LAWRENCE – Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s frustration was understandable, especially for someone whose college basketball career was still so young.
First, Pettiford’s rookie season at Kansas ends in early February due to injury. A Jayhawks report at the time quoted head coach Bill Self as saying that Pettiford “had successful surgery to repair a core muscle in his pelvis that has been holding him back since last fall.” Pettiford, who was four to six weeks away from returning to basketball activities, watched as his teammates went on a run to win a national championship.
Then, although Pettiford said he went through summer workouts before his sophomore season, what he described as a hamstring strain came. It didn’t allow him to participate in early preseason practices like he would otherwise. It again called into question the role he could fill at Kansas.
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But while Pettiford admitted during the Jayhawks’ media day on Tuesday that it all took a toll on him mentally, it didn’t break him. He had teammates he could count on. And in the week or two before he met with reporters that day, he volunteered that he felt like he was back to 100%.
“Dajuan (Harris Jr.) and Kevin (McCullar Jr.), I talked to them a lot,” said Pettiford, a guard like Harris and McCullar. “I can call Dajuan anytime and we’re like best friends. I’m texting Kevin because Kevin had the same thing — Kevin McCullar went through a lot of injuries at (Texas) Tech and stuff. So he definitely got me out of it. He gave me a few interviews. They were good.”
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Harris hopes he and Pettiford can play together a lot on the court this season, but regardless, he has certain qualities in mind that he’s looking for in Pettiford to play with. That means pushing the tempo, making plays for others and playing defense. That’s what Harris thinks Self wants from the backup quarterback that Pettiford will be this season.
Self said before last season that he thought Pettiford would be the next really good point guard at Kansas. Taking on that role and being good at it could be the next step in making that happen. In a perfect world, Self would envision Pettiford running the team if Harris isn’t in the game before Self wants to turn to McCullar to do it.
And Pettiford wouldn’t be able to do that if he wasn’t able to stay ready, with the support of his teammates and even Self. In practices that Pettiford could not fully participate in, he was close to the Self and studied things that would frustrate the Self. Pettiford could tell, based on where the X’s were drawn on the field to show players where to be defensively on offense, that during practice the players weren’t always following the plans exactly.
“With him, he’s such a young player and he’s got a lot of confidence — we’re going to need him,” Harris said of Pettiford. “So I was just talking to him, going out with him every day, basically just getting to know each other better.”
Not many details are available from the scrimmage between Kansas and Illinois in early October. But Self said Pettiford moved very well during it, and Pettiford pointed to it as a moment in which he played the way he wanted to for the Jayhawks. It’s an example of Pettiford being able to make an impact when healthy.
Should Pettiford stay healthy, he will have a chance to pursue both the individual and team goals he has in mind. Individually, that means contributing, guarding the opponent down the length of the court, going downhill to engage his teammates, and knocking down open shots. As for the team, no matter what, they want to win like Kansas did last season.
“The Illinois scrimmage, that’s the most I’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Pettiford, who appeared in 14 games off the bench last season. “To get those minutes and finally get a feel for playing with (Jalen Wilson) who’s probably going to be our best scorer, playing with Gradey (Dick) who’s our best scorer, playing next to (Harris) who — me and has the same tendencies to a real quarterback.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics in the Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.