After hot start to 2018-19 season, KU's Lagerald Vick is due for a big game in an early-season showcase

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (24) celebrates after hitting one of his eight three-pointers against Vermont during the second half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (24) celebrates after hitting one of his eight three-pointers against Vermont during the second half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

New York — It Kansas senior took Lagerald Vick exactly one game — and maybe a return to the comfy confines of game night at Allen Fieldhouse — to understand his role on this KU basketball team.

And now that he’s found it, Vick appears to be more comfortable than ever, as confident as anyone and playing with a purpose and passion.

“It's always more fun when things are going well,” KU coach Bill Self explained Monday when asked about Vick’s hot start.

After finishing with just two points on 1-of-7 shooting (0-for-4 from 3-point range) in the season opener against Michigan State, Vick exploded for 65 points and 15 3-pointers in the next two games, earning Big 12 player of the week honors for the first time in his career and establishing himself as a clear leader, both in terms of production and presence.

Now that his lone senior has arrived, Self’s expectations will stay elevated and will be tied to Vick’s ability to influence the rest of the Kansas roster in a positive and comforting manner.

“That's contagious, so I'm thinking that he can raise the other guys’ level,” Self said of Vick’s hot play. “Nobody expects him to go 15 out of 20 from 3 with every 20 shots he takes. He's certainly improved a ton with his ability to knock down shots and play. I don't know if he could have gotten off to a better start for us.”

The next step will be to move that performance to a slightly bigger stage. And what better place than in the the shadows of the bright lights of New York’s famed Broadway to deliver?

No. 2 Kansas (3-0) will face Marquette (3-1) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the semis of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and playing in that type of environment gives Vick an opportunity to immediately erase the err-filled opener against Michigan State at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.

Although Vick has fared well on the big stage that is the postseason — the 360 dunk vs. Purdue and last season’s Elite Eight win over Duke immediately come to mind — he has not been nearly as productive early in the season in games like these.

In eight career games that have carried this kind of weight early in the season — four Champions Classic games, three Maui Invitational battles and a 2016 game vs. Indiana in Honolulu to open the season — Vick did not play twice and averaged six points in 25 minutes per outing on 15-of-40 shooting (3-for-18 from 3-point range) in the half dozen games in which he did play.

Things are different this time around and Vick never has played in a game like this where he has known, beyond question, that he is the man.

KU junior Dedric Lawson, the preseason Big 12 player of the year and a preseason All-American according to some outlets, called Vick “our go-to guy from here on forward.”

And Self, who seems to be enjoying Vick’s start almost as much as the Memphis native himself, said Monday that he had an idea for how Vick can keep his current roll going.

“The last two games we have played, we've played high level mid-major teams, that without him would have taken us right to the limits,” Self said. “He just has to keep worrying about intangibles and the right things and your play will obviously go up.”

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