Jayhawks fly at the Phog
There was a game of Simon Says, with a professional leading the way, no less. Cheesy skits, a dance troupe and a drum solo by a Bison mascot were part of the show, too. There was even some old-school short shorts. Finally, after nearly 3 hours, Kansas took the court Friday night. Following an offseason filled with disagreements, fights, even a DUI, the Jayhawks didn't mind a little fun before taking the court for the first time this season. Kansas raised the curtain on a 2009-10 season it hopes will end with a second national championship in three years, giving fans their first glimpse of a deep and talented team during "Late Night at the Phog" at renovated Allen Fieldhouse. "This is a night we've been looking forward to personally since losing to Michigan State in Indianapolis," coach Bill Self said, referring to last season's NCAA tournament loss. "We worked hard in the offseason and we've come back stronger and faster. We're definitely going to get back to Indianapolis." They got off to a good start. Though sometimes sloppy - this was their first time on the court together, after all - the Jayhawks rotated in one talented player after another during a high-energy, high-scoring scrimmage. Markieff Morris hit three 3-pointers on his way to 15 points and Travis Relaford also had 15 to wow a jam-packed crowd of more than 16,000 fans, including recruits such as forward Harrison Barnes, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country by Rivals.com for 2010. "We want you to know that we've been working as hard as we ever had and we're getting better every day," guard Sherron Collins told the crowd after the scrimmage. "We're going to make this the best season we can." Kansas, which opens the season at home against Hofstra on Nov. 13, was the unanimous choice of Big 12 coaches to win a sixth consecutive conference title and most likely will be the nation's No. 1 preseason team. The Jayhawks have two of the best players in the country in Collins and center Cole Aldrich, both of whom passed up chances at the NBA for the chance at another title. They'll be surrounded by plenty of returning talent - more than 90 percent of the scoring and rebounding is back - and a recruiting class that's among the best in the country. A rough offseason threatened to overshadow anything they were going to do on the court. It started in July with a disagreement between Self and the family of his top two recruits. Self mended the fences with Carl Henry, father of Xavier and C.J., but that wasn't the end of the Jayhawks' problems. Last month, members of the basketball and football teams were involved in a series of on-campus fights that brought out the police and embarrassed the university. Junior guard Brady Morningstar was suspended from the team for the first semester after being arrested on suspicion of DUI a little over a week later. Yeah, the Jayhawks were ready to get back on the court - and it showed. Following a scrimmage by the Kansas women, who are led by preseason Big 12 player of the year Danielle McCray, the Jayhawks enthusiastically performed skits in front of a fake panel of ESPN "GameDay" judges, with Self playing Digger Phelps. "We all know they've got a little fight in them," Digger Self said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. For the skits, the players did remakes of previous Phog favorites, including a dance in old-style short basketball shorts by the sophomores. A technical glitch during the seniors' skit - Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" stopped playing while they were dancing - gave Self an opening to get in his first dig of the season. "That's it, blame it on the music, guys," he said. "That's the way it is in practice: blame it on somebody else." Once the silliness was over, a video highlighted Kansas' five Big 12 titles and the banner for the 2009 was unveiled to a roaring crowd. Another video, this one chronicling the storied history of the Jayhawks' program, followed and the players took the court through fog and flashing lights. The layup line turned into a dunk contest and the scrimmage started off the same way, with Releford scoring on an alley-oop dunk from Tyshawn Taylor. The players settled in after that and even with a few errant passes and some ugly shots, the Jayhawks showed plenty of glimpses of how good they can be. Collins was his usual slash-and-dash self, scoring eight points, and Aldrich matched him with his usual effectiveness inside. The freshmen were pretty good, too. Xavier Henry and Elijah Johnson both hit 3-pointers and 6-foot-9 freshman Thomas Robinson finished with nine points and showed good range on a jumper from the top of the key. "What a great time, selfishly, to be a Jayhawk fan," Self said.