Entries from blogs tagged with “KU”

Seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald has unique opportunity in Oakland

Oakland Raiders cornerback Dexter McDonald (21) runs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Oakland Raiders cornerback Dexter McDonald (21) runs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Dexter McDonald’s life changed earlier this month, when Oakland snagged him in the final round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

“When I finally got the call it was just a blessing,” McDonald said in a profile posted on the Raiders’ website. “It was a relief. And I was happy to say I would have the opportunity to become an Oakland Raider and join the Raider nation.”

McDonald, a rookie cornerback out of Kansas, took another step in that direction Tuesday, when the seventh-round pick signed with Oakland. Referencing spotrac.com, SilverAndBlackPride.com reported the contract is for four years and $2.37 million.

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You can watch McDonald, a Kansas City, Missouri, native, arrive in California, pose for photos and wear his No. 21 Raiders uniform for the first time in a Raiders.com video feature. The 6-foot-1 corner describes himself as a team player with a lot of energy.

“I’m one of those guys who is gonna be the same every day. I’m a physical corner — I’m gonna get on those wide receivers and jam them, disrupt the timing between the quarterback and the receiver to make it hard on them to pass,” McDonald said.

Back in late March, an amazing pro day propelled McDonald into the realm of draftees. The physical, 200-pound corner stood out with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, a vertical leap of 40 and 1/2 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches.

“It allowed teams to see what I was capable of, athletic wise,” McDonald said the day he was drafted.

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Now, McDonald can’t wait to prove he can compete at the next level. The 23-year old defensive back finds himself with a unique opportunity, too, playing for and alongside some legendary names. Rod Woodson coaches Oakland’s defensive backs and 18-year NFL veteran Charles Woodson plays safety for the Raiders.

“It’s a blessing,” McDonald said, “and I have an opportunity to be like a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as I can from those guys. And I’m definitely gonna do that.”

Levi Damien of SilverAndBlackPride.com speculated McDonald has a chance to earn playing time as a rookie. Oakland’s starting corners figure to be D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie, but the nickel spot is “very much up for grabs,” and the Raiders proved last season with Carrie (also a seventh-round pick) that young guys can work their way onto the field and play crucial roles. Damien also projected McDonald’s size could make him an option at safety eventually.

McDonald and his former KU teammate, Ben Heeney (drafted by Oakland in the fifth round), will play in Kansas City, against the Chiefs, on the final day of the regular season, Jan. 3, 2016.

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Examining the many offensive skills of future Jayhawk LaGerald Vick

The more you hear about Kansas basketball commitment LaGerald Vick, the more impressive he seems.

National analyst Eric Bossi of Rivals watched the 6-foot-5 guard from Memphis this past weekend in New York and came away claiming Rivals.com needs to move his national ranking of No. 137 up “at least 100 spots.”

In order to get a better idea about Vick as a player, just check out his highlight videos. The 175-pound guard, who reportedly will re-classify and join the 2015 KU recruiting class with Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, plays for Team Thad AAU, and in the past year or so he has put together quite the YouTube résumé.

Three of his scoring reels are posted below. With each one, I included some quick take-aways about what the clips tell us about this multi-skilled guard. Obviously, not everything we see here will immediately translate to college basketball and the Big 12, but there are plenty of promising signs that this previously unheralded recruit could turn into a go-to scorer for the Jayhawks before his days in Allen Fieldhouse are through.

This latest highlight reel from Courtside Films doesn’t capture the correct way to spell Vick’s first name, but it does provide an impressive array of highlights

• Vick can pull up for a 3-pointer off the dribble with ease when his defender leaves his hands down or fails to close out.

• His shooting, strength and ability to finish above the rim all look better now than they did in past highlight videos (shown below).

• When Vick’s man gets low and really tests him on the perimeter, his ball-handling allows him to not only maintain possession but also get creative and find a way to punish his defender.

• He may be a little too reliant on his right hand at this point, but he does go left off the dribble from time to time, and that’s obviously something he can continue to develop.

• No matter where he gets the ball, Vick stands out as an offensive threat in his ability to create better looks for himself, whether that be with a ball fake, jab step, cross-over or hesitation dribble. He appears a real challenge to keep in check.

• By the looks of this highlight reel, Vick is as confident a 3-point shooter as one could hope for. He doesn’t overthink things when he’s open from downtown, he just rises up and lets it fly.

• Finishing in traffic isn’t for everyone. But it looks like Vick enjoys the challenge that taking on multiple defenders provides. Even when the road to the hoop looks treacherous, he doesn’t show any fear.

• It’s just a bad idea in general to leave him open anywhere on the court. He can either pull up for an easy look from behind the arc or speed through driving lanes to the rim.

• Vick often shows creativity in avoiding potential shot-blockers.

• He has a slight frame, but sometimes uses that to his advantage by slithering between defenders.

• If teams decide they want to take away his shooting ability, he could easily turn into a drive-first player on offense.

• Vick is confident and crafty when he gets into the paint, regardless of what kind of defender flies at him. In this aspect, he kind of reminded me of Manu Ginobili in his prime.

• He can play above the rim when he gets a wide-open lane or someone fails to put a body on him on the offensive glass.

• If you make the mistake of crowding Vick on the perimeter he is fast enough off the dribble to blow by you.

• Obviously his jumper is one of his strengths, enabling him to punish defenses if they leave him open (keep in mind many of these highlights come against teams ignoring basic defensive principles).

• Vick will need to clean up his ball-handling when he’s taking on college guards. He is able to play pretty loose in these types of AAU showcases and (in the past at least) carries the ball at times when using his dribble outside.

• The kid has pretty quick hops, and can head skyward in a hurry.

• Vick’s now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t methods of slashing might be the final ingredient that turns him into a big-time college scorer. He can show defenders the rock, then take it away and finish by utilizing the window he just created for himself.

• His cross-over has a strong burst to it and he’s always thinking “attack” when he has the ball in transition.

• Vick can finish with either hand once he has slashed his way into the paint.

• This scoring guard doesn’t just rely on floaters, he takes advantage of angles on the floor and uses the glass well, even six to eight feet away from the rim. Not many guys have so many tricks in their bags.

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New KU School of Business building ‘tops out’

Capitol Federal Hall reached a construction milestone earlier this month: its full height.

The new home of the Kansas University School of Business, under construction on Naismith Drive across from Allen Fieldhouse, marked the occasion as the final beam was lifted into place.

The School of Business shared these shots with us, taken May 13, 2015. As part of the topping-out tradition, an American flag and a tree were placed on the beam, signifying that the structure has reached its maximum height and symbolizing a reverence for the natural elements displaced in construction.

Construction of the new four-story, 166,500-square-foot building began in spring 2014, and its doors are set to open for classes in fall 2016. You can see renderings and watch the construction via live webcam at newbuilding.business.ku.edu.

The final beam of Capitol Federal Hall, the new Kansas University School of Business building under construction on Naismith Drive, is lifted into place on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. As part of a topping-out tradition, an American flag and a tree are placed on the beam, which signifies that the structure has reached its maximum height and symbolizes a reverence for the natural elements displaced in construction. Construction of the new four-story, 166,500-square-foot building began in spring 2014, and its doors are set to open for classes in fall 2016.

The final beam of Capitol Federal Hall, the new Kansas University School of Business building under construction on Naismith Drive, is lifted into place on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. As part of a topping-out tradition, an American flag and a tree are placed on the beam, which signifies that the structure has reached its maximum height and symbolizes a reverence for the natural elements displaced in construction. Construction of the new four-story, 166,500-square-foot building began in spring 2014, and its doors are set to open for classes in fall 2016.

