LAWRENCE — Kansas basketball coach Bill Self celebrated his 56th birthday almost exclusively in the gym on Thursday.
The Jayhawks (10-1), who were awarded three days off after Saturday’s loss at Arizona State, practiced at 7 a.m. and were scheduled to go again at 6 p.m.
During four of the hours in between, the players and coaches held a holiday clinic for 530 youths at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’m going to spend some time with Doke,” Self said with a smile when asked if he was going to enjoy a birthday dinner with his family Thursday night.
Self was referring to junior center Udoka Azubuike, who has missed the past four games (three victories) because of a severely sprained right ankle suffered four minutes into a victory over Wofford on Dec. 4 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Azubuike participated in the team’s first post-break practice Wednesday night and again Thursday morning leading into the Thursday night session.
“He was better this morning, but full go? I mean he’s out there, but he’s probably 60 or 70 percent still,” Self said. “I don’t think he trusts it, (ankle) and I don’t think he’s quite ready to play in a game yet. Hopefully in the next week or so, that’ll be the case. I’m hopeful he can play Saturday, but if he does I don’t think he’ll be 100 percent.”
KU will meet Eastern Michigan (6-6) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’d like for him to get out there just because he needs rhythm,” Self said. “And, going to go against Eastern Michigan, they can play probably about as big as anybody we’ve played so far, so it’d be nice to have another body out there. But it’d be nice just for him to get some reps going into conference play even if they are limited.”
KU will open Big 12 play against Oklahoma at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Self said the recent two-a-day practices “didn’t have anything to do with” his perhaps being upset after KU lost to the Sun Devils, 80-76.
“I do think there are some reasons why after watching the tape we didn’t perform well in the last five minutes or so,” Self said. KU led by 12 points late in the first half, eight points at halftime and seven with 4 1/2 minutes remaining at Arizona State.
“Hopefully those things are correctable. We’ve actually gone pretty long this morning. We’ll go again tonight. We went last night. We would have had three good practices (after Thursday night) since we’ve been back but doesn’t have anything to do with being mad, it has more to do with we still have a lot of stuff we need to improve on.”
“I don’t think we know where we are going to score, how we’re going to score. I think we still run offense without a game plan, knowing exactly where the shots are coming from,” Self said. “I think a lot of that is new guys. We’ve got to improve in that area. A lot of it is not having Doke out there too. Defensively we guard well in stretches, then we have mental lapses especially in late clock situations we have to get better at.”
Larry Brown update
Former KU coach Larry Brown, 78, is leaving Italian League basketball team Fiat Torino by mutual agreement, the team has announced.
Brown has led the squad to a 5-19 record. According to ESPN, he was booed at home following Wednesday’s loss to Sidigas Avellino.
Self, who worked as a graduate student on Brown’s 1985-86 KU coaching staff and has remained friends for many years, had not heard of Brown’s status with the Torino team as of Thursday afternoon.
“I have no idea. I know absolutely nothing about that league or the team or anything like that,” Self said. “I know Coach loves coaching. I’ll say this without knowing anything, I’m sure Coach was probably trying to implement his own philosophy, which isn’t easy on players unless they’ve probably been used to having somebody tell them repeatedly, ‘Not good enough, lets do it again; not good enough let’s do it again,’’’ Self added with a smile.
A reporter suggested to Self this could be Brown’s final job. “I guess it could be but we said that two years ago (when he left SMU in July 2016),” Self said. “He’ll find some way to put his handprint on some situation.”