Entries from blogs tagged with “basketball”

Say something nice about Kansas football: Discipline taking root

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Setting rules and then dismissing anybody who doesn't follow them is not the way to establish discipline in a football program. Anybody could do that. It's easy. The tough challenge is taking players who lack discipline and finding a way to get them to change their behaviors.

The summer conditioning program plays a big part in instilling discipline and things seem to be going well on that front.

“What showed me we’re changing is the amount of guys I've had to punish at 5 a.m.," Kansas strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said Friday. "Like today, I didn’t have anyone. Let's say we have 100 guys. There will be eight different times per week they have to be somewhere on time for me. So that's 800 different opportunities for them to miss one of those times. I bet we've had six all summer. Six! When I first (returned to Kansas), that first spring, we might have six per week. I went 55 days in a row where I punished guys at 5 a.m. Fifty-five days in a row!"

Tardiness or absence from a class, a tutoring session and a workout are examples of transgressions that could earn a player an early alarm clock setting.

"Coaches are holding them more accountable and they don’t want to come in here and get crushed at 5 a.m.," Jackson said. "What coach (David) Beaty is doing, it’s working. It really is working."

All program reversals start with instilling discipline. It's a first step that must be followed by many, many more, such as improved recruiting, smart game-planning and in-game adjustments.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

More than 14,000 high schools in the United States field football teams, yet only one of those schools can lay claim to having a candidate for the Kansas starting quarterback job.

Bishop Miege, located in Roeland Park, also furnished KU with an offensive line coach for two years until Tim Grunhard decided he didn’t want to miss his son’s high school years and resigned.

Montell Cozart, a 2013 Miege graduate, appeared at No. 9 on our list of most crucial Jayhawks. Ryan Willis, who graduated from Miege in 2015, checks in at No. 6 on our countdown.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete, which they failed to do during an 0-12 2015 season.

Matt Tait and and I collaborated on the list for the third consecutive season.

Track it every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil one crucial Jayhawk at a time in reverse order. If you missed any, click the links at the bottom of each entry to get up to speed.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

6. Ryan Willis, Soph. Quarterback

Easier tasks exist than evaluating a true freshman quarterback playing behind a consistently overmatched offensive line in one of the nation’s top college football conferences.

Statistically, Willis didn’t fare particularly well. He completed 52.1 percent of his passes for just 5.46 yards per attempt and threw nine touchdown pases and 10 interceptions in 315 attempts. Cozart completed 62.9 percent with a 7.16 average, two touchdowns and one interception in 105 attempts before a season-ending injury.

Since Cozart has so much more experience, it stands to reason Willis will improve more in his second year in the program than Cozart in his fourth. Not so fast. Willis suffered a wrist injury playing pick-up basketball and couldn’t throw during spring football.

Second-year head coach David Beaty, who has taken on the responsibilities of offensive coordinator, has a tough decision on his hands. The fact that Willis and Cozart have such different strengths and weaknesses doesn’t make it any easier.

Willis’ greatest strength is in throwing accurate medium-to-long passes, which happens to be Cozart’s greatest weakness because of a tendency to overthrow receivers. Speed ranks as Cozart’s greatest strength, which happens to match up with Willis’ most glaring weakness.

Defenses facing a Cozart-led offense can crowd the field without fearing he will burn them with accurate down-field throws. Defenses facing an offense directed by Willis can worry about one fewer helmet in the running game because he is no threat with his feet. Willis can stretch a defense with the threat of the long ball.

Cozart, who as a freshman shied from contact to the point of running out of bounds one yard short of the first-down marker, has made big strides in that area. Willis took vicious hits last season and hung though throughout.

Because Cozart is such a known and Willis in theory has more untapped potential, the majority of the fan base will take it as an encouraging sign if Willis wins the job, but Beaty’s decision won’t be based on popularity, rather on which quarterback he thinks can generate more points for an offense that ranked 123rd among 128 FBS schools in 2015.

Even without much protection and a shortage of speedy targets, Willis showed he is more capable of scoring through the air than Cozart. Willis threw a touchdown once every 35 passes, not a good number. Cozart threw one every 52.5 passes, worse.

Which quarterback can more effectively get the ball in the hands of Texas A&M transfer wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez will be a factor.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

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Behind the scenes at Big 12 Media Days with Joe Dineen

Lawrence native Joe Dineen, who grew up watching Kansas football, represented his hometown program in Dallas at Big 12 Football Media Days this week.

Dineen, a junior linebacker, took pride in wearing a Jayhawk lapel pin on his suit and talking KU football with sports reporters from around the country, with teammates Montell Cozart and Fish Smithson by his side.

“It’s awesome for me,” Dineen said of the experience. “… I grew up (in Lawrence) and to be able to represent the school and my hometown, it’s a lot of fun.”

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Dineen’s Monday at the Omni Dallas Hotel.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Jayhawks’ run defense will improve

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016.

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Frank Solich made his coaching reputation at Nebraska, where fleet running backs and powerful backs alike darted through holes blown open by corn-fed linemen.

That blueprint has worked well for Solich at Ohio University, which he has on a hot streak that includes going to bowl games in 6 of 7 years heading into this season.

Entering his 12th season at Ohio, Solich has a big, experienced offensive line, and all but two of the eight players who rushed for more than 100 yards last season back, including A.J. Ouellette, the leading rusher.

Based on the performance of last season’s Kansas defense, the Sept. 10 clash with the Bobcats in Memorial Stadium has all the earmarks of a blowout with the home team on the losing end.

A refresher on just how poorly the Jayhawks fared among 124 FBS schools against the run during an 0-12, 2015 season: 124th in rushing touchdowns (39), 123rd in yards per carry (5.67), 125th in yards per game (267.17).

Ohio’s rankings in rushing the football: 68th in rushing touchdowns (22), 76th in yards per carry (4.3), 50th in yards per game (180.85).

Solich doesn’t have an obvious choice to start at quarterback — always good news for the opposition — but all the candidates are dual-threats.

Obviously, KU stats were compiled against a brutal schedule, Ohio’s vs. a less challenging one.

Still, it’s a case of OU’s strength matching up against one of KU’s biggest weaknesses (another being pass defense), based on last season.

But last season’s defense won’t be taking the field, even though most of the names will be the same.

Other than Ben Goodman, all the starters from the defensive line were in their first year of Div. I football.

They all have grown in physique, confidence and football smarts. On paper at least, the D-line should be the most improved position group.

Sophomore Dorance Armstrong had a standout spring at defensive end. On the other side, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia have their junior-college transition year behind them. It’s the improvement in the middle of the D-line that creates the most hope that KU won’t get steamrolled to the extent it did a year ago.

D-tackles Daniel Wise and D.J. Williams both have been singled out as recipients of strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson’s Workout Warrior of the Week honor. (Reserve defensive end Josh Ehambe also was so honored).

Wise started seven games last season as a redshirt freshman and has added needed weight and emerged as a big leader on the defense. Williams, a prospect with impressive enough physical tools to receive scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Missouri, has completely transformed his work ethic, according to Jackson. He’s 6-foot-5, 306 pounds and agile.