Construction workers look on as the final beam of Capitol Federal Hall, the new Kansas University School of Business building under construction on Naismith Drive, is placed on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. As part of a topping-out tradition, an American flag and a tree are placed on the beam, which signifies that the structure has reached its maximum height and symbolizes a reverence for the natural elements displaced in construction. Construction of the new four-story, 166,500-square-foot building began in spring 2014, and its doors are set to open for classes in fall 2016.

Construction workers look on as the final beam of Capitol Federal Hall, the new Kansas University School of Business building under construction on Naismith Drive, is placed on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. As part of a topping-out tradition, an American flag and a tree are placed on the beam, which signifies that the structure has reached its maximum height and symbolizes a reverence for the natural elements displaced in construction. Construction of the new four-story, 166,500-square-foot building began in spring 2014, and its doors are set to open for classes in fall 2016.

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JaCorey Shepherd learning, growing as a corner with Eagles

JaCorey Shepherd speaks during a football minicamp media availability Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Philadelphia Eagles' NFL training facility in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

JaCorey Shepherd speaks during a football minicamp media availability Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Philadelphia Eagles' NFL training facility in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When JaCorey Shepherd arrived at Kansas four years ago as a wide receiver, his transition to college football included plenty of teaching moments.

Now that the All-Big 12 cornerback is with the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted him in the sixth round and this past week signed him to a four-year contract, Shepherd said his initial introduction to the NFL has been less based in instruction. After all, the players are all professionals now, as the 5-foot-11 defensive back pointed out in a video interview for Philadelphia’s website.

But that’s not to say Shepherd's experience thus far has been devoid of learning. At the Eagles’ rookie mini-camp, the corner said, he found himself picking up new techniques at a fast pace. While playing press coverage — something he did at KU, too — he got too “handsy” on a few plays by doing things that were fine in college. He discovered he’ll have to get rid of some of those habits he picked up in his first three seasons of playing defensive back.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Shepherd said, “but I’m good at learning and going with the flow as I get more reps.”

Eagles defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, who just joined the staff this offseason after working for Denver in the same role, wants his corners playing assertive press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

“To actually learn the proper way to press is actually gonna benefit me,” Shepherd said.

Plus, Shepherd knows some guys who just played for Undlin last season, with the Broncos. He brought up their names when asked if he had anybody he could lean on for guidance while finding his way in the NFL.

“Previous corners from the University of Kansas, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, they kind of helped me,” Shepherd said, “and they told me they’ll be there for me if I’ve got a question about the process going forward.”

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Excited that he could graduate from KU and embark on his NFL career this spring, the newly minted Eagle, who can be seen practicing in his No. 36 jersey in the video, said it felt good going “full out” at mini-camp for the first time since suffering a tear in his left hamstring prior to KU’s pro day.

Now Shepherd can just enjoy himself on the field while playing the game he loves.

“It’s a great relief off your shoulders,” he said. “You don’t have to think about that stuff, as far as where you’re gonna be, where you’re gonna end up. You can just go out there and do what you do.”

Shepherd said he can tell Chip Kelly’s staff is comprised of player-friendly coaches, which he likes. Now that he is in the league, the rookie corner wants to make sure he enjoys every moment, because he realizes not everybody gets the opportunity that is in front of him right now.

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Ben Heeney’s childhood goals included playing at KU and in the NFL

Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) jogs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) jogs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Back before Ben Heeney became a star football player at Hutchinson, or an All-BIg 12 linebacker at Kansas or a draft pick of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, he was just a 12-year-old kid who seriously loved football.

In 2004, Heeney laid out his goals for becoming a football lifer by mapping them all out with a pencil and paper. A fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft 11 years later, the linebacker shared the list of goals from his childhood on Twitter.

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Complete with a table of contents, the script for the rest of his life included goals for middle school, high school, college and beyond.

HIGH SCHOOL GOAL

“In high school I want to make varsity on the football team. I want college coaches to come to the games and scout me for the team. I will play hard.”

TRAINING / COLLEGE

“I would like go go to the University of Kansas or a better team in football. My parents went to KU. I want a football scholarship.”

CAREER

“I want to play in the NFL. It would be fun and I would make a lot of money. I would train hard. After the NFL I would like to be the head coach for a college football team.”

Pretty impressive stuff when you consider all of it has come true so far and Heeney still has plenty of football to play before he chases that coaching goal, post-retirement.

The Raiders profiled the former KU star on their website, in a video that includes Heeney going through drills at rookie mini-camp in his No. 51 Oakland jersey.

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The new member of Raider Nation said he has quickly adapted to wearing the silver and black.

“Since I’ve been drafted by the Raiders, I can just tell they have the best fan base in the nation,” Heeney said. “People comment on my Instagram and stuff. I’m just really excited to be a part of it.”

Draft class! #JustWinBaby

Draft class! #JustWinBaby by henbeeney

Heeney hopes to break through as an on-field contributor immediately with Oakland, in the upcoming 2015 season.

“I think I bring leadership, and I’m always all over the field making plays,” Heeney said. “You know, I’m just looking to bring that and help any way I can — special teams, defense, put me on offense. I’ll play anything.”

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Raiders coach Jack Del Rio: Ben Heeney ‘plays with his hair on fire’

Blessed to be apart of this organization #RaiderNation

Blessed to be apart of this organization #RaiderNation by henbeeney

For the first time in his life, Hutchinson, Kansas native Ben Heeney is in California.

The Bay Area is the former Kansas linebacker’s new home now, thanks to the Oakland Raiders, who took him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.

Heeney thought heading into this past Saturday he might end up down in Tampa Bay or with one of the other handful of organizations with which he had the most pre-draft contact. But he landed on the opposite coast, in part, because he grabbed the attention of Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio.

Some say real recognize real. Well, linebackers recognize linebackers, too.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Del Rio — the former Vikings, Cowboys, Chiefs and Saints linebacker — received a text from an old teammate. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, Oakland’s coach said the message read something like: you have to check out Ben Heeney.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.

“So it kind of piqued my attention and (I) started watching him in the drills; of course he had that crazy hairdo going at the Combine,” Del Rio said. “We get back and start watching the tape, and the guy is all over the place. He flies around, makes plays, very productive, has a great mindset in terms of special teams and linebacker play. We’re excited to add him.”

Clearly, the Raiders coach sees potential in the KU standout.

“He plays with his hair on fire,” Del Rio said.

Heeney arrived out west Thursday, and a Raiders video production crew greeted him and his KU teammate, seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald, at the airport.

“I just tweeted out that I landed in Oakland, and the fans are crazy,” Heeney says in the video posted on the Raiders’ website. “They continue to just show me love.”

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Oakland’s rookie mini-camp begins today for Heeney, McDonald and the rest of the Raiders’ draft picks and undrafted hopefuls.

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Kansas O-line coach using Twitter to his advantage with video clips

Kansas run game coordinator and offensive line coach Zach Yenser works with the line during practice on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kansas run game coordinator and offensive line coach Zach Yenser works with the line during practice on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 by Nick Krug

Zach Yenser doesn’t claim to be on the cutting edge of social media usage, nor the inventor of some fantastic, never-before-seen concept. But Kansas University’s new offensive line coach and run-game coordinator knows what he likes and what works when it comes to using Twitter to his advantage.

Of late, like all of head coach David Beaty’s assistants, Yenser has been hitting the recruiting trails hard. You can tell by checking in on his tweets.

