LAS VEGAS — Travis Releford walked out of a joyous Kansas locker room Saturday night at Orleans Arena carrying a small wooden monument to an all-tournament team performance at the iBN Sports Las Vegas Invitational.
"It's a clock," Releford said, turning it to reveal what will surely become a mantel piece in his Jayhawker Towers dorm. "I don't know what that means, but..."
Symbolically, the meaning was hard to miss. Releford, who redshirted last season, had been waiting for his time. It finally came this weekend in KU victories over Ohio and Arizona, and Releford played like an irreplaceable part of the Jayhawks' rotation by averaging 11.5 points a game. He made nine of 14 shots, including five of nine from three-point range.
"It means a lot," said Releford, a Kansas City native and Bishop Miege graduate. "All offseason, I thought about coming into the season and doing what I had to do to make the team better. I've been doing it."
Releford, a sophomore guard, redshirted last season because it wasn't clear whether he was ready to be a consistent contributor. Plus, with Xavier Henry on the roster, there didn't appear to be an obvious niche for him as a 6-foot-6 wing player. KU coach Bill Self said at the time that he thought Releford could be a 1,000-point career scorer, but there was plenty of work to be done before that could happen.
"My strength coming into college was driving it," Releford said, "and working on my jump shot was something I needed to do."
In Friday's blowout of Ohio, Releford entered the game and swiftly nailed three straight threes. On Saturday, he hit two more. KU guard Tyrel Reed, who played AAU ball with Releford, knows how far Releford has come.
"A long ways," Reed said. "He could hit a shot, but that wasn't his forte. There were some mechanical things that were off. He just put in a lot of time."
Releford is now confident in his entire repertoire, and it shows.
"He was just aggressive," Reed said. "People probably don't play him as a shooter, but hey, if he was wide open, he knocked it down. Props to Travis. He definitely stepped up big for us."
One major difference for Releford this weekend is that he's more comfortable coming off the bench. He started the first two games of the season before Self elected to go with Brady Morningstar in an effort to spark both players.
"I kind of feel like there's no pressure," Releford said. "I can sit on the bench and see what's going on before I get out there, and I can go from there."
Self couldn't hide his satisfaction about Releford's showing in Sin City.
"I'm excited for Travis," Self said. "He's a great kid. He works hard. He's made shots the last couple of games. He is a natural scorer, but he's gotta be able to drive to pass. He's so good at getting himself into the lane, he's gotta get other guys shots. He'll get that."
For Releford, it always seems as if there's something to improve. He's OK with that.
"All the time," Releford said. "You can never not work on your game, unless you want to stay the same."