Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Hopping around the Internet on Tuesday while traveling home from covering KU’s wild and somewhat improbable come-from-behind win over West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, I found myself bumping into the same hot take from a variety of sports analysts and Kansas fans.
“We should’ve known it was dumb to doubt Bill Self,” they said.
Look, I’m firmly planted in the not-so-small camp that believes that any time Bill Self is on the sideline coaching a basketball team, said team has a shot to win whatever game it is playing, no matter who it is facing.
The guy’s a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the best coaches the college game has ever seen. And his record, and records, at KU figure to live for a long, long time and have taken an already elite program into another stratosphere.
I’m also in the camp that says it’s OK to doubt and question Self's teams. Anyone who was not doing so with this year's Jayhawks at some point during the past few weeks was not looking at a clear picture of what was going on in Lawrence.
Yes, the Jayhawks are 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12, with three tough road wins already to their name. And, yeah, Kansas is knocking on the door of jumping back into the Top 5 again after falling into the teens after a tough stretch in December.
But the Jayhawks also had real issues. And they may still have them.
They’re the same issues that dozens and dozens of other teams encounter year after year, so there’s no need for full-on panic. But they are issues. And they are real. And that’s at least a little rare by Kansas standards.
Just because the Jayhawks picked up a monster victory over a Big 12 rival in a building where they had not won in five years does not magically make the issues go away. Nor does it make anyone crazy for questioning whether Kansas had what it takes this year just a few days earlier.
Monday’s win over West Viriginia was all of the things Self wants his teams — and his victories — to be. Tough, mentally and physically. Fueled by defense, particularly down the stretch. And led by veterans who made the plays they had to make and set up their teammates to make the ones they couldn’t.
That recipe has led to 600-plus victories for Self and made Kansas the 13-time defending Big 12 champion that it currently is.
But those things were not present during many of this team’s first 16 or 17 games this season. At least not consistently.
The fact that they surfaced in a must-have moment and a hostile environment on Monday night only makes it easier to see 13 Big 12 titles in a row turning into 14. But it doesn’t make anyone wrong for wondering — or, to borrow a buzzword, doubting — Kansas in the days and weeks that came before it.
As good as Monday’s win was, this team still has questions. Depth is one of them and likely will be the rest of the way. Defense is another. And durability makes three.
If the Jayhawks the rest of the way can answer those questions — and even still a few others — in the resounding manner they did on Monday night, they’ll win this thing running away and be poised to make another run at a No. 1 seed on the road to the Final Four.
If they can’t, which, in some ways is to be expected, then the race is on and the questions will remain.
Either way, there’s nothing wrong with doubting Self or his Jayhawks. Especially when the doubts are warranted and based on real issues.
Heck, I don’t even think they mind. It’s not that often that a KU player can utter the phrases, “Nobody believed in us” or “No one picked us to win,” and have them be true. But that was what KU sophomore Udoka Azubuike was saying after Monday’s victory, and doggone it if he wasn’t right.
Maybe all that doubt wasn’t such a bad thing for Kansas after all.
In case you missed it while trying to figure out how the 10th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team found a way to get out of West Virginia with a victory on Monday night, let’s take time to look back at the Kansas bench.
Particularly Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, who, for the first time all year, gave the Jayhawks a pair of viable big man options off the bench and had the kind of impact on a game that Bill Self always has demanded and expected from his big men.
With Udoka Azubuike dominating when he was out there, but only able to play 20 minutes total because of foul trouble, Self’s Jayhawks needed someone to step up. Another night like Lightfoot had at TCU would have been nice and the Jayhawks basically got it.
Together, De Sousa and Lightfoot combined for eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes, which, in conjunction with Azubiuke’s line of 10 points and nine boards, gave the Jayhawks (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12) a wildly productive total of 18 points and 17 rebounds from its lone big man position.
Remember, on a team that plays four guards the majority of the time, there are just 40 big-man minutes per night for the Jayhawks to pass out. And Self’s trio made the 38 they played in this one count in every way imaginable.
“Mitch was great,” Self said. “But you could also throw Silvio in that group, too. In 18 minutes, they get eight and eight. Silvio’s not ready to play in the second half of that game. But I thought he did give us some decent minutes in the first half. And it was good experience for him. For our big guys to get 18 and 17 in the game, I would’ve sold out for that before the game started for sure.”
Looking at it another way, what that trio was able to do surpassed what WVU big man Sagaba Konate did everywhere but the blocks column. Konate finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes but also was a monster in the paint, rejecting five Kansas shots on the night, with all five coming in a first half dominated by West Virginia and three of the five coming on transition dunk attempts by Kansas.
Despite continuing to be turned away by the 6-foot-8, 260-pound WVU sophomore, the Jayhawks stayed confident and kept attacking.
“We tried to go at him,” Self explained after the victory. “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down at least attacking rather than being soft. When Svi (Mykhailiuk) went in and tried to dunk it and Marcus (Garrett) went in and tried to dunk it, I thought they were good plays. I just thought he made a better play.”
Said Mykhailiuk, when asked if they expected Konate’s dominance at the rim in the first half: “Not really. I would say we just did some stupid things. It was two-on-one and we tried to dunk when we should’ve just dumped the ball and it would’ve been easy points.”
Like Self, Lightfoot was more inclined to tip his cap to Konate rather than blame KU’s decision-making.
“Man, he’s a great player,” Lightfoot said. “Obviously has that knack for blocking shots. (Texas’ Mo) Bamba and him, those are some great shot blockers. The big thing for us was you had to decide to go at him. You have to realize if you go at him, it’s going to make him a little more timid and get some fouls on him.”
Eventually, that worked as Konate and WVU coach Bob Huggins had to negotiate the Mountaineers big man playing with four fouls for the final 5:17 of Monday’s victory. In fact, from the time Konate picked up his fourth foul at the 5:17 mark to the end of the game, the Jayhawks outscored the Mountaineers, 16-6, with a handful of drives to the rim and big rebounds in the paint playing key roles for Kansas.
None was bigger than Lightfoot’s rebound of a Lagerald Vick miss in the final minute, in which Lightfoot corralled the loose ball and immediately went back at the rim to flush a dunk that put the Jayhawks up three with 48 seconds to play.
