Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”

Frank Mason knows best

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets under Texas guard Kerwin Roach Jr. (12) to throw a pass during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets under Texas guard Kerwin Roach Jr. (12) to throw a pass during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

None of Frank Mason III’s 12 Kansas basketball teammates would consider the senior point guard and leader a selfish player. Sometimes, however, the 5-foot-11 Mason just has to take over.

The Jayhawks weren’t exactly in dire straits, up eight against Texas at halftime Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, but they definitely needed a more assertive Mason down the stretch to win, 79-67.

The veteran has played too many games for KU — 128 and counting — to be unaware of when and how to pounce. It’s instinctual for Mason at this point.

Take one second-half possession as an example. Attacking off the bounce from the perimeter, toward the paint, Mason spotted sophomore big man Carlton Bragg breaking toward the rim behind the UT defense. The point guard jumped off his left foot near the free-throw line appearing poised to float a lob pass Bragg’s way for an easy alley-oop. At the last second, though, Mason opted to take a shot instead, flicking a teardrop high and through the net.

His form on the difficult runner characterized it as one of the floaters he has mastered in his fourth season with Kansas, but just to make sure, Mason was asked about the play after the Jayhawks won their 18th consecutive game, and he finished with double-digit points (17) for the 18th time this season.

The typically stoic play-maker had to laugh when reflecting on the shot that could’ve been a pass if he had altered his aim a couple feet to the right.

“It was actually a floater, but I thought about it,” Mason said, explaining how one of his 15 shot attempts and seven makes was a split-second decision. “That should’ve been a lob to Carlton. It was just a mistake on my end. I’m just happy it went in.”

That’s a charitable assessment. Mason could’ve joked he trusted his shot over Bragg’s, given that one of them is a likely All-American and the other is still trying to find out how to thrive as one of two inside options for the Jayhawks (18-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12). That’s not Frank Mason, though.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Texas guard Kerwin Roach Jr., left, and Texas guard Andrew Jones during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Texas guard Kerwin Roach Jr., left, and Texas guard Andrew Jones during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Mason — averaging 20.1 points and 5.4 assists on the season, following his 17-point, seven-assist outing versus Texas — is a team-first guy. And what Kansas required of him during the final 20 minutes was to control the game.

At intermission, Mason only had five points and three assists, and was 2-for-6 from the field. He only played 14 minutes, due to picking up his second foul midway through the first half.

So what did the cagey Petersburg, Virginia, native do to finish the game? Mason never left the floor in the second half, shot 5-for-9, scored 12 points, dished four assists and did not turn the ball over. He carried the team to its destination after backcourt teammate Devonte’ Graham bolstered the offense in the first half, with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting.

Texas coach Shaka Smart noticed how well the two complemented each other.

“I thought Mason and Graham were awesome in just the way they controlled the game,” Smart said after his team fell to 7-12 overall and 1-6 in the Big 12. “Looking at the stat sheet, those guys — 12 assists and one turnover. That’s what veteran guards do. And then they made some really timely shots, too — six threes between the two of them.”

Mason knocked down two of his four 3-point tries in the victory, bringing his season percentage to .537 — one of the countless examples of the senior’s mammoth impact.

So what changed for the compact floor general to close out the win against Texas?

“Nothing,” Mason said. “Just think I was more aggressive the second half and my teammates found me. I made plays for them and myself. That’s it.”

He would know. No one on the floor has a better feel for what the Jayhawks need.

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Texas 67.

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Texas 67.

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Jayhawks playing faster this season to maximize offensive punch

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court with a steal during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court with a steal during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Finding talented players with which to work never has been an issue for Bill Self in his 14 seasons as the head coach of the Kansas basketball program. Some of Self’s teams have featured dominant big men, others dynamic guards, but every season he knows what will work for the Jayhawks and what won’t.

Often times, Self’s squads are known for their toughness and defense, and this year’s group might get closer to embodying those qualities in the weeks ahead, but there is no questioning the strength of the 2016-17 Jayhawks. It’s their offense.

Led by the high-octane backcourt of senior Frank Mason III, junior Devonte’ Graham and freshman Josh Jackson, KU is averaging 85.8 points per game and shooting 50.4% from the floor (eighth in the nation) entering Saturday’s matchup with Texas. With that trio acting as the team’s lynchpin, and Kansas lacking its typical depth in the post, Self had the savvy to long ago implement an uncharacteristic four-guard lineup and accept that the Jayhawks could maximize their impact by playing faster than his other teams.

Mason, in particular, can push the ball at a breakneck pace in the open court. But it’s not as if the veteran point guard is the only player capable of taking an outlet pass and sprinting up the floor. Any Jayhawk who secures a defensive board can look to Mason, Graham, Jackson, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk or Lagerald Vick and know each one is able to attack the retreating defense.

“What we have, we have four good players that you can pitch ahead and they can all go make plays,” Self said.

Other backcourts in the coach’s time at KU have played fast, but this specific group might end up turbocharging its way past its predecessors. Over the past several years, no Kansas team has played at a pace — defined as possessions per 40 minutes — higher than 69.8. Sports-reference.com only has statistics on pace dating back to 2009-10, but when comparing this year’s number to those the difference is distinct. Eighteen games into the season, KU’s pace is at 72.2.

That’s a great sign the Jayhawks are playing to their strengths, because the more possessions they have the more chances they get to burn opponents with their proficient scoring. KU’s offensive rating — points scored per 100 possessions — currently sits at 118.0, the 10th-best number in the nation.

Season W-L Pace (rank) ORtg (rank) Leading scorer (PPG)
2009-10 33-3 69.4 (77th) 116.8 (2nd) Sherron Collins (15.5)
2010-11 35-3 69.7 (50th) 116 (7th) Marcus Morris (17.2)
2011-12 32-7 67.3 (118th) 108.8 (42nd) Thomas Robinson (17.7)
2012-13 31-6 67.8 (97th) 109.1 (34th) Ben McLemore (15.9)
2013-14 25-10 68.6 (85th) 114.3 (22nd) Andrew Wiggins (17.1)
2014-15 27-9 66.7 (96th) 106.3 (92nd) Perry Ellis (13.8)
2015-16 33-5 69.8 (144th) 115 (14th) Perry Ellis (16.9)
2016-17 17-1 72.2 (97th) 118 (10th) Frank Mason III (20.3)

At times, KU even pushes the ball successfully after an opponent gets a basket, putting its perimeter play-makers in position to score early in the shot clock — bringing on more possessions — as often as possible. Self said he wouldn’t have necessarily encouraged that with previous teams.

“I think playing faster is definitely more of an emphasis,” he said of this season. “No question. I think I'm giving my guys a little bit more freedom to shoot it early, which I think sometimes is good and sometimes it's not good. But the good thing is they're playing with a freer mind.”

In the past, Self would’ve been more likely to discourage his teams from quick shots, instead insisting they swing the ball and run half-court sets regularly. As an example, the coach said when he has a talented big such as Joel Embiid, he wants that man getting touches in the post.

“You know, if we had Joel, those (quick looks) would be bad shots. If you don't have Joel, those are maybe OK shots,” Self said. “So I think our personnels dictate a little bit that we're trying to score earlier.”

Although the coach said he doesn’t ask players to run a secondary break out of transition, quicker shots mean more frequent occasions to have Jackson, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg or anyone in position, really, to attack the offensive glass, as well. The Jayhawks average 14.7 second-chance points a game and, per sports-reference.com, gather 35.7% of available offensive boards (32nd, nationally).

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks to push the ball up the court during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks to push the ball up the court during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

This Kansas team is going to play fast, no matter which combination of five players is on the floor. But doing so when Bragg comes in as the big should be a mandate, too, in order to get the most out of the 6-foot-10 forward’s minutes off the bench. The sophomore, coming off a 10-point outing at Iowa State, identified running the floor in transition as the area where he can be the biggest problem for bigs who are guarding him.

“Just me beating my man up the court,” Bragg said of perhaps his biggest offensive strength.

There’s no guarantee KU will be able to finish the season maintaining its current pace. With 12 more Big 12 contests and the postseason ahead, odds are opponents will try to slow games down as a way to limit the Jayhawks’ effectiveness.

Then again, this group is so swift and Mason so hellbent on winning, there might not be any reliable way to slow KU down.

According to Bragg, the Jayhawks haven’t reached their potential in a number of areas — including offensively.

“I think we can play a lot faster than what we’re playing now,” he said.

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Stock watch: Josh Jackson’s shooting could impact draft position

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Even the greatest players on the planet have their flaws. That’s what makes debating one man’s on-the-court value versus another’s a fundamental element of basketball discussions. For star Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, his strengths are numerous and his imperfections, while scarce, are obvious.

Jackson, who turns 20 in February, is a 6-foot-8 perimeter player with a 6-9.75 wingspan, who can handle the ball, attack the glass, see the floor like a point guard and play — both offensively and defensively — in the stratosphere above the rim. Throw in a competitive streak coaches love and you’re looking at a Jayhawk bound to be taken near the top of the 2017 NBA Draft.

In fact, Jackson might be considered a lock for the No. 1 spot after one season at KU if it wasn’t for his glaring deficiency: shooting.

As the game of basketball keeps evolving, NBA franchises are placing increasing value in the power of the 3-pointer. In his 18 appearances in a Kansas uniform, shooting from behind a 3-point arc that stretches out 20 feet and 9 inches from the basket — closer than The Association’s, semi-circle, which stretches out to 22 feet in the corners and 23-9 up top — Jackson has connected on only 23.7% of his attempts.

KU coach Bill Self didn’t recruit Jackson for his shooting, so it’s not an emphasis for his stud freshman. Plus, the Detroit native is in a bit of a 3-point funk. Jackson very well could start connecting in KU’s upcoming games against Texas and West Virginia and see his season percentage begin building toward a more respectable number, but he has only made four 3’s in the previous 11 games — a stretch in which the freshman is shooting 19% from deep. He’s 2-for-12 (16.7%) in his past five outings.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s at the free-throw line where Jackson’s shooting struggles have been more problematic. Often, Jackson is too long and powerful for a defender trying to stay in front of him or compete for a rebound, so he draws a lot of fouls. But he has only capitalized on 57% of his free-throw tries.

