(TNS) — Admittedly a bit spoiled after coaching 2017 and ’18 Big 12 players of the year Frank Mason and Devonté Graham the past two seasons, Bill Self is willing to wait a while for his freshman guard tandem of Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson to click.
“It’s been a little inconsistent. Our guys are not comfortable with anything other than survival right now,” Self, Kansas’ 16th-year coach, said in an interview with NCAA.com’s Andy Katz prior to Tuesday’s season-opening 92-87 victory over Michigan State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“Forget about a guard knowing what everybody should be doing every possession. To them it’s ’I’ve got to worry about myself.’ We’re about a month away from those guys really maturing and developing into what I consider a big-time backcourt,” Self said.
The two freshmen, who combined for 14 points, six assists and three turnovers in a pair of exhibition wins over Emporia State and Washburn, took giant steps forward under ESPN’s bright lights on Tuesday night.
Grimes scored 21 points with four assists against one turnover, while Dotson had 16 points, three assists and four turnovers versus the No. 10-ranked Spartans. The duo hit nine three-pointers in 15 tries.
“This is the first time we’ve seen him (Grimes) play like this. The first time we’ve seen Q and Devon play like this,” Self said. “The excitement of the game had them sped up a bit. It’s a good problem to have.”
Dotson, a 6-2 freshman from Charlotte, N.C., made three three-pointers in five attempts against Michigan State after missing his only three-point try in the two exhibitions.
“I wasn’t surprised (at hitting threes Tuesday),” Dotson said, “because of the amount of work I put into my jump shot. I put up shots every day. I wasn’t surprised at all. They fell tonight. Really I’m just happy we got the win.”
Of Dotson, Self said after the victory: “When he gets downhill, he’s fast. Tonight he shot it well. Sometimes he reminds me of Frank (Mason) when he was young, with (more) speed,” Self said of Dotson.
Grimes hit six of 10 threes vs. Michigan State after making two of seven in the preseason.
“That’s what he does. He can get hot. We see it at practice,” Dotson said of Grimes, a 6-5 native of The Woodlands, Texas.
“I was coming off ball screens. My teammates were finding me every time,” Grimes said..
KU’s two other contenders for the starting guard slots — sophomores Charlie Moore and Marcus Garrett — combined for five points on 1-of-4 shooting in 25 minutes.
Garrett had two assists against no turnovers in 14 minutes; Moore one point, zero assists and zero turnovers in 11 minutes.
“Dedric has been our best leader verbally,” Self said of junior transfer Dedric Lawson, who scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds versus MSU in his official KU debut. “Lagerald is quiet,” Self added of senior Lagerald Vick, who opened the season by scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“Our two guards … it would be nice if they were able to do that,” Self added of Grimes and Dotson speaking up more. “Right now that’s probably one of the biggest weaknesses of our team, those guys getting outside their comfort zone and being good talkers and really being a great leader because you can lead by example, but also need some take-charge guys on the court.”
Dotson said it’s been fun adjusting to the college game with fellow McDonald’s All-American Grimes.
“It’s great. Just knowing me and him coming in both as freshmen, we’re going through the same stuff, so, we’re just getting through it. It’s fun,” Dotson said.
Dotson added that his goal is “to be an extension of the coach. As a point guard you’ve got to be a leader and got to know everything that’s going on the court. If the game needs to be slowed down, you need to slow it down. (If it needs to be) sped up, you’ve got to speed it up, so just have to be an extension of the coach,” Dotson added.
Dotson’s speed is considered one of his strengths.
“That is what coach says, put pressure on the defense,” Dotson said of advancing the basketball quickly. “That’s what I like to do. I can definitely improve on different things out there.”
All in all, Self was pleased with the opener despite the fact KU saw a 17-point second-half lead dip to three late.
“It’s great to tip off the season this way,” he said of attaining a Champions Classic victory. No. 1-rated KU is now 4-4 all-time at the event and 1-2 versus MSU. “They will be good. I can’t get over how fast they go from defense to offense. They’ll be the best we go against all year with that. We gave up too many easy baskets in transition.”
KU figures to keep the No. 1 ranking next week despite the fact No. 4 Duke blasted No. 2 Kentucky, 118-84, in the second game of the Champions Classic doubleheader.
“The preseason No. 1 ranking, I get a kick out of that,” Self said. “I don’t think we deserve that at all. I don’t know who does. Is preseason No. 1 where you start the season or where they project you’ll be when the season is over? For us to play to that ranking will take some time. That’s what it’s about. It’s all about trying to get the team to grow over the course of a season. This is as good a schedule as we’ve played in a decade or so.”
KU will next meet Vermont at 8 p.m., Monday, at Allen Fieldhouse.