The Sideline Report
Let's get right to this edition of The Sideline Report with Kansas guard Elijah Johnson. For full disclosure, our chat took place on Tuesday of last week.
The Sideline Report with Elijah Johnson
Jesse Newell: How much notoriety did you get from your 360 dunk?
Elijah Johnson: Around the country, a lot. I got a lot of feedback about that dunk. A whole lot.
JN: Who are the craziest people you heard from?
EJ: That’s hard to say. I just heard some off-the-wall stuff. Some people told me that was the best dunk they’d ever seen in their life. Some people told me they actually had tried to do it and it’s an impossible dunk. Just a lot of different kinds of comments.
JN: Was that something planned or just something you did?
EJ: No, I don’t plan. I was on the sideline, and I just said that when I get back in, I’m going to do something. I didn’t know it was going to be that, but when I saw the opportunity, I definitely took advantage of it.
JN: Had you ever done that dunk before?
EJ: Yeah, I’d done it a couple of times.
JN: You said you were a KU fan growing up. What do you remember about the Jayhawks?
EJ: Just the style of basketball. That’s what drew me to the school. They like to throw alley-oops. With me being a jumper, that attracted me right away. They play a lot of guards, and they play a nice offense to let everybody have equal opportunity.
JN: Do you remember the players from back then?
EJ: Yeah, I remember a couple of players. I wasn’t too familiar on the names, I just went with Kansas. I know Ju, Julian Wright. Of course, I know the championship team. I know a couple of people before that like Keith (Langford), of course Wayne (Simien) and a couple more players that came through.
JN: What did you think of Julian? Was he your favorite?
EJ: He wasn’t my favorite. I just thought he was different. He stood out to me. He was very different. He took a chance that a lot of people don’t take — like, actually trying crazy dunks on fast breaks and stuff like that. That’s what attracted me to his play.
JN: Are you glad he did that before you got here?
EJ: No. I’m happy he did it, because that showed that he wasn’t scared. It gave me a little more confidence to know that coach gives you the opportunity to show your talent.
JN: What’s something that would surprise me about you?
EJ: (long pause) I don’t like looking at NBA basketball.
JN: Why’s that?
EJ: I feel like I don’t quite understand what they’re doing yet, so I wouldn’t want to look at it and confuse myself, thinking I’m knowing what I’m talking about when I don’t.
JN: What don’t you understand about it?
EJ: Just like all of the complex stuff about it. The behind the basketball. The detail of the game. I’m starting to understand it more now because, what coach has showed me so far, I’ve seen flashes of it on the court when I watch the NBA game. But I don’t like to really just stare it down and try to see the game for what it is, because I might be looking at what I don’t understand yet.
JN: So you think it’s much more complex at that level?
EJ: Yes, and I don’t want to look at it and confuse myself before I get there. That’s why I glance at it. I try not to look at it too much.
JN: So when you’re flipping though channels at home, you don’t ever stop on NBA? Not for a long period of time?
EJ: Not really. And I don’t listen to volume on TV anyway. I always have music playing, so even if I do, I don’t let the announcers say some things that coach Self wouldn’t say or another college coach wouldn’t say to confuse me.
JN: So your mind is just pretty much focused on Self, then? Are you trying to only take in his words?
EJ: Yeah. Pretty much. But, for the most part, just the college level. I feel like it’s a stage that you go through, and right now, I’m not ready for that NBA stage. I’m trying to learn the steps and all the small things to get me ready for that level. I’ll watch it and I’ll take the things that are pretty obvious about learning, but for the most part, I try to keep it on the college level.
JN: Do you like the college game better than the NBA game?
EJ: Right now, I do. But once I learn it ... it’s just like a new video game. Once you get it, you like it, you love it. But by the time the next one comes out, you’re ready to go to that one. I’m pretty sure I’ll grow more of a love for the NBA as time goes on.
JN: So you don’t listen to announcers when you watch games? Always music?
EJ: I can’t listen to announcers.
JN: Why’s that?
EJ: I feel like they confuse you a lot. They give a lot of views and opinions that they don’t too much know what they’re talking about sometimes. A lot of them do. I’m not saying that they don’t. Just not in my terms.
JN: You can admit it. Media members aren’t smart is what you’re saying, right?
EJ: No, not necessarily. Just you wouldn’t phrase it in a way that I’m used to learning it. I’m used to learning it in the way that the coach can put it to me instead of the way that you all would put it.
JN: Who’s the goofiest teammate on this team?
EJ: When I’m here, me.
JN: Really? Why’s that?
EJ: Even in the most hard practices, I try to make some people smile. I know that sometimes, it gets tough, and people don’t really want to go through practice and are dragging. So I try to say something to the twins or irritate Tyshawn to get a smile on his face (smiles) or do something to Sherron. Just, I always try to be that extra energy in the building.
JN: Can you give me a specific example of something you did to Tyshawn to lighten him up?
EJ: Like call him Tywahn. I call him that. He gets an attitude, and he looks at me, and he gets mad every now and then, but before I know it, he’s smiling and going along with it.
JN: Does he hate the name Tywahn then?
EJ: Oh yeah, he hates it. I wouldn’t even put it in the interview if I were you.
JN: What’s surprised you the most since you got here to KU?
EJ: Coach Self.
JN: What about him?
EJ: He just knows so much. He doesn’t say too much sometimes about stuff that isn’t that important, but I notice he knows everything. He notices everything — all tendencies, all habits, just everything. The way you think, he knows even before you react — like 100 percent of the time what you’re going to say or how you will feel about it.
JN: Is there a time where you thought, ‘Gosh, he knew what I was going to do before I did it’? Or, ‘He knew something I didn’t think he knew’?
EJ: Yeah, now, because I’m pretty predictable with the coaches. If they tell me something, I won’t argue with them. I know that I don’t know, and I know that they know. So when I mess up — I’ll do something dumb, and Coach ... I think, personally, it’s pretty hard for him to yell at me, because it doesn’t really affect me. ‘I know, Coach. I know I messed up. I know I don’t know what I’m doing.’ But I won’t argue with him too much.
JN: Does that make you different? A lot of players think they know it all, and you act like you know that you don’t know it all.
EJ: Yeah, I think that makes me pretty different because I accept it. I think a lot of people know that they don’t know, but they don’t accept the fact. I accept the fact that I don’t know too much. Coach knows. He’s been doing it for too long to have me come in after a couple months and try to tell him what to do.
JN: Are you a quick learner because of that skill?
EJ: Yes, I think so. I really do. I think that in the long run, it’ll show, maybe my sophomore year, maybe my junior year. It’ll show that I never resisted what he’s tried to tell me. Not one time.
Let's get right to this week's Sideline Report with Kansas punter Alonso Rojas.
The Sideline Report with Alonso Rojas
Jesse Newell: You started as a soccer player, right? Tell me about that.
Alonso Rojas: It’s actually funny. Growing up, I died for football. I used to watch it all the time. Grew up watching the (Miami) Hurricanes’ games. My sister went to the University of Miami. I always watched the Dolphins’ games, the Hurricanes’ games.
I always loved football, and my mom always used to say — we had a friend whose son got hurt bad with football — ‘You’re too small,’ because I didn’t grow until about sophomore year of high school. Always too small and undersized. I was fast and quick, unlike now (laughs). No, I was a lot faster and quicker when I was young. I didn’t weigh as much. I was a little shorter, so I was a lot shiftier. I had good ball-handling skills. I played soccer all the way until I was about 16 or 17, I was really competitive. ... My whole life growing up, I played soccer, I loved it, but I really, really love football, so I decided to stick with football.
JN: How did you convince your mom that you could play football, then?
AR: Well, I kind of got into the whole story how I’ve gotten a little bit bigger and kids are more my size now. I just said, ‘Look, Mom, I just want to play football. That’s what I want to do.’ My early years in high school, I was fast. I have good hands, so I went out for tight end, played a little linebacker. It might have been three days before the season started, my coach goes, ‘Wait a second, we don’t have a kicker. Anybody know how to kick?’ I go, ‘Well, I played soccer.’ And he’s like, ‘Well all right, then. I guess you’re our kicker.’ Ever since then, I started kicking. I kind of started getting pretty good at it, fluent with it, so I stuck with kicking.
JN: Is it pretty amazing that you went from, ‘Oh hey, you’re the kicker,’ to the top-ranked punter in the nation a few years later?
AR: It was an honor. Again, rankings don’t really mean much. It was a good honor, being ranked that. It felt good. I had a lot of naysayers, a lot of soccer friends that said, ‘Dude, you never should have quit soccer. You were so good.’ I was like, ‘You know what, I’m a football player now. I have a feeling that I can possibly play football at the next level.’
JN: Was it just a natural thing when you first punted a ball?
[Ed. Note — Not Alonso, but funny nonetheless.]
AR: Actually, I wasn’t a punter at all. I was a kicker, but they needed a punter. I believe it was my sophomore year in high school, I finally had a kicking coach. He was just a kicking coach — straight kicker. I kicked and kicked. He said, ‘You know what, I want to see you punt a ball.’ So I punted the ball, and it actually went 45 yards, 50 yards with good hang time and a perfect spiral turned over. He was like, ‘You’re a natural punter.’ And I never realized it. So I kicked a little more, and I kicked in high school and punted both. I was mostly a kicker. I wanted to be a kicker in college, but then, I met my second coach because I moved on to coaches to get better opinions, and he was like, ‘You’ve got to stop kicking. You’ve got to punt. You’re so natural at it.’ I guess my leg swing was so natural. Everything about it was natural. So I just stuck with punting.
JN: Do you miss soccer at all then?
