Don't look now but Kansas basketball kicks off very, very soon. Today the team hosted a media day and as always here's a recap with some quotes from Coach Bill Self along with a variety of the players.
Head Coach Bill Self
On similarities between 2008 National Championship team and this year's squad:
"I do think there are some similarities. The 2007-08 team was very athletic and very fast. I don't know if this year's team is quite as athletic and fast, but probably bigger and deeper, which doesn't always translate into positive things because, obviously, you can only play so many guys. But if a key injury occurs, we may have enough depth to overcome that. But this team is not ready to beat that team. It would not even be a contest as of today. The team that won the championship was coming of a 33-5 record, winning the league, winning the conference championship and then losing in the first round and losing in the Elite 8, so they were battle-tested, hungry and tough. This team basically did not really operate last year in a pressurized situation because it really felt like everyone was happy with their performance last year. Going 14-2 and going to the Sweet 16, they had a lot of people tell how good they did, whereas the team before was driven to do better. Now, hopefully this team will be driven the same way. That team did not rely on newcomers to get them to where they wanted to go, and this one is going to have to rely on newcomers. There are some unproven pieces, but there are a lot of similarities from a talent standpoint."
On the highlights of this squad in particular:
"The biggest thing is they really are good kids. I think they are unselfish playing-wise. Now, we can do a better job of being unselfish with our thoughts, obviously, as that goes without saying based on the last three weeks. But, I think they are good kids, they are fun to be around and they are unselfish players. They play like they like each other. We don't have guys that are into the game just for them. I believe we have some good athletes and big bodies. If a ball goes up on the rim, we may have four to five guys who will go after it, which is something we have not had consistently. There are some things that really excite me about this group. I don't know how tough we are yet, but I think we can get there. From a natural-talent standpoint, we have some nice players and there is no doubt about that."
On recruitment and role of Xavier Henry:
"He is a natural scorer. He will go through some times where he is really, really good and he will go through times where he is not as good, because he is still trying to figure everything out. He has never played with other good players. He has always been the guy to take the shot. He has been a volume shooter, which means he takes a lot of shots to get the points, whereas in college, you need to be efficient. But, he is really a talented scorer and really has a knack for getting the ball in the basket. I think expectations would be high for Xavier no matter where he went to school. I don't think it has anything to do with him being at Kansas. If anything, we tried to sell him all along with the idea that him with the guys we have returning, there would be less pressure on him and defenses wouldn't be designed to go after him."
On being preaseason ranked No. 1:
"I think, without any hesitation, I like it. It hasn't been the greatest three weeks because one reason we have gotten a lot of press lately is because we are preseason ranked pretty high. I do think the advantage far outweighs the negative. The thing I like about it is obviously you are not going to be ranked high unless you have good guys. Now, where or not we play to that ranking remains to be seen, but I do think the target is good. I think what it does is forces you to be more battle-tested. I think we could be an opponent that is circled for everybody. We are going to get everybody's best shot because in March all it takes is one stubbed toe and you're done. So just to be forced to play under duress, so to speak, is really healthy for a ball club if you have aspirations to play for the highest stakes."
On style of play of Sherron Collins this season:
"If Sherron scores as many points as he scored last year, then I don't see him being as near as effective of a guard as I had hoped. At the next level for him, he is not going be judged on whether or not he can get his own shots as much as if he can make the other guys on the court better. He has some guys this year that hopefully he can distribute to and have confidence in and who are maybe a little bit more proven from a scoring standpoint. Now, I still want him to look to shoot. I want him to at the end of clock, get the ball in his hands and let him go. We will give him a ton of freedom, but I do not think he will feel the pressure that he needs to make the shots for us to have good possessions, which I think will make our whole team better."
On improvement and role of Cole Aldrich:
"Well the key to our team is Cole and Sherron being as good as or better than they were last year. Cole's lower-body strength has gotten a lot better. Hopefully, with [Jeff] Withey back there and a few other guys, he won't be forced to guard the other team's best big guy at all times, especially when he has a foul situation. I do think Cole could be improved, but he amazed me at the level he played last year and he continues to get better each and every week. If he continues to do that, he could go down as one of the better big men to play here, ever, not just in recent memory."
