A Reoccurring Theme

Bill Self (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

When we questioned KU head coach Bill Self about how he would describe his team prior to the start of this season he hesitated and offered the following...

"I would say very, very, very, nice, athletic young kids that right now lack a little bit of dirty dog or killer instinct that I think all good teams have."

That opinion really hasn't changed much through 3 games.

Don't misunderstand Self, he's ecstatic about the quality kids on this Kansas team but right now he could use a little nastiness between the lines of Naismith Court.

Let's explain.

The call for - and get used to this word - aggressiveness came immediately after the first regular season game the Jayhawks played against Southeast Missouri State, a 74-55 KU victory.

It blows my mind that we are not an aggressive group," Self said after the game. "We are a passive group right now and we have to pick it up. I'll keep saying it and I'm not going to back off of it. We are going to play against real guys real soon and those guys that this piece of meat may be the last piece of meat on earth and they play like it."

Self was of course trying to get his players ready for a hungry Michigan State team. But during KU's first loss of season against the Spartans, Kansas at times, looked timid and unsure especially with the lead late in the game. Afterward KU's head Hawk voiced his concern again.

"We got a long ways to go with competing and understanding how to compete and being tougher mentally," said Self.

It feels like nearly every game Self is picking at least one player and challenging him to be more aggressive.

Thursday prior to a home game against Chattanooga, that player was Ben McLemore. After saying that McLemore lost his aggressiveness late against Michigan State, Self felt he needed to challenge his leading scorer. The talented frosh responded with a 25-point performance that contained plenty of highlight reel plays.

"I just wanted to get my teammates involved, too," said McLemore, who also grabbed 8 rebounds. "I just came in tonight with the mindset of being aggressive, like coach wants me to be every night."

But it wasn't quite the way coach wants it in the first half vs. the Mocs. Kansas showed how scary a lackluster half can be after being down 36-28 to Chattanooga in the first half with more turnovers (9) than field goals (8). Self wanted his team to take pride in its defense and not let someone go off within the confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse like Farad Cobb did (6-7 from three in the first half).

"One thing that I do know, we're not good enough to play 80 percent or 90 percent. We have to play 100 percent every night. When we do that, we're pretty good," said Self.

So when Self talks about guys being too nice he's not talking about holding doors for their classmates or saying thank you to everyone, he is begging for this group to get active, and be energetic. And believe me, they are hearing it constantly. In the second half KU responded on both fronts with lock-down D and fearless offense producing a 41-19 difference vs. the Mocs. Kansas got on a roll and brought the home crowd to its feet several times.

The player who seems to be closest to performing like Self wants is big man Jamari Traylor. Traylor is the closest to possessing that junkyard dog mentally and because of it he's gotten the nod for playing time over McDonald's All-American Perry Ellis at times.

"I thought Jamari was much more aggressive," Self explained after the Michigan State game. "Perry is going to be a good player but everything is a finesse deal right now and it's not his fault. It's a finesse deal and Michigan State was not the best team to be finesse against. I think going after balls and things like that he's hesitating instead of playing and he'll grow through that. He's young too. He's about as green as anybody."

For Perry, it's playing like a broken record in his head. 'Coach wants me to be more aggressive, be more aggressive...'

So now that we know what the reoccurring theme is echoing through the gym during Self's practices how does Kansas get more aggressive?

Self believes in the offense functioning from the inside-out. But without a serious threat in the post in the back-to-the-basket situation it may have to come from driving the ball. If it starts with driving you've gotta look to the guards especially Elijah Johnson. Tyshawn Taylor drove aggressively last season and got to the free throw line and Taylor combined with Robinson in the post is a large reason why KU was so successful.

So although this is a quality perimeter shooting team, it's not going to fly with Self who will want the ball to touch the paint through the post or off the bounce on nearly every possession. The freshmen are learning. It's up to the seniors to set the example and make the freshmen understand how to use their strengths to make this KU team standout.

For Ellis, he needs to talk to senior center Jeff Withey. No one knows more about the verbal riding a player can get when Self is begging you to be more aggressive than Withey. But Withey is also a terrific example of what heeding the coach's words can do for your career and for this Kansas basketball team.

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