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Jayhawks searching for a leader as Collins shows up out of shape

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- As Sherron Collins pounded the basketball to the Alamodome floor on April 7, dribbling out the final seconds of Kansas' first national championship in 20 years, images of an entire season replayed in his head. The private highlight video reminded Collins of the hard work and sacrifice that led him and the rest of the Jayhawks to that special overtime victory over Memphis.

Collins will have even more time to reflect during a three-game trip to Canada this weekend, a brief exhibition tour that provides an early start to the rebuilding project facing coach Bill Self and the defending national champs.

But this time the thought process will be different. Collins won't be on the floor. He will be on the sideline.

The junior point guard from Chicago also needs to do a little soul searching. He needs to hear the recent words of Self resounding in his mind. And sooner rather than later, Collins must begin the process of becoming the leader his Kansas teammates will need this season.

Collins, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee April 22, has already disappointed Self by showing up out of shape for the start of practice. As a result, Self doubts Collins will be available to play in a Saturday doubleheader against McGill University and Carleton University, or against the University of Ottawa on Sunday.

"He's a month behind where I thought he'd be at this stage," Self said when the Jayhawks opened camp on Aug. 21. "He just reported back in bad shape."

Kansas is missing nine players from last season's title team, including Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun who were all taken in the NBA draft. Collins' is the Jayhawks' top returnee after averaging 9.3 points in 23.8 minutes per game. He had 105 assists and 68 turnovers.

Sophomore center Cole Aldrich (2.8 points, 8.3 minutes) is the only other returnee who even remotely played a key role last season. Aldrich will be a leader in the paint, but Self expects Collins to have the ball in his hand and a voice in everything the Jayhawks do this season.

But Collins has already failed in his first opportunity to set a positive tone.

"I don't know if he can be [a leader]," Self said. "I'd like for him to become that, but based on him not reporting back in shape, it certainly doesn't go very far in him becoming that with me. I'm not throwing him under the bus because he's had a rough last three or four months. It's not his fault he had the surgery.

"But I expect more. A lot more."

Collins has had weight issues and proper conditioning has been the key to his success throughout his career at Kansas. It doesn't appear that the 5-foot-11 guard has gained a great deal of weight but Self said Collins didn't check in at 195 pounds, which has been his ideal weight.

Before the Jayhawks left for Ottawa on Friday, Self tempered his criticism of Collins a bit, saying his attitude and effort has been good since the start of practice. But the biggest issue with Collins might have been a decision he made about a month ago.

"He was [in Lawrence] up until the time he was cleared to start [working out]," Self said. "When he got cleared to do some things, that's when he decided to go home [to Chicago]. You can't go four months off, not be prepared and then just walk out there and say, 'I'm going to practice.' His body is just not ready to take a pounding at all."

More than anything else, it set a bad example for a young team that will watch the distribution of rings and the raising of a national championship banner in Allen Fieldhouse before the first game of the season. Through the first week of practice, Self has banned Collins from talking to reporters. That leaves the early leadership in the hands of Aldrich, sophomore guard Tyrel Reed and sophomore guard Brady Morningstar, who redshirted last season.

"He's a veteran," Morningstar said of Collins. "We're looking to him."

Aldrich, who turned in a memorable performance against North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in KU's national semifinal victory, isn't bothered by the additional responsibility of providing leadership. Self says the 6-11 sophomore has "more natural leadership ability" than anybody else on the team.

"It's basically night and day," Aldrich said, comparing the way his role has changed from last season. "I'm one of the main guys on our team now. It's going to be a little different without our seniors, but it's a whole new start and we're really excited about it."

Junior college transfers Mario Little, a 6-5 guard, and Tyrone Appleton, a 6-2 guard, will get a chance to show what they can do during the Canadian trip. Little has been working with the Kansas big men during the first eight days of practice. Quintrell Thomas, a freshman from St. Patrick High in Elizabeth, N.J., also has a chance to join Aldrich on the front line.

Collins won't be the only player missing this weekend. Freshmen twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris have not started school and continue to await word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on their academic eligibility. The Morris twins figure heavily in Self's plans this season and there has been tension in the KU camp with their fate in the air.

Markieff Morris has other issues as well. He has been charged with firing an Airsoft rifle BB gun out of his Jayhawker Towers apartment on Aug. 16. A 47-year-old woman suffered minor injuries when she was struck in the arm by a plastic pellet. Even though Morris admitted to police that he fired the gun, his attorney entered a not guilty plea. Morris has been charged with battery and a Dec. 12 hearing date has been set.

Self hopes this team can put the national championship in the rear view mirror and move on. But this isn't the way he wanted to do it.

"We found out in our first practice that we were a little spoiled by having so many experienced guys," Self said. "But I think that's part of the fun, trying to mold these guys into a team. I do think it will happen, but it's not going to happen overnight.

"I need to be more patient and I need to teach more, rather than expect them to know certain things. We're going to be fine. We're going to be young and we're going to make mistakes. But if we have our full complement of players, it's still a pretty talented group."