Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”

Frank Mason’s 3-point shooting key to upward-trending draft stock

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

In 2013, Frank Mason III showed up at the University of Kansas as a 5-foot-11, 185-pound freshman and, given the lack of recruiting buzz around him, a bit of an afterthought. At the time nobody other than Mason envisioned the quiet, compact point guard from Petersburg, Va., transforming into the consensus national player of the year of serious NBA prospect.

In just his second game with the Jayhawks, Mason showed flashes of the toughness that would one day make him a college great, scoring 15 points in a win over Duke. But he didn’t become an overwhelming talent on the floor until his senior season.

Becoming an authentic 3-point marksman proved a pivotal component of his overhaul. Mason recently sat down with DraftExpress.com for a one-on-one interview ahead of his ongoing NBA Draft preparations and his vastly improved 3-pointer featured prominently in the workout footage that accompanied the Q & A.

Mason scored 20.9 points a game as a senior for KU because he could score anywhere on the floor — he shot career-bests of 49% from the floor, 47.1% on 3-pointers and 79.4% at the free-throw line.

It was that long-rage accuracy that caught the attention of scouts and decision-makers in the NBA, though. Just in time to make him a more viable pro prospect, Mason knocked down 82 of 174 3-pointers as a senior — after making 85 of 211 (a respectable 40.1%) combined during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Totals Table
Season G MP FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT%
2013-143556563151.4174596.4691855.3274771.662
2014-15361207150340.441108242.4464298.429110140.786
2015-16381272155357.434112244.45943113.381136183.743
2016-17361301241492.490159318.50082174.471189238.794
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2017.

“It’s just something I’ve got better at over the years,” Mason told DraftExpress, when discussing his 3-point precision, “and I think the game was just a little too fast for me my first year in college. So I was kind of rushing a lot. And I just kind of got at my own pace and it kind of got better.”

Mason’s emergence as a dynamic play-maker and shooter at the college level forced NBA teams to take him seriously as a prospect, and weeks ahead of the June 22 draft, DraftExpress projects him as the 48th pick.

The 23-year-old Kansas star still has numerous workouts lined up with franchises around the country before one is expected to snatch up his rights late in the second round. Mason told DraftExpress how he plans to make the most of his in-person auditions.

“I can show them how athletic I am, what a good defender I am, a good leader, a good play-maker and how much I improved on my jump shot,” Mason said.

At this stage of his development as a basketball player, Mason thinks his 3-point shot should only help his ability to attack off the dribble, get to the paint and create shots for his teammates. But his time at KU also helped his on-court personality.

“I was a guy that really led by example, but over the years I worked on being more verbal and vocal and I think I got better at that,” Mason said, while describing various attributes that help make him an effective point guard.

Mason’s stock has gradually trended upward over the past several months. We shouldn’t be surprised if that continues in the weeks ahead and Mason ends up an early- or mid-second round draft pick.

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Handful of 3-star recruits include Kansas football on their shortlists

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

Early on in head coach David Beaty’s third season at the University of Kansas, the football program continues to make strides on the all-important recruiting front.

Over the course of the past several days, Beaty and his staff learned four different prep prospects and one junior college talent included KU in their shortlists of schools up for consideration.

The first came from Mississippi prep defensive end Deuntra Hyman, rated a 3-star prospect in the Class of 2018 by Rivals. While the 6-foot-5, 235-pound lineman from Meridian, Miss., made it clear in his tweet he was still open to other offers, he announced he would be “taking a closer look” at Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Louisville, Purdue and KU.

Another high school defensive end evaluating the Jayhawks at this juncture is Blue Springs (Mo.) lineman Daniel Parker Jr. Rivals’ 10th-best rising senior in the state of Missouri also has three stars next to his name. Parker announced via Twitter his top 10 finalists (in no specific order): Nebraska, Missouri, Memphis, Arizona State, Iowa State, Minnesota, Central Florida, Kentucky, Iowa and Kansas.

The defensive line trend on KU’s recruiting front included a junior college defensive tackle at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Miss.), Jonathan Lolohea. Rated a three-star juco prospect by Rivals, Lolohea posted on Twitter that his recruitment remains open but he currently has a top four of KU, Kansas State, Washington State and TCU.

Add two more potential “Louisianimals” to the list of players contemplating KU in associate head coach Tony Hull’s home state of Louisiana.

Marreo safety Lance Robinson on Tuesday tweeted he, too, is open to further recruitment but listed a current top eight of K-State, KU, SMU, Tulane, Washington State, South Carolina, Arizona and Memphis. Currently un-rated by Rivals, Robinson, a rising senior at De La Salle High, is rated a three-star prospect by Scout and 247 Sports.

Late Wednesday morning, another KU recruiting target from The Pelican State, New Orleans defensive end Josh Smith, posted on Twitter he is focusing on a top six of Houston, Tulane, Arkansas State, Ball State, Colorado State and KU — and is still open to hearing from other programs. Smith, listed at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, is a three-star strong-side end according to Rivals. He also happens to be the Landry-Walker High classmate of the Jayhawks’ two most talented commits in the Class of 2018, receiver Devonta Jason and cornerback Corione Harris.

KU currently has secured nine commitments for its 2018 class, which Rivals ranks No. 23 in the nation.

None by BigSmithie.➰

None by Lance RobinsonJr.⛓

None by Jonathan Lolohea

None by Daniel Parker Jr®

None by Punn(228)

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Ahead of draft, Frank Mason III out to prove ‘it’s not all about size’ in NBA

Kansas' Frank Mason III participates in the standing vertical jump at the NBA basketball draft combine Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Kansas' Frank Mason III participates in the standing vertical jump at the NBA basketball draft combine Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

For the next month, in every NBA city he visits, Frank Mason III will answer questions about his lack of size and how that impacts his ability to translate his college success at Kansas to the next level.

On Monday, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound consensus National Player of the Year found himself in St. Francis, Wis., addressing queries on his dimensions following a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the 17th and 48th picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Mason’s relative lack of stature, in comparison to the long bodies occupying courts all over The Association, won’t always be a hindrance once he joins the ranks. The 23-year-old’s speed, strength and 41-inch vertical will allow him to use his proportions as an advantage at times.

“Just getting in the lane, play-making,” Mason began, when asked how a sub 6-foot guard could benefit from working with a vastly different frame than most of his competition. “Shooting the ball consistent and just doing what I do best — getting other guys involved, scoring the ball and focusing in on the defensive end.”

Although Milwaukee’s roster has become synonymous with length and wingspan — the Bucks at times played 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard — the team’s vice president of scouting, Billy McKinney, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Mason had the components necessary to play in the NBA.

“By the time he came back to Kansas his senior year, you could see his game had evolved to the point where he was a true leader for that ball club," McKinney said. "Tough as heck, gritty and started to make better decisions with the basketball, which is going to serve him well at the next level.”

During the 2016-17 regular season, only 18 players listed at 6-foot or shorter played in the NBA. Some, like Boston’s Isaiah Thomas (a favorite of Mason's) and the L.A. Clippers’ Chris Paul, were great. Others, such as Orlando’s D.J. Augustin and Denver’s Jameer Nelson, didn’t make much of an impact.

Still, thanks to the successes of small guards such as Thomas, Paul and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Mason thinks there is a role for players his size on basketball’s biggest stage.

“Shorter guys are getting in the NBA and still filling the stat sheet up, doing what the taller guys do,” Mason said. “So it’s not all about the size. It’s more about the heart and what do you do when you get out there.”

Thus far, Mason has worked out for Milwaukee and Orlando. Off the top of his head, he told reporters in Wisconsin he thinks he has “10 or 11” left before the June 22 draft, where he is expected to be a second-round pick.

The whole pre-draft experience, Mason said, feels unlike his four years of college basketball at Kansas.

“Just the travel and the experience with the NBA guys. I think everything is pretty different about it and it’s something I’ll always remember and something I’m just trying to enjoy,” Mason said.

None by Spectrum Sports KC

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Frank Mason III not comparing himself to Isaiah Thomas, but rooting for similarly-sized guard

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a shot against Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a shot against Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

During his senior season at Kansas, point guard Frank Mason III seemed larger than life with the ball in his hands. But the consensus national player of the year’s relative lack of height has NBA decision-makers hesitant to take Mason, who averaged 20.9 points and shot 47.1% on his 3-pointers, before the late stages of the second round at next month’s draft.

The most recent predictions from Draft Express have Mason slotted as the 49th overall pick. Given the KU ball handler’s projected stock and the compact frame that belies his impact on the court, it’s not surprising Mason finds himself enjoying the exploits of an All-NBA guard who faced similar obstacles when he left college basketball behind.

During a recent interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Mason didn’t try to say he was the next Isaiah Thomas — the 5-foot-9 point guard from Washington who has helped the Boston Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals — or even that he tried to model his game after the two-time all-star. But when the subject of the sparse number of players in The Association Mason’s size came up, the Big 12 Player of the Year couldn’t help but bring up his admiration for Thomas, the 60th and final selection in the 2011 draft.