Jackson’s inconsistencies as a shooter at the college level likely are making a moderate impact on his NBA draft stock — though because he’s so talented and shooting is a skill that can be refined, it’s borderline unfeasible to see him dropping out of the top five. So when we say Jackson’s stock is taking a hit, it’s all relative to the top few spots in the draft.

Back in October, before Jackson made his Kansas debut, in mock drafts posted by Draft Express, Bleacher Report, NBADraft.net, Hoops Hype and Fan Sided, his average position was 2nd overall. Two-and-a-half months later, Jackson’s position has slipped in each site’s projections and he averages out as the 4th pick.

- DraftExpress: No. 4 pick

- BleacherReport: No. 5

- NBADraft.net: No. 5

- HoopsHype: No. 5

- FanSided.com: No. 2

If you’re looking for potential reasons for the slight dip, Jackson’s 9-for-38 3-point shooting (23.7%) and 53-for-93 success rate (57%) at the free-throw line stand out.

In a draft that will heavily feature freshmen and perimeter prospects at the very top, Jackson’s shooting numbers lag behind those being posted by some of his competition, such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. — all point guards.

Name Pos. Ht. School Games
3 pt. made-att. (pct.) FT made-att. (pct.)
Josh Jackson SG/SF 6-8 Kansas 18 9-for-38 (23.7%) 53-for-93 (57%)
Markelle Fultz PG 6-4 Washington 17 31-for-75 (41.3%) 73-for-109 (67%)
Lonzo Ball PG 6-6 UCLA 19 46-for-107 (43%) 40-for-59 (67.8%)
Dennis Smith Jr. PG 6-3 N.C. State 19 34-for-92 (37%) 94-for-127 (74%)
Jayson Tatum SF 6-8 Duke 10 11-for-36 (30.6%) 47-for-55 (85.5%)
De'Aaron Fox PG 6-4 Kentucky 18 5-for-37 (13.5%) 74-for-105 (70.5%)
Malik Monk PG/SG 6-4 Kentucky 18 54-for-133 (40.6%) 55-for-66 (83.3%)

Questions about Jackson’s shot and form have existed since he emerged as a star recruit in the prep ranks, so this isn’t necessarily unexpected. What’s more, Jackson still remains in great standing in the minds of scouts and executives in the NBA.

How many college basketball players would love to be in Jackson’s position right now? He’s got two-plus more months of games and plenty of pre-draft workouts and interviews to go through before the draft in June. And we won’t even know until after the regular season which teams will be making the picks at the top.

Jackson could very well end up going No. 1, just like former Kansas standouts Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Danny Manning (1988). An improved stroke on that jumper could get him there.

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Jayhawks’ mettle impressive in victory at Iowa State

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

No one will confuse this year’s Iowa State team with a college basketball juggernaut. The Cyclones’ lack of size ultimately undermined their chances of keeping up with Kansas on the glass or stopping the Jayhawks inside Monday night in a 76-72 KU victory at ISU.

Kansas made the most of its obvious advantages to out-rebound the home team 41-24 and out-score Iowa State in the paint, 52-28. Those qualified as the most impressive numbers of the Jayhawks’ latest win in a streak of 17. But another set of digits rank right up there: 34:09. That’s how many minutes and seconds Kansas led to close its fourth road win of the season.

As coach Bill Self referenced after his No. 2-ranked team remained unblemished in Big 12 play (17-1 overall, 6-0 conference), he expected the Jayhawks’ trip to Hilton Coliseum to be their most taxing road date yet and for the game to be one of the most difficult outside of Allen Fieldhouse this season.

KU’s previous road wins came at UNLV (ranked 194th in the nation by KenPom.com), TCU (KenPom’s No. 32 team) and Oklahoma (73rd at KenPom). Based solely on those numbers, Kansas winning at Iowa State (23rd) qualifies as the team’s best victory since defeating Duke (11th) at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November.

Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) took an 8-6 lead in front of an amped-up home crowd on a layup by Naz Mitrou-Long with 15:50 left in the first half. But one of the country’s supreme guards, KU senior Frank Mason III, scored a layup to tie the game shortly after. What followed was a Cyclones team and fan base ravenous for a home win over Kansas watching in frustration as the Jayhawks never trailed again, following a Mason 3-pointer with 14:09 left in the first half.

Kansas (ranked No. 7 at KenPom) got up as many as 10 points on five occasions, and kept withstanding the Iowa State surges that reinvigorated its antagonistic supporters in the arena. In the second half, when ISU got within four with 12 minutes left, Svi Mykhailiuk drilled a 3 and Landen Lucas scored inside, while the Jayhawks got stops on the other end.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Again, with less than four minutes to go, Iowa State carved its deficit back to four. Then, in a crucial burst, Josh Jackson, Lucas and Mason each scored a basket on three straight trips down the floor.

Ever resilient, ISU still got as close as three points twice in the final 30 seconds. And Kansas got out of Ames with a win thanks to a successful press-break that set up a Lagerald Vick dunk and a much-needed Devonte’ Graham free throw with 0:12 on the clock.

The cynic in you might say the Jayhawks need to do a better job closing out games. The realist in you should remember KU didn’t allow a solid ISU team to lead on its home floor for the final 34:09 of a hotly contested game.

Give Self and his players the credit they deserve. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to regain the lead and set Hilton ablaze with energy. This is the kind of game plenty of top-25 teams could have lost. Yes, KU has its flaws (see: 18 turnovers at Iowa State, the presence of only two bigs on the roster), but there is something to be said for a team with this kind of mettle.

Game after game, Self, his staff and the players find the areas where their opponents can be exploited. And though the competition hasn’t always been taxing (KenPom ranks KU’s non-conference schedule as 87th nationally), Kansas hasn’t walked off any court with a loss since its season-opener.

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Jayhawks trying to find better ways to defend paint

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The undersized, predominantly four-guard Kansas basketball lineup, as it has become so adept at doing this season, gathered enough rebounds inside and even blocked shots here and there Saturday while defeating Oklahoma State, 87-80. A plus-nine margin on the glass and five swats: the types of things the Jayhawks will have to continue doing to win while only playing two bigs — senior Landen Lucas and sophomore Carlton Bragg.

However, KU had less success stopping the Cowboys from getting to the paint for easy buckets. OSU converted eight layups and a tip-in while maintaining a first-half lead, then converted four more layups, two put-backs and a dunk in the final 20 minutes. All of those added up to give the visitors a 44-38 advantage in points in the paint.

It marked the fourth time in five Big 12 victories the Jayhawks (16-1 overall, 5-0 conference) were out-scored inside.

KU’s lack of an interior defensive enforcer — 6-foot-8 wing Josh Jackson leads the team with 24 blocks in 17 games — has been well documented, and head coach Bill Self referenced that as a concern even before freshman center Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury. So the Jayhawks know opponents want to get to the lane via drive or post-ups for high-percentage shots. Self’s players just haven’t yet totally mastered the strategies they’ll need to employ to best defend that coveted real estate near the basket.

Much like Nebraska, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma, the other teams to put up more points in the paint than KU head-to-head this season, Oklahoma State (10-7, 0-5) did so without the help of a go-to post player. Kansas keeps winning, but it has issues containing both penetration and pick-and-roll actions initiated by opposing guards.

Junior KU guard Devonte’ Graham acknowledged giving up so many interior baskets was an issue.

“The offense that they run was kind of tough to guard with the back cuts and having to guard the shooters out there,” Graham said, referencing the 3-point abilities of Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll when dynamic play-maker Jawun Evans had the ball in his hands. “So the bigs was kind of getting open on the back-screen ball screen, because it was hard to guard a back screen from the big and then come up and hedge the ball screen. So that’s where they was getting us a lot on.”

Big 12 Opponents’ Points in Paint vs. KU Points in Paint

TCU 38, KU 32

K-State 46, KU 44

Texas Tech 18, KU 30

Oklahoma 38, KU 28

Okla. St. 44, KU 38

Of late, Graham added, the Jayhawks see more teams finding ways to effectively attack their guards from the perimeter.

“There’s a lot of teams since TCU really killed us and exploited us with it, they’ve been trying to run a lot of side ball screens and have their big guys just roll,” Graham noted of ways opposing guards make things easier for their post players, too.

Six-foot-nine OSU junior forward Mitchell Solomon entered Allen Fieldhouse averaging just 4.2 points a game this season. During one second-half stretch against KU, though, Solomon scored five straight baskets for the Cowboys, all in the paint. Before he fouled out late, Solomon went 6-for-6 from the floor and put up 16 points.

“I thought he killed us on the glass,” Self said, “but he only got four rebounds and three were offensive, and two of them were back-to-back putbacks.”

It didn’t take Self long to figure out how the OSU reserve easily topped his previous career-high for points (10, versus Rogers State): “Now granted he played very well, but Evans forced help, and then our rotations were slow. So even though he benefited from some plays, I think Evans deserves half the credit on those plays.”

Evans wasn’t the first guard hellbent on attacking KU and he won’t be the last. So when Solomon talks about his teammate’s expertise, picture other KU opponents to come mimicking the sentiment and replacing the name Evans with Monte’ Morris or Jevon Carter or whomever serves as that team’s ball-dominant guard.

“If Jawun’s aggressive, there’s really not anybody, I believe, who can stop him. So if he’s doing downhill he’s gonna attract a lot of attention,” Solomon said when asked if the Cowboys thought their ability to score inside versus Kansas would be a factor. “That leaves room for offensive rebounds if he doesn’t finish, which he does often.”

First-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood game-planned for KU expecting the Cowboys’ 3-point shooting and the actions they run offensively to give them their best looks.

“We thought we could take them away from the rim. We felt like in our offense, there’s a lot of cutters, there’s a lot of movement, there’s a lot of weak-side opportunities,” Underwood said. “You put Landen in ball screens, force him to guard, that opens things up in the paint.”

The opposition has taken note of one of KU’s weaknesses, so the Jayhawks should expect more of the same in the weeks ahead, around the Big 12 and at Kentucky (Jan. 28).

Self identified quicker defensive rotations and recognition from his guard-heavy lineup as one way to better defend the paint.

“Whenever there’s a ball screen, or pinch-post action or handoff that occurs, everybody’s gotta jump to it. And if you go back and watch the tape, Evans made some great plays to get the ball to Solomon. But our rotations were slow,” Self said.

