Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas”
Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis made it clear at his weekly press conference the amount of respect he has for Texas — the Jayhawks’ (2-1) first Big 12 opponent of the 2014 season.
Weis had plenty of KU-related topics to discuss, though, too. The third-year coach touched on all three facets of the game while meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon.
• On upcoming 3 p.m. Saturday kickoff vs. Texas (1-2): “Obviously this is a big week for our program,” Weis said. KU has so many Texas natives, and it’s homecoming. “We’re gonna have to play really, really well to have a chance.”
• Weis knows former Longhorns coach Mack Brown well, but he won’t be reaching out for inside tips. “I had a couple of humorous texts with Mack this week on that subject,” the KU coach said. Weis wouldn’t make that call; he would gladly take Brown’s call. Weis wouldn’t want to put Brown on the spot.
• Junior RT Damon Martin has a couple of tests today regarding his health. Senior RG Mike Smithburg (appendectomy last week) will see the doctor tomorrow. Neither played on Saturday vs. CMU. KU could have neither/one/both this weekend. Weis doesn’t know yet. He would love to have at least one of them back.
• Redshirt-freshman O-lineman Joe Gibson has been sick and hasn’t practiced in a couple of weeks. So true freshman Jacob Bragg is listed at No. 2 at center this week. But if Weis had to have someone go in for starting center Keyon Haughton, he’d probably go with Bryan Peters. Peters is a “jack of all trades.”
• This week, there will be a much different look from the opposing defense when QB Montell Cozart drops back to survey the field. Those easy throws, there won’t be as many of them as there were last week. Weis feels as if KU has some good answers for that problem, though.
• Teaching pocket presence is something that can happen. A lot of things with a QB have to come naturally. Over time, Weis anticipates Cozart will become much better in the pocket. Cozart takes his first step backward when pressure comes, and that’s because he is trying to get outside and use his speed.
• KU has to work on Cozart’s execution with the option, too. They will be spending more time on that. “There are a lot of things that are new.” Weis thinks Cozart is perfectly capable.
• Senior nose guard Tedarian Johnson graded out as one of the best players against Central Michigan. Weis thought it was the best game Johnson has played at KU.
• There were fewer issues between Cozart and center Haughton this week on snap exchanges, but there are still things to correct. Obviously, there was a false start called on “everyone but the center” against CMU.
• Junior weak-side linebacker Jake Love has great instincts, which showed up when he got a clean look on a blitz vs. CMU, sniffed out the play and got to the screen pass for a loss. “If you smell a rat, it’s a rat,” Weis said the coaches like to say.
• KU won’t back off on the physical practice approach that the team used last week. It’s never going backward. It’s only going forward. KU doesn’t have a really deep roster, so there is a chance guys can get banged up when you hit hard in practices. But if they don’t go hard Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they won’t be ready on Saturdays.
• Junior receiver Tre’ Parmalee had probably the best preseason camp of anyone on the team and then banged up his elbow. Now he’s back and ready to go, so he is on the depth chart. Those freshmen receivers aren’t even in the same breath as junior receiver Parmalee right now.
• Texas, after scouting KU’s first two games, probably feels pretty good about rolling into Lawrence for the start of Big 12 play. … Weis expects a close game around halftime, and then the perspective might change.
• KU’s defense, other than the big plays in the Duke game, has looked good. Kansas can’t give up big plays, though. Or have situations where a team rallies like SEMO did in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks, defensively, weren’t perfect vs. CMU, but they ended up only allowing 10 points. KU will have a problem if it gets in a game where the scoring is in the 40s.
• Texas has a lot of good, physical players, so facing CMU and its old style the week before could set up well for Kansas.
• With this being homecoming, KU will have some former players coming in and they will be on the sideline. A couple of NFL players have bye weeks. … Until the game’s over, it’s all business.
• Weis was pleased with the crowd vs. CMU. Would he like 15,000 more? Sure. But the crowd came despite threat of bad weather and supported a team that had struggled the week before. … There is a great forecast for Saturday and the game will be over by 6:30, so Weis is hoping for an even better showing.
• On KU’s kicking situation … Sophomore Matthew Wyman is capable of hitting more than 50 percent (4 of 8 this season). If Weis thought freshman kicker John Duvic was capable of outperforming Wyman, Weis would make the change. … There are only a handful of guys that pan out to be front-line kickers. … This past week, the kick Wyman missed (from 35 yards), he had no excuse, and that’s no big secret.
• Junior WR Rodriguez Coleman isn’t on the depth chart. So don’t expect to see him play. … Nigel King gives KU the best chance to win, and King is backing up both Tony Pierson and Justin McCay. King is a tough guy, just like McCay.
— Listen to the complete press conference: Weis talks Texas, a 'team in transition'
— Also, hear from KU coordinators Clint Bowen and John Reagan: Bowen and Reagan on the challenges of preparing for Texas
The last time Central Michigan visited Memorial Stadium, the Todd Reesing-led Kansas University football team dismantled the Chippewas, 52-7, setting the tone for what turned out to be a 12-1, Orange Bowl championship season.
Seven years later, KU would love to have scored 52 points combined in its first two games of the 2014 season, and the Jayhawks are another bad performance away from any bowl game appearance (a stated goal coming into the season) seeming like a complete pipe dream.
The Jayhawks (1-1) are hurting — at the very least from bruised egos — following their 41-3 loss at Duke. They hope they can get right against CMU (2-1), which also just got pounded this past weekend, 40-3, at the hands of Syracuse.
The Chippewas did win, 38-17, at Purdue two weeks ago. But that was before star senior running back Thomas Rawls, a transfer from Michigan, was suspended for violating team rules — he faces prosecution on accusations of stealing a purse at a casino in April.
In just two games, Rawls had compiled 283 rushing yards and three touchdowns in what KU coach Charlie Weis called CMU’s “old school,” multi-back/multi-tight end offense.
In his fifth season at Central Michigan, Dan Enos has a 21-31 record and 20 starters returning from a season ago. But the Chippewas really struggled without Rawls. Playing at home against Syracuse, CMU failed to do much of anything on the ground. Four different players carried the ball and they combined for just 34 yards on 23 rushes.
With CMU forced to play a far more one-dimensional style than Enos would prefer, quarterback Cooper Rush completed just 18 of his 34 passes for 183 yards and was sacked five times.
The Jayhawks will need to stuff the run, just like Syracuse did, and tee off on the passing game when they know what is coming in order to enter Big 12 play on a positive note and, quite possibly, save Charlie Weis’ job.
With that in mind, here are five Chippewas to watch Saturday at Kansas.
No. 84 — Titus Davis, senior WR
On the Biletnikoff Award watch list, Davis was a first-team All-MAC receiver in 2013, when he racked up 1,109 yards for CMU.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound target is second in the program’s history in career TD catches, with 24, and fifth in receiving yards, with 2,731.
Davis has started 31 games for Central Michigan and he returned a punt 66 yards in the team’s season opener versus Chattanooga.
No. 6 — Saylor Lavallii, junior RB (maybe?)
Now that Rawls is no longer an option for CMU, Lavallii might be the guy at RB. For what it’s worth, the 5-9 junior is listed at the top of the Chippewas’ depth chart.
But he isn’t the clear-cut favorite. The running backs list goes four deep, with Lavallii listed first. But it designates Devon Spalding, Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore and Martez Walker as, essentially, No. 1 options, too.
Basically, at this moment, CMU doesn’t have a starting running back.
But Lavallii has a history of success, with 184 rushing yards last season against Ohio and a two-TD game versus Miami (Ohio).
Against Syracuse, Lavallii rushed for a team-best 15 yards on just four attempts. Spalding ran seven times for 19 yards. Walker (13 yards) and Shoemaker-Gilmore (10 yards) both rushed three times.
No. 46 — Justin Cherocci, senior LB
In his junior season, Cherocci established himself as CMU’s top play-maker on defense. He had a career high 15 total tackles against Toledo in 2013.
The middle linebacker has 311 tackles in his four-year career, and has started 23 straight games for CMU.
Cherocci led his team with 11 tackles vs. Syracuse and had eight solos when the Chippewas won at Purdue.
No. 10 — Cooper Rush, sophomore QB
Now in his second season as the Chippewas’ starting QB, Rush has thrown 19 TD passes in 13 games.
The 6-3, 220-pound right-hander only attempted 16 passes in CMU’s win at Purdue a couple of weeks back, and completed 11 of them for 172 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses.
His career-high for attempts in one game is 46, last season against UNLV. He only connected on 23 of those in a 31-21 loss, when he threw one TD pass and two picks.
Rush threw two or more interceptions four times in 2013, but so far this fall had completed 44 of 76 passes for 528 yards, four TD’s and one INT.
No. 58 — Leterrius Walton, senior NT
The 6-5, 300-pound defensive lineman might be the most menacing Chippewa the Jayhawks have to deal with.
Walton opened the season with four tackles, a pass break-up and a QB hurry in CMU’s 20-16 home win against Chattanooga.
One of eight team captains, Walton had a career-best seven tackles (five solo) a season ago, versus Miami (Ohio). He had 9.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
When Kansas University’s offensive veterans look at quarterback Montell Cozart, they don’t see the guy who struggled to an 11-for-27, 89-yard passing outing at Duke, with two interceptions.
That wouldn’t do anyone involved a bit of good. Cozart’s teammates know the QB left the road blowout disappointed, feeling as if he alone had let down the entire program
So when the Jayhawks look in the 19-year-old’s direction, they choose to see a young, confident sophomore signal-caller with the ability to bounce back for KU (1-1) against Central Michigan (2-1) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
It doesn’t get much rougher than a 41-3 loss, so senior wide receiver Nick Harwell said there was only one reasonable way for the offense to respond: keep things upbeat.
In the days since Kansas returned home, Harwell has focused on motivating and inspiring, instead of tearing down.
“I just told (Cozart) to keep pushing, keep going forward,” the senior captain said. “We’ve got a saying that goes: Keep choppin’ wood. Keep working hard and work on things we did poorly last week and hopefully this week will be better.”