Statistics don’t accurately reflect the contributions of a defensive lineman, so I thought it would be interesting to ask Williams to share his individual goals for this season.

“Every time someone comes in my hole, it’s not open. Just make sure that hole’s not open,” Williams said. “That’s my No. 1 individual goal. Another individual goal would be not getting tired, trying to keep that endurance. I really don’t like coming out of the game because I really didn’t get that many snaps (last year). I’m trying to get as many as I can before my time is up.”

Those are terrific goals, one centered on on-field performance, the other on conditioning. Still, no position requires more depth than D-tackle. Huge men who so often have to wrestle with two blockers at once need to rest. That’s where junior-college transfers Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis enter the equation.

Holani looked too overweight during the spring to project as a player who could help as soon as the fall. He looks as if he’s shedding pounds at a good rate.

Occupying blockers so that linebackers can come up and make the tackles is one job for D-tackles. Then it’s up to KU’s linebackers making tackles closer to the line of scrimmage than a year ago. Marcquis Roberts has healthier knees than at this point last season and brings quickness and toughness. Joe Dineen, with the first full year of his life as a linebacker behind him and added strength should make a leap forward.

So even though Ohio will be favored against Kansas in Week 2, an upset is possible if the Jayhawks’ run defense improves even more than I suspect it will.

Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football. Step up to the plate and take your best cuts at shining optimism on a team coming off an 0-12 finish.

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Wayne Selden Jr. trying to move past disappointment of going undrafted

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) reacts after a foul was called against the Jayhawks during the first half, Thursday, March 10, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) reacts after a foul was called against the Jayhawks during the first half, Thursday, March 10, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Projected as a mid- to late-second-round pick after leaving Kansas a year early to enter the NBA Draft, Wayne Selden Jr. remained mostly silent in the days following what had to be a disappointing night for the 21-year-old guard, who watched from afar as 60 other players realized their dreams of being drafted into the world’s best basketball league.

In perhaps an even more surprising development for the undrafted Selden, no news regarding a free-agent deal or summer league assignment popped up for him after the June 23 draft, while his KU teammates Perry Ellis, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson filled out summer rosters for various organizations.

A week after posting a photo on Instagram of what looked to be a shot taken inside the Memphis Grizzlies’ locker room, Selden finally took to Twitter Friday afternoon to share what has been on his mind, as a pro basketball player in limbo.

“You know, I was real frustrated when I didn’t hear my name called on draft night,” Selden wrote in the note he posted, along with the hashtag: TrustTheProcess. “Something I worked my whole life for, something I dreamed of. But I didn’t just work to hear my name called, I worked and continue to work to have a successful NBA career.

“After draft night, I felt like everything I worked for was a waste and got real down,” Selden continued in the note. “But now as I sit back and put everything into perspective, I’m truly blessed to be in this position I’m in. I know there are others out there that would kill to be where I’m at.

“Growing up coming where I’m from, all we wanted was an opportunity, a chance,” Selden added. “And the Memphis Grizzlies did just that by giving me a chance. God bless.”

According to The Commercial Appeal, Selden will be a non-roster player with the Grizzlies, meaning he’ll be a part of their preseason training camp in the fall, and the organization will decide from there how or if they want to move forward with the former KU guard, who averaged 13.6 points and shot 38.3% from 3-point range during his junior season.

Selden is not playing for the Grizzlies’ summer league entry in Las Vegas, a couple months removed from a “small” meniscus tear in his right knee, which kept him from participating in drills and scrimmages at the NBA Draft Combine. So he can’t even use July as a springboard for something bigger a few months from now.

Obviously, this path to the NBA isn’t an easy one. Nor is it what Selden envisioned when he decided to leave Kansas a year early. But if the thoughts highlighted in his note are genuine, he at least now has harnessed the right approach to work toward making that dream come true.

Although, as the Commercial Appeal’s Chris Herrington’s projected Grizzlies depth chart highlights, Selden truly will have to impress Memphis to stick around, because they’re not desperate to add a wing. The Grizzlies already have Tony Allen, Troy Daniels and Jordan Adams at shooting guard, and Chandler Parsons, James Ennis and Vince Carter at small forward.

The process and timeline for Selden reaching the NBA appear to be lengthy. Perhaps now that he understands that, he’ll become even more inspired to make it happen.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

As we approach the Top 10 of this summer's list, it's back to the defensive side of the ball, where the Jayhawks return a bunch of players with significant experience who are expected to enjoy a much more productive season in 2016 than the ones they produced in 2015.

Today's entrant might be at the top of that list, given the hope and expectation for him to deliver in Year 1 and the fact that it took him a little time to adjust and ease into things during his first season as a Jayhawk.

Stewart was by no means stellar during the 2015 season but he wasn't bad either. But because he plays one of the most visible and important positions in the Big 12, KU's going to need him to make a meaningful jump this season to improve its chances at snagging some victories.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas University cornerback Brandon Stewart (8) makes a play during practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Kansas University cornerback Brandon Stewart (8) makes a play during practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015. by Richard Gwin

11. Brandon Stewart, Sr. Cornerback

The emergence of potential star defensive end Dorance Armstrong figures to translate to less time for opposing quarterbacks to find a receiver, which in turn translates to the Kansas secondary not getting shredded as badly as it did a year ago.

That factor and greatly increased experience combine to make the outlook of the pass defense less hopeless than a year ago. A more sound season from senior cornerback Brandon Stewart would go a long way toward making that happen.

The Kansas coaching staff was excited to get a commitment out of Stewart, a junior college cornerback especially since he was arriving at mid-semester and could participate in spring practice in 2015. A little undersized, he graded out well as a prospect in every other area. Yet, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry was quick to point out that junior college competition does not equate to that in the pass-happy Big 12. Perry used another junior college player who struggled mightily in his first year in the Football Bowl Subdivsion and ultimately developed into a first-round draft pick. It would take time, perhaps a whole season, Perry cautioned, for Stewart to show why the staff was excited to land him.

“I call him Crazy Legs,” Perry said at the time. “His legs are all over the place.”

His body needed to become more disciplined to execute the fundamentals of playing cornerback and as his first season progressed, Stewart did show subtle improvements. He will be counted on to take a bigger leap forward now that he has a full season of game experience and two springs behind him.

“Last year was just getting a feel for D-1, getting a feel for KU,” Stewart said. “It was all just a whole bunch of new stuff thrown at you all at once. So now it’s, “I know what to do and I want to play with confidence and and play fast because you know what’s going to happen and you have the feel for stuff. That’s when a defense can really start making plays and start doing things to turn this program around. ... I know from scrimmages we’ve gotten a lot better.”

Stewart sounded more confident than ever this past spring.

“I know it’s the Big 12, but I feel like this guy across from me, I feel like I can beat him,” Stewart said. "He’s mine for the day. You just have to play with that confidence.”

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

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Say something nice about Kansas Football: Jayhawks in middle of Big 12 pack for Class of 2017 recruiting

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas.

