Coming off a season that saw Kansas make another appearance in the National Championship game in a season that saw them play the rare role of underdog, the Jayhawks enter the 2012-13 season in the familiar role of overwhelming favorite.
The league's coaches have unanimously picked the Jayhawks to win their ninth straight Big 12 title. KU returns eight letterwinners led by senior Jeff Withey, who broke the Big 12 and Kansas single-season blocked shots record with 140 rejections a year ago. However, coach Bill Self told all at Kansas' Media Day, Thursday that they aren't putting much stock into preseason predictions and that there's more surprise this year than in years past.
"I was probably more surprised with that, us being picked first this year than I was us being picked not first in the past, because we returned some guys, but we lost three of our top six and two of them were pretty good," Self said. "Those two guys (Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor) combined for 36-plus points a game in league play. I mean, they scored half our points. So we lost a lot and everybody is going to have a new role, but I do think we have a chance to be good by the end."
The Jayhawks will welcome an abundance of youth this year, led by Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who both sat out last year because of eligibility issues. Elsewhere, KU welcomes a highly touted freshman class, highlighted by Wichita Heights product and McDonald's All American Perry Ellis.
"Well, I do think we are talented and I think our young kids are going to be good. I believe that the most heralded one is Ben, without question, because he is talented, but he just has to learn how to plug himself in the game and be aggressive at all times," Self said. "But just from an athlete, shooting, length, slide, rebounding - he can do about as many things as we have had here. He reminds me a lot of Brandon (Rush) in that regard, but we struggled with Brandon being aggressive if you guys remember. So that is one thing that Ben is going to have to be good at and then the next most heralded guy would be Perry obviously."
Self also loves the abilities of Traylor and freshman Andrew White, a 6-6 freshman that possess a lot of skills that will make him valuable on the perimeter.
"I think they all are going to be good, but one guy that will surprise you a little bit if you have not seen him play before is Andrew White," Self said. "To me he has been about as pleasant a surprise that we have had, because he can shoot the basketball and he has great size."
Although Traylor sat out the 2011-12 season, he feels he benefited from a year of practice, going up against former Jayhawk and first round NBA draft pick Thomas Robinson.
"It definitely was a battle, every practice," Traylor said. "There were days where I think I got the best of him and days where he got the best of me a majority of the time. I just really tried to give him my all to make him better and I know he definitely made me better just watching him and playing against him."
The Jayhawks now turn their attention to the annual "Late Night In The Phog" to kick off the season, Friday night. Their first exhibition game will be Tuesday, October 30th against Emporia State inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.