Kansas Jayhawks Basketball 2010--Trouble in Paradise?
It doesn't look the way it should, guys....
Not Enough Heart?
I feel for Kansas Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Self. It looked like he had everything going for him as the start of a new college basketball season approaches. KU is everyone’s pick for preseason number one, and it’s very possible Coach Self could add a second NCAA title in three years to his resume. His squad returns talent and depth, and he brought in a recruiting class that is somewhat underrated because it includes a transfer (Jeff Withey) and a walk-on (C.J. Henry).
The newcomers plug every hole in last year’s roster. In Withey, KU has a legitimate center to back up All-American Cole Aldrich, and Elijah Johnson will be Sherron Collins’ understudy. The Morris twins will no longer have to battle stronger and heavier opponents at center every night, and we won’t watch Tyrel Reed struggle to bring the ball upcourt when Collins needs a breather. Xavier Henry is the new player KU lacked on the wing in 2008-2009. He adds size, strength, quickness and a solid outside shot to the mix, offering a third scoring threat. Brady Morningstar did an admirable job at the position last year, but seemed outmatched at times. If Henry is outmatched, it will be because of inexperience, not any physical shortcomings. This team has a chance to be G-O-O-D.
Early indications reveal something missing, however—something that could be their undoing in March. Michigan State, Texas, and Kentucky fans should be feeling good right now. The Jayhawks are not invincible. The questions began with the reluctance of KU recruits Xavier and C.J. Henry to fully commit to the program, inexplicably even after they committed. There was talk of going to Kentucky and whispered innuendo about playing overseas while waiting for their NBA ship to come in. Carl Henry, their father and a player I enjoyed watching on the courts 25 years ago, mentioned everyone needing “to be on the same page”, including Coach Self. What page was Carl reading from? We still can only guess. Bill Self smoothed that one over, and the Henry brothers appear to be on track to make a significant contribution this season. The problems didn’t end there, however.
In recent weeks, the Jayhawks have conducted themselves in a manner that brings back memories of J.R. Giddens and the Moon Bar incident, C.J. Giles allegedly dragging a girl out of his room by the hair, or for those with longer memories, Rueben Shelton and his gun (raise your hand, anyone who recalls that a KU player shot himself in the foot in the late 1970’s). For this year’s squad, first was an altercation with the KU football team, followed by a second scrap less than 24 hours later. As a result, Tyshawn Taylor was out for four weeks with a sprained thumb, allegedly from throwing a punch. Directly afterwards was a report that Taylor’s Facebook page had some comments his mother probably wouldn’t approve of (or the KU Athletic Department). Finally, Brady Morningstar was suspended for the first semester of play for violating curfew and being stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol. I’ve watched the Jayhawks play even before his father Roger was throwing in jump shots from the corner, and this doesn’t look good.
I’m more upset with Morningstar than Taylor, but both disappointed me. Morningstar’s behavior bugs me more because he is 23 years old, and he was with the program when they won it all and saw first-hand what sacrifices were necessary to achieve their goal. With his gutsy play from last year, I believed he was cut from the same cloth and would do anything to win. I’m not as certain now. His late night drive was in clear defiance of Bill Self’s player curfew, and being hauled in on a DUI doesn’t suggest a young man prepared to do whatever it takes to win. The lengthy suspension indicates Self is as unhappy with Morningstar as he has ever been with a player. I give Taylor a bit more slack because he is younger and less seasoned, but I am disappointed in him, also.
Does this year's KU team lack heart? Has success gone to their heads? Do the players feel their lofty ranking already makes them champions? Are they letting down guys like Aldrich and Collins, who returned to campus for another year hoping for a number one ranking at the end of the season—not just the beginning? Are they failing Mario Little, who played through injury last season rather than red-shirting because he wanted to make a contribution, no matter what? What about Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson, who came to KU to be part of a winning tradition? Are Taylor and Morningstar demonstrating what it really means to be a Jayhawk? I hope not. For KU to win the NCAA title, every day needs to be about players dedicating themselves to their common goal. If a guy isn’t willing to make the commitment in September or October, why should we assume he will in March? Morningstar and Taylor let their teammates down in a big-time way. It’s not about showing the football team who rules the roost, and it’s not about sneaking out to party at night. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about becoming a team. It’s about heart.
Early season games have shown some promise, but not as much as one might hope. KU looked good routing out overmatched opponents, but the one decent team KU played so far (Memphis) had a chance to win the game with a three-point shot in the final seconds. Tyshawn Taylor's shooting, passing and ball-handling still looked unreliable. Xavier Henry held the ball too long when he had it, causing plays to break down. Was Brady Morningstar so much of a factor last year that the team looks lost and average without him?
I haven’t written off the Hawks yet. Bill Self demonstrated his abilities by molding Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and the rest into a championship team. Blending in guys like Julian Wright and Darnell Jackson couldn’t have been easy, even if it was rewarding in the end. I think he can perform his magic again on this group. In 1988, Larry Brown lost Marvin Branch to grades, Archie Marshall to injury, and unloaded Mike Masucci and Otis Livingston on the road to winning the NCAA title. He even won with Keith Harris, who kept pit bulls for pets and got the boot from Roy Williams almost immediately after Roy hit town. My point is, it isn’t impossible to instill a winning attitude in these guys—Larry Brown did it over 20 years ago (although having Danny Manning helped). Manning, Kevin Pritchard, Milt Newton, Jeff Gueldner, Scooter Barry and Chris Piper had heart.
Do these guys???
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