That’s coming from a talented offensive weapon who only had two catches for nine yards against the Blue Devils. KU coach Charlie Weis said Duke didn’t shut Harwell down, offering instead that Cozart was the one to blame for the receiver’s lack of production.
The same claim could be made by senior receivers Tony Pierson (two catches, 17 yards) and Justin McCay (two catches, eight yards). But, like Harwell, they know supporting their QB is the proper solution right now.
McCay has told Cozart to keep his head up, and trusts that he will, because the receiver sees him as a competitor.
“I know for myself I would like to catch more balls and do more for the team,” McCay said, “but he can only do so much. He’s only a quarterback. I think he does a good job, and we’ll be fine.”
Obviously, every player on the team felt down about the Duke outcome. But Pierson said the Jayhawks had put it behind them by Sunday, and he trusts that Cozart just suffered through a bad afternoon in Durham, North Carolina.
None of the QB’s offensive cohorts want him worrying about that performance anymore. Pierson said they think he will be back on track against Central Michigan.
“Montell is confident in himself,” Pierson said, “and he’s just gonna keep on coming in each day and just working hard.”
Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine, who has just three catches for 17 yards through two games, said there are simple things holding back KU’s offense (145.5 passing yards a game) right now, and although those issues have made the Jayhawks look bad, they are correctable.
Mundine didn’t want to get into the specifics of the problems, but said Cozart isn’t the only Jayhawk responsible for fixing them.
“He’s got growing to do, just as well as I do and other guys do,” the senior tight end said. “We’re still all figuring this out. This (was) Week 2 and we’re just excited to get back out there and redeem ourselves for last week’s performance.”
Receivers Pierson, Harwell, McCay and Nigel King have combined for just 16 receptions so far this season. Harwell said while the receivers haven’t had as many pass-catching chances as they expected, they know they’re capable of more and they will do their part to help Cozart salvage this season.
“I’m definitely confident in how we play,” Harwell said. “We have very little dropped balls. I just feel like if we continue to catch most of what is thrown to us, then we’ll do well.”
In the nearly three days that have passed since Kansas University’s football team suffered its first embarrassment of the season, in a 41-3 loss at Duke, coach Charlie Weis and his staff have had plenty of time to identify the numerous breakdowns that led to the drubbing.
Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press conference, Weis addressed the array of issues and provided some insight on how KU (1-1) can go about putting a better product on the field Saturday against Central Michigan (2-1) at Memorial Stadium.
• CMU has an “old school football” approach on offense, with multiple running backs and tight ends who will try to pound you.
• It is likely Central Michigan again (like Saturday at Syracuse) will be without running back Thomoas Rawls, who has been suspended.
• Psyche aside, KU is healthy and ready to go for its final non-conference game of the season. The Jayhawks have a few sick players, but nothing big.
• On sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart’s accuracy: There are two or three things they will work on. Weis doesn’t want to say what those solutions are… Cozart had a full plate during Sunday meeting with Weis, offensive coordinator John Reagan and QB coach Ron Powlus. “I think it was a bad day at the office,” Weis said of the 38-point loss at Duke. By the time he left Sunday, Cozart was feeling a lot better. He got to look at the issues and some simple answers.
• The first half of Sunday, the coaches “hammered” the players regarding the Duke performance. The second half of those talks was about moving on. Weis met with the captains — Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish and Nick Harwell — and they all talked about what was on their minds.
• Senior buck Victor Simmons and senior WR Justin McCay had “really good” games. So did jr. DT T.J. Semke. And of course senior MLB Heeney. Coaches recognized the guys who did play well. … You can’t ignore the things that didn’t go well, though.
• Central Michigan had a bad day at the office against Syracuse (40-3 loss), as well. But they looked great against Purdue (38-17 win). So the Jayhawks have seen CMU video from that good day.
• On KU’s offensive line: The guards are the “Steady Eddie” on the team. Senior LT Pat Lewandowski will get a smaller cast on today, which should help him. Coaches have worked Larry Mayzck at both left and right tackle. They need him ready to play on either side.
• Weis expects Cozart to play very well this week. There is no short leash, so to speak. All Weis knows is whoever gives KU the best chance to win is going to be in there at QB, and right now Cozart is that guy.
• KU would obviously like to give Cozart more time on passing plays. When that doesn’t happen, the other skill players become less significant, too. Grading receivers and tight ends, Weis would give them an incomplete vs. Duke. They didn’t have many opportunities. Those breakdowns are on everyone.
• KU’s efficiency in the passing game has been poor, and that is magnified on third down. KU needs a more effective passing game on every down.
• Sophomore kicker Matthew Wyman welcomed the chance to try and kick a 56-yard field goal. He told Weis he would just have to take a little more time with it than normal and fire it low. The long attempt got blocked to end the first half.
• Weis has changed a lot of things on special teams. One of those adjustments is moving Harwell to the top of the punt-returners list.
• Duke had four “big runs.” Two of them, KU had a guy for every gap. Guys were in position to make a play and the Jayhawks didn’t touch him. On one play, a player was unblocked and just froze and didn’t get to the ball carrier. On another one, things were clogged in the middle and the run got bounced outside. None of those situations are acceptable. The one that got bounced out is the most excusable of the huge Duke run plays.
• When senior “buck” Michael Reynolds was rushing the passer he looked good. When he wasn’t, he didn’t look good. … There are not many guys Weis is going to say played well at Duke.
• Simmons played “all out” the entire game and didn’t make any mistakes while making a few plays. He is a guy who was in the right spots.
• Weis thought the running backs ran tough and looked good, too. … But if you can’t throw and score points, you’re not going to win.
• KU has only played two games. Weis isn’t ready to say the passing game this year is on the same low level as it has been the past few years.
• Cozart shut down Harwell in the passing game. Duke didn’t shut down Harwell.
• Tuesday will be a physical practice, and John Reagan and Clint Bowen will be right in the middle of it. Reagan will be “all over them” at practice. It will be the type of practice Weis really looks forward to. … Weis is glad there are lights on the field. Because the QB and junior center Keyon Haughton are going to work on some things once it ends.
• Some Jayhawks handle negative plays in the wrong way. They harp on the past instead of playing the next play. That has been a big point of emphasis the last two days: Let it go.
• Twice at Duke, senior WR Tony Pierson couldn’t have got any more open. Cozart rolled out and didn’t drop it off to Pierson, though. Those misses have to be addressed and fixed. Opportunities were there for both Pierson and Harwell.
• Everybody knows this is a critical game vs. Central Michigan, because it is the last non-conference game. It sets the table, either way for what comes in the following weeks. The Big 12 is a tough league. The Jayhawks need to go out and play really well against a physical team.
• These past few days have been tough. The head coach can’t worry about how that impacts him personally. Weis said he has to focus on helping everybody around him recover. … The coaches had to beat them down and build them up all on the same day following the Duke loss.
• On the opening snap at Duke, Cozart didn’t handle the ball because Haughton sent a “speed ball” his way. Those are the types of things that need to be fixed. Other times, timing was an issue. … Both Cozart and Haughton want to be good and fix the problems.
• A lot of guys played their first road game. But there wasn’t anything to be intimidated about. Duke was a nice, solid team playing in front of a small crowd by major college football standards. Still, for a few freshman playing their first road game, it was a little bit much for them. RB Corey Avery didn’t have that issue.
• Harwell is the leader of KU’s offense. He may have had big games against CMU in the past, but those are in the past.
— Listen to everything Weis had to say at the presser: Weis gets into KU's offensive woes
— Hear from KU coordinators Clint Bowen and John Reagan: Bowen and Reagan on fixing KU's flaws
We all know about the Duke men’s basketball program and the powerhouse coach Mike Krzyzewski has built in Durham, North Carolina. But how well do you know Duke football?
Until last season, there weren’t many reasons to pay attention to the Blue Devils on the gridiron. But then, in his sixth year, coach David Cutcliffe led Duke to a 10-2 regular-season mark, an ACC Coastal Division title and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Quickly, this return game from 2009 became much more intriguing and challenging for a downtrodden Kansas program in search of its first road victory in 27 tries.
If the Jayhawks (1-0) want to win their first road game since Todd Reesing was their quarterback and Mark Mangino was their coach, they’ll have to knock off a Duke team (2-0) that is receiving votes in both the AP and USA Today polls.
In a far better place than KU right now, Duke has gone to two straight bowl games — a program first. Cutcliffe, currently in Year 7 with the Blue Devils, has a 33-44 record. In the eight seasons before he arrived, Duke went 10-82. The Blue Devils are 25-9 under Cutcliffe when they score at least 30 points.
If there is one promising statistical nugget for KU against Duke, it is this: The Blue Devils are 1-5 against power-conference teams outside of the ACC during the regular season under Cutcliffe. Duke’s lone win in that category came in 2008 against Vanderbilt. The Blue Devils have lost to Northwestern (2008), Kansas (2009), Alabama (2010) and Stanford (2011, 2012).
But, as we all know, Saturday’s game — 2:30 p.m. (Central) kickoff at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium — will be decided by the current players and coaches. So here are five Blue Devils to watch.
No. 3 — Jamison Crowder, senior WR
His 5-foot-9 frame hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the biggest targets in ACC history. Crowder ranks sixth all-time in the conference with 212 career receptions. That number also ranks him fourth among active players, nationally.
When he gets the ball in space, he usually hits a speed the defenders around him can’t match. Crowder has two or more catches in 30 consecutive games and 25 career games with five or more receptions. In his last six games, he has seven TD grabs.
Oh, yeah. As Charlie Weis put it earlier this week, he’s a “pain in the butt” on punt returns, too. Crowder has 608 career punt-return yards and a pair of special teams touchdowns.
No. 27 — DeVon Edwards, sophomore S
Through two games, the 5-foot-9 safety leads the Blue Devils with 21 total tackles on defense to go with a couple of pass breakups and two forced fumbles last week at Troy, but he is even scarier with the ball in his hands.
He picked off two passes against N.C. State last season and returned them both for touchdowns.