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During spring football, when the former Cal and Louisiana Tech assistant could most often be found on KU’s practice fields or in the offices at the football complex, he used Twitter from time to time to highlight the work and technique of his offensive linemen.

While examining and critiquing video footage from practices, Yenser would grab his phone, take a video of something he liked and make it a Vine he could tweet out to his followers.

“It’s just a way to publicly recognize your guys up front,” the O-line coach said. “People watch the offensive line and are like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, ya know. Fun.’ I tell my guys, ‘The only way you’re gonna get noticed is if you give up a sack.’ Nobody knows what you do.”

Yenser hopes to educate and put a spotlight on his big men in the trenches when he sends out a highlight to the masses — an idea the coach said he stole from Penn State O-line coach and run-game coordinator Herb Hand, who started posting short clips as a Vanderbilt assistant.

Former Kansas tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith became the first Jayhawk to show up in one of Yenser’s videos. The coach liked the footwork he saw from his junior left tackle.

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Of course, Yenser received positive feedback from his players upon debuting the idea. He could tell they appreciated the love, and said it goes back to the core of his interaction with the linemen. He tells them: “We’re in it together. I’m here to serve you guys.

“If they take that and listen,” he added, “we’ll all get better.”

Senior center Keyon Haughton and sophomore guard Junior Visinia also starred in Yenser’s tweets this spring.

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None by Zach Yenser

The concept brings some added benefits with it, too.

“I think recruits like it,” Yenser said. “I think a lot of people like just to see what’s going on.”

The O-line clips also provide the KU assistant with another avenue for discussions with high school coaches. He gets questions from them about how he teaches certain techniques, and prep coaches also tweet out some of the clips for their players to see.

Yenser said whenever he has time while watching video footage, he’ll throw a clip up and tweet it out. He can tell how much the idea is working every time he posts a new one, looking each time for the ultimate sign of praise:

“How many retweets and likes can you get?”

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Cheick Diallo might be the next great Kansas big man

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Meet Cheick Diallo.

He’s 6-foot-9, 220 pounds. He was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic.

And he just might be the next great big man at Kansas.

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Originally from Mali, the five-star post player turned himself into one of the nation’s elite college prospects at Our Savior New American High, in Centereach, New York. He joins KU as the No. 5 overall talent in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals.com.

The big man stole the show at the McDonald’s all-star game earlier this month, where his name was called repeatedly, bucket after bucket, and he wowed the Chicago crowd with a fast-break spin-move on his way to an 18-point/10-rebound performance.

He even blocked some shots in the offense-oriented showcase and dropped a dime inside.

Diallo appears to have everything you’re looking for in a traditional big man: length, toughness, and the ability to finish at the rim on one end of the floor while intimidating the opposition from doing the same on the other end.

The guy even snags defensive rebounds anticipating the ensuing outlet pass he’s about to sling down the floor.

That makes him a perfect fit for KU coach Bill Self. Even better, the lean, young big fills a need for next season’s roster.

Self continually referenced the Jayhawks’ lack of an elite interior presence during the 2014-15 season. Unlike most Kansas teams, this one couldn’t throw the ball into the post and get a basket. Even worse perhaps, there was no rim protector waiting in the paint on defense.

That gaping hole in KU’s lineup likely is the very reason Diallo will be playing at Allen Fieldhouse next season.

"I felt like Kansas was the best place for me," Diallo told ESPN.com’s Paul Biancardi. "I can earn playing time right away. I played against Joel Embiid in high school and watched his development. I need to work on a lot of things and feel coach (Bill) Self can help my game. On my visit, the campus was great and the people were nice. I could see myself there."

Picture Diallo in a Kansas uniform, playing alongside all the returning Jayhawks and fellow freshman Carlton Bragg, and it’s easy to envision KU getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons. And back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.

Here are a few more Diallo highlight reels as your mind wanders about the possibilities.

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Kenny Perry keeps KU football coaches relaxed in midst of challenging overhaul

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

Kansas offensive coordinator Rob Likens walked into his office at Anderson Family Football Complex in early April and found an unexpected gift of sorts waiting for him.

There, placed on a shelf sometime in Likens’ absence, sat a framed photograph of KU’s co-defensive coordinator, Kenny Perry.

This would have caught Likens off guard had Perry not established himself as the unpredictable instigator on new coach David Beaty’s staff.

“He embraces that role,” Likens said. “He loves it.”

At Kansas practices this spring, Perry’s intensity while coaching the cornerbacks leads one to think he might not have a light-hearted cell in his DNA. That’s on-the-field Perry. The one ambling around the coaches’ office quarters, playing Elf on the Shelf with a framed photo of his own mug helps his fellow staffers retain their sanity while embarking of the arduous mission of turning around a downtrodden program.

“I like to bring a lot of different energy,” Perry explained. “I love coaching, and it’s so stressful you’ve gotta add some light to it.”

That’s why not long after Perry received a framed photo of himself from Beaty on his birthday, the assistant decided he could have some fun with it.

“It’s gonna be Coach Perry on the Shelf,” the former TCU corners coach declared. “It’s gonna show up in different offices.”

Wearing a wry grin, Perry said he will decide who “deserves” the photo, which doubles as a trophy.

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“It’s a memento of my appreciation for the job they’re doing,” Perry said.

Countered a laughing Likens: “Yeah, I was a ‘winner,’ right, to have his photo? Exactly. That’s the way he looks at it.”

Perry got his start as a high school assistant coach in 1994 and worked his way through the ranks, eventually landing at TCU as director of high school relations in 2013. Along the way, he decided to take on the practical joker route with his fellow coaches to alleviate the stress.

KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said he has worked on some staffs in the past and he didn’t want to be around his co-workers once practice ended. But he’s having a blast with this group assembled by Beaty, thanks in part to Perry’s ability to catch other assistants off guard with his wisecracks.

“You can put him in any circle of people and he’s gonna fit right in,” Mitchell said. “He has the kind of personality to make you feel like you’ve known him all your life.”

Beaty’s staff, the coaches hope, are building a foundation through their camaraderie. Likens said they have more fun together than any staff he has worked on in 23 years. There is something to that, he added, because this can be a trying time for them as they attempt to build Kansas into a successful program.

Kansas head football coach David Beaty and Je'Ney Jackson, director of strength and conditioning have a laugh as the team waits under the Memorial Stadium stands as a lightning storm passes during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas head football coach David Beaty and Je'Ney Jackson, director of strength and conditioning have a laugh as the team waits under the Memorial Stadium stands as a lightning storm passes during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

“Coaches are perfectionists, and we get very, very frustrated. There’s days I come off that practice field. ‘Wooo,’” Likens reenacted, letting his head hang low to mimic the end of a rough day. “And it’s hard. And (Perry’s) there to lift me up.

“He comes off the practice field some day and his corners had a bad day and he’s down, I’m there to lift him up,” Likens added. “We all encourage each other, because we all understand the vision. We all know it’s going to get there. It’s not there yet, and it’s gonna take some time.”

One benefit of that chemistry is that it can trickle down to the players — Likens has seen that happen before. It may not show up immediately, he added, because the Jayhawks wearing helmets and pads are still in the feeling out process with their new coaches, seeing how they will react on good days and bad ones.

The more the players and the guys in charge can build strong relationships in the midst of this restoration phase, they’re betting it will pay off in the years to come.

“God hoping, we win a lot of games,” Perry said. “But there’s gotta be a happy medium. You spend so much time together, if you’re not having fun you’re not happy together, and it doesn’t create a good house. Right now we got a great house. You’ll go through some growing pains, and you’ve gotta have a solid foundation. I think that’s what David’s built.”

