Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”
As basketball has evolved into more of a floor-spacing, 3-point-friendly game over the course of the past several years, an increasing number of big men with frames both large and athletic enough to dominate the paint have relocated to the perimeter with the idea being they will better fit into modern offenses.
Six-foot-10 Kansas freshman David McCormack recognizes why some centers and power forwards want to adopt that style of play. But that’s not who he is.
McCormack prides himself on impacting the game with force on the interior.
“I definitely see myself as a classic big or more old school big,” he said. “I’m not one to tend to step out and shoot 3-pointers constantly or things of those sorts.”
Although it was only a glorified pick-up game, played to entertain the hundreds of KU basketball campers in attendance, McCormack performed with power around the basket in an intrasquad scrimmage this past week.
While scoring 18 points, the freshman from prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy showed off the following:
• a one-handed jam off a cut from the free-throw line
• a made jumper from beyond the right elbow
• a monster two-handed follow slam off a teammate’s missed 3-pointer
• a dribble into a contested baseline jumper from the right side
• a tomahawk slam to finish a fast break
• another two-handed follow dunk on the offensive glass
• a layup created by a teammate’s penetration
• a third fierce put-back jam, with two hands, upon meeting a teammate’s missed shot at the rim
While he at times resembles a big man from a bygone era, McCormack made it clear his effectiveness isn’t limited to layups, dunks, offensive rebounds and shots in the paint.
“I know I’m a back-to-the-basket big. But I also have the face-up game and mid-range,” he said.
McCormack, now in his second week of summer workouts at KU, began impressing his new coaches immediately. Assistant Kurtis Townsend said the 260-pound newcomer arrived with his body in great shape. A Bill Self assistant for the past 14 seasons, Townsend said McCormack dunks “everything around the basket,” has good hands, tries to block shots and already looks to be a “really good rebounder.”
A player of McCormack’s stature and four-star pedigree would immediately plug into most starting lineups as a freshman. But KU is so deep up front, with Udoka Azubuike, Dedric Lawson, Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, that the McDonald’s All-American figures to begin his college career as a super-sub.
“He plays with a high motor all the time,” Townsend said. “Sometimes he’s a little sped up, but, boy, if that’s your big guy that comes off the bench after those guys are pounding on Dok, I think he’s gonna be terrific.”
During his first week of workouts, pick-up games and one-on-ones — pretty much any time he was on a basketball court — McCormack said he most often found himself matched up with 6-9 sophomore forward De Sousa.
He’s looking forward to both training alongside and battling against every big in KU’s deep frontcourt.
“This is definitely a different experience with so many well-trained and developed bigs,” McCormack said. “Playing against another high-level athlete constantly with Dedric and Dok and Silvio and Mitch just constantly pushes you to be better.”
McCormack’s approach to the game should compel his teammates, as well, while also pleasing KU’s coaches. He’ll be too intense, mature and impactful to warm the cushy bench seats at Allen Fieldhouse as a freshman.
KU’s newest big man would fit in on a basketball court in any era. Just don’t be too surprised when he takes an old-school style into the 2018-19 season.
When USA Basketball announced this past March that University of Kansas coach Bill Self would lead the U18 men’s national team at the FIBA Americas championship it seemed fitting one of his assistants this summer would be former KU All-American and Self staffer Danny Manning.
As two of the most popular men in KU’s storied history reunited at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, in Colorado Springs, Colo., just more than a week ago, Manning, too, thought it felt natural.
“This is like learning to ride a bicycle again,” Manning told Gary R. Blockus in an interview for USA Basketball’s website. “I hopped out there onto the court and felt really comfortable with what coach Self was teaching and how he was teaching it. It felt really good.”
Manning, of course, played a part in both of KU’s two most recent national championships, leading the Jayhawks to the 1988 title as a player and later serving as an assistant on Self’s staff in 2008.
Now heading into his fifth season as Wake Forest’s head coach, Manning credited Self for helping him carve out his post-NBA career path. Upon retiring in 2003, Manning first served as a director of student-athlete development and team manager at KU, before Self made him an assistant.
“I needed to see this business from the bottom up, see how it worked and see the way guys handled things. I just wanted to be a sponge,” Manning said of learning from both Self and longtime KU assistant Norm Roberts.
As Self, Manning and incoming KU freshman guard Quentin Grimes head this weekend into preliminary-round play at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, Manning’s past experiences with USA Basketball figure to be an immeasurable bonus in the team’s preparation.
The same year that he became the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Manning averaged 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds a game for the U.S. Olympic Team, which won a bronze medal in 1988. Prior to that, Manning was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 1987, after posting a team-best 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the U.S. Pan American Games Team, which captured silver. A versatile 6-foot-10 forward in his prime, Manning also won gold medals with the 1985 U.S. Olympic Festival North Team and the 1984 USA R. William Jones Cup Team.
What’s more, this isn’t Manning’s first time representing his country in a coaching capacity. He worked on the U.S. staff that won a bronze medal at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup and served as a court coach at the 2014 USA Men’s U18 National Team training camp.
So Manning enters the upcoming tournament featuring teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada, Chile and Ecuador uniquely knowledgable of all that goes into competing on such a stage.
“For other countries, playing against the USA team is something they look forward to,” Manning said. “I was guilty of overlooking that as a player, and to a certain extent, these kids are guilty as well, because they don’t know any better.”
Manning said he, Self and Dayton head coach Anthony Grant (the other assistant on the USA U18 staff) must make their assemblage of talented, young individuals understand what it means to have those USA letters on their jerseys.
“You’re going to get everybody’s best shot night in, night out, game in, game out,” Manning said. “You’ve got to be prepared for that, and you’ve got to be able to battle through some adversity if things don’t go your way. We’re trying to incorporate these things into the team process.”
Team USA opens the FIBA Americas U18 Championship at 5 p.m. CT, Sunday, versus Dominican Republic, with matchups against other Group A members Panama (Monday) and Puerto Rico (Tuesday) to follow. Tournament play begins Thursday, using the results from group play to seed the bracket.
“I’m looking forward to getting them as best-prepared as we can be,” Manning said, “with the ultimate goal of winning the gold medal.”
If NBA prospects carried business cards with them to pre-draft workouts, Svi Mykhailiuk’s would include the phrase “not just a shooter” somewhere adjacent to his unique name.
That’s the message the … well, how should we put this … 3-point shooter from Kansas is pushing as he meets with organizations.
Since Mykhailiuk began touring the country to meet with various NBA coaches and front office members, he hasn’t abandoned the skill that makes him a draft-able prospect. The 6-foot-7.75 Ukrainian guard just doesn’t want any potential employer thinking his long-range accuracy is all he has to offer.
Asked earlier this week following a workout in El Segundo, Calif., what he wanted to show the Los Angeles Lakers, Mykhailiuk turned to his go-to pitch.
“That I can do more than shoot, because everybody knows I’m a shooter,” said Mykhailiuk, who connected on 44.4% of his 3-pointers, making 2.9 a game as a KU senior this past season. “I think I can do way more than shoot and I think I showed it today.”
The 20-year-old Ukrainian prospect said he envisions himself as a combo guard once he gets to the NBA.
“I think I can handle the ball. Nobody really knew I can handle the ball,” Mykhailiuk identified as one attribute that might surprise evaluators. “Sometimes I used to play point guard (for Ukraine’s national program), so I think I have ball-handling skills.”