Also in 2013, against North Carolina, he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a TD. This is just his second season at Duke and Edwards already has 22 returns for 673 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He averages 30.6 yards per touch on returns.
No. 7 — Anthony Boone, senior QB
Duke’s two-time captain is on the watch lists for the Manning, Maxwell and O’Brien awards. When he starts at quarterback, Duke has a 12-2 record — 12-0 in the regular season.
He threw for 427 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-48 shootout loss to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in the Chick-fil-A Bowl this past New Year’s Eve.
In two games this season, Boone has thrown for 515 yards and five touchdowns.
No. 17 — Issac Blakeney, senior WR
If you haven’t already, check out Matt Tait’s breakdown of just how challenging a matchup the 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver figures to be for Kansas and corner JaCorey Shepherd.
Off to a hot start this season against lesser competition (Elon and Troy), Blakeney has 135 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions. Only five players in the nation entered this week with more TD grabs.
With just seven career starts in his 29 career games, Blakeney has 60 receptions, an 11.2 yards a game average and seven touchdowns. Boone hit him for a 49-yard score at Troy last weekend.
No. 77 — Laken Tomlinson, senior RG
A preseason All-America selection by FOX Sports and second-team All-America pick by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele, the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder from Chicago also landed on the Lombardi and Outland watch lists.
Tomlinson is one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the nation, with 41 consecutive starts. That streak ties him for first among active FBS players, with Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Houston’s Rowdy Harper and Marshall’s Chris Jasperse.
One of five team captains, Tomlinson has played 3,133 career snaps in a Blue Devils uniform. You’ve got to game-plan for a big man like that as much as you do the skill players.
Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis wasn’t feeling too sour Tuesday at his weekly press conference, despite the Jayhawks’ disappointing finish to their season opener against Southeast Missouri State.
The third-year coach, like his players no doubt, instead seemed excited about the opportunity KU (1-0) has to play at Duke (2-0), in Durham, North Carolina, this Saturday afternoon.
Here are some of the highlights from Weis’s Q&A with the media:
• Duke senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder might be as good a wideout as KU faces this season. And senior right guard Laken Tomlinson “looks like a man on tape.”
• Duke athletic director Kevin White hired Weis at Notre Dame. “He taught me a lot about college football and he taught me patience,” Weis said.
• The Blue Devils’ defense is similar to what KU sees in the Big 12 — 4-3 base and bend, but don’t break mentality.
• Duke safety and kickoff returner DeVon Edwards is a “pain in the butt,” as a return weapon. Same goes for Crowder on punt returns.
• Weis and the KU coaches will be in corner Dexter McDonald’s ear all week about the challenge ahead in defending Duke’s receivers. Edwards is very good, but so is the guy that usually lines up opposite of him, senior Issac Blakeney. “You have to respect both of them,” Weis said.
• KU has spent time looking at this matchup with Duke and the Jayhawks have seen how both they and their opponent play. The Jayhawks have visual evidence they can win. But they can’t just show up for a quarter like they did vs. SEMO. KU’s players should go down there to N.C. with the anticipation of winning the game.
• There was an obvious difference against SEMO in the first and second halves for KU. The theme since has been finishing. Finish doesn’t have to only mean finish the game, it can be finishing plays, too. “Really close isn’t good enough,” Weis said. KU will have to play significantly better this weekend.
• There were no signs of jitters in the opener for sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. He played with confidence and handled the operation well. There were times when he could’ve made bigger plays and he’ll have to take advantage of his athleticism going forward. .. Cozart can throw the ball downfield. Weis has seen it in practice. KU has to put him in position to do that in a game. … He threw 3 TDs and 0 interceptions in the opener. That is big.
• It looks like strength vs. strength this weekend for KU at Duke. You could talk about almost every position but the most obvious one is KU’s defensive backs against Duke’s wide receivers. “All those DBs are gonna get tested,” Weis said. Duke won’t shy away from Dexter McDonald just because he had 2 interceptions vs. SEMO.
• Weis and the staff showed KU players a bad-play tape and a good-play tape after the SEMO game. “You want to know why you didn’t win by 50?,” they were able to say while viewing the lowlights. Then coaches showed them the evidence of all the good things. … People don’t understand how big Sundays are psychologically for the players. … When they left the facility on Sunday Weis was content with how the players handled Week 1.
• On KU’s offensive line … Two running backs no one had ever heard of led Kansas to 200-plus yards, so that’s a positive. The O-line didn’t grade out quite as well with the passing plays.
• The defensive line was pretty disappointed they didn’t bring SEMO's QB to the ground more often. KU’s bucks were in position a bunch of times. KU will have to get pressure with four guys — that’s a point of emphasis. Kansas has to at least disrupt the passer. The D-line was sound in other facets. … Defense was pretty dominant until the fourth quarter.
• Junior backup quarterback Michael Cummings will be utilized more in the future. The intent was to use him more vs. SEMO but the game didn’t play out like that. KU didn’t get to look as much at its depth as the coaches had hoped.
• Getting out to a big lead was new to KU’s players. Good teams end up laying the wood to opponents when they jump out early. It was easy to teach off of that after the SEMO game because the evidence was on video.
• The fourth quarter didn’t do anything to the psyche of KU’s secondary. The coaches will have some fun with them the next few days, give them a hard time about how SEMO played in the fourth quarter.
• On coaching at a basketball school … Duke football coach David Cutcliffe has Coach K and Weis has Bill Self. “Does it get any better than that?” Weis hopes KU wins every game all season and he uses that program’s success as something to shoot for. Weis totally plays into the success of the basketball program as a way to build the football program. … Weis wants to make sure Kansas football is winning more than it is losing before he leaves.
• Cutcliffe wasn’t “lighting the world on fire” the first few years at Duke, but he recruited, stuck with the plan and in his sixth year they won 10 games.That’s what happens when you walk into a program that hasn’t won recently.
• Players don’t need to comment on their focus or lack thereof following games, nor do they need to comment on the crowd. Players need to comment on their play. Weis isn’t big on making excuses.
• The KU coaches don’t encourage Cozart to take off and run, but there will be more times coming soon when you will see him run instead of pass in those situations.
• Because Weis wasn’t involved in play-calling he got to see the whole game. He didn’t have to worry about straightening out specific offensive problems while other things were transpiring. That allowed him to get a better feel for everything that was going on.
• Junior college transfer Damani Mosby, a “buck,” isn’t necessarily a redshirt candidate.
• KU would like to go ahead and get that road win out of the way early in the year. That’s one less thing for the players to worry about. The season doesn’t end with a win or a loss, but beating Duke would be a big win for the Jayhawks.
— Hear the complete press conference: Weis: Jayhawks capable of winning at Duke
— Listen to the coordinators' perspective: Bowen and Reagan evaluate KU's season-opening performance
How well do you know Kansas University’s opening football opponent, Southeast Missouri State?
Unless you live in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, or have a friend or relative in uniform for the Redhawks, your answer probably is: not so well.
Hopefully we can remedy that quickly before Saturday night’s 6 o’clock kickoff at Memorial Stadium.
Surely you’ve heard by now, first-year SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz’s squad had a flawless debut, drubbing a brand-new program, Missouri Baptist, 77-0 in its season opener.
It was a day for record-breaking and dominance.
The Redhawks manhandled their inexperienced foes, as you can witness for yourself in the game highlights provided by Southeast’s YouTube channel:
SEMO is an FCS program from the Ohio Valley Conference, that has adapted the slogan “brick by brick.” Translation: the team is in rebuilding mode. The Redhawks haven’t won consecutive games since 2010, so the Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble with them. But here are five Redhawks to watch.
No. 12 — Kyle Snyder, senior QB
It didn’t take a full game for Snyder to rack up some ridiculous numbers against an overmatched opponent. He led SEMO’s first seven scoring drives of the game, connected on 10 of 12 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more scores on six carries for 33 yards. He barely played at all in the second half, after Southeast took a 49-0 lead into the break.
No. 20 — DeMichael Jackson, junior RB
The Redhawks’ leading rusher in 2013 — 170 carries, 977 yards, four touchdowns — Jackson appears on the FCS watch list for the country’s top running back. It only took him eight carries to get to 82 yards and a TD in Week 1. And Jackson hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass.
No. 43 — Roper Garrett, sophomore LB
A 6-foot, 236-pound middle backer in SEMO’s 3-4 defense, Garrett led his team with 10 total tackles vs. Missouri Baptist. He also began his season with 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles.
No. 4 — Spencer Davis, senior WR
A speedy, 5-foot-7 weapon for SEMO’s offense, Davis aims to make his presence felt in the return game, too. In the Redhawks’ opener, he brought an early punt 61 yards to set up the first of his team’s many touchdowns. He returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score in 2013, at Eastern Illinois. SEMO didn’t have to throw the ball much against Missouri Baptist, so he only caught two passes for 16 yards.
No. 1 — Paul McRoberts, junior WR
A tall, 6-foot-3 target for Snyder, McRoberts made the All-OVC preseason team. He established himself as the team’s top receiver in 2013, with 44 grabs, 646 yards and nine TDs. With SEMO dominating in its debut, he only caught three passes for 16 yards and a touchdown.
One last thing
SEMO hails from the “Show Me State,” across the border to the east. While on their way to Lawrence, the Redhawks stopped off in a place with which many KU fans are familiar. Even if it is now SEC country.
Kansas University coach Charlie Weis hadn’t talked football in person with the media for a couple of weeks. So Tuesday’s press conference, leading up to the Jayhawks’ season-opener Saturday against Southeast Missouri State, had plenty of nuggets.
• Weis didn’t speak at length about it, but the biggest news to come out of the presser had to be the departure of junior defensive back Kevin Short. Listed as the second-string right corner on KU’s first preseason depth chart in early August, Weis said personal issues led to Short’s departure. He went out of his way to make it clear academics weren’t the issue. What’s more, Weis said there is a possibility Short, from Florissant, Missouri, could be back in January. And KU has known about the issue for a while: “This isn’t something that just hit yesterday.”
