The offseason pickup games and weightlifting sessions were tolerable. The trip to Canada, Late Night in the Phog and exhibition games against Emporia State and Washburn fine and dandy.
But for Kansas University's basketball players, nothing compares to what's on the horizon -- tonight's nonconference clash between KU and Vermont, the Jayhawks' first game to count in the standings since an overtime loss to Georgia Tech on March 28 in the Regional Finals in St. Louis.
"This game is finally here," KU senior guard Keith Langford said.
"Everybody's been saying a lot about us. What we've been doing in the offseason and working on comes to a head now."
All the positive things written about the No. 1 Jayhawks in preseason magazines and poll stories now classify as old news. It's time to put up or shut up on the court, which is fine with the players.
"You definitely get that feeling. It's here," KU senior point guard Aaron Miles said of the regular season. "I've only got, what, 16 games left in the fieldhouse? You start feeling it."
The Jayhawks, who return four starters from last year's 24-9 team, open against another experienced squad.
Vermont returns four senior starters from a 22-9 team that won the America East Conference title for the second straight year.
"We're excited," KU coach Bill Self said of the season opener. "Coming off our last performance (a 79-70 victory over Washburn), that wasn't very exciting to me. You should never have to coach energy and effort. If I have to coach energy and effort, we're not going to be very good.
"The thing as a coach disappointing to me is we didn't play at that high energy level. I'm hoping that's something we don't have to be concerned with any more this year."
|Who: Kansas vs. VermontWhen: 7 tonightWhere: Allen FieldhouseTV: ch. 13; replay 10:30, Sunflower Broadband ch. 6|
KU's players are expected to have a healthy dose of respect for the Catamounts, who return the country's top scoring duo in power forward Taylor Coppenrath and point guard T.J. Sorrentine, seniors who averaged 24.1 and 14.8 points a game respectively last year.
The Catamounts have extra incentive playing for veteran coach Tom Brennan, who is starting his 19th and final season at Vermont.
"I'm scared to death, very disappointed they didn't whack Washburn around more," Brennan said. "They didn't do us any favors. The good thing is we've got seniors. We won't get shook. We could get whacked -- I've seen teams go in Allen Fieldhouse and get whacked on TV -- but we won't be shook.
"It could be a mess, but I hope we come to compete."
The Jayhawks figure to compete after the Washburn scare and because of the excitement of opening night ... also because the team has lofty goals.
"There's a different mentality this year," senior Wayne Simien said. "There's no tomorrow, no, 'Maybe we'll get it next year.' I think even going to another Final Four would be falling short. Being so close, one shot away our sophomore year, two points away from getting back our junior year ... we've got really high goals this year."
So does Vermont, picked to win the America East for a third straight year.
"Being so highly rated puts some pressure on them," Brennan said. "Even us, picked to win the league and have our best season ever ... having a noose around your neck makes it tough. We feel pressure, too. We'll see how we handle it."