On talk of winning another national championship:
"It has been mentioned. We have talked about it with Cole and Sherron. They have a chance to leave their mark on this place in a way that few have. I guess you go back to the 1922-1923 years when guys were able to string together back-to-back titles. Of course, these guys can't do that, but to think you may be in the game to put two or three up there, that is pretty special. But here we are talking about putting two out of three up there and we have not even played our first game. I think it is ridiculous. Our goal would be to win every game, go undefeated at home, win the league or win three two-game tournaments in March; those would be goals, but we don't talk about that, we only talk about getting better everyday. If we can get better everyday, then maybe we could put ourselves in a position to play for high stakes."
On relationship between veterans and variety of newcomers:
"When we were fortunate enough to win it in 2008, the foundation of our team was our old guys, but our most talented guys were the young guys. I think this is a little bit unique in that our most talented guys are our old guys. There should be no hesitation on anyone to know who to look to. Xavier [Henry], Elijah [Johnson], C.J. [Henry], they are all going to look to Cole and Sherron as leaders. I think that is positive because it puts less pressure on the young guys to deliver, but we do have a nice collection of new guys. I do think these guys all have bright futures here. Not all five are going to be stars here as freshmen because we have too many other guys. But in this group, I think we have some Darnells [Jackson] and Saschas [Kaun] and Russells [Robinson] that will be great program guys."
On the new practice facility and new Allen Fieldhouse renovations:
"It is the best I have been in. With the practice facility, we have a court and a half, which is perfect. We have seven usable goals during practice. It is just off the locker room and just outside my office. I thought it was going to be nice, and it is a lot nicer than I thought it would be. The whole facility is really just a first-class deal. We have absolutely no excuse if we are not able to attract and train our guys in the best way possible because we certainly have all the resources from a facility standpoint that we will ever need."
On importance of Late Night:
"To me, it is an important night for us because we gear a lot of what we do around tomorrow night. I think it is really important that we have a festive atmosphere and a full house. I think it is something our kids really, really look forward to. It is one of the highlights of the year for us. I also think it is a great opportunity for fans who maybe cannot come see us play during the regular season because of the scarcity of tickets. So, to have a chance to see the guys first-hand is great. I think tomorrow night is especially nice because it is the 25th anniversary of Late Night in the Phog and they will bring out a lot of the old stuff that a lot of people have seen and enjoyed in the past. It is also a great opportunity for people to see the building for the first time. It is important for us to really sell it and be motivated. I know it would be a let down if it wasn't a special night because this is something the players talked about and look forward to basically since we returned home from Indianapolis."
Sophomore forward Markieff Morris
On his twin connection:
"It is hard to explain our twin vibe. I would say the main thing is that, I know a lot of things that he is going to do before he does them."
On the most improved player:
"I would say my brother, Marcus Morris, is the most improved player this season. Even though we both worked hard in the off-season, he had to work a little bit harder than me because he is trying to change his position to guard."
On how he improved in the off-season:
"This season, I know what to do and what not to do and I got a lot stronger. Last season, I weighed 212 pounds and now I weigh 243 pounds. As soon as the season was over I got in the weight room. I took one week off and then my brother and I went to the weight room together everyday to get better and stronger. I have never worked that hard before, if I had been tougher and stronger last year we would have gone farther as a team."
Junior guard Tyrel Reed
On being number one:
We are number one right now, but that has no meaning to us because we haven't even played a game yet. We are looking forward to getting better each and everyday. Once the season comes, I think we will show our ranking.
On Sherron Collin's leadership:
Sherron Collins is a senior. He shows us the way and has been a big leader. Cole Aldrich and Sherron have done a great job of leading us in the past. This year, he has a great group of guys around him and hopefully we can all help him out.
