Bob Lutz: It's Teahan time at last

12/16/2011 12:00 AM

12/16/2011 9:16 AM

During Conner Teahan's first four seasons as a basketball player at Kansas, which included a redshirt year in 2010-11, the Jayhawks played 149 games and, including overtimes, 5,990 minutes.

That's a lot of basketball. And Teahan had one of the best seats in the house to watch most of it.

Of those 5,990 minutes, Teahan was on the floor for 218. That's 3.6 percent of the action, which left a whole lot of time for Teahan to contemplate.

He convinced himself during most of his bench-riding career that he was just another foul, perhaps, from getting in on the action. But the more he told himself to be ready, the deeper his seat on the bench became.

This is a guy who went to Kansas as an invited walk-on after an outstanding high school career at Rockhurst in Kansas City, Mo. He might have been a walk-on, but he always thought he would ultimately make a contribution to the Jayhawks and that notion was seconded, he said, by KU coach Bill Self.

Yet game after game, season after season, Teahan's role was confined mostly to being a really good practice player.

"Doing that can help your team win,'' Teahan said. "I definitely believe that.''

But being a practice warrior only goes so far. And Teahan has always known that if he got a chance to play regularly at Kansas, he would not disappoint.

His time is now.

After deciding to redshirt last season, on the heels of surgery in the summer of 2010 to repair a bum knee, Teahan reported to camp this season 28 pounds lighter from the 221 he carried during his junior season.

He's quicker and more mobile. If the KU coaches once worried about Teahan's ability to defend like a Kansas player has to defend, they have been pleasantly surprised by his all-around game this season.

Once considered a zone-buster and spot-up shooter, but nothing else, the 6-foot-6 Teahan has held up defensively, ranks third among Jayhawks with 11 offensive rebounds and is getting 21.3 minutes, an eternity for a player whose only previous playing time came mostly in lopsided games.

But Teahan is needed this season on a Jayhawk team that lost heavily to graduation and to the ineligibility of three incoming freshmen who were expected to contribute. The bench is just a temporary resting place now for Teahan, who is averaging 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and is shooting 41.7 percent from the three-point line.

He's in there against the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State as much as he is for the creampuffs on KU's schedule. He has started only once in nine games, but he knows his number is going to be called..

"In terms of basketball, this has been the best year of my life,'' Teahan said. "I put a lot of really hard work into this. I sat out last year and I was pretty stressed because I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well this season. But I always knew there was something that I wanted to prove while I was at KU.''

The redshirt decision, Teahan said, was easy. He saw how many players were ahead of him, including close friends Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, and decided his best chance for playing time would come after they left.

It was a risk, but a calculated one. And by working as hard as he has to get into better shape and devote more attention to defense, Teahan has done what it has taken.

"It would have been devastating to me not to get this opportunity to play more,'' Teahan said. "You accept whatever Coach Self is thinking, obviously, but to put in all of this work and then not to get much out of it would have been really hard.''

Every minute Teahan plays is a bonus. He takes nothing for granted, which is why he continues to push himself.

"There are so many things that go into being able to play here at Kansas,'' he said. "You come out of high school and the game at this level is totally different. You're guarding ball screens in a different way. You're helping off of your man some, but then you have to get back to your man or he'll make you pay. The speed of the game in practice versus in a game isn't comparable.''

Teahan's vast experience in practice, though, has helped him adjust. He's been guarding great players for several years, they just have happened to be on his team.

"Shooting is what I'm supposed to do and it's who I am,'' Teahan said. "It is what it is. But it's nice to be recognized for some of the other things I'm able to do.''

Teahan doesn't miss those long stretches on the bench and all the tricks it played on his mind. He wondered whether or not he belonged. He thought there were times when he was about to crack the rotation, only to never hear his name called. He never wavered from being a supportive teammate, but often wondered just how much of a teammate he was.

Those times are over. Teahan is in the thick of things for a 7-2 Kansas team. He stands now more than he sits.

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