Posts tagged with Ku

Udoka Azubuike a legitimate center

Watching video clips of the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Udoka Azubuike, calls to mind Cliff Alexander dominating Chicago high school competitors with a series of dunks, plus three inches in height, 20 pounds in weight, less body fat, and broader shoulders.

In other words, he is tall enough, big enough and aggressive enough to give Kansas what it hasn’t had since Joel Embiid’s back injury ended his college career late in his freshman season: A legitimate center.

It’s easy to picture Azubuike playing alongside Cheick Diallo and/or Carlton Bragg. Either 6-10, 250-pound center Marques Bolden (ranked No. 16 by Rivals) of DeSoto, Texas (ranked No. 16 by Rivals) or 6-9 forward Jarrett Allen (ranked 20th) of Austin could be added to a recruiting class that started with 6-8 forward Mitch Lightfoot (No. 117) of Gilbert, Ariz. Strong rebounder Landen Lucas also returns for Kansas.

As Alexander and Diallo illustrated, high school dominance doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing as a freshman, but physically, at the very least, Azubuike looks like more advanced than most teenage post players.

Azubuike chose Kansas over North Carolina, which puts a premium on a big man’s ability to run the floor, so he should fit KU’s desire to pick up the pace as well.

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Hunch says Bragg best of bunch today

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) puts up a three against Baylor forward John Heard (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) puts up a three against Baylor forward John Heard (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Skid row brims with men who relied too heavily on hollow hunches, so when I tell you I have a hunch, wish me luck. But I do have a strong one heading into today’s basketball game between Kansas and TCU, a 1 p.m. tipoff in Allen Fieldhouse.

Something tells me freshman forward Carlton Bragg will get a long run today, make the most of it and produce his first double-figures scoring game.

For one thing, the opportunity likely will present itself since not one of the other four big men vying for playing time alongside senior Perry Ellis has established himself as the unquestioned leader of the pack.

In the loss at West Virginia, Cheick Diallo, Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor combined for 35 minutes, six points, 13 rebounds, nine personal fouls and two turnovers.

In his four Big 12 games, Bragg has combined for 33 minutes, 15 points, 10 rebounds, four fouls and five turnovers.

The most skilled of the bunch, Bragg sometimes looks a little too eager to make something happen right away and ends up rushing himself into a bad pass or a missed shot from close range.

If Kansas can take control of today’s game early, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Bragg might be allowed to play through a mistake or two, get a good sweat going, compete with a free mind, settle down and not look so much like he's rushing to make it somewhere on time. It's tough to imagine any more welcome development for the Jayhawks than Bragg emerging.

Ellis could use the help. As the season wears on and the aches and pains mount for the players, it wouldn’t hurt for Ellis to get more rest. Bragg by far is the best option to replace Ellis’ scoring punch when he rests, so a breakthrough performance for the freshman could be a big step forward for the team.

Whereas Diallo is relatively new to the game, hasn’t yet developed a great feel, and sometimes finds himself in the wrong spot to lend help defensively or space the floor properly offensively, it’s clear Bragg knows how to play the game. He just too often plays it sped up. The latter takes less time to fix with experience than the former.

Among the five bigs not named Ellis, Bragg ranks third in minutes (174), behind Traylor (215) and Lucas (190), first in points (70), fourth in rebounds with 45, behind Lucas (68), Traylor (54) and Mickelson (46) and first in turnovers with 17.

My very specific hunch says Bragg will produce 12 points and six rebounds to send 16,300 home happy while they put the pedal to the metal to try to settle in front of their TV sets in time for the Chiefs' 3:35 p.m. kickoff.

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Kansas hires Todd Bradford to coach linebackers

Kansas University head football coach David Beaty has chosen Todd Bradford, former defensive coordinator at University of Maryland, to replace Kevin Kane as the Jayhawks’ linebackers coach.

Kane left for the defensive coordinator job at Northern Illinois, where he had worked before coming to Kansas.

Bradford, 52, last worked in college football as DC at Maryland in 2011. After one season with the Terps, Bradford was bought out of the remaining two years of his contract for $300,000.