Sophomore guard Travis Releford
On a starting position:
It is a toss up as of right now. No one knows who is going to be playing, but I think my chances are good.
On working hard every time:
I am going to do all the little things that Coach Bill Self asks and work hard every time I step out on the court.
Senior guard Sherron Collins
On what he wants to get done, starting at Late Night:
"I just say, it starts now. Everything is a sense of urgency, we have a bulls eye on our back, and we can get caught up in the hype. The first couple games, the ones you're suppose to win, it's easy to get too high on ourselves. We beat a team by thirty that we we're supposed to beat by twenty and we think, ok we're No. 1 in the country, and we get too high. My message is to take everything seriously, don't take anything for granted, and we have to work everyday to make each other better."
On the issues the team has dealt with off the court in preseason:
"I don't think it is a challenge. It is just something that happened, but we put it behind us and we're moving forward and that is something we just have to continue to do. We cannot harp on little things or let a situation get bigger than it actually is. With that being said, we get along with the football team, we get along with everybody, and we're just looking to move forward."
On dealing with the preseason hype from the press and being ranked No. 1:
"I think it's more difficult for the young boys on the team. For me, I've been here for a while so I know it really doesn't mean anything. It is the beginning of the season and anything can happen within the span of a month, so I don't get into it all. I knew we were going to be preseason No. 1. Everyone in my family pays attention to that kind of stuff and they're going to let me know, but I try not to get too much into it."
RS-freshman guard C.J. Henry:
On whether or not it feels right being at KU now:
"It feels good, and it feels like the right time because I get to play a season with my brother. We get to have fun with the team and we couldn't ask for more. We're preseason No. 1 and we have got a great group of guys."
On the experience of coming from minor league baseball to KU:
"It has been a rollercoaster. Different things happen at different times for certain reasons. It seems like it came together so that my brother and I could play at the same school, and play a game we both love at the same place my parents played. It has been fun."
On how long it will take for him to get back to the player he was as senior in high school:
"It is going to take some time, so I expect that player to be out there tomorrow night. I have had an injury or two, but I am healthy now. It is all about just getting back into the rhythm, the swing of things, the speed, and the tempo of the game and the tempo that my teammates play. I should be able to shine and we can shine together as a team."
Freshman forward Thomas Robinson
On the biggest adjustment coming from high school:
"The biggest adjustment has been being away from my mother, and also my family and little sister and not getting to see them everyday."
On living in such close proximity to the White House:
"I grew up in southeast Washington D.C. so I was about fifteen minutes from the White House. I have never actually been there for a tour or anything though. It's kind of shocking. I would love to go, though. Meeting the President would be amazing, especially if we got invited after April"
On finally getting to put on a uniform after all the hype as a recruit:
"It is very nice. Now all the hype and the writing doesn't matter anymore. It is time to play, and that is what I am here for. I'm ready."
Junior center Cole Aldrich
On C.J. Henry:
"C.J. has been through a lot, you can tell. He is older than all the other guys, but you can tell that he is very mature - he just knows how to help a team win. He has a great game."
On being named Blue Ribbon preseason player of the year:
"It is a great honor; I was very shocked when I heard it. Of all the really good players in the country, I was the one they chose, so I was really honored. I can probably name 30 other guys in the country that I think are better than me and who are definitely deserving of the award."
On how he feels being on the preseason No. 1 team:
"It is exciting but it is one of those things where you cannot really get too excited. Hopefully we are number one at the end of the year - that is what I'd be more excited about. We want to walk off the court in Indianapolis being the last team. I'd be ecstatic about that. There are a lot of ways for us to go. As a team, you have to get better every day and continue to get better - if you do, then you can put yourself in a position to win big games."
Senior guard Brady Morningstar
On any bright spots coming from his arrest:
"I don't know if there is a bright spot. You live and you learn. I have had a week or so to think about it, and it is time to move forward. The season is starting, and everyone is excited about that. It is kind of like a bad dream and it is just unfortunate. I made a tough mistake; something that nobody should ever do. I'll learn from it, I'm positive of that."