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Bill Self better off at Kansas than with home-state Oklahoma City Thunder

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

The Oklahoma City Thunder has a coaching vacancy.

Cue the wild speculation.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday afternoon the small-market NBA franchise not too far from Lawrence, Kansas, decided to get rid of head coach Scott Brooks.

So don’t be too surprised if rumors start swirling about the Thunder having interest in Kansas head coach Bill Self or vice versa.

According to Wojnarowski, Oklahoma City has strong interest in Florida coach Billy Donovan. If the two-time NCAA champion Gators coach wants to jump to the league, the job could be his for the taking.

Plus, UConn's Kevin Ollie, who played for OKC, could figure into the coaching search.

None by Adrian Wojnarowski

But KU fans long have feared Self would leave Allen Fieldhouse behind for a lucrative, appealing job in the professional ranks. Throw into the equation that Self grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and went to Oklahoma State, and one could easily infer the Jayhawks’ coach would listen if OKC gave him a call.

And any coach with a pulse would have to contemplate such an offer, because the Thunder have arguably two of the best five players in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) by Sue Ogrocki

Here’s what we know:

• NBA teams have reached out to Self in the past. Just last year, Cleveland had some exploratory discussions with him about his interest.

• But Self told Gary Bedore last summer “not many” organizations have actually sought him out.

• As recently as last offseason, Self shot down the notion of leaving Kansas for an NBA job anytime soon.

“We’ve got so many good things going on right here,” Self told 610 radio in May of 2014. “You add the DeBruce Center (for Naismith rules and training table) and add the living quarters (new apartment complex to be built) to go along with the way we’ll be fed, from a recruiting standpoint we’ve done pretty well. I think we can even take a step up.”

The Thunder might not even have Self on their short list. It’s too early in the process to know either way. Whomever OKC goes after, expectations will be monumental. Injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at various junctures left the Thunder out of the playoffs this year. And Oklahoma City has a championship-level roster when everyone is healthy.

The new guy, whether that’s Donovan, Ollie, a coach with NBA experience or someone else, will be expected to not only guide the Thunder back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012, but bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Oklahoma.

OKC general manager Sam Presti made that clear in a statement he released:

“We move forward with confidence in our foundation and embrace the persistence and responsibility that is required to contract an elite and enduring basketball organization capable of winning an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.”

Self operates at KU with those types of job requirements, and maintaining those is easier at the college level when you’re working at a name-brand program such as Kansas.

For all the talent the Thunder has, nothing in the NBA is guaranteed. Durant will be a free agent in 2016. Westbrook’s contract expires the following season. We might be two years away from Oklahoma City falling into irrelevancy.

You couldn’t say that about Kansas.

Are the Thunder interested in Bill Self? Who knows at this juncture.

Given Self’s situation, and contract with KU, it’s hard to imagine he would want to leave that behind to become the head coach of his home state’s pro team.

UPDATE — 5:30 p.m.

The Oklahoman’s Thunder beat writer, Anthony Slater, on Wednesday posted a long list of possible replacements for Brooks. Of course, Donovan and Ollie topped the lineup as favorites.

However, The Oklahoman also pointed to Self and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg as currently employed options. Slater wrote Self would be a “widely popular” hire in OKC:

“Self is from Edmond and is as charismatic as they come. Not sure he fits the Thunder mold or is even on the radar at all. But, man, is it a fun hire to think about. Particularly from a media perspective.”

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Despite tumultuous season, Cliff Alexander remembers time at KU fondly

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) comes in to celebrate with  guard Devonte Graham after Graham forced a turnover by Baylor guard Kenny Chery (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) comes in to celebrate with guard Devonte Graham after Graham forced a turnover by Baylor guard Kenny Chery (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Like fellow one-and-done Jayhawk Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander won’t have a press conference to discuss his decision to leave early and enter the NBA Draft.

An NCAA investigation into his eligibility that forced KU to keep Alexander off the court for the final eight games of the season surely had much to do with that.

The 6-foot-8 big man from Chicago played 28 games for Kansas, started six of those and finished his short-lived career as a Jayhawk averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 56.6% from the floor and 67.1% from the free-throw line.

Despite unpredictable production on the floor and off-the-court issues surrounding an alleged extra benefit for a family member, Alexander says in a video released by KU Athletics that he will remember his time with the program fondly.

Alexander says his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse, the venue that became his temporary basketball home, really stands out for him.

“It means a lot to me to know that a lot of great players have played in the fieldhouse,” Alexander says. “Basketball was invented here and one of the greatest coaches coached here, one of the greatest coaches still do coach here. It was just a great experience.”

(Give Alexander a pass on that “basketball was invented here” part of it. Someone on campus probably told him that or he inferred it from the tales of KU lore. Of course, the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith, coached at Kansas from 1898 to 1907.)

While the video doesn’t get into his reasons for leaving or his at times tumultuous season, it does give the young forward a chance to thank KU coach Bill Self and offer a final message to the Kansas fans.

“Thanks for being with me, supporting me the whole way. I love you guys and miss you guys. Rock chalk Jayhawk.”

Alexander reached double figures in scoring nine times in his lone season in Lawrence and twice had double-digit rebound totals.

The potential first-round pick showed brief flashes of what he might some day become as a player, but you can see in this chart from StatSheet.com just how erratic a year he had.


Here is a look back at Alexander’s most productive games for Kansas:

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) and forward Khadeem Lattin (12) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) and forward Khadeem Lattin (12) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

  • Nov. 24 vs. Rider: 10 points, 4 rebounds 4/4 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 13 minutes

  • Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5/6 FGs, 6/9 FTs in 20 minutes

  • Dec. 5 vs. Florida: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 2/4 FGs, 8/8 FTs in 19 minutes

  • Dec. 20 vs. Lafayette: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4/6 FGs, 2/2 FTs in 17 minutes

  • Jan. 4 vs UNLV: 10 points, 5 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 blocks, 5/12 FGs in 21 minutes

  • Jan. 10 vs. Texas Tech: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 6/8 FGs in 15 minutes

  • Jan. 19 vs. Oklahoma: 13 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive), 3 assists, 4/7 FGs, 5/7 FTs in 23 minutes

  • Jan. 24 at Texas: 15 points, 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 6/11 FGs, 3/6 FTs in 27 minutes

  • Feb. 10 at Texas Tech: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4/5 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 20 minutes

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KU debaters fall short of Final Four at National Debate Tournament

Hours after the Duke men’s basketball team beat Wisconsin to win last night’s NCAA National Championship, the National Debate Tournament championship was still, well, under debate.

Jayhawks weren't there, either, though. Just before midnight — when I got an update from KU debate director Scott Harris — debaters from Northwestern University and the University of Michigan were still facing off for the title (Northwestern ultimately prevailed).

KU did send three teams to this year’s National Debate Tournament, however. According to Harris, here’s how they fared:

Jyleesa Hampton and Quaram Robinson made it the farthest. The pair went 5-3 in preliminary rounds to advance to the single elimination rounds. Facing George Mason University, a team that they had defeated in the preliminary rounds, Hampton and Robinson lost a 3-2 split decision in the first elimination round.

"Jyleesa and Quaram had a great season and ended it with a solid performance at the NDT," Harris said, in an email. "It is always painful to lose your final debate on a split decision, but it happens when two talented teams debate each other."

KU’s Ciera Foreman and Hunter Goh went 4-4 (with three of their losses being 2-1 split decisions) in the preliminary rounds. The third KU duo, Nick Khatri and Chris Carey, went 3-5 (four of their losses were 2-1 split decisions).

