Men’s basketball’s hotly anticipated season on Tuesday begins its long winter’s march with a 7 p.m. exhibition game against Pittsburg State University, and coach Bill Self says that after a tough month of practice, his young team is in for a treat.
“You know, we put ’em through some stuff,” Self said Monday at his first weekly press conference of the season, “and they can’t see how much fun it is until they actually get a chance to experience a live setting. They’ll know now why they came to school here, after being part of an atmosphere like we’ll have even for an exhibition game.”
Self’s projected starting five includes junior guard Naadir Tharpe, freshman guard Wayne Selden Jr., freshman guard Andrew Wiggins, senior forward Tarik Black and sophomore forward Perry Ellis. Along with those five, Self added sophomore guard Andrew White III, freshman center Joel Embiid and sophomore forward Jamari Traylor as the best of a deep roster.
“Andrew White could start,” Self said. “And Joel has played well enough to start, and Jamari some days is one of our best bigs. I would say those eight have separated themselves.”
As for the hype surrounding Wiggins, a superstar recruit who has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in a spread in GQ magazine and is apparently slated for a cover turn on ESPN The Magazine, Self said it all stops now.
“He needs to learn, because he’s going to be experiencing this whenever he moves on to another level,” Self said of Wiggins, already projected as the likely No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft. “I don’t know if we’ve done a good job [tempering media appearances], but … I don’t think he needs to do any more media. … The kid can’t go anywhere without getting bombarded. It’s wearing him down. So I think that we should from this point forward remove as much of that as possible.
“When he plays good in a game, sure, he can do some post-game stuff. But I don’t understand why everybody wants to get a piece of him. We’ve already done that. So protecting him from wearing him out is probably what we’re trying to do. But all the great players deal with crap. And all the great players deal with expectations and deal with time demands and all that stuff; he’s dealing with that at an earlier age obviously than most, but it’s also preparation, too.”
Self seemed particularly galled that Sports Illustrated put Wiggins on the cover along with images of legendary Jayhawks Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning.
“He can’t live up to the hype. It’s impossible,” Self said. “Comparing him to Chamberlain? Chamberlain is the most dominant player that ever played the game. The kid’s 18 years old and he’s never made a college basket but we’re going to compare him to Chamberlain? So, that’s impossible. But could he be a great one? Absolutely. And should we expect him to be a great one? Yes, we should.
“The kid is operating under some pressure right now and he’s handled it beautifully. But I do feel for him. I’ve never felt for players in regards for things like that, but I do feel for him because he hasn’t asked for one bit of it. But still, the less he wants it, the more he gets. And that’s kind of because of the way he’s handled everything. He’s handled everything like a pro.”
KU’s women’s basketball team opens its exhibition season 7 p.m. Wednesday, also against Pittsburg State in Allen Field House.