Bill Self asked two questions, and if we’re being honest, he already knew the answer to both.
Still, the Kansas basketball coach had a point he wanted to illustrate.
Speaking Wednesday at a Williams Fund event inside the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Topeka, Self posed the following question to his engaged audience: How many of the couple hundred donors in attendance had ever heard of a guy named Mario Chalmers?
The question elicited a laugh across the room, with a number of hands darting up. Chalmers, of course, hit one of the most iconic shots in program history, a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation in the Jayhawks’ eventual 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis in the 2008 national championship game.
Self’s next name-drop, however, drew a far different response.
“Stephen Vinson beat him out,” Self continued on Chalmers. “You guys remember Stephen Vinson?”
A single, sheepish “yeah” emanated from the otherwise silent onlookers.
“He was a walk-on. Stephen Vinson beat (Chalmers) out in December of (Chalmers’) freshman year,” said Self, referring to the 2005-06 campaign. “We were better with Stephen in the game than Mario. If you were going to go back and look at the games in Kemper (Arena) where we played Cal, it was the same thing. Ended up playing Mario and having to take him out and put Stephen in.”
Die-hard Jayhawk fans might remember Vinson, who averaged 1.4 points on 32.1 percent shooting across 8.2 minutes per game in that 2005-06 campaign. The contest Self referenced -- a 69-56 victory over Cal on Dec. 10, 2005, in Kansas City, Mo. -- saw the then-freshman Chalmers score one point and commit six turnovers in 11 minutes off the bench. Vinson, meanwhile, posted six points and six rebounds with just one turnover across 25 minutes.
This entire analogy was prompted by an audience question about struggling freshman guard Quentin Grimes, a former five-star recruit averaging 8.3 points, a number ballooned by a 21-point, six-3-pointer performance in the Jayhawks’ season opener against Michigan State. It’s been a long slog since that opener for the 6-foot-5, 210-pound combo guard out of The Woodlands, Texas, who played in just 16 minutes of KU’s victory over Stanford on Dec. 1 and in 18 in last Saturday’s win against New Mexico State, his two lowest totals of the season.
The point of the Chalmers comparison? Grimes isn’t the first KU player to endure early struggles, and as the eventual two-time NBA champion illustrates, those woes often aren’t permanent.
“Quentin really is a good player, a really good player, but he’s going through some stuff upstairs,” Self said. “I don’t mean that as a joke. He’s just unsure. That’s frustrating, because I know how talented he can be. ...
“It’s a situation that everybody goes through. When Mario saw the light go on there was no looking back, and I think it will be the same thing with Q.”
Self addressed Grimes’ struggles in a more traditional setting Thursday, using comments at his weekly news conference in Lawrence to discuss how the freshman can shake the “stuff upstairs” to play with a freer mind.
“They just need to have fun and play as if it is a shirts-and-skins game,” Self said. “That is not easy to do sometimes but all athletes go through it at some point in time and he will get through it. I am not concerned about that from a long-term standpoint. But obviously we want everybody to be aggressive and confident right from the get-go in all aspects. ...
“He will be fine. He is too good of a player.”
Grimes’ teammates appear just as confident in the freshman’s ability to break out of the funk.
Mitch Lightfoot said it’s just a matter of Grimes getting comfortable and aggressive.
“We’ve all seen him do it. We all know he can do it. We all have faith in him,” Lightfoot said. “For our team to be a dominant team like we think we can be we’re going to have to have him play to the best of his ability because once he’s playing at the best of his ability he gets other people shots and he creates his own shots. There’s a bunch of different things he can bring to the team and we know he will bring to the team.”
Dedric Lawson added the guard’s confidence and spirits are both better behind the scenes than one who simply looks at Grimes’ stats might expect.
“He’s a very special kid,” Lawson said. “Once he really understands what Coach wants from him and understands the game from a collegiate level, he’s going to be very productive for us.”
If Grimes is able to get on the same page as Self, he could become a much-needed weapon for the top-ranked Jayhawks (8-0), who host No. 17 Villanova (8-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. And if Chalmers’ benching for the walk-on Vinson is any reference point, these early struggles could serve as a useful chip on Grimes’ shoulder moving forward.
“Mario’s still pissed about that,” Self joked Wednesday. “Guy wins us the national championship and I play a walk-on.”