AR: I do, actually. The year I sat out, I actually played a little indoor soccer to stay in shape, played with friends. Every time I’d go home, I’d play with my cousins, little pickup games. With the kickers here, sometimes we’d get together on the weekends and whenever we get spare time, we just juggle the soccer ball, we pass it around, we kick it around. We’ll go in the goal and shoot at each other. We always stay in touch with our first roots, which is soccer for most of us.
JN: Is soccer pretty big in Miami?
AR: Yeah. If you lived in Miami, you would know. It’s very different. It’s culturally diverse, so a lot of Latin Americans and people from Europe and Africa and all other continents, that’s one of the main melting pots where they migrate to. A lot of the soccer teams there are well-cultured. They have different races, different ethnicities, and soccer’s very competitive. I would say other than football, I’d say soccer is one of the biggest sports in Miami.
JN: I mentioned this before, but you were the No. 1-ranked punter out of high school. Is that something a lot of people don’t realize about you?
AR: Yeah. A lot of people ask me, ‘Why Bowling Green?’ That’s what they ask me is, ‘Why’d you choose Bowling Green?’ And, I told them, ‘I love football. I want to play. I want to get an education.’ Not very many schools were offering (scholarships to) punters, period. So I took what I could get. A lot of the Florida schools, you could be a walk-on. A lot of schools were walk-on. But I wanted to get my school paid for. I wanted to play football really badly. So I chose Bowling Green. Things didn’t go accordingly, but I got blessed and was able to come over here to Kansas and play for a great team.
JN: You had as many stars coming out of high school as Sam Bradford (four), and you had double the stars of Todd Reesing (two). What’s your reaction to that?
AR: My reaction to that, for me, I’d say Todd’s a five-star.
The way he plays on the field and the way he ... I’m surprised Bradford only had four stars. Bradford’s an amazing athlete, an amazing quarterback as Todd is. I’m surprised Todd had two. A lot of teams, they skipped out on a heck of a player. He’s a great athlete, a great quarterback and shows that every Saturday.
JN: I saw on Scout.com you are the No. 5-ranked punter for the class of 2010, which would be next year. So is there a possibility that you would skip out on your senior year and go pro?
AR: Oh. No no no no no no no no. (smiles) Definitely not. My education comes before all, and coach Mangino strictly enforces that. Football doesn’t last a lifetime. Your degree is very important. That wouldn’t even cross my mind. I love it here. I’m having a great time. I’m looking forward to ending this season very strong and pretty much achieving the goals the team has set out. After that, we come back for the winter and get ready for the offseason and play another year next year.
JN: What’s your degree in then?
AR: Sports management. It’s part of the school of education. And a minor in business.
JN: When did you learn to rugby kick?
AR: It was something I was messing around with my freshman year. I kind of wasn’t really thrilled about it because ... it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just I wasn’t consistent at it. I would punt the ball real far with the rugby kick and I’d have two bad ones, and I’d have two really good ones and a bad one. It was off. So my freshman year, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t like this. I like it, but I don’t. This is cool. If I could actually get this down, I could boom the ball.’ It didn’t work out too good for me, but during the offseason, I was like, ‘I’ve got to be ready for anything.’ So I worked on it, worked on it, got pretty good at it. It was just something that came naturally. I had a natural side-swing to my leg. It’s kind of a weird swing, because it’s kind of a mix between kicking and punting, because your leg is actually going sideways. It’s just something I got good at. I’m happy I can help out the team doing it now, use it as a weapon.
JN: Did Bowling Green want you to do that all the time, then?
AR: No, not really. We actually punted straight more than we rugbied. That’s why I feel like I wasn’t really mad that I had to do it, I was more mad that I wasn’t able to get it down. I try to be a perfectionist at punting, and it’s almost impossible to do. You have your bad ones. It’s something that Bowling Green asked me to do every once in a while, and it’s something that I struggled with a little bit. But I’m actually happy now that I’m doing pretty good with it.
JN: At what point did you think, ‘Hey, I’ve got this down’?
AR: Last season, towards the end of the year, I was messing around in practice. I hit a bomb. It was a pretty (long) punt.
JN: How long?
AR: I punted it from the 20-yard line, and I think it went close to the other goal line. It was a perfect spiral. I was like, ‘Man, this is pretty cool,’ so I told one of the coaches, ‘Hey, check this out.’ And it wasn’t as far of a punt, but it was pretty far, too. That’s when I realized, ‘Man, I’m pretty good at this. If the team ever needed me to do this, I could do it pretty good.’
JN: Which coach did you tell?
AR: It was (wide receivers) coach (David) Beaty and (special teams) coach (Louie) Matsakis. They were kind of shocked a little bit. They were like, ‘Whoa. Gosh. That’s a heck of a kick.’
JN: Did you see their minds starting to turn already?
AR: It’s funny. I said to myself, ‘Uh oh, I think I just gave them some ideas.’ (laughs) No, we kept punting regularly until about the last game. It’s worked out perfect for us. We’ve got great schemes for it. I think we’re doing a really good job.
JN: That was huge against MU’s Jeremy Maclin, right?
AR: Yeah. Obviously, everyone knew he was coming up and going to be a really good NFL prospect, first round. Everyone was saying that this guy’s probably going to take plenty to the house. But we schemed him pretty good. I thought we did an unbelievable job. The coaches, with the blocking, and me just rolling out. If Maclin’s short, kick it long. If Maclin’s long, kick it short and let it roll so our coverage gets down there and he won’t have any time to return the ball. I thought we did a pretty good job against him.
JN: How important is the drop in punting the football?
AR: Coaches say different things. What one of my coaches told me is, ‘Punting is 90-percent mental, 10-percent physical.’ I would say that’s pretty accurate. I would say 90-percent mental, about 8.5-percent of that is your drop.
AR: If you don’t have a good drop, you’re not going to have a good punt. It’s pretty much everything. You can overstride a little bit, but if you have a good drop, you’ll still have a nice punt. You have good strides and a bad drop, it’s not going to go very far. That’s been something I’ve been working on really hard is to have a steady, consistent drop.
JN: Isn’t that interesting, because a lot of people would not think that you dropping the ball a couple feet is going to make a big difference.
AR: Right. What people don’t know is that punting, it’s not about how big your leg is or how well you can blast the ball. It’s mostly about your drop. I think it’s a very hard thing to master. Anyone who’s had any athletic ability in them and knows how to punt their toe like a punter should, they get a decent drop and the ball will go pretty far. It’ll go 40 yards, between 40 and 30, somewhere in there. Nothing real big, but it will be a nice punt. Coach Matsakis, it’s funny actually, he hasn’t really lost his drop because he’ll go out there sometimes and punt a little bit, and he’ll have some 40-yard, perfect-turned-over punts. And then sometimes, (cornerbacks) coach (Je'Ney) Jackson will be out there, and coach Jackson’s a very strong guy. He still works out, and he’s got a strong leg. His drop’s kind of off a little bit, so the ball won’t go as far. I’ve seen coach Jackson last year at the bowl, we were messing around before every practice, he’d be like, ‘All right, Rojas, me and you.’ He’d drop the ball, and he bombed one. I can’t remember how far it was, but he actually had a steady drop, it was a perfect drop, and he hit it like a punter would, and it went. I’m not going to lie, it was almost as far as mine, but I’m never going to say it was as far as mine.
JN: So what can go wrong with the drop?
AR: There are several aspects of the drop. You’ll have a drop with the wind behind or at your back, because obviously, the wind pushes the ball. It depends on how the wind’s blowing. Drops are always the best when there’s no wind. The best time to punt is when there’s no wind at all.
JN: Really? Even with it at your back is worse?
AR: Even at your back it’s not as good, because one, you don’t have as much hang time, and two, yeah, it goes far, but you can outkick your coverage plenty of times. Your drop when you drop the ball and it’s really windy, the ball will move forward, causing you to lean back and try to reach for the ball. Same with the wind in your face. You’ve got to hold the ball a little harder and longer and just try to hit it as hard as you can. Even then, it’s really hard. Your drop is probably the main thing in punting.
JN: Every time I watch an NFL game and there’s a shanked punt, they say it’s off the side of his foot. I’ve always wondered: Is every bad punt always off the side of your foot?
AR: No, not at all. They say the ball comes off the side of your leg. It’s really not the side of your leg or the side of your foot. What it is is you drop the ball, the ball will turn in on you, and you hit it straight on — because you want to hit the ball right here on the top of your foot. That’s where you want to hit the ball. When you hit the ball and the ball turns in on you — the ball’s like an egg — so if you hit the side of the ball, it’s going to go straight out to the right, or to the left, or end over end. So it’s really not coming off the side of your foot. There are times when it does come off the side of your foot, but in most of the cases, it’s really not that. It’s again your drop. Your drop’s really important. If your drop is a bad drop, you’ll shank it.
JN: I’ve always just wondered, ‘How does this guy in the booth know every single time it’s off the side of his foot?’
AR: And you really can’t see it. Have you seen that commercial, I think it’s Nike or Reebok, it’s a football commercial where the ball is being kicked by the kicker, and you can actually see the pressure of the ball actually pushing in. It’s just like that. Your leg speed is so fast that you really couldn’t tell if it’s coming off the side of your foot. Most of the times, it’s a solid hit, it’s just the ball, you hit the ball at the wrong spot. That’s what happens.
JN: So you just want to hit it square?
AR: You want to hit it square with very little angle. (Holds palm flat) Just perfect.
AR: Oh man.
JN: Tell me about those battles.
AR: I knew it would come up. They were intense. Me and Kale probably sweat more in those pingpong matches than we would have in a summer workout. We were going at it. He’d hit a great point, I’d hit a great point. We looked like professional table-tennis players out there. We’re backed up at least three feet away from the table and hitting with topspin, slamming it on each other, all these fancy serves. Kale Pick, man, he surprised me.
