LAWRENCE — Everything is going to be OK. That, more than anything else, was the message that the Kansas men's basketball team was supposed to send to the 16,300 fans seated in Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night at "Late Night in the Phog."
That they could forget about the pain that has come with football this fall. Forget about 6-3 North Dakota State and 55-7 Baylor and 59-7 Kansas State and remember that their Jayhawks are still the kings of the hardwood, the owners of six straight Big 12 regular season championships.
As the current face of the athletic department and the university, KU coach Bill Self is the master of "everything is going to be OK." And with his pregame and postgame speeches from the 2008 national championship victory over Memphis aired on the video board on Friday night, he barely even had to say a word to get the point across yet again.
Of course, he had more words than that.
"We're going to be very, very good," Self said, and the fans cheered and stomped their feet in unison.
"Winning the national championship changed all our lives," Self continued. "Of course, last year we thought we had a chance, but we didn't play very well at the end and went home sadæ.æ.æ. 2008 was only two and a half years ago, but it's been too long. We need to cut down nets again in 2011."
Like any season, there is a chance that could happen. And like any season, there are questions in October that can only be answered by March: Will KU freshman Josh Selby, voted by the Big 12 coaches as the league's preseason freshman of the year, even be eligible to play? How will the Jayhawks replace the production of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry? Where will the scoring and leadership come from?
The NCAA still hasn't cleared Swlby. But he's allowed to practice, so there he was on Friday night, dancing with his fellow freshmen to a song by "New Edition" while wearing a backward beret and sunglasses. In his first on-court action, Selby played 16 minutes and had 6 points. There was a feeling among the Jayhawks that he should have had more.
"He passed the ball really well," KU forward Markieff Morris said. "He was very unselfish. He passed up a lot of shots I think he should have taken."
That wasn't a problem for Markieff's twin brother, Marcus, who is the most likely player to emerge as a scorer and a leader for this year's squad. Marcus had 14 points and 8 rebounds on Friday and looked like the NBA-ready player he's supposed to be.
"Today I was nervous," Marcus said. "I haven't been out there in a while. It's the first time out there without Sherron and Cole. It was special."
The first practice of the season always feels special at KU, and with each passing year, Self lets loose a little more, showing the personality that has worked wonders on the recruiting trail (on Friday, top 2011 recruits LeBryan Nash, Ben McLemore and Angelo Chol were in the house).
At one point, Self walked onto the floor dressed as Vanilla Ice, wearing all gold and a backward hat.
"I haven't had to perform in front of this many people for many years," Self joked.
He struck the right tone all night, leaving little doubt once again that everything is going to be OK.