LAWRENCE — Bill Self’s message — and really, the rallying cry for this year’s Kansas men’s basketball team — was clear the moment the words left the KU coach’s mouth Saturday night.
Speaking to a packed Allen Fieldhouse at the program’s annual “Late Night in the Phog” event, Self indirectly referenced his team’s back-to-back defeats in the Elite Eight, with the most recent season-ending loss coming at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Those kind of close-but-no-cigar finishes, Self made clear, will not be acceptable this go-round.
“We’ve knocked on the door. We’ve beaten on the door,” Self said. “It’s time for this team to kick the door in.”
Though the skit- and dance-filled evening was as lighthearted as ever, the quote captured the mood of the Jayhawks at the event capped with a first-look scrimmage one month before the team opens its season with an Oct. 31 exhibition against Pittsburg State.
Speaking after the scrimmage, which ended in a 45-all tie — “Big crowd for bad ball,” the KU coach deadpanned at the beginning of his postgame news conference — Self elaborated on the “kick the door in” sentiment, a line he joked he stole from former New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips.
“We have knocked on it a lot,” Self said. “We’ve beat on it and gotten close and everything, but we haven’t quite finished the way we wanted to. Hopefully this year will be the year that we can get to where we want to go.”
Devonte’ Graham, the unquestioned leader of the Jayhawks who returned for his senior season, got perhaps the biggest ovation of the evening ahead of scoring a scrimmage-high 22-points. Graham said he has talked to his teammates about breaking through the apparent barrier to the Final Four.
“Just about getting over that hump and stuff like that,” Graham said. “It’s definitely that time, I feel like.”
Lagerald Vick was the only other Jayhawk to reach double-digit scoring in the 20-minute scrimmage, pouring in 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
“Bad ball” aside, Self said he thinks KU has the capacity to be a good shooting team this season.
“You’ve got the wrong guys shooting ’em tonight, but Devonte’, Svi (Mykhailiuk), Malik (Newman) and Lagerald all can shoot,” Self said. “We should be a good shooting team. I think there’s a lot to like. There’s just not much depth, and you just don’t know if you’re going to have an inside presence on both ends, but I think we’ll get our guys to do that.”
TOP PROSPECTS GET WARM WELCOME — A number of top-tier prospects made their way into Allen Fieldhouse for what KU hopes will be the first of many times.
A number of Jayhawk-targeted recruits, including Zion Williamson, the No. 2 overall Rivals prospect in the Class of 2018, made their way to their reserved seats behind the KU bench midway through the event, receiving a hearty ovation from the capacity crowd.
Williamson, who entered with KU oral commit David McCormack (No. 33-ranked prospect), sported a wide smile as the crowd chanted “We want Zion” for about a minute. Later, the 6-foot-6 forward and the other prospects got a firsthand look at rapper Lil Yachty, who performed one of his songs in the recruits’ section during his 10-minute live concert.
KU WOMEN DANCE, DON’T SCRIMMAGE — The Jayhawk women, unable to scrimmage at this year’s Late Night due to an NCAA rule preventing practices before Oct. 1, nevertheless participated in their own dance routines and were given much pomp and circumstance in a lineup introduction.
Third-year coach Brandon Schneider, who has gone a combined 12-47 the past two seasons, spoke before the player introductions, saying fans were going to notice an overhauled roster this year.
“This season you will find new players that through their passion, their play and their intensity will show you how proud they are to be a Jayhawk,” Schneider said.
Seven of the KU women’s 14 roster players are new this season, including freshmen Bailey Helgren (6-5 center), Brittany Franklin (6-5 center) and Micaela Wilson (6-2 forward) and juniors Sara Bori (6-5 center), Austin Richardson (6-foot forward), Brianna Osorio (5-8 guard) and Christalah Lyons (5-5 guard), who all joined the Jayhawks from the community college ranks.
Angel Goodrich, a former All-Big 12 selection and Naismith Award finalist while at KU (2009-13), made a cameo after Schneider’s speech. Goodrich played for the Tulsa Shock and Seattle Storm during her two-year WNBA career.
NO HALF-COURT MAKE THIS YEAR — Self’s money is safe … this year.
After back-to-back years of half-court makes from director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard that earned KU students $10,000 of the KU coach’s money, Bechard and former KU guard Mario Chalmers missed their attempts Saturday.
Chalmers’ practice shot actually came closest to going in — it rattled in and out — but he missed his attempt wide left. The Jayhawk legend was in the house alongside Memphis Grizzlies teammates and KU products Ben McLemore and Wayne Selden, the latter of which was treated to a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” by fans and the KU band.
“I gotta tell you,” Self told the crowd, “my second-favorite team, other than the Jayhawks, has suddenly become the Memphis Grizzlies.