Mann of the hour
Walk-on’s first start message to big men
Matt Kleinmann took a deep breath as he finished signing autographs outside Kansas University’s locker room, readying himself for a long, uphill trek from Allen Fieldhouse to Marvin Hall, high atop Jayhawk Blvd.
“I’m going to ‘studio,”’ KU’s senior basketball center said after an 86-62 Saturday matinee victory over Jackson State — a game in which the big redhead made his first career start.
“I’m not going to sleep. I’m not going to do anything else the rest of the weekend. I won’t go to bed until Monday afternoon. I’m going to ‘studio.”’
“It’s homework, an architect’s version of final exams,” Kleinmann said, eager to provide further details.
“I’m designing a mixed-use hybrid — a 750,000-to-1,000,000-square-foot facility next to the John Hancock Center in downtown Chicago. It’s got a museum, theater, offices.”
“It has to be finished by Monday,” added Kleinmann, who only hopes his classroom presentation Monday morning proves as exhilarating as Saturday’s game.
“It was a thrill,” said Kleinmann, a walk-on who last opened a game during the 2003-04 season — as a senior at Blue Valley West High.
“It was cool watching that (pregame) video, realizing for the first time in my life I’d be part of a starting lineup at Kansas. It was surreal.”
The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder, who grabbed one rebound in three minutes, earned the starting frontcourt spot next to Cole Aldrich after outworking freshmen Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Quintrell Thomas at practice Friday.
“Coach went through the (big-man) rotation and said, ‘All right, Matt, now it’s your turn. You’ve got a shot at it,”’ Kleinmann said of coach Bill Self allowing him to play with the first team midway through Friday’s practice.
“I was trying to run hard and do what he asks our big guys to do.”
Kleinmann ran harder than any other frontcourt player.
“I think it was more a message to them in terms that he wants guys to work hard,” Kleinmann said of a direct message to the Morris twins.
Marcus Morris scored 13 points off 5-of-6 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in 17 minutes. Markieff contributed eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. Another freshman, Thomas, had three points and four boards in seven minutes.
“I thought they came out and had one of their better recent games,” Kleinmann said of the twins. “They still need to work on running hard. It’s their first year. They’ll get it before long.”
Self, who said the twins “probably played one of their best games,” certainly hopes so.
“We’ve got to get everybody practicing at a pretty high level. I’ll leave it at that,” Self said of his reason for starting Kleinmann. “Yesterday, I don’t think our three big guys who have a chance to play next to Cole were performing to their ceiling in those particular areas.
“I think you play like you practice. You can’t turn it off and on. When guys don’t run in practice, they are not going to run in the game.”
KU junior point guard Sherron Collins understands why Kleinmann earned the nod.
“He and Cole are the toughest big men we have right now,” said Collins, who hit four second-half threes and finished with a team-leading 17 points after missing his first seven shots.
“Matt knows how to go after the basketball. He is more physical right now that those other guys,” Collins added.
Kleinmann exited two minutes into the game — the twins taking over — with KU down, 4-2.
“They go hard in practice. Sometimes in games they may be nervous,” Kleinmann said. “It’s a matter of time they learn that if they sprint every possession they’ll score three or four more points for us every game, each of them. It takes awhile for freshmen to learn what it takes to play at this level.”
It took KU a long time to shake the (1-8) Tigers of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Sophomore Tyrel Reed hit two free throws and a pair of threes, hiking a 48-42 lead to 14 points with 13:17 remaining.
“Tyrel stepped up and made big shots, big plays for us,” Collins said. “He shot it good. He always shoots it good.”
Collins led the way with 17 points, followed by Aldrich and Marcus Morris (13 each), Reed (11) and Tyshawn Taylor, who had 10 points and 11 assists.
Forward Grant Maxey led Jackson State with 19 points off 6-of-12 shooting.
“Have we played against anybody that has a prettier stroke than him?” Self asked of Maxey, a silky-smooth 6-6 junior from Toledo, Ohio. “Anybody who shoots it that well, you can find a spot for him (on any team in country).”
And anybody that works as hard as Kleinmann on the court and in the school of Architecture?
What do you call a guy like that?
“Stud,” Self said.