A lot can happen in 10-plus months, but right this minute it feels as if John Calipari and Bill Self will coach against each other in the national-title game for the third time in seven years next April in Cowboys Stadium.
Sure, defending champion Louisville and usual suspects Duke and Michigan State could spoil that rubber match, but landing Andrew Wiggins pushes Kansas right there with anybody. If it happens, it won’t be the first time Self draws a great deal out of a team that sends five new starters out for the center jump. Two of his nine consecutive Big 12 titles came after he lost all five starters.
If Self can convince immediately eligible post player Tarik Black, a bruiser who would complement Perry Ellis perfectly, that Kansas is his best available launching pad to an NBA career, the Jayhawks would boast serious depth at every position.
At the moment, Wiggins, fellow wing Wayne Selden and Ellis, the program’s three McDonald’s All-Americans, shape up as the lone sure starters. Either the 6-foot-5 Selden or 6-7 Wiggins could play inside when Self wants to run with a small lineup.
KU’s coaches think Frank Mason, a pure point guard, has the ability to push improving veteran Naadir Tharpe for starting honors and recruit Conner Frankamp has such deep shooting range he’ll be difficult to keep off the court, even though the 6-footer weighs just 155 pounds.
Landing Black, whose ability to graduate in three years from Memphis prevents him from having to sit out a year, would give Self the depth he likes inside.
Joel Embiid, a 7-foot, 225-pound native of Cameroon, is the most intriguing prospect of a KU class ranked No. 2 (behind Kentucky) by recruiting analysts. Those who have seen him play marvel at not just his coordination for a man his size but his skill for someone who has played so little basketball. The only question centers on how soon he’ll put it together. Rivals ranks him as the No. 25 prospect in the Class of 2013. ESPN.com ranks him No. 6. At the moment, he's more a prospect than a player guaranteed to make a major instant impact.
With Embiid and third-year sophomore Jamari Traylor, Self has two shot-blocking options, a nice luxury. Landen Lucas, a red-shirt freshman, made big strides in building his body and post moves during his year as a practice player. He could push for playing time as well. Justin Wesley also returns.
In Frankamp, fellow recruit Brannen Greene, a 6-6, 215-pound wing from Monroe, Ga., and sophomore Andrew White III, Kansas has three reserve shooters capable of making teams cautious about playing zone defenses.
Wiggins can’t bring as much to the program as Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur did because they all stayed longer than the one year Wiggins will, but he can match them in the national-title department.
“Now I just hope he comes out for basketball,” Lawrence attorney Mick Allen said after learning of Wiggins’ decision. “I stole that line from my granddad (Phog Allen) when Wilt (Chamberlain) committed to KU.”
The most shocking aspect of Thursday night’s coverage of the first round of the NFL draft involved the amount of shock expressed over Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o not getting drafted. Why did anyone consider him a first-round talent? He’s slow and stiff, not nearly agile enough to project as a front-line NFL player.
Te’o couldn’t tackle Alabama running back Eddie Lacey in the BCS title game. The surprise should have been over Lacey not getting drafted. Anybody who had Te’o ranked higher than Lacey must not have seen that game.
During the second round must we endure more speculative talk of teams trading up to get Te’o, when it’s clear he’s not talented enough to motivate a team to go to all that trouble to get him?
Might as well speculate that teams are trading up to get Tanner Hawkinson and Bradley McDougald, the two top prospects from Kansas in this year’s draft. Prediction: Hawkinson will be selected in the seventh round Saturday, McDougald either the same round or not at all. For Hawkinson, a lack of strength by NFL lineman standards will be what keeps him from getting drafted Friday, when the second and third rounds take place. For McDougald, unsure tackling will keep him from being considered earlier than late Saturday.
A year from now, James Sims will be a draft prospect and in 2015 several Kansas players could hear their names called.
Andrew Bolton, a defensive end who was bound for LSU out of junior college until he suffered a knee injury, has more of an NFL look than anybody on KU’s roster. He is expected to report this summer and if his knee has recovered sufficiently projects as a 2015 draft pick.