On if he believes he gets put on a higher pedestal for being a basketball player at KU:
"That is what we know when we get recruited here. We come here because of all the national media. It does not matter if you do something good or something bad; it is going to be in the paper. You just have to learn from it, and try to make a positive out of it."
On how his arrest has affected him personally:
"It is a humbling experience. You just realize how many people you affect when you screw up - the University, the town, everyone who is important to you. It affects them, so that is why you feel so terrible about it. I am trying to put it in the past and learn from it. Just getting ready for the season to start, and helping everybody out. I think we have a good chance of being pretty darn good this year. I'm excited about that."
Sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor
On the feeling he gets stepping on the court in Allen Fieldhouse:
"Yeah, when I walked out here a little while ago for pictures, I was amazed. It has been so long since we have been in here because of all the remodeling. Just coming in here and seeing the lights and the arena, it feels great, I love this place. I'm so excited for the season."
"This is going to be Sherron's fourth year, so he has put in a lot of work. He played terrific last year. I think with those guys coming back, it makes us such a better team. With the guys we have around them, Marcus (Morris), myself, Mario (Little), Jeff Withey. With guys like that I think we're going to be great."
On where he is today as a player, as opposed to last year:
"I think I'm a little more mature. I think I am a more all-around player. I think before I came here, I was athletic, but I couldn't shoot too much. I think now I can handle the ball better. I am more of a point guard. I think I can shoot the ball better and I think I am more of a vocal leader on the court. I am excited to see how the season is going to play out."
On the competition on the team for minutes, and opportunities to start:
"There are a lot of guys on the team, guys that can play, that can probably start on a lot of other teams. It is going to be a dog fight everyday; we have got eight guys playing for two or three positions. I think that is what is going to make us so good, we are always going to be competing. There is not going to be any days off at practice. Guys have to fight for their minutes."
Senior guard Mario Little
On the expectations of being preseason number one:
"We take it one day at a time. Of course we all think about it, but we just have to work hard every day in practice because it won't happen if we do not work in practice, no matter if we're preseason number one or 30. We just try to stay grounded."
On the team's depth at each position:
"It's deep. That's why everyone must go hard in practice every day and get better to try to bring another championship here."
On boot camp success:
"It was successful. Coach said it was the hardest boot camp that he had ever done since he's been here. It was tough, but we got through it as a team and kept at it each and every day."
Sophomore forward Marcus Morris
On the competition in the front-court:
"Nobody has a spot that is locked. Everyday in practice is going to be a competition of who wants it more and who wants to start and who wants playing time. We are just going to have to buy into what Coach Self is saying and he will play who he wants to play."
"Those two guys are our leaders. We were kind of riding on their backs last year. We just added a couple more pieces with Xavier (Henry) and the other freshmen. I think we're going to have a great year and I think Sherron and Cole are just icing on the cake."
On having one more season under his belt:
"I feel a lot better actually. Last year I didn't know anything coming in and it was so hard being a freshman. The best thing I got (out of it), was buying into what Coach Self was saying and that has made me into a better player now. Everyday I have to work on something else in my game that I am not really good at, so I think I have come along way, but I've still got a lot of stuff to work on."
Freshman guard Xavier Henry
On playing for a team with a lot of veteran talent:
"It's going to be better for me and better for them. I'm not going to be pressured to score a whole bunch of points. I am just here to fit in and help when I can. When I come in the game I'm going to do what they need me to do. I don't have to come in scoring 20, 25 points every night."
On national championship talk and other far-away goals:
"I take everything day-by-day because I know I'm just a freshman. I have to learn new things every day if I want to keep up with the team. I don't even look to national championships or anything like that, I just go day-by-day."
On being reunited on the court with his brother, C.J.:
"It really is surreal. You would never think that it could happen. So many things in our lives happened. Baseball came and that set us apart for a while, but now, as it turns out, baseball helped the basketball thing to put us together again. In life that's just how things go sometimes."