By Joe Davis This year’s Kansas team is one of the most inexperienced teams Bill Self has ever coached. Outside of Tyshawn Taylor (2,736 minutes), no returning Jayhawk has more than 718 minutes played in a collegiate game and only Thomas Robinson (718), Elijah Johnson (645) and Travis Releford (527) have more than 218 minutes played. With a redshirt under his belt, Releford is the second most experienced guard on the Jayhawks’ 2011-2012 roster. Releford averaged 3.7 points per game last season. “Coming into the season, I'm going to have a foot up because I know what Bill Self wants out of me,” said Releford. “I've taken up a leader role and a bunch of the younger guys look up to me and have asked me questions about certain things that we have been doing.” “I think Travis is one of those guys who has waited his time,” said Self. “I think Travis is a guy who can fight for a starting position. I don’t know how that is all going to play out but certainly going into the season, I would think Travis would have the inside track on being one of our starting guards.” “He actually played quite a bit last year until he hurt his ankle in the Michigan game,” said Self. “It took him six weeks to get back to full health.” Of Releford’s ten games of scoring five or more, eight occurred before he hurt his ankle on January 9th. In four of those games, Releford scored 10 or more and up until the Michigan game, Releford was shooting 32-of-61 from the floor (52.5%). While Releford doesn’t seem himself being the leading scorer of this year’s team, he believes he can step in and fill a void from last season’s departures. “[Self and I] haven't really talked much about it but defending is one of my key parts of my game so I'm going to get out and try to be the best defender on the team.” “Defending wise, coach says Brady [Morningstar] was the best defender,” said Releford. “I want to step up and be that guy next year. I want to stop the top offensive players on the defensive end.” “I hope so,” said Self on Releford becoming a lock-down defender. “To me, Travis has not become the defender we think he can become. Travis should be a high-major defender and have a chance to be as good of a defender we have on this team. But he’s going to have to really commit to that. I think he’s more than capable of that. And Self has realized how important Releford is to this team. “I know that for in order for us to be as good as we can be, Travis is going to have to be an active guy that does many intangible things for us that do not show up in the box score,” said Self. “One of those things would obviously be a great perimeter defender.” The comparisons between Morningstar and Releford make sense. Like Morningstar, Releford redshirted his second season with the program. In addition, Travis Releford is a local talent, another distinction claimed by Morningstar. Releford attended Bishop Miege High School in Shanee Mission, Kansas and his hometown is Kansas City, Missouri. At Bishop Miege, Releford averaged 24.1 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game his senior season and 19.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game his junior season while becoming a two-time high school All-American. Releford was named the 2007 and 2008 Eastern Kansas League Player of the Year and 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year. Releford looks to be a three on the offensive end but believes that Self will call on him to defend bigs on the defensive end. “I see myself as a three but if I had to defend a four from time-to-time, I'm sure I could do that because I did it last year a bunch. Offensively, I won't be playing much four.” “To me, the way that we play, as long as we have a point guard, the other two spots are interchangeable,” said Self. “So I see him being more of our big guard or a three-type man. But they’re interchangeable so as long as the pieces fit. He can play the two or the three and at sometimes, the four. “ Self says that with Releford and newcomer, Kevin Young, the Jayhawks will potentially have a unique strategy on the floor that will develop matchup problems for other teams. “With Kevin Young, depending on match up situations, if he’s big or versatile enough, those guys can turn the floor inside out, so to speak. One can play up on the perimeter and the other can play inside. I think Travis is certainly tough enough to defend a big. He’s just not very big and he may not be the best rebounder on the team but I can see him defending the four.” High Flier While Kansas fans may have not seen a lot of Releford since he’s been at KU, he has made himself known in the college basketball world for his acrobatic dunks. In a game against UMKC in January of 2011, Releford threw down a windmill dunk that was a finalist for 2011 Dunk of the Year that was broadcasted on CBS during the 2011 Final Four weekend. Yahoo Sports’ Jason King named Elijah Johnson the best dunker on the team but said that both Thomas Robinson and Travis Releford were both great dunkers as well. “I would to go with Elijah, too,” said Releford with a laugh. “But there are times where I can do things that Elijah can't do. It's hard to compare all of us but with two feet, he's probably the highest jumper on the team.” Releford also said incoming freshman Ben McLemore has impressed the Jayhawks early on with his athletic dunks. “All of them have been working hard,” said Releford about the incoming freshmen. “They've been up early in the morning working out extra hard in the weight- room. All of them have been doing what I've expected them to be doing.” Releford believes that most of the incoming freshmen have a chance to make an impact on the team, considering the team’s lack of experience. “It depends on how things play out at the beginning of the season. Any one of them could step up and play a big role because of how many guys we've lost last season.” However, Self sees that as an opportunity for Releford. “I think more so than any year since he’s been here, the deck isn’t stacked,” said Self. “We don’t have a Xavier or a guy with a lot of experience in front of him like he’s had in the past. This is his opportunity as one of our more experienced guys to show that he can be the player that he was recruited to be. I think he can do it.” This presents a unique challenge to Bill Self, something similar to the post-championship Jayhawks of the 2008-2009 season. “I think there are more unknowns to this team than that one,” said Self. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen our guys play. At least with that team, we didn’t know if the twins would be eligible. There were a lot of things we didn’t know about but we knew that we had a great player. This team, although I think Thomas [Robinson] will be a first-team all-leaguer, he hasn’t done it yet. We knew Sherron [Collins] could do it. I think that with Tyshawn and Thomas, on paper, we return something similar to Cole [Aldrich] and Sherron, if they play to their abilities. But those guys played at such a high level that next year that it carried everybody else. The big question is that can those guys play to the same level as Cole and Sherron did when we were buying time to bring everyone along. That’s still unknown right now. With the lack of experience on the team, the Jayhawks feel slightly under the radar, but not because of Kansas’ historical success. “We feel that way because we have a bunch of new guys,” said Releford on being a less heralded team this season. “Nobody knows what to expect out of them. But we're not going to be one of those teams that people don't respect us.” Releford believes that earning respect is beneficial to the younger players and the team as a whole. “We're going to have to go out there and get that respect because of all the guys that left,” said Releford. “That's kinda good for us coming into the season because we have to work for it. Nothing is going to be given to us. So that's a good mentality for the freshmen because they start off knowing that.” The Kansas Jayhawks have won seven Big 12 championships in a row. Releford wants to keep that streak going into his junior year. “It'd mean a lot to me, the team and the fans to keep the streak going,” said Releford. “Coming out every year, that is our goal, to win the Big 12.” Bio: Joe Davis is a 2011 graduate of the University of Kansas and has covered Kansas Athletics for the Associated Press and Basketball Times. Joe also blogs about the Jayhawks on his website: JoeDavisMedia.com/RCJB and tweets on @KansasSports.