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas. by Richard Gwin

It’s too depressing to look behind to see where Kansas ranks in various Big 12 football categories. So why not look ahead? It will brighten the mood.

Rivals.com ranks Kansas fifth among 10 Big 12 teams in Class of 2017 recruiting thus far and 42nd in the nation.

Big 12 teams with national recruiting rankings for the Class of 2017: 5. Oklahoma, 24. (tie) Iowa State and Oklahoma State, 32. Texas Tech, 42. Kansas, 44. TCU, 46. Texas, 57. West Virginia, 66. Kansas State, 94. Baylor.

Aside from the encouraging ranking for Kansas, two interesting elements of the rankings jump out. First, Iowa State obviously made a great hire in wooing Matt Campbell from Toledo, where he went 35-15. Second, Baylor’s recruiting has taken a huge hit in the wake of the rape scandal and subsequent firing of head coach Art Briles.

Rivals lists a dozen verbal commitments — not counting those who then changed their minds — including one four-star recruit and seven three-star commitments.

Four-star: Michael Lee, DB, New Orleans, 5-foot-10, 162 pounds.

Three-star: Akayleb Evans, DB, McKinney, Texas, 6-2, 180; Troy James, DE, Baton Rouge, La., 6-4, 268; Travis Jordan, ATH, Marrero, La., 6-1, 185; Reggie Roberson, WR, Mesquite, Texas, 6-0, 175; Jamie Tago, DE, Garden City, 6-3, 245; Robert Topps, DB, Chicago, 6-2, 182; Dominic Williams, RB, Dallas, 5-9, 186.

Two-star: Jay Dineen, LB, Lawrence, 6-2, 225; Kyron Johnson, LB, Arlington, Texas, 6-1, 195; Takulve Williams, WR, New Orleans, 5-11, 180.

It won’t be easy for Kansas to keep all 12 recruits because it’s common for football recruits to change their minds when more established programs come knocking, but it’s an impressive list nonetheless, although an incomplete one because it’s so early.

A pair of highly rated Texas offensive linemen had committed to KU only to change their minds, so work needs to be done to recruit more high school blockers in order to break the cycle of relying on junior college O-linemen, never a sound strategy.

First-year running backs coach Tony Hull has opened up Louisiana for Kansas and his reputation already is paying off. Meanwhile, head coach David Beaty and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry to continue to tap their Texas ties for talent.

At defensive end, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby both are seniors, so the need for immediate help made it necessary to land a junior college recruit. Tago, who plays at Garden City Community College, is the only junior college recruit among the 12 committed recruits.

Recruiting clearly is on the gradual uptick at Kansas. There, I said something nice about Kansas football, yet again. Your turn. Deliver.

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Immense opportunity awaits Perry Ellis at Las Vegas summer league

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) pulls back for a two-handed jam over Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the second half on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) pulls back for a two-handed jam over Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the second half on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Four years worth of work with Kansas basketball wasn’t enough to get Perry Ellis drafted into the NBA. Now the 22-year-old forward has a few days in Las Vegas to secure a spot in the league the hard way.

A free agent playing for the Mavericks’ summer league entry beginning Saturday night, Ellis will try to convince the same coaches and executives who passed on him on draft night that he actually belongs on a regular-season roster.

Right now, the people Ellis needs to impress the most are Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban. The Mavs’ Vegas team will focus on the development of second-year wing Justin Anderson and second-round draft pick A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot center out of Purdue. However, while speaking to media members earlier this week, Cuban made it sound as if the other summertime Mavericks won’t be an afterthought for the organization.

“We’ve got a bunch of roster spots,” Cuban said Wednesday, in a video posted on the Mavs’ website. “We put our money where our mouth is in cap room, so there’s a lot of spots for guys to make, and they know if they do what we expect them to do, probably three guys, maybe four, from this group are gonna make the team.”

Cuban made that statement as Ellis and other Dallas hopefuls worked behind him. It has to be a strange dynamic for all the players except Anderson and Hammons. The rest are not only trying to play well, but also, in a sense, beat out the guys next to them for a coveted roster spot or training camp invite.

So who is Ellis playing with/competing against? Here’s a look at the rest of the Mavericks’ Vegas lineup, excluding the aforementioned Anderson and Hammons:

  • Chane Behanan, 6-6 forward from Louisville

  • Vander Blue, 6-4 guard from Marquette, who has played in 5 NBA games (none since the 2014-15 season)

  • Kyle Collinsworth, 6-6 guard from BYU

  • Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-8 forward from Florida

  • Jonathan Gibson, 6-2 guard from New Mexico

  • Isaiah Miles, 6-7 forward from St. Joseph’s

  • McKenzie Moore, 6-6 guard from UTEP

  • Giovan Oniangue, 6-6 forward from Congo

  • Satnam Singh, 7-2 center from India (Mavs’ Round 2 pick in 2015)

  • Jameel Warney, 6-8 forward from Stony Brook

Dallas hasn’t retained undrafted rookies from its summer teams of late, but if what Cuban said is true, this year could be different.

Ellis, a 6-foot-8 All-American who averaged 17 points and shot 53.2% from the field in his senior season at Kansas, surely understands the scope of what he could do for his professional career in the days ahed.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) works against UCLA forward Tony Parker (23) and UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) works against UCLA forward Tony Parker (23) and UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii. by Nick Krug

“You know, I’m just going to come out here and play hard,” Ellis told the Mavs’ website. “It’s a great opportunity for me. You know, it’s an honor to be here, and I just want to go out here and just play my game and play with a high energy.”

It sounds as if Dallas expects Ellis to fit in nicely with this makeshift unit that spent the past few days practicing together. The Mavericks’ summer league head coach, Jamahl Mosely, hailed the Jayhawk’s college résumé as a strength that should help Ellis and the Vegas version of the Mavs.

“He’s played a great amount of basketball,” Mosley said on the team’s website. “I mean, he played four years in college, and he’s very experienced. He knows how to play the game, so I think that’s going to be a big key for us. He knows how to play, he’s in the right position, and he makes the simple and easy play.”

Regardless of what transpires on the floor in Vegas, the Mavs likely won’t need any of these free agents to play critical roles in their regular-season rotation. But Cuban appears more inclined to give one or more of them a roster spot than he has in the past.

“We want to have a good crew of young guns that we develop,” the Dallas owner said.

If Ellis fits in as seamlessly as Mosley suggested and goes on scoring tears like he did at KU, the Wichita native just might land a spot in the NBA next season after all. And Ellis knows how significant this business trip to Las Vegas will be for his future. His first game is Saturday night against Miami (9 p.m., NBA TV).

In typical Perry Ellis fashion, he said his main focus for his summer league experience will be to play well and play hard.

“We’ll go from there,” he added, “and see what happens.”

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 13 — DT D.J. Williams

From the most experienced projected starter on the defense, Marcquis Roberts, to the least experienced our series goes.

