center Jeff Withey and Tharpe also finished with eight. But with freshman guard Ben McLemore sitting out with a hip injury, Self entered Tharpe and freshman forward Zach Peters into the starting lineup alongside Withey, Releford and Elijah Johnson.
Things didn’t start well, and Self’s frustration showed after halftime, when he began the second half with a lineup of walk-on freshman Evan Manning, walk-on guard Niko Roberts, redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor, junior forward Justin Wesley and Tharpe.
“We gotta work on doing the easy things right,” Peters said, “and then the hard things after that. Because we can’t even do the easy things right now.”
Self said he planned to rest his seniors on Sunday, when the Jayhawks conclude the tour with another game against AMW France. It was something he’d talked about doing before the trip, and the freshmen will get plenty of minutes. Given Saturday’s result, that could suggest another difficult challenge. But on Saturday, Johnson said he took a moment to remind the freshmen why Saturday’s loss — and the entire trip, for that matter — was actually important.
“A lot of people hung their head on the way to the locker room,” Johnson said, “and I had to tell them it’s learning process. The reason we came over here is to learn.”