True, the Cal win may have been C.J. Giles' coming-of-age party. After his manhood was challenged in the first ten minutes by Leon Powe, Giles discovered that he still knew how to block shots. Then after he got his house cleaned up a little, he remembered that he could also score on occasion. But as crucial as an active Giles will be down the stretch, this win wasn't really about him.
It looks to me as if Coach Self is very very happy to have his own team here and that, at least in their public thoughts, the players appear to be on his side. Jason Whitlock, who lately seems to have become a conspiracy-obsessed caricature of himself, suggests that Self "blamed" last years flame out on four historic Seniors. I disagree with this assertion, unless Bill Self has been more candid with Whitlock privately than publicly, and Self's got far too much media savvy to do something as silly as that. His comments on the matter have always been indirect and have never placed any blame at the seniors' feet so much as they have brought to light certain "infrastructural" difficulties that to me, became evident as the year progressed and were pretty darn obvious at the Bucknell game and during the fallout thereafter. Last year, it was a team divided. This year, it is Bill Self's team. Last year, "there was the Seniors and there was everyone else." This year, everyone is equal.
Last year, we fizzled out in an embarassing loss to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Oct. 13, 2005
Head Coach Bill Self
"Good afternoon. I hope everything went well earlier. We're excited about the 2005-06 campaign. We certainly have a lot of numbers to replace from last year. We have good players, they're just young. It's going to take a while and we're going to have our ups and downs, but I'm really excited about this group. This is an athletic group that's very long. On paper it probably has some deficiencies, but on paper also has some strengths. We're very excited about it and looking forward to the season."
On if he feels like this is his team:
"I have always felt this was my team. There is something new and different about coaching a group of guys that you recruited. More than that, there's something about coaching a group of guys that only know one way. Sometimes it's more difficult to coach guys if they know different ways to do things. These guys don't know any better. I think in some ways, that will be a bonus. The negativity will be lack of experience. I felt like last year it was my team, and I certainly feel that way this year."
On chemistry issues:
"I've never heard that chemistry stunk this early in the season. It's easy to say that we have good chemistry right now. The thing the players don't understand is that in practice, ten of them are playing. When you get in games, only five play. Everyone is happy during practice. They want breaks. Chemistry issues, if you have any, will come about in games when not everyone is getting the same minutes. Last year, there were the seniors and then the rest of the team. This year, because we're so young, everyone is about the same. While it certainly wasn't bad last year, I think you could say that this is a closer-knit group."
On this year's team:
"I think we're going to have more depth. I think we're going to be faster as a team. I think we'll be a much better offensive rebounding team. We'll probably have more balance. Last year, to defend us, you stopped Wayne and Keith. This year I think we could have five guys that average 10 points a game. Those are positive things. If you were to ask me if we would like Wayne and Keith's production back, I would say definitely. Sometimes balance is the hardest thing to defend, and I think we'll have more of that."
"In a perfect world, if we play two big guys at all times, we'll have a nine-man rotation. If you play three big guys and one perimeter player that could play little or big, the perfect world is eight. Realistically, it will be nine. It will be hard to get to nine with us, because there are probably more than nine that deserve to play."
On this year's freshmen:
"There's probably not a guy being recruited into the Big 12 that wasn't a number one guy on his high school team. I think what you'll find out is that these guys have been humbled. They know not everything revolves around them. I think they'll relish the fact that there is balance. With balance comes more opportunities for the individual. I think that the quality of the young guys will actually be a benefit over time than what it would be if we didn't have that. If playing time is the sole thing that keeps them happy, then we could have some problems. If we play the right way, I think we can play nine guys and keep them all happy."
On how he thinks the season might progress:
"I think there will be more ups and downs. We'll be more inconsistent, and I think think we won't be as tough as we should be. We'll probably make some mistakes early that hopefully we won't make in February. That will happen with any team. This is a team I think the coaching staff will need to be patient with. We aren't going to be as good in November as we will be in February. I think the early season games will put pressure on our guys and give them a sense of urgency that tells them we need to get pretty good, pretty fast. The season won't be determined in November, however."