• Junior receiver Nigel King, a non-recruited player, is on scholarship and falls under the category of blue-shirting. He has two years to play two years. KU had room for him on its roster and he will be counted on next year’s recruiting class. He graduated from Maryland and is in graduate school at KU.
• Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart has to be the most improved player from last season for KU to win more football games. Cozart now is confident, bordering on cocky. Weis said “that’s a good place to be,” and he didn’t see that last year from the QB as a true freshman.
• Defensively, there are so many players back. The secondary is rock solid. One player who could be a surprise is starting nickel Tevin Shaw, a sophomore. “We had to find a way to get him on the field,” Weis said.
• The battle for starting center “wasn’t close.” Weis said junior Keyon Haughton was clearly ahead of red-shirt freshman Joe Gibson, who has a lot of upside.
• After beginning preseason camp as a tight end, sophomore Jordan Shelley-Smith now sits at No. 2 on the depth chart at right tackle. “He’s eaten like a man possessed,” Weis said. “I’ve done that before.”
• Running backs De’Andre Mann and Corey Avery are co-No. 1s on the depth chart. A freshman, Avery is the better athlete. Mann, a junior, is the better football player. Mann’s body is ready to take Big 12 hits. “He’s just a rocked-up dude,” Weis said, adding he is confident in both players. “I’ll be surprised if they don’t play well.”
• Size isn’t relevant when it comes to pass-blocking as a running back. It’s about fundamentals, techniques, getting your hands on people and not getting beat around the edge. And that might be a moot point when No. 2 left tackle Larry Mayzck is in the game, he is so big.
• Freshman Joe Dineen, who recently moved to running back form safety, is ready to play. Dineen is technically No. 2 on the depth chart, because Mann and Avery are 1 and 1A. Dineen is clearly the next guy, and he’s ready.
• King will line up on the right side and the left side at receiver. He’s very close to bumping somebody who is ahead of him on the depth chart — he’s currently listed behind senior Tony Pierson.
• Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine only missed about a week and a half of preseason camp due to injury. KU’s coaches don’t have to overload him with reps too early because of that. … After Mundine on the TE depth chart, everybody brings something different. Red-shirt freshman Ben Johnson (No. 2) is more athletic. Senior Trent Smiley is stronger.
• Freshman Junior Visinia (6-foot-4, 360 pounds) opens the season as the No. 2 right guard. He’s a huge human being. Offensive line coach John Reagan is really high on him.
• KU has a lot of true freshmen on its Week 1 depth chart. Matthew Boateng (No. 2 right corner) has played great in camp. For a while, KU had him as a starting nickel. Everyone knew about linebacker Kyron Watson (No. 2 MLB) and Avery (No. 1 RB), but people might be surprised by Visinia and Boateng. Receivers Derrick Neal and Bobby Hartzog will both get on the field, too. “They don’t play like freshmen.” They will take care of some of KU’s return duties. Weis said any player on the depth chart will play in the opener.
• Starting right tackle Damon Martin got better throughout the spring, and preseason camp. Now he’s clearly the best RT on the O-line. Starting left guard Ngalu Fusimalohi, No. 1 right guard Mike Smithburg and Martin were the three best players on the unit “the whole way.”
• Last year, now No. 1 LT Pat Lewandowski didn’t have anywhere near the confidence he does now. He is the clear verbal leader of the O-line. KU didn’t get that at all from him last year. It’s not by chance that teammates put him on the leadership committee.
• Cozart has some experienced receivers to work with now, but his success starts with Reagan and quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus. … Harwell gets open and has the trust of his QB. KU hasn’t had that before either.
• On the defensive line … KU feels like it has seven or eight guys they can rotate in.
• Like any coach, Weis has some areas of concern, but there were so many issues in his two previous seasons. Now they’re worrying about fewer things. There are still restless nights, just less of them. Last year this time, Weis wondered if the passing game even had a chance. … The QB position has been the biggest nightmare over the past few years, regarding what to expect out of the position.
• If KU’s offense can score enough points, the Jayhawks will have a chance to win a whole lot of games, because the defense is salty.
• Cozart not only has the most athleticism of KU’s quarterbacks, he also has the most accuracy. The offense fits No. 2 QB Michael Cummings very well, too. The junior still has a cannon for an arm.
— Listen to everything Weis had to say at the press conference: Charlie Weis on Kevin Short's departure, KU's opener
— And hear from John Reagan and Clint Bowen, who also met with the media: Coordinators talk KU's development heading into opener
By the time Week 1 of the 2014 college football season wraps up Monday night, 85 games featuring FBS teams will be in the books.
Kansas University, of course, won’t be playing in any of those.
The Jayhawks are idle this week, which means we’ll have to wait another seven days to get a look at them, and find out just what they might be capable of on the field.
Charlie Weis and his staff have spent the past two weeks, since KU’s last open practice and Fan Appreciation Day, hunkered down, preparing for the Sept. 6 opener against Southeast Missouri State — and beyond. The Jayhawks have only emerged (to the media at least) to announce seniors Ben Heeney, Nick Harwell and Cassius Sendish as team captains and rally the downtrodden KU football fan base.
Because we won’t get to see this Kansas football team today, here are five things we would’ve liked to learn if the Jayhawks actually began their season Labor Day weekend.
1. Who has emerged as KU’s primary running back?
Since the news of season-ending injuries to both Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, it became clear either juco newcomer De’Andre Mann or true freshman Corey Avery would have the role thrusted upon them.
But we don’t yet know which of the two is more explosive, a better pass-blocker, more instinctive and so on. Perhaps KU will choose to split carries evenly between Mann and Avery. Maybe they sprinkle in true freshman Joe Dineen, who recently converted from playing safety.
It seems KU has some options, despite the potentially devastating injuries.
2. Does Reagan have five guys he trusts on the offensive line?
The first depth chart of the preseason listed KU’s first-string O-line as: senior LT Pat Lewandowski, senior LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, junior C Keyon Haughton, senior RG Mike Smithburg and junior RT Damon Martin.
Their backups, as of Aug. 7, were junior LT Larry Mayzck, junior LG Bryan Peters, red-shirt freshman C Joe Gibson, sophomore RG Brain Beckmann and junior RT Devon Williams.
Since then, sophomore tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith also moved to tackle.
A lot can change in three weeks, especially with a unit that could be the biggest mystery on the team. Don't be surprised if the depth chart looks a little different when KU releases it. Weis made it known a couple weeks ago it might take the entire preseason practice schedule to determine a starting five. Smithburg said in an interview the O-linemen might not know who will start until game day.
Offensive coordinator and O-line coach John Reagan has a reputation for getting the most out of the big guys. It will be interesting to see which five he can rely on for the opener. And how much the go-to five changes in the weeks to come.
3. Can the defensive line catch up with the linebackers and defensive backs?
Between Captain Heeney at linebacker and a skilled secondary featuring senior corners Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, senior free safety Cassius Sendish and junior strong safety Isaiah Johnson (the Big 12’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2013), KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has plenty of experience behind the defensive line.
But what about those guys in the trenches? Will senior nose tackle Keon Stowers, junior tackle Andrew Bolton and junior end Ben Goodman cause enough havoc to disrupt offensive plays before they get started? How big of an impact will senior “buck” Michael Reynolds make as an edge rusher?
If the defensive line isn’t big enough to bust through opposing lines, it will have to be fast enough to go around them. KU’s linebackers and secondary will be far more effective with a consistent push at the point of attack.
4. Is Cozart becoming an accurate passer?
Thrown to the wolves as a true freshman in 2013, quarterback Montell Cozart completed 23 of his 63 passes, threw two interceptions and overthrew targets regularly. His next touchdown pass will be his first in a KU uniform.
Weis and Reagan like the sophomore starter’s mobility, because that will allow him to keep more plays alive for KU this fall. But for Kansas to actually turn out offensive production, Cozart needs to connect with senior receivers Nick Harwell, Tony Pierson and Justin McCay, as well as junior Nigel King and senior tight end Jimmay Mundine.
Plays are bound to break down. When they do, it will be up to Cozart to make something happen, and he can’t just rely on his quick feet. Busted plays need to turn into down-the-field gains for KU to put more points on the scoreboard.
5. What will Reagan’s playbook look like?
KU’s offense should look a lot different than it did when Weis was in charge.
Goodbye, pro-style and complex verbiage. Hello, spread and simplicity. Those are the words out of the mouths of KU’s offensive players since Reagan’s arrival.
The Jayhawks figure to have a dual-threat QB in Cozart. Will Reagan prefer to use the 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore as a pass-first weapon? Or will Cozart end up carrying the ball on designed runs just as much as a running back?
Who will most passing plays be designed to free up? Harwell? Pierson? Mundine? Are Mann and Avery able to contribute with receptions of their own?
How much passing will KU even attempt? Just because it’s a spread offense doesn’t mean it can’t rely on the running game. Would Reagan prefer to run the ball 60 percent of the time, with Cozart and Pierson supplementing the Mann and Avery’s workload.
So many questions. And another week of waiting before we start discovering some answers.
NBA rules kept incoming rookie Andrew Wiggins in trade limbo all summer. Once the one-and-done Kansas University standout signed his first NBA contract with Cleveland, the Cavs couldn't deal him for 30 days.
Well, the uncertainty and embargo that mired the 19-year-old's time since becoming the No. 1 overall pick kind of worked in his favor. Wiggins arrived in Minneapolis just in time for the Minnesota State Fair.
Put those weeks of annoyance on a stick and toss them in a deep fryer. Or better yet, hop on some rides and sign some autographs.
The Timberwolves utilized the fair crowd to introduce Wiggins and fellow new Minnesotans Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine — all acquired this summer (all but LaVine were added in the trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland).
Now that Minnesota has shipped away its former franchise player so he can join forces with LeBron James, the T'wolves are selling their new roster as one that will bring youth, excitement, defense and up-tempo basketball to the Target Center in the 2014-15 season.
Wiggins told media and fans at Tuesday's fair press conference the plan is to take the franchise in the right direction. During the session, the team's new players brought up Minnesota's now 10-year playoff drought multiple times.
