KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He’s Bill Wyman. Travis Releford prefers to stand in the back, unnoticed, given a choice. He’s there to hold down the backbeat, to blend into the shadows, to be heard as opposed to being seen.
“I have to be aggressive,” Releford, Kansas’ 6-foot-6 senior wing man, said after his Jayhawks stomped Washington State, 78-41, in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. “Coach (Bill Self) wants me to continue doing that. But my role is to be one of the great defenders on our team.”
Which he does, as he has for years, without complaint. Or, for that matter, much in the way of glory. His role with the Kansas men’s basketball team, traditionally, has been not unlike the part Wyman, the bassist for the Rolling Stones, played for all those years, thumping from left of nowhere, practically hiding behind drummer Charlie Watts’ kit.
Wyman had Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in front of him to play to the crowd and get the headlines; Releford had Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. With both Wyman and Releford, the contributions are subtle. Also, vital.
So what made Monday’s late-night laugher at Sprint Center interesting wasn’t so much the game itself — the Jayhawks got out to a 19-6 lead and never looked back, the rout was clinical — but that it featured something unusual: A bass solo.
From the second Kansas possession on, Releford was hardly his usual, demure, wallflower self. He was an offensive aggressor, looking to drive, looking for space, looking to finish. A couple of first-half layups pushed the Jayhawk cushion to 34-17 and 36-19, and a 3-pointer with 4:52 left in the period made it 41-21.
The Kansas City native came into the evening with 19 points over his first three games. He scored a team-high 17, and in just 23 minutes of work.
“I thought he looked pretty relaxed, to be honest with you,” Self observed. “I think he was kind of pressing, maybe, up until the last few days. But the last couple of days of practice, you could tell he was getting his confidence back.”
Even as the third or fourth option in the attack, Releford had gotten off to a rough start, shooting just 6 of 23 from the floor over his first three contests and whiffing on all 11 of his treys. He converted as many field goals against the Cougars (six) as he had all season, and had drained two 3-pointers by the 13-minute mark of the second half.
“I mean, coming into this game, teammates and coaches, they continued to have faith in me shooting the ball,” allowed Releford, who’d scored more than 16 points in a game just one other time as a Jayhawk — a 28-point effort at Oklahoma on January 7, 2012. “And they just told me to stop thinking about it, and continue to be and do what I do. So it felt great.”
It looked pretty great, too. On both ends of the floor, the Jayhawks — and Releford — reached into the candy jar with two hands, unleashing a full-court press defensively, then racing down the court to punch hole after hole in the Washington State zone.
“Travis obviously stepped up big time, and knocked down shots, and just played his game,” Kansas forward Kevin Young said.
He makes those in practice, right?
“Yeah, all the time,” Young replied, smiling.
But do you have to push him to take those during a game?
“Nah. He just turns on the switch, and lets ’em go.”
After the game, Releford seemed to shrug away the sudden offensive outburst, treating it as a fluke more than anything. But it looked so easy. So smooth. So — well, natural. The bass player got out to the front of the stage, grabbed the mike, and knocked ’em dead.
“I mean, that’s how, as a team, and me individually, that’s how I get going,” Releford explained. “I just (focus) on the defensive end and just let the offense come. If we do that as a team, it just works out the best for us.”
Still, roles can change. Roles can develop. Releford came into the night averaging 6.3 points per tilt; he averaged 8.6 points a year ago. Self doesn’t need him to take a dozen shots for things to float — super-frosh Ben McLemore and guard Elijah Johnson are there to do most of the chucking — but a scoring clip closer to 10 points a game out of Releford would be a welcome bonus. A little less shadow, a little more light.