“Whenever you go help somebody, the natural tendency is throw the ball in the direction that the help came from,” the coach continued. “So if you’re an alert defensive player, the tendency is that, ‘Well, if I know that they’re gonna throw it here, I should be able to put myself in a position not to allow that to happen.’ And we were slow doing that.”

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

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In KU’s search for eighth man, energetic Mitch Lightfoot most likely candidate

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Ideally, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self says, he would like to implement an eight-man rotation this season — something Self was able to do before freshman center Udoka Azubuike suffered a season-ending wrist injury.

On the perimeter, the coach has all the help he needs in Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick. But down low, Self would love to trust either Mitch Lightfoot or Dwight Coleby enough to have them support Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg. The coach just is not there yet.

“I would like nothing more than for those guys, for another big, to give us seven to 10 minutes a game — I think that would be very good for our team,” Self said. “Neither one of them are quite ready to do that.”

On the year, Lightfoot, a freshman forward from Gilbert, Arizona, is averaging just 4.1 minutes, 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds. Through four Big 12 games for Kansas (15-1 overall, 4-0 conference), though, the 6-foot-8 backup has only got off the bench in two games and played four combined minutes.

Earlier this week at Oklahoma — after Bragg picked up two first-half fouls and Self wanted to protect Lucas from picking up a second foul before halftime — Lightfoot entered the game, missed a shot, and committed one foul and one turnover in one minute before Self took him out of the game and decided against putting him in again.

At that point, Self gave Coleby, who had yet to play a minute of Big 12 basketball, a shot. The 6-foot-9 junior, who transferred to Kansas from Ole Miss, grabbed a defensive rebound, got whistled for setting an illegal screen and returned to the bench for good after playing two minutes.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

The coach wanted to see, on the road with his team struggling at the time, if either Lightfoot or Coleby could give the Jayhawks what they needed.

“And in that little stretch there, it was a really bad stretch,” Self said. “And it wasn't all on them, but coincidentally (the Sooners) were in the game, so they didn't get a chance to play as much.”

So what would Self like to see from either Lightfoot or Coleby (averaging 1.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 5.6 minutes — and just 10 appearances — this season) that would inspire him to utilize one of them more?

“I would say just being able to carry out defensive assignments and play smarter. There are some things, like Mitch — I want to play Mitch — and he got in the game the other day. It's not that it's that complicated, but we're ball screen defense, in what we call 32. And, you know, he forgot to hedge a ball screen,” Self explained. “The guy just went and made a layup. And you can't have that. It's an easy play. And I think it's not that he can't do it. It's just that he gets excited right now and he's trying too hard.”

KU’s veteran big man, Lucas, knows exactly what his coach is talking about when Self references Lightfoot’s enthusiasm. The senior can’t help but laugh when he thinks about how the freshman’s exuberance manifests itself at practices, where Lightfoot is most involved on the court.

“An example of this is he says everything he’s doing. We’ll be at practice and we’ll joke with him, ‘You don’t have to say, OK, breathe now. Blink.’ Something like that,” Lucas shared. “He says ‘ball fake,’ just everything. It just shows how much he’s trying, which is good. You want guys to try.”

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. by Nick Krug

It appears Lightfoot is more likely than Coleby to become the eighth man Self wants, because of his activity and athleticism. Coleby, the coach says, still hasn’t fully recovered to the form he showed at Ole Miss, prior to tearing his ACL in late 2015.

“I do think that Mitch has a chance to be a really good player,” Self said. “He’s an athlete, he’s tough. But right now, he’s got to be able to take the practice and do the things that the team needs him to do in the short minutes that he’s in there. And he’s just been a little bit inconsistent with that.”

Lucas, who sees the work Lightfoot and Coleby put in behind closed doors, thinks both have the ability to make a positive impact for KU this season.

“Mitch and Dwight are great bigs. (At) most schools they’re playing a lot. I have a ton of faith in them. They’ve just gotta understand what they can come in and do well for our team during those short periods of time. It took me a while, too. It’s not easy,” said Lucas, who played just 4.9 minutes a game as a redshirt freshman during the 2013-14 season. “You kind of get out there and expect, you start thinking, ‘OK, maybe I’ve gotta make a couple shots to stay in the game for longer or prolong my time,’ but that’s not how it works, you know. If you want to go out there and stay out there, everybody else around you has to be better — the team has to be better — and you have to extend the lead or come back, whatever the case is.”

Self thinks Lightfoot will perform better once the coach can put the freshman in a game and keep him in for extended minutes — a scenario that could play out the next time Kansas builds a significant second-half lead.

Lucas envisions his young teammate improving, too, by making the best use of his feistiness.

“But the next step is, all right now, concentrate that on the right things, don’t overthink things,” Lucas said. “It’s better, I’m sure, as a coach, to pull a player’s excitement and stuff back than try to do it the other way. So he has the right mindset when he goes out there, he has the right energy. Now it’s just kind of making sure that he’s understanding and focusing in on what he needs to do and channel all that energy in the right places.”

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Ryan Willis’ decision to transfer was inevitable

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In what is sure to go down as the least surprising development of the offseason for Kansas football — even beating out the departure of former offensive coordinator Rob Likens — quarterback Ryan Willis announced Wednesday he is transferring out of the program.

The only mystery surrounding the next step of Willis’ college career was when he would reveal it and where he would go next. As it turned out, the two-year Jayhawk from nearby Bishop Miege chose Virginia Tech the week before the start of the spring semester at KU.

The notion that the QB’s days in Lawrence were numbered became clear months earlier, after head coach David Beaty decided to move on from Willis as a starter.

The first four weeks of the 2016 season, Willis bounced on and off the field, trading spots with Montell Cozart behind center. After that two-quarterback experiment failed, Beaty handed the offense over to Willis ahead of a home game against TCU. The Jayhawks nearly pulled off an upset victory in a 24-23 loss during Willis’ first start as a sophomore (he also started the final eight games of 2015 as a true freshman), and he threw for 348 yards against the Horned Frogs. However, he also threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and took six sacks in a winnable game.

The following week, at Baylor, went much worse. Again, Willis tossed three picks, and he only completed 10 of 19 passes for 89 yards. The Bears sacked him four times, and the Kansas offense didn’t score until late in what turned out be a 49-7 loss. Plus, KU’s lone touchdown came with Willis watching from the bench.

Willis never threw another pass for Kansas after that Baylor loss. Beaty went back to Cozart as the starter the following week — though that didn’t work either. By the time another switch came and redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over at QB, it was easy to envision Willis, who still has two years of eligibility left, moving on. Once Beaty got junior college QB Peyton Bender, formerly of Washington State, on board and referenced him as a player who would push Stanley for the starting job, why would Willis even want to stay?

Beaty’s version of the Air Raid offense and Willis just didn’t fit. This isn’t to say Willis won’t play well at Virginia Tech if given the chance. He is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, has a strong arm, and is faster than one might anticipate when he runs. As evidenced by the sacks he took, Willis didn’t have the benefit of playing for a dominant offensive line and he probably held on to the ball too long at times, hoping for something other than a quick pass to the sideline to develop.

He needed a change and he got one at a university that, unlike Kansas, is known for football success.

Willis wasn’t going to become the quarterback who turned the KU program around, but he tried his best to do so while he was in Lawrence. Ultimately both sides can move on now, which is the most important aspect of it all.

Beaty and QB coach Garrett Riley can focus on developing Stanley, Bender and 2017 redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks for the coming season.

Realistically, four quarterbacks is too many, barring a series of unfortunate injuries. Willis knew that and left KU behind. Smart decision.

The next question is: will another similarly inspired Bishop Miege alum, Cozart, leave the quarterbacks room for another position for his senior season at Kansas? Spring football isn’t too far away and Cozart said a year ago he was open to switching spots if the staff needed him to. We shall see.

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Jayhawks harnessing 3-point prowess to keep victories coming

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a three against Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a three against Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

As Bill Self directs Kansas toward what he hopes will be the basketball program’s 13th consecutive Big 12 title, it has become clear this isn’t one of his typical teams, and not just because he doesn’t have as much frontcourt depth as he would like and is forced to play four-guard lineups much of the time.

Those perimeter-oriented combinations Self puts on the floor work so well because every guard and wing isn’t one-dimensional when the ball reaches his hands. The Jayhawks have drivers and shooters outside, and wouldn’t be ranked No. 2 in the country or riding a 15-game winning streak without the power of the 3-pointer.

Down nine at the half on the road Tuesday night at Oklahoma, KU recovered for an 81-70 victory by harnessing one of its biggest offensive strengths. A 3-for-11 first-half display from behind the arc influenced a putrid showing early against the worst team in the Big 12. But the Jayhawks and senior leader Frank Mason III proved, on most nights, opponents just aren’t going to be able to stop them from creating high-percentage 3-pointers and cashing in on the best of those looks.

Mason couldn’t miss from long range during the second-half KU rally, knocking in all four of his 3-point tries. When Mason takes over, his teammates follow. With juniors Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham joining the barrage, Kansas shot 9-for-16 from long range in the final 20 minutes.

Mykhailiuk, whose 3 just after intermission helped ignite a 54-point second half, said Mason, per usual, made everything easier for his teammates on offense.

“Oh, yeah, because he is a really good driver,” said Mykhailiuk, who scored all nine of his points on 3’s in the closing half. “I think nobody can guard him. He’s just beating his guy and the other guy gotta help, and that’s what (creates) open (shots).”

During his 28-point outing, the 5-foot-11 Mason only missed one of six 3-point attempts, bringing his percentage on the year to an astounding 54.9%. Mason, following his ninth game of 20-plus points this season, said it was just his night.

“The first shot I missed even felt good, but you know I was just in rhythm on every shot and I think all them 3’s I made were pretty good shot selections,” Mason said after knocking down at least five from deep for the third time in his spectacular senior season. “So I hope that continue to happen movin' forward.”

Before the Jayhawks (15-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) get too excited about ranking fourth in the nation in 3-point accuracy (42.2%), though, their coach will remind them not all of their looks from downtown have been ideal.

“I thought they came pretty out of rhythm and I thought a lot of them came in transition and in the open court,” Self said on the subject of KU’s nine successful 3-pointers in the second half at OU (6-9, 0-4).

“You know, there was a really big play where Frank makes a terrible play, late clock, and they steal it and the kid (one of the Sooners) tries to throw it from his back, I think, up the court and we steal it back and make a 3,” Self gave as an example. “Plays like that, that could’ve been a five-point swing right there. So we were pretty fortunate on some plays like that.”

