Now that we’ve seen what the Kansas University basketball team can do when a rare season that doesn’t start with high expectations unfolds, everybody might as well face the facts: Great things will be expected every year from now on, regardless of how the team looks on paper.
With just one starter back, Tyshawn Taylor — who also happened to be the only returning player who scored a point in the team’s last game the previous season — and with the two best recruits declared academically ineligible on the eve of practice beginning, the Jayhawks still advanced to the national-title game.
With Taylor gone and unanimous first-team All-American Thomas Robinson likely to announce any day now his intention to leave for the NBA, where will Kansas turn to replace all that scoring?
Guard Ben McLemore, who was allowed to practice with the team during the second semester this year, is a nice place to start.
So how good is McLemore, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound St. Louis native?
“Ben has as much potential as anybody in the gym,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Potential. I mean, he’s as good a prospect as anybody we have in the gym. Period. And if you were to ask Thomas and Tyshawn who the best prospect is, including themselves, they both would say Ben McLemore.”
Self’s use of the “P” words, potential and prospect, mean McLemore might not light it up from Day One.
“Now, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Self said. “He has no concept of certain things. His handle and passing ability reminds me of Brandon Rush when he was young, which if you remember, wasn’t great.”
Self making that comparison wasn’t the last time Rush came to mind when the coach talked about what makes him think so highly of McLemore’s potential.
“He can run, jump and shoot,” Self said of McLemore.
So could Rush.
“And he has the quickest feet of anybody, maybe since I’ve been here,” Self said. “Unbelievable feet.”
Rush’s ability to slide his feet, combined with his length, made him a standout perimeter defender. McLemore has the makings to develop into one as well.
Jamari Traylor, a muscle-bound, 6-8, 215-pound power forward from Chicago, also was able to practice with the team second semester.
“They both made the most of a negative situation,” Self said. “One’s got a 3.3 (grade-point average), the other’s got a 3.2.”
On the court, Self said, “Jamari’s raw, raw, raw, but he’s like a shorter version of Thomas when he got here. He’s maybe more explosive than Thomas. He doesn’t have the physical strength Thomas has, but he is a warrior. He’s good. Jamari’s good.”
A ninth consecutive Big 12 title sounds like a reasonable expectation.