It’s not unusual for college basketball teams to take a summer tour to a foreign country. What will be different for the Kansas Jayhawks over the next month is the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2015 World University Games.
The journey to Gwangju, South Korea begins Tuesday night in Kansas City, Mo., where the Jayhawks will meet Team Canada in the first of two exhibition games at the Sprint Center in preparation for the Games. After the second exhibition with Canada on Friday, coach Bill Self and his team will depart Sunday for Gwangju, site of the July 3-14 World University Games.
This is just the second time a college team has been selected to compete in the World University Games. Northern Iowa represented USA in 2007 and finished ninth in Bangkok, Thailand. Since the Games began in 1965, the USA men’s basketball team has won 13 gold medals, but the last one came in 2005.
“It is a unique opportunity,” Self said when the Jayhawks were selected a year ago to represent the country. “I can’t see anything but positives.”
The Jayhawks returned to Lawrence earlier this month and held their first World University Games practice on June 8, a two-hour workout that was just the beginning of the bonus time that Self will have with his team this summer.
The excitement for the players seemed to peak Monday when KU and adidas revealed the Jayhawks’ uniforms for the Games.
The red, white and blue theme was easily adapted from KU’s colors. The hybrid jerseys and shorts feature the traditional Kansas lettering across the chest with the USA Gwangju 2015 emblem on one shoulder and the adidas logo on the other. Stars and stripes are featured – even on the socks the Jayhawks will wear. The seven Jayhawks that won the gold medal at the 1952 Olympics are honored with stars sublimated on the back of the jersey.
The Jayhawks have had a lot of time to think since their humbling loss to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March. Now the wait to get back to business doesn’t seem so long.
“We actually are kind of excited to get back on our feet, to get a chance to get out and play some games,” senior forward Jamari Traylor told the Lawrence Journal-World Monday. “We exited the year pretty prematurely to me. This is something good, something positive to us.”
Kansas will be without guard Brannen Greene, a deadly three-point threat who emerged as an offensive force for the Jayhawks last season. Greene had surgery in April to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He is expected to miss about five months total.
Self thought his 12-man roster was set in May when he added SMU senior point guard Nic Moore, the player of the year in the American Athletic Conference. But last week KU sophomore point guard Devonte Graham partially tore a quad tendon above his knee. Self had to go searching for another guard.
Former KU assistant Joe Dooley helped the cause by offering Julian DeBose, a senior combo guard from his Florida Gulf Coast team. DeBose, who averaged 11.9 points and 3.9 rebounds last season, joined practice in Lawrence on June 20.
“He’s a 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard who has been playing for Joe so he understands at least in theory what we are trying to do both offensively and defensively,” Self told the Journal-World. “[Dooley] wanted us to take him all along. We decided to take our guys plus Nic. Then when Devonte got hurt we obviously needed to add somebody.”
Newcomers Carlton Bragg, a power forward and McDonald’s All-American, and Lagerald Vick, a guard with outstanding shooting range, will get their first taste of game experience under Self. That should be beneficial as the Jayhawks get this extra preparation time for a season when they could challenge for a national championship again.
KU lost freshmen Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Cliff Alexander to the NBA Draft (to be held Thursday night), but Self has a solid nucleus returning with Perry Ellis, Frank Mason III, Traylor, Wayne Selden, Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson, Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Graham. Svi Mykhailiuk, the sophomore who just turned 18, is from the Ukraine and cannot compete for KU in the Games.
The player who needs this trip the most might be Ellis, the 6-8 senior forward from Wichita. Ellis has shrugged off the enticement of the pros, opting instead to be a classic, old-school four-year player who improves with each season. Last season Ellis led the Jayhawks in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.9).
Kansas fans will notice a different look for Ellis, who has grown a beard. And they will be comforted by the news that he has fully recovered from the sprained knee that limited him the final six games of the 2014-15 season. He has been working hard to improve his ball-handling skills and to extend his shooting range.
Ellis told reporters he wants to make his final season special.
“I think he’s ready to have a breakout type year, a player-of-the-year-type year,” Self told the Journal-World.
The Jayhawks begin their adjustment to FIBA rules during the two exhibition games at the Sprint Center. The games will be played with four, 10-minute quarters and a 24-second clock, giving Self the chance to speed up play before the change to a 30-second clock in NCAA play next season. Another difference is the ability to grab the ball on the rim.
That’s fine with Traylor.
“I’ve been trying to knock it off the rim and pretty much dunk everything I can if I get a chance,” he told reporters.
Team Canada finished fourth in the 2013 World University Games. Canada arrived in Lawrence June 19. Canada, led by point guard Jahmal Jones and shooting guard Aaron Baker, has good size. University of Alberta coach Barnaby Craddock told reporters Monday he has followed KU basketball “since Danny Manning was doing his thing back in the day” and said it was honor to play the Jayhawks – even if the games are in Kansas City.
“We’d love to have been here in ‘The Phog’ as well, but it’s a little hot here in the summer [without air conditioning],” Craddock said with a smile.