I played a lot of pingpong back at home. I thought I was going to run the table, but Kale Pick gave me a challenge. There’s a lot of guys on the team that are pretty good at pingpong that gave me a challenge. We played games, actual games we’d play with sets and games. We got intense. It was fun. It was a good time, too.
JN: So are you the best on the team?
AR: Am I the best on the team? Nope, I can’t say that because I truthfully haven’t played everybody. I really don’t know if I am.
JN: You’re the best known player on the team, then.
AR: When I played in the Insight Bowl, I don’t remember losing. I could have lost a couple sets, but I’ve ended up winning most of the games. (Jake) Laptad’s a pretty good pingpong player. My roommate, Darrell Stuckey, is another really good pingpong player. But I can’t say I’ve lost to them. I really can’t.
JN: Kale needs to get some more work in. Is that what you’re saying?
AR: Whatever bowl we go to this year, we’ll make sure there’s a pingpong table there and we’ll go at it hard.
JN: Is that frustrating as a punter that the main stat that people keep track of (punting average) is kind of misleading?
AR: It’s not so much frustrating. It’s just people don’t really know the truth behind punting. When they hear, ‘Oh, this guy had an 80-yard punt.’ Well was it a 40-yard punt and then it rolled 40 yards? It’s really not all about that. It’s really about being fundamentally sound in the punting game. ... It won’t do me any good to punt the ball 60 yards and have no hang time or 60 yards and through the end zone or 60 yards and I outkick my coverage and the guy’s going to have 20 or 30 yards to work with before my guys even get there.
JN: Are you told specifically where to put every punt that you have?
AR: It’s complicated. We’ll get calls, and based on what they give me and what the call is, I kind of make my own decision of where I’m going to put the ball. I put it where I feel like our team’s going to have a better chance. ... It all depends on scenarios. Maybe we’re in tight — they’re giving us a look where we’re in tight — if I’m on the right hash, I’ll probably, maybe angle the ball out of bounds. If we’re right in the middle of the field or the left hash, most likely, I’ll probably hang it up as high as I can and make the guy fair catch. It’s little things that people don’t know is what I want to do and how I feel helps out the team the best.
JN: As a punter, are you happy when you get to punt, or are you upset?
AR: It’s funny. My academic counselor and athletic personnel in the athletic department always tell me, ‘Hey, good luck this weekend. Hopefully, we don’t see you out there that much.’ Any time the offense does a good job, I’m happy. You want to play, but if you don’t play, you’re not going to be mad about it. That means your offense is doing a great job. Whenever you get out there, you have the opportunity to shine and help the team out as much as you can. You take it pridefully and excel at what you do.
JN: What’s your demeanor on the sidelines during a game?
AR: I don’t do much in the game. I punt. So I try to get the guys hyped up as much as possible. I try to get the crowd going. That’s something I like to do — help out as much as possible. If I can’t help out on the field, I’m going to help out my teammates by picking them up, telling them ‘Good job,’ ‘Try better next play,’ ‘Let’s go,’ ‘Get pumped up,’ and help get the crowd up and going. It’s something that I pride myself in, because Coach tells us, ‘Guys on the sideline, get in the game, help your teammates out.’ Every time I hear coach say that, I’m right there on the sideline helping my team win.
Sometimes, you just have to take advantage of an opportunity.
While at Big 12 women's media day today at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., some of us writers noticed that Oklahoma had brought sophomore guard Whitney Hand for interviews.
Now, Whitney is a great basketball player in her own right. She was the Big 12 freshman of the year last season after averaging 9.2 points per game for the Sooners.
But she's also gained some notoriety in the last couple months for another reason: She is the girlfriend of OU quarterback Landry Jones.
Because this is KU-OU football week, I thought it would be interesting to track down Whitney for a few minutes at media day to talk about her boyfriend's most famous feature: his mustache.
Thanks to Whitney for being a good sport about the whole thing and for candidly answering questions about Jones' now-famous fashion statement.
The (somewhat random) Sideline Report with Whitney Hand (Landry Jones' girlfriend)
Jesse Newell: How did Landry’s mustache come about?
Whitney Hand: To be honest with you, he’s just really lazy and so, before the BYU game, he wasn’t really expecting to get that much TV time. So he just didn’t shave. Then, it became this huge deal. Students made shirts. I was like, ‘Landry, you have to shave that. Like, you have to shave it. It’s disgusting.’ He was like, ‘I can’t.’ And all the students would go crazy if he had shaved it. He didn’t end up shaving it until after the Miami (Fla.) game when they lost.
JN: And you hated it, right?
WH: I really did. I mean ... he tells people that I said he looks ugly with it. But I never said he looked ugly. I just (pause) wasn’t a fan of it. But, I don’t know. It’s fine. I think it’s great that the students have embraced him so much in that. I think it’s fun. It’s kind of taken the pressure off a little bit. I think it’s a good thing.
JN: Do you think he resembles anybody with the mustache?
WH: Not really. It wasn’t his best look. (laughs)
JN: Did you wish some other fashion statement had caught on instead of that one?
WH: Yeah, I mean he’s an outrageous dresser. Why couldn’t one of his jackets with fur have caught on or something? (laughs) But I guess it definitely could be worse, so I’m OK with it.
JN: Is it something you just had to learn to deal with?
WH: Yeah. It was his time to be him. I think it’s cool that he’s gotten to experience that. He definitely has much more fame to come. I think it’s good for him to have had something that people can identify with.
Let's get right to this week's Sideline Report with Kansas quarterback Kale Pick.
The Sideline Report with Kale Pick
Jesse Newell: What’s the best part about growing up in Dodge City?
Kale Pick: That’s a tough one. Probably the relaxed environment. It’s kind of laid-back. That’s a tough question.
JN: What’s the worst part about growing up in Dodge City?
KP: It’s so boring. There’s nothing to do in southwest Kansas besides sports games.
JN: What do you guys do for fun out there?
KP: Well, Friday nights during the season, we go out and play whatever sport we’re playing: baseball, basketball or football. ... We usually just hang out, watch TV, watch football games, especially on Saturday nights. We’d watch a lot of sports.
JN: Is there an exciting restaurant? Is Sonic the hangout or anything like that?
KP: Yeah, I didn’t go down to Sonic too much where they hang out. I guess we did a lot of pingpong when we were hanging out. We all got pretty good at playing pingpong and pool. We’re all pretty competitive.
JN: How good are you at that?
KP: Not too bad. Actually, I’m pretty good. I think the one guy that beat me on the team — during the Insight Bowl they had two pingpong tables — Alonso Rojas beat me. I think that was the only player that beat me.
JN: Are you going to avenge that loss then?
KP: Oh yeah. When we get up to the next bowl game, we’ll find a pingpong table.
JN: He seems like the kind of guy that would talk trash after beating you. Is that true?
KP: Oh definitely. All weekend, he was talking trash to me. He wouldn’t let it go, and he kept challenging me. I was like, ‘I’ve got to practice a little more before I play you next.’
JN: A lot of people are going to call you a gunslinger from Dodge City. Is that good or bad? Do you like that or not?
KP: Yeah, I like it. I’m kind of used to it. In high school, everybody was calling me ‘The Gunslinger’ in newspapers and the news. ‘The Gunslinger from Dodge.’ I’m kind of used to it. It doesn’t bother me.
JN: So it’s a legit nickname? You don’t mind it?
[Ed. note — This is the mascot from a minor league football team in Los Angeles. Pretty cool.]
KP: No, I don’t mind it.
JN: I’ve got to ask you this too. Kale Pick. Do you feel like that’s a horrible name for a quarterback?
KP: I’m used to it, to be honest with you. (smiles) My freshman year in high school was the first time it was brought up in an interview, and I honestly didn’t know what to say. Then, some other reporters from articles were saying, ‘Kale picks apart the defense,’ so that kind of stuck around nice. So it’s not too bad now. It could go both ways.
JN: I just wondered, because there’s a guy in the Major Leagues, Grant Balfour, who’s a pitcher.
KP: (laughs) Oh really.
JN: So is Kale Pick better than that you think? Or about the same?
KP: Nah, they’re about the same. The same area.
JN: Your father played at Iowa State. Tell me about that.
KP: I don’t know much about it, but he played under Mack Brown when he was at Iowa State (as an assistant coach). He played fullback. That’s about all I know.
JN: Were you raised an Iowa State fan? Who did you cheer for, or who did you watch?
KP: I wasn’t a big team fan, but I had to say a team, I’d say Nebraska because I have an uncle that lives in Manhattan, and I always give him crap because he’s a K-State fan. I was probably a Nebraska fan growing up.
JN: Who’s your favorite player from Nebraska growing up?
KP: Eric Crouch.
JN: Did you aspire to be like him? You guys are kind of the same type of quarterback.
KP: Not really. I just kind of liked Eric Crouch for some reason. He always made big plays. I also liked Michael Bishop from K-State, but I wasn’t a K-State fan, so I couldn’t say that.
JN: So you couldn’t say it out loud, but deep inside, you were?
JN: I said that you were kind of a comparison to Eric Crouch, and obviously you’ve run a lot in the first few games of the season. Do you get frustrated when people talk like you can’t throw the football?
KP: Not really. I’m just kind of waiting until we start throwing the ball. I’m not really frustrated about it. I just can’t wait until we start throwing the ball. It makes me more anxious.
JN: For a while this season, you were 10th in the Big 12 in rushing yards. What did you think about that?
KP: Wasn’t expecting it. From the beginning of preseason, I couldn’t have told you I was going to be in the top 10 in rushing yards. It just kind of happened.
JN: A lot of teams have the Wildcat formation. Do you think you might get in here, kind of sneak in some crazy formation here?
KP: I don’t know. After the UTEP game, Todd (Reesing) just came up to me and said, ‘You are ridiculous. We need the Wildcat offense for you.’ I just kind of thought about it then. He kept saying it, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ It’s up to the coaches.