“I really don’t model my game after anyone,” Mason told Charania and The Vertical. “But, you know, I always had confidence in myself, no matter who’s in the league. But I look at Isaiah Thomas and I really root for him, because people counted him out and said he couldn’t do the things that he’s doing now. So I have a lot of players in the league that I like, but I’m really rooting for Isaiah.”

Thomas, six seasons into an NBA career that has far exceeded the expectations of his critics, was named second-team all-league this season after averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists while helping Boston to the best record in the East. Had Thomas not completely blown up the past few years with the Celtics, many would be quick to compare Mason, a talented yet small guard, with the most recognizable vertically-challenged scorer in the league. Fortunately for Mason, who measured 5-11 without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, he should be able to avoid any unrealistic parallels and simply keep Thomas in mind as proof that you don’t have to be 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan to make it at the highest level of basketball.

Mason — he of the 6-3.25 wingspan and 41-inch max vertical, by the way — also enters the youth- and upside-obsessed league as a 23-year-old, four-year college player. His accolades and statistics say that shouldn’t matter, but look at the complete mock draft at Draft Express and you’ll find zero seniors listed in the first round. Charania asked Mason what he thought about some teams potentially favoring younger prospects.

“I just let them know how much I improved through every year. Not only on the court, but as a young man off the court,” Mason said. “And I just tell them how tough I am, how much I’ve improved my shooting and how great of a play-maker I am and — most importantly — a good defender.”

Before the June 22 draft Mason said he plans to work out for somewhere between 12 and 13 teams. Earlier this week he was in Orlando to showcase his talents for the Magic. When he goes on these basketball job interviews, Mason told The Vertical he has a general objective.

“I think it’s more mental than physical, so I just really want to show them that I’m mentally tough as well as physically tough,” Mason said. “And I just want to go out there and be myself, be the player that I’ve been over the years and show them how much I’ve improved.”

No, he’s not the next Isaiah Thomas. But drafting Frank Mason III shouldn’t be a concern for teams in need of point guard depth, because guards listed at 6-feet and under have more space than ever in the modern NBA to maximize their strengths on the floor — as proven by the Celtics guard Mason finds himself rooting for during the playoffs.

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) during the second quarter of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, in Boston, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) during the second quarter of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, in Boston, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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Philadelphia a likely destination for KU’s Josh Jackson

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum. by Nick Krug

In the five weeks between now and the 2017 NBA Draft, a lot can, and most likely will, change — particularly in the realm of opinions on the potential impact of the most sought-after incoming rookies.

For the moment, it seems the likeliest scenario for one-year Kansas star Josh Jackson is heading to Philadelphia as the No. 3 pick and teaming up with a young core built around one-time Jayhawks center Joel Embiid.

Most around The Association assume Washington’s Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 to Boston (or to some team that trades an all-star in exchange for that slot) and the Lakers will take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. That leaves the 76ers, a team lacking in the productive guard department, with the choice between Jackson and what’s left of what is considered a great crop of point guards.

In a lottery reaction episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was asked which player makes sense for Philadelphia if it’s not a lead guard.

“I think they really have to look at Josh Jackson,” Givony said, “and they have to bring him into their gym and figure out, ‘How far away is this guy from being a good shooter?’”

As those who followed KU’s 2016-17 season closely will recall, Jackson greatly improved his 3-point accuracy over the final few months of his brief time with the Jayhawks. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward from Detroit showed his biggest weakness wasn’t a completely lost cause by hitting 38.5% of his 3-pointers in January, 47.8% in February and 40% in March.

“If you can get him some good looks and you can continue to develop his stroke,” Givony said of why Jackson made sense for the Sixers, after referencing his late-season surge. “In the NBA not everybody comes in as a finished product.”

We have no way of knowing whether Philadelphia coach Brett Brown and his staff would take this route, but Givony wondered whether Jackson could be persuaded into changing up his shooting mechanics with the endgame of adding an effective NBA-range 3-point shot to his arsenal.

“People say great things about his work ethic. And he really does everything else,” Givony added. “He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s a great passer. He’s outstanding in transition. He can play a lot of different positions. You can play him off the ball — you can play him on the ball a little bit even. There’s a lot there with Josh Jackson. They need to look at him.”

Teams taking gambles in the NBA Draft is a June tradition, but selecting Jackson with the third overall pick wouldn’t qualify as a risk for the Sixers. The only unpredictability accompanying the 20-year-old prospect is his often-scrutinized jumper. No, it’s not a pure, fluid stroke — Jackson brings the ball down low and shows it a bit as he rises up on 3-pointers. But which is more likely: Jackson stinks from long range for his entire career or he works at it until it becomes a trusted part of his game?

Jackson is too competitive to take a complacent approach to owning a below-average 3-point shot, especially now that so many NBA teams value that real estate behind the arc more than ever. He’s not entering the league with a trustworthy 3-pointer, but I’d bet on him adapting into at least a serviceable long-distance threat sooner than later. Same goes for his 56.6% free-throw shooting as a college freshman.

Philadelphia would still have the ability via free agency or the trade market to go after the floor-balancing shooter it needs. No player available at No. 3 other than Jackson is entering the NBA with as complete a skill set. And a nucleus of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jackson with some to-be-determined guards (by the way: the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick next year, which is bound to be in the lottery) projects as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

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Why each NBA team with a top-5 pick would want to draft Josh Jackson

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Ping Pong balls have spoken, and a trio of the NBA’s classic franchises will decide between them which incoming rookies will occupy the top three picks in the 2017 draft.

Thanks to The Association’s annual lottery on Tuesday, one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, a projected top-three pick, has a much better feel for what his future holds. And the versatile 6-foot-8 forward very well could end up the fresh young face in one of the league’s marquee markets.

Odds are Jackson won’t go first overall — that spot long has been associated with Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. But, most likely, Jackson won’t drop any farther than fifth, either. Two to four seem the safest bets for where Jackson lands. But since we’re here we might as well dive into some NBA lottery reaction and look at why each of the top five teams would be interested in kicking the shoes on Jackson to see if they want to add him to their roster.

No. 1 - Boston

This would be a fantastic spot for the rookie from KU to begin his professional career. But, at this point in time, it seems as if Boston is more likely to take Fultz or trade the pick for an established all-star.

But one never knows what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is thinking. If, by June 22, Ainge were to shock everyone and decide upon taking Jackson, it likely would mean he’s too enamored with the team’s current backcourt rotation of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to break it up with Fultz or Lonzo Ball. However, the current contracts for Thomas, Bradley and Smart expire in the summer of 2018, so it would make sense for Boston to take a young potential star guard on a rookie deal and move on from one of the more established members of the backcourt.

Don’t bet on seeing Jackson in Celtics green.

No. 2 - L.A. Lakers

Jackson has the personality and game to shine in L.A. However, this spot screams Big Baller Brand. If the Lakers are as crazy about UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball as his father, LaVar, is about the idea of his son joining one of the NBA’s storied franchises, then Jackson has no shot at wearing that classic purple and gold uniform.

Unless, that is, Lakers legend and current president of basketball operations Magic Johnson — long familiar with Jackson’s game due to his ties with his alma mater, Michigan State, and that program’s recruitment of the Detroit native — sees more overall potential in Jackson. L.A. does, after all, already have a couple of young point guards in Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Then again, it wouldn’t be too difficult to part ways with one of them and hand the keys over to Ball, the local prodigy.

No. 3 - Philadelphia

This is where things really get interesting for Jackson. Many consider him the third-best prospect in a talented draft class. But the Sixers have a glut of young frontcourt players and no longterm answer in the backcourt. Philadelphia already plans on using 6-10 forward Ben Simmons as its primary ball-handler on offense. Would the organization comprise an even less traditional lineup and give Jackson guard minutes, too? If the Sixers took that route they could put a monstrously long lineup on the floor that few teams could match.

If the 76ers want to address needs instead of taking the best available player on the board, though, they could opt for one of the coveted Kentucky guards, De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, instead.

For those who follow KU, it would be intriguing to see Joel Embiid, another No. 3 pick from Kansas, team up with Jackson as part of a young core on course to blossom over the next several years and potentially turn into a force in the Eastern Conference.

No. 4 - Phoenix

If Jackson slipped out of the top three, the Suns would be thrilled to have him. Their two best players at this point are guards Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. Adding a two-way wing such as Jackson, who also happens to be an adept passer and fierce finisher in the open floor, would make Phoenix a team to watch out West in the future.

The Suns had the second-best odds of landing a top-three pick before the lottery balls bounced out of their favor. One would think ownership and coaches would do backflips across the Sonoran Desert if Jackson fell into their laps.

Unless they think Duke’s Jayson Tatum is a better answer. [Scoffs inwardly.]

No. 5 - Sacramento

Look up and down the Kings’ roster and you’ll find a who’s who of “why him?” Sacramento will be thrilled with whomever it drafts fifth overall, because that young man instantly becomes the new centerpiece of the franchise. If the Kings know what’s good for them, they are gathering all their good-luck charms, opening doors for strangers, not cutting anyone off in traffic and praying to the basketball gods at all hours from now until draft night, in the hopes that four other franchises pass on Jackson.