“I wanted to dunk it,” said Lightfoot when asked if it was one of the best plays of his life. “I hope the picture’s cool. But it was good, it was exciting and I’m glad we could get that dub.”
As for De Sousa’s role, it was equally as important even if not quite as noticeable. Just two days after looking slow and unsure during his four-minute debut against Kansas State, the 6-9, 245-pound newcomer played seven first-half minutes, scored the first bucket of his KU career — on a nice post move and aggressive take to the rim — and grabbed three rebounds, two offensive.
“We (knew) this game was not going to be a lot of running plays,” Azubuike said. “They play press and all that stuff. So, right before the game, I kind of told him (De Sousa), ‘It’s just like high school now. You just have to go and just play your game. It’s going to be a scrap game, it’s going to be an up-and-down game and you just have to go out there and be aggressive.’ And he did.”
Still young and figuring things out in his own right, Azubuike said he has spent a little extra time of late trying to help De Sousa get comfortable.
“I’ve been talking to him constantly,” said Azubuike before being asked if he yet had felt the benefits of De Sousa’s presence. “I mean, in practice? Yeah. But he’s still learning how to play basketball in college and all that, but it’s always a relief having Silvio.”
Monday night, it was Silvio in relief who helped the Jayhawks survive the Mountaineers and avoid a fifth consecutive loss in Morgantown.
Time will tell what that win and these performances from KU’s big men will mean for the rest of the Big 12 race. But Azubuike, who said his sore back was better but still not yet 100 percent, already had a pretty good grasp on the importance and magnitude of a performance like Monday’s before leaving WVU Coliseum.
“Beating West Virginia on their home floor, that’s a big step for us,” he said. “That gives us confidence going forward for the next game.”
More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia
- Mountain of a comeback: Jayhawks stun West Virginia, move atop Big 12 standings
- Tom Keegan: Jayhawks far more effective with Azubuike on the floor
- Notebook: WVU’s Harris earns start despite reprimand; Self wears Huggins’ pullover
- The Keegan Ratings: Graham leads comeback, tops ratings at West Virginia
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Pressing on: Jayhawks rally for rare victory at West Virginia
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 71-66 comeback win over West Virginia on Monday night in Morgantown, W.Va.
Let’s not confuse things here. The Jayhawks were good — real good — when they had to be down the stretch but not for the full 40 minutes. The Jayhawks’ first-half offense was sub-par at best and featured far too many unforced errors and bad shots. But, again, KU’s veterans came up big late, with Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham willing their team to victory to ensure they did not go winless in Morgantown during their Kansas careers.
KU’s defense was arguably as good as it has been all season, especially when factoring in the degree of difficultly in this one. Not only did the Jayhawks force the Mountaineers into 35.7-percent shooting in the second half, but they also turned the Mountaineers over, competed hard on the glass and came up with crucial stops at game point. Kansas forced several deep, contested jump shots by WVU and made the Mountaineers earn just about everything they go in the final 10 minutes of the game. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the Jayhawks did the best job of playing to the scouting report that they had in a long time and it paid off big time.
Udoka Azubuike was the best player on the court.... when he was on the court. In just 20 minutes of game action, Azubuike proved to be a major factor on both ends and showed off his ever-evolving offensive game and increasingly aggressive mindset on the glass early on. The only thing keeping this from reaching the A range was Azubuike’s silly fouls. Nearly all of his five fouls were of the foolish variety and having him on the bench nearly cost Kansas. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined to give some solid minutes in relief when Azubuike sat. The KU frontcourt is far from a finished product — and still could benefit a great deal from getting Billy Preston back — but efforts like Monday’s gave you a glimpse of what it could be when things are clicking.
It was a mixed bag for the KU backcourt from start to finish, with Graham and Malik Newman having rough nights to start and then came up big late and Mykhailiuk was pretty much in the same boat. Even the back-to-back turnovers by Mykhailiuk late in the second half were deemed acceptable because they came at the end of serious effort plays on his behalf. Lagerald Vick, who did not start because of a bit of a sluggish attitude during Sunday’s practice, hit KU’s first bucket of the night but then missed the next five 3-pointers he took and missed a block-out on a missed free throw in the final minute that could have been devastating. All in all, the fact that they found a way to win in Morgantown and did so by mixing enough offense with tough D gives the KU backcourt the B grade.
Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined for eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes, numbers that Self said he would have sold out for before the game from KU’s second big man spot. Add in there the 36 minutes veteran minutes Vick played, even if they weren’t all good, and you’re looking at an above-average outing for KU’s thin bench.
So now that the Silvio De Sousa saga is over — don’t worry, you can still get your NCAA delay fix via the Billy Preston situation — it’s time to take a closer look at exactly what De Sousa might be able to bring to the Jayhawks’ rotation during the next couple of months.
If you’re basing your read entirely on what you saw from De Sousa in his four-minute debut against Kansas State, you’re probably not all that optimistic about his role. And who could blame you?
In those four first-half minutes of last Saturday’s one-point thriller over K-State, De Sousa recorded just two stats — one foul and one turnover — and did not appear to be fully ready for basketball at this level.
How could he be, though? That’s a heck of a spot to get your first taste of major college ball and anyone expecting him to be anything but average at best was dreaming a little bit.
Although his minutes did not hurt Kansas in the long run — K-State did, however, turn a 21-13 deficit into a 21-21 tie from the time De Sousas checked in to the time he returned to the bench — De Sousa looked a little less than ready for action.
In comparison to everyone else on the floor, De Sousa moved at a slower speed and pace. It wasn’t that he was physically slower than everybody, he just did not react as quickly to things that were happening around him and that made it look as if he was turned down instead of turned up.
Again, that’s understandable for a young man who, just a few weeks ago was playing against — and dominating — the top high school competition out there.
But even with the mistakes and the low motor and all of the thinking, those four minutes of rest that De Sousa gave Udoka Azubuike no doubt were valuable. Even if his skill set doesn’t come around or catch up and he’s only able to be a big body to give Azubuike a few minutes of rest here and there, that still could have great value for this Kansas team.
With that said, I watched De Sousa closely during the minutes he was on and off the floor — these debuts and such always fascinate me — and I found five ways in which De Sousa was better than the overall picture projected.
