Jeff Withey came up big with a triple-double in KU's first exhibition game against Pittsburg State…
Scouting Fort Hays State
Fort Hays State returns just two of its top eight players from last season's team, which went 26-7, won the MIAA Tournament Championship, and earned its second straight berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
The Tigers are coming off a 90-60 loss at Kansas State on Sunday in their first exhibition game this season. Junior guard Tyrone Phillips led the team in scoring with 16 points, followed by junior guard Lance Russell (12) and junior forward Markus Yarbrough (11).
Fort Hays State's top returnees — senior guard Karron McKenzie (7.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg last season) and senior forward Matt Simmons (4.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) will be joined in the projected starting lineup by Russell (he sat out last season as a medical redshirt after suffering an injury after two games) and junior guards Kendrick Morse and Omar McDade, two transfers from Sheridan (Wyo.) College.
Overall, the Tigers have five transfers who aim to replace their top four scorers from last season.
Head coach Mark Johnson is in his 11th season with Fort Hays State with a career record of 207-89. Johnson, who is only the third coach in school history to record 200 victories with the program, has guided the Tigers to five NCAA Division II Tournament appearances and six 20-plus win seasons.
Rising junior forward Thomas Robinson will make his first appearance against Fort Hays State after sitting out the exhibition opener against Pittsburg State last Tuesday with a hyperextended left knee.
However, KU coach Bill Self said he isn't yet 100 percent.
"He's wearing a brace," Self said. "He's practicing and the training staff said he should be OK. We're probably going to keep him in the brace a little bit longer. I think he needs to get out there. He needs the reps, too. He needs to see the ball go in the hole also."
Robinson said his knee is no issue.
"My knee is not a problem," he said. "So that speculation is out of the question. It's not a problem."
Junior center Jeff Withey would agree.
"He looks great out there," Withey said. "He looks like he did before he got hurt."
Robinson is amped about playing his first game and teaming with the new-look Jayhawks.
"We are going to need everyone from top to bottom this year to step up and play together," he said. "Different groups and different situations are something I'm looking forward to. I'm excited."
LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT
While Self wasn't pleased with his team's play against Pitt State, he said "they tried hard, just didn't play very smart in most ways."
Self is looking for improvement from all his players against Fort Hays State, especially the newcomers.
"I'd like to see our newcomers maybe play less tight," Self said. "Naadir (Tharpe, freshman guard) was tight (nine turnovers). Justin (Wesley, sophomore forward) was tight and Kevin (Young, junior forward) was tight. I'd like to see those guys play a little looser so we can kind of see what they can do. I think just total improvement. I didn't think anybody played that well the other day. Statistically we were fine, other than turnovers (23). We got to do a much better job. It will be nice to have Thomas in there so we can see how things are going to play out with having our best presence (on the court)."
BIG GAME FOR JUENEMANN
This is a big game for senior walk-on guard Jordan Juenemann, who hails from Hays and should again see action with Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson being suspended for exhibition play.
"I know quite a few of them," Juenemann said of the Fort Hays State players. "I played with them across the state of Kansas. My best friend, Jason Ball (teammate at Hays High School), plays for them. It will be good to play them."
Juenemann is looking to improve on his play against Pittsburg State, when he scored four points with five rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 15 minutes.
"I made some mistakes I wish I (hadn't) committed, but I learned from them," Juenemann said. "It felt good to be in the game and getting some experience. It felt comfortable and that was good for me."
Self believes Juenemann could see some playing time this season.
"Jordan's got to be one of those guys that comes off the bench and is a great defender and ball mover," Self said. "He made some mistakes that I think are easily correctable (against Pitt State) just because he was excited. Jordan's done (well). He's going to possibly play some minutes going forward but I think he can play better than he did (last Tuesday)."
KU leads the overall series (dates back to 1994) with Fort Hays State 7-0, including a 4-0 record in exhibition games. The teams last met on Nov. 3, 2007, when the Jayhawks beat the Tigers, 107-68, in an exhibition game at Allen Fieldhouse.
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