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Stock watch: Could Josh Jackson break into the top 2 picks of the draft?

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tips a shot in over Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tips a shot in over Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

If you’ve kept up with Josh Jackson’s NBA Draft stock over the course of his one-and-done season at Kansas, you know his name often appears following those of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball on “best available prospect” lists and mock draft scenarios. Sometimes, Jackson even slips out of the top three in the eyes of some evaluators.

And, if you’re like me and wonder why Jackson isn’t more often at least in the conversation as a top-two pick, one new 2017 draft breakdown will leave you nodding your head instead of shaking it.

The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide ranks the top 60 rookie prospects for the June draft, and only the king of the mocks, 6-foot-4 Washington point guard Fultz, is thought of more highly than Jackson, a versatile 6-8 wing from Kansas who doesn’t have a $495 signature shoe coming out or a father intent on annoying the basketball community at large.

According to analysis from The Rigner’s staff, Jackson could turn into a player as lethal as Tracy McGrady or as versatile as Andre Iguodala. His prospect profile includes a list of his positives and negatives, as well as a telling shot chart, highlighting Jackson’s ability to finish inside (62.5% around the rim) and his favorite area from which to fire behind the arc — the right half of the floor (46.9% on 32 attempts).

Those who watched Jackson play his 35 games in a KU uniform are familiar with the pros and cons he brings to the hardwood. Some of the plus-side attributes referenced at The Ringer include Jackson’s explosiveness, feel for the game, ability as a perimeter/team defender, play-making and rebounding.

None by The Ringer

The aspects that give evaluators pause? Jackson’s “average” 6-10 wingspan, shooting mechanics and tendency to dwell on negative plays, to name a few.

Obviously even the most elite future pros can be dissected to find their flaws. The majority of the league’s top-three picks, year after year, never come close to transcending to the level of LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Jackson’s overall ability on both ends of the floor, along with his instinctive passing and willingness to defend make him a coveted player and a rare rookie who can compete and contribute immediately. It will be interesting to see if his stock fluctuates at all in the weeks ahead, as various teams invite him in for individual workouts, following Tuesday’s draft lottery.

Why no combine?

Jackson, who passed on attending the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, explained that part of his pre-draft strategy recently in an interview with Rebecca Grant.

“Normally, like the top 10 picks don’t go to that,” Jackson said. “There’s no benefit from it. You can only lose. They already know how good you are, and then if you go there and do bad it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s not that good.’ So it just hurts your draft stock.”

During his Q&A with Grant, Jackson also detailed how his upbringing made him a tough player on the court. The 20-year-old millionaire-to-be said he used to battle his mother, Apples Jones, one-on-one.

“It would get so bad that sometimes I would cry that she would block my shot, take the ball from me,” Jackson said of his games as a youth against the former UTEP player, adding he didn’t defeat his mom at basketball until he was about 14 years old.

When Jackson hears his name called early at the 2017 draft, on June 22, you can bet Jones will have tears in her eyes as she watches what her son has accomplished, with her help.

None by Rebecca Grant

None by Rebecca Grant

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Ranking the 14 NBA teams Josh Jackson should (and shouldn’t) be rooting for on lottery night

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson won’t know until late June exactly where he will go to begin his NBA career. But the one-and-done Kansas star should have a much better idea of his potential destinations within the week, following the 2017 draft lottery.

Only a handful of organizations will have a shot at adding Jackson, projected as a top-three pick (top-five at worst), to their roster. And while an incoming rookie would be glad to earn a hefty paycheck from any franchise, you know Jackson has to be covertly hoping the Ping Pong balls bounce certain ways during Tuesday’s lottery.

Fourteen teams have varying odds at winning the potentially franchise-altering game of chance. And Jackson’s career arc could take a significantly different path, depending on which teams are lucky enough to secure one of the top three slots.

Here’s a look at which NBA franchises Jackson should hope to see at the top of the draft board — listed from least-appealing to best-case scenario, accompanied by that team’s chances of securing a top-three pick.

SACRAMENTO (9.9%)

The Kings are the trainwrecking-est franchise the league has to offer. They haven’t posted a winning record since the 2005-06 season and moved their only all-league-level talent, DeMarcus Cousins, before this year’s in-season trade deadline. Playing in Sacramento means enduring a losing culture with a franchise whose front office has a track record of shooting itself in the foot.

There is good news for Jackson on this front, though. Through a previous deal, Philadelphia has the ability to swap picks with the Kings. So if Sacramento leapfrogs a number of teams, including the Sixers, into the top-three, Philadelphia could claim that choice as its own. The bad news? It’s not impossible for Philly and the Kings to both land in the top three.

ORLANDO (29.1%)

The Magic can’t match the prolonged futility of the Kings, but they appear to have got their hands on Sacramento’s blueprint. The team has hovered in the realm of mediocre to awful since head coach Stan Van Gundy left in 2012. While Orlando has a number of young players on its roster, none of them scream “all-star in the making.”

Jackson could end up as the face of the franchise if the Magic drafted him. But it also would be a very long time before his face showed up during NBA Playoffs broadcasts.

CHARLOTTE (2.9%)

Though the Hornets (the artists previously known as the Bobcats) have made the postseason two times in the last four years they’ve mostly operated as a middling team.

Maybe Jackson emerges as the star wing the franchise has lacked and he spearheads a turnaround with guard Kemba Walker. But that scenario seems more iffy than a certainty.

DETROIT (2.5%)

There aren’t many doomsday scenarios for a prospect as talented as Jackson, so we’re already venturing into “this ain’t so bad” territory with the possibility of him ending up as a key player for his hometown team, the Pistons. Truthfully, the trickiest part of this potential alliance is Detroit would have to part ways with or give up on at least one of its wings for Jackson to fully thrive. Small forwards Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson are under contract for next season.

Suiting up for the Pistons as their primary wing would qualify as more appealing if the team’s highest-paid players — center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson — began meeting the organization’s expectations.

PHOENIX (55.8%)

The Suns have failed to win 25 games each of the past two years, but the future at least seems promising with 20-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker, a productive point guard in Eric Bledsoe and 19-year-old frontcourt lottery picks from 2016, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Add 20-year-old Jackson to the mix and you’ve got a youthful core with, at the very least, the kind of longterm upside to enliven a franchise that has missed the playoffs every spring since 2010.

MINNESOTA (18.3%)

Going to the Timberwolves would be near the top of Jackson’s ideal draft-day possibilities if we were just talking about him joining forces with Karl-Anthony Towns and head coach Tom Thibodeau. But Minnesota already has a perimeter forward from Kansas whom Jackson long has drawn comparisons to, Andrew Wiggins.

We know that Jackson and Wiggins have different strengths to their games, but if you put them together in the same lineup a Jackson-Wiggins combo might get a bit too redundant. If one were a 3-point marksman it would be perfect. But neither are, and Minnesota would be better off with the ability to space the floor and maximize the potential of superstar-to-be Towns.

L.A. LAKERS (46.9%)

In name, the Lakers are a glamorous NBA franchise. In reality, they lost at least 67% of their games each of the past four seasons. Picture Jackson wearing the purple and gold and it doesn’t take long to envision him becoming an instant fan favorite with his stylistic passing and vicious attacks of the rim. But are any of the Lakers’ recent lottery choices going to turn into all-stars at any point?

It could be years before the Lakers are back in the playoffs, let alone among the Western Conference’e elite.

NEW YORK (18.3%)

Why would Jackson want to play with the Knicks more than the Lakers? Glad you asked. Although a dysfunctional vibe has surrounded New York for years now, Jackson could turn out to be a vital part of a reboot. The team’s president, Phil Jackson, publicly floated the idea of trading away Carmelo Anthony this offseason. Plug Josh Jackson in his place and you have a vigorous one-two punch, with budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis and Jackson to build around for years to come.

The die-hard Knicks crowd at Madison Square Garden would fawn over Jackson because of his defense and versatility, and he would become an instant hit with New York media. This is sneakily a great outcome if everything were to line up correctly.

NEW ORLEANS (4%)

For the most part, the Pelicans’ roster is really unappealing. But when you look inside and see two of the league’s most dominant big men, the idea of Jackson in The Big Easy becomes highly intriguing. Anthony Davis and Cousins can only do so much for the team on their own. They need a capable wingman who can both set them up on offense and help them out defensively. Sounds like a job for Jackson.

Of note: The Pelicans better hope they sneak into the top three, because if they don’t they relinquish their pick to Sacramento, as agreed upon in the Cousins trade.

PHILADELPHIA (37.8%)

Sure, the Sixers have reeked for the past four years, but that was all part of the process. Jackson would be another young piece to add to a roster constructed to take off in the Eastern Conference within the next couple of years. Assuming former KU standout Joel Embiid and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons can stay relatively healthy, Jackson joins them and Dario Saric to form a strong nucleus, all 23 or younger.