Defensive tackle Marquel Combs and safety Isaiah Johnson, junior college transfers on course to join the team in the summer, also have a lot of potential. So do defensive linemen Chris Martin and Keon Stowers, both spring standouts. Does Ben Heeney have a big enough frame to add enough weight? Wide receiver/running back/return man Tony Pierson has speed that will capture the attention of NFL scouts. Wide receiver Justin McCay has everything but blinding speed that scouts like in a receiver.
“McCay reminds me of Keyshawn (Johnson) when I first got to the Jets,” Weis said. “Routes were always a little short, not the fastest guy in the world, big, strong, tough, will catch everything you throw to him, will block everyone with physicality. Keyshawn was the first pick in the entire draft, so if he reminds me of Keyshawn ... They even wear the same number (19).”
McCay’s favorite receiver: “Keyshawn Johnson.”
Jake Heaps is on the small side for a pocket passer, but that won't stop him from getting drafted if he throws with a great deal of accuracy during his two years running the Jayhawks' offense.
KU connections in Thursday's first round were indirect ones. Tight end Tyler Eifert, recruited to Notre Dame by Weis, went to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 21st pick. Wide receiver/return man Cordarrelle Patterson was chosen by the Miami Dolphins with the 29th selection. Stowers and he are cousins.
Not even 24 hours had passed since the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA drafted Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich and she already was responsible for marketing the brand.
“It’s a great feeling to be coming home,” Goodrich, a native of Tahlequah, Okla., said on a Tuesday conference call arranged by the Shock. “A lot of friends texted me and Facebooked me telling me they’re excited and they’re already talking about getting some (Tulsa Shock) gear.”
Angel — only the great ones merit first-name reference — stirs that sort of passion in people who have seen her play basketball. She has that radar certain athletes have that enables her to overcome her one shortcoming, which of course, is that she’s short.
Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the fastest skater, but his instincts sent him on the shortest, most efficient path to goals. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t as explosive as so many lesser basketball players, but they felt the game so much better. Goodrich has natural ability to bring out the best in teammates.
Selected in the third round of the WNBA draft, the 5-foot-4 Goodrich plans to work out at KU in preparing for Shock training camp, which opens May 5. For what she said she believes is the first time in her life, she will be trying out for a team. The Shock also selected Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins with the third selection of the first round.
“She’s a great player,” Goodrich said of Diggins. “I’m looking forward to getting to know her better and learning from her. I’m thrilled to be going to the same team.”
Goodrich led the Jayhawks to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and Diggins-led Notre Dame ended her career. Goodrich didn’t sound nervous about making the team. That’s not her style.
“I do love a challenge,” Goodrich said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m going to work my tail off. As long as I know I gave it my all I won’t look back and won’t have anything to regret.”
The 34-game WNBA regular season runs from May 24 to Sept. 15 and the minimum salary is $37,950. Players receive $74 daily meal money on road trips.
Goodrich was the only Kansas player selected in the three-round draft. In the event Shock executives want to invite a free agent post player to camp, Goodrich has a good one in mind.
“I would recommend Carolyn (Davis),” she said. “I was definitely surprised she didn’t get drafted. To be honest, I’m still speechless about it.”
A fifth-year senior, Goodrich already has graduated from KU after majoring in behavioral science with a focus on children. She said she is working toward a minor in sociology.
Arlington, Texas — With so much talent on the floor, tonight’s game here inside Cowboys Stadium really does have a Final Four feel to it and that is in fact where basketball’s biggest game will take place in April, 2014.
Michigan-Kansas is a South Regional semifinal and one of the more intriguing on the board because it features KU’s tough defense against Michigan’s versatile band of big-time scorers, led by point guard Trey Burke.
The closer it draws to the 6:27 p.m. scheduled tipoff, the stronger my guess grows as to which team will prevail. Kansas has the experience advantage. Michigan relies more on three-point shots than Kansas and domes can be difficult places to shoot three-pointers.