From the deepest position on the defense to one with more question marks and less obvious depth at a position that relies more than any other on rotating players in and out of the game to keep them fresh.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive tackle D.J. Williams (91) lays out Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) and forces a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Kansas defensive tackle D.J. Williams (91) lays out Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) and forces a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

13. D.J. Williams, So. Defensive Tackle

The Kansas coaching staff, then headed by Charlie Weis, understandably was excited to get a commitment from D.J. Williams out of the Lufkin, an industrial town in eastern Texas, located two hours northeast of Houston and three hours southwest of Dallas.

After all, Williams had a big frame, standing 6-foot-5 with broad shoulders and a thick body. Not only that, for what it’s worth, he was rated more favorably by recruiting services than most Kansas recruits. Rivals.com ranked him No. 38 in the nation among defensive tackles in the Class of 2014 and No. 78 among all recruits from the football-rich state of Texas. Plus, at various points during the recruiting process, Miami, Missouri and Oklahoma were wooing him.

Yet, once he arrived on campus and began the rigors of college football, from summer conditioning to fall camp to daily practices while wearing a redshirt, the buzz on Williams faded. At times, he looked a little overhelmed by the work load and breathed heavily quicker than some of his position mates during drills. At least outwardly, he didn’t exhibit a great deal of fire or drive. Some athletes need weekly games in order to break the monotony and rekindle the motor. Redshirts don’t have that luxury.

As the 2015 season progressed, so did Williams. He appeared in eight games last season, including the final seven. During a three-week stretch in the middle of the Big 12 season, he showed flashes of what made him a highly rated recruit. At Oklahoma Stte, he totaled a career-high three tackles and added two tackles the next week at home against national-title contender Okahoma. The following week, at Texas, he contributed the biggest play of his young career, a strip-sack.

Williams moves pretty well for a man who carries 300 pounds on his frame.

His potential will put him on the first team of the depth chart heading into fall camp, but he’ll need to bring consistent effort and energy in practice in order to stay there.

Sophomore Daniel Wise has one starting spot locked up and Williams will compete with juniors Jacky Dezir, in his second year at Kansas after a year of junior college, DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani, a pair of juco transfers.

Should Williams emerge as the most improved player on the defense, that would settle any uneasy feelings about depth at defensive tackle. He has the tools. It’s just a matter of whether he can put them all together in this, his third season in the program.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

As our offseason countdown gets closer to the top 10, we take a look at a veteran presence on the Kansas football team’s defense.

Though he didn’t start his college career with the Jayhawks, this linebacker showed in 2015 the potential to accomplish much more on the field this coming season.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas junior linebacker Marcquis Roberts (5) breaks through the line to bring down Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel behind the line during the annual Sunflower Showdown game Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas junior linebacker Marcquis Roberts (5) breaks through the line to bring down Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel behind the line during the annual Sunflower Showdown game Saturday at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

14. Marcquis Roberts, Sr. Linebacker

It takes a tremendous ability to concentrate through the pain and absorb the physical pounding that comes with playing college football for any athlete. To do so when playing with the sort of knee pain Marcquis Roberts has through the years requires even greater focus and pain tolerance.

The good news: Roberts’ knees, according to those who would know, feel better than at any point during his time at Kansas after transferring from South Carolina.

Roberts gets after it hard during summer conditioning and arrived early and in great shape.

A 6-foot-1, 223-pound senior from Powder Springs, Ga., Roberts started 11 of 12 games last season, appearing in but not starting one game when hampered by injury. He ranked third on the team with 71 tackles, had 3.5 tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles and in one of the most memorable plays of a mostly forgettable 0-12 season for the team, Roberts returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown.

His most productive game came against TCU, when he contributed a game-high 12 tackles, 1.5 behind the line of scrimmage, and a quarterback hurry.

Roberts is among the most experienced players on the roster, having started 25 games for power-conference schools.

Roberts missed the first two years of his college career with injuries, sidelined by shoulder surgery in 2011 and knee woes in 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at South Carolina in May, 2015, which enabled him to transfer to Kansas without sitting out a year.

His pre-game routine — dances around the perimeter of the field with headphones on while wearing a backpack — is the most interesting and entertaining on the team.

Roberts pairs with Joe Dineen in KU’s 4-2-5 defense to make linebacker perhaps the team’s strongest position.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

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Say something nice about Kansas football: All but two starters return on defense

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The good news/bad news lament of coaches of losing teams in every sport at every level in every era hasn’t changed: “The good news is we have everybody back. The bad news is we have everybody back.”

Well, the Kansas defense doesn’t have everybody back, but other than end Ben Goodman and tackle Corey King, the Jayhawks return all of their key contributors.

Yes, they are returning from an 0-12 team that ranked dead last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision squads in points per game (46.1) and total defense (560.8 yards per Saturday).

Given that, Kansas fielding an average Big 12 defense is not a realistic goal, but improving on last season’s performance is a given.

Goodman and linebacker Marcquis Roberts were the only players with extensive starting experience, Roberts’ coming at South Carolina.

Goodman and nickel back Tevin Shaw were the lone returning starters from 2014. (Counting as a returning starter requires starting half of the games from the previous season.)

If returning pass rushers Dorance Armstrong, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby (combined 12 starts opposite Goodman) count as one entry, KU has nine returning starters on defense. Armstrong has added 16 pounds of muscle and consistently stood out throughout the spring.

A look at career starts for KU’s defensive players: Roberts (25), Shaw (17), Courtney Arnick (14), Fish Smithson (11), Joe Dineen and Brandon Stewart (nine), Tyrone Miller and Daniel Wise (seven), Marnez Ogletree (six), Greg Allen and Armstrong (five), Bazie Bates and Olobia (four), Mosby (three), Chevy Graham (two), Derrick Neal (one).

Having so many experienced players enables the defensive staff to teach at a faster pace and pack more into each practice.

There you have it. Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football.

Your turn. Bring it.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

First off, here's hoping everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.

The long, holiday weekend delayed the list of this year's most crucial Jayhawks by a day, but we're back at it today with a name that most of you are probably quite familiar with — at least in terms of reading about and hearing about.

It's a new-look offense — yet again — for the Jayhawks this fall and the junior from nearby Basehor has a chance to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Time will tell exactly what that means, but here's an early glance at how important it could be for this year's team.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) breaks up the field after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) breaks up the field after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

15. Ben Johnson, Jr. Tight End

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson doesn’t have Ben Johnson speed, but he has more of it than his receiving statistics might lead many to believe.

Kansas doesn’t need its Ben Johnson to keep pace with the original Ben Johnson, the Jamaican-born sprinter who won a pair of bronze medals in the 1984 Olympic Games and lost an assortment of other medals in later years because his world-record performances were aided by steroids. The Jayhawks just need Johnson to stay on his steady improvement curve without being knocked off it by injury, as has been the case at times during his Kansas career.

A 6-foot-5, 245-pound fourth-year junior from Basehor, Johnson doesn’t necessarily have any one thing that he does amazingly well. He’s just solid across the board. He’s a big target with sure hands, runs well for his size, is a decent blocker and has the agility to make catches on so-so throws.