On this season's potential leaders:
"I think that Jeremy Case, Russell Robinson, Jeff Hawkins and Christian Moody are the best candidates. I would say that they are all 25 percent of what they could potentially be. I think it is unfair to say that they are more than that, because right now they don't know exactly what their roles will be as well. It is much easier to be a leader if you are totally secure with what your role is in a particular situation. There will be a lot of things that will be defined in the next three or four weeks. Right now it's too early to tell."
On expectations for this year's freshmen class:
"When you recruit, you recruit where they'll be at ages 19, 20, 21 and 22, not where they'll be when they're 18. These guys are going to have their ups and downs. There will be some fans that will say they're great one game and some that will say they aren't quite as good the next game. If I'm not mistaking, almost everyone went through the same thing when they came here."
"There are probably more expectations on Brandon Rush because his last name is Rush, which isn't really fair. When you have two brothers, one of them arguably the best to come out of Kansas City in years and the other one that's going to be an NBA veteran soon, I would say there are reasons why expectations would be high with him, especially since a lot of people projected him to be in the NBA 12 months ago. There's a reason why he isn't in the NBA. He needs to get better. Expectations might be high for him, but he's a big boy. He can handle it."
On Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles:
"They are probably the two most improved guys on our team from last year."
"The Las Vegas Big Man Camp probably helped (Sasha) some. If anything, it gave him confidence to know he can go against other big guys and do well. These two guys have been our two most consistent performers so far. That doesn't mean it will continue. Neither one have ever been huge stars. They have to get the confidence to lead and have the team depend on them. Probably our two most proven guys right now, if we had to have a basket, would be those two. They have to know that they can carry a team during stretches of games. My biggest concern is that they have never done that before."
"They're more confident. Their bodies look great. They're more athletic and stronger. They have both improved their ability to score."
On expectations for the team:
"I think coaches would do anything for motivation. I think expectations are down, because we aren't preseason No. 5 in the nation. The expectations for this team, from us as coaches, won't be any different than they were for other teams. They become a problem when players try to live up to other people's expectations. Our expectations won't change. Last year our goal was to be as good as we could be. This year our goal is for us to be as good as we can be. That won't change."
On Russell Robinson:
"I think Russell Robinson has been our most consistent perimeter player we've had since school started. A lot of that is that he understands what we want. He's not thinking, he's reacting. Another part is that the guy is a machine. He's the best in the weight room. He works on his game individually as much as anyone. He wants it real bad. He wasn't real happy how last season ended. He's out to make sure that doesn't happen again."
On the point guard position:
"If you're going to lose a four-year guy that had almost 1,000 assists, it's nice to have Hawkins, Mario Chalmers, and Robinson. Any time you lose a guy like Aaron Miles, you don't know if he's replaceable until you try to play without him. He was one of those guys that just made everyone else's job a little bit easier. Those three have still yet to prove if they can make other's job easier. I like the talent. The talent is there."
On last year's loss in the NCAA tournament:
"I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it a lot. That's as much motivation for players and coaches as there can be. It certainly has been motivation for us to work in the off-season. I really feel like that when you're in competition and you wear a bullseye on your back, there will be times when bad things happen. You don't want them to, and we're not trying to make light of the situation. Unfortunately, things do happen. Tiger Woods' Ryder Cup record isn't very good, but he's still the best golfer on earth. There are times when bad things happen, and you have to be able to move forward from that. We won't forget the Bucknell game, but we aren't going to dwell on it any more."
"I still haven't watched the tape. Coaches spend a lot of time watching tape, but when that last game is played and the season is over, that tape doesn't help out that team too much."
On Brandon Rush's arrival:
"I think we were in an upswing before Brandon got here, but I would say that when we landed Brandon it was a very welcome momentum boost. I think that got some people's minds off the negativity that had occurred and got people looking forward a bit."