After testing the draft waters without an agent in 2017, Mykhailiuk worked on his defensive approach upon returning to Kansas for his final season of college basketball.
“I just had to step up,” he told ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony. “I think I had a bigger role and I needed to embrace it.”
As a shooting guard asked to defend opposing power forwards in KU’s four-guard lineup this past season, Mykhailiuk described how head coach Bill Self basically forced him to take his defensive responsibilities personally and play with more toughness while often trying to stop larger, stronger players.
“Defense is not about physical ability. It’s all about thinking,” Mykhailiuk said. “If you start in the right position it’s going to be easier to defend.”
He’s certain playing four years at KU made him a more complete player entering the professional ranks and Mykhailiuk expects to continue that development in the years to come.
“I’m still 20 years old, and I think I have a lot of room to grow,” he said, while also telling Givony whichever franchise takes him will get “way more than a shooter.”
In the upside-obsessed NBA, Mykhailiuk’s potential to be molded into a more effective player should help his stock. In a new mock draft published by Givony at ESPN.com on Thursday, Mykhailiuk is slotted at No. 56 in the 60-pick draft. The Ringer’s mock draft doesn’t include him, but SI.com predicts Mykhailiuk will go 58th.
“Nobody knows, man.” the former KU guard told reporters in El Segundo, when asked if he had heard about where he might land. “There’s no way to really tell where you’re gonna go, so I guess we’re gonna see.”
The projected late second-rounder experienced his eighth pre-draft workout Wednesday, with Sacramento.
Although he admitted to feeling “a little” worn out by all the traveling, Mykhailiuk asserted he found the process enjoyable, because there are “no distractions.” Right now, his life is just about basketball and not much else.
That focus helped him at his previous stop, with the Lakers. Near the end of a workout, prospects are put through what L.A. calls its “mentality drill.” A player is asked to dribble up and down the floor and make as many shots as possible in 90 seconds. You get one point for a layup, two for a jumper and three for a shot from beyond the arc.
The Lakers told the soon-to-be 21-year-old after the fact he finished one point shy of the best performance they had seen.
“I didn’t know the record so I kept shooting 3’s,” Mykhailiuk said, grinning. “I should’ve got two layups.”
The truest and most effective 3-point shooters don’t allow recent misses to turn into second-guesses.
It’s a quality sharpened over time and one Svi Mykhailiuk brings with him into every pre-draft workout.
During his four seasons playing at the University of Kansas, Mykhailiuk drained 237 shots from beyond the arc. But none of the other makes will be remembered as fondly or clearly as the 3 the 6-foot-7 guard hit in the 2018 Elite Eight, tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and paving the way for KU to defeat Duke in overtime en route to the Final Four.
Mykhailiuk delivered that crucial basket on a day when many of his 3-pointers weren’t falling. But the NBA prospect from Ukraine displayed no hesitation — only confidence — on his game-tying release.
Appearing on “Off The Bench,” a podcast for the Wizards’ website, following his workout with Washington this past week, Mykhailiuk, who shot 3-for-9 against Duke this past March, explained what enabled him to connect on the biggest shot of his college career.
“I know I’m a pretty good shooter and I know my teammates believe in me. That’s why they wanted me to shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “At that time, I didn’t really know what time was on the clock and (Devonte’ Graham) passed me the ball and I felt confident in my shot. I just stepped to it and just shot it. I got lucky it went in,” he added, with a self-deprecating laugh.
A 44.4% 3-point shooter as a 20-year-old senior at KU, Mykhailiuk possesses a defining, if not elite-level, skill — a claim many draft hopefuls can’t make. He’s attempting to model his game after one of the NBA’s greatest shooters, Klay Thompson, as he embarks on his professional career. But he also aims to prove to coaches and executives in the coming weeks he has more to offer.
“I’m a very versatile guy, can guard from 1 to 4 and I just know my role and know how to do the little things,” Mykhailiuk said of what he tries to display during workouts.
In Washington, he shared court time with, among others, Michigan’s Mo Wagner, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. But Mykhailiuk was far more pleased to see good friend and fellow Jayhawk Graham at the workout. It marked the second time the KU duo ended up at the same evaluation session for a team (Chicago being the other).
“It’s definitely cool coming to the same workout with a guy who was with you for four years, best friends,” Mykhailiuk said. “Just kind of makes you relaxed and do better during the workout. We help each other, which is great.”
At times during their trip to D.C., the prospects from Kansas had to square off. Mykhailiuk said neither minded, though, because it wasn’t their first time battling.
“We like to have fun and go one-on-one and it usually gets competitive. We know each other, we know our strong and weak sides and each other’s moves,” he shared, “so it’s kind of hard for us to score against each other.”
Mykhailiuk worked out for Phoenix on Monday.
ESPN’s current mock draft projects the Ukrainian shooting guard as the No. 51 choice in the 60-pick draft. Sports Illustrated’s predictions have Mykhailiuk going 60th, while The Ringer currently expects him to go undrafted.
The NBA Draft is June 21, in Brooklyn.
If you’re looking for Devonte’ Graham these days, he’s most likely inside an NBA practice facility, at an airport, on a plane or somewhere in between.
The four-year point guard from Kansas finds himself bouncing from coast to coast on what amounts to a debunking tour. Graham’s out on a mission to prove to every franchise willing to look at him that it’s OK to draft a proven college graduate over a less experienced prospect who may — or may not — have upside.
After working out for Washington in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Graham, a 23-year-old prospect in a draft class full of younger players, challenged the notion that college basketball veterans have peaked before they even arrive in the NBA.
“I feel like every year in the league people develop,” Graham told a group of reporters. “Like LeBron’s playing his best game right now in his 15th year in the league. So I don’t think (age) has anything to do with it.”
The All-American from KU pointed to the 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft, four-year Villanova standout Josh Hart, as a recent example of a seasoned college player helping a team immediately. Hart shot 46.9% from the floor, 39.6% on 3-pointers and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“You can always develop your game and get better,” Graham said. “No matter how long you was in college.”
On ESPN’s most recent mock draft, Graham, projected as the No. 43 overall pick, is the second-oldest player listed — younger than only TCU forward Kenrich Williams, by a couple of months. ESPN’s top 100 list includes just two other players older than Graham: Colorado’s George King (24) and Cincinnati’s Gary Clark (born 3 months before Graham).
With those few extra years of basketball and life experience comes wisdom. Graham didn’t bring up his 3-point shooting (40.6% as a senior) or passing (7.2 assists per game while leading KU to the Final Four) when discussing what he tries to prove to NBA coaches and executives during workouts.
“Just be aggressive, show I can compete, defend,” Graham explained of his strategy. “A lot of teams know what you can do offensively. So I just try to show them the little things that help a team win.”
Playing four years for Bill Self helped Graham’s confidence, too, which ultimately allowed him to enter the pre-draft process at his best.
“I could just see him believing in me, so I believed in myself a lot more,” Graham related, while getting into what molded him into the player he has become. “Just having that chip on my shoulder like I have something to prove. Because I was supposed to be at Appalachian State. So I just carried that with me and took it to the gym every day.”
Self, Graham added, “definitely” required much from him as a point guard.
“But he felt like I was one of the best leaders, so he demanded a lot more out of me,” Graham added.
KU’s most recent Big 12 Player of the Year called upon his predecessor, Frank Mason III, for advice before embarking on his workout and interview journey. Like Mason, who became the 34th pick in the 2017 draft, Graham will have to take care of his body in the weeks ahead while jetting to and from a long list of destinations.
Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday, and will do the same with Phoenix Friday. Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and many other teams remain on his docket.
“I’ve got like 13, 14 workouts,” Graham said with a shrug, “so I’ve got a good amount.”
Washington owns the 44th pick in the draft, a spot where Sports Illustrated’s mock draft predicts Graham could end up.
“I like the way they play,” Graham said of the Wizards, a team led by star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. “That’s the way we tried to play at Kansas. Fast. They’ve got good guards that can handle it, pass it, shoot it. I feel like I can do that pretty well. Just come off the bench and do my role.”
If you call yourself a shooter, there’s no reason to aim for average. You might as well go ahead and model yourself after one of the best.
That’s the approach four-year Kansas marksman Svi Mykhailiuk carries with him as he prepares for the NBA Draft.
This past week at the league’s combine for potential incoming rookies, Mykhailiuk, of course, showed off his 3-point precision. But the 20-year-old from Ukraine also made it clear he’s holding himself to a high standard while attempting to prove himself worthy of some team’s draft pick.
Mykhailiuk’s eyes lit up during a media interview at the combine when asked what part of his game translates best to the NBA level.
“Definitely shooting,” KU’s all-time leader for 3-point makes in a season (115) replied. “In the NBA everybody needs shooting. Everybody needs to stretch the floor. And everybody needs a guy who can create. So I think I’m one of them guys.”
At this juncture at least, Mykhailiuk isn’t considered a lock to hear his name called over the course of the two-round draft on June 21, in Brooklyn. ESPN’s mock draft lists him at No. 51, Sports Illustrated slots the 6-foot-7 shooter as the 60th and final pick of the draft and The Ringer projects him as undrafted.
Undaunted, Mykhailiuk didn’t think twice when asked whether he tries to model his game after any current NBA players.
“Definitely. I watch a lot of Klay Thompson,” Mykhailiuk said of the Golden State shooting guard, already a a four-time all-star. “I think we’re similar. We have the same height. And I think I can play at that level.”
Since the Warriors made Thompson their late-lottery selection (11th overall) in 2011, the 6-7 guard from Washington State has drilled 1,557 3-pointers, hitting 42.2% of his attempts over the course of seven regular seasons. Thompson already ranks 24th all-time in career NBA 3-pointers made and has finished in the top 10 in 3-point percentage in five different seasons.
So Mykhailiuk wasn’t fooling around when he chose a 3-point shooting role model.
No one expects the Jayhawks’ most recent long-range specialist to go down as one of the NBA’s all-time sharpshooters, which is the trajectory for Thompson. Still, it’s worth noting they experienced similar success at the college level.
Thompson — who turned 21 in February of his final collegiate season — shot 39.8% from 3-point range as a junior before leaving WSU early to enter the draft. That’s the same percentage Mykhailiuk — who will turn 21 in June — put up his junior season, before nailing 44.4% from beyond the arc as a senior.
Obviously Svi’s shooting spirit animal had much more to offer as a prospect in 2011. The son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay averaged 21.6 points as a WSU junior and attacked his way to the free-throw line for 5.4 attempts a game. Mykhailiuk, as a senior, averaged 14.6 points and attempted 1.4 free throws while playing alongside All-American point guard Devonte’ Graham at KU.
While Thompson then — like Mykhailiuk now — navigated the pre-draft process facing questions about his defense and athleticism, he did have a 6-9 wingspan and 8-7.5 standing reach working in his favor. A starter with the Warriors as a rookie, Thompson eventually proved skeptics wrong.
Mykhailiuk’s wingspan measured at 6-4.75 with a standing reach of 8-4 at this year’s combine. Who knows if any team will ever see him as a rotation player, let alone a starter.
Regardless of where his professional career begins or ends up, Mykhailiuk is appreciative to have teams considering him for the draft. And he’s trying to prove there’s more to him than his specialty.
Asked what area of his game improved the most during his senior year, Mykhailiuk responded with “literally everything.”
“Dribbling, penetration, shooting, passing,” he added. “I’m trying to show everything.”
If an organization does draft Mykhailiuk, though, it will be primarily for his 3-point shooting, and because he demands so much of himself in that category.
Both Mykhailiuk and Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday, and the KU duo will again be on the same practice court Wednesday, when they put their games on display for Washington.
As the NBA Draft Combine gets underway in Chicago, it’s important to remember that not all analysts are as high on this year’s crop of Kansas prospects as others.
While ESPN long has included Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk among its list of projected second-rounders for 2018, the newly unveiled mock draft at The Ringer only expects two Jayhawks to earn selections.
A little more than a month ahead of the draft, The Ringer’s guide forecasts Newman as the first Kansas player off the board, with the 21-year-old guard going 44th overall (14th in the second round).
Unlike ESPN’s mock, which currently values Graham as the best player from KU, The Ringer slotted the 23-year-old point guard at No. 53 in the 60-pick draft.
Graham’s four-year year teammate and on-and-off-the-court running mate, Mykhailiuk, didn’t appear on the list.
Ringer draft pundit Kevin O’Connor, who provided scouting reports on the likely draftees, touted Newman for his “spark-plug scoring,” describing the redshirt sophomore guard who helped KU reach the Final Four as “a pure bucket-getter who can generate offense off the bench, though his defense limits his upside.”
And because it’s officially player comp season, The Ringer’s comprehensive guide includes a handy profile of each draft hopeful. Likely in order to tone down any basketball-internet backlash against the analysis, instead of straight comparisons — which typically are unfair anyway — each profile includes names of past or current NBA players who one might see “shades of” while watching a prospect.
When inspecting video of Newman, O’Connor noticed some similarities to Monta Ellis, Dion Waiters and Seth Curry.
As far as Graham’s potential is concerned, his main selling point was described as “gritty defense.”
O’Connor’s scouting report described the KU All-American as “a high-energy, hard-nosed defender who improved his point guard skills as a senior.”
In Graham’s footage, he saw “shades of” a “lean” Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Wilbekin.
O’Connor lists Newman as the No. 41 prospect in the draft class, and Graham at No. 48. Ringer staffers Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks also provided their own big boards. Chau placed Newman 48th, with Graham 50th. Tjarks gauged Newman as the 42nd-best player, and had Graham 44th.
The good news for Newman and Graham, as well as Mykhailiuk, and former KU teammates Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike is the pre-draft process is just beginning. The days and weeks ahead — and how they perform in workouts, scrimmages and interviews — will ultimately determine their draft stock. Now it’s up to them to prove themselves to NBA coaches and executives.
While four of the league’s best teams remain alive (technically) for the 2018 championship, it’s currently pre-draft season for most NBA franchises.
Prospects and evaluations will dominate conversations in the coming days at the NBA Draft Combine, in Chicago, as executives, coaches and scouts scrutinize the viability of the 69 draft hopefuls in attendance. As everyone involved with the combine attempts to forecast the careers of the candidates on display, player comparisons almost become unavoidable.
From his days as a five-star prospect in Jackson, Miss., to the past three years as an aspiring NBA player at Mississippi State and the University of Kansas, Malik Newman has heard his name tied with various supposedly similar professional guards who came before him.
In the midst of his stunning NCAA Tournament run with the Jayhawks — 21. 6 points per game, 47.1% shooting, 15-for-34 on 3-pointers, 27-for-30 on free throws — Newman was presented with a player comparison, courtesy of a former KU guard. While watching Newman go against Clemson in the Sweet 16, former Bill Self pupil Russell Robinson tweeted out that Newman’s game reminded him of 13-year NBA veteran Lou Williams.
