LAWRENCE — Everyone figures to become a fan of Kansas basketball next summer.
Even the folks who follow bitter rival Missouri.
The Jayhawks will be representing the U.S. at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. The event in July 2015 will match the reigning Big 12 champions — ahem, Team USA — against nations from around the world, most of which will be putting together all-star teams for the tournament.
“We went through a pretty strong, long process to find the most appropriate team, and when we went through the criteria, Kansas was a great fit,” said Craig Jonas, the deputy head of the U.S. delegation. “When you walk the halls here, you understand what a great tradition Kansas has.”
It wasn’t tradition that got the Jayhawks chosen, though. The U.S. International University Sports Federation used a matrix that included won-loss records over the past five years, the RPI number from recent seasons and the composition of the current roster.
“When you went through the machinery,” Jonas said, “Kansas was our No. 1 choice.”
Jonas said that having one school represent the country was an “experiment,” but one that the U.S. federation was willing to try. The Americans have fielded all-star teams in the past, but they haven’t won the gold medal since 2005, when they beat Ukraine in the finals.
Last year in Russia, the U.S. team coached by Davidson’s Bob McKillop went 3-2 and failed to make it out of group play. Russia eventually beat Australia for the gold medal.
“It’s not going to be a fluff trip where we just go on vacation,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Tuesday. “We’re going to go over there and do everything we can to represent the United States in a big-time way. We’re very, very fired up for it.”
There are plenty of benefits for Kansas, too. There will international exposure for the program and its players, plenty of time on TV to help with recruiting and, when the summer term begins next year, Self will be able to run unlimited practices to prepare his team for competition.
“Whether that’s four, five, six days a week, we’ll be working with our guys and treating it like a preseason-type situation, getting ready for our first game,” he said. “And who knows what our roster might be, because we might have some guys early. But we have no seniors on our roster, and if we lose guys, hopefully we recruit some more.”
Maybe even some players who have played at Kansas in the past.
The tournament rules stipulate Self is allowed 12 players, and all of them must meet the 25-year-old age restriction, be born in the U.S. and be enrolled in at least one class.
But if some current players do leave early, and Self only has 10 or 11 on his roster, he could conceivably fill holes with former players. Someone like Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore would fit the criteria, though Andrew Wiggins (Canadian) and Joel Embiid (Cameroonian) would not.
“We could literally have tryouts,” Self said. “A lot of it would be the decision of the individual, but agents and their teams might have a say in it.”
Self could also be forced to game-plan against one of his own. Incoming freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a highly touted shooting guard, would be eligible to play for Ukraine.
“If you were to look at one negative, that would be the one negative,” Self said. “We could not have our entire group of guys together, potentially.”
Still, Self said the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
“You stop and think about it, not only will every NBA team be there but all the international teams, agents throughout America. It can do nothing but open up doors,” Self said. “It will be an unbelievable learning experience that will stick with our guys for the rest of their lives.”