The best hitter on Kansas' baseball team is back in the fold -- just in time, too, to begin the season.
Justin Headley, a sophomore outfielder from Bartlett, Tenn., who led the Jayhawks with a .364 batting average through 32 games and nine starts last season, is enrolled at KU again after spending a semester at Shelby State CC in Memphis to improve his grade point average.
Headley and the rest of the Jayhawks began practicing Thursday. They'll open the season Feb. 10 at Nevada-Las Vegas.
"He's a fine player," KU coach Dave Bingham said. "I'm just excited for him to get back into a place like Kansas for school. I'm excited for him and for the team both."
Headley is penciled in as the Jayhawks' starting center fielder, while former second baseman Brian Turney will man left and Josh Igou, last year's left fielder, will move to right.
Without Headley, Bingham would have had to scramble to fill the outfield.
"We would have been young out there," Bingham said. "Justin's been through the Big Eight. He's experienced. He's been in pressure situations, and we know what he can do."
It wasn't easy, Headley said, but his short stint at Shelby CC made him appreciate KU more.
"I wasn't really sweating it, but I was nervous," he said. "It was kind of a downer when I learned I had to go there to raise my GPA, but I knew it would help in the long run. I didn't know that much about it. It wasn't that special. It really made my decision to come here a lot better.
"I was going to go to a juco out of high school, but it's nothing at all like Division One. The competition is not that intense at all."
While Headley was going to school, Bingham and school officials were scrambling to make sure he'd be able to return if he made his required GPA.
NCAA regulations permit a student-athlete to regain eligibility at a junior college, but a dated Big Eight rule prohibits it. Bingham appealed to the league, and the league agreed that the rule needed to conform with NCAA standards and permitted Headley's return.
"We misinterpreted the rules," Bingham said. "We never told Justin about it, because we didn't want to upset him. We advised him all the way, and we didn't want to say he couldn't come back even if he did what we asked him to do."
Of course, the point is moot now.
"It's a great feeling," Headley said. "I can't wait for the season to start."