LAS VEGAS -- Sitting along the wall in a back gym in Las Vegas, Bill Self sat fidgeting while talking about his team, stumbling on his words while tearing at his fingernails.
OK, so I'm exaggerating, but Kansas' head coach admittedly was concerned when talking about the newest edition of the Jayhawks, a fairly anonymous and unheralded one.
"I'm as nervous as I've ever been going into a season," Self said.
|Bill Self hoisting an eighth straight Big 12 title will be a tall order. (Getty Images)|
Self maintains that you won't find 10 better inside-out duos than Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
But what about the rest of these guys?
Seriously, who the heck are they?
I mean, Kansas signed four guys late. There was Braeden Anderson, some kid named Jamari Traylor, another anonymous player by the name of Merv Lindsay and then former Loyola Marymount forward Kevin Young.
Anderson, Traylor or Lindsay were ranked outside the Top 100. The other two freshmen, Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe, didn't crack the Top 50.
"It's fair to say there are more unknowns about this team than any team we've had since I've been here," Self admitted.
Six of the top eight players in last year's rotation are no longer in Lawrence. Most people peg Robinson for a break-out season -- and I'm in complete agreement -- but he did only average 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds last season.
And Taylor hasn't lived up to expectations in his three seasons on campus.
"He's got to be a pro, an all-league player," Self said of his senior guard. Self even admitted that walk-on Justin Wesley, the same guy who couldn't get on the floor as a freshman at Lamar, will "definitely be in the rotation."
"It's a Tulsa-type recruited team," said Self, who spent three years as the head coach at Tulsa. "Guys we got late are guys that we recruited to Tulsa and wound up kicking everybody's butt."
Call me skeptical.
During the conversation, Self flashes back to 2004-05 when he lost seniors Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee, as well as sophomore J.R. Giddens.
The next season the Jayhawks -- with three freshmen and two sophomores starting -- won 25 games and claimed a share of the Big 12 crown.
But that team was filled with pros: Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright all in the NBA and Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson now playing overseas.
Then he goes back to the 2008-09 group that had to follow the national championship team.
But that team had the Sherron Collins-Cole Aldrich duo -- and let's face it, Taylor isn't Collins.
It's tough to tell, but I don't see this group boasting any more than three NBA guys -- and even then, I'm not so certain. Robinson, maybe Taylor and possibly freshman Ben McLemore.
"I like having the best players," Self said.
Well then, he'd probably enjoy the roster over in Waco -- because Baylor is the most talented team in the league. Missouri and Texas A&M may not have quite as much talent, but those two programs aren't all that far off -- and both have more experience.
"It'll be interesting," Self said. "As nervous as I am because of not knowing what to expect, I'm also excited. I really believe at the end of the day, this is a team that will be hard to deal with."
Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 title each of the past seven seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy. Then again, Self and the Jayhawks have been in this position before -- even as recently as last season when Kansas State was tabbed to win the conference in the preseason.
"It's been in jeopardy," he laughs.
But never quite like this.