If the Ping Pong balls bounce Philly’s way, the Sixers could even end up with two high lottery picks, because Philadelphia gets the Lakers’ spot if it falls outside of the top three. Now you’re adding yet another coveted talent to the mix and the 76ers suddenly look destined for a profound transformation.

DENVER (2.2%)

Although the Nuggets have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, the organization has — without bottoming out — accumulated enough talent to be a player away from becoming a postseason regular. Denver is set up well for the future, because 22-year-old center Nikola Jokic is on pace to become an All-NBA big as soon as next season. The Nuggets will have salary cap flexibility this summer, too, which makes them a player in free agency, as well as a suitor in potential major trades.

If the team gets lucky enough to draft Jackson, Denver could accelerate its climb in the West.

DALLAS (6.1%)

Dirk Nowitzki will turn 39 this offseason, and the Mavericks are close to entering a new era as a franchise. Landing a player with Jackson’s potential would expedite a smooth transition. Although Dallas’ two most productive players not named Dirk — Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews — dabble in small forward, they, like Jackson, are versatile, so playing all three of them at once wouldn’t be impossible. In fact, Jackson’s play-making ability might actually make things easier for those two, Nowitzki and (restricted free agent) Nerlens Noel in the half-court and open floor.

The best part about playing for Dallas, though, would be Jackson knowing owner Mark Cuban is willing to spend the money necessary to chase after championships.

MIAMI (1.8%)

The odds are not in favor of the Heat jumping to the top of the lottery, because the team went 30-11 in the second half of the season and barely missed the playoffs. But any elite prospect would love to see Miami luck its way to a slot in the top three. The Heat has only missed the postseason five times since Pat Riley, now president, first joined the organization as a head coach in 1995. Because of his success and the franchise’s three NBA championships — fueled, of course, by the presence of historical talents Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — as well as Miami’s location, the Heat are always in the mix for top free agents, too.

Miami will be a projected playoff team next year regardless of how the lottery plays out. If the Heat added Jackson, its prospects could improve for years to come, and he would plug in nicely to a lineup with center Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic.

BOSTON (64.3%)

The Celtics secured the No. 1 seed in the East this year and are one victory away from a spot in the conference finals. But thanks to a visionary trade in 2013, they also have the ability to swap picks in the 2017 draft with Brooklyn, which happened to own the NBA’s worst record during the regular season. In other words: Boston is in position to contend immediately and for the foreseeable future. Should Jackson end up with the Celtics, he would join all-star guard Isaiah Thomas and premier big Al Horford as offensive facilitators, capable of setting up the 3-point shots coach Brad Stevens’ offense counts on, while also giving Boston increased defensive versatility, with Jackson’s ability to switch and guard multiple positions.

What’s more, the Celtics have cap room this summer to land a top free agent or trade for another all-star. Boston figures to be near the top of the East for years to come, and a competitor such as Jackson would thrive in such circumstances.

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No cap and gown for KU’s Fish Smithson this weekend — Washington rookie camp calls

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

Over the past several months, as he trained for a future he hopes will include numerous seasons in the NFL, Fish Smithson looked forward to May 14. Like thousands of his University of Kansas classmates, Smithson couldn’t wait to finally walk down the hill at KU’s commencement ceremony and celebrate graduating on the same Memorial Stadium turf where he played the past three seasons.

KU’s former safety, though, is foregoing one dream this weekend to chase another. While his fellow graduates back in Lawrence commemorate their accomplishments as students on Sunday, Smithson will be in Virginia, at the Washington Redskins’ training facility, grinding away, attempting to attain his longterm goal.

He packed up his gear and left Kansas on Thursday to fly out to Washington D.C. Smithson, who called missing KU’s commencement “tough,” at least finds himself in the midst of a great alternative: participating in the Redskins’ three-day rookie mini-camp, which begins Friday.

The 5-foot-10, 201-pound defensive back, who signed with Washington as an un-drafted free agent, is headed back near his hometown of Baltimore, but admitted he didn’t care much for the Redskins growing up.

“Not at all,” Smithson said, laughing about how things turned out.

His father, Tony, always turned Baltimore games on in the Smithson residence, because he loved watching the Ravens’ star linebacker, Ray Lewis.

“When the games came on, he kicked us all out the living room and we couldn’t talk. We couldn’t do anything while the Ravens game was on,” Smithson said, explaining how he and his siblings, too, always preferred Baltimore’s NFL team to D.C.’s.

He would’ve been thrilled to try and make the roster with any organization, but Smithson admitted he’s excited about getting a chance to play close to home. Coincidentally, a few weeks before the draft, Fish’s sister, Tamicka, moved to D.C., and she lives basically across the street from FedExField.

“It’s crazy how that all worked out,” Smithson said. “She’s already talking about converting.”

Of course, for an un-drafted prospect such as Smithson, this weekend’s rookie camp is just the first stretch of what will be a formidable road to Washington’s 53-man, regular-season roster. The team currently lists seven other safeties on its active roster — not including un-signed late-round draft picks Montae Nicholson, from Michigan State, and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who played safety at Louisville but is listed as a linebacker. Smithson, whom the organization likes at free safety, plays the same position as veterans DJ Swearinger, DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett.

Like many incoming rookies, Smithson doesn’t have to look far or hard to find inspirational fuel for this stage of his football career. Actually, one source can be found within his Twitter handle. Smithson didn’t have an account until April, but when he set it up he wanted it to remind him of his upbringing. As he explained it, @fannishthem both combines his name, Fish, with that of his grandmother, Ann, and incorporates a personalized acronym: family always need new income so help.

None by Fish Smithson

“Just my motivation that my grandmother is there with me,” Smithson said. “She gave me the name and my family always needs help, so help them.”

The three-year Kansas safety just might get that chance with the support of his NFL earnings one day. Chris Burke at SI.com recently identified Smithson as a sleeper for Washington.

“He brings the prerequisite versatility needed at safety,” Burke wrote for SI, “especially in coverage — he can play high or match up man-on-man in the slot. He may be a practice-squad guy as a rookie, or latch on elsewhere, but there’s NFL-caliber ability in his game.”

Although Smithson wishes he could don a cap and gown on Sunday in Lawrence, he’ll be right at home in a helmet and pads at Washington’s rookie camp.

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A look at Frank Mason III’s NBA Draft Combine competition at PG

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Various factors compel the NBA Draft’s projected top picks to skip this week’s combine in Chicago or merely attend without competing in five-on-five scrimmages.

While you and I would love to watch one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball or Washington’s Markelle Fultz take on other elite college and international prospects in that setting, it’s not the safe route when millions of dollars are on the line.

It could be hazardous to your draft stock to play against someone like Frank Mason III.

Currently projected as the 59th overall pick — next-to-last overall — by DraftExpress.com, a less coveted NBA candidate such as Mason has all the incentive in the world to torch the man in front of him as often as possible.

Listed at 5-foot-11, Mason, no doubt, would love to go toe-to-toe with larger, longer, more highly regarded point guards like Fultz and Ball. But he’ll settle for whomever is on the floor trying to stop him. DraftExpress published the combine’s list of active participants, as well as the rosters for four teams.

It turns out none of the following point guards — in Chicago solely for measurements and interviews — will be competing against Mason, either, by choice or due to injury: Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss and Xavier’s Edmond Sumner.

Here are the point guards Mason, on the same team as Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Oregon’s Jordan Bell, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and others, will have a chance to compete against during combine scrimmages:

- Iowa State’s Monté Morris

- Texas’ Andrew Jones

- Arizona’s Kadeem Allen

- Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe

- Arizona’s Kobi Simmons

- Michigan’s Derrick Walton

- Duke’s Frank Jackson

Mason will have plenty of opportunities at the combine to impress NBA coaches, scouts and executives with his speed, strength, toughness and 3-point shooting. It’s just too bad — for them and us — they don’t get to see him play against the Balls and Fultzs of the draft, because that would be a show.

Still, Mason is an undaunted competitor. No one who watched him play at Kansas would be surprised to see the undersized point guard get his matchups with Ball and Fultz for years to come in the NBA. Mason can help make that possible starting this week at the combine, and in workouts with various franchises in the month-plus ahead, leading up to the June 22 NBA Draft.

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Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander work out for NBA personnel at D-League Elite Mini Camp

Perry Ellis, from Kansas, participates in the NBA Draft basketball combine Friday, May 13, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Perry Ellis, from Kansas, participates in the NBA Draft basketball combine Friday, May 13, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Frank Mason III and Svi Mykhailiuk weren’t the only former Kansas players hoping to impress NBA decision-makers in Chicago this week.

Although their draft days came and went without the results for which they hoped, former KU forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander continued pursuing their professional objectives the past couple of days at the 2017 NBA Development League Elite Mini Camp.

After going un-drafted in 2016, Sunflower State native Ellis relocated to North Carolina, where he played in 50 games for the D-League’s Greensboro Swarm. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 22.4 minutes a game. He shot 45.1% from the floor and hit 41 of 109 3-pointers (37.6%), while garnering enough interest with his offensive game to nab an invite to the minor league’s offseason showcase.

