LAWRENCE, Kan. — Andrew Wiggins slouched down in a chair with cameras stuck in his face. Conner Frankamp tried to heave in a half-court shot. Wayne Selden sat back and smiled inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The calendar hasn’t even flipped to October and basketball is already on the mind at Kansas.
“We’ve been working hard this whole summer and I feel like we’re ready to go,” said junior guard Naadir Tharpe, just about the closest thing to a veteran on this young team. “We have a lot of great players around us, so the excitement is definitely up at Kansas right now.”
Basketball usually pushes into the public consciousness around these parts by early October, especially given the struggles of the football program in years past.
But the Jayhawks are getting an even earlier jump on this season after the NCAA’s legislative council amended and approved a measure this past spring changing the way preseason practices are conducted.
In the past, practice began roughly four weeks before the season. Now, men’s basketball teams get to conduct 30 days of practice in the six weeks prior to their first-regular season game.
Kansas opens a two-game exhibition schedule Oct. 29 against Pittsburg State, and then plays its first game that counts against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 8.
“I do think the season is too long,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “but the way they’ve done it, they’ve done it in a way where basically you don’t have to cram so much stuff in so fast. You can take your time and be a better teacher, and also you don’t have to wear guys’ bodies out so much because you can do two days on, two days off until you get into shape.”
Self said he plans to alternate a “hard day” and “teaching day” until the middle of October, when the grind really begins. The idea is to make sure guys are fresh for the whole season.
“We’ll work them hard, but there’s no reason to have a 3 1/2-hour practice in September,” Self said. “I do think it’s a positive, no question, but it does make for a long season.”
Self joked that he might not be in favor of the rule changes next year if a whole bunch of players return. But he’s certainly in favor of the earlier practices this year, when he’s trying to break in a nine-member recruiting class that will be counted upon heavily.
The headliner is unquestionably Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 high school prospect, who spurned other offers to play at Kansas.
Wiggins has been anointed the next LeBron James by many folks who follow the recruiting trail, though Self said it’s dangerous to make such comparisons before he’s ever stepped foot on a college floor.
But with dozens of TV cameras pressing into his face, Wiggins looked comfortable – bored, even – while wearing a crisp, white No. 22 jersey with Kansas stitched across the chest.
“When I came on my visit, it just caught my heart. This is where I felt like I belonged,” he said Wednesday. “The team, they’re all one unit. Everybody was cool with everybody. Nobody was left out. I felt more at home here than anywhere else.”
Wiggins was the final piece to what Self believes is his best recruiting class.
The 6-foot-8 swingman is joined by Selden, a five-star guard who’d have been the prized piece of most classes. Frankamp comes with a sharpshooter’s reputation.
Seven-footer Joel Embiid has just about the best feet Self has seen in a big man. Brannen Greene is a rangy scorer, and Frank Mason is expected to push Naadir Tharpe for the starting point guard job.
Then there’s 6-9 forward Tarik Black, a graduate transfer from Memphis. He’s eligible to play immediately, and gives the young Jayhawks some veteran toughness.
“If you look around this court right now, there’s so much talent,” Black said, “and you put a coach like Bill Self at the head of that, it’s kind of scary. It’s very scary.”
Also scary are the expectations at Kansas, which will be chasing its 10th consecutive Big 12 title despite losing second-team All-American Ben McLemore, third-team All-American Jeff Withey and veteran guard Elijah Johnson to the NBA draft and graduation.
“There’s as much hype around this year as any,” Self said, “and I think it’s in large part because of the unknown. We’ve had other good players and other good teams returning – this team hasn’t proven itself at all – but the unknown has everyone pretty excited.”