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October 17, 2012When Bill Self took the podium for the official start of Big 12 media day on Wednesday morning, there wasn't an empty seat inside the designated media section inside the Sprint Center.
"I'm excited," said Self when asked about the upcoming season. "I like our guys. We have great experience with our senior class that's been though a lot of battle, and we have a lot of puppies. Seven freshmen, so I think it will be a good team in time. I don't think we'll be great early.
"I think we have a process that we have to go through," he added. "But I do think there is some talent, and I do like the possibilities of us competing hopefully for another championship."
McLemore and Traylor have been tested
A year ago, freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor were ruled academically ineligible. McLemore, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard from St. Louis, Mo., and Traylor, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, sat out the entire season after being deemed as partial qualifiers.
Both McLemore and Traylor were expected to contribute last season, and McLemore, the nation's No. 34 ranked player in the 2011 class, was considered the crown jewel of KU's recruiting class. A year ago, the duo was unable to participate in any basketball related activities for the first semester, but both were allowed to take part in practice at the conclusion of the first term.
On Wednesday morning, Self was asked about the development of both players and how they performed in practice.
"Well, we put Ben the majority of the time on Tyshawn Taylor, which I thought was great for Ty," said Self. "Because Ben was athletic enough and long enough that he could give him some problems and every day. Jamari, second semester, went head-to-head with Thomas Robinson every day. And Jamari actually held his own with Thomas three out of five days. Then the other two he gets murdered.
"But I think it was really great for those guys to play against pros last year, at least for a period of time," he added. "I think that's helped their advancement. It's been amazing how much they've both improved in practice since the start of practice because they're starting to get it and get things. Because they missed all the early practices last year, this is all new to them, but they're picking up stuff real quick."
Withey expected to build on last year's success
Jeff Withey, coming off a season in which he averaged 9.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, while also being tabbed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to play an even bigger role this season. With Thomas Robinson preparing for his rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings, Withey is the lone recruiting big man for Self's squad.
What, if anything, has Withey done to improve his post development? What, if anything, has the 7-foot-0, 235-pound center added offensively to prepare for this season?
"We've actually - that's been an emphasis of ours, and we have done a lot," said Self. "Norm Roberts has spent a lot of time with Jeff. But the biggest thing with him, he's a good face up jump shooter. He's an excellent free-throw shooter. He can make jump shots, pick and pop, and score over his left shoulder. But he has to get where he can score over his right shoulder, and we've been working hard on him developing a left-hand jump hook or a go-to move over his right shoulder.
"So that's a point of emphasis," he added. "I think it will develop over time. But Jeff isn't naturally one of those guys that looks to score or it comes easy for him. That's not the case. Last year he averaged nine a game, in large part because he played next to Thomas. Thomas would get doubled or whatever, and Jeff would benefit from that. This year's defenses will be designed to stop Jeff."