Here’s a look:
1 – De Sousa pays attention and takes instruction well
Whether you’re talking about coaches yelling at him from the bench or talking to him while sitting next to them or from his teammates on the floor, De Sousa appears to be in all-ears mode and does not have an ego that’s too big or too cool for school to listen to what others are telling him. He clearly respects the been-there-done-that status of his coaches and teammates and is trying to soak up everything they can tell him while trying to keep his head from spinning out of control at the same time.
2 – De Sousa’s footwork & positioning on defense is pretty good
You might not have noticed it because he didn’t block any shots into the fifth row or rip down any one-handed rebounds, but De Sousa moves well and takes up a lot of space in the paint on the defensive end. He clearly already understands the emphasis KU coach Bill Self puts on defense and is out there trying to please his coach with max effort on the defensive end every trip down. I thought it was funny when the officials had to tell him on a couple of different occasions to keep his hand off of the K-State player posting up. De Sousa loved to wrap his right hand/arm around the waist of the player to give him a better chance of keeping him contained. That was something he either got away with in high school or didn’t need to do. Either way, they won’t let it fly here. It was pretty blatant. He just needs to use his strength and feet to hold his position.
3 – De Sousa is a natural at walling up
Speaking of defense and positioning, I thought De Sousa flashed a tremendous ability to wall up — exactly what it sounds in that he slides in front of an offensive player, stands tall and puts both arms straight up in the air to make it harder to shoot over him — on a few occasions during his short stint on the floor. One came with his man trying to score against him and at least one or two others came with De Sousa in the role of help defender, sliding over to cut off the drive and getting as big as possible to make the K-State player think twice about proceeding. It’s a subtle advantage and a skill that’s not that difficult to execute. But it is hard to master and I think De Sousa has tremendous potential there, which should help him give KU a defensive presence until he frees his mind to the point where he can use his athleticism to do work as a shot blocker.
4 – De Sousa is a good presence in the post
He did not show it on the possession where he got sped up and then fired a pass to no one out of bounds, but I thought the more telling part of that play — and the other times when De Sousa posted up on offense — was that his teammates showed no hesitation in looking to throw it down to him. They obviously have seen what he can do in practice and know that he can help them a ton if he can do some of that in games. So as long as he can continue to establish good position, which he got vs. K-State, it appears as if his teammates are going to at least continue to look to give him the ball, which gives KU a much-needed second player they can throw the ball to on the block when they need a bucket. Now he just has to work on slowing down a little, playing more under control and going strong to the rim, where he can draw fouls and get to the free throw line if nothing else.
5 – De Sousa stays engaged on the bench
This sort of ties into that first one, with De Sousa being a willing learner, but I glanced over at him quite a few times during his time on the bench and noticed a player paying serious attention to what was happening on the floor. He appeared, naturally, to be watching Azubuike whenever possible and also asked coaches and teammates questions during the action.
I’m not trying to sugar coat De Sousa’s debut as anything but a night to forget, statistically. But, if you’re willing to look past the obvious, there were definitely some early signs of ways the 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man could help this Kansas team sooner rather than later.
You all have heard Self’s timeline for when he thinks De Sousa might be comfortable. So give him those two or three weeks to get there and keep an eye on all of the things mentioned above while you wait.
Much like with Azubuike, I think this is a player who will show rapid progress every time you see him.
Whether we see him much in Morgantown, W.Va., tonight or not is a whole other question. But if we do — and I could see it given WVU’s size and ability to hit the offensive glass — I’d bet on two things: (1) It’ll be earlier in the game to steal a breather for Azubuike, who will have to be huge tonight for KU to have a chance; and (2) He’ll look better than he did two days ago.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 73-72 Sunflower Showdown victory over K-State on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks shot 49 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent from 3-point range and made 15 of 17 trips to the free throw line, a fact that brought to mind a strong percentage (88.5) and a solid number of trips. That includes 9-of-10 in the second half and 54.2 percent field goal shooting in the final 20 minutes. There were a few too many bad possessions and, outside of Azubuike's 8-of-9 shooting, no one really shot it that well. But it is a team game and, as a team, the Jayhawks' offense was good enough to get it done on Saturday.
Extra points for getting a stop at game point, which made up for an at-times tough day on the defensive end. It wasn’t all bad, though. Far from it. KU was better on the boards, forced turnovers early to fuel transition and got six blocks, five of them coming from Udoka Azubuike.
Azubuike had one of his best games in a while, finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. Beyond that, he routinely did work early in the shot clock to get deep position and that made him much tougher to stop and led to a bunch of easy buckets for the big fella. It wasn’t a great day for his running mates, but the mere fact that Silvio De Sousa actually suited up and checked in is worth a small bump in the frontcourt grade.
There were points in this one when both Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were the best players on the floor. There also were times when the K-State guards out-toughed and out-played all of KU’s guards. Guess that’s what happens in a one-point game. Svi and Graham were good enough to earn an A and Lagerald Vick delivered two HUGE 3-pointers late. But Vick again struggled to get going and Marcus Garrett and Malik Newman did not have their best days.
With Newman back in the starting lineup and Garrett back on the bench, the scoring punch potential from the KU bench went down. And that showed, with the Jayhawks getting four points all day from its non-starters. Both buckets were big, though, and the bench players, when they were out there, did their part to try to keep Kansas in control. Overall, the bench played a small role and did not do much on the stat sheet.
While waiting oh so patiently — or the complete opposite — for news about freshmen forwards Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston, Kansas basketball fans have been put through the wringer with a variety of potential timelines, key dates and big moments.
Today could be another one.
When asked Friday morning before practice if there was any news in the status of De Sousa and/or Preston, KU coach Bill Self said simply, "I think it's going to be a great Friday. TGIF. We've been waiting for Friday all week. Check with me at 5 o'clock. Who knows?"
What that means — or if it actually means anything — remains to be seen, but you can bet KUsports.com will be checking back at 5 p.m.
My gut feeling is that if Self's comments do, in fact, mean that there is news coming, it is highly likely that the news will be about one or the other but not necessarily both. If that read is right, the smart money is on the news — again, if it comes — being about De Sousa.