Plus, nothing can prepare a team for playing against Jeff Withey’s defensive brilliance. Freshman Mitch McGary, 6-foot-10, 250-pound bruiser, has come on strong for the Wolverines, but he does not have the shooting range to draw Withey away from the basket. Michigan has gone 8-6 in its last 14 games, Kansas 12-1 in its last 13.
Kansas can play its way into trouble against teams that apply intense pressure on the guards. While Michigan is as good as anybody in the country at protecting the ball, it doesn’t apply full-court pressure and force a ton of turnovers. Kansas 77, Michigan 70.
Kansas junior reserve forward Justin Wesley injured his right ankle Saturday in practice and will not suit up for today's game against North Carolina, according to a Kansas source, who added that Wesley was scheduled to undergo an X-ray today. Wesley is wearing a soft cast and using crutches.
A junior from Forth Worth, Texas, Wesley has averaged 3.6 minutes, 0.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 19 games.
The tipoff for the game has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.
Kansas City, Mo. — Sitting court-side watching Kansas State's spirited comeback from 18 points down fall short reminded me of how the Wildcats could have had an even better season.
If then Kansas State coach Frank Martin and his staff had deemed Lawrence High standout Dorian Green worth recruiting, Green would have made a perfect complement to point guard Angel Rodriguez. Instead, Green went to Colorado State and became a starter from Day 1. He scored 26 points to lead the Rams past Missouri in Lexington, Ky. Thursday night. Meanwhile, K-State starting guard Will Spradling scored two points in 17 minutes in the 63-61 loss to La Salle.
Announcers talked more about Green than anyone else during the telecast of the Colorado State's first NCAA Tournament victory in 24 seasons. Yet, nobody made the connection of Green growing up in a town where the average kid grows up despising all things Missouri.
Green was asked about it in the post-game press conference.
"It feels good to be from Kansas and beat Missouri," Green said. "I just wanted to be aggressive tonight. Didn't matter who we were playing, but, you know, it's good to beat them from where I'm from."
Next up for Green and CSU's other four starters is Louisville, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed.
March Madmen all over the globe are about to become one with their favorite sporting event. A quick look at some NCAA Tournament tidbits with quotes spiced in from press conferences:
Eight New Mexico State players, including its top five scorers, were born outside the United States. The Aggies feature four players from Canada, two from France, one from Croatia and and one from South Africa.
New Mexico State not only has the most international team in the tournament, it also has the tallest player. Sim Bhullar, a freshman from Toronto, is a 7-foot-5, 355-pound starting center for the Aggies. Bhullar averages 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 24.3 minutes per game.
“I think he changes the whole game for us and other teams as well because a lot of teams are not used to seeing that (much size) in there,” teammate Daniel Mullings said. “And while guys are driving in he’s just a big force, just blocking everything and altering shots. So it’s a great advantage for us having him inside.”
St. Louis junior Rob Loe is the biggest player in most games he plays, but he’ll be giving up six inches and 110 pounds to Bhullar.
*Michigan starters Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and reserve Jon Horford all are sons of former NBA players.
“Purely coincidence, but we feel really good about it because you know their dads do know basketball,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said.
*One of the better individual tourney matchups pits Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, two of the nation’s top point guards, on each other.
“We’ll have Nate on Trey,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. “I don’t know what they’ll do. ... And I’ve said this before, Nate is a tremendous defender, but we’ve relied on him so much to play 40 minutes and to handle a basketball that I think sometimes people don’t get to see how good a defender he is."
*Bryce Drew is the third member of his family to serve as head coach at Valparaiso University, which faces Michigan State today. His father, Homer Drew, coached the Crusaders for 22 seasons. Bryce’s brother, Scott, was head coach for one year and is in his 10th season at Baylor. Bryce is in his second season as head coach at Valpo. He played six seasons in the NBA after hitting one of the most famous shots in recent NCAA Tournament history. Drew hit a 23-foot buzzer-beater to score an upset of Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He said he enjoys watching replays of the shot but never brings it up to recruits.
