Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Ju’ to the rescue

Wright speaks up, posts career-high numbers

November 27, 2006

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Deemed the Most Valuable Player on the basketball court at the Las Vegas Invitational, Julian Wright also was the behind-the-scenes leader for Kansas University's men's basketball team.

Wright, KU's vibrant sophomore forward from Chicago, was the Jayhawk whose voice echoed loudest during an impromptu players-only meeting late Friday night in a Renaissance Marriott Hotel hallway - a meeting that might have sparked the Jayhawks to play with such passion in Saturday night's pulsating 82-80 overtime victory over top-rated Florida.

"'Ju' talks. That's one thing he does. If anything, everybody got mad at him, but he kept talking," KU junior Russell Robinson said.

Robinson said the Jayhawks gathered to talk after exiting a team meeting with head coach Bill Self, who was not pleased with the effort in Friday's listless 64-46 victory over Ball State.

"Nobody got loud except to tell 'Ju' to just shut up," Robinson cracked, adding Wright's main message was "to do what coach Self tells us to do. It wasn't a pleasant vibe. Everyone was pretty upset and angry about how the season was going."

The likeable Wright took to heart Self's edict to play hard from the start against the Gators, who had won six games this season by an average of 40.5 points a game. He admitted he had a lot to say at the players' meeting.

Kansas University's Sherron Collins (4) and Darnell Jackson (32) fly off the bench following a KU bucket in overtime. The Jayhawks defeated Florida, 82-80 in overtime, Saturday in Las Vegas.

Kansas University's Sherron Collins (4) and Darnell Jackson (32) fly off the bench following a KU bucket in overtime. The Jayhawks defeated Florida, 82-80 in overtime, Saturday in Las Vegas.

"It got pretty loud," Wright said, noting no hotel guests were bothered because the Jayhawks had huddled in a wing where they had all the rooms. "We needed to cut ourselves open as a team and learn what really makes us tick. It was healthy. We're not too good to say something to someone else or, 'We're too cool.' You have to understand sometimes it's good to air things out.

"Obviously, it's human nature to retaliate and say things back."

The Jayhawks would have been an interesting sight for any passers-by in the hallway, the players all sipping bottles of Gatorade to hydrate themselves for Saturday's rugged contest while heatedly discussing their recent poor play.

"I'm not afraid of my voice," Wright said, perhaps joining Robinson as a candidate to be an official team leader. "We have to have better accountability for what we do, and I can't be mad if somebody gets on me when they are trying to help me out."

The players did not leave the meeting disgusted with each other or, as Wright said, mad.

"No, everyone was good," he said. "We got a chance to talk and sleep on it. It's not like we weren't giving each other eye contact as we went to our rooms."

Jayhawks knock off defending champ Gators

For months now, the KU men's basketball team tried to downplay the Florida game, but the Jayhawks finally got their chance to knock off the defending national champs. Enlarge video

As far as Self's meeting with the players, which led to the players deciding to gather, Robinson said: "He laid it on the line and said we had to come out with more intensity and focus if we wanted to come out with a win."

Self has been big on letting the players know exactly how he feels since KU's shocking home loss to Oral Roberts.

"They (players) haven't been real happy with me which would be an understatement," he said, "and I've not been happy with them the last couple weeks. The Ball State game was very disappointing to me because we didn't play like we can - with energy and passion. We challenged them and knew they'd come out with energy and effort against Florida. Tonight there were no thoughts on anything other than Kansas."

He said he'd been confounded by the Jayhawks having spotty effort. He seeks as intense an effort Tuesday night against Dartmouth (7 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse) as against the Gators.

"I think 18, 19, 20 (years of age) has a lot to do with it," Self said. "It's ridiculous we can play like this then lay an egg like we did against Oral Roberts. Not taking anything away from Oral Roberts.

Kansas forwards Julian wright, right, and Darrell Arthur, left, battle for a rebound with Florida's Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah. Wright was named MVP of the Las Vegas Invitational after the Jayhawks' 82-80 overtime victory against No. 1 Florida on Saturday.

Kansas forwards Julian wright, right, and Darrell Arthur, left, battle for a rebound with Florida's Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah. Wright was named MVP of the Las Vegas Invitational after the Jayhawks' 82-80 overtime victory against No. 1 Florida on Saturday.

"So much is maturity. Remember, last year we were up and down, too, until we got to a certain point (after struggling at the Maui Invitational and other early games)."

Wright said the Jayhawks had become more consistent.

"We are getting better. We have had great practices in the last week," Wright said. "Coach has said you can't rely on playing Florida to motivate you. You have to motivate yourself every day."

Perhaps the hall meeting will help the Jayhawks do just that.

Wright a deight: Robinson on Wright's 21-point effort against Florida and defense on Joakim Noah: "It was definitely fun to watch him play like that. Whenever Julian has that much energy, he does a great job."

Wright said Noah (17 points) was tough to handle. "I wanted to match his intensity, put pressure on him defensively. It wasn't just me. Brandon took him, too, and did a good job on him."

Big win: The Jayhawks' win over Florida arguably was the biggest victory in Self's four years at Kansas.

"Well ... I'd say Texas last year in the (Big 12) tournament, winning at Kentucky without Wayne (Simien) were pretty big wins. But the way we've been playing and certainly considering Florida's win streak and everything, I think it probably was the biggest - certainly the biggest regular-season win," Self said.

Loud KU crowd: Self on the intense atmosphere on the court and in the stands for a November basketball game: "It reminded me of two high-level teams playing like it was a game in the Big 12 tournament," Self said. "Our fans (5,000 strong in 8,500 seat arena) were great. One thing we do at Kansas is we travel (well)."

Fans stormed the court after the awards presentation, prompting a reporter to ask Self if that would happen in Allen Fieldhouse.

"No," he said. "Obviously they aren't students at KU. That won't happen at KU. Our administration won't let it happen."

The Jayhawks traditionally have preferred not over-reacting to such victories.

"I'm pleased we get a tradition-rich program like Kansas to storm the court after a victory. It says a lot about our program and how far it's come," Gators' coach Billy Donovan said.

Game plan: KU's coaches prepared for Florida before Saturday, but the players were told to focus on Friday's match against Ball State and nothing else.

"We didn't mention Florida one time to the players until Saturday," Self said. "We talked only about Kansas. This was a morning deal. There was no great X-and-O strategy.

Huge: Robinson paused for a moment when asked if Saturday's win was the biggest of his basketball career: "Probably. I can't think of another now. This is definitely the biggest of my college career," he said after being named to the all-tournament team with Wright and Mario Chalmers. "Just cause there was so much on the line early, so much talk about the game."

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