EA Sports Maui Invitational Kicks Off 2011-12:
Seven-time defending Big 12 Conference champion Kansas opens up the 2011-12 season by hosting Towson on 11-11-11 in the opening round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Preseason ranked No. 13, Kansas is looking to win its 39th-straight home opener at Allen Fieldhouse dating back to the 1973-74 season. Since 2001-02, the Jayhawks have won their last nine season openers. Towson is coming off a 4-26 season in which it finished 12th in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with a 0-18 record. The KU-Towson game will be televised on Jayhawk IMG TV and can also be seen via the internet for those who subscribe to AT&T Jayhawk All-Access through www.kuathletics.com.
Following two exhibition victories against Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State, Kansas will be at full force for the season-opener against Towson.
On Oct. 30, KU head coach Bill Self announced that senior guard Tyshawn Taylor and junior guard Elijah Johnson would not play in KU's two exhibition contests due to violations of team rules. Both are back for the opener. Preseason All-America junior forward Thomas Robinson also did not play against Pitt State (11/1) due to a knee injury. He responded with a 22-point, 12-rebound effort against Fort Hays State (11/8).
A three-year starter, Taylor is KU's returning leading scorer from 2010-11 with a 9.3 scoring average. Juniors Robinson, Travis Releford and Johnson were also regulars last season. Robinson is Kansas' leading returning rebounder (6.4 rpg), which complemented his 7.6 scoring average. Robinson has appeared on many national preseason honors lists heading into the 2011-12 season.
Releford (3.6 ppg in 2010-11) is a redshirt junior guard who started four games last year. Johnson (3.4 ppg, 64 assists) had six starts his sophomore year and made 40 percent of his three-pointers attempted. Other returning letterwinners include senior guard Conner Teahan, a 2010-11 redshirt who has appeared in 61 games while at KU, junior center Jeff Withey (2.3 ppg, 19 blocked shots) and walk-on guards Jordan Juenemann, a senior, and sophomore Niko Roberts.
Newcomer-wise, sophomore forward Justin Wesley was a redshirt on the Kansas roster last season and saw extensive time in KU's two exhibition contests. The younger brother of KU great Keith Langford, Wesley is a transfer from Lamar who has added 20 pounds to his frame since arriving at Kansas, coming into the season weighing 220 pounds. Junior forward Kevin Young should have an immediate impact as he played two seasons at Loyola-Marymount and sat out last year before coming to Kansas. He averaged 3.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in KU's two exhibition contests.
KU has five freshmen on this season's roster with guards Naadir Tharpe, Merv Lindsay, Ben McLemore and Christian Garrett and forward Jamari Traylor. Tharpe started both Kansas' exhibition games at point. He played at Brewster (N.H.) Academy last year, guiding his team to a 35-5 record and a prep school national championship.
Lindsay averaged 15.0 ppg and 10.2 rpg his senior year at Canyon Springs (Calif.) HS, while Garrett scored 14 points per game and averaged seven assists as a teammate of Traylor before coming to Kansas last January. McLemore and Traylor were declared partial qualifiers by the NCAA and will not dress out for 2011-12. The duo will be able to practice with the team following the fall 2011 semester.
Located in Towson, Md., with an enrollment of 21,111, Towson returns two letterwinners from last season's team which went 4-26. Senior forward Robert Nwankwo is Towson's top returner who sat out the 2010-11 season and is back for his fifth year. Nwankwo averaged 9.9 points as a junior and was the CAA leader in rebounds (9.2 rpg), field goal percentage (.562) and blocked shots (3.2 bpg) in 2009-10.
Sophomore forward Erique Gumbs is the other returning letterwinner who averaged 3.6 points and 2.8 rebounds with four starts last season. Joining Nwankwo and Gumbs in Towson's two exhibition games were sophomore transfer forward Marcus Damas, freshman forward Deon Jones and freshman guard Kris Walden. Top players off the bench in Towson's two exhibition contests included freshmen forwards Jervon Pressley and Alex Giergen and freshman guard Will Adams.
Kansas and Towson are meeting for the second time in men's basketball. The Jayhawks defeated the Tigers 87-61 Nov. 19, 2006, in Allen Fieldhouse. The game was the opening round of the Las Vegas Invitational in which KU went on to defeat then-No. 1 Florida (82-80 in overtime) in the championship game. Against Towson in 2006, Darrell Arthur scored a team-high 26 points for KU, while Mario Chalmers had 15 points, Brandon Rush contributed 13 points and Julian Wright added 12 points in the victory. KU is 2-1 all time against current membership of the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Jayhawks will travel to New York City and historic Madison Square Garden for the Champions Classic contest against Kentucky on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. (CST). The game, which will be televised on ESPN, will pit the two winningest programs in Division I history and will be the 26th meeting between the two schools. The Wildcats lead the overall series 19-6; however, the Jayhawks have won each of the last three contests, most recently, an 88-76 victory in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament in Chicago, Ill.