It’s certainly not every year that we get to see Kansas Basketball in the heat of summer. For KU fans, the best chance of catching some Jayhawk hoops in June or July is by watching former standouts compete in the NBA Finals or occasionally in the Olympic Games; but 2015 is no ordinary year.
Every two years, an Olympic-like competition takes place — the World University Games. Just like in the Olympic Games we have all grown to know and love, athletes from around the globe come together to face-off in a series of sporting events. One of those events is basketball, the brainchild of former Jayhawk James Naismith.
Most years, USA Basketball would pick and choose from the best available college hoops players to assemble a team for the games. However, the Pan-American Games, a similar event, are also being held this summer, so a selection committee sought out an existing college team to represent America in Gwangju, South Korea. Fortunately for Jayhawk fans, the University of Kansas is that team.
Head Coach Bill Self will now have unlimited access to his players during the summer, a time when the NCAA restricts practices to just a few hours each week. These extra opportunities will benefit most of the Kansas roster aside from foreign-born players and a pair of injured Jayhawks that cannot participate in the events.
Facing a small gap in his lineups, Self called upon two former Kansas coaches — SMU’s Larry Brown (Head Coach 1983-89) and FGCU’s Joe Dooley (Assistant 2003-13). Through these connections Kansas was able to add SMU point guard Nic Moore and FGCU guard Julian DeBose. “They’re great guys,” Kansas point guard Frank Mason said of Moore and Debose, “this is for the whole United States so we are just coming together to make this happen.”
In preparation for the World University Games, a pair of exhibition games was scheduled between Kansas, now Team USA, and Team Canada. The Canadian basketball team spent a few days at the Kansas Basketball facilities in Lawrence before the first exhibition match on Tuesday, June 23. “To have an opportunity to train here and see the facilities is a nice bonus for us,” said Canada Head Coach Barnaby Craddock, “it’s great for us to have a couple games with them (Team USA) as well, it makes both teams better.”
On Tuesday night, the two teams met for the first time before a crowd of 8,235 at Sprint Center in Kansas City. It was truly something special to witness for all who were there; and one could be sure that the spirit of Canadian-American James Naismith was in attendance.
The night began with something that most American sports fans rarely get to see or hear — the singing of Oh Canada as well as The Star Spangled Banner. The game itself was a unique experience as well. The international (FIBA) rules vary from the NCAA game that most Jayhawk fans are accustomed to. A four quarter format along with stricter shot clock rules and a multicolored ball are among the more noticeable differences.
“The shot clock is going to be different, we have to play a lot faster,” Kansas forward Jamari Traylor said before the exhibition, “coach has really been making that a point of emphasis in practice.” The team will face a twenty-four second shot clock at the World University Games, a whole eleven seconds less than what Kansas has played with in the past. Interestingly enough, the NCAA is changing to a thirty second shot clock beginning this year, meaning that the Jayhawks will have a leg-up on the competition.
Kansas and Canada battled it out across four close quarters and fifteen lead changes. The game was tied six times but Kansas finished the game on a 6-0 run and only allowed Canada to make two of its last ten field goal attempts. The final score was 91-83 in favor of the crimson, white, and blue.
Frank Mason was Team USA’s player of the night as he built up an impressive stat line of 28 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in a game-high 32 minutes played. “He was great, that was a fun game,” Head Coach Bill Self said of Mason, “it was probably as good as Frank has played since he’s been at Kansas.”
Mason was supported by forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. Ellis contributed all over the floor with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and added a steal while Traylor recorded the only double-double of the evening with 12 points and 10 rebounds while also handing out 4 blocks and an assist.
The crowd did not disappoint or leave Sprint Center disappointed. There were two instances in which Kansas scored big baskets and the crowd responded with cheers followed by a U-S-A, U-S-A! Spectators seemed as energized as they would be in March and played a role throughout the game. “I heard it was about 8,000 or 9,000 but it felt like about 30,000 people,” Head Coach Craddock said. Craddock went on to mention “they’re loud, vocal, every basket that went in it was hard for our guys to stay focused and stay positive.”
Team Canada refused to go down without a fight and was led by Chris McLaughlin’s 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and his perfect 6 for 6 record at the free throw line. “We wanted to give everything we’ve got and I think we did a good job,” McLaughlin said positively “this is a great opportunity to take advantage of the atmosphere and pressure that’s put on by some of these teams.”
Kansas will represent the USA in a second exhibition game at Sprint Center this Friday at 7:00 p.m. before departing for South Korea and the World University Games that are to be held July 3 through July 14. You can follow @KJHKsports and @SamDavisKU on Twitter to stay updated throughout the week.