Bradford had put his career on hold to focus on caring for his mother, Sandra Hampshire, who died Jan. 3, in St. George, Utah, after suffering for seven years from multiple myeloma.

Bradford has worked 25 years in college football, including three as defensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi (2008-10). Working under current North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, Bradford guided the 2010 Southern Miss defense to a 31-16 victory against Kansas and a No. 13 national ranking (113 yards allowed per game).

At Maryland, his defense was ranked last in the ACC.

Bradford last worked in the Big 12 for Oklahoma State (2005-07) when he coached linebackers.

He also worked at his almater mater, Southern Utah, as well as New Hampshirie, Lehigh, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State and BYU (his only job on the offensive side).

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Traylor carries big load in triple-overtime thriller

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31), forward Cheick Diallo (13) and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) react to an and-one bucket by guard Devonte' Graham (4) to tie the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31), forward Cheick Diallo (13) and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) react to an and-one bucket by guard Devonte' Graham (4) to tie the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Crowded out of prominence by the drama that unfolded over and over and over again later in a Big Monday night, Jamari Traylor’s terrific stretch at the opening of the second half of a 109-106, triple overtime victory over Oklahoma was not lost on his coach.

“I thought Mari was great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the fifth-year senior from Chicago. “Second half, he was about the only one playing start of the second half, and of course Landen (Lucas) down the stretch was awesome.”

Traylor came off the bench in the first half and started the second. It’s a good thing he did because without him using his explosive leaping ability near the hoop, the game could have gotten away from the Jayhawks.

Kansas made just four field goals in the opening 7:19 of the second half and Traylor had two of them. Traylor’s biggest contributions weren’t the points he scored. They never are. He’s a limited offensive player, but has a tendency to make defensive plays that fire up the crowd.

For sheer out-of-nowhere shock value, Traylor had the game’s two most amazing plays. Ninety seconds into the second half, Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard drove to the hoop for a bucket that would have given the Sooners a nine-point lead. Traylor somehow snatched the shot out of mid-air with two hands and came crashing to the floor, landing on his back, where he stayed for a nervous moment.

A couple of minutes later, the Sooners’ high-flying Khadeem Lattin went in for a dunk that would have given OU a 12-point lead. Traylor had the body control to go up with Lattin, and without touching the would-be dunker, put his hand on the ball to block the shot and snuff the bucket. This time, Traylor landed out of bounds, near the stanchion and Lattin had the harder crash. Incredible play.

A couple of Kanas possessions later, Traylor caught a pass in the lane and decisively drove right, throwing a shot off the glass for a bucket that drew Kansas within seven points. After OU pumped it back to a nine-point lead, Traylor shaved it to seven again, crashing the glass from straight on to put back a Wayne Selden miss.

Traylor’s minutes are down a little this season (14.8 average, compared to 20.4 as a junior and 16.1 as a sophomore), but his spirits seem up. His body language is better and he has been a consistent positive, energetic force.

Tensions ran high in a game that both sides badly wanted.

"Some of those loose balls, diving, sacrificing bodies, that was two teams really, really competing,” Self said.

In other words, the game was right in Traylor's wheelhouse.

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Two feel-good KU sports moments in 2015

Sometimes the best moments at sporting events take place before the main attractions start.

The worst moment of the Kansas spring football game happened when Michael Cummings suffered a career-ending knee injury. The best came on the last play of the annual alumni football game. World War II veteran Bryan Sperry, 89, found the holes and sprinted to glory for a touchdown captured by the KU athletic department's talented video team. Sperry and brother Kenneth Sperry played Kansas football from 1946-48.

The presence of UC Irvine's 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye made Tuesday night more interesting than the average nonconference basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse. But even he couldn't steal the show because the show had been stolen before the opening tip by Kurtis Townsend's daughter, Myka, shown above in a photo snapped by the Journal-World's Nick Krug.

Myka didn't miss a note and to the amazement of the customary crowd of 16,300 belted out a really strong version of the Star Spangled Banner. I kept waiting for her dad to break into tears, but all he broke into was a huge smile as his daughter triggered a huge ovation from the crowd and Fred Quartlebaum, director of student-athlete development for the basketball program, pinned a bear hug on the proud father.