“I think the last thing that players want to hear is a coach talk about himself or what he’s done,” Drew said.
*At times, it looks as if a rebound or pass sneaks up on Marquette center Chris Otule, catches him by surprise, and he drops it. The temptation is to downgrade his hands when that happens, but it’s actually not the case. Otule wears goggles when he plays to protect his right eye. His left eye is artificial.
“I guess you could call it glaucoma,” Otule told the Milwakuee Journal-Sentinel. “I was born with one ye, actually, and the other one wasn’t full developed. So I had to get an artificial eye, since I was 1 or 2. And every time I grew out of it, I had to go back to the doctor and they’d make a new one.”
Otule, who splits time with more gifted offensive center Davante Gardner, had one of his better games, last season against UConn, the day he met Charlie Krauss, a 2-year-old boy from the Milwaukee area who lost his left eye to a congenital disorder known as Coats’ disease.
“It felt so good holding him, knowing that he’s going through the same thing I went through and that he looks up to me,” Otule told the Journal-Sentinel. “It helped motivate me more in that game, and for the rest of my life, to play for people like him.”
*Three factors contribute greatly to No. 14 seed Davidson becoming such a popular upset pick against third-seeded Marquette: 1. Davidson has won 17 in a row; 2. The Wildcats lead the nation in free-throw shooting, making 80.1 percent; 3. Forward Clint Mann, out since mid-January with an injury, is expected to play.
Not only that, Davidson has all 80 points back this season from the team that scored an 80-74 upset victory against Kansas on Dec. 19, 2011 in Sprint Center.
*If Josh Pastner ever leaves Memphis for another college job, he left himself open for an obvious question at his introductory news conference by saying, “I think our fan base is the best fan base in the entire country, hands down, and that’s not just coach-speak.” The question: How would you compare the fan base of your new school to that of your last one?
Throughout spring football, I’ll be writing a series of blogs looking at each position unit on the Kansas football team, starting with the one that on paper — rather in cyberspace — looks like the weakest and building to the strongest. Wide receiver has the dubious distinction of batting leadoff.
Logic says if a wide receiver couldn’t earn playing time as a junior on a team that didn’t have a single touchdown reception from the position for the entire 12-game season there is no reason to believe he’ll do anything memorable as a senior.
So why am I thinking, yet again, that things finally will click for Christian Matthews? Maybe it’s because when he does do something well he does it in a way that makes it look as if a big-time athlete is trapped in there waiting to bust loose. This will be his last chance and that senior sense of urgency sometimes can lead talented athletes to stop thinking and start playing.
In limited action the past two seasons as a running quarterback in the wildcat formation, Matthews has blended speed with sharp cuts to make moves that would seem to translate well to yards after catches. So far though his spring-game success hasn’t carried him into autumn. He followed a 37-yard TD reception in the 2010 spring game with a 53-yard score in the 2011 game. His regular-season receiving stats: A 41-yard catch in 2010, 11 receptions for 100 yards in 2011, no receptions in 2012.
Without having anything solid to back up my hunch about Matthews in 2013, I thought about keeping it quiet. Then I asked tight end Jimmay Mundine for his opinion as to the best wide receiver on the squad.
“If I had to pick a guy now I’d pick Christian Matthews,” Mundine said. “He’s working hard. He’s starting to take more of a leadership role. We’re expecting more out of him than last year, that’s for sure.”
“His work ethic,” Mundine said. “When we’re out there doing seven on seven, he’s catching the ball, finishing his route, exploding upfield, things that you hate doing. You hate the coach being on you about it. When you see a guy doing it when no one’s telling him to do it, it makes you realize he really cares.”
Mundine said he thinks Matthews and Chris Omigiee are the two hardest workers among the receivers participating in spring football.
“I’m going to try my hardest senior year,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to go out like a sucker, so I’m going to give it my all.”
Matthews lined up at receiver at the end of a few games last season but said he didn’t have a single pass thrown to him. He’s listed behind Tre’ Parmalee on the depth chart at the slot, a big step toward more snaps.