The D-League camp setup mirrored that of the draft combine, with body measurements, athletic tests and scrimmages. The 23-year-old Ellis measured 6-8 in shoes, at 221.4 pounds, with an 8-7.5 reach and 6-10.5 wingspan. The former KU standout displayed a 31.5-inch no-step vertical and 36-inch maximum vertical.

Mike Schmitz, who covered the D-League elite event for DraftExpress.com, reported Ellis’ measurements have been in that range since he was a 16-year-old prospect in Wichita.

“With that said, Ellis was excellent on the floor all camp long, scoring at least 17 points in all four games (20 and 25, respectively, Tuesday) on efficient shooting,” Schmitz wrote. “His footwork, ability to create with spin moves and straight-line drives from the perimeter, touch around the rim and improved 3-point shooting were evident in Chicago.”

Overall, Schmitz assessed Ellis helped his NBA prospects at the camp after a “fairly average rookie year” and compared him to Detroit’s Tobias Harris, as an undersized 4-man who can score.

None by Jonathan Givony

In Ellis’ first scrimmage, he led his team with 18 points, shot 8-for-11 and made one of two 3-pointers. He was one of two players on the team without a turnover.

During his next outing, Ellis went 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and 6-for-12 overall, while putting up 17 points and five boards (three offensive).

As referenced at DraftExpress, Ellis really took of on Day 2, when he first connected on nine of 15 shots and four of six 3-pointers en route to 25 points — the most by any player in any of the eight games — and four rebounds.

Ellis closed out the scrimmage portion of the D-League camp once again leading his group in scoring, with 20 points, on 7-of-10 shooting, while collecting just one rebound.

Portland Trail Blazers forward Cliff Alexander (34) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Portland Trail Blazers forward Cliff Alexander (34) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Un-drafted in 2015, Alexander, still just 21 years old, played for both Erie and Long Island in the D-League over the past several months. Between his two stops, he played in 40 games, averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks, while converting 51.7% of his shot attempts.

In his hometown of Chicago this week, Alexander measured 6-8.5 in shoes, with a 9-1 reach and 7-3.5 wingspan, and weighed 247.6 pounds. His no-step vertical leap reached 30.5 inches and he had a max vert of 37 inches.

Schmitz reported Alexander, whose 9-1 reach ranked second among the prospects, didn’t play in Tuesday scrimmages due to an injury.

“Measurements have never been Alexander's problem,” Schmitz wrote at DraftExpress, “… he'll have to play with a consistent motor and strong enough mentality to work his way back into the NBA. He posted the second-worst lane agility score at the camp, which doesn't bode well for his switch-ability at the NBA level, but isn't a deal-breaker, either.”

Alexander, who teamed with Ellis, shot 6-for-9 from the floor on his way to 13 points, and added a team-best eight rebounds in his first scrimmage appearance.

The big man was even more efficient scoring inside in his next showing, going 7-for-8, with 16 points and five rebounds.

Both Ellis and Alexander, like the 36 other players attending the mini camp, are unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any NBA team interested in them this offseason. As their former KU teammate Wayne Selden Jr. already has proven, playing in the D-League isn’t a death sentence for one’s NBA ambitions.

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KU football targeting LSU commit; Jayhawks make DT’s top seven

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

Though the program must first survive several more months in the good favor of some of the country’s most talented high school prospects for it to become official, at this still-fluid stage the Kansas football team’s 2018 recruiting class has to be considered a massive success.

And thanks to the tireless efforts of head coach David Beaty and his staff, there’s potential for KU to add even more coveted recruits to their list of commitments.

Predictably, the biggest potential target resides in the home state of the Jayhawks’ associate head coach, Tony Hull. The Louisiana native already has inspired two of Rivals’ top 100 rising seniors in the nation — New Orleans’ Devonta Jason (No. 25) and Corione Harris (No. 70) — to verbally commit to Kansas. Now Hull and the staff aim to add a third.

Though he currently stands as an LSU commit, four-star cornerback Kelvin Joseph tweeted on Monday his intentions to visit three other programs: Alabama, Florida State and Kansas.

None by UNCLEFAT💸

A 6-foot, 185-pound corner from Baton Rouge, La., Joseph is ranked 39th in the Class of 2018 by Rivals.

KU received more good news on the recruiting front this week when Josh Walker, a three-star defensive tackle at IMG Academy, in Bradenton, Fla., announced through his Twitter account his top seven college destinations: Arizona, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rutgers and Wake Forest.

None by Josh Walker

According to Rivals, Walker also had offers from Michigan State, Cal, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, UCLA and many other Power Five programs.

Obviously, the interest in Kansas from Joseph and Walker doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does indicate the growing approval rating for Beaty, Hull and KU as a program in the cutthroat world of college football recruiting.

Headlined by four-star commits Jason, a 6-3 receiver, and Harris, a 6-1 corner, the Jayhawks’ 2018 recruiting class currently stands at eight players, and ranks 20th in the nation according to Rivals.

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Savage reminder: Mike Lee a hard-hitting competitor in KU’s secondary

Team Jayhawk running back Ryan Schadler (33) is hit after the catch by Team KU safety Mike Lee (11) during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawk running back Ryan Schadler (33) is hit after the catch by Team KU safety Mike Lee (11) during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It’s hard to imagine a moment from a spring football game enduring in the collective memory of those who follow a team for more than a few days — a week at most. Yet, for those who watched Kansas football’s mid-April scrimmage or caught up with it after the fact via social media, it will be difficult to forget the ferocious manner in which Mike Lee played in the secondary.

Lee, a 5-foot-11 safety who made his presence in the program felt as a true freshman in 2016, with a number of savage hits, appeared even more heartless a tackler than imagined during KU’s scrimmage. It was on that stage that he twice leveled teammate Ryan Schadler to break up pass attempts to the receiver.

The Jayhawks began expecting such crunching hits from Lee versus Big 12 foes, but to do that to someone from your own locker room?

Shortly after the exhibition, the faux hard-hitting question had to be asked: Have you apologized to Ryan Schadler?

The truly powerful, up-and-coming sophomore defensive back had an even better answer.

“I apologized to his mother,” Lee revealed. “His mother came after the game, came by me. She was like, ‘Why did you have to hit my son that hard?’ I was like, ‘I wasn’t trying, but Peyton (Bender, KU quarterback) was just setting him up. … I’ve just got to make a play. That’s all I was doing.”

You have to admit, the man is dedicated to his craft. The jolts Lee delivered in an inconsequential scrimmage qualified as long-lasting reminders of his impact as a defensive play-maker and just how serious he is about creeping into the minds of potential receivers — who will know the consequences of their actions, should they try and bring in a pass when Lee lurks nearby.

via GIPHY

Schadler’s mother, Donna, just hadn’t considered all of those factors at the time.

“She was like, ‘I’m happy his ribs are OK,’” Lee added.

It was at that point in Lee’s interview that Schadler had his chance to exact revenge. The junior receiver, done with his media obligations, sneaked up behind the defensive back and grabbed his attacker — but in a display of Schadler’s admiration for Lee’s talents and his respect for a fellow competitor, rather than an angry ambush.

Though still young, Lee is widely respected by his teammates because of his approach to all things football. His commitment made him a starting Big 12 safety when he should have been a senior in high school. And his vicious plays on the ball and/or a quarterback’s intended target turned Lee into an instant fan favorite.

There will be countless more cases of clobbering in Lee’s future. But the blows he administered this spring will live on, because you wouldn’t expect an underclassman who already had made a name for himself to play — or strike — so hard in a glorified practice.

That’s just Mike Lee. He will wallop anyone on a football field wearing a uniform that doesn’t match his own. Because that’s what is asked of him.

“Really, I just run to the ball. If I know I can hit somebody hard, I do it,” Lee said, before grinning to making an addendum. “If I know I can’t, I’ll still do it.”

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Signs of life: WR Chase Harrell emerging as weapon in KU’s passing attack

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.

Over the past several days at KUsports.com, we have highlighted some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.

The days of the Kansas offense lacking productive receivers are through. They went away in 2016, actually, as Steven Sims Jr. (72 receptions) and LaQuvionte Gonzalez (62 catches) became the first Jayhawks duo to haul in at least 60 passes apiece since Kerry Meier (102) and Dezmon Briscoe (84), in 2009 — also known as the end of The Todd Reesing Era.

This coming fall at Memorial Stadium, either Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley will enjoy throwing to far more potential play-makers than their post-Reesing KU quarterback predecessors. Sims and Gonzalez are back, of course, but the Jayhawks also welcome Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot to the field. Those three alone would make KU’s receiving corps more formidable than the units of the past seven seasons. But when you consider the quality of the overall depth of the unit, there is even more reason to be optimistic.

During the Jayhawks’ spring game, eight different players — none of whom were running backs — caught at least two passes. Other than KU’s obvious top two receivers, Sims and Charlot, no one stood out as much as redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell.

Now embarking on his third season in the program, Harrell is beginning to fill out what was a wiry 6-foot-4 frame when he arrived in Lawrence in 2015. KU’s coaches were wise to utilize a redshirt season when they did. Not only was Harrell obviously not ready as a true freshmen, but sitting out also set him up to maximize his impact as a college receiver.