"We're young, athletic," Wiggins said. "We have a lot of freaks on this team. And we all play hard, are competitive. So I think that'll help bring us to a whole different level."
Minnesota president and coach Flip Saunders hopes Wiggins will prove capable of leading a turn-around. Saunders said after the trade became official that Love was such a unique player, they wanted to be sure to get a solid asset in return when they dealt him away.
"A lot of times, in the history of it, people have gotten good players back, but maybe not what you consider a guy who has an opportunity to be a superstar-type player," the coach said.
"You're talking in Wiggins a player that, since he was in high school, people thought he was the best player to come out of high school since LeBron James. He's been compared to those (type of players) and he's got phenomenal ability. He's got a lot of work to do, but I know that he's a willing learner."
Saunders can already tell Wiggins is a hard worker and said the rookie could potentially develop into an all-defensive team player. The coach/president thinks the team has an identity now, with multiple two-way players.
As for what never was in Cleveland for the KU product, Wiggins just felt relieved to put on a jersey and know that will be the one he will wear for seasons to come.
Wiggins said he didn't take the trade personally or feel rejected.
"I know it's a business," he said. "Organizations are like a family, really. If they feel like something's better for their family, they're gonna go through with that decision. That's what they did."
When LeBron joined the Cavs, Wiggins said it was a joyful moment.
Jeff Caplan wrote about the potentially odd relationship between Wiggins and James for NBA.com's Hang Time blog.
Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep, said his former player was too classy, humble and respectful to worry about that.
“I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”
Bennett, who grew up in the basketball circuit around Wiggins, was taken No. 1 in the 2013 NBA Draft. The forward was asked if he had any advice for his fellow young Canadian.
"Work hard through the ups and downs," Bennett said. "I've been through it and it's only going into my second year. I just told him to stay focused, don't listen to all the talk people say. Just keep on the grind."
Embiid tweets signing selfie (of course he does)
Elsewhere, Tuesday held significance for Wiggins' KU teammate Joel Embiid, too.
Signing an NBA contract figures to be a life-changing moment, especially considering he might have to alter his Twitter game.
No one should be surprised that the big man was back to tweeting away shortly thereafter. But he did manage to avoid anything fine-worthy. Basically, Embiid is looking forward to rigging the NBA 2K15 video game in his favor.
Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie said Tuesday it remains unclear when Embiid will debut for the 76ers, following his late-June surgery to repair his right foot.
In a break between two-a-days Wednesday at the Kansas University football facilities, coach Charlie Weis spoke with the media to field questions and provide some updates on the Jayhawks' progress through six preseason practices.
Position battles, injuries, new uniforms and much more were addressed by the third-year KU coach.
• Weis had no update on freshman linebacker Josh Ehambe, who is waiting for NCAA clearance. Junior "buck" Damani Mosby is waiting to get his associate's degree — they are waiting for one of his professors to grade his assignments.
• Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine had a minor procedure done on a knee that was locking up some. "It went really well. He'll miss about another week and a half," Weis said.
• Junior "buck" Anthony Olobia injured a knee during kickoff coverage practice on Tuesday. Weis said it didn't look great, and he'll be out "indefinitely or longer." Olobia was scheduled to get an MRI on Wednesday afternoon.
• Looking at the defense, it's flying around at practice. The least experienced position is the D-line and they look good, too. Weis loves the team's speed. … But KU, like everyone else, is a couple injuries away from having some serious problems.
• On offense, KU is getting closer to settling down on the offensive line. Coaches will mix and match positions up through Saturday. … Trial and error will end this week, then on to the next phase of preseason practices.
• Kickers Matthew Wyman and John Duvic have been kicking the ball very consistently but they haven't kicked in front of a crowd yet.
• Weis would be surprised if freshmen Corey Avery (running back) or Kyron Watson (linebacker) didn't play this year, as early as the first game. They're both instinctual. Avery has been the most exciting guy on offense. Watson is learning behind senior Ben Heeney and a couple of other guys. He'll be pushing the veterans. He has leadership that is a little suppressed because he is a freshman…. Leaders and best players aren't always the same guys in the college game. Senior safety Cassius Sendish is the most natural leader on the team.
• Both senior JaCorey Shepherd and junior Kevin Short have got tons of reps at practices at right cornerback. And Short has got reps on the left side, too. Short is reaping with the first string as much as the second string. KU could use one of them at nickel, but they first want to make sure they have cover corners first.
• Avery makes people miss. Anyone can run plays. They're practicing with full pads now and that's still happening. "I'm not ready to put him in Canton," Weis said, but added he is very excited about the freshman running back from Dallas.
• The battle for center will settle down after this weekend. If you don't look at it now, you don't have time to evaluate. Plus, camp speed is much faster now than it was in the spring. Coaches will go through, position by position, looking at the offensive line after Sunday's practice. On the depth chart, junior Keyon Haughton is listed ahead of red-shirt freshman Joe Gibson.
• Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart gets better every day. If you start to have highs and lows, that's what you get concerned about. The 19-year-old QB has "that it factor." When Cozart is done at KU, he could look like a model player for the program.
• Junior receiver Nigel King, who transferred from Maryland, has pleased Weis with his physical play and ability to catch the ball, but he also takes diligent notes and asks a lot of questions. He has the signs of a polished guy. King is playing himself up the depth chart.
• Asked about how much Cozart's youth made the true freshman nervous in 2013, Weis suggested maybe KU should've worn brown pants the last couple of games. Cozart wasn't ready as an 18-year-old QB in the Big 12… You don't see him running out of bounds now like he did last season. Things are moving in the right direction.
• KU has potential front-line kickoff and punt returners. Weis would like to use the best guys as returners. With punt returners, there is usually a party in your face when you end up catching it… The guys on the depth chart are the ones who are going to do it — Shepherd, senior receiver Nick Harwell, Short and junior receiver Tre' Parmalee.
• Junior DeAndre Mann is challenging for the No. 1 spot at RB. Seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox have their work cut out for them. It's a battle.
• On the new Crimson Chrome uniforms: The players love them and most of the fans will probably like them. But Weis is all business and really doesn't care. If it helps the players psychologically, they could wear them every game as far as he is concerned. … At the Corinth Square pep rally next week, the fans will get to pick which uniforms Kansas will wear for a game. Weis will have no say in the matter. … KU wore the gray ones in win over West Virginia. Weis would've been fine with them wearing those every week.
• Guys who showed up in the spring from the juice ranks… sophomore free safety Fish Smithson is close to being a starter. Junior left corner Ronnie Davis has much quicker feet than when he arrived, which makes him a better corner. KU could have them in and not miss a beat. … Sophomore strong safety Tevin Shaw might have improved more than anyone. He plays with a vicious style.
• Senior Tony Pierson's head feels great. And since he moved to the WR position he has become a receiver. At first he was a chicken running around with his head cut off. KU puts him in at RB a few times, but in reality he is a receiver.
• John Reagan is the voice of the offensive line. He'll coach and coordinator the offense from the sideline because of that... Tight ends coach Jeff Blasko and receivers coach Eric Kiesau have good eyes for watching from upstairs. They were talking the other day about which coach to have watching it play out from up top.
• Weis feels good about losing weight. He told both his family and the team he was going to do that. He wants to lose 100 pounds by the time he gets done. "I was a mess. I'm less of a mess now," the coach said. He doesn't want pats on the back. Weis told the players what he was going to do in the offseason and challenged them to make changes, too. A lot of players stepped up to address their biggest weaknesses.
• Junior defensive tackle Andrew Bolton is a big, physical guy, who is still learning a little bit and thinking more than he needs to at times. He'll be ready by the time the season opens in September.
• Inside the KU football facileties, the sky isn't falling. The team is getting ready to go and the only way the Jayhawks will change anyone's mind is on the field.
— Listen to the complete Q & A session: Charlie Weis on preseason position battles, playing freshmen and more
Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis wasn't the only member of the staff to address the media Thursday morning, marking the start of fall camp.
New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who assisted at KU from 2005 to 2009 and spent four seasons at Rice (three as O-coordinator) was joined by defensive coordinator Clint Bowen for a brief press conference, too.
Below are some of the topics the pair of coordinators discussed the day before the first practice of the 2014 season.
• Reagan is excited to see new WR Nigel King (just announced today as a transfer from Maryland) and find out what he can bring to KU's offense at camp. King hasn't been here for the spring and summer. But he isn't new to college football. He won't have the adjustment issues that others do.
• Adding speed to KU's roster has been important for Weis and is critical to KU's potential going forward. "It's kind of like money: you never think you have enough. You end up wanting more."
• Looking across the country, regardless of the system, it is important to have a QB who can keep plays alive with his feet. With where KU is at as an offense, it is probably even more important, and sophomore QB Montell Cozart fits that mold.
• As an offensive coach, you're trying to find the player in conflict on defense, and hopefully you'll have the matchups you need to be productive. You have a philosophy and that is what you do.
• Pace of play is different for every team. Some teams are trying to run as many plays as possible. That probably won't be the case for KU. Doing that might lead to fights between Reagan and D-coordinator Bowen.
• KU's receivers are better than Reagan thought when he first got to Lawrence, from Rice. He is excited about that. They will have to help the guy who is throwing the ball and they are capable of that, too.
• New summer time availability for players helps the coaches teach. … Reagan hopes it helped Cozart tremendously.
• Weis has allowed Reagan to do what he needs to do. The head coach, after giving up coordinating duties, simply sits back and asks philosophical questions. It has been exactly what Reagan hoped it would be.
• Reagan ran versions of the spread even back in 2005 and '06… Some of the adaptations that are made come week to week. Major ones come in the offseason.
• Looking at an offense, if you have a QB that is good enough to play, you better have a scheme to fit him. But nothing affects the value and explosiveness of an offense quite like the QB and the O-line.
• Reagan isn't Cozart's position coach, but he can tell the sophomore has key attributes — studies the game and is a very personable guy. They both have a good feel for each other. They'll learn more about Cozart's ability in game-week preparation this fall.