JN: If Todd went to the coaches and suggested that, you wouldn’t be against it, right?
KP: Oh no. I wouldn’t be against it.
JN: So you running the Wildcat is a good idea, you think?
KP: That’s up to the coaches.
JN: I know it’s up to the coaches, but ...
KP: It would be fun.
JN: You could see yourself as a Wildcat-type quarterback.
KP: Yeah, maybe.
JN: I’ve seen that you want to be a college coach. Tell me why.
KP: I just love football, love the game of football. I always have growing up. I was always watching football games. I learned from my dad. He taught me a lot. I’ve just always been a student of the game and love the game.
JN: Tell me about the first KU game you saw.
KP: I think it might have been KU and Baylor during the Orange Bowl year.
JN: What do you remember about it?
KP: It had a rain delay and it was really boring. KU came out of the rain delay and just crushed Baylor. It was good, but the rain delay was super boring.
JN: So the boring part didn’t translate over in your head. That’s a good thing for KU.
KP: Yeah, really good thing. Actually, I was pretty impressed. They came out and just lit it up.
JN: Ever cried at a movie?
KP: Yep, I cried at the movie, ‘The Guardian.’
JN: What was so sad about it?
KP: Just how they were so close of friends and the guy ends up dying and the guy slips out of his fingers when he’s holding him from the helicopter. That’s pretty sad.
JN: Was there at least a girl around to see you cry and see how sensitive you were?
KP: Um, I don’t think so. (smiles) I think there was just guys. Actually, once I think about it, we went to ‘Marley and Me’ at the Insight Bowl last year, and I think there were about five guys off our football team that cried at that movie.
JN: OK, you don’t have to disclose all of them, but is there anybody you want to single out to say, ‘Wow, they cried at the movie, “Marley and Me”’?
KP: I’ll tell you, Justin Springer was there. Big tough guy. I didn’t think this guy had any emotion at all.
He comes out of the movie and goes, ‘Wow, that was a really sad movie.’ I just kind of looked at him and was like, ‘You’re supposed to be this big, bad linebacker. You’re just sitting there, you almost had a tear-jerker in this movie.’
JN: But did you cry at ‘Marley and Me’?
KP: I might have shed a few tears.
KP: But I looked over, and everybody else (makes sniffing noise) was sniffing, and I was just like, ‘Our whole football team’s about to cry over this dog.’ (laughs)
JN: Unexpected at the least?
JN: What’s something that would surprise me about you?
KP: A lot of people think it’s surprising that I like to play pingpong. A lot, in my free time, I like to play golf. We also did that in Dodge a lot. We played golf a lot.
JN: What’s your handicap?
KP: Oh, I couldn’t tell you.
JN: What do you typically shoot then?
KP: Right now it’s not good. I haven’t played in a while since we started football. Um, about nine holes, I’d probably shoot a 42.
JN: That’s good compared to me. I don’t think I’ve broke 100.
KP: Really? Yeah, usually, I don’t play 18 holes, but nine holes I usually shoot a 42, 43.
JN: What TV show are you embarrassed that you watch?
KP: That ‘70s Show. I don’t know why, but every night — my roommate is Duane Zlatnik — every night we come (home), there’s nothing to watch except SportsCenter. So every night we watch That ‘70s Show with Ashton Kutcher and all those people. It’s kind of a different show.
JN: Do you relate to any of the characters then, or are any of them like you?
KP: No, I don’t think so. Ashton Kutcher’s pretty funny in it, but that’s about it.
JN: What movie do you quote lines from the most?
KP: There’s a lot of movies I quote lines from. I love watching movies. ‘Dumb and Dumber’ is a pretty good one. I’m trying to think. There’s a lot.
JN: I love ‘Dumb and Dumber.’
KP: Yeah, ‘Dumb and Dumber’ is one of my all-time favorites.
JN: What is your favorite line from ‘Dumb and Dumber’? Or your favorite scene?
KP: Probably when they’re riding to Colorado and they end up freezing together after the guy urinates on the other guy and they freeze together. And his nostrils are all full of frozen snot. That’s pretty funny.
JN: That’s a classic man. It’s totally a classic.
JN: What pregame food do you like most?
KP: Probably the mashed potatoes. I like the mashed potatoes. Chicken. That’s usually what we have. We actually almost have the same pregame meal every week.
JN: So pretty good, though?
KP: Yeah, really good. I like it all.
JN: Makes you run fast at least, right?
KP: (laughs) I guess.
JN: Who has the best nickname on the team?
KP: Duane Zlatnik’s is ‘Dewey.’ I don’t know how he got that one, but it’s ‘Dewey.’ I think Tanner Hawkinson looks like Will Ferrell, so I call him ‘Will Ferrell’ every once in a while.
JN: What’s the funniest part about living with Duane, then?
KP: He’s just a real small-town ... he’s just like a little kid walking around our house. He always tries to wrestle me or gives me crap all the time. He was a big wrestler in high school, so he always tries to have me wrestle him.
JN: What’s your strategy? Is it to face him head-up or run away?
KP: Every once in a while, I’ll try to shoot for his legs, try to get him down, and then once I get him down, just run away. Try to get away from him. He has a pretty strong grip, so I don’t want to get too close to him.
For the second straight week, our Sideline Report focuses on a KU true freshman. Here's an extended conversation with wide receiver Bradley McDougald.
The Sideline Report with Bradley McDougald
Jesse Newell: I heard you're a good cook. Is that right?
Bradley McDougald: (laughs) I cook a little bit.
JN: What's your best dish?
BM: Fried chicken. My mom taught me how to cook fried chicken when I was littler. That's something to carry with me.
[Ed. Note — No, this isn't Brad's family recipe. But I do love the chef's accent.]
JN: Is there some secret that you have with it that makes yours better?
BM: No, it's just kind of like a family tradition type thing. She just said that her mom taught her, so she was going to teach me how to cook fried chicken so that when I lived by myself, I could cook for myself.
JN: Did you like that your mom taught you to cook?
BM: Yeah. There's a lot of guys in college that can't cook, so they usually resort to eating fast food or ordering out a lot. Knowing how to cook is a big deal.
JN: Are you one of the most popular guys on the team, then? Do they always come over? Have they figured it out yet?
BM: (laughs) Nah, I don't cook that often. If I ever do need to cook, I know how to.
JN: I heard you're a Big Ten guy.
BM: A Big Ten guy?
JN: Is that true? Grew up in Big Ten country?
BM: Yeah, when you come from Ohio, you're surrounded by Big Ten teams. That's all you really watch is the part of the nation you're from. If you're from up north, or the Midwest, you just watch a certain type of football. So Big Ten was something I watched a lot of.
JN: OK, you tell me right now: Big Ten overrated, underrated or gets about the respect that it deserves.
BM: After coming to the Big 12 and playing in the Big 12 and seeing the competition that's here and meeting different people from around the nation, I would say at times it's overrated, but some teams do deserve the respect that they are getting.
JN: Who deserves it? (pause) You're from Ohio, right? You've got to be careful here.
BM: Ohio State, year after year, is a very good team. They just have great coaches there. They work hard. Outside of that, Penn State is a really good team that deserves a lot of credit. Depending on the season, Michigan State can be really good.
JN: Did you see yourself playing here right away? Is that a big reason you came here?
BM: Yeah, I did. Looking at the depth chart and looking at the players around me, I felt that I could make an impact. Talking to the coaches, they felt like I could make an impact. A majority of it was coming in during two-a-days and camp and making it worthwhile. If I was ready to play, I would display it out on the field. If I wasn't, then I would have been willing to take a red shirt.
JN: Did you even play receiver in high school?
BM: Yeah, I played a little bit of everything. That wasn't a primary position of mine, but I did play some receiver in high school.
JN: What's your favorite position?
BM: If I had to pick a position, it would probably be quarterback, just because you're in control the whole time.
JN: Did you play quarterback in high school then?
BM: Yeah, I played quarterback my senior and freshman years — just getting to run around and scramble and trying to make some highlights.
JN: Does Kale Pick need to worry then?
BM: Nah, Kale Pick doesn't need to worry. He can do anything I can do 10 times better at quarterback.
JN: You played a little basketball too, right?
BM: Yes, sir.
JN: How good were you at that?
BM: Good. I kind of miss it. Last game of my career, I had my career-high 32 points. We lost in the regional final game by one point to the state championship team. I felt I ended my high-school basketball career on a good note.
JN: What sport were you best at?
BM: Some people honestly said basketball, and others felt I was best at football. I just chose football.
JN: Let's say three guards get hurt for KU in February, and coach Self calls you in February and needs a guard. What's your answer?
BM: Yeah, I'd be up for the challenge if he needed one.
JN: What do you think Mangino would say about that?
BM: Honestly, they said they would allow a player to do that, but football is so much of your body and such a time-consuming part of your life that you really don't think about it because you're so tied up with your first commitment.
JN: So Bradley McDougald, guard from Ohio. That sounds pretty good? You wouldn't mind that on the big board?
BM: Nah, I wouldn't mind that.
JN: Have teammates told you that you look young? Do you ever get crap for that?
BM: Yeah. I say it's because I shave three times a day (smiles). It's just that I've never grown facial hair. I'm not in a rush to grow facial hair, but I do get that I look pretty young everywhere I go.
JN: So you don't have to shave at all then?
BM: Nah, I've never shaved before.
JN: So was that something that teammates immediately could get you for? Did they say that you looked 14 or anything like that?
BM: Yeah, they poke jokes at that. Then, they kind of look at me and ask me if I've ever shaved. I just smile and tell them that I shave. Looking at it, I think it's a big bonus.
JN: Why's it a bonus?
BM: The ladies like it. (pause) The ladies like it.
JN: The ladies like the younger guy look, huh?
BM: Yeah, they like the smooth face. They don't like the prickles.