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

Even though Self previously has been a noted skeptic of trusting the 3-pointer, know that he says these types of things as a way to keep his players from settling, instead of working for a better shot. He knows this Kansas team has the shooters to capitalize from long range, but he wants them to do so on open looks off of ball movement or drive-and-kick situations whenever possible.

“But I thought we took pretty good looks,” Self admitted of a decisive second-half run when KU assisted on six of its nine 3’s.

Sixteen games into the season, Mason (39-for-71 from deep) has proven to be KU’s best from distance, but he also has help. Graham is shooting 38% (38 of 100), while both Mykhailiuk (36-for-81) and sophomore sub Lagerald Vick (20-for-45) are connecting on 44% of their 3’s. Among the guards, only freshman Jackson (9-for-35) has struggled, at 26%.

“When (Mason) and Devonte’ and Svi are shootin’ the ball,” Self said, “and Lagerald, too, although Lagerald didn’t (at OU, 1-for-2 on 3’s, 1-for-6 from the floor) — but when those guys are shootin' the ball well from the perimeter it makes it pretty hard to guard.”

KU has shot 40% or better from 3-point range in nine games now, and while an off night or a slump could come at some point, the Jayhawks won’t abandon the weapon they’ll need to get this team where it wants to go.

Said Mykhailiuk: “We’re shooting pretty good. You know, everybody can shoot on our team: Frank, Devonte’, me, Josh, Lagerald. So we’re just driving the ball real aggressive and when the defense sucks in we just throw it to the 3-point line. It’s an open shot.”

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Josh Jackson learning from few run-ins with officials

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) converses with an official during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) converses with an official during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson won’t play college basketball for long, but while he’s doing so at the University of Kansas, part of his on-court education involves learning how to best carry himself when things don’t go his way.

Back in November, during just his second game with the Jayhawks, Jackson picked up his first technical foul as a collegian on a national stage, with KU facing Duke at Madison Square Garden. Jackson slapped the ball away from one of the Blue Devils during a dead ball, earning a “T” that ultimately kept him off the floor in the closing minutes of a tight game, because it counted as one of his five personal fouls.

Jackson, while not always thrilled with officials’ calls in the weeks that followed, avoided another technical foul until Big 12 play began a little more than a week ago. Then the 6-foot-8 wing did enough to inspire officials to whistle at him on a technicality in back-to-back games.

Publicly, KU coach Bill Self defended Jackson for the “T’s” at TCU and against Kansas State, but Self also worried his star freshman might have developed a reputation for needing to get in the final word with referees.

Now that he has played 15 games for KU (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12), Jackson was asked following a tech-free outing against Texas Tech whether he thought he has become a marked man with officials and if he thought he needed to change anything about his on-court persona.

“I honestly don’t think so,” said Jackson, known for his affable nature off the court. “I think I have three technical fouls this year and I can honestly say I deserved one (against Duke). But just trying to move on to the next play a little bit — I think I did a good job of that (versus the Red Raiders).”

In fact, early in the first half of the Tech game, Jackson was called for an offensive foul on a drive to the paint, and though his face showed he didn’t agree with the assessment, he didn’t initiate a conversation with an official to sound off on the matter. What’s more, during the next stoppage in play, Jackson calmly approached a referee for an explanation on the charge call.

“Some refs are different. Some give you a technical foul for a lot less than others will,” Jackson said of his early lessons in navigating conversations with college officiating crews. “You’ve just gotta move on to the next play no matter what, because after they make the call you can’t change it anyway.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self lays into an official after a technical foul was called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the second half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self lays into an official after a technical foul was called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the second half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

There are bound to be far more intense games than KU-TT on the horizon, so there are no guarantees Jackson will finish his one-and-done season without picking up another technical. Still, he appears to be processing the positives and negatives that come with displaying his fiery side during competition.

Jackson certainly won’t let his past indiscretions — perceived or real — change who he is on the court. But, as his coach also pointed out, he’s too massive a talent to allow technical fouls to become a recurring issue.

More lessons for the freshman

It didn’t take Jackson long to find out Big 12 games take on a different level of passion than some of those non-conference undercards KU played in December. An NBA prospect expected to be taken in the first few picks of the draft this coming June, Jackson fouled out of the Jayhawks’ win at TCU, playing just 12 minutes and contributing only four points and two rebounds (both season-lows).

“Guys come out and play a lot harder, especially with Kansas winning the league so many years in a row,” said Jackson, who bounced back with 22 points against K-State and 17 versus Tech, making him the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week. “… There’s a target on our back. Everybody would love to beat us. If you asked any team in this league if they could beat one team, just win one game, I guarantee you they would say us.”

Tuesday night at Oklahoma, the Sooners (6-8, 0-3) will fall into that category. Playing with Kansas on the front of their jerseys and figurative bull’s eyes on their backs might be difficult, but Jackson said he and his teammates don’t mind.

“I think all of us really love a challenge,” he said. “We welcome it and it just really shows us, gives us a chance to see how tough we are and what we really can do.”

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Long to-do list no problem for freshman Josh Jackson

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) knocks a rebound away from Texas Tech forward Zach Smith during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) knocks a rebound away from Texas Tech forward Zach Smith during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

For a freshman who Kansas basketball coach Bill Self asks to do, well, just about everything, Josh Jackson never becomes overwhelmed with his job responsibilities.

The 6-foot-8 wing from Detroit flashed his abundant strengths at various points of the Jayhawks’ 85-68 win over Texas Tech Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse, where he scored 17 points, secured a game-high 10 rebounds, blocked three shots, took away two steals, dished one assist, hit a 3-pointer and played a starring role in his team’s overall improved defensive intensity.

The future NBA lottery pick supplied the home crowd with his standard supply of savage highlight dunks, too, but it was another area on offense where his endless potential glowed. Half of Jackson’s rebounds came on Kansas misses, and when he attacked the glass and came away with the ball, the Red Raiders didn’t have much success in stopping him.

His five offensive rebounds directly led to eight of KU’s 23 second-chance points. Jackson shot 7-for-15 on the night, and in the first half when he badly missed a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow, he was the first to meet the ball on the right side of the backboard when it clanged off the rim.

The do-it-all freshman said Self has emphasized his need to take an active role on the offensive glass.

“Definitely another one of my jobs,” Jackson said, with a grin.

How many jobs does he have exactly? It seems like a pretty long list.

“Not really that long,” Jackson claimed. “Probably got about four or five key ones.”

That statement’s hard to believe when it comes from a 19-year-old phenom who is KU’s second-leading scorer (15.3 points a game, behind Frank Mason III’s 19.9), second-best rebounder (6.6, barely trailing Landen Lucas’ 6.9), leading shot-blocker (22), tied for the team lead in steals (23, same as Devonte’ Graham), third in assists (3.2 a game) and No. 1 in offensive rebounding (38).

So just realize there actually is no shortlist for Jackson, when it comes to where he needs to impact the game for the Jayhawks (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12).

If you ask Self where his latest one-and-done talent needs to make his mark most, he’ll refute Jackson’s claims, explaining the wing’s list of responsibilities actually is quite lengthy.

“You play hard, you defend, you rebound and you let the game come to you and you do what the game dictates,” Self said of his general demands for the star freshman. “But he should be a guy that I think should impact every area of the game — which he actually is doing a good job. He’s a good passer, he’s a good shot-blocker, he got his hands on balls for steals, he should be our best offensive rebounder — I think he got five tonight. I mean, there’s a lot of things that I think he did really well tonight.”

Jackson’s latest loaded stat output gave him his third double-double of the season, and, naturally, he said collecting rebounds is just part of his job.

“Everybody, every last guy, has a job that they’re supposed to do,” Jackson said. “Behind Landen I think I’m the guy who’s supposed to be down there bangin' and trying to grab a couple of rebounds and block shots, especially after, you know, losing Udoka (Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury), who’s a pretty big piece of our team. We definitely all gotta step up in that category.”

As the number of games Jackson has left in a Kansas uniform diminishes, Self doesn’t mind asking him to expand his on-court obligations to the Jayhawks’ cause.

“But to me that should be the same thing every game,” Self added. “You may look at an opponent and say, ‘You know what, they’re gonna put a big guy on him, so this could be a team that he could drive more (against).’ Or ‘They may put a little guy on him, so this could maybe be a team that we could post him more,’ you know, things like that. But for the most part it doesn’t change game to game on what we expect him to do.”

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Texas Tech


By the Numbers: Kansas 85, Texas Tech 68

By the Numbers: Kansas 85, Texas Tech 68

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In search of another league title, Jayhawks quickly reminded it’s not easy to win in Big 12

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and veteran Jayhawks such as Frank Mason III, who have been through more conference encounters than they can count off the top of their heads, will tell you there is nothing easy about winning the Big 12 — even if the Jayhawks have done so 12 years in a row.

The first couple of stops on what many imagined would be an uneventful journey to KU’s 13th consecutive league crown, though, back up the case made by those responsible for the conference dominance some observers have taken as a foregone conclusion.

The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks couldn’t ever completely bury TCU on the road in their Big 12 opener, and it took a controversial buzzer-beater at the end of regulation for them to defeat rival Kansas State inside Allen Fieldhouse.

Victories, of course, often are considered more important than the minutia that made them possible. But Self said opening league play with back-to-back taxing outings should give his players something to think about as they prepare for a Saturday home game against Texas Tech (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) and the next couple of months in front of them.

“But I think there’s been a lot of nice reminders for our guys on just how hard it is to win,” the 14th-year KU coach said, “and especially in a league where — I mean, this is no disrespect to anybody — but I think most, in fans’ minds, think if you go to TCU, based on the past few years, that that should be a game that you should for sure win. And as coaches, we know that we're gonna have to play to win, because they’re so much improved.”

This week, the Big 12 has three teams — No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 KU and No. 7 West Virginia — ranked among the top seven in the country in the AP poll. Even the unranked teams have generated some buzz just two games into the conference schedule. The Red Raiders knocked off WVU on Tuesday, in Lubbock, Texas, on the same night K-State had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds at Kansas. The next day, Iowa State lost by two at Baylor. Eight of the league’s 10 teams have at least one Big 12 victory already, and only Kansas and Baylor enter the weekend without a conference loss.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to pass during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to pass during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

KenPom.com ranks the Big 12’s eight best teams among the top 40 in the country: No. 2 WVU, No. 6 BU, No. 7 KU, No. 27 ISU, No. 28 Tech, No. 30 K-State, No. 38 TCU and No. 39 Oklahoma State. And even the Cowboys lost at No. 79 Texas, which has struggled to a 7-7 start in Shaka Smart’s second season.