Like Newman, Williams was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. Since bypassing college for the NBA in 2005, the 6-foot-1 guard has scored 11,807 career points, picking up the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2015. Williams’ most recent season, his 13th, was his best, as he averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists — both career highs — garnering all-star consideration while primarily coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Listed at 6-3 and more of a scorer than distributor at heart, did Newman like being connected him Williams?
“Yeah. I love Lou Will’s game,” Newman replied in late March. “I feel like he’s an underrated scorer in the league. That’s what he’s known for is getting buckets. So, I mean, I’ll definitely take that.”
Oddly enough, Newman said two comparisons he often had received were to Williams and another former Sixth Man of the Year (2005), 6-3 guard Ben Gordon, the third overall pick by Chicago in 2004.
“So I’ll definitely take both of those,” Newman added.
He won’t be a lottery pick like Gordon was coming out of UConn. But if Newman wants to follow someone’s career trajectory to NBA success, Williams would serve as an ideal role model. In 2005, Philadelphia selected Williams in the middle of the second round (No. 45 overall). Entering this week’s combine, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony projects Newman as a mid-second round pick (No. 44 overall).
Some players go into this pre-draft process with unrealistic expectations for themselves. In fact, it’s possible for some to entertain impractical ideas after hearing from people employed in the NBA. This past March, one league executive told TNT’s David Aldridge that Newman reminded him of Ray Allen “in size, personality and shooting ability,” characterizing the possibly overlooked Newman as a “value pick.” Allen is a 10-time all-star and hall of famer.
It’s to Newman’s credit that someone would even conjure up such a career track for him. It’s also encouraging that he isn’t headed to the combine thinking he’s about to become an all-time great.
Newman said he doesn’t even have a specific NBA player he tries to model his game after. His two favorites are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. But he’s not claiming to be either of those all-stars. He’s not even hyping himself as the next Lou Williams or Ben Gordon — though he’d leave the league fulfilled if able to mirror either of their careers.
Grounded while confident is an ideal approach for a prospect entering the pre-draft process, and it seems Newman is willing to follow that strategy, even as more player comparisons are likely to be thrown his way in the weeks leading up to the June 21 draft.
Spring football came and went in Lawrence without anyone knowing for sure who will open the 2018 season as the starting quarterback at Kansas. But if forced today to take a stab at the winner of the competition nearly four months ahead of the Jayhawks’ season opener, the safest bet would be senior Peyton Bender.
So even though some KU football supporters might think new sophomore QB Miles Kendrick or redshirt junior Carter Stanley would be better suited for the job, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the unpredictability of the battle, that Athlon Sports rolled with Bender when ranking the top starting quarterbacks in FBS.
A 6-foot-1 senior who began his college career at Washington State and played at Itawamba Community College (Miss.) one season before transferring to Kansas, Bender started eight games and threw for 1,609 yards (20th all-time at KU), 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while completing 54.2 percent of his 273 throws in 2017. Those numbers landed Bender at No. 108 out of 130 passers on the list.
“The Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense for eight consecutive seasons,” Steven Lassan wrote for Athlon. “Without better play under center in 2018, that streak is likely to extend to nine.”
Bender didn’t finish last among Power Five quarterbacks. That unflattering distinction went to Illinois’ Cam Thomas (116th). Another Big Ten QB, who happens to be on KU’s schedule this fall, Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski (110th) also ranked behind Bender. The only other QB from a power conference lower than Bender was Oregon State’s Jake Luton (109th).
While Bender registered closer to 130th-ranked Kilton Anderson of Coastal Carolina, one of his Big 12 peers, West Virginia senior Will Grier, is Athlon’s No. 1 QB in the country.
The majority of the league’s other quarterbacks ended up closer to, or in, the middle of the pack: Baylor’s Charlie Brewer (32nd), Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt (33rd), Texas’ Sam Ehlinger (34th), Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (35th), Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson (54th), TCU’s Shawn Robinson (70th) and Oklahoma State’s Dru Brown (77th). The only Big 12 QB in Bender’s neighborhood was Texas Tech’s McLane Carter (97th).
Although Bender experienced enough turmoil in his debut season with KU that he lost the starting job seven games into 2017, Stanley didn’t show enough to win the gig for himself entering the off-season, and Kansas brought in sophomore junior college transfer Kendrick to enter the fray this spring.
The battle to become KU’s starting QB could very well continue through the week of preparation leading up to the team’s Sept. 1 opener versus Nicholls State. Bender didn’t do well during his junior year when the offensive line broke down, so if the coaching staff envisions such scenarios becoming commonplace again in 2018, Bender might not end up starting.
But if head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham see enough promise and improvement up front from O-line coach A.J. Ricker’s group, it could become Bender’s job to lose. A fifth-year player — he took a redshirt his first season at WSU, in 2014 — Bender has studied and made throws in some version or other of the Air Raid longer than Stanley or Kendrick. Plus, Bender projects as the most consistent downfield passer.
If Kansas can find a way to balance its offense by featuring Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams in the run game, it might help the offense play to Bender’s strengths and make him a more effective QB.
Of course, all of those best-case scenarios hinge on the success of the offensive line, which lost center Mesa Ribordy to retirement this off-season.
As usual with KU football, more questions exist than easy solutions.
Headed into his fourth season in charge of the ever-floundering Kansas football program, David Beaty has boundless miles to go before proving he is capable of making the Jayhawks winners.
A reminder of the deficit in which Beaty finds himself operating surfaced Tuesday, when CBS Sports published the first installment of its Power Five conference coaches rankings.
On the worst-to-best ordered countdown of head coaches employed in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12, Beaty’s name popped up at the top — that is to say, the writers at CBS judged KU’s coach as the worst among the 65 candidates.
Beaty inherited a challenging situation at Kansas when he took over in December of 2014, for sure. After an 0-12 debut season, the Jayhawks went 2-12 in Beaty’s second year on the job, prompting some hope for the future. But 2017 bottomed out with an 11-game losing streak following KU’s season-opening win over outmatched Southeast Missouri State.
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports explained no specific guidelines were used for the rankings. Still, it’s easy to quickly dissect the list and determine how Beaty landed at No. 65. KU’s coach is 1-26 in Big 12 games and 1-32 versus Power Five competition. The only head coach from a major conference Beaty has defeated is Charlie Strong, whom Texas fired a week later. Strong resurfaced outside of the Power Five, as head coach at South Florida.
In what some thought could be a relatively competitive season for KU football, the Jayhawks not only went winless in the Big 12 in 2017, but also were outscored on average, 46.4-14.3, in league games.
Kansas finished Beaty’s third season at the helm ranked 100th or worse among 129 FBS programs in 26 of 47 statistical categories tracked on the NCAA’s official website.
“I’m not sure how my colleagues based their rankings,” Fornelli wrote, “but my approach was likely similar to theirs. I took into account all that a coach has accomplished, and then I considered which coach I'd want to hire the most were I an athletic director with deep pockets and a vacancy to fill. Then we put the results together, and we got our final rankings.”
Beaty dropped five spots from a year ago on the CBS Sports list. He finished behind Arizona State’s Herm Edwards (No. 64), Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke, Indiana’s Tom Allen and Rutgers’ Chris Ash. The Jayhawks play host to Rutgers on Sept. 15 this coming fall.
