KU’s Bill Self already playing the motivation game with Carlton Bragg
By Jesse Newell email@example.com
Carlton Bragg messed with a non-negotiable.
Kansas coach Bill Self can live with certain mistakes. He’s OK with aggressive turnovers. He’ll take a deep breath if a player picks up a foul hustling for a loose ball.
But not grabbing defensive rebounds? There might not be anything that ticks the KU coach off quicker.
Bragg found that out on two different occasions during KU’s 92-74 exhibition victory over Washburn on Tuesday.
Much of the talk coming into the game was about KU’s potential to play “small ball,” a four-guard look that Self’s teams haven’t run much in the past.
The biggest roadblock to it is this: Take a big guy out and put a small guy in, and the risk is there that KU won’t get the defensive rebounds it has in the past.
The problem Tuesday, though, wasn’t the four-guard lineup. It was that no matter the rotation, KU wasn’t getting enough defensive boards from anyone.
“That’s obviously a huge weakness within our team is our toughness and rebounding,” Self said.
Bragg appeared to be the worst offender — and his playing time suffered because of it.
During KU’s first defensive possession of the second half, he elevated for a defensive rebound, didn’t go strong with two hands, and let Washburn’s 6-foot-7 David Salach knock it away. The ball caromed off Bragg out of bounds.
Self sent Udoka Azubuike to the scorer’s table 23 seconds into the half to sub Bragg out. Message sent.
Or so the coach thought. Fast forward to the 8:01 mark, and Bragg had prime defensive rebounding position only to have the ball bounce off his hands.
Three offensive rebounds later, when the ball finally trickled out of bounds off the Jayhawks, Josh Jackson was waiting at the scorer’s table. Bragg went to the bench.
Self wasn’t waiting until the regular season to try to correct this, as Bragg played 14 minutes with six points and one defensive rebound. And though he didn’t mention Bragg by name here — he doesn’t often do this — it seems clear he was the person he was most frustrated with since he was speaking about the power-forward position.
“You know, Perry (Ellis) wasn’t a great rebounder, but he got seven a game. That’s a heckuva lot better than what we’re getting now,” Self said. “It’s been this way in practice too, so we’ve got to certainly do some things to play tougher.”
“Or we’ve just got to come up with a mode where we play four guards at all times,” Self said.
One possible translation: If Bragg isn’t going to defensive rebound, he’s not guaranteed a starting spot. Self — whether it’s simply a motivational tactic or not — is saying he’s prepared to move Svi Mykhailiuk or Lagerald Vick into Bragg’s spot if the 4 position isn’t going to rebound well anyway.
This is where it’s good to take a step back. This is one exhibition game with KU using a shell of its normal offense. And defensive rebounding was expected to be a concern for Bragg, whose 17 percent defensive rebounding rate last season was lower than teammate Brannen Greene.
Keep in mind this also was a perfect time for Self to try to fire his guys up, especially with top-20 opponents Indiana and Duke looming in the first two regular-season games.
The coach used one of those ploys late with his team, with Vick revealing that instead of sending his normal three players to the offensive glass, Self told the whole team to go there. Anything to get his guys to attack the boards like he wanted.
“We (the players) talked about it in the locker room,” Vick said. “Everybody’s just got to step up and do their roles.”
In the end, Washburn grabbed 19 of an available 52 offensive rebounds against KU. That 37 percent mark would have been the sixth-best performance by any team against the Jayhawks last season.
“Washburn is by no means a big basketball team. They outscrapped us,” Self said. “We have to do some things a lot better rebounding. There’s no question who our best rebounder is. It’s embarrassing when he’s 5 foot 10.”
Yes, Frank Mason led KU with nine defensive rebounds. Self knew this.
The reason is simple: The stat is a non-negotiable.
And this was Self’s first attempt at trying to solve the issue before the games start to count.
“We have to have some big guys at least play close to their size,” Self said. “That didn’t happen tonight.”