Exhibitions rarely generate much intrigue, but in the case of No. 3 Kansas, its most celebrated offseason addition found himself on the bench at the start of the Jayhawks’ lone tuneup heading into the Champions Classic.
Consequently, a slight commotion has developed over the role of Remy Martin, an Arizona State transfer who was named the preseason player of the year in the Big 12.
While that will be one of the talking points at Madison Square Garden in New York when Kansas faces Michigan State on Tuesday in college basketball’s annual season-opening showcase, Martin already seems to grasp the message Jayhawks coach Bill Self is sending.
“I haven’t been doing my part of the deal; I think I can do a lot better,” said Martin, a three-time All-Pac 12 pick who averaged 19.1 points last season. “Coach requires me to bring a lot more on the court, and he’s challenging me every single day. I just have to respond.”
Chalk it up to the stern preseason demands that Self stresses.
He orchestrated two practices on the day of Wednesday’s exhibition game against Division II Emporia State to emphasize defensive obligations. Martin still scored 15 points in 18 minutes off the bench in Kansas’ 86-60 victory and showed the stylistic flair that makes him an offensive threat.
“Remy has got a great personality,” Self said, “but I wish he would try a little harder defensively, just so you know. It frustrates me sometimes because he’s quick as a cat and doesn’t play to his quickness.”
With all the pieces Self has at his disposal, the Jayhawks should thrive after finishing 21-9 last season, including a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Two other veterans, David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji, also were named to the preseason all-conference team. Another returning starter, Jalen Wilson, will miss the Champions Classic after drawing a four-game suspension for an arrest on DUI charges.
“We need to work on us,” Self said, “but we also need to make sure we understand (Michigan State) will be the best offensive rebounding team we may go against all year. They go from defense to offense probably as fast as anybody historically in the country, so we have to really do a good job in those two areas.”
A late-season push enabled Michigan State to earn its 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid a year ago before it finished an uncustomary 15-13. Tom Izzo enters his 27th season as head coach with the Spartans receiving the most votes of any team left out of the Top 25.
No returnees averaged double figures in scoring last season, though Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker should provide punch after averaging 18.8 points while also being named the Colonial Athletic Association’s top defender. Max Christie is the top addition among freshmen and will play along the wing with long-range marksman Gabe Brown.
More depth in the backcourt, including the floor responsibilities both Walker and A.J. Hoggard, can command, has prompted Izzo to emphasize fast-break opportunities in preseason practices and exhibitions.
“I want to run this year,” Izzo said. “Last year, we walked the ball up the court. … So between the two of them, I think we’ve got a good one-two punch. Both can check really good; both are pretty good on the ball.”
–Field Level Media