2008 Oct. 31 KU basketball practice
Making the transition from junior-college basketball to high Div. I ball presents a challenge even without any setbacks. For 6-foot-2, 203-pound combination guard Tyrone Appleton, it grew tougher when he missed practice time while nursing a hip flexor.
Appleton sat on the bench for the Late Night in the Phog intrasquad scrimmage, making him the most mysterious of the seven newcomers with whom Bill Self reloaded his roster.
During the August exhibition series in Canada, Appleton averaged 1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in 17.3 minutes. As a sophomore at Midland College last season, Appleton averaged 13.2 points, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals.
Fellow junior-college transfer Mario Little played against Appleton in the junior college national title game won by Appleton's team when both players were freshmen and saw him play in junior college jamborees. The strength of Appleton's game, Little said, won't show up in numbers.
"His game is tough," Little said. "I know he's tough. He's a lock-down defender. I think he can change a game with his defense, as well as finishing around the basket, finishing in the paint. I think he'll be a great player. I'm not saying he's going to post anybody up, but getting to the basket and finishing, he does real well in that."
Kansas coach Bill Self said that five perimeter players and four post players would make up his list. Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor and Mario Little should lock up three of the five perimeter spots, leaving Appleton, freshman Travis Releford and returning guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, the longshot of the group, competing for the final two spots.
Releford's size could give him the edge at providing reserve minutes at the three. Reed's knowledge of the offense and reliable three-point stroke are his best strengths, but defensively he struggled to keep quick guards in front of him, something a healthy Appleton would be more equipped to achieve.
A native of Gary, Ind., Appleton, 22, said what he can bring to the team is, "leadership and my defensive intensity."
According to Little, Appleton brings more than physical gifts to his defense.
"Ty, he moves his feet, stays in front of his man," Little said. "He's not trying to make the big play. It's not going to be easy to cross him over because he's not trying to steal the ball, he's trying to contain you, stay in front of you. I think you can get a lot of five-second calls out of Ty."
Appleton said he chose KU after offers from Kentucky and Iowa State.
"I chose Kansas because of the tradition and you've got guys going to the NBA every year," Appleton said. "That's my goal, to play in the NBA."
First things first. He has to win a spot in the rotation before thinking about playing for pay.
"I'm a team guy," Appleton said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes. If that means me starting or me coming off the bench, then I'm willing to do it."
Meanwhile, he embraces the opportunity to get better in practice, playing with and against so much talent.
"Sherron's quicker than I expected him to be," Appleton said. "I didn't think he was as fast as he is, but he's quick, he's fast, he's real fast. Tyshawn's fast, too, and real explosive, but I think Sherron's a little faster than Tyshawn."
And Appleton? Is he right there with them in terms of quickness?
"Probably," Appleton said after giving it a few seconds thought. "Probably."