It’s easy to forget, in the hindsight of Kansas’ run to the 2012 title game, that the Jayhawks were in dire straits at the beginning of last season. Bill Self had learned in October that prize recruit Ben McLemore and likely backup forward Jamari Traylor were partial qualifiers, and therefore ineligible to take the floor for Kansas in 2011-12. The loss of Traylor left the frontcourt behind Thomas Robinson dangerously thin, and the ruling on McLemore likely robbed Self of a starting small forward.
Often, partial qualifiers will bolt rather than sit. McLemore and Traylor stayed put. They witnessed a historic season, learned a lot, and are ready to step up for the storied program this year.
Self did his usual masterful job of backhanded praise – a motivational technique the Kansas coach uses to great effect each season. Discussing McLemore, Self told ESPN’s Andy Katz “He’s good,” then followed the compliment up with “he doesn’t know how to plug himself into the game yet.”
Self elaborated. “We had a scrimmage the other day. We’re practicing to go to Europe. We had some possessions and it was like the 50th possession before he took his first shot. He doesn’t know how to plug himself in and he’s so unselfish, but he’s a Brandon Rush type. He’s a guy who could be a tremendous player for us and hopefully an all-league performer really early in his career.”
The hot-and-cold act is just Self’s way of telling McLemore “This is how good you can be, but you ain’t there yet, kid. Work harder.” The bottom line is that Self sees talented scorers saunter through Lawrence every single season. But every last one of them has to learn to become a hard-nosed defender before he sees serious court time.
The verdict? Self put it out there in the same interview, telling Katz “I think he’ll be the best defender we’ve ever had.”
No pressure, kid.
(photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics)