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Bill Self has never had a problem luring the nation's top talent to Kansas. The question in Lawrence these days, though, is whether he may have signed too much of it.
Less than 48 hours after Sunday's stunning loss at Tennessee, sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor hinted that there may be some discontent brewing in the Jayhawks locker room.
"We have so many people, so many players … sometimes I don't know how I fit [or] what I'm supposed to do," Taylor told reporters before Tuesday's practice. "Like, Sherron [Collins] is a scorer. X [Xavier Henry] is a scorer. Cole [Aldrich] is our post presence. Sometimes I feel like I get lost in the thing.
"I think a lot of guys feel like that."
Kansas may have one of the deepest, most-talented teams in America, but it's never a good sign when a starting guard makes those kind of comments midway through a season in which you've been pegged to win the national championship.
Self, whose team plays Nebraska on Wednesday night, was irritated when told of Taylor's comments later in the afternoon.
"I think Tyshawn talks too much," Self said, "because I've never heard that before, and I'll visit with him about it after practice. If he's unsure of his role, then he doesn't listen very good. It bothers me that any player would say that the day before a game, but I'll address it after practice."
After he's finished chewing out Taylor, Self may want to give the sophomore's words some thought.
Even though it was 14-0 and ranked. No. 1 before the loss to the Vols, this Kansas squad clearly hasn't looked like the dominant force so many people were expecting.
Self wants the Jayhawks to play an "inside-out" style where the 6-foot-11 Aldrich – a projected lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft – is the primary scoring option. Aldrich, though, is having trouble getting touches, sometimes because he's not doing a good enough job of establishing position, and sometimes because his teammates aren't getting him the ball. Aldrich took just five shots against Tennessee.
Even though they may be doing it subconsciously, the Jayhawks appear selfish at times. Some of it is understandable.
Henry, a freshman, is the team's leading scorer and a strong candidate to become the first one-and-done in the program's rich history. Marcus Morris may be the most-improved player in the Big 12, while his twin brother, Markieff, isn't far behind.
Even though it seems ridiculous at this point, some NBA mock drafts projected Taylor as a first-round pick after this season, so his ego could've easily been inflated. The one constant has been Collins, the senior leader who is on pace to become the winningest player in the school's annals.
Collins may be the ultimate team guy, but after playing such a big role for three-plus years, you can't help but wonder what he thinks about taking a back seat to the ballyhooed Henry in terms of buzz and publicity.
Still, Collins can take comfort in knowing that, each game, he's going to get plenty of minutes and plenty of shots. He knows his role. With everyone else – it's a crapshoot.
Bottom line: Kansas' starting lineup features three likely NBA players (Aldrich, Henry and Collins) and two more who stand a good chance (Taylor and Marcus Morris).
But none of that will mean much until the Jayhawks do a better job of playing together, until they become a team.
After Sunday's game Self said his players resembled "guys on an island looking out for ourselves."
Taylor is hopeful that will soon change.
"I think when everybody finds out their role on this team … and everybody gets on the same page, then that's when we're going to be ready," he said. "I just feel like it hasn't been brought to the light because of our schedule so far."
Indeed, even though they've rarely looked crisp and cohesive, the Jayhawks' problems have been masked by their gaudy record, which isn't all that impressive considering their schedule. Kansas tried to assemble a tough slate, but Cal and Michigan have been disappointing, UCLA is below .500 and Memphis' roster got depleted when former coach John Calipari left for Kentucky last April.
The most formidable foe other than Tennessee was Temple, a team the Jayhawks defeated by 32 points. Three days later, though, Kansas nearly lost to Cornell before some late baskets by Collins thwarted an upset. The Jayhawks weren't so lucky against Tennessee, which won despite the absence of four key players, including leading scorer Tyler Smith, who was dismissed from the team the previous week.
"We got to a team [Tennessee] that had good players and maybe shouldn't have beat us," Taylor said. "But [they] got the best of us that day. Now we know that we’ve got to be ready to play every night. We can't take anything lightly."
And neither can Self, who may need to spend as much time talking with his players in the locker room as he does instructing them on the court.
The good thing is that Self has been in this situation before. In 2007-08 he coached a team that featured five NBA draft picks – not including Aldrich and Collins – to the national championship. That team was just as talented as this one, but it's not as if that group won the crown on skills alone.
Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Co. bought into playing a selfless brand of basketball. They dove for loose balls and took pride in playing defense. They passed up good shots for better ones and took as much joy in their teammates' success as their own.
Not one player from that squad earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, and none of them cared. That was a special team, and this one can be, too. The Jayhawks seem to recognize the problem.
It's up to them – and their coach – to correct it.
The guess here is that they will.
