Kansas City, Mo. Bill Self remembers the last time he took a young, inexperienced basketball team to a pre-Thanksgiving holiday tournament.
“I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this young group of kids wins this thing?’ The next thing you know, we were hoping we’d beat Chaminade,” Self, Kansas University’s sixth-year coach, said of a trip to the Maui Invitational in late November 2005.
Freshmen Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright received a harsh indoctrination into big-time college hoops, losing to Arizona and Arkansas before salvaging a ‘W’ against the NCAA Div. II host school from Hawaii.
“I should have said, ‘This is a great learning experience. Let’s go get better.’ I approached it, ‘We’ve got to play this way to win it.’ I’m approaching this as a matter-of-fact, let’s-see-where-we-are type deal,” he added of today’s CBE Classic semifinal against Washington (9 p.m. Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.) and Tuesday’s title or consolation game against Florida or Syracuse.
“Of course, the competitive juices will flow as much as they ever do, but I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this tournament. I should have never done that in Maui.”
If the young Jayhawks (2-0) are to top the Huskies (2-1) today, they’ll have to slow a veteran — 6-foot-7, 255-pound senior forward Jon Brockman, the NCAA’s leading returning rebounder who averages 11.3 rebounds as well as 20.3 points per game.
“He is a stud,” Self said of the two-time Pac-10 rebounding leader and Pac-10’s active career scoring leader. “He’s an All-America candidate. He plays big like Blake Griffin plays at Oklahoma.
“I don’t know if anybody is ready to guard him in our camp,” Self added. “Cole (Aldrich, 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) finds a way to foul without even having Jon in the game. I don’t know if any of our freshmen are ready to guard him yet.”
Aldrich respects today’s opponent.
“He’s good,” Aldrich said. “They’ve had some real good big guys at Washington, like Spencer Hawes coming out of there. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Brockman, who has 44 career double-doubles, has one weakness: free throwing. He shot 51.9 percent from the line last year and is 11 of 22 this season (victories over Cleveland State and Florida International and a loss to Portland).
“I went on a free-throw mission (last summer),” the Snohomish, Wash. native Brockman told the Everett (Wash.) Herald. “I think I made over 11,400 or something like that. I'm shooting it a lot better. I cleaned up my mechanics and got to where I was shooting the same way every single time. I’m still working on it, but it’ll be better this year.”
Quick Washington guards Justin Dentmon and Isaiah Thomas are averaging 15.0 and 12.3 points respectively.
“I’ve played against Isaiah Thomas a couple times. He’s really good,” KU freshman Tyshawn Taylor said of the Tacoma, Wash., native. “I think I kind of know what to expect from the guard spot. They’re good.”
Florida and Syracuse will play in tonight’s first semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday’s consolation will be at 6:45 p.m., with the final at 9:15.
“I’m not sure where we are yet. I think I know, but I’ve not had somebody show me yet. Hopefully we won’t show too many of our weaknesses. I think this is going to be good for us,” Self said.
Just like Maui in ‘05 ... even though it didn’t seem like it at the time.