Now that we've passed into the afternoon portion of our day here in the Midwest, the 5 p.m. timeline is just a few hours away.
So stay in touch without KUsports.com throughout the day and certainly at 5 p.m. and after for any and all updates we can provide on this ongoing situation.
While you wait, be sure to take our latest quiz, which tests your knowledge about De Sousa and Preston and be eligible to enter to win a $25 VISA gift card.
Hey, at least the waiting could be worth something this time!
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said before Friday's practice that he was not sure who would start at KU's fourth guard spot during Saturday's 11 a.m. Sunflower Showdown clash with Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.
Recent progress shown by sophomore Malik Newman has put him back in the mix along with freshman Marcus Garrett.
“I told the team, when Malik plays well, he starts,” Self said, noting that he planned to talk to his team before making a decision. “He's a guy who can get us 14 or 15 a game. So when he plays well, he starts. The biggest thing for him to play well is confidence, so hopefully the (27 points in the) Iowa State game will trigger that.”
Regardless of whether Newman makes it back into the starting lineup or not — after starting the 11 of KU's first 12 games and coming off the bench for four consecutive Big 12 games, Newman started Tuesday's second half against Iowa State — the experiment with putting Garrett in his place appears to have worked. On a lot of levels.
“To me, and of course it's coach speak, but it's not who starts, it's who finishes,” Self said. “And you could look at our team and really say there's advantages to either one of them starting. It's nice to get some points off the bench and Malik provides us that opportunity.”
From Newman's perspective, filling the role as first man off the bench changed the way he looked at the game and his responsibilities.
“It opened up my eyes,” Newman said. “Let me know that there were some things that I wasn't doing that I should have been doing.”
As for how he handled the benching, Newman said he thought he took it well and focused in on remaining committed to the overall goal of whatever's best for the team.
“It's life, it's basketball. That's something that you can't pout about and make it change the way you play,” he said. “And I think I did a great job handling it.”
“I think his attitude's been really good,” he said. “Now, would he say a week ago that he was happy about that? The answer would be no. But Malik's a pretty realistic guy.”
Despite not starting the team's first four Big 12 Conference game, Newman's minutes have not suffered much. In his 11 starts this season, Newman is averaging right at 30 minutes per game. In the five games he has not started, that number dips to 25, bringing his average for the season to 28.3 minutes per game.
Both Self and Newman said they thought this thin team's need to have Newman on the floor helped him handle the two different roles he has played thus far.
“You'd have to ask him,” Self said when asked if he thought Newman had ever been coached as hard as he has been this season. “My personal opinion is I don't think I'm coaching him that hard. He's playing 30 minutes a game. There's a lot of people who would sell out for that. To me, coaching hard is, hey, you're not doing exactly what I want you to do, come sit by me.”
Newman has yet to experience that role for a prolonged period. And more games like the one he put in against Iowa State on Tuesday night, when he produced by playing hard and with confidence, likely will keep it that way.
It isn’t often a player can score 27 points — a career-high at that — yet the most impressive part of his performance comes elsewhere.
Malik Newman’s outburst against Iowa State, an 83-78 Kansas win, was a welcome sign for KU fans. It was the same way for the redshirt sophomore, who knocked down 10 of his 21 field goal attempts in the win.
“It was a good one,” Newman said of his game. “Yeah, I can say (it was a breakout performance). Maybe.”
Some of Newman's struggles had been overstated. For instance, he had shot a respectable 17-for-35 in the four games leading up to the previous contest, against TCU, far from the numbers you'd expect going off some of the reactions on social media.
Other criticisms, however, were completely valid.
Newman shot 50 percent from 3 in his first six games, but saw his numbers tail off shortly after. In fact, after sustaining a head injury against Arizona State, Newman shot 4-for-19 from 3 over his next six contests. He was held without a made basket twice in that span.
The one thing he did consistently, though? Rebound.
Aside from the TCU game, arguably the worst of Newman’s collegiate career, the 6-foot-3 guard had snagged at least three rebounds in all but one of the Jayhawks' previous outings.
He grabbed four or more rebounds 11 times in KU's first 14 games and five or more rebounds seven times.
For reference, Udoka Azubuike, who is nine inches taller than Newman and outweighs him by nearly 100 pounds, has had the same number of games this year with two or fewer rebounds (two). In 16 games this season, Newman has actually grabbed more defensive rebounds than Azubuike four times, the same number of defensive rebounds twice and one or two fewer than Azubuike an additional five times.
“The reality of it is, Dok and Mitch (Lightfoot have) got to rebound better,” KU coach Bill Self said in a press conference leading up to the TCU game. “Dok gets four rebounds when there are 38 missed shots. That’s not good enough. He’s got to rebound the ball better.”
Said another way, KU has played 16 games this season. In five of them, Newman has posted an even or better defensive rebound rate than Azubuike — meaning he’s grabbed at least the same percentage of available defensive rebounds when he’s been on the court in about one-third of KU's games.
“The thing about it is, with Dok, there are so many more ways to impact the game (than scoring),” Self said after the win over Iowa State. “He’s got to rebound the ball. There were some possessions there in the first half where he never jumped. That doesn’t bode very well when you’re small and your team doesn’t rebound the ball very well.”
Still, if those numbers seem a little fishy to you, the last game provided plenty of visuals as to why they shape out that way.
No rebound illustrated KU’s woes in that area more than Azubuike’s board with 5:12 to play in the first half.
As a shot went up from the right wing, Newman put his body into Iowa State’s Hans Brase, who had a six-inch, 40-pound advantage.
Azubuike, with a decisive size advantage on his man — the 6-9, 225-pound Carmeron Lard — simply held his ground, reached up and grabbed the easy board.
Such a sequence was the polar opposite of the strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, when the team's big men would go out of their way to shield off defenders so that Russell Westbrook, the eventual NBA MVP, could snag easy boards and bring the ball up the court in transition.
But what happened on the KU play wasn’t some kind of a strategy. It was more representative of Azubuike's struggles.
Earlier in the season, Self called Azubuike out for his rebounding, adding that KU doesn’t have enough players rebounding the ball above the rim, which should be a strength of the 7-footer.
If there’s one player who can — and does — rebound above the rim, though, it’s definitely Newman.