Robbie Hummel and Evan Turner – Purdue's Hummel and Ohio State's Turner treated a national television audience to a thrilling game Tuesday night in West Lafayette. Hummel scored 29 of his career-high 35 points in the first half, but it was Turner who came through in the clutch. With his team trailing 62-52 with four minutes remaining, Turner scored 14 straight points that gave Ohio State a 66-64 lead. The Buckeyes went on to win 70-66. Turner had 32 points.
The Big 12 – For those of you into statistics, try this one: As of Wednesday morning, Big 12 teams had a combined record of 114-1 in home games. Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa in Ames on Dec. 2. Otherwise, Big 12 teams have won every single home game they've played thus far.
Scottie Reynolds – The Villanova senior has been around so long that, sometimes, you tend to take him for granted. Reynolds reminded everyone just how good he is on Monday when he scored 16 of his season-high 36 points in the final 6:05 of the Wildcats' 92-84 victory at Louisville.
Skylar McBee – Anyone who roots for the underdog had to be cheering when McBee, a freshman walk-on, swished the 3-pointer that clinched Tennessee's 75-68 victory over No. 1 Kansas on Sunday. The Vols won despite the suspension of three players and the dismissal of leading scorer Tyler Smith on drug and weapons charges. Of McBee's heroics, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said: "McBee's shot was worth how many hours in the gym? When other kids were doing everything else, you could see McBee in the gym practicing all night long. It paid off – that's the beautiful thing about sports."
Mountain West Conference and West Coast Conference – Both leagues stand a good chance of receiving more NCAA tournament bids than the Pac-10, meaning they're arguably the two premier leagues in the western part of the country. BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico are all enjoying solid seasons in the MWC. Gonzaga and St. Mary's face off Thursday in the clash of the titans in the WCC.On the other coast, the Atlantic 10 is better than the Pac-10 too.
The Pac-10 – Good gracious, the conference is bad. Not one team is in this week's Top 25 rankings. Heck, for the first time in history, no one even received votes. If it weren't for the automatic bid that goes to the winner of the conference tournament, the Pac-10 may not even receive an NCAA tournament invite. The best team might be USC, and the Trojans aren't even eligible for postseason play.
Kyle Singler – The Duke junior who entered the season as an All-American candidate has struggled as of late. He's made just 7 of his last 28 field goal attempts and has missed 13 of his last 18 shots from beyond the arc. Singler is shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field and is making just 34.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
Northwestern and Texas Tech – A few weeks ago the Wildcats entered the Top 25 for the first time in 40 years and then promptly lost their first two Big Ten games. Their next two games are against three of the top four teams in the league (Wisconsin, Purdue and Ohio State). Texas Tech may have been a tease, as well. The Red Raiders suffered an 81-52 embarrassment at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Bottom of the Big Ten – The conference race got interesting Tuesday when Ohio State rallied to beat Purdue. Still, while the top half of the league is interesting, the bottom tier is struggling. Iowa may not win a conference game. Indiana is still rebuilding and Penn State – last year's NIT champion – has already lost two Big Ten home games. Michigan and Illinois have been disappointments, although both teams have the potential to be dangerous if they get on track.
Firing coaches at midseason – It's not fair to the players and I'm just not sure I see the point.
Washington – The Huskies are in the midst of a mammoth collapse. The popular preseason pick to win the Pac-10 is 1-3 in conference play following losses to Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona. Leading scorer Quincy Pondexter was 17-for-40 from the field in the three losses while committing 12 turnovers.
Everyone knows Kentucky is the SEC's best team. But who would you rank second?
People may be high on Tennessee following Sunday's victory over Kansas, but I'm not sure the Volunteers can continue to play at that high of a level. I think Mississippi State may end up being the conference's second-best team by the time all is said and done. The Bulldogs picked up a huge road win at Ole Miss on Saturday, and folks in Starkville are crossing their fingers that the NCAA will clear freshman Renardo Sidney to play soon. If that happens – and if Sidney isn't a complete bust – then Mississippi State will have all the pieces necessary for a deep postseason run.
Rutgers forward Greg Echenique announced he was transferring. Any word where he might end up?
Adam Zagoria at zagsblog.com reported Tuesday that the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Echenique is considering Indiana, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami and Creighton. All solid options, although I think he'd really thrive under Tom Crean at Indiana. Echenique has the potential to be a big-time player. He needs to play in a big-time environment.
What's your opinion on Jerry Wainwright's firing at DePaul?
I can't understand why DePaul administrators didn't make the change at the conclusion of last season. The Blue Demons went winless in Big East play in 2008-09 and it was clear they weren't going to be much better this year. DePaul wasted nearly a year in what's sure to be an arduous rebuilding phase. As for Wainwright … he's an excellent basketball coach and tactician who got stuck in an incredibly challenging job. DePaul's arena is off-campus, and Chicago kids don't grow up longing to play in the Big East. Wainwright shouldn't be judged by his failures there.