"She told me she wasn't nervous, so I wasn't nervous," Townsend said. "She did great."

That she did. Kurtis bears a facial resemblance to one of music's most talented stars, peerless guitarist Carlos Santana. Myka is a talented star in the making. Advantage Myka on the music front.

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KU volleyball, Royals ride to rescue for last-minute shoppers

Last-minute Christmas shoppers seeking ideas to put a smile on the faces of sports fans on their lists ought to think Kansas volleyball and Kansas City Royals because everybody loves a winner.

1 - Two season tickets for Kansas volleyball, 2016: After becoming the first in the program’s history to make it to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks (shown above in John Young photo from NCAA tournament victory against Furman) then became just the 18th school in the history of the NCAA tournament to reach a Final Four. Both of KU’s All-American selections, setter Ainise Havili and right-side hitter Kelsie Payne, have two remaining years of eligibility and just two seniors participated in KU’s five post-season matches.

The Final Four is scheduled to take place at Sprint Center in 2017, when Havili and Payne will be seniors. Might as well catch their junior seasons, learn the nuances of the sport as I plan to do, and enjoy watching as exciting a spectator sport as there is.

Watching women’s college basketball doesn’t do justice to the athleticism of the players because the game is played below the net. Volleyball is played above the net Kansas plays an exceptionally exciting brand of it.

If season tickets aren’t for sale yet, I’m sure someone can put your name on a list and call you when they are available. It’s dollar-for-dollar the best sports entertainment in Lawrence.

Denny Matthews points to the radio booth at Kauffman Stadium during
his induction into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. Matthews,
the voice of the Royals since the club's inception in 1969, was
honored Saturday in Kansas City, Mo.

Denny Matthews points to the radio booth at Kauffman Stadium during his induction into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. Matthews, the voice of the Royals since the club's inception in 1969, was honored Saturday in Kansas City, Mo. by AP Photo

2 -A CD of highlight calls by Denny Matthews, Voice of the Royals: Pat Huges, voice of the Chicago Cubs, has done a series of “Commemorative Audio Tributes to Baseball’s Greatest Announcers.” His latest is on Matthews. Hughes narrates it, interviews Matthews about big moments and runs unedited clips of calls from famous moments in Royals history.

I wrote the biography of the late, great Ernie Harwell, long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers and it was a great experience getting to know such a kind, talented man. But the problem with a book about a broadcaster is that it’s impossible to capture the voice in the printed word. This format does a better job telling the story of a broadcaster’s career.

Hughes’ series also includes compact discs (and digital downloads) on the careers of Mel Allen, Red Barber, Marty Brennaman, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Milo Hamilton, Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons, Harry Kalas, Dave Niehaus, Bob Prince, Ron Santo, Chuck Thompson and Bob Uecker.

The series is a cool idea well executed by Hughes.

Shop at www.baseballvoices.com or call (847) 867-3682.

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KU volleyball getting red-carpet treatment

The Kansas volleyball team fueled itself for tonight's 8:30 tipoff in a national semifinal vs. Nebraska with a 4:30 meal at the Embassy Suites, the team hotel. The athletes filled their plates by choosing from: salad, roasted-potato wedges, small sirloin strips, small chicken breasts, mixed vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots), wild rice and dinner rolls.

The close-knit group of competitors began boarding the team bus outside the hotel at 5:45. Two police squad cars — the first a sedan, the second an SUV — turned their lights on at 5:53 and as the lead car turned onto 10th Street its siren began to blare and the six-block, six-minute police escort to the CenturyLink Center began.

The Jayhawks then went from the bus into the arena and onto a red carpet to start a walk (that Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin captured with above photo) to their locker room to get ready for to play a volleyball match in front of a standing-room only crowd in excess of 17,000 people. The winner advances to Saturday's national-championship match. The loser goes home after an outstanding season.

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Jayhawks appreciate men who drove them on road to Omaha

Kansas senior Anna Church (1) keeps the ball in play off a block during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep.

Kansas senior Anna Church (1) keeps the ball in play off a block during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep. by John Young

OMAHA — The road to the Final Four can’t be traveled without bus drivers behind the wheel. The Kansas volleyball team has a way of making fans out of those transporting them.

