Now on Thursday, No. 4 KU (33-5 in 2006-07) finally takes the court for the first time this season against Pittsburg State in a 7 p.m. exhibition game in Allen Fieldhouse. The Gorillas are coming off an 18-13 record last year and a fifth-place finish in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association (9-9). PSU returns three starters, led by 6-7 forward/center Cory Abercrombie, who averaged a team-best 14.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in 2006-07.
Self and his players can’t wait for tipoff to begin in what hopes to be a magical season for Kansas basketball.
"I’m really excited,” Self said at his press conference on Monday. “I’m excited every year, but this could be a special team. Health is such a big part of it and having some guys get out of their comfort zone and deliver in ways they haven't delivered before, but we’re capable of doing that. I am very excited about this team."
After two weeks of practice, Self is anxious to see how his team does against some fresh competition and a big crowd in Allen Fieldhouse. He thinks Pittsburgh State will be a good tuneup for his squad,
"I don't think Coach (Henry) Iba will try too many trick defenses, but I would like to see us guard motion,” Self said. “We know they are going to run some form of motion so we definitely need to practice against that. Our guys will be excited to play and it should be fun. I just want to see where we are when the lights go on."
Self has seen some positive signs in practice thus far, but know there is great room to improve.
"I’d say we are doing okay,” he said. “We are not further along than some teams because defensively we are not where we should be and we’re one of those teams right now that does a lot of things good, but our attention to detail is bad. But we've only been practicing for two weeks, too. I think our effort and attitude have been pretty good. The strength of our team is balance, but one thing that can really help our team as much as anything is that those three little guards (Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, and Russell Robinson) be the leaders and communicate on the floor from an intangible standpoint like we’re capable of. I think we got to improve a little bit in that area.”
Self said “those three little guards” can match up with anybody in America.
"I wouldn't trade them for anybody,” Self said. “All three of them are good and all three can play together if we can rebound. There's no reason those three can't have as much success as any other threesome out there."
Two other players who can have great success this season are sophomore forward Darrell Arthur and senior guard Rodrick Stewart, who are much improved from last season. Self has high expectations for both players. The KU coach said the game has slowed down for Arthur and he’s become a better passer.
Known as the “black hole” to his teammates last year, Arthur is now more than willing to give up the rock.
“He’s become much more complete,” Self said.
Of course, Arthur will still be expected to put up big scoring and rebounding numbers. So is he a take-over-the-game kind of guy?
“We’ll see,” Self replied. “We haven’t played any games, but he's a take-over-practice kind of guy.”
Stewart has impressed Self as well in practice. With junior guard Brandon Rush out until December, Stewart has a chance to shine.
“Rod’s been one of our most consistent performers,” Self said. “You can certainly make a strong case that he’ll get his opportunities early. I think Jeremy (Case) and Brady (Morningstar) will also, but you can’t play seven guys on the perimeter. Now you throw Tyrel (Reed) in the mix and when Brandon comes back, I don’t know how all that’s going to play out. Right now, with (their) experience, Rod and Jeremy may be a little bit ahead.”
“(Rodrick) is by the far the most active defender we have,” Self added. “He’s also tough enough and athletic enough, you can play him as a bad matchup power forward and play real small, which will be a fun team to watch.”
The high-flying Jayhawks will certainly be a fun team to watch this season, and it all starts Nov. 1 against Pittsburg State. Freshman center Cole Aldrich, who committed to KU in November 2005, is pretty pumped about running through the tunnel onto James Naismith Court and playing his first game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Aldrich said. “Going through there Late Night, I had goose bumps, and I kind of got goose bumps right now even talking about it. There’s only one thing you can really do is enjoy the moment. It’s going to go quick. I got to enjoy every moment I run through that tunnel.”