On Darnell Jackson:
"I think he has improved in all aspects of his game. I think he still can improve more. I'm a big believer that he has improved in all areas. Not that he was bad before, but he is certainly better now. He's more confident. He was dealt a hand that forced maturity in a lot of ways. In some ways, that has brought a new sense of focus than what he has had in past years."
On expectations for Late Night in the Phog:
"I don't want any injuries. I want our team to have a great time. I want our fans to connect with our players, because it is a new group. I want the fans to see our players as `their guys.' That's how they saw Mike Lee, Aaron, Keith Langford, and Wayne Simien. I think this is a great start to that. One thing we sell as coaches is how much our fans care about the team. This is a great reinforcement for that. I also want to see who can play under the lights a little bit."
On Jeremy Case:
"I would say he's our best shooter. He's a guy that if he continues to work and get stronger, he could make our team a lot better. He brings a dimension to the game that other teams are going to have to guard and deal with. He's a much improved guy. His redshirt year helped him out a lot."
On Jeff Hawkins:
"I've always liked Jeff as a kid. I think he has worked hard to prove that he can be a guy who is a leader and a big-time competitor and performer at the University of Kansas. A lot of the reasons why he hasn't had an opportunity to play is because he came in the same year as Aaron Miles. No matter how well Jeff played, Aaron was always a little bit ahead. Those days are gone. Jeff appears to be very hungry. He's a very talented kid. Hopefully this year he'll be able to show that."
On Stephen Vinson:
"I think Stephen will have similar role as he did last year. He'll be one of, if not the hardest worker on the team. He'll be a great leader. He earned the scholarship. That was no gift. He earned it. He'll have more of a sense of responsibility to do even more. He's a natural leader. If Stephen outplays other guys, he'll play. He brings some intangibles to the table that this team certainly needs."
On what fans can expect this year:
"I hope we're sound enough that we'll be able to force tempo on both ends.If we're not sound defensively, it will be hard to press. Hopefully we won't give up easy baskets and we'll be able to do some things that we haven't done as much of in years past. I think we'll also be able to push the ball at people more than we've been able to do in years past. I think it best fits our personnel. This year we should have more interchangeable parts and get out and run a little bit more."
Kansas Player Quotes
Senior guard Jeff Hawkins
On entering his senior season:
"I'm looking forward to kicking off this last year. I'm going to do all that I can as far as hard work and leadership go to help us achieve a national championship."
On being a leader:
"The best thing that I can do is to listen to Coach Self and do what he wants me to do. When someone starts to second guess him, I need to be the one to say that Coach Self knows what he is doing. I want to try to be the guy that can speak for Coach Self when he is not around."
On his role:
"I've been here for five years so my role is to teach the young guys the ropes. I'm not worried about playing time, because my role is to help out the young guys."
Freshman guard Brandon Rush
On his goals for the year:
"I just want to come in and play as hard as I can. I'm glad basketball season is rolling around."
On team chemistry:
"Everybody is getting along. Everyone hangs out together and we have been getting along very well."
On the freshmen:
"I have played with most of the freshmen coming in so I really know how they play. I love their games, and that is one reason why I came here. Most of the young guys don't really know how to play college defense, but we were working on that during boot camp. We are really young, but we're going to be really good."
Sophomore guard Russell Robinson
On the upcoming season:
"We are a young team, but we are just going to try to win games. We are going to try to learn from our mistakes and not let one mistake turn into two. We are going to get stronger as the season goes along."
On his goals for the season:
"I'm going to try to be a leader and help any way that I can. I want to use what I learned last year to make this a better year."
Sophomore guard Jeremy Case
On team chemistry:
"We have great chemistry. We started early and were up here all summer which has really helped out a lot. We all know that we have to be together and work as one."
On Late Night:
"Late Night is always fun. It's great to be out in front of 16,300 fans. I can't wait for the season to start."
On the freshmen:
"They are doing great and are working hard. We are trying to show them the ropes and how to work and they are coming along great."