JN: So you've got it over all your teammates then? You're golden.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
JN: Are you the best-dressed guy on the team?
BM: We definitely have some competition when it comes to that area. A lot of wide receivers, we just have to have a sort of swag, because if you look good, you feel good, you play good type of deal. There's a lot of wide receivers out there that can dress, so I'd say I'm in the competition.
JN: So who's with you in the competition?
BM: A.J. Steward is a good dresser. He dressed the part. All of them, really. [Dezmon] Briscoe. Everyone except for Kerry [Meier]. I don't think he dresses too well.
JN: What's wrong with his attire?
BM: I don't know. He just ... I don't know. (laughs) I don't know. He just doesn't dress that good.
JN: If you were going to critique him, Tim Gunn him, what would you say?
BM: Kerry's more of just a football player, so he just dresses that role as a football player. He doesn't really care about all the extra stuff. That's just the kind of guy that Kerry is. He knows what he needs, and he doesn't care about the extra stuff.
JN: If he gets into the NFL, does he need some Bradley McDougald fashion lessons?
BM: Yeah, he could hire me as his fashion advisor any day. I'll help him out with that, because he's got all the other parts of his game.
JN: Are you going to be cheap on him?
BM: Depending on what he signs at and what he pays me, I could hook him up.
JN: Not everybody got to see it, but describe to me what you wore after the first home game for the interview session.
BM: OK, so we had to dress up, so I felt first game, I should dress up pretty nice. I wore black pants with white pinstripes, white shirt, black suspenders and white gator shoes. I decided to open it up. Live fashionably.
JN: Where do you even get white gator shoes?
BM: I don't know where you get them at here, but back at home, there's a mall. You just go to the mall and get them.
JN: Are they expensive?
BM: No, they're not that expensive. About the same price as a pair of tennis shoes.
JN: Tell me something that would surprise me about you.
BM: I can fold my ear in my ear.
JN: Is that a talent you just recently discovered?
BM: No, I got it from my dad.
JN: So you just fold it down and in?
BM: Yeah. (demonstrates)
JN: Does that help with the ladies, too?
BM: Nah, they think it's kind of weird, actually.
JN: So you've got to keep that away until you're going steady, right?
JN: First impression of coach Mangino?
BM: I thought he was a really nice guy when I was on my recruiting trip. He seemed like he was out for his players' interests. He really wanted to see his players succeed. And he didn't just see them as players. He actually wanted the best for their personal being. When I got here, not much changed. Obviously, he's had to become more strict. He's a hard-nosed coach. He knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it out of his players.
JN: What did you think when he had a lot of compliments for you early on in this training camp?
BM: I appreciated it. I took it with a little grain of salt, because I knew I had a lot of things to get better at. I just tried to basically stay humble and not let it get to me at all, kind of just shake it off. Things like that you don't really want to pay attention to until after the season. I didn't want to get the big head or anything. I just wanted to try and stay focused.
JN: Jacob Branstetter said he calls you "Freshy." What do you think about that nickname?
BM: That's fine with me. I don't expect too much special treatment or any special treatment at all. If that's what he wants to call me, and I've got to work for a better nickname than that, then that's fine with me.
JN: What would a better nickname for you be?
BM: I could go for B-Mac or McDoogs. That's what they usually call me back at home.
JN: B-Mac? KU's had a B-Mac. You heard about him?
BM: Yeah, I've heard about the other B-Mac.
JN: Who's playing you in a movie?
BM: Will Smith.
JN: Any reason for that?
BM: He just does great with movies like that, biographies. The way he did the Ali movie, it's one of my favorite movies.
Let's get right to this week's sideline report with freshman running back Toben Opurum.
Notice in his interiew below, his initials are "T.O." I'm just wondering how long it will take until all KU fans call him by that nickname ...
The Sideline Report with Toben Opurum
Jesse Newell: Why the mohawk? [Ed. note — He has one now. I promise.]
Toben Opurum: I just wanted to do something different in high school. It started out as just something out of boredom, but I just liked the way it looked. It keeps it different. It's cool.
JN: Do your teammates like it or not?
TO: Nobody really comments on it (laughs). I mean, I don't tell anybody else I like their hair (laughs). It's just really nice to have something different than everyone else.
JN: Are you a better rapper or a better singer?
TO: I'm just OK at both. I enjoy listening to music more so than anything.
JN: So neither one's better?
TO: No, they're about the same.
JN: I read in a Jayhawk Slant story that you worked at a place called Amazing Jake's. Tell me about that experience.
TO: Basically, it's kind of a mixture of a Chuck E. Cheese and Main Event type of arcade place.
It had all types of different things there. It had its ups and downs, but dealing with kids sometimes can get tiring.
JN: What's the worst experience you had with either kids or parents at that place?
TO: All the time we get kids that want to get mad at us for not letting them on rides because they're too short. We have signs that you have to be taller than ... just having to deal with that all the time.
JN: So you're a little kid heartbreaker is what you are. You make them have to be this tall to ride the ride?
TO: Not on purpose (laughs).
JN: What's an embarrassing TV show that you watch?
TO: That's the weird thing. I actually don't watch that much TV. Since I've gotten here, I haven't watched TV, unless I was watching a football game.
JN: That's it?
JN: So you have a lot of time on your hands then, right?
TO: Usually my free time is spent on my laptop or on my Xbox. Watching TV I haven't done too much of.
JN: What's your favorite Web site?
TO: I'm just always searching up new music, just searching the web for random facts and stuff.
JN: What's the last book you read?
TO: See that's the thing. A lot of books I read online (laughs). I couldn't even say. I just like reading different articles, things like that. Novels and books, I'm not really into.
JN: Favorite Disney character.
TO: Don't like Disney (laughs).
JN: Didn't watch any of them growing up?
TO: I was more of a South Park type of a guy (laughs). I wasn't really into Disney and everything.
JN: All right. Favorite South Park character.
JN: Why's that?
TO: He's hilarious. He's the center of attention on the show all the time.
JN: Do you think you're like him or not?
TO: No, not at all (laughs). He's just funny to watch.
JN: Who are you most like on South Park?
TO: I don't think anybody in the world is like anybody on South Park.
JN: That's probably a good thing, then.
JN: Tell me about the first KU game you saw.
TO: I can't remember what it was, but the one that sticks out to me the most, though, is the game against Missouri last year.
That's the one I really sat down and got a chance to watch from beginning to end. It was definitely a good experience. A little while after, I committed to the program, so it was a chance to see the people that I would be playing with in the future, and I was definitely impressed they pulled it out in the end. It was an exciting game to watch for anybody.
JN: Where'd you watch it?
TO: I watched it at one of my friend's houses. He's actually a big Notre Dame fan. At the same time he's seeing them do well, he's trying to talk to me about Notre Dame. It was definitely a feeling of excitement. I was rooting for all of them, and it was fun to watch.
JN: When you watched Todd Reesing on that final throw, did you think he was in trouble?
TO: Nah. Reesing, he's not going down in that situation. He knows where he's at all the time, and he's a playmaker. That's what playmakers do.
JN: What was your first impression of coach Mangino?
TO: The first time I actually got to talk to him in person was on my visit up here. The thing I liked about him was that he was real honest with me. He didn't try to just tell me things to keep me around or anything. He just kept it real honest. That's the thing I like most about him.
JN: Were there other coaches that weren't as honest with you that you thought maybe were just giving you things that you wanted to hear?
TO: I think there's a bit of that in recruiting, people telling you what you want to hear. But here, my expectations were realistic. He just kept things honest with me.
JN: Ever cried at a movie?
TO: No. Never.
JN: Ever come close?
JN: Nothing huh?
JN: Titanic. That doesn't make you cry?
TO: (laughs) Not at all.
JN: If you could have a superhuman power, what would it be?
TO: (pause) Flying. Flying definitely.
JN: Why's that?
TO: It's a good way to just get away from everything else on the earth and get places on time (laughs). A lot of people have issues with that. That or telepathy.
JN: Oh, telepathy. Tell me why you want that.
TO: That's mind control. You'd be able to move things with your mind. I like X-Men characters, so I just think of all the different things that they can do with their powers and stuff.
JN: Would it be nice to move the linebackers out of the way when you're running toward the secondary?
TO: See, that'd be simple. With telepathy, you wouldn't even have to worry about it (laughs).
JN: We wouldn't know why you were so good, but that would be why, right?
TO: Exactly. But it's just fun to think about different things like that, supernatural things.
JN: Give me an athlete that you admire.
TO: I admire Kobe Bryant. His passion for the game is the passion that I have for my game. He loves the sport, and he makes it a bigger part of his life than most people do. I definitely admire that. He's a great athlete. Everybody knows that they won a championship last year on his back. Everyone knows how good of an athlete Kobe Bryant is, so that's definitely who I admire.
JN: What's your favorite Kobe Bryant moment?
TO: There's really too many. He's crossed so many people over, dunked on multiple people. It's really hard to just sit down and pick one.
JN: What's something that would stand out if I walked into your room?
TO: I keep my room pretty simple. There's nothing crazy on the walls. It's kind of just my Xbox there and my laptop here and that's it.
JN: Nothing too crazy then?
TO: No, not at all.
One housekeeping item before we get to this week's Sideline Report: We're having some technical problems with our Kream Keegan system, so we won't have the contest for this week. Hopefully, we'll get things up and running soon.
Let's get right to our (extended) Sideline Report with junior kicker Jacob Branstetter. Thanks to him for opening up (and also loosening up) during Tuesday's interview.
The Sideline Report with Jacob Branstetter
Jesse Newell: First off, do you think you're a better kicker or a better tackler?
Jacob Branstetter: Kicker.
JN: Why's that?
JB: I practice more. I practice more on field goals than I would on tackling. Tackling's just something I do on instinct.