Johnson backed up Jimmay Mundine two seasons ago and made nine starts last season. Kansas doesn’t always use a tight end and when Johnson was on the field his primary responsibility much of the time was blocking.

He caught 13 passes for 115 yards last season, an average of 8.8 yards per reception. His 30-yard reception at TCU was the biggest gain of his career.

A versatile athlete in high school, Johnson played defensive end and tight end for the football team, starred for his state-championship basketball team in 2012, finished third in the state in the discus throw.

A healthy season from Johnson is important because KU lacks depth at the position. The coaching staff is high on the potential of red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger, a 6-foot-4, 236-pound native of Kingfisher, Okla., but Sternberger hasn’t played in a college game and ideally could use another year of body building before taking on a major role.

Johnson and Steinberger are the only scholarship tight ends in the program.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

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Josh Jackson brings ‘alpha dog mentality’ to court, doesn’t mind talking trash

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson comes in for a dunk.

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson comes in for a dunk. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has to love bringing in some of the country’s top-ranked freshmen year after year.

Naturally, some first-year players are more exciting than others — even if Self, like a proud father, wouldn’t admit it. As a coach, few recruiting experiences could possibly match the satisfaction of landing the No. 1 overall high school senior.

And the more you hear about Josh Jackson, the top prep in the Class of 2016, the more it seems Self will be gushing about him for years to come.

Self enjoys coaching talented Jayhawks who possess an array of skills, sure, but he also values toughness and competitive drive — perhaps even more than other discernible traits.

Jackson already has drawn comparisons to the likes of Andrew Wiggins. His wingspan stretches 6 feet, 9 inches, and he’s a 6-foot-8 wing who can handle the ball, finish inside and make plays for his teammates.

But there’s more to Jackson than that. By many accounts, he might end up becoming the most passionate competitor Self has coached at KU. You probably read or heard about ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla claiming back in March that Jackson approaches the game with the motor of one of the NBA’s all-time ruthless spirits, Kevin Garnett.

None by Fran Fraschilla

Well, according to a profile written by Marc J. Spears for The Undefeated, Jackson is so cutthroat he trash-talked a hall of famer during a high school game earlier this year.

One of the NBA’s legendary distributors of dis, Gary Payton sat in the bleachers watching Jackson play against his son, Julian Payton. Jackson, so the story goes, gave the elder Payton a look after blocking his son’s shot. And things escalated from there.

Seattle SuperSonics' Gary Payton leans in to have a word with referees Michael Krom, left, and Leroy Richardson in the first quarter as Payton insists Seattle should have possession Tuesday, Dec. 5, 1995, in Seattle. Payton and teammates won the baseline call against the Toronto Raptors. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle SuperSonics' Gary Payton leans in to have a word with referees Michael Krom, left, and Leroy Richardson in the first quarter as Payton insists Seattle should have possession Tuesday, Dec. 5, 1995, in Seattle. Payton and teammates won the baseline call against the Toronto Raptors. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“It was crazy,” Jackson recalled, speaking to The Undefeated. “It was real funny. In my years I never thought I would be in a gym talking smack to Gary Payton.”

Jot it down as just another glimpse at what Fraschilla calls Jackson’s “alpha dog mentality,” which should only help his stock during what is expected to be a one-and-done season at Kansas, followed by a spot among the top five picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Fraschilla said Jackson is as intense a player as he has seen in the past five to 10 seasons.

Where does he get that volatile alter ego? Jackson explained his penchant for basketball gab and vehement behavior to The Undefeated.

“I want to win. I feel like any player, if you play the sport of basketball, on the court you have to be a tough guy no matter what,” said Jackson, who hails from Southfield, Mich. “I don’t care who you are. Off the court, I don’t necessarily need to be that guy. But you do on the court.”

Just how fervent is Jackson? He actually considers Golden State forward Draymond Green “a big brother” of sorts after the two matched up in a pickup game in Detroit a couple years back.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) have words during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Friday, June 10, 2016. The Warriors won 108-97. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) have words during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Friday, June 10, 2016. The Warriors won 108-97. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

As hardcore a trash-talker and villain as exists in the NBA, Green left the chance encounter a fan of Jackson’s, too.

“He just got that dog in him,” Green told The Undefeated. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he were the No. 1 pick next year.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised if Jackson quickly becomes one of Self’s favorite Jayhawks.

— Read The Undefeated’s entire profile on Josh Jackson: He’s got a game to match his mouth

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Malik Newman’s MSU highlights reveal much about his game

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) leaps toward the basket and between the triple-team of Mississippi defenders Sam Finley (10), Tomasz Gielo (12), and Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) leaps toward the basket and between the triple-team of Mississippi defenders Sam Finley (10), Tomasz Gielo (12), and Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

Kansas basketball fans will have to wait a while to see the team’s newest member, Malik Newman, suit up and contribute for the Jayhawks. NCAA transfer rules dictate Newman, a guard who spent his freshman year with Mississippi State, won’t be eligible to play for KU until the 2017-18 season.

Still, plenty of intrigue surrounds the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., who Rivals.com ranked the eighth-best player in the Class of 2015.

Considering Newman’s Bulldogs went 14-17 and weren’t exactly on the national radar, now is the perfect time to catch up on what you missed from his freshman season. Playing in 29 games, Newman averaged 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists for MSU, while making 61 of 161 3-pointers (37.9%).

Statistics are a nice starting point for any player, but thanks to the power of YouTube we also can get a glimpse of his strengths and weaknesses after one season of college basketball in the SEC.

One of the first things that jumps out about Newman in his highlight reels is his natural feel for the transition game. He is able to attack and score inside with the ball or space the floor on the fly and drift out to the 3-point line to score from there.

Plus, Newman seems to be a strong finisher against bigs at the rim for someone his size.

At the NBA Draft Combine, the 19-year-old guard had the following measurements: 6-foot-3.5 in shoes, 182 pounds, 6-foot-5.75 wingspan and a 35.5-inch maximum vertical. Honestly, the numbers kind of surprised me, because I thought he might be closer to a Wayne Selden Jr. type. Selden obviously has some years and weight-room experience on Newman, but also some size: Selden measured 6-5.75 in shoes, 232 pounds, with a 6-10.5 wingspan.

But you can see some similarities in their games, so maybe Newman can occupy a Selden-type role when he finally plays for Kansas over a year from now.

One of the coolest things you’ll find on Newman is DraftExpress.com’s breakdown of his one meeting with Kentucky this past season. He put together 14 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound and 1 turnover in 27 minutes of what turned out to be an 80-74 loss at Rupp Arena. Newman shot 1-for-3 inside the arc and 2-for-4 from deep, while going 6-for-6 at the foul line.

The greatest part of this particular clip, though, is that DraftExpress breaks down the positives and negatives of Newman’s game against the Wildcats — remember, Newman was expected to be a one-and-done college player and did test out the draft process before returning and transferring to Kansas.

As detailed in the DraftExpress video (posted below), here is how Newman looked against the SEC’s best program.