“Well, I think there's no question that our league is underrated,” Self said, “and it's rated very high, and it's still underrated. I think you could say, you could make a strong case, that the ACC has more good teams in their league than anybody else. But that's also in large part the numbers are so much bigger. They've got five more teams … to pick from.

“But I think our league is a monster,” Self continued. “And you know, coaches after games sometimes can be emotional and mad or happy, and there's been a time or two I've been that way, as well. But the TCU win was a good win. They're gonna beat a lot of people at TCU.”

An even stronger argument along those lines could be made for K-State (12-2, 1-1), and Self said the Jayhawks (13-1, 2-0) don’t have to apologize for eking out a win against the Wildcats — even if KU avoided overtime because the officials didn’t whistle Svi Mykhailiuk for traveling.

“Although I didn't think we played well, I think Kansas State's a really good team. I think they did some things that didn't allow us to play well,” Self explained. “So I think winning at home is going to be a premium again. But I don't think the home wins are gonna come as easy as a lot of people perceive them to be as they have in year's past, because there’s just more good teams in our league.”

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a rebound from Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu (25) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a rebound from Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu (25) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

To his point, the latest NCAA Tournament projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi place six Big 12 teams in the field: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, Lunardi lists Texas Tech among the “first four out” and K-State in the “next four out” — so eight league teams, at least in early January, are in the mix for March Madness.

Mason, KU’s senior point guard who is averaging 18.5 points and 5.5 assists in Big 12 action, said there are easy lessons to take away from his team’s two narrow conference wins.

“Even when we’re not playing good we still have to rebound the ball and make the other team play as bad as we are,” Mason began. “You know, we have to stay coachable, keep ptichin' the ball ahead, execute on the offensive end. And we have to make free throws, and just make the right play, make the extra pass.”

Quickly this season, the Jayhawks have been reminded it’s not easy to win in the Big 12. Their coach, as one might expect, plans on hammering that message home, and letting the players know there are no certainties in league play.

“And I think that's the one thing that we really need to sell to all our players, and I think that other coaches will sell to their respective players is that, hey, everybody's better than they were last year — for the most part,” Self said. “Everybody's better. So don't look at an opponent based on what happened last year. Everybody's improved. Everybody's added some nice pieces.”

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Top 10 most important members of KU football program in 2016

Kansas head coach David Beaty runs off the field with his first win after beating Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty runs off the field with his first win after beating Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

According to the most important numbers — the ones corresponding with wins and losses — 2016 didn’t look too remarkable for the University of Kansas football program, as the Jayhawks won two games and lost 10.

Using only those digits, the season seemed similar to the six before it for KU, during which three head coaches and one interim coach led the team. In a seven-year stretch from 2010 to 2016, Kansas never won more than three games in a season, and finished with an average record of 2-10.

So it’s easy to lump the latest campaign with the rest of the ugly falls that preceded it. However, doing so doesn’t take into account the context of watching David Beaty’s second KU football team far outperform his first in terms of competence and competitiveness. The numbers 2 and 10 don’t factor in the many talented players who improved this past season, positively impacting the product on the field and giving the fan base some signs of real progress

Here is a look at the 10 Jayhawks who made the biggest impact for KU football in 2016 — a year that could end up marking a turning point for a long-struggling program.

No. 10: Running backs coach Tony Hull

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. by Nick Krug

For all the work assistant coach Hull put in during practices and with game preparation for the team’s running backs, he also quickly established himself as an important individual in KU’s recruiting strategy during his first year with the program.

A former high school coach in New Orleans, Hull’s ties to the region already have helped Kansas bring in talents such as safety Mike Lee, who became a key defensive starter, and quarterback Tyriek Starks, who took a redshirt season. Hull also served as lead recruiter on Class of 2017 commitments Takulve Williams (two-star receiver) and Travis Jordan (three-star athlete). Plus, his presence has helped the Jayhawks earn consideration from still available touted prospects, such as Brad Stewart, a four-star defensive back.

With Hull in place, Kansas seems in position to target quality recruits in a part of the country where it otherwise might not have been able to get involved.

No. 9: Offensive tackle D’Andre Banks

D'Andre Banks

D'Andre Banks by John Young

During his senior season at Kansas, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman played anywhere position coach Zach Yenser needed him. Banks began the year playing left tackle, because Jordan Shelley-Smith was injured and true freshman Hakeem Adeniji wasn’t ready yet. The Killeen, Texas, native even started a game at right guard at Memphis, as KU continued to tweak its O-line combinations.

The final eight games of the year, Banks returned to his rightful spot at right tackle, and down the stretch KU’s O-line became more effective, with the help of the senior leader.

No. 8: Quarterback Carter Stanley

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) heaves a pass around Baylor linebacker Raaquan Davis (19) during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) heaves a pass around Baylor linebacker Raaquan Davis (19) during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

True, the redshirt freshman quarterback only started three games for Kansas this past season, but Stanley’s presence on the field coincided with by far the best stretch of 2016 for the Jayhawks.

Stanley, of course, controlled the offense during the team’s overtime victory over Texas — KU’s lone Big 12 victory. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB actually had better individual numbers in KU losses against Iowa State (26-for-38, 171 yards, TD, interception) and at Kansas State (24-for-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).

With Stanley at QB, KU consistently competed, and that couldn’t be said for other stretches of the season.

No. 7: Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen

Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen celebrates with linebacker Courtney Arnick after a defensive stop  during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen celebrates with linebacker Courtney Arnick after a defensive stop during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2015, the Kansas defense routinely blew tackles and coverages, contributing mightily to a woeful 0-12 campaign. A year later, Bowen and his assistants turned the Jayhawks’ defense into a strength.

In Big 12 play this past year, KU ranked first in the conference in third-down conversion defense (37.4 percent), second in pass defense (248.0 yards allowed a game), third in red-zone defense (78 percent), and fifth in interceptions (eight), sacks (22) and opponent first downs (24.2 a game).

The work Bowen, linebackers coach Todd Bradford, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry and D-line coach Michael Slater did with their players set the tone for a season highlighted by headway.

No. 6: Safety Mike Lee

Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) intercepts a pass during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) intercepts a pass during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

When the true freshman safety graduated early from high school and arrived on campus ready to play a year ahead of schedule, no one expected Lee to transform so quickly into a play-maker.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back from New Orleans came off the bench in his first three appearances for Kansas and did not play at all in Week 2. But Lee’s hard hits became one of the consistent bright spots for Kansas, beginning with the team’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.

From that point on, while at times learning on the fly, the first-year safety started the final eight games. Lee, whose overtime interception versus Texas will be remembered for a long time at Memorial Stadium, finished second on the team in total tackles (77), while tying KU’s leader in that category, senior safety Fish Smithson, for the most solo tackles (70).

No. 5: Wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) puts a juke move on Texas cornerback Kris Boyd (2) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) puts a juke move on Texas cornerback Kris Boyd (2) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The Kansas offense often didn’t look pretty this past year, but when it peaked Sims often played a prominent role. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound wide receiver became someone opposing defensive coordinators had to game-plan to stop.

Sims’ breakout sophomore season included four games of 100-plus yards, as he led KU in receptions (72), yardage (859) and touchdowns (seven). His confidence and maturity showed on the field and off, as he worked to become an impact player as an underclassman while operating in a system that used three different starting quarterbacks and ranked eighth in passing (231.9 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.8 points a game) in Big 12 play.

No. 4: Head coach David Beaty

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat to Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (10) as the defense leaves the field following a Memphis touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat to Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (10) as the defense leaves the field following a Memphis touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. by Nick Krug

The head coach’s first season doubling as offensive coordinator might not have gone as well as he wanted, but ultimately the notable overall progress within the program happened under his watch, and Beaty deserves credit for the strides made by the players and in recruiting.

Beaty’s undying positivity trickles down throughout the team, and that showed during the final month of the season. Although the Jayhawks struggled much of the year, they finally began playing at a higher level in the final weeks, when players under a lesser leader could have mentally and physically checked out.

Day after day, Beaty found ways to win over players and prospects, building momentum for a 2017 with increased expectations.

No. 3: Safety Fish Smithson

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016. by Alonzo Adams/The Associated Press

Speaking of positivity, you won’t meet many more upbeat players than Smithson, a defensive captain and outgoing senior. Week after week for the past couple of seasons, the safety had to answer media questions about KU’s shortcomings, and never did he let it impact him negatively.

Smithson’s personality helped his production on the field, too. Even when he made a mistake on one snap, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety would come back the next ready to demand more of himself.

As he walks away from the program, the Jayhawks will not only miss his 93 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, but also his leadership and ability to get his teammates in the right spots.

No. 2: Defensive tackle Daniel Wise

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) looks to bring down Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson (32) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) looks to bring down Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson (32) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

When the Kansas defense needed a stop, the man breaking through with a crucial push at the point of attack tended to be Wise, the powerful, 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle form Lewisville, Texas.

The talkative sophomore had the sills to back up any in-game (or pre-game) chatter he sent in the direction of the opposition, thanks to an offseason filled with work toward vastly improving his strength and technique. Playing a position where it can be difficult to accumulate much statistical proof of one’s worth, Wise finished seventh on the team in total tackles, with 38, while making 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and even blocking two extra points.

Wise’s presence made it easier for his teammates around him to do their jobs, too, as offenses game-planned to limit how the tackle could impact the line of scrimmage.

No. 1: Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In his sophomore season at KU, Armstrong transformed into one of the most feared defensive ends around, easily making him a consensus All-Big 12 first-teamer.

Fittingly, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman from Houston’s most complete performance came in the Jayhawks’ victory over Texas — the program’s beacon of better things to come. Armstrong not only made 11 total tackles, but aded two sacks, three tackles for loss, while both forcing and recovering a fumble.

Armstrong’s 20 tackles for loss on the season made him the Big 12’s leader in that category, and he finished second in sacks (10) to Kansas State senior — and fellow all-league D-lineman — Jordan Willis (11.5).

If Kansas, under Beaty, can start climbing out of the ditch it has lived in since Mark Mangino left, Armstrong is the type of star player the coach needs to make it happen.