Sophomore center Sasha Kaun
On his game:
"I think that I have improved in the weight room, I feel stronger. Our strength and conditioning coach, (Andrea) Hudy has done a phenomenal job with the entire team. The game has slowed down a lot for me. Last year at times it came too fast, but this year it has been a little easier."
On the freshmen:
"I think that the incoming freshmen have a lot of talent. They are all great players, and it is just a matter of how far they come each practice. It might take us a little bit of time getting comfortable playing together, but I think that we have a lot of potential."
Sophomore forward Darnell Jackson
On the freshmen:
"They came in ready. They didn't come in with any egos, and they are level-headed. They all came in here as McDonald's All-Americans, but they didn't think that they were better than anyone else on the team."
On the pressure he feels this year:
"I don't feel like I have any extra pressure. Coach expects a lot out of us. We have to do what we're supposed to do and stay united as a team. If we do that, we'll go a long way."
On last year's loss:
"The Bucknell game is in the past, and now it's the future. We're just looking ahead now to bigger and better things. We lost to Bucknell, but we feel like we'll be better this year."
On his relationship with Sasha Kaun and CJ Giles:
"We are real close, on and off the court. We call Sasha the `machine'. He's just so big, and he worked so hard over the summer. When he's on the court, you can't take the ball from him, so that's why we call him the machine."
Sophomore guard Rodrick Stewart
On the transition of the freshmen being guarded by a smaller player:
"It's not necessarily a transition, it's just getting used to things that you aren't normally used to. There were probably a lot of people that guarded them that were their size. It's kind of different when you have someone small and scrappy like Hawk (Jeff Hawkins) who is pressuring you everyday. It is going to bring out the best in them because practice makes perfect."
On his improvement:
"I go into every practice trying to be the best I can. I am just trying to be the best player I can be for Coach Self."
Redshirt freshman Matt Kleinmann
On redshirting last season:
"For me, it was really great. I had the opportunity to get stronger physically and really adapt to the college life. Some players have the pressures of playing right away, and I got a year to improve my skills."
On what he needs to improve young:
"The biggest thing I need to work on right now is just confidence. Technically I haven't played a game before, so I will be stepping out on the floor for the first time. I have been here a year, I have practiced with these guys and I know I can do it. I just have to keep working hard."
Freshman guard Mario Chalmers
On what to expect at KU:
"We don't know what we're in for yet, but we're getting a little taste right now. We're very excited."
On the freshmen class:
"A lot of people say we don't have that much experience, but we're just going to come in and work hard. The players and the coaches are helping by showing us what we need to work on."
Freshman forward Julian Wright
On his expectations for the year:
"I'm trying to focus on the year right now. I think tomorrow at Late Night, I'll start to realize what 16,000 people in the stands means. It will be a great experience. I am looking forward to getting better in practice as the season goes on."
On the team veterans:
"I expect us all to stay focused and stay grounded. The old guys have been great support. This is a very young team but we're a lot more mature. We have no choice other than to grow up fast and we understand that. We're a close-knit team. The old guys have especially helped in keeping us focused."
On the upcoming season:
"With the season approaching fast we need to gel quickly. We have some great contests early on such as Arizona. We understood that we needed to work hard in the offseason."
Senior guard Stephen Vinson
On the team:
"We don't have as many proven veteran guys. We are young, but we are going to be a fun team. We are going to be the hunter this year instead of the hunted. I think that we will be a good team towards the end of the year. With as many athletes as we have, we can be a great defensive team."
On being picked third in the Big 12:
"People don't expect as much possibly. Teams are still going to get up to play us. We get to look up ahead at somebody and really come after them. It should be a good year."
Freshman guard Micah Downs
On the freshmen:
"There has been a lot of hype about us. Everyone asks us, `How are you going to play? Who's going to play? Are you going to start? How many minutes are you going to get?' We really don't know now though. We have to wait until closer to the first game and then see what Coach says."
On his goals:
"I want to play a lot. I think all of the freshman want to. I think we have a chance to."