One of Newman’s more emphatic rebounds on Tuesday came with just under seven minutes to play in the first half.
After an Iowa State 3-point attempt, Azubuike was too far out of position to get a body on Solomon Young. Devonte’ Graham came off his man to knock Young back just a touch, but it would’ve been an easy Iowa State offensive rebound if not for Newman swooping in and collecting the ball over two big men.
“I just wanted to try to get in there and rebound,” said Newman. “I notice that we’ve been struggling this season with rebounding, so I wanted to get in there and help the big fella’.”
Newman continued to fight for boards into the second half, even as he started to light up the scoresheet.
With just over 16 minutes to play, Lindell Wigginton took a shot from the right side of the key. Azubuike got back toward the hoop, but again just stood around rather than trying to put a body on his man, who ran back into the paint.
Newman, the only KU player to box out on the play, was shoved in the back, but still came up with the rebound.
“He played great,” Graham said. “He was just active. That’s what coach has been asking of him.”
The final highlight rebound of Newman’s day was far more in the Oklahoma City-style.
Five minutes after Newman’s leaping snag, he stood at the top of the key while Lard took a jumper late in the shot clock. Newman ran back toward the hoop and grabbed an athletic, albeit easy, rebound, since Marcus Garrett did his job boxing out Brase.
This time, things came together perfectly.
Newman sprinted down the court to the right wing. He took a step-back 3, perhaps an ill-advised shot given his shooting woes entering the game, but he shot it with plenty of confidence and it fell through the net.
All in all, Newman snagged eight defensive boards, five of which came in the second half. Of those five, the Jayhawks scored on four of the following offensive possessions.
Newman's eight rebounds tied for the team lead against Iowa State and came up one short of a career-best total he notched in a win over Kentucky earlier this season. Yet he was hesitant to declare himself fully back based off just one performance.
“At the end of the day, you just have to keep grinding,” Newman said, “get yourself out of that hole.”
In the middle of what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and cut-throat seasons of Big 12 Conference basketball, news out of Austin, Texas, served as a reminder that these teams, players and coaches all really like each other.
Just before Texas' upset victory over No. 16 TCU on Wednesday night, the Longhorns revealed that sophomore point guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia and was facing a health battle far more difficult than any conference basketball game ever could be.
“We had a meeting (Tuesday) night over in the dorm, and at that point we told our guys what the diagnosis was,” Smart told the Austin American Statesman after UT's 99-98 emotional double-OT win over TCU. “Leaving that meeting, we had guys that weren’t just in tears, they were wailing."
Jones, UT's second leading scorer who already missed a couple of games this season because of injury, may not be on the floor the rest of the way, but it's clear that he still will have an impact on the UT team and the rest of the conference.
“Yesterday, I know, was devastating for the University of Texas,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday morning. “But it was also for everyone else in our league. We wish Andrew a very speedy recovery so he can get back on the court as soon as possible.”
Several coaches in the conference have at least some idea of what Jones, Shaka Smart and the UT family are facing from their own past experiences with tough situations.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his program went through something similar during the not-too-distant past when the wife of former WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn went through her own fight with cancer and leukemia that had a profound impact on the Mountaineer program.
“It's terrible,” Huggins said. “We all need to do more to try to rid the world of this terrible disease. You feel so bad for the person inflicted, but you feel almost equally bad for the families. It's just a hard, hard thing to go through.”
Baylor's Scott Drew and his team had to deal with big man Isaiah Austin having basketball taken from him because of an eye condition. And that memory, along with firsthand knowledge of the kind of person Jones is, made the whole situation weigh heavy on Drew's heart.
“We recruited Andrew, his sister played here, love his family, love him and I know we were all devastated and taken back by the announcement,” Drew said. “Andrew's a fighter, always has been, and his family fights and he's going to beat this thing. He'll be in our thoughts and prayers and I text Shaka yesterday to let him know we'd be thinking of them because I can only imagine how difficult that would be to go through.
“It is a game, it's only a game, and sometimes we take it too serious when we're all blessed to have health and life.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 83-78 victory over Iowa State Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Eighty-three points and 14 3-pointers will get you an A grade on most nights. But the fact that the Jayhawks fell in love with the 3-point shot in this one brings this one down to the B range. Part of the heavy reliance on 3-point shooting is not the fault of the guards. Udoka Azubuike has to do a better job of getting position and being ready to catch and go to work. He’s still not there. And when that breaks down the Jayhawks have to find another way. Tonight it was via the 3-point shot. In the future it can be a better mix of 3-pointers and trips to the free throw line. KU made just 5-of-13 from the line in this one, with Azubuike finishing 1-of-4 by himself.
Iowa State does not shoot it well and is not a great rebounding team, but did both very well against the Jayhawks. ISU’s 40.7 clip from 3-point range was its best in eight games and the Cyclones out-rebounded their opponent (44-34) for just the fifth time in their last nine games.
Udoka Azubuike attempted just five shots and only one was anything other than an easy dunk. Not the kind of night KU needs from its lone big man. On top of that, he added six rebounds and a much-improved block total of four to give KU just enough inside. He still must play better on both ends for this team to take another step forward.
Devonte’ Graham’s 11 points, nine assist and four steals in 37 minutes brought me back to his early-season efforts, when scoring was not as important as getting others going. He was terrific in that area. And Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to hit 11 of 22 3-point attempts on a night when Kansas needed every one of them.
Any time one player scores 27 points and adds eight rebounds in 34 productive and aggressive minutes, the bench grade is going to be pretty good. Even if Malik Newman did start the second half — Self said that was based more on Marcus Garrett’s struggles to plug in during the first half as opposed to anything Newman did — he still counts as bench points in this one because he did not start the game. And he gave the Jayhawks all they needed and then some. Mitch Lightfoot’s lone bright spot also proved important, as he picked up another well-time, off-the-ball block.
Lavar Ball continues to stay in the public eye with his publicity stunt for his two sons in Lithuania, his Big Baller Brand shoe and apparel line and recent comments about Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton.
But if the pie-in-the-sky dreamer’s proposed Junior Basketball Association is going to get off the ground as an NBA alternative for prep stars wanting to skip college, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self would like to see one rule be an important part of the league.