POSTIIVES

  • Showed the ability to put pressure on a retreating transition defense, and either scored or got to the free-throw line early in the shot clock.

  • Moved without the ball after penetrating to set himself up for a wide-open 3-pointer.

  • With time running out in the first half, turned a ball-screen up top into a successful 3-pointer.

  • On an in-bound set, remained patient when he didn’t have an angle or shot on the catch, then prodded and created a lane to drive for a layup.

  • Caught a swing pass for what would’ve been a great look at a 3-pointer but blew by the closing out defender instead and exploded to the rim to draw a foul.

  • Though Newman isn’t a traditional point guard, he made plays to set up teammates .

  • Threw the ball ahead to a big man running the floor in transition.

  • Attacked off the dribble to draw the defense’s attention and kicked out a pass for an open 3.

  • Got to the paint off the bounce and created a passing lane for a post player, who finished inside.



NEGATIVES

  • Showed some defensive lapses in the half court, even though Mississippi State was playing a 2-3 zone at the time.

  • Didn’t prepare himself to properly defend a screen away from the ball, then couldn’t recover to stop his man.

  • Failed to help defensively as a weak-side defender when a UK player drove in for a layup.

  • Court vision wasn’t always 20/20, and missed some chances to drive and kick, instead forcing missed layups.


Obviously no player is perfect, but you can see why Bill Self would want to bring in someone with Newman’s skills. Self and his staff will develop Newman behind the scenes next year at KU practices in preparation for what will be Newman’s sophomore season.

By the time Newman finally plays for Kansas, he won’t look like a freshman anymore, and just might play like a junior.

The Malik Newman we just met should be a more complete product by then. And you know he’ll be hungry to get back on the floor and prove he’s good enough to live up to that top-10 ranking he had coming out of high school.

— For more discussion about KU's latest addition, check out our latest Spodcasters episode.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

It's time for one of the more veteran players on the KU roster to make his way onto the list of the most crucial Jayhawks of 2016.

After coming to KU as a running back and moving over to defense early in his career, Shaw has slowly but surely seen his impact and importance on this team rise over the past couple of seasons.

This season, he enters as one of the most experienced players on the roster and plays a position that is vital to the defensive scheme the Jayhawks want to run.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas safety Tevin Shaw, left, laughs with a teammate during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Tevin Shaw, left, laughs with a teammate during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

17. Tevin Shaw, Sr. Defensive Back

A year ago, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called Shaw “strong as an ox” and “pound for pound the strongest guy on the team. He called him “tough” and “smart.”

Experienced and armed with senior urgency, Shaw could help the defense to improve if he can put all those qualities together to have a greater impact than he did a year ago, when he logged just one tackle for a loss, didn’t force any fumbles or pick off any passes and contributed three pass breakups.

Shaw appeared in all 12 games and made nine starts. His best game came against his home state university, Rutgers, with family and friends in attendance. He had a career-high 10 tackles.

A standout wrestler, running back and linebacker/safety for Piscataway High. He set school records for single-game rushing yards (304 in state-title game) and career rushing yards (2,848) and wrestling victories (120). He went 25-0 on the mat as a senior.

Offered a scholarship by Iowa, Shaw didn’t accept it right away and by the time he called to say he was committing to the Hawkeyes, the scholarship had been given to another athlete. Kansas had a scholarship for him and he has earned it with steadily improving play.

Shaw arrived at KU somewhat raw, red-shirted, became a reliable special-teams player as a red-shirt freshman and started eight games the following year. With 17 career starts in the secondary, Shaw is among the most experienced players on the squad.

Shaw, who has played safety and nickel back at Kansas, will serve as a valuable mentor to sophomore Tyrone Miller, making the transition from cornerback to his more natural safety position. Fish Smithson also will be on hand to bring along Miller.

It remains to be seen whether Kansas has enough speed in the secondary to slow down potent Big 12 passing attacks, but the Jayhawks do have ample experience in the back of their defense to get the most out of their talent there.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

Today's stop on the Most Crucial Jayhawks list takes us back to the secondary, where a cornerback-turned-safety who received some valuable experience as a true freshman comes in at No. 18.

After breaking into the starting lineup during his first season as a Jayhawk because of his raw ability, Miller spent the offseason fine-tuning his game, working on his body and reconnecting with the finer points at safety.

Now, with preseason camp a little more than a month away, he's staring at an opportunity to start again, this time at a more familiar position.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

18. Tyrone Miller, Soph. Safety

Some football players just have a nose for the ball. They take direct paths to make tackles. They get their finger tips on passes for deflections. They poke at the football to jar it loose and at other times jump on the loose ball for fumble recoveries. They bring more value to a defense than their measurables might forecast.

Tyrone Miller, sophomore safety out of Ann Arbor, Mich., showed that knack from the first game of his college football career as a true freshman.

A natural safety who didn’t play cornerback until his senior season in high school, Miller was pressed into starting duty the first seven games of the 0-12 2015 season.

“I love free safety,” Miller said. “I was always comfortable there. That’s where I started off at. I like that I can see everything and I can make plays everywhere when I need to.”

Miller said he will be a better safety for having played cornerback last season.

“It helped with my hips and my footwork and my eyes,” he said. “I worked a lot on my eye discipline last year. Now that I worked on that, now it’s fine.”

Miller said he would like to play at 190 to 195 pounds this coming year.

Miller said he likes to hit and likes the “little dinging sound that it makes in my helmet when I hit somebody.”

Asked to name what players on the defense have improved the most, Miller said, “Everyone has. Not to be vague, but everyone has improved a lot. Myself, Dorance (Armstrong), D.J. (Williams), Daniel Wise and Shaq Richmond, he’s a free safety this year also."

Asked to name the best dancer on the team, wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez did not hesitate and answered, “Tyrone Miller."

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

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Making a case for Joel Embiid as the NBA’s 2017 Rookie of the Year

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photos with prospective NBA draft picks Buddy Hield, left, Kris Dunn, right, Ben Simmons, third from left, and Brandon Ingram, second from right, before the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photos with prospective NBA draft picks Buddy Hield, left, Kris Dunn, right, Ben Simmons, third from left, and Brandon Ingram, second from right, before the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

No offense, Ben Simmons. Sorry, Brandon Ingram. Nothing personal, Buddy Hield. Don’t get upset, Kris Dunn.

With all due respect to those lottery picks and the other big names from the 2016 NBA Draft class, if you asked me right now who I would pick to win Rookie of the Year in 2017, I’d lean toward a former Kansas basketball player, instead.

No, not second-round pick Cheick Diallo. Neither Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. nor Brannen Greene.

None of those former KU players are a threat to secure that trophy, which typically ends up in the hands of players who turn out to be all-stars or superstars. But there is one Jayhawk set to make his NBA debut next season who could easily become a force in the league for years to come.

True, Joel Embiid has not played basketball in more than two years due to injuries. But the man possesses undeniable talent.

