LAWRENCE — On the day the Kansas Jayhawks were picked to be co-Big 12 basketball champions by the league coaches, an honor that indicated nothing has changed around Allen Fieldhouse, it became clear at KU's media day Thursday that things couldn't actually be more different.
Bill Self talked about tempering expectations for fans. Then he said that he wasn't holding his breath that freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor would be cleared to play by the NCAA this season, so a team already lacking proven depth could become even more depleted. Certainly, there's a chance multiple current and former walk-ons will be playing in KU's rotation.
Over the years, Self's go-to phrase to describe the Kansas fans in panic mode has been "the sky is falling," and, on the surface, this might be a good time to go ahead and take cover.
The Jayhawks will need leadership outside of Self and his staff this year more than ever, so it's a good thing they have a point guard with 89 starts under his belt, a guy who will be the first four-year starter at Kansas since Aaron Miles.
Yes, it's a good thing they have Tyshawn Taylor.
"He's the one with the keys," KU guard Elijah Johnson said. "He's gotta start the car and drive. We'll get in."
Where Taylor will take the 2011-12 Jayhawks is anybody's guess. He'll have the help of juniors Thomas Robinson and Johnson, but they both said Taylor is this team's leader.
That idea will surely scare some of those who have observed the last three years. Drama has seemed to follow Taylor. He exceeded expectations as a freshman, but was one of the ringleaders in the fight with the football team during his sophomore year and talked later that year about how he didn't know what his role was on the court.
Last February, Taylor was suspended two games for a violation of team rules.
He returned and played his best basketball down the stretch for the Jayhawks, who swear by Taylor and claim that the public incidents during his career aren't an accurate portrayal of his character.
"To be honest, I've never seen the way other people look at Tyshawn," Robinson said. "Tyshawn's not a bad person at all. He's human. He made mistakes. I don't think people should hold that against him, which I feel like they did in the past. Tyshawn's a leader, and he's been a leader. It's just now it's gonna be more obvious."
Self agreed that Taylor has been misrepresented, saying that Taylor's been a victim of some of his gaffes becoming public.
"I do think he's ready," Self said. "I think he's matured. I think he's grown up. He's wanted this to be his deal, but it couldn't be this deal with Sherron (Collins) around, and it couldn't be his deal with the (Morris) twins around. Tyshawn wanted it, and now he's got it, and we'll see how he reacts to it."
Taylor's year of setting the tone has just begun, but Johnson says his teammate is off to a good start in sending the right message to KU's young players.
"He's learned," Johnson said, "and you can tell because he tries to warn people about stuff he's done before and seen people do. He just doesn't want people to make that mistake. He cares too much. That's a leader to me."
Taylor has experienced more than most players in a college career, not the least of which is being a part of three of KU's seven straight Big 12 regular-season titles. It will be largely up to Taylor whether or not this Kansas team falls in line with tradition or becomes a rare disappointment.
"I've been thinking about that a little bit more than everybody else," Taylor said. "I've been here, I'm a senior, and I just want to get four (titles), man. I don't want to be the one that ends it."
Freshmen up in air — Self said he hopes to have an answer soon about the eligibility of McLemore and Traylor.
McLemore, a guard from St. Louis, and Traylor, a forward from Chicago, have been cleared by the NCAA to be on scholarship and attend classes but not to participate in team activities because of issues relating to their high school academic transcripts. KU has already lost freshman forward Braeden Anderson, who left school in September after the Big 12 did not clear him to be on scholarship at Kansas.
"Obviously we haven't gotten the answers that we want," Self said, "because if we had we would have shared them with you. It's not totally negative. We still have hope, but we're not holding our breath on that situation at all."
Self was unsure of whether McLemore and Traylor would be able to participate in "Late Night in the Phog" tonight in Allen Fieldhouse.
"They won't participate in practice," Self said. "I just want them to come out and be a part of the team. That's one we'll continue to fight for until 'Late Night' to see if that can happen because they deserve that."
Recruiting in the Phog — Kansas will have a handful of recruits in for "Late Night," none more important than Massachusetts center Kaleb Tarczewski, rated a five-star recruit and the No. 1 center in the country by Rivals.com. Tarczewski is expected to visit Arizona next weekend and choose between the two schools.