The Big 12 coach closest to Beaty in the rankings was Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, at No. 49.
Daylon Charlot didn’t transfer from Alabama to Kansas to play safety.
So this spring, and a return to his old position, wide receiver, invigorated one of the most intriguing talents on the Jayhawks’ roster.
Late this past fall, Charlot’s first as an active member of KU’s roster, a void at safety, as well as the apparent inability of the one-time four-star prep prospect form Patterson, La., to crack the offense’s two-deep, inspired coaches to move Charlot into the secondary.
Too raw and inexperienced at his new position to get onto the field in any of the Jayhawks’ final five games, Charlot tried to make the best of his predicament at practices. In that setting, he often let the receivers he had spent more than a year working alongside know he looked forward to squaring off with them.
“Daylon always tried to hit us,” KU receiver Steven Sims Jr. said, grinning. “That’s all he talked about, ‘He’s gonna catch us slipping,’ and stuff like that. It’s good to have him back.”
The extent to which Charlot feels revitalized, for now, is known only by the the 6-foot, 209-pound receiver and those with which he has shared that notion directly. Though requested for interviews throughout the spring, a KU communications staff member said Charlot had a schedule conflict on each of the three days in April when players were made available. Interview requests were not taken following the spring’s final, open-to-the-public practice.
Sims, who has spent plenty of downtime and prep time around Charlot since the Class of 2015 Alabama signee arrived in Lawrence as a ballyhooed transfer in 2016, shared his assessment of Charlot’s mindset this spring.
“I know he’s happy to be back. He feels a little rusty, but I know he’s happy to be back on offense,” Sims said. “Nobody wants to play defense. He got abused by us every day in practice.”
The KU offense needs Charlot to start resembling the type of receiver many envisioned when he was a consensus four-star prospect in Louisiana, as a high schooler. The kind of player renowned Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban didn’t want leaving his program.
Redshirt junior Carter Stanley said he and KU’s other quarterbacks noticed the short-lived safety responding positively this spring upon returning to the offense.
“I think it’s his natural spot. I really like Daylon as a receiver. He’s put in great work already,” Stanley said. “I think he’s there to stay.”
According to fourth-year Kansas coach David Beaty, the need for some depth at safety forced what proved to be a temporary relocation project for Charlot.
“You know, we always knew that if we were able to go and get what we needed in recruiting, we wanted to bring him back over (to offense),” Beaty remarked. “So he's back in the position that he started at. I know he's excited about that.”
Charlot added 14 pounds to his frame from a year ago this offseason, but Sims related his fellow receiver might cut some of that weight in the weeks ahead in hopes of maximizing his speed.
“I do think moving him back refocused him,” Sims observed. “I feel like Daylon’s ready to take on his role now at wide receiver and I feel like he’s focused. He’s learning it over again, because he kind of forgot the stuff a little bit,” Sims noted early in the spring. “He’s getting his confidence back. It’s good to see that.”
Among the 15 Jayhawks who caught a pass in 2017, Charlot ranked last in productivity. His one reception, in a Week 2 loss to Central Michigan, registered no gain — a zero-yard catch. Kansas has to get substantially more out of the receiver in his upcoming junior season.
Kansas loses two of its top three receivers from a year ago, with Ben Johnson graduating and Chase Harrell transferring. While Sims, Evan Fairs, Jeremiah Booker, Ryan Schadler and Quan Hampton give the receiving corps capable options with varying degrees of experience, Charlot finally living up to his potential and performing like one of the Big 12’s top-flight receivers should stimulate the offense.
Remember: KU only averaged 14.3 points and 237.8 yards per game in Big 12 play in 2017. The Jayhawks will take an uplift anywhere they can find one, and Charlot holds the pedigree and potential to do his part in putting a more effective offense on the field, if focused and eager.
During the first couple of weeks of spring football, Kansas coach David Beaty hesitated to heap too much praise on individual players for their performances.
Though measured again in his tenor, the fourth-year KU coach found himself more willing to identify spring standouts earlier this week, having observed nine of the team’s 15 practice sessions.
When solicited to disclose which offensive players have delivered behind the closed gates of the practice fields, Beaty said several Jayhawks “have really stuck out” and “deserve to be mentioned.”
The first skill position player’s name to leave Beaty’s mouth belonged to the program’s newest quarterback, sophomore Miles Kendrick.
“His work ethic,” Beaty began, regarding the 5-foot-10 QB who transferred to KU from College of San Mateo (Calif.). “He's thrown 127 passes in the spring through team and seven-on-seven, and he's had two balls intercepted. That's not bad. That's good ball security. That means a guy's prepared and he knows what he's seeing.”
Next, Beaty lauded a pair of upperclassman receivers, both of whom are expected to feature prominently within the team’s passing game this coming fall.
“Steven Sims sticks out to me again, just athletically,” Beaty said of the 5-10 senior from Houston. “But just understanding how to become even more of a savvy route-runner, he's doing a nice job.”
The coach then pointed to 6-3 junior Evan Fairs, who began to stand out in November of 2017, with a seven-catch game at Texas and six receptions versus Oklahoma.
“I think he can be a really good player,” Beaty said of Fairs. “I really think he can. We have high hopes for him.”
Subsequently, the coach shifted his focus to what’s left of the team’s offensive line — numerous injuries at the position led KU to cancel a traditional spring game and replace it with a practice. Beaty began at left guard, with redshirt sophomore Malik Clark.
“He's kind of been forced to take more reps than probably he would like. But I think back to him coming in … he was 350-something pounds, and he's down to 325 or so (listed at 320), and he looks good,” Beaty said of Clark, a New Orleans native. “He's getting a lot of reps, and you're starting to see him improve.”
KU’s head coach also mentioned banged-up junior O-lineman Antione Frazier before extolling the development of redshirt junior Clyde McCauley, “another guy that nobody talks about very much,” Beaty said of the 6-5, 305-pound tackle, McCauley. “But he may be one of the more improved guys that we've had up front, which is good. He's going into year four for him, so you're starting to see guys' experience pay off a little bit.”
Beaty then circled back to the quarterback position and the improvement of senior Peyton Bender, calling him a “very, very talented guy,” who, like Kendrick, is completing more than 70% of his passes at practices, during team periods and seven-on-sevens.
“Some of the things that we're doing with understanding what we're seeing,” Beaty said in reference to Bender reading defenses, “I think it's really helping him.”
The coach closed his spiel by mentioning tight ends James Sosinski and Mavin Saunders, too, but actually led into his whole rundown of high-quality offensive performers by hailing the efforts of two special-teamers.
“Maybe one of the guys that is most well-respected on this team is Gabe Rui,” Beaty declared of the redshirt senior kicker who made 17 of 20 field goals and went 23-for-23 on extra points in 2017. “Now I know he is not an offensive football player, but he puts up a lot of numbers for us. He has had a terrific spring. He's really done well. His confidence is pretty impressive for a kicker.”
At an often overlooked position, long snapper, Beaty commended redshirt senior John Wirtel for reshaping his body.
“He's almost 255, 260 pounds now,” the coach said of the specialist who missed most of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries. “He's got NFL caliber. He's a talented guy. Having him back healthy has been good.”
Tuesday afternoon’s Kansas football practice marked the ninth of the spring for the Jayhawks.
The brief 15-minute window made open to media members provided at least a little bit of insight into some of the more minor details of the off-season work.
