LAWRENCE — Bill Self knows the Kansas math. No matter what his roster looks like next fall, his fan base will expect an eighth straight Big 12 regular-season championship and a team capable of making a deep March run.
But right now, the math looks stickier than usual. It is mid-May, and with the late signing period coming to an end Wednesday, the Jayhawks still have four scholarships available for next season. For Self, the problem could get so much easier to solve in the coming weeks with some simple addition.
Five-star shooting guard Trevor Lacey of Huntsville, Ala., will sign on Wednesday with either Kansas, Kentucky or Alabama. Five-star forward DeAndre Daniels and three-star forward Jamari Traylor, who both play at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., also have decisions to make. Daniels, rated the No. 10 overall player in the 2011 class by Rivals.com, is considering KU, Duke and Texas, but there's a prevalent feeling out there that Duke is no longer in play. Traylor is looking at KU, Indiana, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
"How we do in the next 10 days," Self said Sunday, "could very well determine whether or not we have a chance to win the league next year or have a chance just to keep our head above water. I think we'll be good no matter what. I like the guys. If we're able to finish strong (in recruiting), we'll be good."
Self said he didn't anticipate losing both the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA draft and that he feels good about where KU sits with the 2012 class. Because of the early departures, Self now finds himself truly at the mercy of the late signing period, which has become college basketball's own free agency period. Players can wait out all of the coaching changes and draft decisions and see where the best landing spot is for them before making a decision.
Self has landed players late before — Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Tyshawn Taylor, Xavier Henry, Josh Selby and, this year, Ben McLemore and Braeden Anderson — but he says he's never been in a spot quite like this.
"It is nerve-wracking," Self said. "We know how important it is to lock these last couple up. I don't think I've ever been in a situation where three or four kids that you really want all decide that, hey, we're going to wait until the end of the signing period. We need to hit a home run here late, and I think we're in a position to do so, but it hasn't happened yet."
Self, who is not allowed to comment on specific unsigned recruits according to NCAA rules, said KU has had no choice but to wait out this collection of kids. Sometimes, he said, if a school has one or two scholarships available for five recruits, the coach can apply pressure by saying the spots will go to the kids who commit first. That isn't an option for Kansas.
"Our bargaining chip to try to convince them to do something immediately probably isn't as strong now," Self said. "They all know that we need them and want them."
As of now, Kansas returns what should be a solid nucleus in guards Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford and forward Thomas Robinson. Center Jeff Withey will have his chance to earn a starting job, and incoming freshmen Naadir Tharpe, McLemore and Anderson will need to provide depth if nothing else. Conner Teahan, a former preferred walk-on who is now on scholarship, and walk-on Justin Wesley could also contribute.
"We have playing time to offer," Self said, "but it's not gonna be easy for anyone to come in and beat out guys that are returning. They're gonna have to come in and work and certainly perform in order to have a chance to play a lot."