BOULDER, Colo. —Last week, as the Kansas Jayhawks prepared for rival Kansas State, scout team players received an assignment that begged a philosophical question of them: How far were they willing to go to make KU coach Bill Self happy at the expense of their teammates?
To help the Jayhawks get ready to face the bruising Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum, Self asked them to maul his rotation players in practice. Basically, they could do whatever they wanted — tackle, push, pull, slap — and no foul would be called.
In a smiling and joyous locker room in Manhattan on Saturday, after a character-building KU victory, all of it seemed worth it: The large scar on center Cole Aldrich's left arm and the temporary sore feelings directed at teammates and Self.
"Every time we were going to the hole, they were just intentionally fouling," KU forward Marcus Morris said. "Coach is saying it's not a foul even though we all know it is. It's tough, but that's what got us ready for the game."
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It was easy to say that after the win that propelled the Jayhawks back atop the college basketball universe, but in the moment, tensions flared.
"We did get mad," Morris said. "It was just intentional, know what I mean? I think anybody would get mad at someone just grabbing you, fouling you or pushing you in the back."
Self and his scout teamers had to stay strong in the face of growing discontentment from star players who weren't used to being bullied.
"I made practice ridiculous for our main players," Self said. "I mean, ridiculous. They were getting tackled. Guys would basically not complain. They gave their own body language symbols saying, 'Hey, this is not right.' "
Self said that KU senior Sherron Collins and Aldrich calmed their teammates down, saying "This is how it is" at K-State.
"It was football practice," said Collins, who played football at Crane High in Chicago.
Scout teamer Mario Little, who is redshirting this season, stood out in Self's mind.
"Good form, wrapped them up good," Self said with a grin. "He was good. He missed his calling I think. He should be on a football field."
This week, the KU scout teamers received an opposite assignment: Prepare the Jayhawks for the precision and timing of Colorado's Princeton offense. The abrupt switch from brawn to brains could give Little and company multiple-personality disorder. Luckily, the Jayhawks faced similar offenses against Michigan and Cornell earlier this season.
To win in Boulder, KU will have to use an entirely different skill set than it took to win in Manhattan.
"It's a different kind of focus," Morris said. "K-State is a great team, very physical. You gotta match their intensity and be even better. Colorado's a great team. They run their offense to a 'T'. We gotta stay focused and not fall asleep on any back-cuts."
Certainly, Morris didn't have any Jayhawks jumping on top of his back this week like he did last week. After two big rivalry wins in a row, KU seemed aware on Monday that it could suffer an emotional letdown against a CU team it has beaten 13 straight times.
"This'll be a game that we have to get our guys' attention," Self said. "You can lose to anybody anytime."