LAWRENCE — If there was good news after Kansas’ 67-64 loss to Michigan State — other than 40 minutes of experience against a physical foe in the Champions Classic — it only took freshman forward Jamari Traylor a few minutes after Tuesday’s loss to stumble upon the most reassuring thought.
The Jayhawks, 1-1 after surrendering a seven-point second-half lead to the Spartans, only had to wait 48 hours before returning to the floor. If there were lessons learned on Tuesday, the kind that could make lasting impressions on a season, those could be applied when No. 7 Kansas returned home to face Chattanooga at 7 tonight at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’m definitely ready to go out and have another one,” Traylor said, “so I can get the bad taste of this loss out of my mouth.”
This was a prevailing thought inside the Georgia Dome late on Tuesday night. The Jayhawks are a team still trying to uncover their identity, and the best medicine may be 40 minutes back on their own home floor.
“We can put this one behind us,” senior guard Travis Releford said, “and not have to go a whole week thinking about this loss.”
The Jayhawks, of course, still had Wednesday to replay Tuesday night’s setback, a hard-fought game that essentially came down to this: Michigan State made plays in the final five minutes, while the Jayhawks, in coach Bill Self’s mind, got stuck trying to protect a lead instead of finish a game.
Self even went as far as to label Kansas’ defense in the final minutes as “soft,” the last word any KU basketball team wants to hear out of it coach’s mouth.
It was, perhaps, the most obvious sign to date of a team that’s still trying to sort through some early-season cobwebs. On late Tuesday night, Self repeated something he said before the season. The Jayhawks’ freshmen simply need time.
Freshman guard Ben McLemore had 14 points against Michigan State, an efficient performance on the heels of a nine-point, 12-rebound night against Southeast Missouri State in the Jayhawks’ season-opening win.
But McLemore still took just seven shots, disappearing at times during the second half.
“Seven shots for him is not enough,” Self said. “He needs to be taking more shots, and he’s just so talented, and he’s gonna learn. It’s just all new to him. But he’ll get it.”
Likewise, freshman forward Perry Ellis received a baptism-by-Spartan, playing 17 minutes after struggling to engage in a physical contest that, at times, leaned more toward a Big Ten slugfest.
“We’ve got a long ways to go with competing and understanding how to compete and being tougher mentally,” Self said.
In a macro sense, the Jayhawks will need players such as McLemore, Ellis and Traylor to become impact players if KU wants to live up to preseason expectations. But sometimes you have to learn to crawl before you can run. And on Tuesday night, Releford said KU’s seniors spent a few moments after the game giving the Jayhawks’ freshman what amounted to a short pep talk.
The Jayhawks’ seniors were once freshmen as well. But Releford, Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey were never asked to play major minutes just two games into their KU careers. So the veterans, Releford said, just wanted to make sure that KU’s youthful core learned from Tuesday’s loss, while not dwelling on the disappointment.
“It’s kind of tough for them,” Releford said. “We went back in the locker room and told them, our freshman year, most of us didn’t even have the chance to play in a game like this.
“So for you all to be able to do this, and somewhat carry out your assignments, that’s good for us.”
Frankamp signs — Self has known that Wichita North guard Conner Frankamp would be joining the Kansas basketball program for the better part of 16 months.
Frankamp, the 31st-ranked player in the country, according to rivals.com, committed to KU in July 2011, just a few months after he finished his sophomore season at North.
So it was no great surprise on Wednesday, when Frankamp made it official by signing his national letter of intent with Kansas. But it did finally give Self an opportunity to reveal why the KU staff had put so much time and effort into securing Frankamp’s future in Lawrence.
“I think Conner is one of the best guards we have recruited since we’ve been here,” Self said. “He can score. He’s sneaky athletic and can play the one and the two and will be a great combo guard in our system.”
Frankamp, a 6-foot, 160-pound guard, averaged 32.3 points per game last season while leading North to the Class 6A quarterfinals. Frankamp, who has scored 1,639 career points, is 538 points away from passing Perry Ellis as the all-time leading scorer in the City League.
Frankamp averaged 14.1 points per game last summer while helping the U17 USA Basketball team to the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania.
“With USA Basketball he did everything,” Self said. “He played on the ball, off the ball and he was the leading scorer on the under 17 team that won the gold medal this past summer. He’s a good scorer. Other players enjoy playing with him and I absolutely love watching him play.”
Frank Mason, a point guard from Massanutten Military Academy (Va.), also signed his national letter of intent, according to rivals.com. Kansas didn’t officially announce Mason’s signing as of Wednesday evening.
Three more players are expected to sign with KU later this week: Brannen Greene, a small forward from Tifton, Ga.; Wayne Selden, a shooting guard from the Tilton School (N.H.); and Joel Embiid, a 7-foot center from The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla.