Allen Fieldhouse continues to resemble a hospital ward during Kansas men's basketball practices.
"What's that Michael Jackson video with all those dead people walking around real slow -- `Thriller'?" KU coach Roy Williams joked Thursday. "You look at our practices, you've got dead people walking around."
Williams first thought of the "Thriller" reference on Tuesday when doctors removed the brace from Ashante Johnson's knee and discarded T.J. Pugh's crutches, so the two could walk around a bit. Johnson and Pugh recently had kneecap and ankle surgeries, respectively.
What's more, forward Lester Earl just Thursday was cleared to practice 75 percent of the time -- up from 50 percent -- and also was cleared to play in Saturday's exhibition opener against the California All-Stars (7:05 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse, channels 13 and 62).
Meanwhile, freshman guard Marlon London and 11th-year coach Williams continue to suffer from back problems. London, who has practiced about half the time, is expected to play Saturday according to Williams, who indicated no Jayhawks will red-shirt.
Texas transfer Luke Axtell must sit out a season in accordance with NCAA rules.
"I figure, `Shoot, I've got to play with a bad back so they do, too,''' Williams quipped.
KU's coach twisted his back after the Late Night With Roy Williams festivities on Oct. 15. With health reports continually coming forth on his players, Williams might also list himself as day-to-day.
"I've been to a massage therapist, been to the chiropractor. I do an hour stretching a day and 40 minutes on ice at the house every night," Williams said. "I'm just trying to make it to the next day. But it is getting better. Maybe I'm just tired of practices, too, and waiting for the games to get here.
"It's been the most uncomfortable preseason physically and mentally I've ever had."
It almost became much worse last Friday.
That's when freshman point guard Jeff Boschee and shooting/point guard Ryan Robertson ran into each other full speed during a scrimmage situation.
"I almost took a sabbatical," Williams said. "We've got three power forwards over there on the sidelines and both point guards collided and bang heads together.
"If I had gotten over there to both of them and saw what I expected to see -- a pool of blood -- my back would have gotten a lot of worse than it is. All of a sudden the doctor would have required me to take a couple months off if those guys were out."
Somehow, both survived the collision.
"It was scary. They both went down. I looked at Ryan more than Jeff. I thought he'd be down a while," red-shirt frosh forward Jeff Carey said. "I was happy when they got up."
Still, Robertson is not completely healthy. He strained his right hamstring at Tuesday's practice, but is expected to play Saturday.
"Other than that, Ryan has played well and has been very consistent," Williams said. "He's another guy we're saying, `You've got to learn two positions, the one (point guard) and two (shooting guard). It's almost like we've got a completely different team. Everybody is learning different positions and has new roles. We've gone slower than any time in my 11 years. We're farther behind at this stage than any time in my 11 years."
Williams, who's held two-a-day practices twice this week, said Boschee would start at the point with Robertson at shooting guard, Kenny Gregory at small forward, Nick Bradford at power forward and Eric Chenowith at center against the California All-Stars.
Earl, who pronounced himself "85 percent" healthy after offseason knee surgery, will enter off the bench.
"His quad is much weaker because of inactivity of the (left) leg," Williams said. "He's only jumping off his right leg when he does jump. He'll have one good day at practice, then one day you'll see a noticeable limp.
"He was telling me his quad is sending a message to his brain that his knee is not ready. With Lester you take some things tongue-in-cheek," Williams added with a laugh.
All-Star update: The California All-Stars are led by former UCLA players Charles O'Bannon, Jelani McCoy and Kris Johnson. So far, the squad has lost to Rhode Island (93-75), Kentucky (103-74), Vanderbilt (95-67) and Tennessee (83-75). Former Louisville player B.J. Flynn scored 21 points against Rhode Island. Former San Jose State player Brad Quinet had 18 versus Kentucky. O'Bannon had 18 in the loss to Vandy. A limited number of tickets remain.
Thomas back on court: Former KU shooting guard Billy Thomas, who has practiced with the Jayhawks some this semester while continuing his education, is currently playing for the Pella Windows team comprised primarily of former Iowa players. Pella Windows played at Nebraska on Thursday night.
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