LAWRENCE — It’s tough to argue with the results to this point for Kansas basketball, still perfect on the season with a pair of top-10 victories to boot.
When the cameras are off and the bright lights are dimmed to more of a practice-appropriate level, though, Bill Self has been less than pleased with what he's seen from his No. 2-ranked squad.
“We may not ever get to where we want them to be (in practices),” Self said Thursday ahead of the Jayhawks’ 4:30 p.m. Saturday contest against Stanford at Allen Fieldhouse. “I don’t know that every team (has good practices) consistently, but I don’t think this has been a very good practice team, especially of late.”
That was certainly the case Tuesday, when the Jayhawks (5-0) held an afternoon practice so off the mark that Self made the executive decision to reconvene the team at 8 p.m. for a second session. It’s a problem that didn’t exist in the preseason and one Self didn’t expect to crop up until it developed over the last two weeks, but of late, the passion, energy and focus haven’t come close to the level “that good teams have,” he said.
It’s notable, though, that Self didn’t criticize the team’s effort level at practices. Asked a follow-up question, he elaborated on that omission.
“Last week, I thought that was the problem. This week I don’t think it is. We’ve had some guys step up,” Self said. “The thing about it is with athletics, you can try hard and still look like crap. There’s definitely a difference between competing and trying hard. Anybody can try hard. You get a ribbon for that. But that’s the baseline. Competing is focus and concentration and listening. There’s a lot of other intangibles that go with competing and I don’t think we’ve been very good at that in practice of late.”
One of just three players on the current roster that have at least three years of experience at KU, junior forward Mitch Lightfoot speculated a lack of experience, particularly at the guard position, may be behind this team’s recent substandard practices — “We’ve got to figure out we’ve got to bring it every day to get the most out of this year,” he said.
The voice of All-American Devonte’ Graham has also been missed, Lightfoot acknowledged.
“I feel like we have to figure out where that (voice) is going to come from for us,” Lightfoot said. “Sometimes you can feel a practice slipping a little bit and you’ve got to step in there and make sure everyone understands that we’ve got to bounce back.”
Still, on game days, the Jayhawks have delivered.
Self pointed out KU’s most recent contest — an 87-81 overtime victory over then-No. 5 Tennessee last Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. — came despite a one-day scout period and just 30 minutes of practice.
“That’s about as good as carrying out the defensive game plan as we can possibly do,” Self said. “I know we got it in us. I just don’t think the focus has been quite as good as what it should be.”
That said, Tuesday's second practice may have been a moment the team can build upon.
“We were intense and brought that energy,” Lightfoot said. “It wasn’t a boot camp, but it had the energy of boot camp. Everybody there was turned up. We were playing hard. It felt good to get out there again. We definitely needed it.”
NO DE SOUSA NEWS — Self had no update on the status of Silvio De Sousa, withheld indefinitely as the NCAA conducts an eligibility review. He did, however, say the sophomore forward’s attitude has been “terrific” and that he’s remained engaged despite not playing.
“He has stayed positive and he is working his tail off,” Self said, “and he is doing it while playing on the second unit.”
De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, was alleged in testimony at a recent trial in the federal government’s probe into college basketball corruption to have taken illicit payments from both a Maryland booster and a former Adidas consultant during De Sousa’s recruitment process.