LAWRENCE — Adversity, Bill Self contends, is not just an inevitable experience for every college basketball program, but it’s also a necessary ingredient to a successful season.
Don’t get the Kansas coach wrong, though — it’s an medicine he prefers to take in moderation.
“I think having to go through some crap, that’s what every coach wants with his team,” Self said Friday. “You just don’t want to go through too much.”
The Jayhawks (10-1) experienced their first adversity of the season, at least in terms of win-loss record, with last Saturday’s 80-76 setback at Arizona State, a defeat that dropped KU from the top-ranked spot in the Associated Press poll to fifth. KU escaped deficit after deficit throughout its first 10 games of nonconference play but couldn’t protect a late lead against the Sun Devils.
With a 1 p.m. Saturday home contest against Eastern Michigan (6-6) on deck, the most intriguing storyline appears how this group will respond to its first failure.
“We make such a big deal of it, and I guess that’s rightfully so, but it’s not a big deal. This early in the season, it’s not a huge deal,” Self said of the team’s first defeat. “I think that we’ll bounce back fine. Probably too early to tell though, in some ways. We’re obviously going to lose again, and everybody in the country will as well.
“I think people on the outside think it’s a bad thing when that happens, when people on the inside know that’s part of the business. You never want to do it, but the reality of it is that happens, especially when you play away from home against quality opponents.”
The Jayhawks held a pair of practices and a youth clinic Thursday, and while Self acknowledged disappointment from his group at last weekend’s outcome, he added he doesn’t sense panic at this point. It’s far too premature, he indicated, for anyone to feel that way.
Regardless of how his group reacts to the setback, they’ve at least been receptive to feedback and instruction stemming from the loss to the Sun Devils, a contest in which the Jayhawks finished on a four-plus-minute field goal drought.
“I do think losses sometimes can get their attention, whereas what you’re emphasizing may be more prevalent during the following practice sessions,” Self said. “But for the most part, if you approach it right and you look at it right, when you do things not correctly and you get by with it, you should be just as hard on ’em with that, and sometimes much harder on ’em after a win than a loss. A loss, you’re already beat up from losing, so why pile on? But there are times where I I’d rather teach through winning.”
'GOOD CHANCE’ AZUBUIKE PLAYS — Sidelined junior center Udoka Azubuike (ankle sprain) has a “good chance” to return to the court against Eastern Michigan, Self said, though the 7-footer won’t be rushed into action before he’s ready.
Azubuike, who sustained the injury on a block attempt during a Dec. 4 contest against Wofford, offered an encouraging effort in the Jayhawks’ second practice Thursday.
“I thought (Thursday) was a positive sight,” Self said. “We went long (Thursday) and he was able to get through everything and hang in there even though he wasn’t near as explosive and I don’t think he trusts (the ankle) like he needs to trust it. But I’m optimistic we can get him out there in the next few days.”
Even if Azubuike plays against the frontcourt-heavy Eagles, he’s likely to be eased in. The goal, Self has said throughout the center’s recovery, is to get Azubuike up to full strength by the Big 12 opener, an 8 p.m. Wednesday home tilt with No. 25 Oklahoma.
Azubuike averaged 12.9 points on 68.3-percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds before his injury.
“I do think from a rhythm standpoint it’s going to take him a while,” Self said. “You know, it’s been 25 days, so I think it will take him a little bit of time to get that back.”