As Bill Self addressed the media on Tuesday, he did so with a smile that rarely left his face. Having guided Kansas to six straight Big 12 regular season titles, Self has plenty to be thankful for with this particular team. Despite losing three players, Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, to the NBA, Self's expectations for the 2010-11 season haven't changed one bit.
"Its another year - starting year eight," said Self on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm very excited about it and I really like this team - the way its come together. Seeing how some of the guys that maybe didn't get as big an opportunity in the past, now have an opportunity, and I think they are very, very capable of making the most of it.
"It should be a fun year," he added. "We're going to be more athletic than what we have been the couple of years, for sure. It will be hard to surpass that 2007-08 team athletically, but I think this team is the closest thing we've had to doing so since we've been here. I'm excited about it, and I think it should be a fun year."
Last year, Kansas captured its sixth straight Big 12 regular season championship, defeated Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament Championship and entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. However, Self and the Jayhawks were stunned by Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In all, Kansas won 33 games and suffered just three defeats, but certainly didn't meet postseason expectations. Despite losing three players - Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry - Self's expectations for this upcoming season haven't changed one bit.
In fact, its probably fair to say Self, along with the 2010-11 team, have the same expectations as last year's squad did at this very time. According to Self, he's excited about this team for a number of reasons.
"I think, without question, speed," said Self when asked what he likes about this team. "Its hard to say the 2008 team was more athletic than the 2007 team, because its basically the same team if you take Julian Wright off of it, but this team, with the way we can defend defensively and do different things because of interchangeable parts, I think this is going to be a team that can pressure more and certainly play faster offensively.
"I'm probably most looking forward to that," he added.
As Self finished up talking about his excitement for this team, his focus immediately shifted to Mario Little, the 6-foot-6, 218-pound forward from Chicago, Ill. Little, the No. 1 ranked junior college prospect in 2008, arrived in Lawrence from Chipola Community College expecting to play a major role, but injuries have prevented his on the court development.
Having redshirted last year, Little is hoping to play a major role this year, and meet those expectations that followed him from Chipola.
"Well, Mario really hasn't had a chance to show what he can do," said Self. "His first year, he only played half the season and was hurt. Of course, he had surgery and sat last year. It was good for him to sit, because it guarantees graduation, most importantly, but it also gives him a chance to impact this team, probably in ways, that he couldn't have last year.
"He's 100 percent now," he added. "He's a bad match-up four man or he's a big three. He can play either position, but he's certainly a guy that can get the ball in the basket. We saw glimpses of that in his first year, but I think a guy that can put up numbers. Regardless of how many minutes he plays, I think he's a guy that can put points on the board."
The pieces are certainly in place for Kansas to have a special season. Back are Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, and Elijah Johnson. Little and Travis Releford redshirted last year, while Josh Selby and Royce Woolridge are the two newcomers.
Kansas might not be the preseason favorite in the Big 12, but a seventh straight regular season championship is, without question, very much within reach.
"Well we shouldn't have been," said Self when asked about the preseason ranking. "We've been picked not to win the league before, and won it. It really doesn't make much difference to me. Last year we were a unanimous pick and this year Kansas State is close to being a unanimous pick. In my opinion they deserve to be picked preseason one based on their year last year and the key players they have returning.
"We lost two lottery picks and the winningest player in the history of the school and usually you don't get better by losing those types of players," he added. "I do think this, 33-3 is a good winning percentage and I don't think this team will do that. Our goal will be to win every game but that will be very difficult to do. I do think this team can be as good as last year's team. The league will be very good again, and we just have to make sure and take care of our business and not worry about everybody else."