We'll return to our regularly scheduled football programming shortly. But crazy as it seems, the exhibitions are over and the regular season gets going this weekend. And after all, we can't just ignore the 2008 National Champion Kansas Jayhawks, despite the fact that it's almost an entirely different team altogether. Details. After two exhibition games we know pretty much exactly what we did after the NBA Draft – this is going to be a different kind of year. No national championships this time around. But we won’t be having a Florida type drop-off either. Or so I hope. The talent is there, but plan on a whole lot of frustration. With any luck it will begin to subside by January. But even if that’s the case (no guarantees), it certainly won’t be gone for good. But strap in, because it’s going to be a damn fun year as well.
As you know, exactly one big contributor from last year’s champion returns in Sherron Collins. Sherron is as good a guard as there is in the country. He plays tough, opportunistic defense. He’s a one man fast break. He can hit the pull up jumper or the triple. And he can get to the rim as well as anyone. Suffice it to say, Sherron will be carrying the torch this year. As he goes, so go the Jayhawks.
The other returner the Hawks can count on is Cole Aldrich. I don’t include him in Sherron’s category, because he averaged all of about 8 mins, 3 points and 3 boards a game. And then he dominated the consensus player of the year in the Final Four. So the bar has been set. Now all we need is for him to play that way thirty plus times as the focal point of our inside game. And by focal point, I mean the only returning player with any chance of contributing in the paint. It may be too much to ask, but I think we’re going to need something around 15 & 10 out of Cole. I think he’s plenty capable, but we’ll have to see.
As for the other returners, it’s a little early to tell what kind of role they’ll play. I’d expect to see a little more of Brady Morningstar than you might have imagined, at least in the early going. And he can score it a bit, but he’s still not defending like he should. This is probably also true of Conner Teahan, but to a lesser extent. Rounding out the Caucasian triumvirate is Tyrel Reed. Get used to hearing his name, because he’s going to start for a while. Like the other two, he still doesn’t play defense like he should, but it will be a while (if ever) before he loses his job. Not only is he a plenty capable ballhandler, but more than anything, he gives us an outside shooter. These three will all have significant roles, but if this team is going to achieve what it wants to, their roles will need to be reduced at some point though I'd never expect Reed to dip below 20 minutes.
As for the newbies, we’ve got a lot of them. The JUCO transfers are Mario Little (player of the year) and Tyrone Appleton. Both have plenty of ability to contribute and will be expected to. Unfortunately, Little has been hurt and Appleton has had a bit more trouble adapting than expected. Long story short, the jury’s still out here. But injuries aside, I’d expect to be pretty familiar with Mario Little before too long. And we’ll definitely hear from Appleton, but it’s probably a little early to tell how much.
The freshman consist of: local flavor Travis Releford, Philly twins Marcus & Markieff Morris, Quintrell Thomas, & Tyshawn Taylor. All five will be expected to play and play well. The twins probably have the most pure talent, but they’re also probably the worst defenders and the least intelligent guys on the team. Quintrell seems to be in the mold of a young Darnell Jackson with a little more natural ability. Tyshawn has the potential to be an incredible point guard and huge disruption on defense with his quickness and long arms, but he needs to shake his habit of throwing the ball to the other team. And lastly, we have Releford. Personally, I think he’ll be the best of them all. He looks like a college defender. He’s got a great shot, good size to penetrate and just seems to do a little bit of everything.
As you’ve likely surmised, there’s plenty of potential here. But as of now, that’s all it really is. We’ve got one proven star. One with a lot of expectations. A couple capable role players. And seven others with promise and ability, but nothing else to this point. There probably aren’t more than a couple teams in the country with as much athletic ability as this one. But it’s safe to say that damn near everyone has more experience and probably more chemistry. This isn’t a team you’ll want to face come tournament time, but there will be some bumps along the way. Probably a lot of them, considering the tough non-conference schedule (Washington, Florida or Syracuse, UMASS, Temple, @ Arizona, Tennessee, Siena, @ Michigan State) that they’ll have to traverse even before conference play. But no matter what happens, it feels good to be defending a national championship again. It was a long time overdue.