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Josh Jackson proves he can block shots, too

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) blocks a shot by Nebraska forward Ed Morrow (30) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) blocks a shot by Nebraska forward Ed Morrow (30) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Since his arrival at Kansas, uber-talented freshman Josh Jackson routinely has shown he can do anything coach Bill Self or his teammates ask of him — and even some things they haven’t.

At no point would Self consider attempting to mold his 6-foot-8 perimeter star into a rim protector for the Jayhawks. But Jackson proved in KU’s most recent victory, over Nebraska, he could probably do that, too.

Sure, No. 3 Kansas (9-1) needs Jackson to score (14.3 points per game, 53.3-percent shooting from the floor), rebound (6.1 boards a game) and distribute (3.4 assists) while complimenting veteran guards Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. Still, the do-it-all wing swatted away five shots against the Cornhuskers in the midst of all his typical contributions.

“He’s our best shot-blocker, obviously,” Self said after Jackson added that denial-filled performance to a 17-point, six-rebound outing.

The thing is, the head coach doesn’t want to bestow that designation upon his star freshman, even though Jackson has led KU in blocks four times already. Self would prefer one of his traditional big men emerge as the top rejecting defender in a KU uniform. He said 7-foot freshman Udoka Azubuike “should be” the best shot-blocker and 6-10 Landen Lucas, a fifth-year senior, should rank second.

“But I think Josh probably goes after the ball as well as anybody,” Self added.

Per usual, the 14th-year KU coach knows exactly what he’s talking about. When Jackson is in help position, he’s ready and willing to thwart drives to the paint, just as Nebraska found out in its trip to Allen Fieldhouse. There are going to be times when even tough-minded Mason can’t keep in front of his man. Jackson showed not only can he slide over to divert a path to the rim, he knows how to jump straight up and utilize that 6-foot-9 wingspan to his advantage.

via GIPHY

Jackson thrives on jumping passing lanes on the perimeter and creating either deflections or steals to ignite a fast break, but he also makes sure to not just occupy space as a weak-side defender. His instincts help him on the interior, too — as does his crazy athleticism. In two quick steps, the 19-year-old NBA-lottery-pick-to-be can come from the opposite block to alter or knock away a layup.

via GIPHY

As intuitive an all-around basketball player as a coach could ever hope to recruit, one would think Self would embrace the concept of Jackson as an option as the last line of defense in the paint. Kansas could benefit from a fast, long perimeter talent roaming the floor and chipping in as an interior stopper when necessary, the same way Kevin Durant does for Golden State. Self certainly isn’t opposed to Jackson playing that type of role, but when asked if Jackson could serve as a rim protector in KU’s four-guard lineups, the coach knocked that concept into the student section.

“But you say rim protector, no. Rim protector to me is when there’s mistakes made on the perimeter and you’ve got that guy that can cover up for him. He’s not Jeff Withey by any stretch,” Self said of Jackson, while referencing the program’s all-time leading redirector of shots. “But he is a guy that can make a lot of blocks and a lot of his blocks kind of come from transition and things like that where he can run guys down.”

Reality on this subject lies somewhere in between. The fact is KU will utilize a lot of smaller lineup combinations this season, dissimilar from Self teams of the past. When Jackson is essentially the so-called power forward on the floor, the Jayhawks will benefit from him making smart defensive stops inside as a helper.

Self’s hesitance to label his stud freshman as a rim protector has as much to do with his desire for Azubuike and Lucas to step up and take on that task. While Azubuike’s 1.8 blocks per game lead Kansas, Jackson is right behind him at 1.5. The coach needs Azubuike, his 280-pound pivot, to be more of an intimidator. Lucas showed during his junior year his smarts and positioning can make him a stopper in the paint, but his injury issues have slowed him so far this season, leading to his 0.9 blocks per game average.

Truthfully, as Self admitted, Jackson just prevents would-be buckets around the rim better than any other player on the roster. His competitive nature plays a part in that, too. On one play against Nebraska, Jackson left his man in the left corner in order to help in the paint against a big. When that defensive response prompted a kick out to Jackson’s man, who was cutting baseline, Jackson immediately returned his attention where it needed to be and rose up to smack away the layup attempt.

via GIPHY

Self might not consider Jackson a rim protector in the half-court in the traditional sense, simply because he doesn’t occupy as much of an area in the paint as Azubuike or Lucas or Withey. But Jackson can control the air space in front of the backboard with ease as the 4-man in KU’s four-guard lineups.

via GIPHY

When Jackson is the last line of defense instead of Lucas or Azubuike or Carlton Bragg or Dwight Coleby, the Jayhawks have no need to worry. Their outstanding freshman is as likely as anyone to thwart a layup or dunk and provide Kansas with those defensive stops Self values so greatly.

via GIPHY

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KU football signs eight players from 2017 recruiting class, including QB Peyton Bender

Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender (6) drops back to pass against Washington in the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender (6) drops back to pass against Washington in the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Kansas football coach David Beaty and his staff solidified eight spots in the program’s 2017 recruiting class Wednesday, when a handful of future Jayhawks signed their national letters of intent on the first day of the mid-year signing period, which runs through mid-January.

Headlined by former Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender, KU’s influx of new talent mostly featured junior college transfers such as Bender, who spent his sophomore season at Itawamba Community College. But it also included one high school senior, linebacker Kyron Johnson, of Arlington Lamar High (Texas). Rated by Rivals as a three-star outside linebacker, Johnson recently told Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant he intends to enroll early at KU and go through spring football in Lawrence. The young linebacker confirmed his signing with Kirby Wednesday morning.

A prospect who didn’t commit to KU until late Tuesday evening joined the list of signees, as well. Kerr Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound wide receiver from Santa Rosa Junior College, got on board with the Jayhawks mere hours before signing.

As a sophomore this past fall, Johnson was named to the California All-State junior college team. The Santa Rosa, Calif., native caught 50 passes for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games before signing on with Kansas.

Last month, Johnson told Kirby and Jayhawk Slant, KU offensive assistant Rob Likens traveled to the west coast to see the juco receiver play.

“I can’t wait to get there (to KU) and prove myself,” Johnson, a three-star juco wideout according to Rivals, said.

Outside of Bender and Kerr Johnson, though, Kansas added the majority of its help on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle J.J. Holmes, cornerback Hasan Defense, defensive end Willie McCaleb and cornerback Shakial Taylor all earned three-star rankings from Rivals as juco additions. KeyShaun Simmons, a two-star defensive lineman, also signed on with Kansas.

MID-YEAR KU FOOTBALL SIGNEES

QB Peyton Bender

6-1, 180 | Itawamba C.C./Washington State

DB Hasan Defense

6-0, 175 | Kilgore College

DT J.J. Holmes

6-2, 310 | Hutchinson C.C.

WR Kerr Johnson

5-11, 180 | Santa Rosa J.C.

LB Kyron Johnson

6-foot-1, 195 | Arlington Lamar (Texas) H.S.

DE Willie McCaleb

6-foot-3, 250 | Northwest Mississippi C.C.

DL KeyShaun Simmons

6-foot-3, 270 | Pearl River C.C.

CB Shakial Taylor

6-foot-1, 180 | Mesa C.C./South Dakota State

KU’s 2017 recruiting class, as it stands Wednesday:

QB Peyton Bender

DB Hasan Defense

LB Jay Dineen

OL Joey Gilbertson

DT J.J. Holmes

WR Kerr Johnson

LB Kyron Johnson

K Liam Jones

WR/Ath. Travis Jordan

DE Willie McCaleb

DL KeyShaun Simmons

WR Kenyon Tabor

CB Shakial Taylor

DB Robert Topps

RB Dominic Williams

WR Takulve Williams

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Former KU football star Chris Harris: ‘Dirty’ opponent tried to end his career

Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) pushes Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) aside in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Weston Kenney)

Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) pushes Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) aside in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Weston Kenney)

On a full Sunday slate of NFL games, few drew as much attention as a low-scoring affair in Nashville, Tenn., between Denver and Tennessee. But as you probably know by now, the buzz generated for all the wrong reasons.

Former standout Kansas football cornerback Chris Harris Jr., now one of the league’s top defensive backs with the Broncos, took what appeared to be a malicious cheap shot from Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas in the first half.

On a rushing play for Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, Harris came nowhere near making a tackle, but Douglas dove low toward Harris’ right knee as if to make a block.

"I never had a player try to end my career before," Harris told reporters afterward. "That's not football. He tried to end my career with a hit like that. ... [The officials] didn't call it, but hopefully the league can take a look at that."

Added Harris, who avoided suffering significant damage on the play by pulling his leg backward just in time: "Whatever the biggest fine is, that's what he should get."

None by Jon Heath

The questionable play by Douglas might have been a footnote for the weekend had Harris’ pal and former KU teammate Aqib Talib not gotten involved, too. On the very next play, Denver’s other top-notch cornerback let the Titans receiver know what he thought about the low hit on Harris.

Talib went right after Douglas, inciting a small brawl on the sideline.

None by Jon Heath

Following the game, Talib wasn’t done, calling Douglas a “sorry player,” and vowing to “beat his ---" when he sees him next.

Harris, too, didn’t mind sharing his thoughts on the Tennessee receiver.

"I was nowhere near the play, but that's why he's out there, to be a dirty player," Harris said.

Douglas denied that accusation.

"I'm a tough player. I'm a gritty player," Douglas responded, through reporters. "I'm not a dirty player, no matter what anybody says."

None by Chris Harris

None by Chris Harris

Both the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos and Harris consider themselves fortunate the play didn’t cost the star corner playing time, with the end of the regular season quickly approaching. At 8-5 following a 13-10 loss at Tennessee, Denver currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, with three games left to play.

Despite Douglas’ low “block,” Denver won’t be cheated out of the use of one of its top players, which should be good news to Kansas football fans, even if they prefer another team from the AFC West.

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Svi Mykhailiuk determined to contribute more than 3-pointers for Kansas

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) hooks a shot over Nebraska guard Evan Taylor (11) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) hooks a shot over Nebraska guard Evan Taylor (11) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Sure, when the name Svi Mykhailiuk comes up, the first thing that comes to mind might be his long-distance shooting — after all, his shortened first name conveniently rhymes with “three.” But the junior wing from Ukraine wants more out of his basketball life at Kansas than hanging out behind the arc waiting to fire.

Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, Mykhailiuk’s 2-for-4 shooting from long range in an 89-72 victory over Nebraska enhanced his numbers to 22-for-51 (43.1 percent) through 10 games. Still, the 6-foot-8 backup showed he’s capable of so much more in the midst of tying his season high with 15 points.

For one, Mykhailiuk looked assertive with the ball in his hands, whether that came off a turnover, in transition or as a driver in the half court.

“People just know me for shooting those three-point shots,” he said after Kansas improved to 9-1, “but I don’t think they expect me to drive the ball as much. So now I’m working on driving more.”

On his way to 13 first-half points, Mykhailiuk put in two layups and scored another basket from just outside the paint, near the left baseline while making five of his first eight shots before intermission. Even when it appeared he might be dribbling himself into trouble, the ever-improving 19-year old turned a dead end into a basket. His confidence seemingly improving by the week, Mykhailiuk transformed a one-on-three fast break into a layup by evading his defender with a Euro-step at the free-throw line, followed by a strong finish.

His final stat line included two assists, two steals, no turnovers and one block, as well. What’s more, Mykhailiuk didn’t get credit for another swat. In the second half, he slid over to help defensively from the weak side of the floor and smacked a layup attempt off the backboard before being whistled for goaltending. Replays proved Mykhailiuk thwarted the shot cleanly and legally.

Never one to praise himself or leave a game feeling like he did everything perfectly, though, Mykhailiuk downplayed improved defense as one of his qualities this season.

“I try to help more and we’ve been working in practices, but I’m not good in there now,” he said when asked about the goaltend (read as: block), which he met at the rim. “I think I’m gonna get better.”

To his credit, Mykhailiuk remembers his mistakes in floor positioning on defense as much as his highlight-reel buckets.

“That’s why at times I’m running to a long pass and I’ve got to close out (and not get beat),” Mykhailiuk said. “So I’ve gotta get better taking the right position.”

When those stops (that coach Bill Self agonizes over) come, offensively, KU’s four-guard lineups allow Mykhailiuk more freedom to make plays, especially in the open floor.

“Everybody can bring up the ball,” the junior guard said, “and whoever can get a rebound can bring it down and push ahead.”

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) lofts a shot over Nebraska forward Nick Fuller (23) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) lofts a shot over Nebraska forward Nick Fuller (23) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

All of the Jayhawks’ perimeter players appear to be appreciating their chances to play a less traditional form of offense. Plus, Mykhailiuk, who said the players are improving in those situations, added using some four-player combination of himself, Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham, Josh Jackson and Lagerald Vick should make KU more versatile defensively, too.

“We are faster and we can switch with four guards,” Mykhailiuk explained. “We can trap the bigs. I think we feel pretty comfortable.”

Even so, he was the last Jayhawk who would claim everything is humming along euphorically. Mykhailiuk cost himself a third assist and drew the ire of his coach when on one second-half fast break against the Huskers (5-5), he lobbed a pass off the backboard for Jackson and the electric freshman missed a dunk off the back of the rim.

“Ah, Svi, come on,” Jackson said in the postgame press conference with a smile, when asked about the mishap. “You see, originally the plan was to just throw me the ball. I didn’t know it was goin’ off the backboard.”

Added Mykhailiuk: “I should’ve just thrown it to him. Regular pass.”

The junior won’t soon forget that mistake, nor will he attempt an unnecessarily difficult alley-oop feed under Self’s watch again. Mykhailiuk learns too well from his mistakes as he continues to grow as a player.

“I just try to help my team win and do whatever — if it’s drive the ball, shoot the ball, play defense,” he said, before turning to another self-critique which surely also qualifies as a Self-critique of his game. “I’ve gotta rebound the ball more,” Mykhailiuk added after a two-board effort, with both of his coming on the offensive end, “because I’m not really good at rebounding now. I need to be more aggressive on the boards.”

When’s the last time you heard a three-point specialist talk about boosting his toughness on the glass? “Svi for a rebound” isn’t as catchy as “Svi for three,” but the junior remains determined to do more.

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Josh Jackson thrives on drives while working to improve jumper

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) roars after a bucket and a foul during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) roars after a bucket and a foul during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

On a night when Kansas thrived with the three-ball, the most talented basketball prospect on the floor found it more beneficial to score inside.

While Josh Jackson’s teammates combined to convert 15 of their 26 shots from downtown, the freshman wing from Detroit missed his lone attempt taken outside of the arc, with the Jayhawks leading UMKC by 26 points in the second half.

Kansas didn’t need its 6-foot-8 NBA lottery pick-to-be bombing away in a 105-62 drubbing anyhow. Jackson, who shot 8-for-12 overall, scored two of his five first-half baskets on layups, and put in two more from near the left block. His only jumper from outside prior to intermission came on a successful Andrew Wiggins-esque long two-pointer from just inside the three-point line near the top of the key.

In the second half, Jackson scored all three of his baskets at the rim — two layups and one monster one-handed jam.

When he wasn’t taking efficiency-friendly shots on his way to 19 points, Jackson flew to the glass for a career-best 12 rebounds and even dished five assists.

Even though his freakish athleticism makes it easy for him to drive and create or score, that doesn’t mean Jackson has any wild ideas about abandoning his jumper or taking a more passive approach on future looks from downtown.

Currently shooting 26.3% on three-pointers (5-for-19) as a Jayhawk, Jackson remains confident in his ability to rise up and drain more difficult shots, even if his form might not be the most traditional you’ll encounter.

Jackson said through the years various basketball types have tried to help him tinker with his mechanics, but he’s not doing much tweaking right now.

“It depends on who they are,” Jackson said of how such conversations usually go, “whether I really trust you or not. But I can say I’ve received some really good tips in the past, and hopefully I’ll receive some more in the future.”

Since arriving in Lawrence, Jackson has relied on the wisdom of KU assistant Kurtis Townsend in the shooting department. A 13-year assistant of Bill Self, Townsend has suggested Jackson keep the ball up more, over his head, on his release, and shown him how spreading his fingers wider on the ball gives him more touch.

The key, of course, is avoiding reverting back to old habits.

“It’s really just muscle memory, yeah. Repeatability,” Jackson said of the key to making adjustments stick. “Being able to be comfortable and have confidence in it.”

While he tinkers with his form — Jackson has made just 26 of 45 (57.8%) free throws thus far – he can always go back to the paint to keep his production up. Nine games into his college career, Jackson is shooting 45-for-76 (59%) on two-point field goals.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. UMKC


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Examining where Jayhawks ranked among Big 12 football leaders

Now that the 2016 Big 12 football season is complete, all the numbers have been totaled and averaged and sorted nicely for consumption, and postseason honors are starting to get handed out.

So it’s a good time to review the league’s individual statistical leaders and see where Kansas football players landed among their peers.

As one might guess, the Jayhawks, who used three different starting quarterbacks, didn’t show up with this year’s passing leaders.

Perhaps head coach David Beaty will find a QB he can count on throughout 2017.

Still, KU had plenty of individuals stand out over the past few months, despite a 2-10 overall record and 1-8 mark in the Big 12.

What follows is a review of the categories in which Jayhawks ranked among the conference’s best, with a look at the numbers produced by the league-leader for context.

How did the Jayhawks stack up? Some of them finished higher than you might have guessed.

Rushing

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) tries to cut around the Kansas State defense during the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) tries to cut around the Kansas State defense during the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: D’Onta Foreman, Texas, 193.3 yards a game

- Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Ke’aun Kinner, 61.5 yards a game

The senior running back often shared rushing duties with teammates, but Kinner averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns for Kansas in 2016. He looked even stronger late in the season, when he produced a season-best 152 yards on the ground against Iowa State.

Receptions

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) tears down the field as he is trailed by the TCU defense after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) tears down the field as he is trailed by the TCU defense after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: KD Cannon, Baylor, 6.6 a game

- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Steven Sims Jr., 6.0 catches a game; 9th — LaQuvionte Gonzalez, 5.2

Sims emerged as the top target for Kansas quarterbacks this season, but Gonzalez was as solid a second option as the offense could hope for during another rebuilding season.

Sims scored seven touchdowns, with a long of 74 yards. And while a No. 4 ranking in this category is impressive, Sims fared even better within the conference. Looking only at league games, Sims led the Big 12 with 6.8 catches an outing. Even OU star Dede Westbrook only caught 6.3 a week against league foes.

On the season, Gonzalez tied for 9th with Oklahoma State’s James Washington (5.2 catches). Gonzalez reached the end zone three times as a junior, including a 95-yard score in the finale at K-State, thanks to a deep ball from redshirt freshman quarterback Carter Stanley.

Receiving Yards

- Big 12 leader: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, 122.1 yards a game

- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Sims, 71.6 yards a game

During his breakout year, Sims, a 5-foot-10 receiver, hauled in 72 catches, averaging 11.9 yards a reception.

Total Tackles

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) is tackled by Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) is tackled by Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016. by Alonzo Adams/The Associated Press

- Big 12 leader: LB Travin Howard, TCU, 10.4 a game

- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — S Fish Smithson, 7.8; 13th — S Mike Lee, 6.9; 30th — LB Courtney Arnick, 5.5; 47th — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 4.7; 47th — S Tevin Shaw, 4.7

As he did in 2015, Smithson led Kansas in tackles. The senior safety made 93 total stops. As the season progressed, Smithson's young apprentice in the secondary, true freshman Lee, developed into a presence, as well. After graduating high school early to join Kansas this season, Lee made 69 solo tackles (76 total) in 11 appearances and eight starts.

With Kansas missing key linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. and Marcquis Roberts, senior ’backer Arnick contributed 66 total tackles for the defense.

Both Armstrong, on the D-line, and Shaw, in the secondary, made 40 solo tackles apiece and 56 total.

Sacks

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) celebrates after a tackle for a loss during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) celebrates after a tackle for a loss during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State, 0.96 a game (11.5 total)

- Ranked Jayhawks: 2nd — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 0.83 (10.0 total); 16th — LB Cameron Rosser, 0.33 (4.0)

With 10 quarterback takedowns behind the line of scrimmage, Armstrong produced all one-man sack attacks, without an assist, during his outstanding sophomore campaign.

Rosser, a senior who played a hybrid linebacker/end position, made all four of his sacks during a two-week span in the first couple of Big 12 games. Rosser made one at Texas Tech and three versus TCU.