“If they do that, that’s fine, Lavar, do it,” Self recently told the Journal-World when asked about the potential impact of the JBA on college recruiting. “But make sure (the players) meet NCAA academic requirements or whatever before they can go so at least that way they have options.”
The reason Self believes some kind of academic element — be it a qualifying test score, specific grades or meeting NCAA requirements — is important for the grass roots league is because of the potential dangers of the league, or any other like it, operating without one.
Self said he did not believe the JBA, which is slated to open play this summer, would create issues with college recruiting.
“Could it have an impact? I guess it could,” he said. “But it’s not going to have more of an impact than what the NBA will.”
Right now, with college basketball — and eventually the NBA — being the ultimate goal of young ball players, most of them understand that if they do not take care of their academics throughout junior high and high school, reaching those levels is going to be harder to achieve.
If Ball’s JBA, which would pay as much as $10,000 a month to the top players and a minimum of $3,000 to the rest, operates without any academic guidelines, Self believes young players who otherwise would have been interested in college and the NBA could quickly be blinded by dollar signs and put academics on the back burner for good.
“I’m disappointed in anything that would inspire a 15- and 16-year-old to say, ‘You know what? Man, school’s hard, I know I can just go play pro ball and make money,” Self said. “If you tell a 9th and 10th grader that academics aren’t important and not to worry about Algebra II or Geometry or making grades or meeting NCAA requirements, they’re done before they ever get a chance to change their minds. They could be making academic decisions (that impact) the rest of their lives at age 15 and 16 if they feel like there’s a safety net of, ‘Well, if I don’t make it in the NBA I can go here and make a lot of money.’ That’s not right.”
Self said he was not against the idea of the league itself. He just would much prefer that young athletes still value some level of education before developing tunnel vision on playing basketball for money.
While the dream of NBA fame and riches already drives many young players today, nearly all of them know and understand from an early age that performing well in the classroom is a required part of getting there.
“They could still have that future with the important of academics in their minds,” Self said of playing in the JBA. “If you just prepare yourself for it academically and then, at the end of the preparation, you decide, ‘This is best for me,’ I’m fine with that.”
Beyond that, Self said skipping college to go play in a grass roots league to make some quick money could prove detrimental in terms of missing out on valuable life experiences that college provides.
“When they say, ‘This kid doesn’t want to go to college.’ Well, I think there’s a lot of parents of kids who aren’t athletes that make their kids go to college,” Self said. “And then, by the time they’re in college, they say, ‘Hey, I can see why this is important, I can see the future, I can see the positives that come from education.’ And I think it would be the same thing with athletes. “How many players have we coached at Kansas that if they’d have had the opportunity or somebody had told them that a league like this was out there then their commitment to academics would have been altered? More importantly, how many have graduated that, when they got here were thinking, ‘Man, I hate school.’ And then they got here and they realized, ‘Nah, school’s OK. This is fun.’ The social part is a big part of the education, not just taking classes, so...
“The thing that I just despise is for anybody to put something out there that is unproven that doesn’t take the academic interests of a youngster into play. I understand that there are financial difficulties and these sorts of things. But, hey, high school diploma, being able to qualify and go to a university and maybe being the first family member to graduate, all the positive things that come from education; to plant the seeds that those things aren’t meaningful doesn’t sit well with me.”
One thing Self believed could help ensure the JBA is a success on all levels if the NBA’s involvement.
“There’s going to be some changes, I believe, with one-and-dones and how all this ties in from the NBA to the collegiate (game) to the grass roots (leagues),” he said. “And I think the NBA will be on board to help with all this and want to understand what all the problems are with collegiate basketball and grass roots basketball.”
FORT WORTH, Texas — Before leaving Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth-native Clayton Orlie, 14, needed to pass along his message.
Waiting in lower bowl of the cozy venue, Orlie and his friend and fellow area-native Connor Hadley were able to get the attention of Devonte’ Graham and pose for a picture with the KU guard despite the TCU attire Hadley sported.
As Graham walked away, heading back into the tunnel after the Jayhawks’ 88-84 road win over the Horned Frogs, Orlie shouted out to him.
“Say hi to Frank Mason for me,” yelled Orlie, before dropping his voice to a whisper. “I love Frank Mason.”
The message didn't come from nowhere.
Last season, Orlie was able to make the trip out to Allen Fieldhouse for his birthday. He said his father, who attended college near KU, told him he just had to take in the experience.
Orlie, who says his favorite teams are KU and TCU, was paying attention, not only the season before, but to the current one as well.
“Lately, he’s been playing a lot more like Frank Mason,” Orlie said of Graham. “Frank did that his senior year.”
What Orlie and his friend saw in Graham is exactly what the senior has been trying to work on.
While Graham has shown the ability to play with the ball in his hands in the past, too often he’s only been a threat to score from the perimeter.
Graham, a 44-percent 3-point shooter two of the last three seasons, has had 11 career outings where all his field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. He’s played 20 career games where all his made field goals have been 3s, 10 of which came in his junior season.
While there’s nothing wrong with that model for a complementary piece, as a point guard logging heavy minutes, Graham has looked for a change.
“I’m trying to (drive more),” Graham said. “That’s really what I’ve been focusing on, just trying to get in the paint, get to the foul line, get easy baskets and make plays for others.”
The foul-line part of that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In the seven games from Graham's sophomore season to now where all his field goal attempts were 3s, he shot a combined 13 free throws. In two of them, both coming last season, he got to the line 0 times.
Conversely, Mason had 0 games from his sophomore to junior seasons where he failed to log a 2-point attempt. As a senior, Mason averaged 6.6 free throw attempts per game, compared to 3.4 attempts by Graham going into the game against Texas Tech.
That was where the change began.
Against the Red Raiders, Graham went 13 for 13 from the line. He was more aggressive driving the ball in the second half, and his coach wanted to see more, even if the way he described Graham's play wasn't the most appealing.
In the post-game press conference, Bill Self referred to the concept of "bad offense," speaking not to the quality of the results of each possession, but to the idea that those sequences involved only one player putting his head down and getting to the rim.
In that aspect, the "bad offense" was anything but that.
“He did great. He did great driving the ball,” Self said. “The thing that Devonte' did really good, and I think you cited the second half, are things he needs to do the entire game."
