Photo by Nick Krug
Last week’s first look at the 2021-22 Kansas Men’s Basketball Team revealed a roster of athletes who aren’t afraid to go out and go.
“We have guys who can run – from guards to big guys – and I think that was strategic,” newcomer Jalen Coleman-Lands said after last week’s scrum at Late Night in the Phog. “It will be our style of play for this coming year.”
That was one of the main takeaways from the melee, which almost always feels more like a recess pickup match than what you’ll see of the Jayhawks against the Big 12 enemies over the course of the season.
But KU’s improved roster and increased team speed are a big reason the Jayhawks are likely to enter the coming season ranked in the nation’s top 3.
Kansas coach Bill Self has spoken of getting faster, stronger and more athletic in the wake of last season’s resounding loss to USC in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And his work on the hiring trail in the months that followed made it a reality.
“You can’t say anything from here tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the recent scrum. “But, yeah, we’re pretty athletic, fast. We play faster. We have more guys who can push it. Even our veterans are growing better than last year.
This was evident in the way senior Ochai Agbaji, junior Christian Braun and sophomore Jalen Wilson ran across the field and sought to pick up the pace as much as possible during the scrum. All three players played an important role in last season’s squad and each starts the season ahead with a greater sense of ownership in what’s going on with this team.
Their desire to run and attack seems to be as much about keeping up with newcomers and adapting to the expected style of KU as it is about any major plan to improve their individual games.
“All the little guards we have can go up and down,” Agbaji said. “Defensively, by picking up all the pitch, they can do stuff like that – good things that we haven’t seen in a few years.”
Returning point guard Dajuan Harris Jr., Drake transfers Joseph Yesufu and Arizona State transfers Remy Martin to the top of the list of “little guards” Agbaji referred to. But first year Bobby Pettiford is also in the mix. All three should bring traits to this year’s squad that weren’t present a season ago.
“Having this type of guy on the team just raises the bar for everyone,” said Coleman-Lands.
The biggest key to capitalizing on their tenacious and quick skills is the ability to find ways to attack – from both sides – while still staying in the KU system.
“Playing fast doesn’t necessarily mean shooting fast,” Self said. “But I think we’re going to be a team that can certainly have some really good ball and body movements by the time we can play in games, at least I’m hopeful for that. It wasn’t the ball tonight, but we did a really good job in the first two practices.