Travis Releford was walking on Kansas University’s campus Monday afternoon when, impulsively, he cell-phoned Jayhawk basketball coach Bill Self.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Did you call to talk about your playing time?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’’’ Releford said with a laugh.
Releford, a freshman guard who has not yet cracked KU’s rotation after a stellar career at Roeland Park’s Bishop Miege High, held what he called a productive five- or six-minute conversation with the man in charge of distributing minutes.
“I will not sit here and say not playing wasn’t bothering me, but I wanted to know more of what I had to do to get back on the court,” Releford said. “Coach told me things I need to work on if I want to play.”
“Get out there on defense, steal my teammates extra possessions on the offensive end by getting offensive rebounds, and create for others. Defensively getting on my man before he can make a play and before the ball can get to him,” Releford said.
The good news coming out of the phone call was that, “Coach told me he wanted to play me and get more confidence in me because later in the season he’ll probably have to use me,” said Releford, who also admits he needs to develop more confidence in his jump shot.
Self just might find some additional minutes for the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder as soon as Saturday’s 1 p.m. clash against UMass in Kansas City’s Sprint Center.
“We’ve got to play him because he can steal us possessions,” Self said. “I’m not saying start, (but) we’ve got to let him get out there and play through some mistakes. It’s partly a situation we’re trying to win or the other team is doing something where I’m not comfortable with Travis (in the game).”
Releford — who averaged 24.1 points and 6.0 boards at Miege last season — was KU’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg) on the Jayhawks’ Labor Day weekend trip to Canada. During the regular season, he has hit for 4.4 points and 1.6 boards while averaging 7.4 minutes in eight games.
“He had one really good game (in Canada) where he scored a lot of points,” Self said of a 25-point outing against Carleton. “(But) at that time, we didn’t have other guys. We were playing small. There was more opportunity for minutes.”
The Morris twins were not yet eligible, thus did not make the trip north.
“Basically, Travis has to be a very good defender, a very good rebounder and a high-energy guy that can create offense for others, not just himself,” Self said. “Those are things where he’ll get to the point he can do them in the game.
“Up and down in transition, he’s very effective. You have to get effective in other areas. I will not say he hasn’t played well. He hasn’t had the same opportunities the other guys had in large part because basically the staff is more comfortable with certain guys. When you don’t have a very experienced team, you want to get at least a little (experience) out there. His position can have a little experience with Brady (Morningstar) and Tyrel (Reed). That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Releford will keep plugging away. He feels more energized after the productive cell-phone call to his coach.
“I knew it was nothing personal. I always knew that. There are things I need to work on. I’ve been spending a lot of (additional) time in the gym,” Releford said. “I know my time will come. Coach will put me in the game and let me take from my mistakes and see how it works out.”
Little update: KU junior Mario Little, who returned to practice Dec. 5 after sitting out several weeks because of a stress fracture in his lower left leg, is shooting to play in the Temple game Dec. 20 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“It feels good to be out there with the guys,” said Little, who has been used only in halfcourt drills. “I’ve been shooting, going over plays, a little contact, but not too much. I’m just trying to trust it (leg). I’m favoring it a little bit, not too much.”
Of Little, Self said: “I’m not saying he’s better than the other guys. There is potential to give us an athlete who can defend the other team’s 3-man. I’m excited about him coming back. I think he’ll help our team when we get him.”
Cheek update: Dominic Cheek, a 6-5 senior guard from St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J., tells nj.com he has trimmed his list of five schools to two — KU and Villanova. Cheek, who has eliminated Pitt, Rutgers and Memphis, will announce his decision at a news conference at 5 p.m. Friday at Golden Door Charter School in Jersey City. Rivals.com analysts have indicated Villanova is the leader.
— Assistant sports editor Gary Bedore can be reached at 832-7186.