ARLINGTON, Texas — Kansas found itself in one of the many, expansive locker rooms in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium and the players approached their new surroundings in different ways.
Freshman guard Evan Manning, who’s 6-foot-3, was almost able to fit his entire body into one of the bins underneath the lockers.
“Almost got in there all the way,” Manning said, laughing. “There was still a foot sticking out.”
Sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe was missing for the first part of Thursday’s media availability, and several KU officials and assistant coaches took a lap around the locker room before they were able to locate Tharpe ... sleeping in his locker.
Tharpe was napping underneath a KU jacket and had a New York Yankees hat covering his face. Only his feet stuck out.
“Time for interviews, big guy, gotta wake up,” Kansas assistant athletic director for equipment services Larry Hare told Tharpe.
Hare let Tharpe wake up for a few minutes before beginning interviews.
“We just need to give him a second,” Hare said, smiling. “Tough to just wake up and jump right into answering questions.”
Confidence in McLemore — Kansas freshman guard Ben McLemore is averaging 6.5 points while shooting making 2 of 14 shots during his first two NCAA Tournament games. The top-seeded Jayhawks will likely need those numbers to improve if they want an extended stay in the NCAA tourney, but KU senior Kevin Young said his teammates had pretty simple advice for McLemore, KU’s leading scorer.
"You just tell him to keep shooting," Young said. "He’s gonna show up. He’s Ben. He knows that this means a lot to all of us, and it means a lot to him as well."
KU’s Jeff Withey added that he wasn’t too concerned with McLemore’s slow start.
"When he’s just playing and (having) fun playing, he’s one of the best players in the nation," Withey said. "And I think he’s gonna be fine. He’s young; he doesn’t know how the tournament goes yet."
Shining sons — The NBA pedigree on the Michigan roster is something the Wolverines themselves don’t think about much.
Starters Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are both sons of former NBA stars — Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson. Backup forward Jon Horford is the son of former NBA player Tito Horford and his older brother is Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford.
“We always have an extra target on our backs and we get a little more attention at times, but that doesn’t affect anything inside of our locker room,” Robinson said. “I think we do a good job of not carrying anything extra, no ego, no nothing like that based on that name that we have. I don’t think it has affected this team.”
Hardaway Jr. said his father keeps his advice the same, no matter the game.
“He just tells me to go out, have fun and play with heart, play within your game,” Hardaway Jr. said. “Don’t do anything crazy and just trust your teammates.”
Hardaway and Robinson are trying to do something their famous fathers could never do: Reach a Final Four.
“I don’t think he made it this far,” Hardaway Jr. said of his father, who played at UTEP from 1985-89 before enjoying a long career in the NBA. For Robinson III, a victory over Kansas would be his family’s second win over the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament. His father, Glenn Robinson, a former star at Purdue, defeated Kansas in the Sweet 16 in 1994.
Brewster’s minions — Tharpe and Michigan forward Mitch McGary spent one season playing together at Brewster (N.H.) Academy together and remain close.
“We have a good relationship, my last year (at Brewster) we played together and we were able to bond and what not,” Tharpe said. “I don’t really feel like I’ve changed from when I was at Brewster, off the court. We still talk a lot. There’s a lot of Division I players that come out of Brewster and a lot of us are really close.”
Surreal moment — Michigan and NCAA Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast’s locker rooms are next to each other at Cowboys Stadium, and Michigan coach John Beilein took a quick detour into the FGCU locker room on his way to doing interviews and ran into guards Sherwood Brown and Christophe Varidel as they were walking out to practice.
“Good luck tomorrow, fellas,” Beilein said. “You’re a great story.”
Brown and Varidel nodded quickly and kept walking away.
“Do you know who that was?” Varidel asked.
Brown shook his head.
“Somebody from Michigan, I guess,” Brown said.
Lucas watches and waits — KU freshman Landen Lucas spent last year as a spectator during the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament run. He’s a spectator again this year, but he’s a lot closer to the action. Lucas, a 6-foot-8 forward, decided to redshirt and has spent the last four months practicing against Withey and Young. Lucas, a native of Portland, Ore., said he’s also concentrated on getting stronger with Andrea Hundy, KU’s strength and conditioning coordinator.
“That was a huge key,” Lucas said. “I wanted to be able to come in and right away make an impact at my position. My body is a big factor in that, and I feel like I’ve concentrated a lot on that.”
Reconnecting with the Fab Five — Michigan, of course, is in its first Sweet 16 since 1994, the final season “Fab Five” cornerstones Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard spent on campus. Nearly 20 years later, the “Fab Five” — Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — is still an iconic brand in Ann Arbor, Mich., and beyond. Beilein said he’s tried to reconnect with the Wolverines’ past during his six seasons, and earlier this week, King spoke in a Michigan class that included the Wolverines’ current five freshmen.
“He came in and spoke in one of our classes to us five freshmen on the team,” McGary said. “He said, ‘Go out and have fun.’ He’s been here before. He knows what to experience from it.”
McLemore, Withey honored — McLemore and Withey were each selected to the NABC All-America team, released Thursday by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
McLemore, an All-Big 12 first-team selection, was selected to the NABC’s second team, while Withey landed on the third team.
Withey, the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 Tournament, is averaging 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in KU’s two NCAA Tournament victories, including 16 points and 16 rebounds against North Carolina last Sunday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. McLemore is Kansas’ leading scorer despite scoring two points on 0-of-9 shooting in the round-of-32 victory over North Carolina.