It took all of one play for Sasha Kaun to re-establish himself as an inside force at Kansas University.
"The first time he touched the ball yesterday, they threw a lob to him just like last year, and he dunked it. We were like, 'Whoa,''' KU coach Bill Self exclaimed after KU's 89-54 rout of Tennessee State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse, a game that featured the somewhat unexpected return of Kaun, who suffered a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee 22 days ago.
Kaun - in a story that could reach legendary status depending on how far the 2006-07 Jayhawks advance this season - showed he meant business right from the start at Sunday's practice, his first contact workout with the team since incurring the injury.
"It was an (alley) oop. He had his ups. He dunked on Julian (Wright). Go ask Julian about it," Brandon Rush said with a smile after burning Tennessee State for 14 points and 10 rebounds.
So what about it, Julian?
"I didn't know Sasha could jump at the time. I didn't get dunked on, but if you took a picture, I'd probably be in the picture," Wright said, laughing.
Kaun, who in his first game of the season scored seven points with one rebound and three fouls in nine minutes, didn't elect to brag about his practice slam - actually, a pair of slams, one off a feed from Russell Robinson and another from Jeremy Case.
"It was a nice way to get back," Kaun said.
He admitted he had goosebumps Tuesday when KU's fans roared their approval as he approached the scorer's table with 9:11 left in the first half, KU leading 26-14.
It was a surprise the 6-foot-11, 245-pound center would be playing; the decision to use the center came after a late-morning shootaround.
"It was nice. They are great people. They treat you so nice here," the Tomsk, Russia, native said of the fans. "It was great to be back out there. The doctor said three to six weeks. Sunday was three weeks. We thought it was the right time."
Self listened to the doctors, who recommended Kaun play 10 minutes after practicing 60 percent of the time Sunday.
"I thought he looked good out there. I think that (dunk at practice) gave him some confidence," Self said. "He got two fouls on offense, both of them for mauling guys, something we haven't had at all. Not that fouling is good, but at least we had a presence out there physically. He will put a body on somebody. Yesterday's practice was the best we've had in a while just because we had a guy in there who could beat the heck out of somebody."
2006-07 Nov. 21 KU-TSU Hoops
Self said he hoped Kaun would be able to play 15 minutes or so in Friday's 7 p.m. Las Vegas Invitational game against Ball State and Saturday's 10 p.m. contest against defending national champ Florida.
"He's been very diligent with treatments, getting as many as four or five a day," Self said, "busting his butt to get back. For him to get back this quick is a testament to how hard he worked because it could have been a six-week deal."
Kaun said he was "sore" after the game, but that was expected.
"There's no pain," he said. "It's getting better. I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
So is Self.
"He'll be sore, but no more than if he was working out on his own," Self said. "I thought if we had a chance to use him in Vegas, he'd need to run a little tonight to get the nervousness out."
Production-wise, the Jayhawks on Tuesday were led by freshman Sherron Collins, who scored 19 points off 4-of-6 three-point shooting. He had 11 points in a 23-5 run that opened a 31-15 advantage.
Rush and Wright had 14 points apiece, Wright contributing four assists and three blocks. Darnell Jackson scored 11 points with six boards and Darrell Arthur 10 points and two blocks against the outmanned Tigers, who dropped to 0-2.
"I thought we played well early," said Self, whose 3-1 Jayhawks had a 50-19 halftime lead. "Sherron was a big spark off the bench and made some big shots. Still, we are not attacking and getting the ball moving like we should. Guys are still trying to make great plays. I see guys turn down players who are wide-open trying to thread a needle to someone else, and we have to do a better job of that."
But he left the interview room with a big smile on his face 'cause Kaun is back.
"He did a great job tonight with limited minutes," the coach said.