Harris said this was an "amazing" season for the entire squad (see my last blog post on the KU team for more on that) and that he was excited about the future.

KU debaters Jyleesa Hampton, left, and Quaram Robinson, who finished second overall March 23, 2015, at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament.

KU debaters Jyleesa Hampton, left, and Quaram Robinson, who finished second overall March 23, 2015, at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament.

Reply 2 comments from Bill McGovern Jeff Plinsky

KU’s Elite Eight loss to VCU comes up on Shaka Smart’s first day at Texas

The VCU bench celebrates a turnover against Kansas on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The VCU bench celebrates a turnover against Kansas on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

Shaka Smart, whose 2011 VCU Rams busted onto the college hoops scene by toppling No. 1 seed Kansas on the way to the Final Four, didn’t flee for the first big-name university to call him up once he became a hot coaching commodity. He stuck it out in Richmond, Virginia, and waited for the right job.

The up-and-coming, 37-year-old coach from a previously unheralded program in a far-from-major conference has arrived in the Big 12, where KU has reigned supreme for 11 consecutive seasons.

Friday, Texas introduced Smart as its new men’s basketball coach — a move that could change the landscape of Big 12 basketball for years to come.

At VCU, Smart’s teams won 74.4% of their games with his “havoc” brand of full-court pressure defense and up-tempo offense. The Rams led the country in steals per game for three consecutive seasons (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14) and ranked fourth nationally this past year (9.5 spg).

With that unique brand of basketball, VCU joined Duke as the only two programs in the nation to win at least 26 games in each of the past six seasons — not even Kansas could make that claim, thanks to a 25-10 showing in 2013-14.

Make no mistake, that Elite Eight win over KU in San Antonio four years ago catapulted Smart into the college hoops zeitgeist. Without that victory, who knows if he is standing in Austin, Texas, today flashing a “hook ’em, Horns” sign.

None by Texas Longhorns

With Smart landing at Texas, that VCU-Kansas game came up at his introductory press conference. A reporter asked the new Longhorns coach whether his “havoc” brand of hoops translated well to a major conference such as the Big 12.

Smart’s fearlessness and swagger showed up in his answer:

“It translated pretty well a few years ago in San Antonio.”

On that day, 11th-seeded VCU beat top-seeded Kansas, 71-61. The Jayhawks had lost twice all season before shooting 22-for-62 (35.5%) against Smart’s Rams and missing all but two of their 21 three-pointers (9.5%). KU turned the ball over 14 times (20.6% of its possessions), and VCU harassed Kansas star forward Marcus Morris into eight giveaways.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

After the loss, KU coach Bill Self said the Rams didn’t get the Jayhawks’ best shot, “but they had a lot to do with it not being our best shot.”

Basically, Kansas performed way out of character, because Smart’s Rams wanted the game to play out in that fashion.

“They were the aggressor,” Self said at the time. “Our whole deal is, ‘They are a scrappy team. We’ve got to be scrappier. Attack. Attack.’ They were the ones on the attack much more than us.”

Following the biggest victory of his career, the then-VCU coach said his senior-laden team established the tone in the first half (KU trailed 41-27 at the break).

“And if you watch closely, their players were tugging on their shorts for much of the game. When you don’t have your legs, it’s hard to make outside shots.”

“… That’s why we play the way we play,” Smart said. “That’s part of our havoc style is getting people winded, getting people fatigued.”

A little more than four years later, the new Texas coach reflected on the marquee victory and said his VCU team had a swagger and belief about it “that I think you have to have to beat those types of teams.”

Now his goal is to replicate that at UT.

“That’s what we’re gonna work towards here. And I think that is very, very doable, but it takes a connected effort. It takes a group of guys that are willing to put the team agenda front and center and understand if the team succeeds, everyone benefits.”

The Big 12 has some of the best coaches in America, and now that Smart has arrived on the scene, dominating the league will become even more difficult for KU and Self. When Smart spoke at his introductory press conference about what attracted him to the Texas job, he repeatedly mentioned its “world class” athletics department and the pride UT takes in winning championships.

Rick Barnes didn’t exactly leave Texas in shambles. Yes, Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes are gone. But Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley, Kendal Yancy, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh all figure to be back next season.

And now UT has a young, energetic, charismatic coach in charge of a sleeping giant of a basketball program. Meaning, Texas will likely start landing even better recruiting classes.

Shaka Smart didn’t say it out loud during his first appearance in burnt orange — and why would he? — but you know his goal is for Texas to knock KU from its Big 12 throne, and give the league another powerhouse program that annually contends for national titles.

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Clint Bowen details what’s in store for KU’s defense this spring

Kansas head coach Clint Bowen tries to keep his defense fired up after a Baylor score during the second quarter at McLane Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Clint Bowen tries to keep his defense fired up after a Baylor score during the second quarter at McLane Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Kansas football assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen knows this spring will be critical in the overall development of the 2015 Jayhawks, even if there are more things on his to-do list than can possibly be accomplished for a young, rebuilding unit.

After going through just four practices, Bowen — also the safeties coach — sat down with the media Wednesday to discuss the state of the defense.

Here are some of the highlights:

The up-tempo approach of KU’s new Air Raid offense also benefits the defensive side of the ball.

With NCAA rules dictating how much time players can spend on the field, coaches have to find ways to get in as many plays as possible in the short amount of time they are out there.

“With what they’re doing offensively, it allows it to just play out naturally.”

When installing the defense this spring, there are one of two ways to approach it:

No. 1: Put in a few things and master those.

No. 2: Examine as much of it as you can “real fast” and hope enough of it sticks.

The Jayhawks went with the latter, and are putting in as much as they can early, teaching it and getting it all on video. They recycle through that install again so the players can retain more each time through.

“It allows you to practice situational football a lot faster — right away, going into your first scrimmage.”

The Jayhawks will get into these kind of situations in the next few practices: third downs, red zone, two-minute drills.

Through four practices, Bowen wasn’t ready to say any particular individuals have stood out, because the defense really has to start over as a group with the talent it lost from the 2014 season (see: Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd, etc.).

The players that are here need to take pride in giving the unit an identity.

“At this point in time, I think they’re all in the same boat of trying to figure it out.”

Bowen just wants them being physical, playing hard and learning.

On the roster as a whole, and on the defensive side of the ball, KU lacks depth. Bowen feels pretty good about what kind of 2-deep chart they will have, but the trouble comes beyond that.

Sub-packages, like nickel or dime defenses?

“Those things are out right now.”

Bowen says you don’t want to wear out all of your top players by making them play different packages.

So this is the mindset they ned to embrace:

“Only 11 of them can play at one time, so as long as we’ve got 11, we’re good.”

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

With the new defensive coaches on the staff, they are all getting used to each other’s approaches and tendencies.

“We’ve got a great group of guys on the staff, and everyone’s working for the common goal.”

Bowen and new co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry were acquaintances before, knew each other. Now that they’re working together they’re meshing.

Bowen said defensive back coaches have an “alligator hunter mentality”: There’s no such thing as a “pretty good” alligator hunter.

“That’s where you live as a DB coach. I think we always live on edge.”

Perry is intense because a mistake in the secondary means a TD for the opponent. You have to coach with a paranoia about yourself when working in the secondary.

Junior corner Brandon Stewart, who just arrived on campus before the spring semester started, seems to have some skills: good feet, awareness, instincts and “can run a little bit.”

The departure of would-be senior safety Isaiah Johnson was “a disappointment, but not a surprise.”

Now that David Beaty is here leading the program, it’s easier to communicate with high school coaches in Texas.