“My favorite team,” said John Bialek, bus driver for KU’s basketball teams, baseball, softball, soccer, track, cheerleading, swimming and sometimes tennis teams. “They treat me like a king.” Bialek normally is allowed entry to watch the matches, but with tickets so tight at sold-out CenturyLink Center, as of this afternoon, he wasn’t yet sure if he would be able to watch tonight’s 8:30 match vs. Nebraska.

Bialek said he has been driving KU’s teams for “about 12, 13 years. When I first started driving them, I didn’t know the rules real well. After driving them for so many years, I can yell at the referees ‘cuz I know the bad calls when I see them.”

Bialek said he’s made to feel like part of the volleyball team.

“When they have their banquet for senior night, they always invite me and recognize me,” he said.

They don’t just appreciate Bialek, but everyone who drives them, it seems.

“Our bus driver, Jose, did a great job for us,” senior Anna Church said, looking back on their trip to San Diego, the launching pad to the Final Four. “He was giving us motivational speeches. He really emphasized, ‘Play for yourselves. Play for KU. Remember, you’re representing KU and you guys can do this.’ He was just a really great guy."

Shortly after the team arrived at CenturyLink Center for the Nebraska match, Jose sent a text to KU assistant athletic director Jim Marchiony, wishing "the No. 1 volleyball team in the NCAA tournament," luck.

“He gave us a tour of San Diego," Church said of Jose. "He knew everything about the city. He took us to the fish market. There’s a big Navy Ship. I don’t remember what it’s called. The Fish Market’s a restaurant down in the harbor area, and we drove through downtown to get there, so he gave us a tour of downtown.”

Church, who transferred to KU from Saint Louis University for her senior year, couldn’t remember the name of the ship, but Google, the font of all knowledge, knows it: USS Midway.

With Bialek behind the wheel, the volleyball team left Lawrence at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Just being in their company put Bialek in a good mood.

“There’s more spotlight on the (men’s) basketball players, more pressure,” Bialek said. “These girls, I’ve been to some of their parents’ houses for dinner and what not. It’s just a lot more fun.

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Flyover country is volleyball country now

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone.

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone. by Tom Keegan

OMAHA — USC headed to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament West regional in San Diego last week on a quest to win a seventh national championship. It’s more difficult than ever to win one, isn’t it?

“No question that that’s true,” Trojans coach Mick Haley answered, two days before getting knocked out of the tournament by Kansas University in an Elite Eight match. “It used to be that you felt like the kids on the West Coast would play a little bit more volleyball because they get to play in the summers and outdoors. If you look at the number of matches and the number of practices kids in the Midwest and on the East Coast and the Southwest are playing now, they’re all playing about the same number. It’s amazing.”

As a result, Haley said, “recruiting shifts from each side of the country from year to year. You know, Texas has more than 38,000 high school kids playing. California has 37,000 now. Texas has actually taken the lead.”

Haley also listed Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio as “very strong recruiting areas,” and added, “Iowa, believe it or not, is a very strong state to get talent out of. You don’t have an advantage being on one side of the country or another now. There’s talent everywhere.”

This Final Four at CenturyLink Center features all teams from the Central time zone, two from the Big Ten (Minnesota and Nebraska), two from the Big 12 (Kansas and Texas), meaning that for the third year in a row, the Pac-12 will not have a team playing in the national-title match. The Big Ten had six teams in the Sweet 16.

In every season from 2001 through 2008, the Pac-12 had at least one team in the title match.

“I think it speaks to the parity across the nation,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said.

Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon cited the same factor.

“Perhaps at one point it used to be a little more West Coast dominated, but it seems that there’s great volleyball players and great volleyball programs everywhere,” he said.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne. by Richard Gwin

Nebraska, which holds an 86-0-1 series record vs. Kansas, and Texas are far from new to the big stage.

“Way back, Nebraska and Texas kind of opened the door, and then Penn State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Now you’re seeing teams like BYU, Kansas, that are breaking the doors down in regards to anybody can get into this Final Four and this NCAA Championship. So I think you’re seeing great balance across the country.”

