Bad news piles up for Kansas
The first official practice is still two weeks away and the first game of the season won't tip off for another six weeks, yet it's fair to question whether Kansas, the expected top-ranked team in the country, is unraveling before it even has a chance to mount a championship campaign.
In the past two weeks, the Jayhawks have had to deal with a wave of negative publicity. First, several players from the basketball team were involved in an altercation with members of the football team. Guard Tyshawn Taylor dislocated his thumb in the fight and is sidelined for a month. Kansas has recently announced that university police will open a disorderly conduct investigation into the tussle.
That bad news was compounded when guard Brady Morningstar was arrested early Saturday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Morningstar, who also broke a curfew that Kansas coach Bill Self imposed on the team after the fight, was abruptly suspended by Self on Saturday for all of Kansas' games during the first semester.
Still, Kansas' image has been tainted before the first tip."It's not championship behavior," Self said Saturday afternoon. "But you shouldn't have this behavior regardless of your record. You should have good behavior if your record is 8-20 or 20-8. In the last two weeks, there have been guys whose behavior wasn't of a championship-type level. That is fair to say." Self was extremely irritated by Saturday's news of Morningstar's arrest. He had just delivered a stringent call to the Jayhawks to be on their best behavior because of all the attention drawn as a result of the fracas with the football team.
It's not championship behavior. But you shouldn't have this behavior regardless of your record. You should have good behavior if your record is 8-20 or 20-8. In the last two weeks, there have been guys whose behavior wasn't of a championship-type level.
--Kansas coach Bill Self
"This lack of judgment, lack of regard for the rules did place a negative light on the program and the individual," Self said.
Self didn't hesitate to suspend Morningstar for the fall semester, even before he is prosecuted. The timing of Morningstar's actions added to the suspension."It was a combination of things," Self said. "It's based on the severity of what he did and in my eyes the severity of not adhering to things that we think are really important, especially at a time with what we went through last week. A violation of curfew wouldn't warrant a semester suspension. But it's the combination of this and the severity of the judgment he used and what he did that warrants it." Self said he's aware of the work that has to be done to correct the negative image of the top-ranked Jayhawks, who are less than two years removed from their 2008 national title.
"I'm not shying away from this," Self said. "We've had a really bad two weeks from a behavioral standpoint. But part of winning on the court is being responsible off it and there's a definite correlation. These events have been addressed. Hopefully, we won't have to talk about this much more in the future, but if we do, we will handle it."
Self emphasized that not all of the Jayhawks have been involved in the events of the past two weeks. He said the Jayhawks' preseason boot camp was one of the best he's seen. And that's why Morningstar's actions were even more magnified. There was a sense that Kansas could get through the football incident -- even with a police probe -- with its image intact.
In fact, a few Division I coaches around the country told ESPN.com earlier this week that they saw the on-campus fight as a situation in which the basketball team was acting together in a show of unity -- even if it was in a confrontation.
But that was before Morningstar's arrest early Saturday morning.
"It's very disturbing to me because we knew the magnitude of what could potentially occur if they make poor choices," Self said. "Still, regardless, I'm really excited about this season and the quality of people in our program, even though there were poor choices the last two weeks."
Morningstar was fifth on the team in scoring last season at 6.5 points a game, behind returnees Collins (18.9 ppg), Aldrich (14.9), Taylor (9.7) and Marcus Morris (7.4). Putting Henry in Morningstar's position, though, will be an upgrade. Henry was coveted by plenty of elite programs and originally chose Memphis and John Calipari over KU. He then chose Kansas over Kentucky when Calipari bolted from Memphis.
"Although it's absent the experience, [Morningstar's suspension] opens the door for a player of Xavier Henry's ability to shine through early on," Self said. Henry has performed well during individual workouts, but hasn't wowed anyone just yet.The Jayhawks have one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, playing Memphis in St. Louis (Nov. 17), at UCLA (Dec. 6), La Salle -- a team Atlantic 10 coaches think will be much-improved -- in Kansas City (Dec. 12) before consecutive home games against Big Ten title contender Michigan (Dec. 19) and Pac-10 title favorite Cal (Dec. 22). They also have road games against an always-pesky Temple team (Jan. 2) and SEC East contender Tennessee (Jan. 10) before beginning a loaded Big 12 slate. Texas is quietly primed for a title run and a case could be made for the Longhorns to win the Big 12 as well as be the No. 1 team in the country, with the return of Damion James from the NBA draft and power inside players Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson. The Longhorns' backcourt might actually be its strength, however, with defensive guard Justin Mason, Florida transfer Jai Lucas at point guard, highly touted freshmen J'Covan Brown and Avery Bradley as well as defensive guard Varez Ward and experienced playmaker Dogus Balbay. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M could all be projected as NCAA tournament teams, too. "I do think that part of championship behavior is how you react," Self said. "Now we'll find out more about certain individuals. I'm anxious to get through to actual practicing [Oct. 16]. There will be more pressure on the young guys to deliver. But we're excited as are the players. We had the best boot camp since I've been here, but that wasn't the appearance of the last two weeks. That's very disturbing to me."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- NCAA president calls for 'scholarships for life'
- Rick Pitino: 'Passion, enthusiasm' still high
- College of Charleston's Wojcik not recruiting
- UNC hopes to set up meeting with McCants