Kansas hoping to overcome inexperience

No. 1 Kansas is deep and talented, confident and committed.

If the Jayhawks can avoid a pratfall in this week’s Big 12
tournament, they will probably own the top NCAA seed overall.
They’ll play the first two weekends in Oklahoma City and St. Louis,
easy driving distance for an adoring fan base that hungers for a
second national championship in three years.

So why is coach Bill Self so worried?

“Maturity,” Self said. “We’re the 265th-youngest team in
America.”

The 2008 NCAA championship team that overcame a nine-point
deficit in the final minutes and beat Memphis in overtime was
dominated by seniors.

Those Jayhawks brimmed with tournament-life experience. They
knew how to take a punch and not lose their poise.

In spite of their 29-2 record, the 2010 Jayhawks have only one
player with appreciable Final Four experience in senior guard
Sherron Collins. Self fears his young Jayhawks could fall prey to
any number of distractions that might arise from something as
innocent as a text message or a late-night phone call from a
well-meaning relative.

“If we’re not mature enough to handle distractions, if we’re
off just a little bit, then that could be enough to go home right
there,” Self said. “To me, that’s one thing that the ’08 team was
so good at. That was a focused, focused group. It’s easy to say
your team is focused. But you can’t really say that until they’ve
actually experienced the distractions that are getting ready to
come their way.”

Collins was a backup guard on the ’08 team. All-Big 12 center
Cole Aldrich was a freshman who also saw limited action that
year.

But the other three starters are two sophomores and freshman
Xavier Henry, who has averaged 18 points in the last five games but
only a year ago was playing in high school tournaments.

To get to what Self calls “that magic level,” he’s calling
upon Collins and Aldrich to help their young teammates learn to
handle the attention and hoopla headed their way.

“If we’re not at our magic level, then anybody can beat us,”
Self said. “Your magic level is where your energy and your
enthusiasm and your focus and concentration all come together to
give you the best chance. I’d say we’ve probably played 10 or 12
times this year where I felt like that was the case.”

For a young player overwhelmed by the pressure and glare of the
NCAA tournament, distractions can come from all sides.

“They could be (requests for) tickets. It could be family
members,” Self said. “It could be agents, runners. There are so
many things. If they can just focus on just listening, doing what
they’ve done the whole year long with our basketball family, then
they’ll be fine. But that’s easier said than done. It’s easier said
than done not to return phone calls, not to return texts, not to
put yourself in a situation where you don’t get as much rest.”

Collins said he and Aldrich are working overtime to pass along
the coach’s message.

“We’re letting them know,” he said. “We’re trying to keep all
the guys calm and on the same page. Let them know how important it
is. One bad half, a couple of bad possessions in the tournament and
it can be over. We’re trying to get that through their head.

“As long as we eliminate distractions, we can win it all.
Distractions can be trouble.”