Now reportedly 7-foot-2, the center at times during his freshman season at Kansas showed off footwork and shooting touch akin to a young Hakeem Olajuwon. So far, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft has been a disappointment for Philadelphia, but it will take only one spectacular, injury-free rookie season for all to be forgiven.

None by Joel Embiid

Bearing in mind Embiid’s checkered injury history — low-lighted by back trauma that robbed him from finishing his one-and-done season at KU and a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot (which he later re-injured) keeping him sidelined since — obviously nothing about his future is guaranteed. However, the 22-year-old from Cameroon appears to be healthier now than he has been since he left Kansas.

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo told reporters Embiid, who will be held out of NBA Summer League games for precautionary reasons, has been cleared for five-on-five basketball.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) by Yong Kim | The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Let us assume the seemingly never-ending rehab is over, all goes to plan, and Embiid plays, say, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 regular-season games next season with Philadelphia. The big man, with his powerful finishing ability and shooting range, will be given the opportunity to put up big numbers for a rebuilding franchise coming off a woeful 10-72 season.

The Sixers have no established star or face of the franchise returning to feature offensively. That role is open to be filled. While the organization likely has to temper its expectations publicly regarding Embiid because of the uncertainty that accompanies his string of injuries, you get the sense the team’s decision-makers are as excited about the potential of their inexperienced center as they are 2016’s No. 1 overall pick, Simmons.

The upcoming rookie of the year race very well could come down to the Sixers’ duo of the future, Simmons and Embiid. According to Bovada, an online sportsbook, Simmons, a 6-foot-10 ball-handling forward out of LSU, is the early favorite with 13/4 odds. Embiid is listed seventh, at 14/1, behind New Orleans’ Hield (11/2), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Ingram (13/2), Minnesota’s Dunn (15/2), Denver’s Jamal Murray (12/1) and Chicago’s Denzel Valentine (12/1).

None by Keith Pompey

Simmons’ biggest asset at the next level might be his combination of passing ability and size. When he drives to create for teammates, the 19-year-old Australian will find a willing and able shooter and finisher in Embiid. As a matter of fact, the two even know each other a little bit. Now teammates in Philly, they once scrimmaged together as high schoolers in Florida, according to a story from The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

"He has great footwork and can score inside," Simmons said of Embiid. "I know how to get the ball to bigger guys down low.”

Turnovers, defensive breakdowns and losses all are on the horizon for both Simmons and Embiid as featured first-year players on a bad team. But when you look at the history of NBA Rookies of the Year, winning the award basically comes down to individual scoring numbers, not wins and losses.

Here are the previous 10 winners:

  • 2015-16: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 18.3 points

  • 2014-15: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota, 16.9 points

  • 2013-14: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia, 16.7 points

  • 2012-13: Damian Lillard, Portland, 19.0 points

  • 2011-12: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 18.5 points

  • 2010-11: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, 22.5 points

  • 2009-10: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento, 20.1 points

  • 2008-09: Derrick Rose, Chicago, 16.8 points

  • 2007-08: Kevin Durant, Seattle, 20.3 points

  • 2006-07: Brandon Roy, Portland, 16.8 points

Philadelphia’s other recent lottery big men, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, have been the subject of trade rumors, so you can figure the 76ers won’t mind featuring a healthy Embiid ahead of those two, should they both remain with the team.

Plus, Embiid is taller, more athletic and more versatile on both ends of the floor than Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for Philly while playing just 53 games this past season. It’s not too difficult to envision Embiid replicating or surpassing that production in his first season in the league, putting him firmly in the mix for the NBA’s rookie hardware.

Embiid wouldn’t be the first behind-schedule rookie to bring home the honor, either. Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, missed the following season with the L.A. Clippers due to a broken left knee cap, only to return to the court in striking fashion a year later.

Can Embiid do the same after spending even more time away from competition? Can he out-shine his thoroughly hyped teammate, Simmons? Heck, can he just play an NBA game?

We’ll know soon enough. Personally, I’d answer yes to all of the above.

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Examining Perry Ellis’ chances with the Dallas Mavericks

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets up for a shot over Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono (15) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets up for a shot over Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono (15) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

When the 2016 NBA Draft came and went without Kansas forward Perry Ellis getting selected in the two-round, 60-pick extravaganza, there was no need for the 6-foot-8 prospect to panic.

A rookie free agent, Ellis knew he would soon be weighing his options as his agent tracked down possible contract offers or opportunities to play in the NBA Summer League. Sure enough, Dallas added the Wichita native to its summer roster less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the draft.

A summer position, of course, doesn’t mean Ellis will play for the Mavericks during the 2016-17 season. It’s more like an internship. It’s simply a step in the right direction as the 22-year-old, who averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in his final season with KU, chases after his professional dream.

Ellis’ next few weeks playing for Dallas will determine what comes next, whether that turns out to be an invite to training camp, a guaranteed contract or playing professional basketball outside of the NBA.

So as we try and figure out, before the summer league even begins, just how likely Ellis is to stay with the Mavs and help out owner Mark Cuban and legendary forward Dirk Nowitzki, let us check out previous Dallas summer rosters to try and get a feel for how the organization utilizes those players following their July auditions.

Upon scouring the Mavericks’ teams from the previous five summer leagues, players in Ellis’ situation haven’t stuck around. The Dallas players who have turned offseason playing time in Las Vegas into actual regular-season minutes the following season have been draft picks or young guys in the earliest stages of their career who already had played for the Mavs.

Plus, the undrafted rookie free agents Dallas brought in between 2010 and 2015 (summer league was canceled in 2011 due to an anticipated lockout) never played a single minute for the organization during the ensuing season.

Mavericks Summer League players
who played for Dallas following season
Mavericks Summer League players
who had just gone undrafted
(or drafted in Round 2)
and didn't make the team
2010 - Rodrigue Beaubois, 2nd-year guard
- Dominique Jones, 1st-round pick, South Florida
- Ian Mahinmi, 3rd-year center
- Mouhammad Faye, Southern Methodist
- Jeremy Lin, Harvard
- Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's
- Moussa Seck, Senegal
- DeShawn Sims, Michigan
- Eric Tramiel, North Texas
2012 - Jae Crowder, 2nd-round pick, Marquette
- Bernard James, 2nd-round pick, Florida State
- Jared Cunningham, 1st-round pick, Oregon State
(played 8 games)
- Justin Dentmon, undrafted in 2009, Washington
(played in 2 games)
- Dominique Jones, 3rd-year guard
- Drew Gordon, New Mexico
- Tu Holloway, Xavier
- David Jelinek, Spain
- Keith Wright, Harvard
2013 - Jae Crowder, 2nd-year forward
- Bernard James, 2nd-year center
- Shane Larkin, 1st-round pick, Miami (FL)
- Ricky Ledo, 2nd-round pick, Providence
- Alexandre Paranhos, Brazil
- Dewayne Dedmon, USC
- Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech
- D.J. Stephens, Memphis
- Christian Watford, Indiana
2014
- Ricky Ledo, 2nd-year guard
(played 5 games)
- C.J. Fair, Syracuse
- Javon McCrea, Buffalo
- Yuki Togashi, Japan
- Axel Toupane, France
2015 - Justin Anderson, 1st-round pick, Virginia
- Dwight Powell, 2nd-year big man
- Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
- 2nd-round pick Satnam Singh, India

Using recent history as an indicator, it doesn’t appear Ellis has much of a shot at becoming a full fledged member of the Mavericks. However, each player’s situation is unique and Ellis has some factors working in his favor.

