Bill Self nursing a cracked tibia as KU Jayhawks hold first practice of 2022-23 season

Gary Bedore/gbedore@kcstar.com

Kansas’ men’s basketball team has officially taken the court in defense of its 2022 national title. The Jayhawks held their first practice of the season in accordance with NCAA rules Monday afternoon.

“The guys have done real well so far. We’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of positivity, a lot of talking (communicating),” 20th-year KU coach Bill Self said Monday night. “Guys seem to be sharing the ball, want to learn, are being sponges. Early indications are it’s a good start.”

The Jayhawks opened preseason practice Monday with two players sidelined with minor injuries and a head coach also recovering from an injury.

Sophomore point guard Bobby Pettiford (hamstring) and senior forward Cam Martin (abdominal strain) should be able to practice by mid-week, Self said.

Meanwhile, Self was leaning on a single crutch at Monday’s practice in response to a cracked tibia in his left leg.

“It’s your big bone in your lower leg. It cracked right under my knee, all the way up in my knee. I’ve been gimping around on that,” Self said, noting he does not need surgery.

“It will heal on its own. I’ll be fine. It’s an old injury that somehow reared its ugly head and cracked basically. It just happened to deteriorate enough to crack. I’ve had multiple surgeries on my knee. It gave out finally,” Self, a former starter at point guard during his college days at Oklahoma State, added.

Self explained: “I won’t miss any practice time. If it starts to hurt I sit down. In a couple weeks it’ll be as good as new.”

He likes what he’s seen of the 2022-23 Jayhawks since the start of summertime workouts, through Boot Camp conditioning, through the four hours of workouts per week allowed by the NCAA since the start of the school year on Aug. 22.

“Our most improved players without question are Zuby and Ernest,” he said of freshman bigs Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh. “The two most improved players of our returning guys who have taken a big jump are Juan (Harris, point guard) and J. Will (Jalen Wilson, small forward). They’ve both been tremendous.”

Of Harris, who ran the show at the point on KU’s title team, Self said; “He is an extension of the coach on the court. He’s gotten better, more confident. People don’t realize he was a freshman last year. He’s got three years left.

“To think J. Will is technically a sophomore, Juan a sophomore, Kevin (McCullar) a junior, KJ (Adams) a sophomore. Grady (Dick), MJ (Rice) and the two big guys are freshmen. Bobby is a sophomore. That’s a young group out there.”

McCullar is a 6-6, 210-pound shooting guard transfer from Texas Tech.

“Kevin in his own way is not a newcomer,” Self said. “He’s been around it so much. Defensively he’s really advanced. We have five newcomers. They’ll struggle early while they are trying to figure stuff out.”

In discussing what the team needs to work on the first few weeks, Self said: “I think bigs scoring consistently would obviously be something we’ll talk about all the time. Whether we shoot consistently well enough beyond the arc we’ll talk about all the time. Potentially we can do that.

“The biggest thing is very simple things being sound, taking care of the basketball, making sure we get a shot each possession, making it hard for the other team to score without breaking down late in the clock. There are a lot of things we can get better at. From a potential standpoint, we’ve got a chance. We’ve got to be able to pass and catch and not turn it over.”

He indicated it should be a competitive start to the season.

“We’ve got a lot of guys fighting for minutes. There’s been some separation, not near enough. I do think it should be very competitive,” Self said.

He said he’s ready for the marathon hoops season to begin.

“It’s great to be out there. There’s positive energy with the football program, all the success they’ve had. It feeds into other sports too,” Self added of the Jayhawks, who will take a 4-0 record into Saturday’s home game against Iowa State.