Kansas City, Mo. A horde of media members lounged on the floor of Sprint Center on a lazy Friday afternoon, awaiting Kansas University’s basketball players, who were a half hour late for practice in the shiny new building.
“We had a problem with the bus. The door wouldn’t completely shut. We had to mechanically repair it at the McDonald’s (off I-70),” KU coach Bill Self explained good-naturedly, speaking with four camera crews and three print reporters.
“Jeremy Case (KU graduate student manager) and our bus driver, John, had to show their mechanical skills in replacing a loose nut or bolt or something,” Self added, noting, “we were traveling very safely, but it was pretty loud in the upper cabin.”
No big deal ... the Jayhawks (7-1) were in good spirits as they ran through drills in preparation for today’s 1 p.m. nonconference clash against Massachusetts (2-6).
KU junior guard Sherron Collins and freshman Tyshawn Taylor had their teammates’ full attention, sporting mohawk haircuts. Collins’ was more unique than Taylor’s — a star cut out on the left side of his head.
“I spoke to Sherron and said if in fact it’s true what I’ve heard (about mohawk), then you better play your butt off, but I haven’t seen ’em yet,” Self said, his back to the players as they warmed up for practice.
“You look around the country, we’ve been a very bland program when it comes to guys expressing themselves individually. I am not a big fan of those. I would hope their performance is very good. If their performance is good, maybe they won’t have to cut it for a few days.
“I’m not for anything that causes attention to themselves. (But) there are a lot of mohawks going on right now in college basketball.”
KU’s guards will be in the spotlight today, not just because of their hair-dos.
UMass boasts a terrific trio of backcourt players in Ricky Harris, Chris Lowe and Anthony Gurley, who average 21.3, 12.6 and 12.4 points a game, respectively.
“Harris is really good. He got 35 the other night,” Collins said of the 6-foot-2 junior from Baltimore who scored 35 points in a 85-81 overtime loss to Boston College on Dec. 6. “They set a lot of ball screens for him.
“They’re also a tough rebounding team,” Collins added of the Minutemen, who have beaten Arkansas-Monticello and Holy Cross and lost to B.C., Southern Illinois, Memphis, Jacksonville State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo.
Leading rebounder is 6-foot-8 senior Tony Gaffney, who averages 12.9 boards, 13.3 points and 5.3 blocks a game.
“He is really athletic. He plays everywhere. He’ll shoot a three, dunk on your head, block shots,” Self said of the 205-pounder from Berkley, Mass.
UMass is in a state of transition as the Minutemen learn the new system of former Memphis assistant Derek Kellogg. He took over for Travis Ford, who led the Minutemen to records of 13-15, 24-9 and 25-11 before heading to Oklahoma State.
“They are better than their record. They have a new staff and will do a great job there,” Self said. “They are implementing all of Memphis’ stuff, Memphis’ system. I like their personnel. It’s probably the fastest team we’ve played so far this year.”
The Jayhawks are hoping to get back on the winning track in Kansas City. KU, which has won 29 of its last 30 in K.C., went 1-1 at the recent CBE Classic, beating Washington and losing to Syracuse. KU went 4-0 in the Sprint Center last year.
“Even against Syracuse we played pretty well,” Self said. “We played well against Washington. We played really well in here four times last year. I don’t know if it’s home away from home yet. We like Allen (Fieldhouse) quite a bit. If we can’t play in Allen, this would be our next favorite venue.”
— Assistant sports editor Gary Bedore can be reached at 832-7186.