Here are a few observations from the open period:
• Kansas, on this day at least, had just a handful of players taking reps at punt returner as most of their teammates went through stretches and warm-ups elsewhere on the practice fields.
Joining senior receiver Steven Sims Jr. on the south end of the facility fielding punts were sophomore receivers Quan Hampton and Kwamie Lassiter II, senior receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. and sophomore safety Davon Ferguson, a junior college transfer from Hartnell College.
• Senior quarterback Peyton Bender worked on his quick kicks before passing drills began. On one attempt the QB punted the ball directly toward the pylon at the front of the end zone, along the right sideline. The ball appeared to head out of bounds in the air, right around the 1- or 2-yard-line, prompting head coach David Beaty to joke with Bender, claiming that specific placement wasn’t what the QB intended when he punted the ball away.
• Redshirt senior kicker Gabriel Rui looked just as accurate as ever, drilling field goals from 37, 42 and 47 yards, connecting on one as Beaty tried to distract him a few yards away with taunts of a pending misfire.
• Sophomore QB Miles Kendrick served as holder on the field goals for Rui. When left-footed sophomore Liam Jones took his reps, junior defensive back Bryce Torneden, who played QB in high school at Free State, came in to hold.
The football offseason is all about gains.
Bigger, stronger, faster. You’ve heard the go-to individual goals for the months between one year’s finale and the next’s opener a thousand times.
Returning Kansas players are just more than a week into spring practices and have countless more workouts in front of them before pre-season camp opens late in the summer.
But numerous Jayhawks, thanks to sessions with strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin and his staff, already have added weight to their frames, per the recently-released first edition of the 2018 roster.
A number of players expected to play prominent roles on KU’s 2-deep this coming fall have increased their weight by double digits, compared to their 2017 listings, including sophomore linebacker Kyron Johnson (+10), sophomore offensive lineman Earl Bostick Jr. (+16), senior quarterback Peyton Bender (+15), junior running back Khalil Herbert (+10) and four of the team’s key receivers, junior Daylon Charlot (+14), redshirt junior Chase Harrell (+13), junior Evan Fairs (+15) and senior Jeremiah Booker (+12).
Below are the weight gains — and some losses — among Jayhawks who were on the roster last year.
— Note: Players still listed at the same weight as 2017 were not included.
|KU DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
|88 - Sr. DT J.J. Holmes — 6-3, 330||-5|
|91 - R-Fr. DE Jelani Arnold — 6-2, 255||+30|
|92 - R-Fr. DT Dai Coye Haley — 6-2, 280||-10|
|95 - Soph. DE Vaughn Taylor Jr. — 6-3, 248||+18|
|97- Soph. DE Sam Burt — 6-4, 272||+32|
|98 - Sr. DL KeyShaun Simmons — 6-2, 295||+10|
|9 - Soph. LB Kyron Johnson — 6-1, 220||+10|
|18 - R-Jr. LB Denzel Feaster — 6-3, 225||+5|
|29 - R-Sr. LB Joe Dineen — 6-2, 235||+5|
|30 - R-Fr. LB Cooper Root — 6-2, 232||+12|
|31 - Sr. LB Osaze Ogbebor — 6-1, 225||+5|
|43 - R-Fr. LB Jay Dineen — 6-2, 230||-5|
|47 - Sr. LB Keith Loneker Jr. — 6-2, 228||+3|
|KU DEFENSIVE BACKS
|1 - Jr. S Bryce Torneden — 5-10, 197||+7|
|4 - Jr. S Shaquille Richmond — 6-0, 202||+7|
|8 - Sr. CB Shakial Taylor — 6-0, 178||+3|
|11 - Jr. S Mike Lee — 5-11, 181||+5|
|13 - Jr. CB Hasan Defense — 5-11, 188||+8|
|16 - Jr. CB Kyle Mayberry — 5-10, 180||+5|
|20 - Sr. S Emmanuel Moore — 6-0, 208||+18|
|22 - Sr. S Tyrone Miller Jr. — 6-0, 188||+6|
|25 - Jr. CB Julian Chandler — 6-0, 187||+2|
|27 - Jr. CB DeAnte Ford — 5-10, 181||+6|
|28 - R-Fr. CB Robert Topps III — 6-2, 201||+11|
|45 - R-Fr. S Nick Caudle — 6-0, 191||+6|
|KU OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
|55 - Sr. OL Jacob Bragg — 6-4, 280||-11|
|60 - Jr. OL Beau Lawrence — 6-5, 315||+6|
|62 - R-Fr. OL Jack Williams — 6-3, 275||+5|
|68 - Soph. OL Earl Bostick Jr. — 6-6, 286||+16|
|71 - R-Soph. OL Cam Durley — 6-6, 315||+15|
|74 - Jr. OL Clyde McCauley III — 6-5, 305||-5|
|76 - Soph. OL Chris Hughes — 6-3, 310||+10|
|77 - Jr. OL Andru Tovi — 6-3, 320||+10|
|78 - Jr. OL Hakeem Adeniji — 6-4, 300||+10|
|79 - R-Fr. OL Joey Gilbertson — 6-4, 290||+5|
Quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks
|KU OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
|7 - Sr. QB Peyton Bender — 6-1, 205||+15|
|9 - R-Jr. QB Carter Stanley — 6-2, 198||+2|
|10 - Jr. RB Khalil Herbert — 5-9, 210||+10|
|15 - R-Fr. QB Miles Fallin — 6-5, 220||+10|
|25 - Soph. RB Dom Williams — 5-10,195||+5|
|26 - Sr. RB Deron Thompson — 5-9, 193||+8|
|32 - Sr. RB Reese Randall — 5-11, 220||+4|
|35 - Jr. FB Caperton Humphrey — 6-2, 225||+18|
|37 - R-Fr. FB Quinton McQuillan — 6-2, 265||+40|
|46 - R-Fr. FB Sam Schroeder — 6-0, 243||+18|
|49 - Sr. FB Hudson Hall — 6-2, 230||+10|
Receivers and tight ends
|KU RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
|2 - Jr. WR Daylon Charlot — 6-0, 209||+14|
|3 - R-Jr. WR Chase Harrell — 6-4, 228||+13|
|6 - Soph. WR Quan Hampton — 5-8, 178||+8|
|14 - Sr. WR Kerr Johnson Jr. — 5-11, 193||+13|
|16 - R-Fr. WR Takulve Williams — 6-0, 196||+11|
|19 - Jr. WR Evan Fairs — 6-3, 210||+15|
|80 - R-Fr. WR Hunter Kaufman — 5-11, 183||+13|
|81 - Soph. WR Kameron McQueen — 6-0, 195||+5|
|83 - Soph. WR Kwamie Lassiter II — 5-11, 170||+5|
|88 - Sr. WR Jeremiah Booker — 6-2, 212||+12|
|37 - R-Fr. K Cole Brungardt — 6-5, 218||+18|
|38 - Soph. P Kyle Thompson — 6-4, 215||+5|
|39 - Sr. K Gabriel Rui — 5-11, 205||-10|
|46 - Soph. K Liam Jones — 5-10, 178||+8|
|67 - Jr. LS Logan Klusman — 6-1, 220||-10|
|87 - R-Sr. LS John Wirtel — 6-3, 250||+15|
Nearly four years ago, at the age of 16, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a life-altering decision to make.
Already an accomplished youth basketball player within Ukraine’s national team program, as well as the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, it was time for Mykhailiuk to pick:
• Stick with the established protocol for promising young European talents, and sign to play professionally.