Wisconsin suffered a huge hit Saturday when forward Jon Leuer broke his left wrist during a victory over Purdue. Leuer, who is out indefinitely, ranks second on the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game and is averaging a team-high 6.2 rebounds … Michigan coach John Beilein has signed a contract extension that ties him to the school through 2015-16. Beilein will make between $1.7 and $1.9 million per year beginning next season … Former Fordham point guard Jio Fontan has transferred to USC and will be eligible after the first semester next season. Fontan averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 assists as a freshman last season … Reserve guard Shamarr Bowden has decided to transfer from Charlotte, where he was averaging 5.7 points and 10 minutes … Ole Miss has now lost four SEC openers under Andy Kennedy and has yet to have a winning conference season … BYU's win over UTEP last weekend came without the services of standout Jimmer Fredette, who missed the game because of mononucleosis. There's also a chance Fredette could sit out of Wednesday's game against Air Force … Kansas has held 89 straight opponents to below 50 percent shooting from the field … Iowa State has suspended freshman guard Chris Colvin for walking out of a team meeting and booted reserve guard L.A. Pomlee from the team.
Cal at Washington State – A road win would be huge for the Bears in what promises to be a wacky Pac-10 race.
Gonzaga at St. Mary's – This is always the most entertaining game of the West Coast Conference season.
Syracuse at West Virginia – The Mountaineers have lost two of their last three games. Nothing but their best effort will be good enough to beat the Orange.
Georgia Tech at North Carolina – The top two frontcourts in the ACC go head-to-head in Chapel Hill.
Mississippi at Tennessee – Can the undermanned Volunteers beat a ranked team for the second time in six days?
Georgetown at Villanova – Look for the Wildcats' depth to be the difference against Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and the Hoyas.
Wake Forest at Duke – The Demon Deacons are getting better and better, but don't expect them to win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Texas at Kansas State – If the Longhorns win here they may be undefeated going into their Feb. 8 showdown against Kansas.
Clemson at Georgia Tech – If the Yellow Jackets develop some consistency they'll be one of the country's scariest teams come March.
Purdue at Illinois – On paper Purdue looks like the clear-cut favorite. But never underestimate Bruce Weber, whose team has been a bit of a disappointment.
Joe Holladay, North Carolina – Holladay joined Roy Williams' staff at Kansas prior to the 1993-94 season, and the two have been together ever since. Prior to becoming a college assistant, Holladay spent 23 years in his native Oklahoma as a high school coach, teacher and administrator. In 2002 he became an inaugural member of the Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. Also a standout baseball player, Holladay was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the MLB Draft.
KOTC: How did you and Roy first meet, and how did it lead to you landing a job on his staff?
Holladay: We came in contact when Roy was an assistant at North Carolina in the early 1980s. They were recruiting Steve Hale, who I was coaching at Jenks High School. I came to Chapel Hill the same weekend Steve came on his official visit. It was January of 1982 – the year they won the national championship – and that weekend North Carolina played Virginia. It was No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Coach Williams had been a high school coach just like me at one point, so after the game, the two of us and Coach [Bill] Guthridge all went to see Chapel Hill High School play. Hanging out with him that weekend, you could tell that [Williams] was a down-to-earth guy. I got to know him even better from working their camps. I didn't ever work in his gym, but I'd see him every night, or I'd eat lunch with him. He'd go running religiously every night at 11 p.m. That was about the time I was going out. We'd usually visit then.
He was one of those guys who didn't think he was a big-timer. He was just a great guy. Whether he was talking to a junior high coach or a college camper, he treated everyone the same. To him it was all just people. Eventually, he hired me at Kansas.
KOTC: So what would you be doing if it wasn't for Steve Hale?
Holladay (laughing): I probably owe my job to Steve Hale, because they liked him so much. They probably thought, 'If Steve is that good of a guy, his coach has got to be decent, too.' Little did they know …
KOTC: Of all the players you've recruited, is there one that you got the most excited for when he finally committed?
Holladay: Probably Tyler Hansbrough. Everybody thought he was good, but I thought no one really knew what made him tick and how good he was going to be in college. I thought he was going to be a great, great player just from watching him in high school – just because of his motor and the things that were inside of him that people couldn't see. I'd recruited him long enough to see all those intangibles. When he called and said he was coming, it was probably as excited as I've ever been. I was in Denton, Texas at The Shootout. I had just got to the hotel when he called. I stood up on the bed and started jumping up and down.
KOTC: How hard did you recruit him? Any good stories?