Matthews has something in common with every player except one listed on the roster at receiver in that he is seeking his first career TD catch. Andrew Turzilli, who is entering his red-shirt junior season, caught a TD pass against Georgia Tech in 2011. That makes one Division I TD catch on the entire roster at the position. (Junior-to-be JaCorey Shepherd, who shifted to cornerback last season, had two TD receptions in his first college game, against McNeese State in 2011, and picked up a third against Oklahoma State.)
Asked to name a receiver who has caught his eye, Matthews said, “Drew Turzilli. He’s big. He can catch, fast. Can’t stop that.”
Things didn’t work out at Oklahoma for Justin McCay and the Sooners had no trouble signing off on letting him transfer to another Big 12 school. Chances are he never would have played his way onto the depth chart in Norman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact for Kansas. He’s not a burner, but he’s not slow either. He’s physical with sure hands.
With no sure things on hand, the Jayhawks needed to score big at this position in recruiting and didn’t. Or did they? Mark Thomas, a junior college receiver from New York, runs a 4.4 40 and was overlooked early because he played in a run-first offense. West Virginia recruited him late and the Mountaineers don’t mess with slow receivers. Something about the way head coach Weis looks when he talks about Thomas indicates he thinks he might be the sleeper of the recruiting class.
Weis talked up the receiving unit a year ago at this time and, next to quarterback, it became the team’s most disappointing unit. Don’t look for disappointment to enter the picture this year because expectations hang low.
He played basketball at both Wichita State and Kansas two decades ago, so I thought it would be interesting to see what Greg Dreiling, former NBA center and current scout for the Dallas Mavericks, thinks about Kansas state legislators introducing last month a bill that would require KU and WSU to play basketball against each other.
Dreiling, 50, responded to my query via LinkedIn with common sense and a touch of sarcasm. He gave the issue all the respect it deserves, which is to say none.
“Please tell me that the legislature has more important things to worry about than whether two teams play a few basketball games,” Dreiling said. “If the schools cannot decide how to get together for a game of hoops, then I am sure there is nothing that the state government can do to move along the most pressing issue of this generation.”
Ames, Iowa — Iowa State has more going for it in tonight’s Big 12 matchup against Kansas than Hilton Magic. The Cyclones’ style of play also is one that can give the Jayhawks trouble.
Every year Bill Self’s Kansas basketball teams rank at or near the top of the nation in field-goal percentage defense. They get there by clogging up the lane with long, athletic bodies. Kansas defenders always help off their man about as well as anyone in the country. It’s a blessing, but against a team like Iowa State it also can be a curse.
The Cyclones flood the floor with long-range shooters from every position. Even if a defender’s scouting report says not to leave his man, that’s easier said than done for players so well drilled on lending help defense.
“I think the way Iowa state plays, and you could go back to Belmont, Richmond, those teams were getting off 32, 36 threes against us and I think a lot of it stems from how we play,” 10th year KU coach Bill Self said. “Even when we pressure we don’t pressure out as much as a lot of people do, especially to shooters. We’ve got to do a lot better job of that. But the biggest thing to me is ball-screen defense. How are we going to guard their open ball screens and not put us in a situation where you have to close out from great distances?”
In KU’s 97-89 overtime victory against Iowa State, played in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 9, the Cyclones attempted 38 three-pointers and made 14. Six different players hit at least one three, five players more than one.
Georges Niang, Iowa State’s 6-foot-7, 245-pound freshman center, will try to draw Kansas center Jeff Withey away from the hoop. Niang has hit multiple three-pointers in six games. In the first 1:50 of the thriller in Allen Fieldhouse, Niang gave the visitors an 8-3 lead by hitting two three-pointers and a two-point jumper.
Not that Iowa State is one-dimensional. The Cyclones made 4 of 24 from three against Baylor in Hilton and still won, 79-71. But Baylor isn't Kansas. If KU can keep the Cyclones from getting hot from beyond the arc, a ninth consecutive Big 12 title should come into clear focus for the Jayhawks.