KU’s recent run has grown the fan base overnight, although that won’t be evident at Thursday’s match vs. Nebraska because each school was limited to 200 tickets. Cornhuskers fans long ago bought up most of the tickets.

“It’s great for the sport,” Cook said of new teams crashing the gates of volleyball heaven. “I think it creates great stories. Similar to what men’s basketball does in the NCAA Tournament, where a Butler can be in the Final Four. ... I also look at Texas, which has been here five years straight, which is an amazing accomplishment.”

Half of the 14 first-team All-Americans are from Final Four teams: Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne of Kansas, Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska, Amy Neal and Chiak Ogbogu of Texas, and Daly Santana and Hannah Tapp of Minnesota. Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini makes it eight first-team All-Americans from Central time zone schools.

Three players — Florida’s Rhamat Alhassan, Ohio State’s Taylor Sandbothe and Penn State’s Haleigh Washington — made it from Eastern time zone schools. Just two, USC’s Samantha Bricio and Washington’s Lianna Sybeldon, are from the Pacific time zone and BYU’s Alexa Gray is the lone first-team selection from a Mountain time zone.

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Flyover country is volleyball country now

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone.

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone. by Tom Keegan

OMAHA — USC headed to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament West regional in San Diego last week on a quest to win a seventh national championship. It’s more difficult than ever to win one, isn’t it?

“No question that that’s true,” Trojans coach Mick Haley answered, two days before getting knocked out of the tournament by Kansas University in an Elite Eight match. “It used to be that you felt like the kids on the West Coast would play a little bit more volleyball because they get to play in the summers and outdoors. If you look at the number of matches and the number of practices kids in the Midwest and on the East Coast and the Southwest are playing now, they’re all playing about the same number. It’s amazing.”

As a result, Haley said, “recruiting shifts from each side of the country from year to year. You know, Texas has more than 38,000 high school kids playing. California has 37,000 now. Texas has actually taken the lead.”

Haley also listed Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio as “very strong recruiting areas,” and added, “Iowa, believe it or not, is a very strong state to get talent out of. You don’t have an advantage being on one side of the country or another now. There’s talent everywhere.”

This Final Four at CenturyLink Center features all teams from the Central time zone, two from the Big Ten (Minnesota and Nebraska), two from the Big 12 (Kansas and Texas), meaning that for the third year in a row, the Pac-12 will not have a team playing in the national-title match. The Big Ten had six teams in the Sweet 16.

In every season from 2001 through 2008, the Pac-12 had at least one team in the title match.

“I think it speaks to the parity across the nation,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said.

Texas coach Hugh McCuthcheon cited the same factor.

“Perhaps at one point it used to be a little more West Coast dominated, but it seems that there’s great volleyball players and great volleyball programs everywhere,” he said.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne. by Richard Gwin

Nebraska, which holds an 86-0-1 series record vs. Kansas, and Texas are far from new to the big stage.

“Way back, Nebraska and Texas kind of opened the door, and then Penn State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Now you’re seeing teams like BYU, Kansas, that are breaking the doors down in regards to anybody can get into this Final Four and this NCAA Championship. So I think you’re seeing great balance across the country.”

KU’s recent run has grown the fan base overnight, although that won’t be evident at Thursday’s match vs. Nebraska because each school was limited to 200 tickets. Cornhuskers fans long ago bought up most of the tickets.

“It’s great for the sport,” Cook said of new teams crashing the gates of volleyball heaven. “I think it creates great stories. Similar to what men’s basketball does in the NCAA Tournament, where a Butler can be in the Final Four. ... I also look at Texas, which has been here five years straight, which is an amazing accomplishment.”

Half of the 14 first-team All-Americans are from Final Four teams: Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne of Kansas, Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska, Amy Neal and Chiak Ogbogu of Texas, and Daly Santana and Hannah Tapp of Minnesota. Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini makes it eight first-team All-Americans from Central time zone schools.

Three players — Florida’s Rhamat Alhassan, Ohio State’s Taylor Sandbothe and Penn State’s Haleigh Washington — made it from Eastern time zone schools. Just two, USC’s Samantha Bricio and Washington’s Lianna Sybeldon, are from the Pacific time zone and BYU’s Alexa Gray is the lone first-team selection from a Mountain time zone.

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