• There has to be spoken and unspoken communication on the O-line if it's all going to fit right. The '07 KU line had that. They made mistakes but they had something special about them. … KU has a guy in Ryan Cantrell (assistant direct of operations and former KU center) who can tell the current players how that worked.
• "I'm extra-concerned about a lot of positions right now," Reagan said, when asked about his concern at center. (KU opens camp with junior Keyon Haughton at the top of the depth chart and red-shirt freshman Joe Gibson listed second.) The center position is key, but there can be four other guys on the O-line who can help with communication.
• Last year, the Jayhawks gained a lot of experience at a lot of positions on defense. On the D-line, some of the new faces like junior Andrew Bolton and junior T.J. Semke are definitely in the mix. They hope to have a solid six guys to rotate in on the line.
• As a defensive coach, you always start with the opposing QB when formulating a game plan. The opposing QB's skill set dictates how the KU defense prepares.
• Spread offenses put defenses in binds. The good spread teams mix it up and don't just throw the ball. Offensive coaches in football today are doing a great job with that. It has taken schematics to a higher level. It is all about putting defenses in conflict in open space.
• Bowen doesn't think fast-paced offenses and not having the ability to substitute leads to injuries necessarily. It just takes time in your preparation — that's the primary concern.
• Junior cornerback Kevin Short has "a very high" upside. He has a lot to learn. But he is a long, rangy DB (6-foot-2, 190 pounds). He can run and has good instincts. They are very excited about what Short could develop into.
• There are some guys in the secondary with the talent to play in the NFL. They all physically have that body type and have the ability to step up.
• After switching things up last year defensively, the staff just works together for what's best for the players and the programs.
• First-string senior "buck" Michael Reynolds is a proven pass-rusher. There are candidates for a second guy. Reynolds could have a special season. Senior "buck" Victor Simmons has come a long way at a new position for him. WIthin the scheme, KU's coaches will plug in guys who can rush — the Jayhawks especially need two coming off the edge to change third down.
— Hear the full press conference audio: Bowen and Reagan discuss KU football team's potential
With the first day of Kansas University football practice a day away, head coach Charlie Weis opened up fall camp Thursday morning by speaking with the media.
Entering his third season at KU, Weis hit on the program's progress, key players, a late addition to the roster and much more.
Here are some of the highlights:
• The new NCAA rules that allow two hours of football work a week during the summer were invaluable. The only guys that are behind for KU are the ones who are walking in the past couple of days. The Jayhawks spent six hours a week this summer on strength and conditioning. The other two of the allotted hours went toward football meetings. The KU coach's vacations got cut short so players could get prepared mentally. That also helped the new guys play catch-up.
• The only guys not physically here yet who are on the KU roster are 6-foot-3 junior "buck" Damani Mosby and 6-3 freshman linebacker Josh Ehambe. Mosby is finishing up final juice requirements and Ehambe is waiting for NCAA clearance after attending Prime Prep Academy.
• Junior linebacker Schyler Miles had a knee scoped a couple weeks ago with a two to three week recovery window; he is not gone for the year. He could be ready tomorrow.
• Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart won the starting job in the spring and then the summertime was his to step up and be a leader. He won't take over for senior receiver Nick Harwell in that role, but he put himself in a position where he can handle and manage the team. … Cozart has become more accurate. Key for him will be not being nervous. Inaccuracy didn't show up in practices, when he wasn't getting hit.
• Coaches and this year's seniors had a conversation about senior leadership at the end of spring football. KU has a lot of older guys who have played. They're in a bit of a different position now.
• Now that senior receiver Tony Pierson isn't a running back, he should be in good shape to stay healthy. But they will also be cautious with him because of his history of concussions. There will be just enough contact to have him ready for the season-opener.
• In the spring, Rodriguez Coleman was ahead of Justin McCay at wide receiver. But that has changed since.
• Junior receiver Nigel King is the new member of the KU football team. The 6-3 former Maryland player graduated last Friday and asked for a release from his scholarship. His high school coach had a relationship with KU receivers coach Eric Kiesau. The Jayhawks have six receivers now that coaches feel like can all play. This all happened fast with King. As of Thursday morning, Weis had only seen him on video. King adds experience and production — has made plays and scored touchdowns. "It'd be nice to have some receivers scoring some touchdowns," Weis said.
• As far as Cozart's backup, junior Michael Cummings probably starts camp ahead of sophomore T.J. Millweard. Both of them will battle it out, and red-shirt freshman Jordan Darling is in that mix. But the close race is between Cummings and Milweard. They have plenty of time to settle that.
• Senior CB JaCorey Shepherd and junior CB Kevin Short are close in competition. It isn't fair to list Short ahead of Shepherd when Short has never played a down for KU.
• Now that Weis is just the head coach and not the O-coordinator, he will spend some time in offensive and defensive rooms, but he will spend a lot more time with special teams. He wants to create a level of importance for the special teams. On game days he will be more involved with special teams, too. … Some of the terminology remains the same from Weis' offense. … He lets the coordinators determine the depth chart.
• In Weis' opinion, the quarterback is more important than the scheme. You also have to look at all of your personnel before you get to the QB. Part of the reason Kansas hasn't had productive QBs is because the players around them weren't strong, either. Cozart has athleticism and that makes it tougher to defend, with an extra runner. In offensive coordinator John Reagan's scheme, Cozart is another guy the defense has to account for.
• KU will be "very big" on the offensive line. Weis looked in the hallway and saw juniors Larry Mayzck and Devon Williams both pushing about 370 and there was no room to walk down the hallway. In past years, opponents looked a lot bigger than Kansas.
• With the offensive change, the main concern is getting the system in and developing during fall camp. On defense, there is far more self-scouting and there are just tweaks to what they were doing in 2013.
• "Im pretty happy with our running back situation now," Weis said. Seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox have been waiting for their turn and junior DeAndre Mann didn't come here to play behind them. That's without even mentioning freshman Corey Avery.
• Avery is a natural running back. He might evolve to be like Tony Pierson, but he has "giddy-up." Avery arrives fourth on the depth chart without including Pierson. He has a ways to go to get in that mix.
• In the Big 12, it didn't take long to figure out if you don't have athleticism on defense you don't have much of a chance. And that includes defensive linemen. You need a middle linebacker like Ben Heeney who can run sideline to sideline. This is the best Weis has felt about the talent at KU by a wide margin. But they've done very little to back it up.
• Pierson gives KU the chance to get into different formations and force defenses to decide if they want to defend him as a RB or WR.
• Junior defensive lineman T.J. Semke is someone who very few people know about here. In the summer he works in the bail bonds business. He is tough and he works so hard that he makes his teammates better. All he did was push, and he has the respect of both coaches and players. … Semke was the strongest defensive lineman tracked this summer by the strength staff.
• Freshman safety Joe Dineen from Free State High, in Lawrence, has to decide if he wants to be a defensive back or a linebacker. Weis liked him as a QB in high school as well. Dineen would be an emergency QB if it ever got to that point. He makes plays all over the field… Cassius Sendish is clearly the leader of the secondary. You could see Dineen turning into that guy, having that glow. Weis loves the fact that he's local and gets to play in his hometown.
• After Weis arrived and gutted the program, they knew there would be a high risk-reward situation. Now they have upperclassmen with experience on the roster. They have athletes who can play. That's why the Jayhawks have expectations to be a lot better than most people think.
• What KU is doing on offense gives it a better chance to win. Bringing in Reagan and Kiesau have helped invaluably. … Reagan likes to run first. There might be a misconception that he likes to throw more because it is a spread formation. They have a chance now because they have a QB who can run it, too. Weis likes that run-first mentality. There are other schools that KU plays that you know they'll throw it 70 times. If KU is throwing it 70 times, it means the Jayhawks are getting blown out.
• Cummings has a powerful arm and they wouldn't be afraid to play him. Cozart has just proven to be better "at everything."
• On KU's kickers: sophomore Matthew Wyman has a "pro leg." His whole summer was spent on being more dependable and accurate. With freshman John Duvic coming in, Wyman will have to work for the job because the new kicker is accurate. It's clearly between those two for field goal kicks.
• On the three non-conference games: Weis loves opening at home, and he thinks playing at Duke is a great opportunity. People might say the Jayhawks have no chance, but no one in the locker room will be thinking that way.
• Sophomore offensive lineman Brian Beckmann played both guard and tackle in the spring. He'll know both positions. He is clearly big enough to be in the two-deep.
• Based off of senior O-lineman Pat Lewandowski's mannerisms and what he picked up in the summertime, he hasn't expected for someone to come in and replace him. Someone will have to work hard to move past him.
• Backup CB Ronnie Davis, a junior, doesn't look like the same guy after a summer of strength training. Probably added 20 pounds. … Strength coach Scott Holsopple molds the players in the offseason and can spot in the high school ranks which players are capable of putting on that kind of weight.
• Weis would like to red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Jacob Bragg. But Bragg looked so good in the summer, it seemed like he might be capable of playing this fall.
• By the end of his first year at KU, Weis could tell Heeney was a frontline player. He has grown as a person, too. Heeney has turned himself into a leader. There are a bunch of guys on defense who want to be like Heeney. A couple of years ago that might've been a bad thing. … Heeney reminds Weis of former pro LB Zach Thomas because people said he was too small, not big enough. "He might be as good as any defensive player in the league. Period," Weis said of Heeney.
• Weis has been "very encouraged" with freshman LB Kyron Watson. Heeney has taken him under his wing. Watson would like to be Heeney when Heeney is gone.
• The field at Memorial Stadium really looks good now after the summer project of removing the track. They could practice there every day, once it starts getting dark early. There is so much more space with the expanded turf.
• RB Cox has had some injury issues in the past. So he is on a big stretching program to minimize those things. He is so muscular that he gets really tight.
— Listen to the complete audio: Charlie Weis talks new addition, depth chart, offensive changes and more
It's not going to take long for one-and-done Kansas University center Joel Embiid to become a fan favorite in the NBA.
The gregarious 7-footer from Cameroon began heading down that road within days of becoming the No. 3 overall draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers.
