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


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


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.”