For one thing, Ellis is a consensus All-American. That doesn’t mean an NBA team will just hand him a contract. But, given his pedigree and talent, he should enter this trial with confidence. Ellis is more than capable of producing in summer league games and reminding Dallas that he is a different player than most undrafted free agents the team has tried out in the past.

Also, this year the Mavericks only made one draft pick, taking Purdue center A.J. Hammons 46th overall, in the second round. The organization could take a different approach to rookie summer players now, because it wasn’t able to utilize the draft as well this time around. If the Mavs were bringing in two or three draft picks, it would be inherently more difficult to be swayed by a young free agent. But with fewer roster spots slotted to go to draftees, you could see Dallas taking a longer look at Ellis and Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith, who is in the same boat.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket against Maryland forward Damonte Dodd (35) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket against Maryland forward Damonte Dodd (35) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

While Ellis spends the next several weeks putting in the work required to make an NBA roster, the Mavericks’ success in free agency could determine how likely they are to sign a rookie to an inexpensive deal. At this point, the only core players Dallas has under contract are Wesley Matthews, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Justin Anderson. That means Cuban has loads of room to spend, spend and spend some more in free agency. Every summer Dallas goes after the biggest names available, and if Cuban can land Hassan Whiteside and/or Mike Conley and he wants to bring back Dallas free agents Nowitzki (obviously) and Chandler Parsons, while also adding a few less expensive NBA veterans, there will only be so much money left under the cap to fill out the roster. The more the Mavs spend, the more attractive it becomes to sign a young bench player on a cheap contract.

On top of all that, Dallas isn’t the only NBA team that will be watching Ellis. Scouts, coaches and general managers from all 30 teams attend summer league games. If Ellis plays well and the Mavericks still don’t want to keep him around, another franchise can swoop in and sign him instead.

Case in point: the Mavericks summer squad in 2010 featured a little known guard out of Harvard named Jeremy Lin. Lin never played for Dallas. In fact, he only played 29 games for Golden State the following season. But the next year, Lin became a sensation in New York and has had no trouble finding work in the NBA since.

Ellis’ journey may begin with the Mavericks, but there’s no telling where it will go from here.

— PODCAST: What’s next for KU’s 2016 NBA Draft class?

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

It's more pass rushing on the list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 season today, because, in the Big 12 Conference, stopping the pass (or at least slowing it down), either in the secondary or at the point of release, is a critical part of slowing down some of the country's best and most explosive offenses.

Last week, at No. 21, we saw senior defensive end Anthony Olobia's name pop up on this list. And today it's the man Olobia is battling with for a starting job who is our featured Jayhawk.

Both are coming off of 2015 seasons in which they showed flashes of great ability and it'll likely come down to the one who's most consistent getting the starting nod and more reps. Both will play, however, and both need to have strong seasons to help this KU team climb out of the cellar.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas junior defensive end Damani Mosby (#13), photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015.

Kansas junior defensive end Damani Mosby (#13), photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015. by Mike Yoder

19. Damani Mosby, Sr. Defensive End

An explosive first step immediately caught the coaching staff’s eyes and Mosby used that step to get around KU’s offensive tackles and into the backfield regularly throughout the 2015 spring football season.

But when the Big 12 portion of the schedule arrived, Mosby faced bigger, quicker bodies in games than those who competed against in practice and at times, such as against the behemoths from Oklahoma and Texas, he looked overwhelmed by the sheer size of the blockers.

He played last season at 239 pounds and logged just 1.5 sacks in 10 games, including three starts. He didn’t meet expectations, so it was time to shift to Plan B.

Mosby put on 19 pounds in the offseason and is listed at 258 pounds. The challenge now becomes restoring the explosiveness he showed at a much lighter weight.

His best game during the 2015 season came late, when he totaled four solo tackles, including a sack, and two assists against TCU. He showed in that game, vs. strong competition, what he could do for the Kansas defense when he is able to turn his explosive first step into strong plays from start to finish.

Mosby and Anthony Olobia are in their third seasons at Kansas, where they both redshirted in their first seasons after two-year junior college careers.

Fellow defensive end Dorance Armstrong is as good an NFL prospect as Kansas has on its roster and the potential for big sophomore season from him has a better shot at becoming reality if Mosby and/or Olobia bring heat on the quarterback from the other edge.

If Mosby can become a disruptive enough force to make the opposing quarterback hurry, thus doing a huge favor to the secondary, KU has a shot to stay in more games into the fourth quarter.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Culture of keeping each other accountable taking root

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson and the rest of his staff put in multiple 15-hour days a week this time of year, but somehow the days don’t seem as long to them as they did last summer.

“I love coming in here every day and grinding every day because they’re giving everything they’ve got,” Jackson said.

The most encouraging aspect of summer conditioning so far, Jackson said, is that the players are doing some of his work for him.

“The thing that is so different in this team is truly how hard they are straining,” Jackson said. “We train four days a week. They’re out there in the heat for a long time and guys are pushing so hard, but the best part about it is they are holding their teammates to the right standard, so if it’s not done the right way, I don’t have to jump them and tell them to go over and do it again. By the time that guy gets done with his rep, he’s got four or five guys telling him, ‘That wasn’t good enough. Go back and do it again.’ And we haven’t had that. Before that what we had was, ‘What do you mean that’s not good enough?’ We haven’t had any of that. A guy tells him it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. And they do it until it’s good enough. That has been a huge difference in this team.”

Establishing a culture of accountability won’t change the raw talent level, but will increase a program’s ability to compete deeper into games against more talented teams as the bond among players grows stronger. Even if just small strides can be made every year in terms of raw talent among recruits, the culture of accountability will enable the better athletes to improve at a faster rate.

How did the change from a year ago happen?

“I think the biggest thing is your best players decide they’re sick of falling below the standard,” Jackson said. “And they’re sick of working as hard as they work and then seeing other people not do it. So now it’s come to a point of, ‘Hey, if I’m going to work this hard, I’m holding you to that same standard.’ And us as coaches say: ‘Hey, if your teammate calls you out in a constructive way, then I’m going to have a problem with you going back at that guy.’ That’s what we’ve had to instill in them: ‘Hey, if you’re not being a man and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do to help your teammates and to be a great teammate, then someone’s got to tell you you’re not at that standard.’ ”

Kansas picks last or close to it on the Big 12 recruiting trail, so it must do an excellent job of developing talent to close the gap. That was a huge key to the rise of the program when Mark Mangino was head coach and Chris Dawson was strength and conditioning coach, a role he now fills for Kansas State. That can’t happen without the culture of accountability about which Jackson genuinely is excited.

There you have it, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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