No. 20 Kansas opened Big 12 play with a 90-83 win at Oklahoma on Wednesday night, with Wayne Selden scoring 24 points and Perry Ellis adding 22 and 11 rebounds to lead the way. The game represented a “new beginning” of sorts for Bill Self’s young team, with their non-conference schedule now complete and the goal of winning a tenth consecutive Big 12 regular season title ahead of them.
But even with the move forward into conference play the Jayhawks aren’t where Self wanted them to be at this point in time, and their youth has a lot to do with that.
Not lacking for talent, with players such as the aforementioned Ellis and Selden, as well as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid (just to name part of the rotation) having key roles, the intangibles that elite teams possess have been an issue for the Jayhawks. And whether it’s the expectations or the mere fact that they aren’t the most experienced group, the Jayhawks haven’t played with the energy Self hoped for with the head coach saying as much in a story written by Eric Prisbell of USA Today.
“It has been a little frustrating,” Self told USA TODAY Sports near the locker room after the game. “Not because I have not enjoyed coaching them, but because I don’t think they play with the zest and the energy and the youthful exuberance that I think 18 year olds should play with … That has been frustrating for me, but they are great kids.”
While a number of the players on the roster dealt with high expectations as high school players, in most cases the amount of attention received then is nowhere near what it is now that they’re in college. The obvious exception to this would be Wiggins, who more than a few pundits wrote in as the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before he’d practiced at Kansas.
And there’s also the question of who will grab the reins and lead the way, with point guard Naadir Tharpe being a clear option. But the process of finding leaders can be a difficult one for young teams, with some players looking to avoid stepping on toes and upsetting their friends. That can lead to the maturation process taking longer than expected, because at a certain point the strongest leader on the court has to be someone other than the head coach; he can’t check into the game and play.
Self may have lamented the fact that his team isn’t playing with the energy he expected, but he also noted in the story that he’s confident they’ll figure things out in the rugged Big 12. And if that turns out to be the case, there’s little doubt that the Jayhawks can make a run at their first national title since 2008.