Break, Selby should boost KU

Kansas players Josh Selby, left, Niko Roberts, and Jordan Juenemann celebrate a dunk by teammate Markieff Morris during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Kansas University’s basketball team made it through the pre-Selby portion of its schedule undefeated in nine games, the last by a 76-55 score Saturday night against Colorado State in the Sprint Center. The Jayhawks lead the country in scoring margin and field-goal percentage and are ranked No. 4 in the nation.

Given all that, I had to ask the coach if he thought it’s possible his team will get worse before it gets better with freshman guard Josh Selby, who makes his debut Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse against USC, added to the rotation.

“No, no, no, I don’t think we can play worse than what we are right now, to be honest with you,” Self said. “No, we’re going to get better. This team’s going to get a lot better.”

Especially, Self said, during winter break, when teams practice twice daily and watch film between the sessions.

“Over Christmas is your last real chance to get better,” Self said.

As for getting worse before it gets better, the team already has done that, Self said.

“We’ve gotten worse over the last two weeks,” he said. “We’ve got to get a lot better, start doing it through practice. That wasn’t very good at all today. At all. I’m not just talking about playing. Mentally, alert, paying attention to scouting report. Maybe guys were playing at such a high level early on they relaxed a little. Certainly no energy (the past two weeks), compared to where it was early.”

Self was particularly displeased with how KU’s lead dwindled from 15 to seven points late in the first half.

“It’s unbelievable how we can get in our own way,” Self said. “We need to develop more of a killer instinct. But beyond that, we’re so lackadaisical. We have good players who make good plays, but, hey, I wouldn’t want any of them to be a quarterback.”

Why not?

“All it takes is for a quarterback to go brain-dead three or four plays, and all the sudden, the game’s over,” Self said. “We’ve got a whole team of guys who can lose focus for four or five plays.”

The more Self likes one of his teams, the crankier he gets when he sees the attention to detail slipping. He likes these guys. A lot. When he gets in front of a microphone after his team doesn’t play in a way that makes him proud, it’s as if he’s on a shrink’s couch, letting it all pour from his soul.

“I’m not real happy right now, but I still like our team,” he said. “We do a lot of good things, and we still play hard, we just don’t play hard enough. We’re not by any stretch a team that plays smart all the time.”

The energy from the crowd once Selby enters the game Saturday will get the adrenaline of all the home players flowing.

“Josh will be a nice boost to us, but we shouldn’t need a boost,” Self said. “Here’s the other thing: How will guys who’ve been getting attention handle not getting attention because the next couple weeks will be about Josh, and Josh didn’t bring that on himself? That’s just the way it is. Now you have a different element. He’s going to add a lot of energy and juice. So if we handle it right, I think he’ll be a great asset to us.”

Self sees Selby every day in practice. He ought to know what to expect of him.

“I don’t think he should ever miss a shot or ever turn it over,” Self said. “If he does that, I think he’ll live up to what you guys think he should be.”

One reason this team played so well out of the chute is that none of the players in the rotation were newcomers. That’s why you didn’t hear Self say, “The ball’s sticking in their hands too much,” as often as he usually does in November. Selby’s new. He’s highly skilled, but it takes time for anybody to mesh. The ball movement’s not going to look as pretty at times, for a while, even though Selby has participated in practice.

“The deal is seeing a kid just trying to fit in,” Self said. “He’s not going to score 20 a game. He’s not. He may really labor. He gets it, that he’s got to fit in. He’s got to score the way and play the way we want him to play, which is still allowing him a lot of freedom, but he’s got to understand it.”

So what does he expect in terms of performance?

“I don’t have an expectation,” Self said. “I just want him to be aggressive, play hard and have fun. He’s paid his dues. He deserves to have some fun.”

Selby won’t be alone in that regard Saturday, when he makes his debut and the place gets really, really loud.