Harrell first provided hints of his potential this past season, when he began mixing into KU’s rotation of receivers. Harrell only caught five passes, but two were touchdowns (third-best total on the team). The Huffman, Texas, native showed up most often in red-zone situations, signaling KU’s coaches’ belief that he could make plays as a big target in the end zone.

Expect to see much more of Harrell in 2017, as a stronger receiver working with improved technique and growing confidence. In the spring game, Harrell caught three passes for 51 yards. The best came on 3rd & 18 in the second quarter, and keyed a touchdown drive.

With redshirt freshman quarterback Tyriek Starks in for a series, Harrell lined up wide on the left side of a four-receiver set. Starks looked for Harrell deep, down the left sideline, and found a window to hit his long target. Harrell came back a step to make a play on the throw and hauled it in for a 31-yard completion.

Although cornerback Kyle Mayberry was right there attempting to break up the play, Harrell achieved a spectacular snag, raising his right hand up to pull in the ball, while making certain to get his left foot down in bounds before his momentum took him out of play.

via GIPHY

Harrell doesn’t possess the speed of Sims or Gonzalez or the overall play-making ability of Charlot quite yet, but his height makes him the second-tallest target in the offense, with 6-5 Ben Johnson holding a slight edge. Harrell looks to be on the verge of a breakout season, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think he could end up KU’s third-leading pass-catcher this coming fall, behind Sims and Charlot.

That highlight reception from the scrimmage encapsulated the variety of skills Harrell now brings to the field and signaled just how essential a weapon he could become in KU’s Air Raid offense.

In many recent seasons having one receiver as talented as Harrell would have been a boon for the Kansas offense. Now the Jayhawks have a 6-4 wideout with Harrell’s talents to pair with Sims, Charlot, Gonzalez, Ryan Schadler, Ben Johnson and others.

The 2017 season should feature the most productive passing attack, by far, that KU has put together since the days of Reesing throwing to Meier and Briscoe, and Harrell’s emergence will be key in the offense taking a major step forward.

More signs of life:

- Expect an upgrade in KU’s depth and production at running back

- Former Alabama WR Daylon Charlot as good as advertised

- Peyton Bender proving why David Beaty had so much confidence in him

- Carter Stanley exhibits dual-threat ability within Air Raid

- Tom Keegan: KU offense projects as best since 2009

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Graham can follow examples of Hield and Mason to upgrade NBA stock as senior

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

The likelihood of Kansas reaching the 2018 Final Four, in San Antonio, increased significantly when Devonte’ Graham decided to return for his senior season in Lawrence.

And while the offseason strength, conditioning and skill work Graham, a 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., will put in over the next several months is geared toward helping the Jayhawks reach college basketball’s national semifinals for the first time since 2012, for him that training will have as much to do with transforming himself into a player more NBA teams will want to draft.

Graham, who has to be a leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year next season, need look no further than the league’s last two P.O.Y-winners for examples of how a strong senior season can improve your draft stock.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield projected as a second-round pick before he set the college basketball world on fire as a senior, and eventually became the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Graham’s KU teammate, Frank Mason III, won’t go that high this coming June, but the tireless lead guard went from not even being considered by NBA types a year ago to a probable late second-round pick.

With more than a year to go before Graham’s draft day, in 2018, his post-junior year situation is closer to Hield’s than Mason’s. So Graham finds himself in a favorable starting point headed into his final season of college basketball.

DraftExpress.com currently ranks Graham as the No. 33 overall pick — third in the second round — in 2018. It’s hard envisioning his stock skyrocketing in duplicate fashion to Hield’s, unless the 22-year-old’s final year at KU is accompanied by a growth spurt. Held measured 6-5 in shoes with a wingspan of 6-9.3, after his days at OU concluded. His body type, coupled with his 25.0 points per game as a senior, made it easier for scouts, coaches and general managers to picture Hield excelling in a league where the world’s tallest, fastest, strongest and most-skilled basketball players make a living.

Not as many will believe the same about Graham, due to his 6-2 height, even if he turns out a Mason-esque senior year filled with 3-point marksmanship and regular scoring outputs of the 20-plus-points variety. But a dominant final run at KU for Graham easily could propel him into the first round, and a guaranteed contract, so that will be one of his numerous goals for the offseason months ahead.

Graham won’t be able to get into the lottery conversation with the likes of the nation’s best incoming freshmen — Missouri’s 6-foot-10 Michael Porter or Arizona’s 7-footer, DeAndre Ayton — or 18-year-old Real Madrid sensation Luka Doncic (6-8). Graham’s objective should be to become the best small guard (let’s say 6-4 or under for the purposes of this exercise) in his draft class.

Here’s a glance at Graham’s competition in that category, according to DraftExpress.com’s 2018 projections:

  • 6-3 PG Trevon Duval — undecided 5-star prospect; age: 18; DX projection: 11th pick

  • 6-4 SG Lonnie Walker — 5-star freshman-to-be at Miami; age: 18; DX projection: 12th pick

  • 6-3 SG Bruce Brown — averaged 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists as freshman at Miami; age: 20; DX projection: 15th pick

  • 6-4 PG De’Anthony Melton — averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as freshman at USC; age: 18; DX projection: 18th pick

  • 6-4 PG Andrew Jones — averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists as freshman at Texas; age: 19; DX projection: 20th pick

  • 6-4 PG Frank Jackson — averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists as freshman at Duke; age: 19; DX projection: 21st pick

  • 6-4 SG Grayson Allen — averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as junior at Duke; age: 21; DX projection: 27th pick

  • 6-1 PG Aaron Holiday — averaged 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists as sophomore at UCLA; age: 20; DX projection: 43rd pick

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

At this point in time, Graham, who averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists for KU as a junior, is one of just nine guards listed at 6-4 or below in the mock draft. It’s safe to guess he would rank higher on this Draft Express list had his 3-point shooting as a junior — 94-for-242, 38.8% — resembled the next-level accuracy he displayed as a sophomore — 75-for-170, 44.1%.

If Graham wants to surpass all those other small guards in his way of becoming a mid-first-round pick next summer, showcasing his 3-point mastery as a senior would be his best bet. Long-range precision is more valued than ever in the NBA, and if you’re already smaller than most of your on-court competitors, owning expertise in some facet of the game is a must.

Kansas will need Graham’s 3-pointers as a weapon next season with Mason’s departure. If Graham is a deadeye shooter as a senior, it will benefit both his college program and his NBA chances.

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Signs of life: QB Carter Stanley exhibits dual-threat ability within Air Raid

Team KU quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws to a receiver during the first quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team KU quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws to a receiver during the first quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.

Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.

One of two Kansas football players will be in position this fall to establish himself as the program’s first functional, Big 12-level quarterback since Todd Reesing took his final snap in 2009.

It could be Peyton Bender. Or it could be Carter Stanley. The incumbent starter, thanks to a late-2016 shakeup at QB by head coach David Beaty, Stanley helped orchestrate the program’s first Big 12 victory in two years and showed flashes of promise with his arm, toughness and leadership.

In the offseason months since the conclusion of his redshirt freshman season, the sophomore QB from Vero Beach, Fla., has continued on the upward trajectory that earned Stanley his first three college starts.

This spring, while competing with Bender, a junior transfer who studied the Air Raid under guru Mike Leach at Washington State, Stanley drew praise from coaches and teammates for his performances at practices. During the spring game at Memorial Stadium, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB showed — with his arm and his legs — why the competition has been too close for Beaty and new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to decide upon a starter.

Stanley got to play a part in a little trickeration early on during the open scrimmage. After handing the ball off to running back Taylor Martin, who headed right and gave it up to receiver Kerr Johnson Jr., coming on a reverse, a flick back to Stanley set the quarterback up for a throw down the right side to an open Ben Johnson, who finished off the 27-yard gain.

Entering his third year with the program, Stanley looked poised then and at other times during the exhibition. He displayed no panic whatsoever when a snap out of the shotgun was off the mark and bounced off his left hand, landing on the turf in front of him. Stanley just picked up the ball and completed a quick pass over the middle to an open Kerr Johnson Jr.

The unrelated targets with the same last name, Ben and Kerr Johnson proved to be two of Stanley’s favorites throughout the intrasquad practice, as the QB didn’t have the luxury to throwing to frontline receivers Daylon Charlot, Steven Sims Jr. and LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Senior tight end Ben Johnson, who should get more opportunities this fall than he did as a junior, lined up in the slot on the right side within a four-receiver formation. After the snap, Ben Johsnon split defenders Derrick Neal and Keith Loneker Jr. to get open behind them and Stanley put the ball on the money, allowing Johnson to turn up field for a gain of 20 yards.

