LAWRENCE — In early November, before the first regular-season game has been played, Kansas basketball players tend to follow the lead of their coach and manage expectations for themselves.
It is always the safe play, even for sophomores Travis Releford and Thomas Robinson, who would have every reason to feel sky high after scoring 12 points apiece during the Jayhawks’ 90-59 exhibition victory over Emporia State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Releford spent last season redshirting in an effort to make sure he didn’t waste a year of eligibility sitting behind Xavier Henry. He is eager to show what he can do, playing in this building that is less than an hour from his childhood home of Kansas City, but he didn’t have much to say about making his first five shot attempts against the Hornets.
“I mean, my first five shots, the first few ones were layups,” said Releford, a Bishop Miege graduate. “I was expected to make those shots.”
Robinson, who played sparingly last year as a freshman, had some highlight reel plays (two put-back dunks and four blocks) to go along with a solid 10 rebounds. But KU coach Bill Self was all too eager to add some perspective to the numbers.
“You’re not gonna get putback dunks off missed free throws when you’re playing teams as big or bigger than you,” Self said. “When he plays against guys that are the same size or bigger, he’s not gonna block those shots.
“He can play so big one possession and not play near as big the next possession. He’s just gotta get where he plays big and to his athletic ability more often.”
Robinson seemed to agree that he was only showing a glimpse of what kind of player he can be for No. 7 KU.
“Potential just means you haven’t done it yet,” Robinson said.
Releford and Robinson both started for the Jayhawks, who sat Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor at the tipoff. Those guys sitting is unlikely to happen again barring injury, but it gave guys like Releford and Robinson a chance to play 23 minutes each in front of those 16,300 critics before Friday’s opener against Longwood.
Senior Mario Little, who redshirted with Releford last season, also got a chance to work out some rust. He scored 7 points and fouled out in 16 minutes.
“It’s important for (Releford), and (Little), to do that,” Self said. “And Travis, I thought Travis played good. He’s a good athlete, gives us good energy.”
Releford has started three of four halves for the Jayhawks during their exhibition, so it will come as no surprise if he starts on Friday night.
“It means a lot,” Releford said. “This is the place I always wanted to be at and play, and I get a chance to come out and play a whole bunch.”
Releford spent last season and this offseason honing his defensive skills by guarding KU’s first team in practice and putting up thousands of jump shots. He swished his lone three-point attempt on Tuesday night, which is an accomplishment for any Jayhawk to this point. KU hit 7 of 31 from three in its exhibitions, and four of the makes flew from the hands of big men Marcus and Markieff Morris.
Releford is one of many who has the green light this season from three, but he is more comfortable thinking of his offense second.
“I try to start off on defense getting after it,” Releford said. “Coming into college, I always was the type of player that played off my defense. The offense will just come.”