• Or head to the U.S. and take a crack at college basketball.
Upon seriously contemplating his options, it came down to relocating to Spain to join Real Madrid or migrating even farther west to play at the University of Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, now known as “Svi” by anybody associated with the KU basketball program, of course, opted for a decision that may have seemed odd to his contemporaries at the time.
“Most of them try to stay there and make money,” he related this past week, during the last days of his four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Reflecting on his unique basketball path now, is the 6-foot-8 guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine, glad he chose Lawrence, Kansas, and college over Madrid, Spain, and a contract?
“Yeah, for sure,” Mykhailiuk replied, without hesitation. “I met a lot of new people. I’ll be able to get a degree from Kansas and just be a part of a program like Kansas and make it to the Final Four.”
KU and 15th-year head coach Bill Self couldn’t have reached college basketball’s ultimate weekend for the first time since 2012 without Mykhailiuk. The senior guard’s 236th 3-pointer as a Jayhawk tied an Elite Eight matchup against Duke with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, allowing Kansas to reach overtime and eventually emerge victorious.
Further memorable baskets wouldn’t follow in a national semifinal loss to Villanova, in San Antonio. Mykhailiuk completed his KU journey with 10 points and three assists, in defeat.
He shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior and leaves the program with the current record for 3-point makes in a season (115). The final “Svi for 3,” in his 136th game and 70th start, moved him to fourth place all-time at KU for 3-pointers in a career, with 237.
Even more important to Mykhailiuk, he can now proceed to the professional ranks confident his experience at Kansas shaped him into a better player.
“Being here four years, being coached by Coach Self, and he’s a hall of famer,” Mykhailiuk said, “so I think if I hadn’t got here I wouldn’t have played for a hall of famer.”
Self thought so highly of his Ukrainian recruit that he even tried the freshman out as a starter at the age of 17. Although that move didn’t stick past a six-game stretch of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule, Mykhailiuk said his relationship with Self only improved from that point. By his sophomore and junior years, Mykhailiuk noticed Self pulling him aside during practices for more and more conversations.
“If I’m open, he always wants me shooting the ball, no matter what,” Mykhailiuk shared of how Self boosted his confidence. “He’s always telling me, ‘Just be a player.’”
The shooting, passing, rebounding and defensive reps could have come anywhere. Mykhailiuk feels grateful his took place at Kansas these past four years, because he learned more about how to be an impactful player as a result.
“It’s all about the mental part. It’s not about physicality and stuff,” he said of some of his biggest lessons. “It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you’re ready.”
After testing the NBA’s draft waters a year ago, Mykhailiuk determined he wasn’t yet prepared to leave college basketball behind. Attending the league’s combine and receiving feedback from scouts, coaches and general managers proved beneficial in his development, too.
“I think it just helped me mentally, knowing I can play against other people. And it helped me know what I’ve got to do to go to the next level and be a better player,” he said.
Mykhailiuk took all the information from Self and NBA decision-makers and turned it into a second-team All-Big 12 season. He averaged career-highs with 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 3-point makes per game.
“Just be more aggressive,” Mykhailiuk said of the most significant piece of advice he carried with him into his final season, “and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Still just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in June), Mykhailiuk projects as a mid-second-round pick in the 2018 draft, four years after he could have become a young pro in Europe. Other than Ukrainian teammate Ilya Tyrtyshnik, who played at Ole Miss this past season, most of his peers chose a more typical basketball path.
What made Mykhailiuk different?
“That’s just me,” he said. “Every person’s different. I just wanted to play NCAA.”
Basketball lifer Larry Brown coached the Denver Nuggets, UCLA Bruins, New Jersey Nets, Kansas Jayhawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats and SMU Mustangs during the course of the past 40-plus years, after getting his start in the profession with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
Two years as a retiree hasn’t kept the former coaching nomad from spending time around the game, though. Brown arrived in San Antonio this past week with the Kansas contingent at the Final Four, three decades removed from winning it all with the Jayhawks.
Now that leading a team is no longer his job, Brown explained what he misses about his former life.
“I don’t like games. I like being around the coaches and teaching the kids,” he told a group of reporters on the eve of the national semifinals. “And I get a little frustrated, because I don’t think a lot of kids are getting taught. They’re leaving too early. They’re thinking they’re in the NBA before they play a college game. A lot of them think they’re failures if they don’t make it, and that troubles me.”
The compositions of the teams that advanced out of their regionals and made it to the Alamodome, though, offered Brown encouragement on that front. Although one-and-done talents such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony have helped lead their teams to six NCAA Tournament wins and a national title in the past, this March’s Final Four field lacked one such freshman star.
Seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, as well as junior Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman, in his third season with a college program, were instrumental in getting KU to San Antonio. The same was true of Loyola seniors Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram, and Aundre Jackson, plus junior Clayton Custer. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and juniors Moe Wagner and Charles Matthews propelled Michigan to the Final Four, as did Villanova juniors Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
“It seems to me the longer they stay, the better they are and the more chance they’ll have to graduate and make something of their lives,” Brown said, while praising KU’s Bill Self, Loyola’s Porter Moser, Michigan’s John Beilein and Villanova’s Jay Wright for being coaches who go about their business “the right way.”
From Brown’s perspective, college basketball provides players with “an unbelievable opportunity” to receive an education and “make their lives better,” while crafting their skills in the hope of extending their basketball experience to the professional ranks.
However, Brown isn’t against allowing high school players to skip college completely and enter the NBA Draft — a system the league went away from in 2006, leading to college basketball’s current era of one-and-dones.
“Golfer, tennis player, musician, you can come out if you have a gift,” Brown offered, in regards to other young adults turning their skills into jobs without ever attending a university.
Here’s the catch. Brown would be in favor of keeping those players who go to college with a program for multiple years, instead of giving them the option to declare for the draft after as little as one year of education.
“If they go to school, I’d like to see them stay as long as possible,” he said.
A similar structure is in place for the MLB draft. A player can declare out of high school. But once a baseball player joins a college program, he can’t turn pro until completing his third year. In the NFL, a player has to be three years removed form high school graduation to turn pro.
“To me the longer you stay, the better your life’s gonna be, the better you’re gonna impact others,” Brown said. “And then when you do get to the NBA the better prepared you’re gonna be.”
The longtime coach, who has observed from both sides of the spectrum, called college basketball “the greatest minor-league system in the world.” Brown conjectured struggling young NBA players who leave college after one year weren’t ready to become professionals when they declared.
“And a lot of them, they have developmental coaches,” Brown said. “We need teachers.”
The man who owns both an NCAA and NBA championship ring said this year’s Final Four featured four “great teachers.”
“But,” he added, wearing a grin, “I’m like a voice in the wind.”
San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.
The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.
Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.
Not much offensive flow
For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.
Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.
The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.
Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.
In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.
His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.
The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.
Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.
In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.
Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.
Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.
Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.
No stopping Paschall
The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.
Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.
When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.
The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.
A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).
The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.
The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.
Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).
Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.
Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.
Some promise for De Sousa’s future
Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.
One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.
Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.
Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.
In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.
De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.
By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.
De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.
When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.
San Antonio — Tight end James Sosinski was a no-show for the Kansas football team’s first two spring practices this week. And for a good reason.
Sosinski, a walk-on with KU basketball since December, boarded a plane on Wednesday and flew south for the Final Four as his football teammates gathered their helmets and gear for a pads-free start to their March-and-April practice regimen.