Team KU quarterback Carter Stanley (9) escapes Team Jayhawk defensive end Kellen Ash (97) during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team KU quarterback Carter Stanley (9) escapes Team Jayhawk defensive end Kellen Ash (97) during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Beaty and Meacham will tell you Stanley and Bender are different types of quarterbacks, and examples to back that up their statements popped up during the scrimmage, when Stanley showed his ability to make plays with his feet.

On a few occasions he looked very comfortable utilizing option reads. Once, out of the pistol formation, Stanley put the ball out for Martin for a potential hand-off, then kept it when he could see defensive linemen collapsing toward the middle of the play, leaving an open lane on the right side for the quarterback. He took off for a 6-yard gain and the play was blown dead (you know, the whole “Let’s not maim our QB” aspect of the spring game), but Stanley ran and shifted so smoothly in the open field it looked as if it would have been a much larger gain in a live game situation.

Later, Stanley made another good read out of a three-WR set, with Martin behind him. The QB put the ball on Martin’s waist, saw Josh Ehambe make a break for the running back and took off right for an 8-yard pick-up.

The lengthiest Stanley rush came via smart improvisation. He dropped back to survey the field as four receivers ran their routes. No one got open enough for the QB to convert a 3rd-and-9, so he made a quick decision to run straight ahead, through a gap that had formed in the middle of the O-line. Stanley out-ran defensive linemen Kellen Ash and Ehambe to get to the second level of the defense. Again, it looked like more yardage would’ve been attainable in a live situation, but the run was blown dead after 11 yards.

via GIPHY

Stanley’s passing totals in the scrimmage — 13-for-24, 114 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions — weren’t as good as Bender’s. But Stanley gained 25 yards via rushes and could have matched his counterpart’s throwing production if he had been working with the same skill players.

The redshirt sophomore won’t win the starting job just because he’s an effective runner, but that wrinkle does make him a different overall weapon as a quarterback than Bender, and Stanley’s coaches certainly won’t hold that against him while deciding on the team’s QB1.

Now that Stanley has a little Big 12 experience and growing confidence to go with increasing competence in the Air Raid system, he is on track to give Kansas a legitimate QB in 2017, should he win the job.

The best news for Beaty and the Jayhawks is both Bender and Stanley look capable of breathing life into a long dormant offense.

More signs of life:

- Expect an upgrade in KU’s depth and production at running back

- Former Alabama WR Daylon Charlot as good as advertised

- Peyton Bender proving why David Beaty had so much confidence in him

- Tom Keegan: KU offense projects as best since 2009

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Signs of life: Peyton Bender showing why David Beaty had so much confidence in him

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.

Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.

Since Todd Reesing’s college eligibility ran out at the conclusion of the 2009 season, various Kansas football coaches have hoped the quarterback they put on the field could breathe some life into the offense and the program. In the seven seasons since Reesing’s final snap at KU, the Jayhawks have averaged just two victories a year.

Finally, in 2017, it appears Kansas should have a Big 12-level QB lining up behind center, giving the beleaguered program an offense capable of — at the very least — arousing the interest of the fan base and making David Beaty’s Jayhawks more consistently competitive.

We don’t know yet if the title of QB1 will go next to the name Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley, but whomever wins the job in August has a chance to be remembered as the first functional Kansas quarterback in close to a decade.

For the purposes of this entry, we’ll focus on Bender (and take a look at Stanley in a blog to come).

It’s out of character for Beaty to set aside his “earn it” mentality and label someone as a potential starter before that player has even arrived on campus. But that’s what the third-year coach did with Bender, saying the day the former Washington State QB signed with the Jayhawks he expected Bender to come in and compete with Stanley for the most visible job on the team.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior who spent 2016 averaging 304 passing yards a game for Itawamba Community College (Miss.), Bender made his first Memorial Stadium appearance as KU’s quarterback at the spring game and orchestrated two of the three scoring drives during the open scrimmage.

His first TD pass in Lawrence not thrown behind the closed gates of a practice session came in the second quarter of the exhibition on a simple play. With KU’s top receiver, Steven Sims Jr., lined up on the left side 11 yards away from the end zone, Bender spotted soft coverage and took a couple steps back upon receiving the snap, while watching for slot receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez to position himself as a soon-to-be blocker.

Perfectly in rhythm, Sims caught Bender’s pass and Gonzalez set him up for some yards after catch by blocking cornerback DeAnte Ford. Sims swiftly cut back to the right to make safety Mike Lee miss and KU had its first Bender-to-Sims touchdown.

Quick reads and timing, staples of the Air Raid, played a part in Bender’s success on other occasions, too. And a later Sims reception during the scrimmage played out in similar fashion, with Bender getting the ball in his receiver’s hands just in time for Gonzalez to block, setting up an eight-yard gain.

One of Bender’s longest completions during his 11-for-15 outing (143 yards, two touchdowns) came in the fourth quarter with the scrimmage tied. Lined up at the 30-yard line on a second-and-two, the QB gave a little play-fake in the backfield before beginning to survey the field, with his eyes focused on the left side. Bender then turned his head to the middle of the field, where he saw receiver Ryan Schadler breaking open between the 20- and 15-yard-lines.

It might have been a little bit easier than in a game-day situation to stand in the pocket and make the throw with a defensive lineman closing in, knowing the spring game rules revolve around not getting a QB injured, but Bender put the ball on target. He threw it over the reaching arms of linebacker Osaze Ogbebor and into Schadler’s bread basket for a 25-yard completion before Lee had a chance at breaking up the play in the secondary.

Two plays later, out of the pistol, Bender went with another play-fake before making a scrimmage-winning TD throw to Daylon Charlot on a slant. The QB wasted no time on the connection, and got Charlot the ball coming toward the middle of the field before Lee could get into the throwing lane or make a play at knocking the pass to the turf.

via GIPHY

KU spent most of the 2016 season without a quarterback suited to run the offense successfully. Now that Bender is on campus and Stanley has important game experience to go with his two seasons in the offense and growing confidence, the Jayhawks should head into the fall with a QB who can extend drives and direct the offense into the end zone.

Kansas only averaged 359.5 yards a game (last in the Big 12) a year ago and scored just 27 touchdowns on offense during a 2-10 season. Whether it’s Bender or Stanley taking the snaps, the Jayhawks should easily beat those woeful bottom-of-the-league numbers in 2017, leading to at least a couple more victories and far more Saturdays of competitive football.

More signs of life:

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Signs of life: Former Alabama WR Daylon Charlot as good as advertised for KU

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot roars after scoring what proved to be the winning touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot roars after scoring what proved to be the winning touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.

Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.

If you watched the Kansas football spring game, you could see it. Sure, KU’s coaches had downplayed his standing within the offense, citing new receiver Daylon Charlot’s lack of repetitions in an Air Raid offense or describing his ability as raw because the former Alabama skill player has yet to prove anything on Saturdays in the fall.

But even in a scrimmage designed to spread the ball around and only showcase the blandest play calls, Charlot’s ability was undeniable.

The 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore who sat out as a transfer this past fall at KU looked the part of an impact receiver — even if his coaches rightfully will hold off on showering him with their praises, because it’s their job to keep complacency out of their players’ systems.

During the T.V. broadcast of the spring game, Charlot drew comparisons to former South Carolina and current Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery. While Jeffery has four inches on Charlot, the idea that KU’s newest passing-game weapon could go up and make plays in the air like a larger target proved true.

A four-star prospect out of Patterson, La., who had offers from Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame and others in 2015, Charlot made his unofficial debut as a Jayhawk at the spring game and announced his presence in spectacular fashion.

Early in the second quarter, with the offense approaching midfield, KU football fans at Memorial Stadium experienced their first “wow” play from the receiver. Of course, Charlot couldn’t have made it happen without the help of his teammates. Offensive linemen Hakeem Adeniji, Malik Clark, Hunter Saulsbury, Larry Hughes and Charles Baldwin provided great protection for another touted newcomer, junior quarterback Peyton Bender, who had roughly five seconds to survey the field before pressure came and he looked down the right sideline for the deep threat wearing a No. 2 jersey.

Charlot parked near the 29-yard line as corner Julian Chandler broke toward him and the approaching throw. Then the athletic receiver exploded up, met the ball high with two hands and got his right foot down in bounds as Chandler shoved him out of play. Charlot's strength showed up on the play, too, as he maintained possession through a backward summersault on the turf, finishing a 28-yard completion.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot rolls over out of bounds after pulling in a catch while covered by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the second quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot rolls over out of bounds after pulling in a catch while covered by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the second quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Two snaps later, Charlot was back at it, picking up 12 more yards and another first down. This time, Bender had to backpedal away from the pressure of junior defensive tackle J.J. Holmes, leading to a hurried throw. No problem for Charlot. He reached low and to his right to bring in the pass and extended his arms outward for extra yardage before being tackled.

The third and final reception for KU’s newest play-maker won the spring game for his team, with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

On second-and-goal at the 5-yard line, with the ball placed on the left hash, Charlot flanked out to the right side. With running back Khalil Herbert lined up behind Bender in a pistol formation, a play-fake up the middle set up a one-on-one for Charlot as he made a break toward the goal line, getting inside position on Chandler.

