Late Night in the Phog. The Kansas University basketball players have a blast. The crowd loves catching a first live glimpse of newcomers punishing the rims with monster dunks, this year more than ever. The recruits in house will be treated to quite a show, in the stands and on the floor.
And then the scrimmage portion of the evening arrives and just one thing is missing: Few in attendance have a rooting interest and the scoreboard doesn’t really matter.
Since Late Night is all about having fun, here’s a suggestion on how to make the night even more entertaining this year: Put the six freshmen and three of walk-ons on the red team and let the veterans play on the other. See if the younger, more talented squad can take it to the veterans, who generally have a better idea of just how hard and physical you must compete on every possession to win against elite competition.
Red roster, in alphabetical order, scholarship players listed first: Joel Embiid, Conner Frankamp, Brannen Greene, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins. Walk-ons: Christian Garrett, Evan Manning, and Tyler Self.
Blue roster: Tarik Black, Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas, (Arkansas transfer) Hunter Mickelson, Naadir Tharpe, Jamari Traylor and Andrew White III. Walk-ons: Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts.
The roster split isn’t perfectly balanced because the blue squad is top-heavy with big men with Tharpe and Roberts the only guards. Four players — Tharpe, Mason, Frankamp and Selden — could handle the point and three of them are on the red roster. Still, it would make for an entertaining contest.
Mason vs. Tharpe: The harder and better Mason plays every day in practice the more Tharpe will push himself to improve. At this point in their careers, Tharpe has a better feel for how to play surrounded by four other fast, talented players and he’s a better shooter than Mason.
Selden vs. White: Selden is quicker, stronger and a better ballhandler than the sharp-shooting White.
Greene vs. Ellis: Greene would be the prize recruit for most Div. I schools, but gets lost in the hype surrounding others here. He’s smooth, quick, can drive to the hoop and has a killer jumper. Don’t be surprised if Ellis has become noticeably better since the end of last season, when he really came on strong. Ellis is a candidate to lead the team in scoring.
Wiggins vs. Traylor: Wiggins is too quick to be checked by a post player, too big for a guard to handle, but if anybody has the bulk and athleticism to make him work hard for his points, Traylor’s the man. Traylor doesn’t bring much offensively, but has an explosive energy that will earn him minutes.
Embiid vs. Black: A 7-footer form Cameroon who took up basketball at the age of 16, Embiid is a graceful athlete who learned basketball skills naturally. But Black, a Memphis transfer in his senior year, is so strong, so savvy.
The benches: Conner Frankamp’s ultra-soft jumper and ball-handling ability brings more flexibility to the red team than inside subs Lucas, Mickelson and Wesley.
Regardless of how Self splits the squads tonight, the scrimmage will have no shortage of sweet shooters (Frankamp, Greene, White, Selden, Wiggins) and loud dunkers (Wiggins, Selden, Ellis, Traylor, Embiid, Wesley, Black and the 5-foot-11 Mason).
And in the end, that’s what Late Night is really all about — players putting on a high-octane basketball show loaded with hot three-point shooters and high-flying dunkers in hopes that the show will entice the high school superstars of today into becoming the Late Night players of tomorrow.