On Friday, dozens of the football players Sosinski will spend the next several months with were back on the secluded turf for more. On the same afternoon KU’s tight-end-turned-reserve-post-player ran onto the basketball court at The Alamodome for an open practice in front of thousands of spectators.
Football can wait for the 6-foot-7, 250-pound two-sport athlete from Chandler, Ariz. Sosinski has been so immersed in KU’s run through the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament that he hasn’t had a lot of communication with his football teammates and coaches the past month or so.
But Kansas coach David Beaty texted the backup tight end following the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Duke to congratulate him.
“So they’re real supportive and real understanding,” Sosinski said of football coaches and players.
Whether the Kansas basketball season ends Saturday night at the Final Four or Monday in the national title game, Sosinski won’t spend any time resting at its conclusion.
“Right back into it,” Sosinski said of joining spring football, once the Jayhawks are back in Lawrence. “Even though I’m happy I’m missing this time right now, I don’t want to miss too many practices.”
Sosinski, who will be a junior tight end this coming fall, had almost no time for football activities since the 2017 season ended in late November.
On an occasional off day for basketball during the past four months he would find his way to the football practice fields for the best tune-ups he could manage.
“Running routes, catching the ball, just trying to get my feet under me a little bit,” Sosinski shared. “But we really haven’t had too much time with our busy schedule, so it hasn’t been that much.”
When he had chances to do so, Sosinski talked with KU quarterback Carter Stanley, as well, and reviewed some of the offensive playbook “so my brain stays fresh.”
While playing basketball every day has easily kept Sosinski’s conditioning at an optimal level, he expects to have “a little bit” of football rust once he re-joins those Jayhawks.
“I just need to get my legs under me, running routes again. Just gain the coordination for running routes, catching the ball, blocking and stuff,” Sosinski said. “I think I’ll be good running-wise and shape-wise. It’s just gonna be different movements and getting my coordination back.”
San Antonio — If Villanova were slated to play any other team in the country on Saturday at the Final Four, Fred Quartlebaum would feel like one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans.
NCAA Tournament assignments and results from the past four rounds didn’t allow the Kansas basketball program’s director of student-athlete development to become an emotionally invested spectator of another elite team, though.
Quartlebaum, per usual, will be squarely in the Jayhawks’ corner for the national semifinal. The strange twist for the high-energy, always-smiling assistant will be actively — at least for a couple of hours — rooting against someone close to him.
Now in his fifth season on Bill Self’s staff at KU, Quartlebaum first met Villanova junior Eric Paschall when the starting forward was a middle-schooler.
“He is a tremendous kid, tremendous competitor,” the upbeat KU staffer known as “Coach Q,” shared at The Alamodome on Friday.
For a short time in his coaching profession, Quartlebaum didn’t work at the college level. He was involved with a leadership and mentoring program for students in the Westchester, N.Y., area when he first met Paschall.
A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., native, just like KU’s assistant, a young Paschall attended a Quartlebaum camp upon recommendation.
“We’ve just always kept a close relationship since then,” Paschall revealed.
A few years later, the camper became a counselor for “Q.” By the time he graduated from high school, Paschall was off to start his college career at Fordham, the same program where Quartlebaum played from 1985 to 1989.
“I had an opportunity to see him grow up, and to see what type of young man he’s become and, gosh, he’s turned out to be a terrific basketball player, which no one was surprised about that,” Quartlebaum added of Paschall, now in his second season with the Wildcats and averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds after transferring from Fordham.
The two reunited on Thursday at the Final Four Fan Fest. Quartlebaum greeted his Saturday foe with a “big hug” to let Paschall know how proud he is of what he has accomplished.
“I’m gonna love you today, but come Saturday we’re gonna go head-to-head,” the coach told his former pupil. “We both just laughed.”
The reunion near San Antonio’s River Walk for the duo who grew up in a N.Y. village along the Hudson River just so happened to come at college basketball’s biggest weekend.
“We knew it was a possibility,” Paschall said of he and Quartlebaum one day finding themselves as opponents, “just knowing that I was going to Villanova and he was at Kansas. But we never really talked about it. We always just have real conversations — like how we’re doing. I always ask about his two kids, Trey and Mayson. I remember coaching them in camp, so I always keep up with them.”
It’s been easy for Quartlebaum to track Paschall’s career just through social media, with so many in the Westchester area excitedly sharing the hometown hero’s highlights. The KU assistant has consumed even more footage during the past several days of preparation, too, since sending Paschall and his father, Juan, congratulatory texts following Villanova’s victory over Texas Tech.
“The cool thing about Eric is he’s extremely humble off the court, but such a fierce warrior, competitor that’s out there,” Quartlebaum said, describing his one-time protege as a versatile and integral part of the Villanova lineup. “He can shoot the ball, he can finish at the rim. He had an unbelievable dunk (in the Sweet 16, against West Virginia big Sagaba) Konate. So he can do a lot.”
Paschall said he’s happy for Quartlebaum’s success.
“That’s my guy. Always had love for him. He’s a great dude,” the younger Dobbs Ferry representative at the Final Four said of the village’s elder statesman. “He’s always had my back and he always keeps in contact.”
Only one of the two from the small river village in New York will move on to Monday’s national championship game. It’s safe to say each will be rooting for the other from here on out — barring a March Madness rematch in 2019, that is.
“Eric has been a part of my basketball experience for quite a bit,” Quartlebaum said, “so what an honor to be here with him and celebrate this atmosphere at the Final Four.”
San Antonio — When No. 1 and No. 2 seeds began dropping out of the South and West regionals before the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it became clear The Madness was intent on devouring the left side of the bracket.
So by the time a team emerged from each region as a Final Four participant, one national semifinal quickly became characterized as the undercard.
With the first national semifinal Saturday night at The Alamodome placing No. 3 seed Michigan against March darling and No. 11 seed Loyola (5:09 p.m., TBS), some have gone as far as to label the matchup on the opposite side of the bracket between No. 1 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas as the de facto national championship game.
In his 17th season at Villanova, head coach Jay Wright trusts his players won’t buy into that line of thinking. Whichever team gets out of KU-Villanova alive will have to win one more time to secure the national title.
“The good thing is I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament,” Wright said earlier this week, “so I don't think they would even think that this is the national championship game. Our guys wouldn't think that way.”
The NCAA could avoid having one semifinal appear more stacked than another by changing its Final Four format and re-seeding the teams for the season’s ultimate weekend. This year, for example, Villanova, as the top remaining No. 1 seed, would take on No. 11 Loyola in one game, while No. 1 KU and No. 3 Michigan would play in the other.
Kansas coach Bill Self, asked for his thoughts on the re-seeding debate, replied: “Well, since they are not going to, I'm going to say: No, I love it exactly the way it is.”
The coach then conceded it would be “great” to re-seed for the national semifinals.
“I think whoever is saying that, obviously is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves,” Self said of KU and Villanova being a two-days early title game. “It looks like it's maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it's one versus one, but trust me, the other game is just as marquee as this one.”
Of course, nationally renowned coaches ultimately don’t care how games are being categorized or what modifications talking heads are debating. Wright mostly is concerned with devising a game plan that will push Villanova (34-4) past Kansas (31-7) and into the actual national championship game.
“They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men,” Wright said. “And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had.”
Wright said he and his staff, through the years, have always watched Self’s teams to pick up different ideas on how to best use their big men.
“And now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing,” Wright said. “So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”