Jayhawks welcome high ranking, high expectations
From a 6-foot-11 center who is coveted by the NBA to a senior point guard who averages almost 20 points a game to the most heralded freshman coach Bill Self ever signed, Kansas is loaded. The Jayhawks are laden with talent. Back from last year's team that won the Big 12 title and advanced to the NCAA round of 16 is virtually everybody, including center Cole Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins, who both passed up a chance to go high in the NBA draft. Joining that deep and savvy bunch is a blue-ribbon group of freshmen that includes Xavier Henry, a 6-foot-6 flyer who may turn out to be the best of the entire bunch. It's no wonder Big 12 coaches made them a unanimous pick to repeat as conference champs. If Self can find a way to stoke all those egos and keep everybody happy, healthy and working in concert, there's a good chance the Jayhawks will hoist into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters their second championship banner in three years. "From a natural talent standpoint, we've got some nice players. There's no doubt about that," Self said Thursday during media day. "I don't know if we're the most athletic team around, but we've got some good athletes. And we've got some big bodies," Self said. "When the ball goes up on the rim, we may have four or six hands going after it, which is something we really haven't had consistently. There are some things about this group that really excite me." The Jayhawks will be ranked very high in every preseason poll, perhaps No. 1. "The thing I like about it is you're not going to be ranked high unless you have good guys," Self said. "Whether or not we play to that ranking remains unseen." Knowing they might have a shot at a national title, Aldrich and Collins made a joint decision last spring to return. "We knew that Sherron and I could get that much better as players, plus we had some real good talent coming in as freshmen and everybody coming back," Aldrich said. "I think we could be as good as we allow ourselves to be." And when those two announced they were putting off the NBA for a year, that helped the Henry brothers, C.J. and Xavier, decide to join the Jayhawks. "That was (10 days) before I made my announcement (to come to Kansas)," Xavier Henry said. "They said they had a chance to win a title. So I said I might as well join them." Never in his coaching career has Self signed a freshman so highly sought. Quick, powerful and athletic, Henry can drive to the basket as well as hit from the outside. He was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country by various scouting services and was a two-time player of the year in Oklahoma. Figuring out exactly how to handle his prize recruit will be one of Self's biggest challenges. "He's going to go through some times when he's really, really good," said Self. "And he's going to go through some times when maybe he's not quite as good because he's still figuring it out, too. He's never played with other good players." Aldrich, after averaging a double-double for the year, turned in the first official triple-double in school history against Dayton in the NCAA tournament with 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. "This is just such a fun and special place for me," he said. "It really hits home with me because the fans have been so good to me and I just want to give back everything I have, on the court and off the court, to the fans." Collins, a 5-11 senior, has been the Jayhawks' leading returning scorer each of the past two years and is the undisputed team leader. One scowl from the scrappy, deep-chested Chicago native has been known to quiet a cranky teammate. "If we get to jelling, I think we'll be one of the toughest teams to beat in the country," Collins said. "I love having the pressure on my shoulders." The trick will be getting this talent-laden bunch to share the ball and not squabble over playing time. "The bigger issue will be getting the rotation down and having everybody be comfortable with their role," Self said. "What appears to be a negative now may turn out to be a positive later, especially if we can put a redshirt on a couple of guys."