Tackles For Loss

- Big 12 leader: DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas, 1.67 a game

- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 15th — Daniel Wise, 0.82 a game

Simply put, Armstrong was the Big 12’s best at creating chaos in the backfield. With 20 solo tackles for loss as a sophomore, Armstrong beat K-State’s Willis in this category by 3.5.

Although Wise didn’t have the numbers to match Armstrong, the defensive tackle had as much to do with the Jayhawks’ success on the defensive line as anyone. Wise made 9.0 stops behind the line, all solos, when he wasn’t disrupting offenses in other ways.

Passes Defended

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016. by Alonzo Adams/The Associated Press

- Big 12 leader: D.J. Reed, Kansas State, 1.5 per game

- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — Fish Smithson, 0.92 a game; 17th — Marnez Ogletree, 0.67

Not only did Smithson finish plays with tackles, the senior safety found his way to the ball when quarterbacks passed in his direction. While captaining the KU defense, Smithson broke up seven throws and came away with interceptions on four other occasions.

At corner, Ogletree, another senior, didn’t pick off any passes, but he broke up eight while defending the Big 12’s many talented receivers.

Interceptions

- Big 12 leader: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia, 0.67 a game (eight total)

- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Fish Smithson, 0.33 a game (four total); 10th — Brandon Stewart, 0.25 (three)

Averaging a pick every three games in 2016, Smithson took away four as a senior. But he actually vastly improved his average in November, with an interception apiece against Iowa State and Texas.

Stewart wasn’t far behind Smithson with three passing takeaways of his own during his senior season. Few of KU’s 10 picks on the year were as critical as Stewart’s 55-yard INT return for a touchdown during the Jayhawks’ upset victory over Texas.

Fumbles forced

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: Five-way tie, three

Armstrong’s three forced fumbles on the season tied him with K-State’s Willis and Reggie Walker, Baylor’s Patrick Levels and Texas Tech’s Jah’Shawn Johnson for the top spot in the category.

- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Smithson, two

The other most active defender on the KU roster, Smithson knocked the ball out of an opponent’s grasp twice this season.

Fumbles Recovered

- Big 12 leader: Patrick Levels, Baylor, four

- Ranked Jayhawks: 5th — Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Damani Mosby, two

Twice this season, Armstrong, the Jayhawks’ most disruptive defender, found his way to a loose ball to recover it for Kansas. So did the man lining up on the other edge of the D-line, senior end Mosby.

Scoring (Kickers)

Nearly all of the fans are on their feet for Kansas place kicker Matthew Wyman's game-winning field goal during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Nearly all of the fans are on their feet for Kansas place kicker Matthew Wyman's game-winning field goal during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 9.1 points a game

- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Matthew Wyman, 5.4 points a game

West Virginia’s Mike Molina and Texas kicker Trent Dominigue both missed seven field goals on the season — more than Wyman’s six — but, like most of the conference’s kickers, benefited from their teams reaching the end zone for far more extra-point opportunities than Kansas. Five of the league’s kickers, including top scorer Ben Grogan of Oklahoma State (55-for-56), got to kick at least 49 PATs. Wyman only had a crack at 26 kicks following a TD.

Kick Return Average

Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) runs back a kickoff for a touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) runs back a kickoff for a touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: Byron Pringle, Kansas State, 28.7 yards per return

- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 21.5 per return

Gonzalez proved a better kick returner than punt returner for Kansas. On 28 occasions during his junior season, the speedy receiver fielded a kickoff and decided to go and attempt to make something happen. Gonzalez totaled 601 return yards, and housed a 99-yarder against Ohio in Week 2.

All-Purpose Yardage

- Big 12 leader: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma, 195.5 yards per game

- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 109.2 yards per game

With his kick return yardage added to his 729 receiving yards, Gonzalez’s numbers ranked among the Big 12’s best, even though he finished the season with negative totals in punt returns (-10) and rushing (-9).

Punting

Kansas' Cole Moos (36) punts from the Jayhawks' end zone late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.

Kansas' Cole Moos (36) punts from the Jayhawks' end zone late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: Michael Dickson, Texas, 47.4 yards per punt

- Ranked Jayhawk: 4th — Cole Moos, 41.4 yards per punt

For KU junior punter Moos, 14 of his kicks traveled 50-plus yards, including the longest in the Big 12 this season, an 82-yarder at Baylor.

Field Goals

Kansas place kicker Matthew Wyman (7) and holder Cole Moos (36) go wild after Wyman's game-winning field goal in overtime against Texas on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas place kicker Matthew Wyman (7) and holder Cole Moos (36) go wild after Wyman's game-winning field goal in overtime against Texas on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 1.5 field goals per game

- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 1.08 per game

Wyman tied for 6th with Texas Tech’s Clayton Hatfield in field goals per outing. The Kansas senior made a season-high three versus Texas at Memorial Stadium, including the game-winner in overtime.

Field Goal Percentage

- Big 12 leader: Cole Netten, Iowa State, 94.1%

- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 68.4%

Beaty sent Wyman out for 19 field-goal tries this year, and his kicker nailed 13 of them, including a season-best 50-yarder versus TCU.

PAT Kicking Percentage

- Big 12 leaders: Mike Molina, West Virginia; and Matthew Wyman, Kansas, 100%

When Kansas reached the end zone and called upon Wyman’s services, the trusted kicker never missed. Wyman went 26-for-26 on PAT’s.

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Jayhawks in NFL share their support for #TeamCole

Cole Hayden attends a Kansas football home game in 2015, before being diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma.

Cole Hayden attends a Kansas football home game in 2015, before being diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma.

As young Kansas football fan Cole Hayden continues his fight against undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, his cheering section continues to grow.

Over the past couple of days, Cole’s mother, Shanda Hayden, shared video messages sent the youngster’s way courtesy of some of the most recognizable Jayhawks in the NFL.

Shanda, the KU football team’s academic and career advisor who has worked with the program for nearly a decade, is beloved by current and former players alike. Many around the team consider her a bit of a team mom. In turn, Cole has become a popular member of the Jayhawks’ family.

KU players and coaches have rallied around the determined boy, wearing #TeamCole bracelets and doing everything they can to support him and the Hayden family.

Now former players are letting Cole know they have his back, too. Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald reached out via video this weekend to the Haydens.

“I’m definitely pullin' for ya down here in Tampa,” McDougald said.

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Monday morning, Shanda shared another video message, this one from the top two Kansas players in the NFL, Denver Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.

“Cole, man, stay strong,” Harris said. “We’re prayin’ for your family, prayin' for Miss Shanda. Just hope everything goes well.”

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Second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty often mentioned Cole’s fight and the Hayden’s throughout the season, dating back to KU dedicating its opener to #TeamCole.

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“Man, that dude is a tough dude,” Beaty recently said of Cole. “He's fighting, and just want to let Shanda know how thankful we and our players are for her. I don't think people know how much she does for these guys, and I know not just the guys we have here but the ones that have came before them. Man, a lot of those kids have degrees because of her. She wears so many hats for us, and not the least of which is what she does for them academically. She's like a second mom for them while she's here.”

With Cole’s battle often keeping Shanda away from the team of late, a number of Jayhawks went to visit the Haydens after their season ended to check in and help out with some holiday decorations.

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Sophomore receiver Steven Sims Jr. recently said the Jayhawks used FaceTime at one of their final practices to check in with Shanda, and players regularly get updates on Cole’s progress through Beaty.

“She’s a strong woman,” Sims said of Shanda Hayden, “and we’re fightin' for her, and she’s gonna keep fightin' for us.”

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KU football on hunt for ‘marquee’ recruits to bolster program’s rebuilding project

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

As Kansas football coach David Beaty and his staff keep persevering in their ongoing venture to reinvigorate a program that had been left to languish, the offseason months are just as critical as Saturdays in the fall.

The two most direct avenues for improvement — as Beaty referenced shortly after the conclusion of his second season at KU — are player development and recruiting. While the head coach thinks the Jayhawks already on campus are steadily getting bigger and better, Beaty knows that’s just one part of the process.

“And then I think the other thing is understanding we’ve gotta go out and continue to recruit and get some marquee players to help us,” Beaty said, “’cause every good coach I know has some really, really good ones. And we’ve got some good ones already, and we’ve gotta go get some really, really good ones from this point forward to be able to do what we want to do, which is win a lot and compete for championships.”

Just a week after those words left Beaty’s mouth, Kansas will welcome some highly sought after high school prospects to Lawrence. Adrian Ealy, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle from Gonzales, La., will be in town this weekend to check out Anderson Family Football Complex and hear the KU staff’s recruiting pitch.

Running backs coach and Louisiana native Tony Hull, of course, deserves credit for getting Ealy — a four-star O-lineman who already has visited Oklahoma and has offers from Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Texas and many more — to give Kansas a look. A high school senior at East Ascension, Ealy is listed at 282 pounds. Rivals.com ranks him the 20th best prospect in the nation at his position.

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As reported by Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Ealy won’t be the only talented Louisiana recruit in town. Tevin Bush, a speedy 5-foot-5 athlete from New Orleans’ Landry Walker High (the same program that gave the Jayhawks starting safety Mike Lee), will visit Kansas this weekend, too.

A high school senior assessed three stars from Rivals, Bush already has verbally committed to West Virginia, but must be intrigued with Kansas as an option — thanks again to Hull — if he is making a visit. Bush also has picked up offers from Arkansas, Louisville, Texas Tech and others.

Although Ealy and Bush visiting campus obviously doesn’t guarantee anything for Kansas, it’s another indicator that Beaty seems to be steering the program in the right direction.

KU’s 2017 recruiting class already includes eight three-star prospects: former Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender, juco defensive back Hasan Defense, Texas prep linebacker Kyron Johnson, Louisiana prep receiver/athlete Travis Jordan, Derby standout receiver Kenyon Tabor, Garden City Community College defensive end Jamie Tago, Chicago high school defensive back Robert Topps and Texas prep running back Dominic Williams.

As Beaty suggested, Kansas needs a number of members in its latest recruiting class to come in and make a difference — just like Lee, defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., defensive tackle Daniel Wise and receiver Steven Sims Jr. did before them.

The more impactful recruits the staff lands, the quicker KU can escape the Big 12 cellar and start chasing Beaty’s hopeful longterm goals.

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