Against TCU, Graham shot 15 free throws and made 13. He attempted five in the first half, more than he’d taken in nine of the Jayhawks 14 previous contests.
(Now, three of those foul shots were the result of Graham being fouled on a jumper, but there were other instances, both in transition and in the half court, where Graham made an effort to get into the lane.)
Ultimately, a pair of TCU intentional fouls helped inflate Graham’s game totals, but it wasn’t by chance he was the one holding the ball late.
“I feel like, if anything, the ball should be in my hands to make plays down the stretch,” Graham said. “And I was getting fouled and definitely wanted to be the one at the free throw line to try to ice the game.”
Other fouls, though, Graham earned — bruises and all.
With just over two minutes left, Graham poked the ball away from a TCU guard and sprinted the length of the court. He was crashed into as he attempted a layup and fell to the ground.
The thud of Graham hitting the court was audible all the way across the arena.
“I just landed on my butt wrong,” Graham deadpanned.
After a beat, Graham got up and knocked down two free throws.
The toughness impressed his coach — “To me, Devonte’ just willed us to win,” Self said after the game, “he showed some (guts) tonight. Good God, he was good.” — and it even won over a new fan.
“I don’t watch a lot of Kansas, but I know about Kansas,” Hadley said. “Tell if I’m wrong on this, (but) since Frank Mason left, it looks like he’s stepped up as a leader — not only on the court, but as a person, making sure he got those dimes to all those people, crashing in with all those close free throws at the end to help secure the dub.”
Reached via text message on Sunday night in Lawrence, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self told the Journal-World, not so surprisingly, that there was no new news on the status of withheld freshmen Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.
Self did, however, provide the most specific and clear timeline to date for that to change.
“We should know a lot more tomorrow afternoon on both,” Self told the Journal-World.
If the Kansas basketball program does, in fact, learn of some kind of resolution on the future status of De Sousa and/or Preston sometime Monday afternoon — good news or bad — it would mark the end of a long and drawn-out waiting period that dates back weeks and has left the players, KU’s coaching staff and, of course, the KU fan base experiencing varying levels of frustration.
Preston’s situation dates back to the night of KU’s second game of the season, when he learned, just a few hours before tip-off against Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago, that he would be held out of the game while the university looked into details of a vehicle he was driving during a single-car, non-injury accident a few days earlier.
Self said that night after the win over the Wildcats that KU officials had “spent all day trying to figure out if there was a way we could get it done where he could play” against Kentucky, adding, “I am confident it'll get cleared up. But I don't know the time frame and they haven't clued me in.”
That obviously did not happen and Preston has not played in any of KU’s 13 games in the nearly eight weeks since.
Almost no one could have foreseen that type of delay when the issue first surfaced.
As for De Sousa, his case actually has been in limbo a few days longer, though many of the steps needed to reach the point of awaiting NCAA approval were up to him.
After graduating from IMG Academy and receiving a qualifying score on his final ACT attempt, De Sousa was cleared to join the Jayhawks in time for the second semester in late December.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Angola native now is simply waiting for the NCAA to certify his amateur status, something Self said has taken a little more time because De Sousa is from a foreign country.
Even still, waiting for that issue to be addressed is now nearing the end of its second full week of waiting.
Stay tuned to KUsports.com throughout the day Monday for updates on both situations.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is facing a dilemma. But it’s one for which there actually is an easy answer, even if it’s not an answer he likes.
The question of how much to play senior point guard Devonte’ Graham — and how much to rest him — has hovered over this Kansas team throughout the season. But as much as Self would love to give his leader a few more minutes of rest each night, the 10th-ranked Jayhawks’ current reality does not allow for it.
“We can’t play without him right now,” said Self following a 38-minute, 28-point performance by Graham during Saturday’s 88-84 road win at TCU. “We need Malik (Newman) to be able to play that (backup point guard) position for us or somebody to play that position for us. It may not be. This may be the hand we’re dealt and the hand he’s dealt all year long.”
Graham, who leads the Jayhawks (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12) in just about every meaningful offensive category, has played 38 or more minutes eight times this season and all 40 on three separate occasions. That includes a current stretch of three consecutive 38-plus-minute outings.
A deeper look at those numbers reveals a trend that produces visions of Graham playing more big-minute games in the future not fewer. Six of Graham’s eight games of 38 minutes or more came against current Top 50 teams in the KenPom rankings. The two that weren’t? A one-point win at Nebraska and KU’s first loss of the season against Washington.
Twelve of KU’s final 16 regular season games come against teams currently ranked in the KenPom Top 50, including six in a row after Tuesday’s 8 p.m. home clash with Iowa State, which ranks 103rd.
It's not as if the extended playing time is exactly hurting Graham's bottom line. His past two games — 27 points in 40 minutes vs. Texas Tech and 28 points in 38 minutes against TCU — have produced his third and fourth best point totals of the season and he has now scored 23 points or more in three consecutive games.
Regardless, the difficulty of what lies ahead, along with the already-high usage and the nasty spill Graham took late in the win over TCU, appears to have Self even more dialed in on trying to figure out a way to lighten Graham's load.
“We may have to play zone or something to, I hate to say this, rest on defense,” Self said. “Or run a different offense where maybe he can rest on offense some because he’s worn out.”
Graham’s not the only one.
“Svi (Mykhailiuk) told me (Friday), ‘Coach, I’ll play better if I play 27,’ because he’s playing too many. And he knows it,” said Self of his senior sharp shooter, who joined Graham in topping 20 points and 38 minutes in Saturday’s win. “Here he is, he has to play 38 because no way you can take him out.”
Self has tried throughout the season to find an answer for back-up point guard but no one has emerged with any kind of consistency that would lead Self to believe he is reliable.
Newman has been given the most chances to run the show, both with Graham in the game and on the bench, but the Mississippi State transfer has not shown Self what he needs to see to entrust him with the backup job on a full-time basis and has slipped into a mid-season funk during recent weeks. And junior Lagerald Vick, who, at times, has been KU’s best player off the dribble, is not a natural point guard by any means.
