The Quest for Nine Straight

At Kansas, players change, but expectations always stay the same

By Andrew Curtis

Ah, free at last, free at last. We can finally say we’re free at last.

Basketball season has arrived.

In what seems like much longer than seven months, Bill Self lost his two leading scorers from the overachieving national runner-up team from a year ago.

Combining with a strong nucleus of veterans is a class of seven freshmen. It’s an interesting makeup for a historically dominant program like Kansas, one that is unique and will help this team to have a higher ceiling than last year.

Coach Self has had no problem filling out the roster in an effort to replace two guys who will forever go down in KU history among the best, Tyshawn Taylor, and, the man who played with a heavier heart than anyone I’ve ever seen, Thomas Robinson. It’s not a matter of if, but rather, when, Robinson’s number zero will hang in the rafters of historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse in the near future.

The Jayhawks return three starters from last year’s Final Four team. Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, who broke out in the NCAA Tournament last March, are back and primed for a stellar senior season, as is Kevin Young, who has the best hair in college basketball. I dare you to try and grow an afro like that. Oh wait, that’s right, you can’t, so don’t even try.

Back to the important matter here: Basketball. Expected to come in and make significant contributions as freshmen right away are the likes of Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor (who have half of a season worth of practice under their belt), Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Rio Adams.

Don’t be surprised if McLemore leads the team in scoring. He can jump out of the gym and has an underrated jump shot. His defensive skills are superb.

Ellis is, in my mind, Wayne Simien 2.0: A Kansas kid who is instantly a fan favorite. The dude can flat out play and demonstrates a wide array of offensive skills.

Once Traylor fills out, he could be a mini T-Rob. He just needs to bulk up and get more experience. After all, he’s only been playing organized basketball for a few years, despite growing up in the High School hardwood heaven that is Chicago.

KU enters the season with higher expectations than last year, and for good reason. The bench is much deeper and the team is even more explosive, with more guys that can beat you on both sides of the court.

Obviously, the first goal to get accomplished and out of the way is simple: Win the Big 12 regular season title. The conference just got a little weaker in hoops thanks to the departures of Texas A&M and our good old pal (I’m kidding, of course), Missouri. TCU will plant itself at the bottom of the standings, while West Virginia will be competitive the whole year.

Still, I don’t see any team that can challenge Kansas for the title. Sure, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State are consistent programs with some talent, but none of them have the gem that we have: Bill Self.

The cream of the crop is as good as ever this season, with the traditional bluebloods leading the way. Kansas remains at an elite level in the national spotlight and will continue to be as long as Self is at the helm.

The job Bill Self did last season was the best coaching job I’ve ever seen, and I expect an encore this year. Don’t be shocked at all if Kansas is cutting down the nets five months from now at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.