When Bender’s pass met Charlot’s hands, the sophomore receiver out-muscled his defender to come away with the score on a slant.

via GIPHY

A year ago, Kansas finished ninth in the Big 12 in passing offense (240 yards a game) in large part because of its quarterback troubles. But having only Steven Sims Jr. (72 receptions, 859 yards) and LaQuvionte Gonzalez (62 catches, 729 yards) as consistent targets played a role, too. Sims’ overall talent and Gonzalez’s speed in space only could do so much when defenses keyed on them as the obvious top choices within the passing attack.

This fall, opposing defensive backs won’t be able to load up on Sims, Gonzalez or Charlot without leaving one of them or some other capable KU receiver in a favorable situation.

Spring games are only games in name. Had offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and company actually been out there at the glorified practice with the full offense at their disposal and playing in an actual game with a regular-season victory on the line, we would have seen even more of Charlot.

Instead, we will have to wait until September to get a true sense of just how substantial an impact the former Alabama receiver will make. At least we also know, thanks to spring ball, we can anticipate Charlot living up to his hype and his own expectations.

More signs of life

- Expect an upgrade in KU’s depth and production at running back

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Signs of life: Expect an upgrade in KU’s depth and production at running back

Team Jayhawk running back Khalil Herbert (10) charges up the field on a run during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawk running back Khalil Herbert (10) charges up the field on a run during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.

Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.

No one who watched Kansas football the previous two years would characterize the team’s running back production or depth as a strength. That could change this fall.

Before spring football began, it seemed reasonable to think KU’s starting running back might not even be on campus this semester. The headliner of Beaty’s 2017 high school recruiting class, after all, is four-star running back Dom Williams. The 5-foot-9 dynamo from Frisco, Texas, won’t report to Lawrence until the summer. What’s more, three-star junior college running back Octavius Matthews will officially join the roster at the same time.

This past fall, neither Taylor Martin (91 carries, 324 yards, four touchdowns) nor Khalil Herbert (44 carries, 189 yards, three touchdowns) showed enough to prove they should enter 2017 at the top of the depth chart. However, this spring both looked far more intriguing, exhibiting flashes as players who need to touch the ball and make an impact on offense.

During KU’s spring game, Herbert, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, displayed the speed and power he rarely got to show off as a true freshman due to a toe injury that slowed him down. On one fourth-and-1 play early on, Herbert made a slight, swift cut to avoid a head-on tackle and his muscular frame powered him through the contact for nine yards and a first down.

Herbert also helped create one of the more impressive offensive plays of the open scrimmage that Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Lined up to the left of quarterback Peyton Bender in the backfield, the promising back from Coral Springs, Fla., took a screen pass in the right flat, with center Hunter Saulsbury and right guard Larry Hughes hustling out in space to block for him.

As an aside: KU’s offensive linemen actually look more like Big 12 O-linemen now. Big guys with the ability to move their feet and execute blocks. Saulsbury (filling in for banged-up Mesa Ribordy) and Hughes did a nice job on this play, as they teamed up with tackles Hakeem Adeniji and Charles Baldwin and sophomore left guard Malik Clark.

Back to Herbert. Bender’s pass was a little high due to some QB pressure from All-Big 12 defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., but Herbert made the grab look simple and then used key blocks from Saulsbury and Hughes to create a 26-yard gain. Going right-to-left off the blocks, he shot out of the running lane after a great cutback.

Team KU running back Taylor Martin (24) looks to make a move during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team KU running back Taylor Martin (24) looks to make a move during the third quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Speaking of impressive reads and reactions on the run, Martin, a speedy 5-10 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, made one early on in the spring game, too. Martin was headed right out of the backfield and could see the defensive line penetrating at the point he planned to attack. With one cut to the left Martin re-routed and sped ahead for a nine-yard gain.

In the past, Martin got himself and the offense into trouble by trying to make too many jukes and cuts rather than utilizing his sprinter’s speed on straight-away paths. During the second quarter of the spring game Martin proved he has made strides to address those habits that he used to get away with in high school.

On one carry, Martin made the slightest cut left in the backfield to avoid a bunch of snarled linemen, only to tear ahead, spin off a would-be tackler and go eight more yards for a 12-yard pick-up. He got the offense half-way to another first down on the very next play by surveying his blocks and jetting through them after one necessary left-to-right juke to put himself in position.

On his longest carry of the scrimmage, Martin didn’t need to cut, spin, leap or zigzag. He just followed the O-line as it shifted to the right, creating a lane for him to show off his track speed, which Martin harnessed to reach the secondary level of the defense on a 13-yard carry. In particular, senior left guard Jayson Rhodes stood out as a blocker, getting over quickly to seal the left side of Martin’s running-lane chute to a first down.

It was only a spring game, and neither Herbert (six carries, 27 yards) nor Martin (seven rushes, 43 yards) dominated by any means in KU’s Air Raid offense. But they both looked like Big 12 backs capable of playing at a starting level this fall.

The competition between Bender and Carter Stanley to become KU’s starting quarterback has the most attention. But with Herbert, Martin, Williams and Matthews all vying to reach the top of the running backs depth chart, that will be an even more challenging battle.

Regardless of who emerges as the starter, KU looks to have its best stable of running backs in some time, and the Jayhawks should have no problem out-performing their 119.1 rushing yards a game from a year ago, which ranked ninth in the Big 12 and more than 40 yards a game behind eighth-place Iowa State.

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4-star WR Devonta Jason — committed to KU — now has 27 offers

None by Whop

It’s been less than three months since four-star high school receiver Devonta Jason — one of the top 25 juniors in the nation according to Rivals — shocked the football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, along with his Louisiana prep teammate Corione Harris, a four-star cornerback.

While the news helped introduce KU fans to the term “Louisianimals” and doubled as a sign of associate head coach Tony Hull’s strength as a recruiter, Jason’s verbal commitment doesn’t mean he will definitely play for the Jayhawks in 2018. That won’t become official until he and other members of a Kansas recruiting class that currently ranks 14th in the nation sign their national letters of intent.

As of this week, Jason, a 6-foot-3 receiver now playing at more than 200 pounds, has received 27 scholarship offers — coming from programs in each of the Power Five conferences. The most recent two came Monday, from an old Kansas rival, Missouri, and the Pac-12’s Arizona.

Initially an LSU commit, Jason has much to ponder ahead of his senior season at Landry-Walker High, in New Orleans — the same school from which KU safety Mike Lee graduated early before turning into an impact freshman in the Big 12.

Earlier this month, Jason told SEC Country he is on pace to graduate from high school in December, and enroll at the university of his choice (possibly Kansas) for the 2018 spring semester.

That has to qualify as good news for KU head coach David Beaty and Louisiana recruiting guru Hull. The less time powerhouse programs have to try to sway Jason away, the better the chances for Kansas to get Rivals’ No. 25 player in the nation on the field in Lawrence. National Signing Day isn’t until Feb. 7, 2018. But if Jason graduates in December, the Jayhawks could already have him on campus by then — similar to what the staff did a few months back, with freshman linebacker Kyron Johnson, a three-star prospect from Arlington, Texas.

Open about his ongoing recruitment in interviews since committing to Kansas, Jason told SECCountry.com all the programs going after him have a chance.

“I’m going to be fair about it. I’m committed to Kansas, but LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are all tied in second,” Jason said a few weeks ago.

According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Jason is the highest-rated receiver ever to commit to KU.

It’s not a done deal now. Not even close. But just the idea of a wideout as talented as Jason one day suiting up for the Jayhawks and operating in the Air Raid offense should be enough to get an at times disinterested fan base excited about what Beaty, Hull and company are doing.

In the meantime, we’ll have to watch from afar and see if even more offers come in for the coveted receiver. One thing is certain: coaches from far more renowned programs will continue to do everything they can to get Jason to back out of his KU commitment.

Below is a timeline of Jason’s college recruitment.

2015

- Nov. 4: Commits to LSU

2016

  • April 9: Offer from Mississippi State

  • April 29: Offer from Kansas

  • May 2: Offer from West Virginia

  • May 4: Offer from Georgia

  • May 5: Offer from Nicholls State

  • May 6: Offer from Florida

  • May 11: Offers from Arkansas and Ole Miss

  • May 13: Offer from Jackson State

  • May 14: Offer from Delta State

  • May 17: Offer from Alabama

  • June 24: Offer from Miami (Fla.)

- July 9: De-commits from LSUas does Landry-Walker teammate Corione Harris

  • July 13: Offer from Tennessee

  • Dec. 12: Offers from Auburn, Arkansas State and Memphis

2017

  • Jan. 2: Offer from Texas A&M

  • Jan. 12: Offer from Florida State

  • Jan. 17: Offer from Oklahoma

  • Jan. 18: Offer from Iowa State

  • Jan. 21: Offer from Indiana

- Feb. 4: Commits to Kansasas does Landry-Walker teammate Harris

  • Feb. 9: Offers from TCU and Louisiana-Lafayette

  • Feb. 21: Offer from Tulane

  • April 24: Offers from Arizona and Missouri

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