Aaron Miles and his 15 Kansas University basketball teammates had their alarm clocks set for 5 this morning.
That's more than two hours before sunrise -- an hour before the start of coach Bill Self's "Boot Camp" at Allen Fieldhouse.
"I don't dread it. You can't dread it," Miles said of the first day of Self's two-week conditioning program that requires the Jayhawks to awaken well before the first rooster's crow. "It ain't going to kill you. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."
Self's Boot Camps the past 10 years at the University of Illinois, Tulsa University and Oral Roberts haven't killed anybody. They haven't caused anybody to quit his teams either.
On the contrary, Self's Boot Camps have instilled mental and physical toughness -- and maybe even unity in his players prior to the start of the season, which this year kicks off Oct. 17.
"Based on what I've been told," Self said, "when people actually, really do go to boot camp, they are forced to do a lot of things they've never done before and had somebody else's schedule. That is kind of what this is.
"The guys will definitely operate on the coaches' schedule where no matter what time of day or what's going on, they understand that we've got to be disciplined to follow through whatever is going on."
The Jayhawks can count on a lot going on during morning and afternoon conditioning drills -- which will encompass about five hours a week -- plus weightlifting and one-on-one individual workouts, which will be sliced to three hours per week so the Jayhawks don't surpass the NCAA-allotted eight hours of drill work in the offseason.
"Every day, Monday to Friday, we will go at 6 a.m.," explained drill sergeant, make that coach, Self. "And every day, we'll do something in the p.m. We'll have (conditioning) circuits we do. Each circuit may last two minutes, three minutes where they are working on different-type conditioning.
"But Boot Camp does not consist of just conditioning. It is workouts in the morning, weights, a quick workout in the afternoon, mandatory study hall at night. Anything goes. This is two weeks where we do everything right. I am talking about being on time, to being in class, to being responsible with tutors, making all your times conditioning-wise, getting treatment -- whatever it is, you do it right.
"This is about getting your mind right, doing things you think are too tough to do, then you realize you can do it."
Boot Camp requires an "all-for-one" attitude of the players, Self indicated, a deep frown crossing his face when asked what happens if one player lets down the group by, say, oversleeping.
"They won't," Self said, "because if one person oversleeps, then the whole team is going to get it. If anybody misses a class, the whole team gets it. We are going to help each other. We are not going to be irresponsible. We are going to be disciplined."
Mind over matter
Boot Camp, frankly, is not a lot of fun.
"No," Self exclaimed, asked if he liked the conditioning program. "If you do it at 6 a.m., you've got to get up at 5. I do get kind of excited about it. You can tell who has a great mind, who has a good attitude by their body language. You, as a player, get to Thursday of the first week ... it's 6 a.m. You've gotten four hours of rest and can't sleep the night before because you are dreading what is going to happen the next morning.
"That's where you find out who has a good attitude. It is all mind over matter. Our bodies can do things we never dreamed they could if our minds don't get in the way."
The returning Jayhawks, who have been to two straight Final Fours, realize mental toughness is a big part of the game.
"Getting up at 6 a.m., stuff like that, I'm not really looking forward to that. It's something we've got to do, to work hard," KU junior Wayne Simien said. "A lot of guys still have stuff to prove to coach as far as toughness-wise. Being a veteran, I will try to lead by example."
"Now is the least time of year any college athlete looks forward to," noted junior guard Michael Lee. "We're going through conditioning. I'm looking forward to conditioning. I'm excited to see how we'll be this year, and this is the start of that."
The Jayhawks may need a sense of humor to make it through these next two weeks. The players will get weekends off as long as they do their work flawlessly Monday through Friday.
"The only thing I want to get out of conditioning is to get out of there. That's that," quipped junior Keith Langford. "I think conditioning is necessary, but more so a mental thing, to see where your team is and do something team-oriented to get in shape. A lot of times when you are going through it, emotionally you don't even know how tired you really are."
It's a mystery
Langford has tried to not obsess about the arrival of Boot Camp.
"It's remaining a mystery now. No one knows what is going to happen. That's the worst part of conditioning, not knowing what you have to do," Langford said. "We haven't had to run on the track (like the 12-minute run in the Roy Williams era). I'm grateful. Coach Self said he believes in doing all conditioning on the basketball court, because that's where you'll be playing. I'm a big fan of that."
Self says his only reservation about Boot Camp is the name. He is proud the work of the U.S. troops overseas in armed conflicts.
"In my mind, it's probably not the correct term to use with everything going on the world," he said. "We've always called it Boot Camp. A better name would probably be 'Breakfast Club' or 'Jayhawk Conditioning.' Our players certainly think of it as Boot Camp from what they've heard."
What they've heard is the next two weeks will be mighty difficult.
"Last year I played about 257 (pounds)," Simien said. "Now I'm 252. I'll be 240 after conditioning."