JN: You've kind of gotten a reputation for tackling, right?
JB: Yeah, I definitely have a reputation as a tackler. I wouldn't say it's something I work on or practice. It comes natural from junior-high, high-school days, I guess.
JN: Is it surprising to you that you're such a natural at that? Kickers usually aren't good tacklers.
JB: Yeah, but not many kickers, I guess, probably played football beforehand. I played football in ninth grade, played free safety. I always had a knack for the ball, so it's not that surprising.
JN: What's the longest field goal you've ever kicked?
JB: Oh. Sixty-one-and-a-half (yards). Sixty-two-ish.
JN: When was that?
JB: We hit a couple 61s the other day, maybe three or four days ago in practice.
JN: Do you test yourself often to see how far you can go?
JB: Sometimes. Sometimes people like to test me on the practice field. (Punter) Alonso (Rojas) likes to joke around with me a little bit. Alonso can kick the ball. He's a better punter than kicker, but he can kick the ball pretty far.
JN: Do you guys have competitions then?
JB: It's laid-back competition. Sometimes, whenever we're just hanging out after our workouts or whatever — especially on calm days ... we actually like to do it when it's not windy, because we don't think that counts. Anybody can kick a 60-yarder with a 15-mile-per-hour wind behind your back. But we're just messing around after our workouts sometimes, just to see it.
JN: Not everybody can kick a 60-yarder with a 15-mile-per-hour win behind their back. I can't.
JB: OK (laughs), not everybody. If they're college kickers, I'm assuming they can.
JN: How far can Rojas go back, then?
JB: He can hit a 60, if he hits it good.
JB: Yeah, Rojas is a great athlete.
JN: So have you gone up to any of the special teams coaches or coach Mangino saying, 'You know, if you get to the 45, don't worry about it. Just throw me in there.'
JB: No, I leave game-planning to coaches, definitely (laughs). I only kick when they say to kick the ball. I leave game-planning to them.
JN: No hints then? Like, 'Hey, I can kick that 60-yarder if you want me to.'
JB: I think they know in the back of their mind, but I just don't feel like there's ever going to be an opportunity in the game that we're ever going to need that, especially the way our offense moves the football.
JN: You set a school record for consecutive point-afters hit last year (with 49). Did you know about that?
JB: No, I did not. I did not know about that until my dad had seen that online or in the media guide. I had no idea about it at all.
JN: What's your reaction to that?
JB: I wish I wouldn't have missed that one that I missed. That's my reaction to it, because I'm always trying to think what I could have done better. Although I had 49 in a row, I should have had 52 in a row. That's my reaction to that.
JN: Which one did you miss?
JB: I think it was the second or third one of my first game. I guess I missed at a good time. ... That's just the way I look at it: When I hit one milestone or get to one spot, I'm always thinking I want to get better.
JN: Sounds to me like the misses stick more than the makes do. Is that correct?
JB: Yes, but I don't dwell on them in a sense where I'm going to keep my head down or I'm going to pout about it or I'm going to focus on that when I get out there and kick. But when I'm working, when I'm practicing going through my training, I remember those kicks that I miss either in practice that day or a game and I go to those spots and I rethink them and I see what I can do better. That way, next time I get out there, I make that kick.
JN: I saw in the media guide that owning a sporting-goods store might be in your future. Why's that?
JB: I love sport in general: male, female, football, soccer, water polo, Olympic sports, just anything. I'm a business major, so I put those two together, the two things I want to do. I love sports and I'm a business major. If I'm going to be happy in life, I put those two things together, and I come up with owning my own sporting-goods store. I actually worked in a sporting-goods store in high school, so that's where I get that.
JN: I saw you like Michael Jordan. What stood out about him to you?
JB: Mental toughness. The way he perseveres at any point in his career in any games, specifically the flu game. That game just amazes me. How do you have the flu and score, what, 30-something points (Ed. note — It was 38. See below.) and lead your team to victory. The mental toughness that he expresses on the court when he's playing is just amazing to me. It's just something I always wanted to have in my game.
JN: Do you remember watching the flu game?
JB: I remember watching the game with my brother. I was pretty young. I didn't really know what was going on. But the older I got, and the more I did my research and watched Jordan DVDs, that game just always sticks out to me. Just the way he has the ability, even when everything is going wrong, he seems to always come out on top. That's just the attribute I want to have.
JN: Do you work more on kickoffs or field goals?
JB: Quantity-wise, I'd say field goals, just because we kick field goals on a daily basis to begin practice. That's probably the only reason why. We kick 10-12 before we even start practice, so I kick more field goals than I do kickoffs.
JN: Do you get more complaints from coaches on field goals or kickoffs?
JB: I wouldn't call it complaints. But coach Mangino gives me a hard time if I hit the post. Calls me 'The Plumber.' 'Stay off the post, you plumber.'
JN: That's a nickname you don't want, huh?
JB: He gets on me if I hit the posts.
JN: Tell me something that would surprise me about you.
JB: (long pause) Sometimes I wish I wasn't a field-goal kicker.
JN: What do you wish you were then?
JB: Free safety. Wide receiver. Just sometimes I don't like to kick because I don't get as many opportunities as I wish I could have. I don't feel like, sometimes, I can make an impact on the game. Sometimes, I'm sitting on the bench — I played football in junior-high and high school — sometimes I wish I just could go out there and hit people just like everybody else.
(Ed. note — That actually is Branstetter on the left at the KU-MU game at Arrowhead Stadium in 2007. Crazy what you can find in the Journal-World archives).
JN: So are you one of those guys that runs up and down the sideline kind of wishing you were out there?
JB: I wouldn't say that much. I have to stay focused so that way when I do get my opportunity to make a difference in the game, I make sure I do that and help my team out. But I get pretty excited. I'm not going to lie.
JN: How would you characterize your personality on the field?
JB: Elated and excited when we're moving the ball up and down the field or when we're making a big stop, but stoic whenever I get on the field. When I get on the field, I'm stoic and I try to 'For the Love of the Game' block out the mechanism, something like that. I'm stoic when I get out there to kick.
JN: So you kind of go into a zone sort of thing? Describe to me what that is.
JB: You don't hear the individual words or the band playing or the cheerleading — you just hear dull roars. You just hear something really kind of dull. Your mental processes are going through your head, meaning what you're going to think before every kick. 'Stay slow. Stay balanced. Good tempo. Smooth kick. Up and through.' I have these mental processes that that's really all I hear. So I hear a dull roar and I hear myself talking to myself and saying, 'Get out there and make the kick.'
JN: What's the biggest field goal you've hit?
JB: I hit a game-winner in high school, so that's obviously important, but I'd say the first-quarter field goal (against) Missouri. Just because if we don't come off the field with points right there, we lose all momentum that we gained by the interception. That's kind of the way I thought. As soon as we got the interception, I thought, 'We've got to have points right here,' and I got the opportunity and knocked it down.
JN: Give me a concert that you're embarrassed that you went to.
JB: I can't think of one, really. I'm from a military town, so they had MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) concerts for the military forces there. I was actually watching Willie Nelson.
JN: That was a pretty good one then, right?
JB: Yeah. I don't think I've ever really been to a bad concert. Creed, Linkin Park and then a whole bunch of country music. Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, stuff like that.
JN: What's a TV show I might be surprised you watch?
JB: Ooh. It's going to have to be a girly one. (smiles) Kendra. (Claps hands) There you go.
JN: Kendra? What's that? I don't even know that.
JB: You don't know what Kendra is?
JN: No, who is Kendra? Tell me.
JB: The girl off of Girl Next Door. She's married to the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Hank Baskett.
JN: I do know who you're talking about now.
JB: Kendra. There you go.
JN: Uh huh. Is there, uh, any particular reason that you watch that show?
JB: You can guess. The girlfriend likes that show.
JN: Oh, the girlfriend likes the show.
JB: The girlfriend likes that show.
JN: So you're safe. You're totally safe.
JB: I'm not watching it for the reasons that you think I might be watching it. I understand. (smiles) I understand where you're going with that. No, she said she wanted to watch it, and I told her I'd watch it with her and just kind of got hooked on it.
For the record, I've never watched it without her, so I'm safe there.
JN: I'll have to bring it up with my fiancee, see if she wants to watch it.
JB: All right.
JN: Who has the best nickname on the team?
JB: I have to think of one that comes to mind. (pauses) Oh, he'd kill me if I told you that. There's a lot of good ones, a lot of nicknames that if I said on record, I might get beat up for that. I'll just give one that I use. Bradley McDougald, I call him "Freshy." I don't know why. Like freshman, I just call him "Freshy." From the day he walked in, his nickname was Freshy to me. He's lived up to it.
JN: Does he seem like a freshman to you then?
JB: No, not in any way at all, and that's why it's weird to call him that. We ran a lot together in the summer and he doesn't seem like a freshman, so I always have to remind him that, hey, you're still a freshman. Don't forget it.
JN: Putting him in his place.
JB: Yeah. 'Don't forget it, bud.'
JN: What was your favorite video game growing up?
JB: Probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the classic Nintendo.
JN: That leads right to the next question. Who was your favorite turtle?
JB: I'm going to go with Leonardo.
JN: Any reason?
JB: He's the one that, when everything went south, Leonardo's the one that you look to, because he's the leader and he's the first turtle everybody knows. I'll go with that.
Dayton coach Brian Gregory said he expected Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins to have good games against his team.
He wasn't expecting, however, a strong performance from Mario Little.
"I thought a big point in the game was Mario Little hit five straight points," Gregory said after his team's 60-43 loss to KU. "... Five, six points from a couple of those guys are big points, are crucial. And they become even bigger when you think about how well Collins played and how well Aldrich played."
A little help from the other guys goes a long way towards helping out KU's big two.
Little stepped up on Sunday. The Jayhawks will need a few more scorers to emerge against Michigan State if they hope to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.