Holladay: The first time I went to see Tyler his coach told me that they were going to work out in the morning. I flew into St. Louis and drove to Poplar Bluff that night. They had a 6 a.m. workout the next morning. I watched him workout and then, at 2 p.m., they ran at the track and played pickup ball in the evening. After it was over, Tyler called and said, 'Coach, don't come out and see me anymore in the mornings. I hate getting out of bed and coming up there just because some college coach is up there wanting me to work out. Seriously, if you ever say you're coming back in the morning, I'm not coming to North Carolina.'
That same visit, when they went to the track to run in the afternoon, they ran the 200, and he took off and outran everyone by 20 yards. I picked up my cell phone and called Coach Williams and said, 'Coach, you would not believe how hard this guy runs and how hard he competes.'
KOTC: Do you miss being a coach at the high school level? Is that something you hope to do again someday?
Holladay: Actually, I don't miss it. I was a head coach for 22 years in high school. That was long enough. It was great at the time. I loved every job I had. I used to think it was the greatest job in the world. The assistant's job came along at the perfect time because, at that point, I had never gotten tired of coaching high school basketball. I've got buddies that have coached 35 or 40 years, and they're worn out. But becoming a college assistant was like going into a whole new profession for me. It was refreshing. I've got all the respect in the world for high school coaches. They've got to teach, too. They've got two different jobs and have to satisfy both of them.
KOTC: What is your favorite part about working for Roy?
Holladay: He cares about people. He cares about me. He's loyal to you. That could be one of his greatest strengths and one of his greatest faults. Things have happened in the past where someone does something to get [shunned]. But Roy will stick with them, because that's his friend. He's the same way with his players. That's why they love him. They can screw up, but they're his players, so he's going to stand by them.
He doesn't have all these airs about him. Sometimes we'll go on walks at lunch and he'll never talk about basketball. He may not talk at all if he's got something on his mind. Then we'll come back and sit down in the office and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that we made ourselves downstairs in the coach's office. The head coach at North Carolina, making himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich …
KOTC: What have you done with your championship rings from 2005 and 2009?
Holladay: I wear my latest one. The 2009 team was so sick of me rubbing that 2005 ring in their face. The minute we won the championship game, Deon Thompson and Wayne Ellington said, 'Give me that ring. You've got to take it off.' I'd been showing it off a lot. I took if off that night and put it in a box. Now I've got my 2009 one on.
KOTC: What arena do you enjoy playing in the most?
Holladay: I like playing over at Duke. We're only eight miles apart. We can leave here at 7:30 for a 9 p.m. game. It's my favorite place to play in our league. We've been fortunate to win there the last few years, but it could turn anytime. They've won some games at our place, too. The home court doesn't mean as much in that series. There are too many distractions because we're so close together. The ticket distraction for the home team is unbelievable. Our players get so many requests and it weighs on them. It's almost easier to pull up a bus and go over there and play.
KOTC: What do you like to do during the offseason?
Holladay: I like to go see my kids. I'm fortunate, because my son [Mathew, 34] spent four years living in Italy and now he's in Charlotte. My daughter [Heather, 37] has lived in Australia and Paris and now she lives in Naples, Florida. I love going to see my kids with my free time. Now I've got a seven-month-old grandchild, so it will be even extra-special to go see them.
KOTC: You're not a big golfer like Roy?
Holladay: I like to play, but I don't like to give up four or five hours out of my day. I'd rather be doing something else. What? I don't know. But I like to have my options open.
Loveless Cafe, Nashville – A Tennessee landmark for more than a half-century, the Loveless Cafe is down-home country cooking at its finest. Biscuits, red-eye gravy and award-winning country ham put the breakfast over the top. For dinner I had the Southern Sampler Platter, which included fried chicken, catfish, ham along with fried okra and hashbrown casserole. Not a bad deal for $16.95 (although it was a bit embarrassing when a table of three next to me ordered the same dish – to split).
Hickory Park, Ames, Iowa – As much as I appreciate good quality when it comes to food, I'm also big on quantity. That's why a stop at Hickory Park is a must whenever I visit Iowa State. The burgers and barbeque plates are more than enough for the biggest bellies. I'm a particular fan of the chicken and pork ribs combo, which consists of about six ribs and half of a bird plus two sides and bread – all for about $15. Make sure to try one of the 50-plus ice cream treats. Hint: You can't go wrong with the Snicker Bar Sundae.
Longhi's, Maui – If you're headed to the beach for your honeymoon – or perhaps you're making plans for the 2010 Maui Invitational – make sure to stop by the finest restaurant in Lahaina to try the Shrimp Longhi, which the menu describes as “succulent white shrimp sauteed in lemon, butter, white wine, fresh basil and chopped tomatoes.” Other items include lobster cannelloni, seared ahi and all sorts of steak and seafood combos that are totally worth the $30-$40 price tag.
- Tyshawn Taylor