A lot of those high school coaches in Texas are legitimate friends of Beaty’s. That helps in recruiting.

As new coaches get to know each other, that’s usually an easy transition because they’re all in this profession to improve their program and help the players develop.

A lot of KU coaches are still in the process of relocating their families to Lawrence, buying houses and those types of things, so more of that camaraderie that comes with the job will show up even more once everyone is settled.

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KU unveils new look for marching band uniforms

When you’re spending $300,000 to outfit 270 people with new uniforms, a one-and-done look probably isn’t the way to go. (Recall, for example, the Zubaz-esque shorts and monochromatic — aka "smurf" — jerseys the Kansas University men’s basketball team donned back in 2013.)

The KU Marching Jayhawks will get new uniforms this fall, and they’re going classic all the way. The new uniforms will be in KU colors — blue with red torsos and capes — and a traditional marching band look — tuxedo stripes on the pants, soldier-like details on top and plumes on the hats.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

A sketch of the new uniforms the KU Marching Jayhawks plan to begin wearing in fall 2015, one of three styles provided by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc.

The Jayhawks have been wearing uniforms with all-black slacks, black hats and an outdated KU letter style on the back.

A drum major leads the Kansas Marching Band onto the field prior to kickoff against Rice on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

A drum major leads the Kansas Marching Band onto the field prior to kickoff against Rice on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

“We are all very excited about the new uniforms for the Marching Jayhawks and the return to a more traditional look for the band with an emphasis on KU colors and up-to-date school logos,” Paul Popiel, director of KU Bands, said in a news release. “This fall will be a great time to unveil the new uniforms with all of the excitement around KU football.”

KU Endowment announced Tuesday that its Tradition Marches on Campaign, launched in 2013, had raised enough money to order the new uniforms for this fall. The $300,000 campaign has raised $289,000. Alumni and friends donated $161,000, KU Athletics contributed $67,500, and KU's chancellor's and provost's offices each allocated $30,000 from unrestricted private funds managed by their offices, according to KU endowment.

The band has been wearing the current uniforms, with the black pants, since 2004. According to a Journal-World story at the time, at least one fund-drive spokeswoman pitched them as a "hip" and "trendy" look that would help attract more students to the band.

The switch to black from the colored uniforms the band had worn for decades drew criticism in 2004. However, the Journal-World reported, black was actually more traditional than some realized: Most of the band's uniforms prior to the 1960s were predominantly black.

Reply 1 comment from David Holroyd

There’s always debate season, right?

The Kansas University men’s basketball team suffered a disappointing loss to Wichita State University last weekend, knocking the Jayhawks out of the running for an NCAA national championship this year. But there’s another KU team with a shot at a national title the weekend of April 4 — in fact, they’re ranked No. 1 in the country.

That’s right, KU’s elite debate team is still in the game.

The debaters just ended their regular season ranked No. 1 in the National Debate Tournament varsity debate rankings, the third time in the past 10 years they’ve landed the top slot, according to a KU announcement. Three KU teams qualified to compete at this year’s National Debate Tournament, set for April 3-6 at the University of Iowa. KU, which has qualified teams for 48 straight years, has won the tournament five times and had 14 teams advance to the Final Four. KU's last National Debate Tournament championship was in 2009, KU debate director Scott Harris said.

KU is coming off a strong showing at last weekend’s Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament, held (ironically, at least for basketball fans) at Wichita State.

Late Monday night the KU duo of Jyleesa Hampton and Quaram Robinson finished second place overall, after falling in a split decision to Towson State University in the championship debate, the team’s only loss of the tournament, according to tournament organizers.

Individually, Hampton received the Johnston Award as the National Debater of the Year. Also at the CEDA tournament, KU's Harris won the Brownlee Award as the National Debate Coach of the Year.

KU debaters Jyleesa Hampton, left, and Quaram Robinson, who finished second overall March 23, 2015, at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament.

KU debaters Jyleesa Hampton, left, and Quaram Robinson, who finished second overall March 23, 2015, at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament.

Reply 2 comments from Clara Westphal Leslie Swearingen

Dean Smith thanks former players with checks

26 APR 1952:  University of Kansas coach Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen gives his final instructions to his team before playing and winning the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four held in Seattle, WA at the Edmundson Pavilion. Kansas defeated St. John's 80-63 for the title. future North Carloina coach Dean Smith (facing camera) was a junior at Kansas.

26 APR 1952: University of Kansas coach Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen gives his final instructions to his team before playing and winning the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four held in Seattle, WA at the Edmundson Pavilion. Kansas defeated St. John's 80-63 for the title. future North Carloina coach Dean Smith (facing camera) was a junior at Kansas.

Known not just for his contributions to the game of basketball, but also for his class and love for his players, Dean Smith’s legend continues to grow — even after his death.

Before Smith died, the former Kansas basketball player and legendary North Carolina coach made sure he left a little “thank you” behind for each of his former players.

A photo of a letter sent out from Smith’s trust began circulating on social media Thursday afternoon.

None by InsideCarolina

The message, as shown in the note sent to former UNC player Dante Calabria, explained that Smith set up his will to give $200 to each Tar Heel he coached during his time in Chapel Hill:

“Each player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his lettermen. Accordingly, Coach directed that following his passing each letterman be sent a two hundred dollar check with the message, ‘enjoy a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.’”

What a cool gesture.

Smith, a native of Emporia, played at KU under Phog Allen, and came off the bench for the Jayhawks when they won the 1952 national championship game against St. John’s.

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Getting to know Wichita State

Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall talks to Wichita States guard Zach Brown (1) during Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE..

Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall talks to Wichita States guard Zach Brown (1) during Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE.. by Richard Gwin

Separated by 161 miles of interstate and rolling plains, Kansas and Wichita State could play basketball against each other every year pretty easily.

Of course, they don’t. Which makes Sunday’s NCAA Tournament meeting — the first game between the Jayhawks and Shockers since January 6, 1993 — feel even more significant. As if that would be necessary in this scenario: winner moves on to the Sweet 16; loser’s season is over.

KU and WSU have squared off 14 times in the past, but Sunday in Omaha marks the first time that will happen with both ranked in the AP Top 25. Kansas entered the tourney at No. 10 and Wichita State is 14th.

The Shockers (29-4) also made it this far into March Madness last season, when they fell in their second game as the No. 1 seed to No. 8 seed Kentucky — the eventual national runner-up. In 2013, WSU went all the way to the Final Four. So it’s not as if this stage, hype or playing Kansas will rattle Wichita State.

If WSU can knock off its in-state big brother, that would give Gregg Marshall’s program 30 wins for the third season in a row. Since leaving Winthrop (a program he took to seven NCAA Tournaments), Marshall has gone 6-3 in The Big Dance at Wichita State.

Marshall’s teams have a reputation for playing tough, even when they are out-sized, as WSU will be against Kansas (27-8). But the Shockers’ four perimeter players all rebound, which has allowed Wichita State to average a +5.3 advantage on the glass this season (31st in the nation).

Having all those guards also makes it easier to protect the rock. WSU commits fewer turnovers a game (9.1) than all but three teams in the nation, and the Shockers have a +3.9 turnover margin.

The guy who runs the show, junior point guard Fred VanVleet, said his perimeter running mates Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel give WSU a unique look.

“They’re all irreplaceable to me,” VanVleet said.

One of the most talented point guards in the nation, VanVleet might be the most important player on the CenturyLink Center floor Sunday. So I asked him to give a little info on his teammates after he spoke with various reporters about his own development.