Let's get to the (extended) Sideline Report with Mario Little.
The Sideline Report with Mario Little
Jesse Newell: How many Michael Jordan posters do you have?
Mario Little: I don’t know. I’ve got a lot. I’ve only got maybe four or five left up in my room.
JN: Are they hanging on your walls then?
ML: There’s some in the drawer. I never put them up when I got here. I only put up, like, four.
JN: Were those hanging up when you grew up, then?
ML: Yeah. I’ve got posters from a long time ago that I still keep.
JN: What’s your favorite one?
ML: I don’t know. I used to have one with him stretching before the dunk contest, but I lost it. I don’t know where it is. Probably one of my boxes at my house. It’d probably be that one, or I had a rookie poster of him shooting.
JN: How many total have you had in your lifetime then?
ML: I don’t know. I remember one time I had 23 exactly hanging up, like, purposely. But I’ve got more than that. I’ve probably got, like, 23 in my room.
JN: So with those in your room you thought, ‘Some day, I want to be like that’?
ML: I was just always fascinated by him.
JN: Why’s that?
ML: Growing up and just watching him play and people’s reaction to him. My family, I remember one time I was outside playing with my cousins and I hear all these people upstairs of my grandmother’s building just hollering and throwing chairs and making all this noise. I ran up there thinking somebody’s fighting, and they were all going crazy because Reggie Miller pushed Michael Jordan and hit a three. (laughs) They were, like, really upset. It’s just probably me growing up in Chicago and just being around it and watching him.
JN: He was loved a different way in Chicago, wasn’t he?
ML: Oh yeah. Much, much. You can’t say nothing bad about Michael Jordan in Chicago.
JN: What if you did? What would happen?
ML: You’re going to have the worst reaction ever.
JN: What’s the best food at Buffalo Wild Wings?
ML: The wings, I guess. I like the garlic something the spicy garlic, Not the spicy garlic, parmesan something.
JN: How many wings can you eat in one sitting?
ML: I don’t know. I eat a lot. But I kind of stopped eating so much because it’s not good for me to eat like that. But I can eat a lot.
JN: If you pushed yourself, could you eat 30?
JN: How about 40?
ML: I don’t know. Maybe. It all depends.
JN: In the offseason, right?
ML: No, no. Not this offseason.
JN: Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
ML: Q (Quintrell).
JN: Why’s he funny?
ML: The things he says are so funny to me.
JN: You have an example?
ML: The way he speaks. (laughs, turns to Quintrell, who’s sitting next to him) What do you say? Like, instead of saying, ‘You hear me talking’ you say, ‘You hear me speaking’? He likes to switch it up, he says.
JN: He says ‘speaking’ instead of ‘talking’?
ML: Yeah, he switches words up. He thinks he’s on a different level with his vocabulary.
JN: So he’s talking over you guys? He’s talking like a professor?
ML: Sometimes professor. Sometimes he thinks it’s cool instead of saying ‘cousin’ he says ‘buzzin’,’ which I don’t get. (laughs)
JN: Who’s the happiest guy on the team?
ML: Everybody’s pretty happy. Maybe Trav or Cole, or Jordan, because he goes through a lot. He’s always smiling. I don’t know why.
JN: What does Jordan go through?
ML: Just typical walk-on stuff.
JN: Give me an example.
ML: People just mess with him, give him crap all the time. He’s always happy.
JN: Who’s the quietest?
ML: Q? Oh, Tyrone. My bad. Tyrone is the quietest person ever.
JN: He just doesn’t say anything?
ML: He talks, but it’s low. If he says anything, it’s low.
JN: Favorite fast food?
ML: I guess McDonald’s maybe.
JN: What’s good at McDonald’s?
ML: I used to eat a lot of hamburgers. I just like the Big Mac. Or double quarter-pounders.
JN: You like the special sauce in Big Macs, then?
ML: Yeah. No onions.
JN: Give you bad breath?
ML: No, I just don’t like them.
JN: Is coach tougher on you than some other guys?
ML: I think everybody gets their share. I can’t say he’s tough on me, because a lot of times he’s praising me and getting on the twins or getting on Tyshawn. Then all of a sudden, one day it’s me. Then one day it’s Tyshawn. It’s probably Tyshawn in those days a lot.
JN: Does Tyshawn run a lot in practice?
ML: No. (Coach) usually tries to make everybody run together, not just one person, unless you’re, like, really messing up.
JN: Describe the neighborhood you grew up in in Chicago.
ML: Growing up, it was fine. You really didn’t have to worry about anything. You’d always go outside and play with your friends. There was bad things going around, but literally, you don’t really pay attention to that until you’re older and people start looking at you differently. It was cool. I liked where I grew up.
JN: What was some of the worst things you saw growing up?
ML: I saw a lot of bad things. I don’t know. I saw a lot of good things. I can tell you some good things that happened to me.
JN: What’s a good thing?
ML: Maybe our block parties. That’s something I always remember. That was good. No matter what was going on in the streets, with the block party, everybody came out and just had fun, really.
JN: When I think of Chicago, inner-city, I think of a concrete court and chain nets. Did you play at someplace like that?
ML: I think it is chain nets around Chicago somewhere, but I’ve never played on a chain net in my life. I always played on concrete. I wish I hadn’t, because my body wouldn’t be hurting so much now. Going up to the parks, that’s another thing I should have mentioned. Going up to the parks is probably the best feeling ever. Because I was younger, playing with all the old guys. They were on a different level. I always tried, at first — maybe when I was around sixth grade — I would always play on the little courts with the little kids. I got to, like, eighth grade and going into ninth grade played with the older guys on the bigger court where everybody’s at and watching you. It was almost something like this. On my way up to the park, I just had adrenaline. I would start walking, then all of a sudden, I would start running, trying to hurry up and get up there, because I could see the court from my house through this field. I would always just, like, run almost full speed trying to get up there.
JN: Describe the atmosphere to me, because obviously, it’s something many of us haven’t seen. How many people were watching this? What goes on?
ML: There’s a lot going on. You had little kids running around, maybe a barbecue. You’ve got maybe 50 people or more surrounding the court, waiting to get on or watching. I remember one time R. Kelly came up there just watching us. Then all of a sudden, it went from, like, 50 to 200 people up there then. So the park was always exciting. I don’t really go up there right now. I haven’t been up there in like two, three years.
JN: Did you play in front of R. Kelly then?
ML: Yeah I played a little bit. But as soon as I started playing, he left, because all these girls were coming up there. (laughs) Everything. A lot of people started coming up there. He had his bodyguards. It was probably safer to get out of there, get away.
JN: Did you do anything when you were younger that you regret now?
ML: Maybe not paying attention in class, taking that for a joke. Maybe I could have been at Kansas for four years instead of two. My elementary school I was always just a bad person. Not a bad person, but I did so many bad things.
JN: What’s an example?
ML: I remember when I was in second grade, and I had, like, 50 discipline notes, and the school year wasn’t even over. I was always getting written up for things and stayed in the principal’s office.
JN: What was the reason for that?
ML: I don’t know. I just did things. I don’t even have an explanation for it.
JN: So one of your biggest regrets is you couldn’t go to a place like KU for four years?
ML: No disrespect to Chipola Junior College, but it’s just different here. It’s a different environment. I’d just rather have had the opportunity to do four years at a university.
The NCAA requires teams to open their locker rooms to media members for a short time each day once the NCAA Tournament begins.
This mostly means two things: better access for the media and longer Sideline Reports for the fans.
Trust me, it's much easier to ask silly questions when you have plenty of time and not as many reporters around you.
The following is seven good minutes with KU guard Tyshawn Taylor. I have an open locker room to thank for that.
The Sideline Report with Tyshawn Taylor
Jesse Newell: Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
Tyshawn Taylor: Mario Little. Hands down.
JN: Why’s that?
TT: He’s a clown, man. As soon as he steps in the locker room, everybody is smiling because they think he’s going to say something funny. He’s just a clown. He makes jokes about everybody. He’s just funny. He’s a character.
JN: What’s an example of something he’s said?
TT: He’s always talking about Q (Quintrell Thomas), because Q always talks about what he used to do in high school. Mario’s like, ‘You’re always talking about high school.’ He talks about the twins a lot because they’re kind of goofy. He always talks about Cole. It’s funny. He’s funny.
JN: Who’s the goofiest teammate?
TT: Cole. (laughs) You can just tell by the way he looks he’s funny. He always wears his little hat. He’s got these big ears and he always wears the little hat. He never covers his ears. It’s always at the top. He’s just so funny. And the way he talks. I don’t know. He’s just goofy.
JN: Have you heard people talk like that around here yet in Minnesota?
TT: I haven’t heard many people talk in Minnesota. But if they’re all as goofy as him, I feel bad for the state. (smiles)
JN: Who’s going to play you in a movie?
TT: Denzel Washington. Oh, Will Smith. I was going to say Will Smith, but I just feel like he’s too light-skinned. He can’t play me. He’s not funny enough, I don’t think. He’s funny, but he’s not as funny as me.
JN: So Denzel’s funnier?
[Ed. Note — Anyone else love this movie?]
TT: I think he could be funnier.
JN: So Denzel lives up to your standards. Will Smith not quite there.
TT: Nah, he can’t play me.
JN: Do you feel like early in the season Sherron was riding you harder than some other people?
TT: Yeah. I think he was because he expected more of me. He knew that I needed to play at my best for us to be at our best, so he pushed me a little bit harder than he pushed everybody else. I’m thankful for it because if he didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be at the point I’m at right now.
JN: Matt Kleinmann said early in the season maybe you and Sherron got into it one time in practice. Has that happened too?
