Walk-ons enter Kansas’ basketball program one of two ways.
Some accept the idea that they will never be part of the rotation and are content to help in practice and wear the uniform. Those are the majority who join the Jayhawks without a scholarship.
Conner Teahan arrived the other way.
He showed up antsy about sitting at the end of the bench. He showed up to earn his keep and play.
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Better late than never.
Five years into his career, Teahan is an integral part of the Jayhawks, who take on Detroit around 8:57 Thursday night in an NCAA Tournament opener. KU (27-6) is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional; the Titans (22-13) are seeded 15th.
Teahan, the first guard off the bench, is sixth on the team in minutes and scoring with a 5.9 average.
“It’s something I’ve really worked hard for,” Teahan said. “I’m happy to be in the situation I’m in.”
Teahan, who was awarded a scholarship this season, thought he was going to find success earlier in his KU career.
“I knew coming in that it would take time,” he said, “and it’s taken a little more time than I thought it would.”
He arrived in time for the 2007-08 national championship season, fresh off a stellar career at Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst, where he was a two-time Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year.
Some Missouri Valley schools had shown interest. So had Kansas State. But Teahan, who lives in Leawood, was intent on playing for the Jayhawks.
“He was a guy that deserved a scholarship. We just didn’t have one,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I never, ever think of Conner as a walk-on.”
He didn’t play like one out of the gate. The freshman with the mop-top hair drilled eight of its first 10 three-point attempts in blowout victories before the end of November. The year ended with Teahan making 12 of 20 threes.
But his playing time didn’t increase the next two seasons as Kansas continued to recruit stellar guards.
Teahan averaged fewer than four minutes as a sophomore and junior, making five three-pointers in the two years combined.
Football became a diversion in the spring of 2010. Teahan had been an all-district quarterback for the Hawklets. His flirtation with the gridiron Jayhawks didn’t last beyond spring workouts, and when basketball season started, Teahan, in his fourth year in the program, put on a redshirt.
This season is his final opportunity to make an impact, and it has happened.
Teahan played 23 minutes against Kentucky, knocking down two three-pointers. He hit the biggest shots in KU’s Big 12 regular season-opening victory over Kansas State.
But the best moment occurred on Feb. 25. With Kansas trailing Missouri by 19 at home, Teahan chipped in two threes and finished with the best shooting day of his career — 4 for 4 from beyond the arc — in a one-point overtime victory.
There have been down moments, as well. Teahan enters NCAA play on the heels of consecutive scoreless games. In the Big 12 Tournament semifinal loss to Baylor, he missed an open three that would have stretched KU’s two-point lead.
Because 132 of Teahan’s 161 field-goal attempts have come from behind the arc, missed threes — he hits 35.6 percent — are magnified. The criticism is also amplified.
“He wears it,” said senior Jordan Juenemann, Teahan’s roommate. “He’s disappointed when he doesn’t make shots.”
But Teahan knows that being enough of a factor to hear the cheers, and grumbling, comes with the territory.
“I wanted this the entire time,” Teahan said. “When you sit on the bench for four years and see other guys being successful, you want that. You want to be in pressure situations, taking pressure shots.”
That’s the type of walk-on Teahan became, and Self knows the Jayhawks wouldn’t be the same team without him.
“He’s had chance to impact this team,” Self said, “and there’s no way we’d be a No. 2 seed if it wasn’t for him.”