Here are the Shockers Kansas will have to worry about as the Jayhawks aim to survive and advance to the Sweet 16.

SHOCKERS STARTERS

No. 31 — Ron Baker, 6-4, 220 junior G

Wichita State guard Ron Baker drives to the basket in Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Ron Baker drives to the basket in Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Mike Yoder

— Season stats: 15.0 points, 43.7% FGs, 38.4% 3s (76 of 198), 75.8% FTs (91 of 120), 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals

“Obviously Ron has been our best scorer this year, shooting the ball. And his defense is kind of underrated at times.”

hoop-math.com nugget (stats entering NCAA Tournament): Most of Baker’s shots come from downtown: 53.2% of his team-leading 355 attempts. WSU doesn’t mind that he takes the most shots, either. He leads their top seven players in eFG%: 54.6%.

No. 23 — Fred VanVleet, 6-0, 195 junior PG

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet smiles during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet smiles during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13.1 points, 43.3% FGs, 36.2% 3s (38 of 105), 79.9% FTs (119 of 149), 4.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals

For all he can do offensively, he has made it a point to work himself into a standout defender, as well.

“I think wanting to be a good defender is probably the first step.”

One of the assistant coaches his freshman year used to joke he had trouble finding guys VanVleet was capable of guarding when they were going over scouting reports.

“I just didn’t want to be that guy.”

“Having Tekele on our team, and seeing the respect that he gets for locking people down, I always wanted to be held in that same regard.”

“I think paying attention to game plan and scouting and just studying guys that you might guard helps a lot.”

“It’s tricky, because I try to be aggressive, but being as important as I am to this team … sometimes I got in foul trouble early on in this season being stupid.”

“You just want to be sound. If it’s a great scorer, try to make it tough on them, try to make every shot contested. If it’s a point guard who just runs the show, I just like to deny him and disrupt him, disrupt the timing of the offense and just make life miserable for the other team.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: VanVleet operates and scores in every area of the floor. He makes 52.8% of his shots at the rim, 36.8% of his 2-point jumpers and 36.2% of his 3s.

No. 12 — Darius Carter, 6-7, 245 senior F

— Season stats: 11.1 points, 51.8% FGs, 3 of 5 3s, 63.5% FTs, 5.4 rebounds

Carter leads the way inside for the perimeter-oriented Shockers, and they will need him to make his presence felt against a larger KU team.

“He’s been real great when he’s on the floor, not in foul trouble.”

That quote might sound disparaging, but you have to consider the source. VanVleet is the point guard, and a team leader. He wants Carter giving Wichita State all he can.

And Carter was sitting right next to him in the locker room when VanVleet said that. Subtle reminder. Plus, he spent time addressing his own foul issues and overcoming those. He wants his vital teammate to do the same.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Carter makes the most of his touches, converting 66.4% of his shots at the rim and 42.2% of his 2-point jumpers. He also has 21 put-backs on the offensive glass this season.

No. 32 — Tekele Cotton, 6-3, 205 senior G

Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton (32) shoots a layup while playing against George Washington guard Kethan Savage, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton (32) shoots a layup while playing against George Washington guard Kethan Savage, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner) by Eugene Tanner

— Season stats: 9.6 points, 41.2% FGs, 29.6% 3s (32 of 108, 70% FTs, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists

“Tekele, you know, he’s known for his defense, but he’s been great for us attacking the rim.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: There is a reason VanVleet wants Cotton finishing inside. Cotton converts 58.8% of his shots at the rim compared to his sub-par 3-point shooting.

No. 3 — Evan Wessel, 6-4, 218 junior

Wichita State guard Evan Wessel pauses during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Evan Wessel pauses during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 4.1 points, 38.1% FGs, 34.2% 3s (27 of 79), 52.9% FTs (9 of 17), 3.4 rebounds

“Evan’s just a tough guy, diving on the loose balls, doing dirty work, knocking down open threes, rebounding the ball — playing out of position at the four.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: Wessel doesn’t often score, and he knows not to waste his attempts. Just 9.3% of his shots are 2-point jumpers. And only 19.6% of his shots come at the rim. If he’s shooting, it’s likely an open 3. That’s where 71% of his shots are taken.

SHOCKERS BENCH

No. 24 — Shaquille Morris, 6-7, 261 freshman F

Wichita State's guard Shaquille Morris (24) slams home a dunk in Wichita State's win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha.

Wichita State's guard Shaquille Morris (24) slams home a dunk in Wichita State's win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 5.0 points, 55% FGs, 0 of 1 3s, 64.2% FTs (34 of 53), 2.7 rebounds

The numbers below provide all you need to know on the powerful young big man.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Morris takes 44.4% of his shots at the rim. That’s probably not enough, considering he converts 72.7% of his shots there and just 35.2% of his 2-point jumpers.

No. 0 — Rashard Kelly, 6-7, 232 freshman F

Wichita State guard Rashard Kelly celebrates in the final minutes of Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Rashard Kelly celebrates in the final minutes of Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Mike Yoder

— Season stats: 3.0 points, 48.6% FGs, 4 of 9 3s, 52.4% FTs, 3.0 rebounds

— hoop-math.com nugget: His 15 put-backs are second on the team, and that’s where 36.8% of his made baskets at the rim come.

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Getting to know upset-minded NMSU

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

New Mexico State hasn’t lost a college basketball game since Jan. 17. Winners of 13 straight, the Aggies hope to keep that streak alive Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, against national powerhouse Kansas.

Dancing in March for the fourth season in a row, NMSU (23-10) also has a chance to deal the Big 12 (0-3 on the first day of The Madness) another NCAA Tournament blow — if it can find a way to topple the Midwest’s No. 2 seed, KU (26-8).

The WAC regular-season and tournament champion Aggies lost at Baylor, 66-55, back on Dec. 17. But this is March. And upsets rule supreme.

If New Mexico State wants to test — or upset — Kansas, it will have to do so with its defense. The Aggies are:

  • 19th in the NCAA in scoring defense (59.3 points allowed)

  • 10th in 3-point FG% defense (29.3%)

  • 19th in rebound margin: +6.9 boards a game

The Aggies do all of that while playing pressure defense, and an adapting half-court zone that actually specializes in taking away open 3-point looks.

Asked to describe NMSU’s defense, sixth man D.K. Eldridge labeled it the ever-popular “40 minutes of hell.”

“We try to make it impossible to bring the ball across half court,” Eldridge said. “It mostly comes from all our deflections. We keep count of that. Daniel (Mullings) leading in deflections right now. Myself, Ian (Baker) can do it. And our back wall guys, they very athletic and make plays, as well.”

In summation: It’s the kind of approach that opponents hate.

In order to get to know the Aggies better, I asked senior guard Eldridge to provide his take on each of NMSU’s top six players.

AGGIES STARTERS

No. 3 — Remi Barry, 6-8, 225 senior F

New Mexico State senior forward Remi Barry participates in a NCAA second-round practice at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. New Mexico State will face the Jayhawks Friday in a second-round NCAA Tournament game.

New Mexico State senior forward Remi Barry participates in a NCAA second-round practice at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. New Mexico State will face the Jayhawks Friday in a second-round NCAA Tournament game. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13.3 points, 46.3% FGs, 44.6% 3s (41-for-92), 76.6% FTs, 4.8 rebounds

“Coming off an injury from last year, he’s had a very successful year. He brings scoring to the table and he’s a part of our defense with his length.”

“He knows his role. He don’t get outside his box too much.”

No. 43 — Pascal Siakam, 6-9, 230 freshman F

New Mexico State freshman forward Pascal Siakam (43) warms up during a early practice session as New Mexico State took to the floor in Omaha, for a short practice session on Friday 19, 2015..