TT: Yeah. Two good players colliding everyday, talking. He’s a good player. A great player, and I’m pretty good. I’m trying to be where he’s at, trying to win a national championship and be as good as him. So, I mean, everybody’s got their opinion on different things, and some people feel like we should do it this way and he feels we should do it that way. Of course we’re going to bump heads, but, I mean, it’s all in great love. He’s been a great friend to me since I’ve been here, like a big brother type. I appreciated everything he’s been doing for me.
JN: Mario says he thinks coach Self might be tougher on you at times than other people. What do you think about that?
TT: I think it’s the same. I feel like he sees more in me and feels like I can do more. And when I don’t, he gets upset with me like any coach would. Coach Self, he’s been on me, but, I mean, he wouldn’t be the coach that he is if he wasn’t. I get upset, but I’m thankful.
JN: What did you and Sherron disagree about?
TT: Who’s not playing hard, or who should be where when they aren’t. Stuff like that. Just little stuff like that.
JN: That stuff happens during the season, right?
TT: All the time. All the time.
JN: What was the biggest adjustment, coming to Kansas?
TT: Leaving the city probably. Lawrence is more slow-paced. Everybody’s a lot nicer. A lot nicer. People just talk to you. You walk up to people, and they just start talking to you. People don’t do that in New Jersey.
JN: Give me a funny story that happened on the road. What’s something that you’ll remember from this first year?
TT: I think it was when we beat K-State. Russell Robinson came in the locker room. I can’t remember exactly what happened in the game, but coach Self said something, and Russell walked in, so coach Self, his whole attitude just changed. Everybody just started laughing because it was kind of like a surprise. That was kind of funny. I think everybody was a little bit surprised about it. Coach was kind yelling at us a little bit, and then Russell walked in, and (Coach) just started smiling. So that was kind of funny. Russell kind of saved us a little bit.
JN: So is Russell invited back to the locker room any time?
TT: Definitely. Definitely. Especially when coach Self is in the middle of yelling at us.
JN: I heard you like to shop. Is that right?
TT: I love to shop. I love shopping.
JN: Shopping for what?
TT: Clothes. I love clothes and sneakers.
JN: Do people get after you for that?
TT: Nah, I think we all like to shop equally. I go shopping with the twins and Mario all the time. I think we all like to shop equally.
JN: Where do you go shopping at?
TT: Oak Park Mall.
JN: Do you talk to your mom after every game?
JN: Tell me about that.
TT: I have three or four missed calls during the game. She calls me while I’m playing to tell me what I’m doing wrong. And I call her back, then she explains to me what I did wrong during the game like she knows. Every game, I have about three or four missed calls, and I talk to her after every game. She’s the first person I call after every game.
JN: What’s an example of something she tells you that you did wrong? Does she know about basketball?
TT: She doesn’t know anything, but she tells me I don’t shoot enough, which every mother says to every one of their kids. She tells me I don’t follow through on my free throws, which, that’s accurate most of the time. And I’ve got to stop turning the ball over.
JN: Have you told her that calling you during the game isn’t going to do much?
TT: I tell her every time. It doesn’t stop her. I feel like she needs to. She saves face when she does it. I don’t know what it is.
[Ed. Note — Look to the far right.]
JN: Did you doubt yourself at all earlier this year, maybe when you went through a little slump?
TT: I don’t think I doubted myself. I was kind of down on myself a little bit. It felt like I needed to play a little bit better. It felt like I had to get out of a funk. But I didn’t doubt myself, because I knew what I was capable of, and I think my teammates did too. I appreciate my teammates because they didn’t doubt me either. They helped me out going through everything. They helped me out a lot.
It seems like a lot of Kansas fans want to hear more about KU transfer Jeff Withey.
Though the 6-foot-10 center from San Diego won't be eligible to play until next winter, he has been practicing with the Jayhawks since January.
I was able to talk with Jeff for a few minutes after last Friday's practice. Hopefully, you'll learn a little more about him in today's Sideline Report.
The Sideline Report with Jeff Withey
Jesse Newell: What’s your first impression of the weather in Kansas?
Jeff Withey: Definitely cold. It’s hard to get adjusted to, but I’m starting to get adjusted to it. I’m starting to like it, actually.
JN: What do you like about it?
JW: I like the snow. I think that’s kind of fun, but we haven’t seen it in a little while. It’s just different. I like different. It’s a little wacky how it changes up and down. Today was hot. Yesterday was freezing.
Ed. Note — I know this isn't Jeff, but it is a cool Lawrence snow photo shot by the LJW's Mike Yoder. Anyways, carry on.
JN: When was the last time you saw snow before you got here?
JW: I never saw it before I got here.
JN: What was your first reaction when you saw it?
JW: I thought it was fun. I got a snowball and threw it at someone. It’s just fun. I pictured it Christmas-y. It’s a lot different than southern California.
JN: How much do you miss the beach?
JW: I miss it a lot. It’s something I’m definitely going to go see right when I get back home. But, you know, I’m here, and I’m just going to make the best out of here.
JN: What do you miss the most from the beach?
JW: I just miss swimming and just hanging out. I miss the sun and all that.
JN: I heard you played volleyball when you were younger. Tell me about that.
JW: (Laughs) Yeah, I played volleyball, but it was indoor volleyball, not outdoor. That was when I was younger. When I was in middle school, I actually went to the junior Olympics.
JN: Do a lot of guys do that in southern California? Did you take a ribbing for that?
JW: (Laughs) No, actually a lot of people do play there. So it’s not that unusual.
JN: What’s your impression of Cole Aldrich after going against him in practice?
E.N.: Super short Cole video, but it made me laugh.
JW: He’s pretty strong. He’s a tough guy to guard. He’s really good. I’m learning a lot from him. He can only get me better, and hopefully, I’m getting him better. He’s a tough guy to guard, though.
JN: What’s one thing specifically that you’ve learned from him?
JW: Just going hard every time. Every day in practice, he goes hard and gives it his all. That’s something I’m trying to strive for, and hopefully, I can give everything during practice.
JN: Does it take a while to get used to tempo at this practice compared to some other ones?
JW: Yeah, definitely. Coach expects a lot of you. When I came in, I didn’t really (realize) how he liked everybody to play. It was kind of like a shell-shock. I started getting into the tempo and back into shape and all that.
JN: It seems like all the big guys have played better since you’ve been on campus. Are you taking credit for that?
JW: Not yet. If we win the national championship, I’ll take credit. (Laughs)
JN: What was your first impression of Coach Self the first time you met him?
JW: I really like him. He’s a real personable guy. He gets along with everybody. He likes joking around. Just a fun guy to be around and a good coach.
JN: Has your perception changed at all since you’ve gotten here?
JW: It’s definitely part of his little recruiting. (Smiles) He’s hard on the guys. He’s hard on me, but we need that. He’s a good coach, and I respect him. He wants to win, so he’s going to do whatever he can to win.
JN: In what areas has he been hardest on you?
JW: Just with the tempo and stuff, I’m trying to adjust to it. So he kicks my butt in that. I have to run a lot and just get back in shape. He’s kicking my butt with that.
JN: How well do you shoot threes?
JW: How well? I’d say pretty well. I like shooting threes. I like shooting jump shots and all that. And I think they’re going to let me shoot some threes next year. I’m working on my jump shot still.
JN: Do you think guys are surprised when they see a 7-footer pulling up from behind the arc?
JW: Yeah, I would say so. I don’t like to be one of those guys that just shoots threes or anything. I like to post up and get in there and get rough with everybody. Kind of like Marcus (Morris). He comes down and shoots a three every now and then.
JN: I read your brother is a firefighter. Tell me about that.
JW: I definitely look up to him. I’ve always looked up to him since I was younger. He’s a good example for me. He puts his life out on the line every day and just helps people. It inspires me to go out everyday and try my best and give up my body for the love of the game.
JN: Any example of when you were younger when you saw him as a good example?
JW: When I was little, I always wanted to be just like him. I would go to his basketball practice and just shoot on the side. I would just always follow him around.
JN: Any scary moments with his firefighting? Obviously that’s a profession that can be dangerous.
JW: In California, there’s a lot of wildfires. Five months ago or so, he went out to Santa Barbara to fight a fire, and we can’t really talk to him. It’s pretty scary, but he’s trained to do it, and we all know he’s a tough guy.
E.N.: A TV news report showing the damage caused by the recent southern California wildfires.
JN: What’s the best part about France? (Withey played there as part of Team USA in the 2008 Douai World Championships.)
JW: (Laughs) I don’t know. France was a different experience. It was different. I didn’t really like it too much. (Laughs)
JN: Why’s that?
JW: They didn’t have really good food or anything like that. We had to go out and buy a lot of weird food. Their pizza was different. They had a lot of raw meat and stuff. It was definitely a different experience.
JN: What was the worst food you had in France, then?
JW: I don’t even know what it was. It was some, like, nasty meat. And they have a lot of cheese everywhere, and everyone smelled pretty bad. It was a good experience. Everything over there is different. It’s what you would picture France to be like: old and beautiful.
JN: You’ve been to Germany, too?
JW: Yeah, me and Trav (Releford) actually went for a U.S. team over in Germany. That was fun.
JN: Is it better?
JW: Yeah, it’s definitely better.
JN: I heard you beat Stanford’s Lopez twins in high school. Tell me about that game.
JW: That was probably my biggest memory in high school. It was my sophomore year. We played the Lopez twins to get to State. It was a double-overtime game. We ended up winning by one. I’ve played with them before, actually, on my club team, so I knew them pretty well. It was a big step, because beating them, I get to talk trash and all that. (Smiles) It was fun. Just everything about that game was real memorable.
JN: Was it interesting watching them in the NCAA Tournament and thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve already beat these guys’?
JW: Yeah, they definitely got better, obviously. They’re in the League now. But just watching them on TV it’s just like, ‘I played against them. I beat them,’ (laughs) so I can talk trash and stuff.