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Media day, Late Night kick off season for depleted Jayhawks

Bill Self and his Kansas University basketball players will answer dozens of questions — some serious, some silly — during today’s two-hour media day festivities in Allen Fieldhouse.

The least hard-hitting, but most telling query is the obvious: “How’s the team going to fare in 2011-12?”

“We’re going to be great!” ninth-year KU coach Self said with a smile.

“I tell you, we lost a lot,” he added in a more serious tone. “Everybody talks about losing the (Morris) twins and Josh (Selby), who obviously I thought could have been a real impact player this year. Like I was telling our guys … we lose our best defender, our best percentage three-point shooter, our best ball-mover, our best post-feeder — a guy named Brady Morningstar is hard to replace.”

As well as a guy named Tyrel Reed, who is playing professionally in Belgium; Morningstar is in Crete. The twins and Selby are off to the NBA once the lockout ends.

“Tyrel probably made as many big-time shots as anybody we’ve had. We not only lose our best players, but our foundation as well,” Self noted.

The Jayhawks also lost Mario Little to graduation and Royce Woolridge to Washington State University, returning just 29 percent of the scoring and 30.7 percent of the rebounding off last year’s 35-3 Big 12 championship/Elite Eight team.

“That said, I really like our guys,” Self said. “I think we have four or five guys that we can line up and play with just about anybody. Maybe not anybody yet, but maybe eventually get there.”

He most assuredly was referring to returnees Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey.

“We don’t have as many numbers as we had in the past,” Self said. “We’ve been pretty spoiled when (Cole) Aldrich and (Thomas) Robinson are your fourth big guys. That’s a pretty good situation to have. We don’t have the depth, but we’ve got good guys who care a lot and try hard. I think it’ll be an exciting and fun team to watch.”

Returnees Conner Teahan, Justin Wesley, Niko Roberts, Christian Garrett and Jordan Juenemann are also joined on the roster by newcomers Naadir Tharpe, Merv Lindsay, Kevin Young, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor. McLemore and Traylor have yet to be cleared for participation by the NCAA.

“I know they are going to be good,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said of the rival Jayhawks. “One thing I learned over the years, he (Self) does as good a job as anybody in the country. He will have those guys ready to go.”

It starts Friday at Late Night in the Phog, which will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.

Motivation: Motivational speaker Joe Rhea spoke to the Jayhawks for 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon. Rhea, whose story is available at the website www.joerhea.com, sustained a broken neck playing football at the age of 14 in 1984.

Once paralyzed, he today is able to walk, run, play golf and ski.

Rhea last spoke to the Jayhawks prior to the 2006-07 season. Many of those players went on to win the 2008 national title.

“Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that they are really fortunate,” Rhea said. “They have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. I tell my story, which puts things in perspective, makes them realize what they have and how quickly it can be taken away.”

His message?

“I told them when you are down 10 points with three minutes left, that’s not tough, that’s fun. That’s an opportunity to show what you are made of,” Rhea said. “We talked about overcoming odds, a little bit about making sure they understand the decisions they make can unfortunately lead to catastrophic consequences. Getting in a car with the wrong person … what they put on Facebook might not be catastrophic, but can lead to catastrophic consequences.”

Rhea surprised the KU players by being able to rattle off the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament results each year since 1985.

“I told them, ‘As fans, we don’t feel what you feel, but we live and die with you guys,'” Rhea said. “I told them that Frank White (KC Royals) came to my house when I was a boy and had pizza with me. That one night changed my life. I told the players that they have this ability to affect kids with a handshake, taking a few extra minutes being polite, things that could go a long way in making a difference with a kid’s life.”

He suggested the players, “push themselves. I’d give anything to go back and do Boot Camp if I could. Hopefully I motivated them with my memory of tournament losses. I also told them the reason they won it in ’08 is they believed they could win it. You don’t come to KU because you are a mediocre player, but because you are elite.”

Rhea spoke with KU junior Robinson after the session.

“I wanted to talk to Thomas and say how sorry I was for what he went through,” Rhea said of the death of Robinson’s mom and two grandparents last school year. “I wanted to say how proud of him I was as a Jayhawk fan.”