He first made a splash on The Dan Patrick Show. The sportscaster spoke with Embiid about his ailing foot, his soccer background, his future in the league and how it appeared during the live NBA Draft television broadcast that Embiid wasn't pleased to be taken by the 76ers.
Before long, Embiid had Patrick cracking up.
But his star really began to shine as more people became aware of his tweet game. In the past couple of months, @JoelEmbiid has:
• tried to recruit LeBron James to the Sixers
• declared his affection for Kim Kardashian, and then backed off
• claimed multiple times he is going to stop tweeting
• and announced his interest in pop star Rihanna
Currently (as of Wednesday afternoon at least) Embiid's Twitter profile pic was a manipulated photo of him and Rihanna on a dinner date. And, of course, he has given this potential super-couple a nickname: Johanna.
Whatever his intentions — amusing himself or his 294,000 followers or something else — it's working. The world famous performer, with 36.7 million Twitter followers of her own, followed Embiid back.
The light-hearted big man described his reaction to that news in at interview with Complex — it basically involved smiling and a little celebratory dance.
Reporter Lang Whitaker also inquired with the injured rookie about his exploits for the All Ball blog at NBA.com.
In a video interview, Whitaker cut right to the chase, asking: "How's it going with Rhianna?"
Embiid didn't blink.
"It's going pretty well," he replied with the mock sincerity of a trained comedic actor.
They discussed his alleged date with the pop star and how he was able to pull that off.
"Girls love when I speak French, so every time I call, I just call them up in French," Embiid said.
In the meantime, make sure you keep up with the burgeoning comedian on Twitter for cheap/enjoyable entertainment.
The NBA gathered up almost 40 members of its 2014 draft class this weekend in New York for a rookie photo shoot.
Kansas University products Andrew Wiggins — Cleveland's No. 1 overall pick — and Joel Embiid — Philadelphia's No. 3 pick — of course featured prominently in the fun.
The shoot marked the first time Embiid appeared in a Sixers uniform. If you look closely in some pictures, you can see his still-protected (and injured) right foot, which kept him from participating in the NBA Summer League and will keep him out of Philly's lineup most, if not all, of the upcoming season.
While other rookies spent portions of the session putting on an aerial display for photos, basketball cards and an impromptu dunk contest that broke out…
Embiid had to take it pretty easy. At least he got in some work on his sky hook:
The NBA posted tons of images on its Instagram account and other social media platforms. Check out Embiid's Derrick Rose kicks that he wore for the shoot.
The 7-foot jokester proved that he can at least pretend to be serious, too.
He even autographed some photos.
With no injuries holding him back, Wiggins got to have a little more fun.
Like his KU teammate Embiid, he laced up a fresh pair of kicks for team adidas.
And though posing for all those photos can't be the most entertaining endeavor…
… Wiggins at least got to see a rough draft of his rookie card.
One can't help but wonder if his cards will be worth more or less* once he gets traded to Minnesota, which seems almost inevitable at this point.
(*I guess basketball cards are still a thing. Are they actually worth any money?)
The whole photo shoot had to be kind of awkward for Wiggins. Everyone thinks he will be traded to the Timberwolves for all-star power forward Kevin Love before the season even begins, but he had to do all of these promotional photos in a Cleveland uniform, pretending like everything is fine and he and LeBron James will spend the next decade throwing lobs to each other.
Unfortunately, someone at the photo shoot thought it would be a good idea to put Wiggins on live TV for an interview. Which led to some uncomfortable moments for the 19-year-old Canadian.
What's more, Wiggins told the New York Post he hasn't even spoken with LeBron, adding, "I'm sure he's busy."
Now that we're all sort of feeling bad for Wiggins, let's end on a happier note. Check out NBA.com's photo gallery from the shoot.
And take a little time to read some of the NBA rookie Reddit AMA in which Wiggins and Embiid participated during their busy day.
Fellow rooks Marcus Smart of Boston and Noah Vonleh of Charlotte predicted Embiid will be the biggest trash-talker of the class. And the big man from Cameroon claimed he and music artist Rihanna went on a date and had fun.
No NBA rookie comes into the league and figures everything out in the span of 82 games. But some assimilate faster than others.
Kansas University lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will find that out soon enough. For proof, they could just examine the still young career of another Jayhawk.
Sacramento shooting guard Ben McLemore — coming off a somewhat disappointing debut season (8.8 points, 37.6-percent shooting) — hopes the Las Vegas Summer League will serve as his springboard to Year 2.
A look at McLemore's shot chart from his rookie season reveals there were really only a handful of spots the Kings would want him shooting from — either corner for three-pointers and inside the arc on the left wing.
Just about every other spot on the floor yielded little returns for the first-year guard out of KU.
After two games in Las Vegas, though, McLemore had converted just six of his 18 shots.
In the Kings' third Vegas game, Monday against the D-League Select team, McLemore finally found his stroke. The athletic young guard went 7-for-10 from the floor, 3-for-4 from the foul line, made one of his two three-pointers and finished with 18 points and six rebounds.
"My first two games, I was just too anxious," McLemore said in a video interview posted by News10, in Sacramento. "You know, not letting the game try to come to me and not playing my game."
His next time out? Even better.
McLemore led the Kings with 22 points Thursday in a win against Minnesota, knocking down 7 of 11 shots — including 2 of 4 from three-point land — while converting all six of his free throws, dishing four assists and grabbing six boards.
He knows the kinks need to be addressed now if he wants to help keep Sacramento afloat in the highly competitive Western Conference during the regular season.
The Kings' star forward, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins, told ESPN's Bill Simmons he has faith in the 21-year-old shooting guard.
On an episode of his podcast, the B.S. Report, Simmons asked Cousins about "what's up" with McLemore after his "typical rookie" season. Cousins quickly spoke up for his teammate.
"He's gonna be an incredible player. He's just gotta keep growing," Cousins said.
Simmons suggested there weren't a lot of shots to go around in Sacramento last season for role players such as McLemore — what with Boogie, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas all averaging 20-plus points on the season — and Cousins agreed. But the Kings let point guard Thomas sign with Phoenix this summer and replaced him by picking up Darren Collison. So McLemore could have more opportunities in his second year — if rookie Nik Stauskas, from Michigan, doesn't beat him out for a spot in the starting lineup.
"That's like my little brother," Cousins said of the incumbent. "One thing about Ben, he works his tail off. With that alone, he's gonna be fine. I believe he'll have a better season this year."
The Sacramento big man predicted the Kings (28-54 in 2013-14) would break through and make the playoffs next season.
"You need your little brother, McLemore, to step up."
Paul Pierce must be in the gambling mood this summer.
After surviving for three days at the World Series of Poker Main Event last week in Las Vegas, finishing around 800th, the 16-year veteran out of Kansas University shocked many NBA observers when news surfaced late Saturday night he had reached a deal with Washington.
One of seven former KU players in the expansive pool of available free agents this summer, Pierce, like nearly every other veteran in search of a contract, had to wait until LeBron James made his Decision: The Sequel. Once The King announced his return to Cleveland on Friday, the rest of the league began making moves. The Wizards couldn't re-sign Trevor Ariza, who chose Houston. That left a void at small forward for D.C., which Pierce will happily fill after signing a two-year contract worth $10.8 million.
Prior to the deal, reports indicated Pierce preferred to re-sign with Brooklyn or find a way — preferably via sign-and-trade, for more money — to get on the Clippers' roster and reunite with his former Boston coach, Doc Rivers.
The Nets reached the Eastern Conference semifinals this past spring, and could have made a similar or better run in 2015 with Pierce, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, aging-in-fast-forward Kevin Garnett and Brooklyn's key role players — assuming all were healthy.
Had Pierce landed in L.A., near his boyhood home of Inglewood, California, he could have joined a team that has to be considered one of the handful of favorites to contend for the NBA title next year, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way.
Instead, "The Truth" decided to move in a different direction, to the nation's capital.
Why Washington? Well, it's a lot easier to reach the NBA Finals out of the East. In 2013-14, nine Western Conference teams won at least 48 games. In the East, just four organizations — Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Chicago — managed to do so.
Plus, LeBron's relocation makes the East wide open. Miami is no longer a juggernaut. Indiana faltered down the stretch last season. And Toronto is no longer in position to surprise anybody.
Chicago, which added Pau Gasol and (presumably) gets Derrick Rose back from his second knee injury in two years, will be a favorite in the East, along with Cleveland (any team with LeBron James on its roster is a title contender).
Still, neither of those teams is a sure-fire bet. No one knows whether Rose can still play at an MVP level and LeBron will be surrounded by guys with little to no playoff experience — and that includes Kevin Love, if the Cavs can swing a deal for the coveted power forward.
Washington could unseat the Heat atop the Southeast Division and find itself among the conference's top three seeds. The Wizards (44-38 in '13-'14) advanced to the second round as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs a few months back. And D.C. has one of the best young backcourts in the league, with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Add Pierce, in a complimentary role, to those two, Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario, and you've got a lineup that can play with any of the East's top teams.
Pierce is betting on Wall and Beal instead of Williams and Johnson. If his latest gamble pays off, he could be cashing in on a deep playoff run in 2015.
The weekend also brought new NBA contracts for 'Hawks in the NBA free agents Cole Aldrich (New York), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago) and Mario Chalmers (Miami), all of whom re-signed with their previous teams.
The most surprising of those deals, by far, has to be Chalmers' two-year agreement with Miami. A Heat scapegoat in what turned out to be the franchise's last LeBron hurrah, a 4-1 NBA Finals defeat at the hands of San Antonio, Chalmers was yanked from the starting lineup in Game 5 and presumed on his way out of town once Miami drafted UConn point guard Shabazz Napier.
But James' departure left the Heat scrambling, so Chalmers, after averaging 4.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the Finals, finds himself back in the fold with Miami's new Big Two: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. (Big Three if you count newly signed Luol Deng.)
Xavier Henry, Drew Gooden and Brandon Rush remain on the market. Gooden is expected to re-sign with Washington, which would give the Wizards a pair of Jayhawks.