On his body:
"I have been working on getting a lot stronger. I don't look that way. I'm still pretty skinny, but I am getting stronger."
On adjusting to school:
"I'm out of a big city, Seattle, which is a really big city. Lawrence is quite a bit smaller, so that's been the biggest adjustment so far."
On playing smaller, quicker guys:
"That's going to be the tough part. Those small guys are so quick that it's sometimes tough to guard them. It's a little bit tougher playing offense against them too because they are quicker."
Sophomore center C.J. Giles
On playing this year without Wayne Simien:
"There probably won't be as much banging this year. I loved Wayne, but this year we'll get up and run the floor more. I think there will be a lot more highlights and dunks because we are all athletic."
On his impression of the freshman class:
"It's just like any other freshman class. They're not special because they don't know anything yet, but once they get the system down, they'll help. We need all of them to step up early this year."
On his play:
"I just have to step up a lot more. I have to be more of an action leader, not just a vocal leader. I have to do the little things this year like run when I'm really tired."
On playing with Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun:
"Darnell has a lot more confidence than last year. He's going to the hole and shooting the ball with more confidence. Sasha improved a lot last year. I think the game was a little too slow for him last year. He's worked hard this summer though and gained a lot of weight and strength. We lean on each other on the court. We want to be able to walk off the court, hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder. We were a team last year and that's what we are going to do this year."
On the renovations to Allen Fieldhouse:
"I like it a lot. I like the scoreboard. I like how they painted everything to make it look better and brighter."
Senior forward Christian Moody
On the freshmen:
"They have no clue what it's going to be like tomorrow night when they run out onto the court for the first time. That's why they came here, because they saw what it's like, but it is totally different being out here on the floor. I think they got a taste of the toughness it's going to take at Boot Camp. It was a huge step for our team and I think it's helped us a lot."
On which freshmen have impressed him so far:
"I've been impressed with all of them in different ways. All of them are great athletes for their height. All of them can handle the ball too. Mario (Chalmers), even though he's not 6'8", he's quick and can score too. I've really been impressed with all of them."
On the season's fresh start:
"Witha lot of new guys and some guys that don't have a lot of experience makes this an entirely new, fresh team. I'm excited about our team though. I have a new fresh feeling about this team. I'm anxious to learn from coach and become the team that coach wants us to be."
On the improvements to Allen Fieldhouse:
"The lighting helps. It's just so impressive. The new paint job is unbelievable, the new scoreboard and lights are awesome too. I'm excited to be out here everyday."
On being the leader:
"I want to be the best leader I can be. Whether it's in a starting role or not, I want to (lead this team). Coach will make the decision on who starts, and he'll make the best decision for the team. I just want to help the guys in a way that will best help the team."
On playing without Wayne Simien:
"Wayne is a great player. I was honored to play with him. I'm excited about playing with Sasha, Darnell, C.J. and Matt. They made incredible improvements over the summer. I'm excited to watch Wayne play with the Heat though."
KU's 2005-2006 squad is wetter behind the ears than any in my memory. Who emerges as a leader from this mess of youth and talent will greatly determine how good this team ends up being. They could, I suspect, make the elite 8 if all goes well, or they could sneak into the NCAA's as a 10 seed. It's very tough to know. Bill Self thinks the coaches will have to play a greater role as leaders this year (reading between the lines, I think it's pretty clear that Self *tried to allow the veterans last year to lead, but that something got spoilt in the execution of that attempt):
"The concern is that before the season's over, the coaches won't have to be the leaders," said KU coach Bill Self. "The coaches will probably have to be the leaders more for this team than any team I've had, which is OK until somebody emerges."
It's a blank slate, a veritable tabula rasa for Self and Co., which gives them great power, and as Yoda would surely insist, great responsibility.
"The good thing with youth is they don't know any better," Self said. "I feel like the first time since I've been here there's no way they know how to do it, other than the way we do it. That could be a positive."
I think the always underestimated Christian Moody will play an important leadership role this year. JW is already impressed with him, calling Moody the hardest working guy in boot camp.