LAWRENCE, Kan. — Canadian Andrew Wiggins walked into the locker room after his first game at Allen Fieldhouse, turned to coach Bill Self and confirmed what was plainly apparent to everyone who watched him perform.
"He told me after the game, ‘Coach, I was so nervous,"’ Self said.
Indeed, the presumptive No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft got off to an inauspicious start when he travelled the first time he touched the ball. But Wiggins, from Vaughan, Ont., eventually got into a rhythm and had 16 points, leading the Jayhawks to a 97-67 exhibition win over Pittsburg State on Tuesday night.
"He didn’t play very well early. He did better late," Self said. "I thought he made some right plays and things, but the thing about it is, when we’re on our heels because we’re in foul trouble, then you’re not aggressive."
New rules against hand-checking put a whole bunch of people in foul trouble. There were 50 fouls called in the game, leading to 61 free throws.
"We tried to work on it in practice as much as we can because we’re so used to being up on guys," Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe said. "We just have to work hard on moving our feet."
Self announced after the game that Tharpe, the expected starter at point guard, will be suspended for the season opener Nov. 8 against Louisiana-Monroe for playing in an unauthorized summer league game in Chicago. The school self-reported the violation.
"He knew he shouldn’t have been playing," Self said. "He just didn’t use good judgment."
Perry Ellis had 16 points and eight rebounds, Andrew White III added 12 points and freshman Brannen Greene finished with 10 for the Jayhawks, who were chosen as co-favourites with Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 for an unprecedented 10th straight season.
Devon Branch had 25 points for Pittsburg State and Alex Williams added 15.
"I thought we withstood their aggressiveness and assertiveness," Pittsburg State coach Kevin Muff said. "We did a good job of hanging in there, being competitive, being attack-oriented."
The Gorillas, a strong Division II program, hung around most of the first half. Josiah Gustafson’s 3-pointer just past the midway point got them within 21-20, and at one point Self irritatingly called a timeout to lay into his defence.
Whatever he said in the huddle must have worked.
The Jayhawks went on a 12-2 run over the next few minutes, seizing control of the game. The production came from just about everyone in their young but talented lineup, including Wiggins, who started it with a basket and ended it with a dunk on an alley-oop pass from Jamari Traylor.
"He was definitely nervous. It’s only right to be nervous," Tharpe said of Wiggins, who did not attend the post-game media availability. "We want him to be much more aggressive. He’s kind of laid back, but that’s also a good thing because he wants to find his teammates."
He did that later in the game, throwing up a pass that 7-footer Joel Embiid — another of the Jayhawks’ talented freshmen — threw down over a defender.
"Just from this game," Tharpe said, "you saw a couple little spurts of what he can do."
Kansas led 50-32 at halftime, and stretched the lead to 60-36 in the opening minutes of the second half, allowing Self to start tinkering with lineups the rest of the way.
He won’t have much time to play around with them.
The Jayhawks play Fort Hays State in their final exhibition game next Tuesday, and then open the season against Louisiana Monroe. But the patsies end in a hurry — after that, the Jayhawks face Duke as part of the Champions Classic in Chicago, and then embark on the rest of a loaded non-conference slate that includes games at Florida and against Georgetown.
All before the start of a rugged Big 12 slate.
"All the way around there was a little nervousness, but that’s normal," White said. "You’d expect the first couple of minutes not to be sharp, but I think the guys found a comfort level after the first couple of minutes and worked themselves into the game."