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October 17, 2012
Players don't expect to take a step back
Of the 10 Big 12 teams that participated in Wednesdays Big 12 media day, none received more attention than the University of Kansas.
By the time Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young arrived at the media table assigned for KU's senior class, there wasn't much room to maneuver.
If you failed to arrive early for Wednesdays Big 12 media day session, chances are you'd find yourself waiting a long time for a spot around Johnson, Releford, Withey and Young to open up.
Once seated comfortably, Johnson, Releford, Withey and Young began to answer a wide variety of questions. One of the hottest topics of the afternoon centered on Kansas being ranked No. 7 in the coaches poll.
"I haven't really thought about it too much," said Withey. "Preseason is preseason. It really doesn't mean too much, but at the same time, it's definitely an honor to be ranked seventh."
As Kansas fans are well aware, expectations in Lawrence, Kan., are always high. Despite losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the NBA, the Jayhawks, with nine players on their roster with no Division I experience, are expected to contend for not only their ninth straight Big 12 regular season championship, but the programs second national championship under Bill Self.
Kansas, coming off a season in which it appeared in its second national championship game under Self, but came up short against Kentucky, will rely heavily on its upperclassmen. Johnson, Releford, Withey and Young, night in and night out, will be looked upon to carry a majority of the load for Self's squad this season.
While the experience may begin and end with those four seniors, the same simply can't be said about the level of talent and depth Self has this season. In all, Naadir Tharpe, Rio Adams, Andrew White, Justin Wesley Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor, Zach Peters, Landen Lucas and Perry Ellis could all play major roles this season.
"As a team, I think we're striving to be the best out there," said Young. "No. 7 is a pretty high ranking to start the season."
If Kansas is going to win its ninth straight Big 12 regular season championship and make a deep run in March, Elijah Johnson will need to have a breakout season. As a junior, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard from Las Vegas, Nev., averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game.
As good as Johnson was last season, with Tyshawn Taylor now playing for the Brooklyn Nets, Johnson will need to take on more of a leadership role.
"I'm happy with where it's at," said Johnson when asked about his role as leader. "But I'm still improving and for the progression, I think that right now, it's at a steady pace. I figure to get better as the season goes along, though.
"Tyshawn and I have two different personalities, but I also think we go about things in similar ways," he added. "We're two different players, and not to compare myself to Tyshawn, but Tyshawn went out with a bang. He went out probably the best way he could, aside from winning that last game. I just plan on doing the same thing."