LAWRENCE, KAN. (AP) - Everybody seemed to be happy on the Kansas bench last season.
Bill Self was certainly pleased with the way his team ran roughshod to an eighth straight Big 12 title. All his players were content, too, because they understood their roles, and that seven or eight of them were going to carry the load on a night-by-night basis.
There could be quite a bit more discontent this season, at least early on, and Self believes that’s just as good as the positive vibes that enveloped the program last year.
The reason? There are about a dozen guys who could be vying for playing time.
“This year will be a little different,” Self conceded just a few days into preseason practice. “We’ll have some guys disappointed this year because they’re pretty good.”
Pretty young, too.
All-American Thomas Robinson left a year early for the NBA, and veteran guards Tyshawn Taylor and Connor Teahan have graduated. Stepping into their place will be nine freshmen, if you count walk-ons, several of whom will be counted on to continue Kansas’ unparalleled success.
The No. 7 Jayhawks are coming off a loss to Kentucky in the national championship game.
There’s five-star prospect Perry Ellis, one of the most highly sought recruits in Kansas high school history. Landen Lucas and Zach Peters are wide bodies inside, Rio Adams and Andrew Wright a couple of lanky guards who can score from the outside and get to the basket.
Then there are Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor.
The pair was recruited as part of last year’s class, but McLemore and Traylor were deemed partial qualifiers by the NCAA and forced to redshirt. They only became eligible to practice the second semester, but they quickly showed everyone what the Jayhawks’ had been missing.
McLemore is the quintessential combo guard, able to score everywhere on the court while also rebounding and playing defense _ in some ways like Taylor, now with the Brooklyn Nets. Traylor is slightly smaller than Robinson, now with the Sacramento Kings, but has the same broad shoulders and zest for rebounding that made his mentor the fifth overall pick in the draft.
“I had a year of practice and I pretty much learned a lot more than I would have just coming in and playing, so last year was a blessing in disguise for me,” said Traylor, who’s been mistaken for T-Rob while walking around on the leafy Kansas campus in Lawrence.
“It’s definitely competitive, all the freshmen coming in. We have like nine freshmen, including me and Jamari,” McLemore added. “Practice is a lot of competitiveness, but we’re also getting getter as a team and getting ready for the season.”