New Mexico State freshman forward Pascal Siakam (43) warms up during a early practice session as New Mexico State took to the floor in Omaha, for a short practice session on Friday 19, 2015.. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13 points, 57.7% FGs, 0-for-2 3s, 76.3% FTs, 7.7 rebounds (4.4 offensive), 1.8 blocks

“Oh, man. He an animal down low. Only a freshman, though. That’s what’s crazy about it. He’s got a lot left. Hopefully this’ll give him experience to have confidence for the future.”

“He’s very athletic, rebounds, scores the ball really well. He plays hard every possession.”

No. 23 — Daniel Mullings, 6-2, 170, senior G

New Mexico State senior guard Daniel Mullings warms up with his team during a practice session at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015.

New Mexico State senior guard Daniel Mullings warms up with his team during a practice session at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 12.6 points, 43.5% FGs, 36.1% 3s, 70.8% FTs, 5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2 steals

“He’s the head of the program. A very good player, athletic, very strong competitor.”

“Similar to myself, we just go out there and do what we do best: play hard every possession, give it our all for 40 minutes.”

“He’s a very strong driver, capable shooter, very good defense on the ball and off the ball.”

No. 15 — Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6-10, 268, senior C

None by Benton Smith

— Season stats: 10.4 points, 53.1% FGs, 62.1% FTs, 7.6 rebounds

“Just call him ‘Chili.’ He gets mad if you don’t say his nickname.”

“Just a big presence down low. Offense, it’s hard to stop him. Big, strong kid. A guy you want to get the ball to every time. You know you’re gonna get a bucket out of him.”

“On the defensive end, he just change shots, rebound, guard. He can get down and guard guards if he want to.”

“His conditioning got better. He came off an injury not too long ago (missed 12 games before returning in mid-January).”

“He’s a senior, does the right things. Not too many mistakes — on and off the court. He’s a guy that you want, and we want. We’re lucky to have him on our team.”

No. 4 — Ian Baker, 6-0, 180, sophomore PG

— Season stats: 9.5 points, 47.8% FGs, 47.2% 3s (58-for-123), 75.9% FTs, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals

“He brings a lot. For being a young player, he’s a very experienced guy. He’s very mature at his position.”

“He can shoot the ball very well. He can lead the team on offense, and when he wants to he can play very good ‘D.’”

“He comes from a family with a lot of older brothers, so I think that’s why his maturity is so strong. … He’s a very good leader. We listen to him. He puts us in the right position to win games, hits a lot of big shots for us… When we’re in a deep situation, he’ll get us out of it.”

AGGIES BENCH

No. 1 — D.K. Eldridge, 6-2, 180, senior G

— Season stats: 8.1 points, 38.6% FGs, 28.1% 3s (34-for-121), 63.3% FTs, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals

Eldridge considers himself a defensive-minded guy.

“That’s where my offense comes from most of the time — playing good ‘D.’ I know this team needs me in that category, so I just try my best to come off the bench and bring energy, especially when the starting five’s not feeling too energetic.”

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Bill Self examines the Midwest region of NCAA Tournament

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

As the 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket got unveiled Sunday evening, it quickly became clear Kansas University might have one of the most difficult roads to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

KU coach Bill Self discussed his team’s Friday matchup with a solid No. 15 seed, New Mexico State, as well as a potential Round of 32 game against Wichita State Sunday evening, following the selection show.

Oh, yeah. One more thing: Kentucky is the No. 1 seed in KU’s Midwest region.

Here are some highlights from the press conference:

• Saturday’s result against Iowa State in the Big 12 final might not have mattered for KU’s seeding. It would have been hard to pass Gonzaga on the 2-seed line. KU got what it should have in ending up in Kentucky’s bracket, because the other No. 2 seeds probably had better years.

• New Mexico State (23-10) had some injuries this season and that is why have lost some of the games they did.

KU could face Wichita State in the Round of 32, and Self couldn’t believe the Shockers got a No. 7 seed.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) watches as Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) rejects his floater during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) watches as Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) rejects his floater during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. by Nick Krug

• If this KU team gets a chance to play in the Elite Eight game, against Kentucky, “it’s been a hell of a year.”

The Jayhawks don’t even have to talk about that right now. Hopefully they will get to talk about that next week.

• Kansas took Sunday off from practicing. Kansas City was taxing on the team. They are beat up. Playing Friday helps KU. There is an extra day to get healthy, get bodies back fresh.

Perry Ellis isn’t close to being where he needs to be, but these four days will be big for him getting that bounce back.

• Self saw New Mexico State while flipping channels last night. He goes through all the teams that could end up being Nos. 15 or 16 seeds, and he had New Mexico State as a No. 13 seed.

“It is a hard first game, and we need to be ready come Friday.” When KU is good, it is really good. But it can’t afford to take 5 or 10 minutes off like it did against Iowa State.

• Self was pleased to see seven Big 12 teams get into the Big Dance.

• Self told the players: “You know how many bullets we’ve dodged?” in his time at KU, in terms of potential NCAA Tournament matchups. It isn’t guaranteed KU will play Wichita State.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson draws a foul on a shot from Purdue forward Robbie Hummel during the second half on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson draws a foul on a shot from Purdue forward Robbie Hummel during the second half on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. by Nick Krug

• KU has always had a good crowd in Omaha, Nebraska, and Wisconsin will travel great, too. KU has had some good runs going through Omaha, too: The Jayhawks won it in 2008 and got to the final in 2012 after playing in Omaha.

• Larry Brown and SMU got in, and Self thought that might end up being a Round of 32 matchup for Kansas. Instead it was Wichita State.

• The guys are excited, and one guy who should be more excited than anybody else is Ellis. That is a pretty big potential matchup for him, maybe facing his hometown program in Wichita State next Sunday.

• Kentucky was a lot better than Kansas that day they met in November, but that team is even better now. KU is better, too.

There might not ever have been a team as favored going into the tournament as Kentucky.

• Self thinks KU has had a real good season, but you have to accomplish some things in the next few weeks to make it memorable.

For KU, losing to ISU, there was a little hangover, but that’s gone now.

• KU could have an exciting next few weeks potentially, with maybe the chance to play the hottest team in the ACC in Notre Dame and the prohibitive favorite in Kentucky.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander watches warmups on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas University officials announced that Alexander will not play against Texas after they were alerted to a potential eligibility issue involving Alexander by the NCAA.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander watches warmups on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas University officials announced that Alexander will not play against Texas after they were alerted to a potential eligibility issue involving Alexander by the NCAA. by Nick Krug

• Self doesn’t think he should even talk about Cliff Alexander anymore with the media. If new information comes out, then he will.

• Landen Lucas is banged up and at this point in time, they need him and every player as healthy as possible. KU can be as close to whole as it has been in a while very soon.

• Self talked to the entire team after the TCU game on Thursday about how disappointing that was, and part of that was the way Wayne Selden Jr. played. Selden responded perfectly in the next two days.

• KU didn’t have the same intensity level in the second half vs. Iowa State, but still had a chance to win it late after being down 7 points.

Another positive came the night before with how KU rebounded and defended against Baylor.

But the bottom line is they need Ellis back playing to his potential.

• The Big 12 didn’t do well as a league in the NCAAs last season, after a strong regular season.

This year was another strong campaign, and the seeding reflected that. To validate that you need to have three or four teams get to that second weekend.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self reacts to Selection Sunday, KU's draw

— Hear from Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr.: Ellis and Selden discuss the NCAA Tournament

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