Rush will work out for some NBA teams Tuesday in Las Vegas. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick says the Heat could be one franchise interested in the 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who only played 38 games for Utah in his sixth season.
Recovering from a torn ligament in his left wrist and an abnormality in his right knee's meniscus, Henry said in June he expects to be at 100 percent before the end of the summer.
With his rookie year behind him, New Orleans center Jeff Withey wasted little time addressing his shortcomings — all of which he discovered existed the hard way, by getting pushed around inside — from his first tour of the NBA.
Kansas University’s career leader in blocked shots (311), the 7-footer from San Diego only swatted 50 in limited minutes (11.8 per game) for the Pelicans this past season. Speaking to media at the organization’s mini-camp earlier this week, Withey said his offseason plan of attack, which includes playing for New Orleans at the Las Vegas summer league, is designed to get him more confidence in the post and improve his defensive rebounding.
Playing in the paint at the highest level of basketball, the young center realized quickly putting some more bulk on his frame would do him a lot of good in every aspect of the game. In a video interview posted on New Orleans’ website, Withey said he has added 17 pounds since his rookie season ended in April.
New Orleans played its young backup big 18 minutes or more in eight of its final nine games. With that, Withey said, he began to feel as though he belonged.
“I knew I could play at this level. It’s just, once you get here, you’ve got to get the confidence and get the timing down and everything, and luckily I had good vets to help me out with that,” he said. “Now that it’s here, I just want to take full advantage of it.”
Thanks to the makeup of the Pelicans’ summer league roster, Withey will have extensive opportunities to further promote his worth. All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, center Omer Asik (reportedly acquired by New Orleans) and stretch forward Ryan Anderson figure to begin next season ahead of Withey on the depth chart. But the organization’s summer league coach, Bryan Gates, told The Times-Picayune’s Nakia Hogan he expects Withey to lead in Las Vegas.
“Everybody talks about we only have one draft pick (second-round choice Russ Smith, out of Louisville),” Gates said in Hogan’s story. “What’s summer league for? Summer league is for Jeff. Let’s see what Jeff can do.”
In his summer debut Friday night, a New Orleans victory against the D-League Select team, Withey scored eight points, secured seven rebounds and blocked three shots in 25 minutes, a team-high.
In 58 games as a rookie, Withey averaged 3.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. However, as Hogan reported, those numbers went up to 8.1 points, 3.9 boards and 2.3 denials in 21.3 minutes during his final 10 games, when he made 60.8 percent of his shot attempts.
Pelicans head coach Monty Williams told The Times-Picayune that Withey still has a lot to learn, and Williams plans to work with him one-on-one in Vegas to get the most out of him.
“As good as he was last year, he’s still like most young guys,” Williams told Hogan. “He’s got to improve up here (mentally) to take advantage of the rest of his physical abilities.”
The only summer squad player who spent the entire regular season with New Orleans, Withey said the offense might not look too fluid in Vegas. But the man who hopes to help anchor the interior defensively for the Pelicans in the 2014-15 season could prove he deserves that role by protecting the rim the way he used to at Kansas.
“We should have the smarts,” Withey said, “and defense is just about knowing where you’re supposed to be, hustling, and we have that right now.”
While Las Vegas became the center of the NBA universe this week, thanks to the arrival of the most sought after free agent on the planet, LeBron James, it will remain the league's epicenter for the next 11 days as far less known players try to make names for themselves.
The Vegas summer league opens Friday, and between now and July 21, seven former Kansas University players will be in uniform — some just trying to work on their games and become valuable pieces for their franchises, others hoping to impress the right decision-makers enough to land contracts.
Cleveland's No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, rookie Andrew Wiggins, highlights the Jayhawks playing in Sin City. The explosive 19-year-old wing gets his first taste of the league at 7 p.m. (CST) Friday against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Duke's Jabari Parker.
Wiggins sat down for a video interview with Fred McLeod, of the Cavs' website, and said he already is getting comfortable with his summer league teammates.
"I'm settling (in) pretty good," the one-and-done KU product said. "Coming in as a rookie, you know, there's a lot of new plays thrown at you. You just kind of have to get situated and feel comfortable — if you have any questions, ask questions. You really don't know the offense too well, so you've just got to learn."
McLeod asked whether Wiggins had to "flush out" the offensive sets he learned at Kansas and "learn from scratch." Wiggins said that wasn't the case. Rather he needed to familiarize himself with the intricacies of plays — where to dribble, when to look for a hand-off, knowing where to find back-door cutters.
"Some things from Kansas really translated to the next level," Wiggins said. "But also, there's a lot of new things I'm learning here, too."
The Cavs have made it clear they expect the 6-foot-8 rookie with a 7-foot wingspan to impact the game on defense immediately. Wiggins said his interest in that aspect of the game first materialized when he was in elementary school.
"I just always liked to defend," he said. "You know, my father (former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins) always told me that defense will bring you far. So that's always something I try to key in on."
Offensively, of course, the young skywalker admitted running the floor in transition is what he's best at right now.
Mostly, Wiggins said first-year Cleveland coach David Blatt wants to see him and his teammates play with effort.
"He's not gonna take us out for missing shots," the former Jayhawk said. "He's gonna take us out for not bringing energy, not working hard."
A year ago, as a rookie, Jeff Withey didn't know what to expect out of the summer league, or the NBA in general. This time around, the 7-footer told media at New Orleans' mini-camp, he has a much different outlook.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," the Pelicans big man said in a video on the team's website. "I felt like I ended the season pretty confidently and I'm just trying to bring that into summer league. It's not as stressful for me, just because I know I'm under contract, I know that I have a year underneath my belt, so I know kind of what to expect. Last year was kind of a little frantic and (I was) kind of just worried about everything. Now I get to sit back and actually just play."
With one more year of NBA experience than his former KU cohort Withey, Portland's Thomas Robinson said, individually, his offseason will be about improving his mid-range ability and developing go-to moves in the post.
"Other than that, just being smarter with the basketball — being able to read things before they happen and stuff like that," the 6-foot-10 power forward told the Trail Blazers' website.
What's more, Robinson said he just feels happier and more confident now as a player.
"I'm in a good place right now," he added, "so I plan to stay here."
Unrestricted free agent Cole Aldrich has played four years in the league and he'll suit up in Vegas with New York, the franchise that signed him to a one-year deal late last September, a little more than a month before the start of the season. The 6-11 center told the Journal-World he wants to re-sign with the Knicks. These summer league games could make that happen.
"This summer is a little different than last summer," Aldrich said earlier this week. "I think things this summer will get done quicker. Last summer was wait, wait, wait."
The other former Jayhawks playing in Las Vegas are: Tarik Black (Houston), Elijah Johnson (Philadelphia) and Ben McLemore (Sacramento). Like Aldrich, Black, Little and Johnson are not under contract with a franchise. Black also played for Houston in the Orlando summer league, where he had 11 points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 21 minutes on Thursday.
Considering his team, the Sacramento Kings, had just selected a shooting guard — the same position at which he started 55 games as a rookie — with the eighth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kansas University product Ben McLemore played it cool on draft night.
A year removed from his own introduction to the league, when the Kings took him seventh overall, McLemore sent out a welcome tweet to his new teammate (and potential competitor for playing time), Michigan guard Nik Stauskas:
Outwardly congenial, McLemore revealed to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones that the choice initially surprised him.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore told Jones. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.”
While his rookie season included flashes of production and promise, such as when the league named McLemore the Western Conference rookie of the month in November, the first-year guard struggled in stretches, too. He finished the season with an 8.8 points per game scoring average and less than impressive shooting percentages: 37.6 from the floor and 32 from three-point range (he missed 202 of his 297 attempts).
As McLemore and other members of the Kings' summer league team gathered in Las Vegas for mini-camp on Monday, head coach Michael Malone indicated to the Bee that McLemore's performance didn't inspire the organization to try and draft a replacement in Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 shooting specialist who drained 44.2 percent of his three-pointers this past season at Michigan.
“There’s only a few LeBron James, Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants out there,” Malone said. “Most rookies come out and struggle. (McLemore) went through the struggling times. The most important thing for me was February was his toughest month, but in March and April he really got himself up off the mat. He showed resilience and finished the season on a high note (career high 31 points in finale).”
Jones reported Sacramento's Monday practice included some experimentation with playing McLemore and Stauskas side by side.
“It was good,” the rookie told the Bee. “For the most part, we were on the floor at the same time. He’s a great player, and hopefully we can feed off each other well.”
After playing with Stauskas for the first time (they played against each other in the 2013 Sweet 16, when Michigan beat Kansas, 87-85, in overtime), McLemore gave a brief scouting report in a video interview posted on the Kings' website.
"We've kind of got a similar game," McLemore said. "We both can shoot the ball, we can put it down on the floor, you know, (do) different things. I think we'll be a good backcourt."
The Kings play their summer league opener Friday night in Las Vegas, against San Antonio.
'Hawks in free agency
Paul Pierce is in Las Vegas, too. But not for the NBA's summer league. Apparently unfazed by his status as an uncommitted free agent, "The Truth" is working on one of his favorite hobbies at the World Series of Poker.
As for what uniform he'll wear in his 17th NBA season? Pierce could re-sign with Brooklyn. But ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo reported the 36-year-old small forward wants $9 to $10 million a year, while the Nets would like to pay him between $6 and $8 million.
According to Mazzeo, Nets general manager Billy King said the Los Angeles Clippers inquired about a sign-and-trade deal for Pierce, who teamed with Clippers coach Doc Rivers to win an NBA title in Boston. However, King didn't like what L.A. offered.
Like Pierce, the six other KU products looking to sign as free agents might have to wait for stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh to make their decisions, because so many teams are holding back on contract offers until those pieces of the personnel puzzle fall into place.
Also still in limbo are Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich.
Aldrich told the Journal-World on Monday he would like to re-up with New York. Gooden told the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg he is interested in remaining in D.C., with the Wizards. Hinrich has long stated his desire to keep playing for Chicago.