“Let’s just call it (what it is),” Self said. “Malik is struggling. And Lagerald’s had a bad week. So, if we can get those guys going (that would help). I don’t think we can get much more out of Devonte’ and Svi. We’ve got to get more out of those (other) guys.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 88-84 victory over No. 16 TCU on Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas.
Red hot early and clutch from 3-point range all night, the Jayhawks shot 50.9 percent from the floor for the game, 55 percent from 3-point range (11-of-20) and put up 88 points on a team that was giving up just 74 per game, at their place. The offense had purpose and poise and also included a season-high 33 trips to the free throw line.
KU was killed on the boards (42-28) and gave up another eye-popping number (19) on the offensive glass. So right there, the best you’re going to do is the B range. But the fact that the Jayhawks got crucial stops late and recorded seven blocked shots — six from sophomore Mitch Lightfoot — pulled this grade to the brink of a B. Fifty points by TCU in the second half and still too many layups at the rim kept it from getting there.
Udoka Azubuike was effective early but troubled by foul trouble for most of the night. What looked like might be a monster game turned into a rather average 14 points and very disappointing one-rebound night. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Mitch Lightfoot was ready to step up and did so in a big way, delivering by far his best game as a Jayhawk at a crucial time. While Lightfoot's numbers were sensational, individually, they still didn't bring enough to the table to offset Azubuike's up-and-down night in the grading system. When your two big men combine for eight rebounds in 39 minutes, that's not quite good enough, even if it didn't cost Kansas in this one.
Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were terrific, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick weren’t. It was as simple as that in this one, with Marcus Garrett leaning closer to the Team Graham/Mykhailiuk than the other way. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, though, Graham and Mykhailiuk both played 38 minutes, which not only kept them on the floor but also kept the others on the bench, allowing KU to grind out the victory.
Lightfoot was spectacular and basically was the Kansas bench. Sam Cunliffe had a couple of decent moments, as well, and continues to look more and more playable — at least in spurts — with each passing game. It’s tough to know exactly what it will take to get Newman out of the funk he’s in but it definitely appears to be getting worse each game instead of better.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. TCU
- Leapfrogging TCU: Jayhawks hold off Horned Frogs, display toughness in 88-84 win
- Tom Keegan: Backup Mitch Lightfoot saves Jayhawks at TCU
- Notebook: TCU fanbase enjoys chance to watch KU; Jayhawks avoid back-to-back losses
- The Keegan Ratings: Devonte' Graham tops ratings again in big road victory vs. TCU
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- KU rebounds from home loss, survives test at TCU
For a team that has struggled to get to the free throw line for most of the 2017-18 season, seeing a single player get to the stripe 13 times in one game certainly qualifies as noteworthy.
The fact that Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham made all 13 of his trips to the free throw line was an added bonus. But KU coach Bill Self is not fully convinced that the Jayhawks’ team free throw woes are fixed because of Graham’s high-volume game.
“He did great,” Self said at his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The things that Devonte' did really good are things he needs to do the entire game. To me, it's too much pressure on him to be the only one to do it, though.”
Self then pointed out how Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett both could do much more in that department and how Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, could as well, even though those two are known more as shooters than guys who drive the ball to the rim.
Regardless of who’s doing it and who’s not, what Self would like to see most is those free throw attempts come from his team’s offensive sets, not just from a senior trying to make a play to bring his team back from a big deficit.
“Somebody asked a question the other day, 'Were you happy getting to the line 23 times?' The answer is, ‘Yes, we're happier doing that,’” Self said. “But it wasn't real. It was in a comeback effort where you just drive it, put your head down and drive it. You're not running good offense. I'd like to see us be able to do that in the first half as well as the second half.”
Through the first 14 games of the season, Graham leads the team with 57 trips to the free throw line. That’s as many as the second and third-place free throw shooters on the roster combined. So, clearly, Graham needs help.
And one of the better candidates to do more in the way of getting to the free throw line is 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, who ranks second on the team with 33 free throw attempts thus far. Lagerald Vick is third with 24.
One of the biggest issues with Azubuike and the free throw line is his percentage. The sophomore big man is shooting just .424 from the line this season and has missed the front end of several one-and-one attempts that not only cost the Jayhawks an extra shot but also points.
That exact scenario unfolded early in Tuesday’s loss to Texas Tech and Self explained Thursday how Azubuike’s issues at the line impacted the team after a perfectly executed half-court set that got him the ball down low and put him on the line.
“ You're struggling,” he said. “Even though it's early, 5-0, you're struggling, you get the ball right where you want it, you come away empty. Is it deflating? Yeah. There's nothing more deflating than when you're making a comeback and you miss a front end. I think you're much better off being there than not being there. …I still think it's a win for the offense. I do. It puts you in the bonus sooner.”
Even though KU's free throw attempts are up seven a game since the start of Big 12 play — from 11.8 per game to 19 — the free throw issue remains just one of the many things with this team right now that is not quite right.
As is the case with several of the other issues, — defense, depth, execution and understanding — it’s not as if things are completely broken. But KU's ability to get to the free throw line both at the rate and how Self would like definitely is not clicking on all cylinders and that is costing Kansas in the areas of consistency, confidence and production.
There's no telling where the Kansas men's basketball team will be two weeks from now, either in terms of its record, its standing in the Big 12 Conference or what the roster will look like.
This much we know for sure, though. The Jayhawks will know in two weeks whether they will be adding one of the top players in the country into the mix next season.
Zion Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound monster of a man who ranks as the No. 2 player in the 2018 recruiting class, announced on Twitter that he will make his decision on January 20.
While most people have started leaning toward the highlight machine from Spartanburg, South Carolina, staying close to home for college — Clemson, South Carolina and Kentucky all are in the running — the Jayhawks have not been eliminated yet and Bill Self and company spent just as much time as anybody out there going after this big time player.
Williamson made his official visit to KU during Late Night and was serenaded with chants of his name from the Allen Fieldhouse crowd as he walked onto the court and took his seat. Smiling big, Williamson waved to the crowd and appeared to love every second of it.
That's not to say he did not enjoy his visits elsewhere just as much, but it's worth noting that Williamson clearly enjoyed himself at Kansas. The versatile forward also hosted KU's coaches for an official in-home visit during this process and saw Self and company standing in the crowd for several of his AAU and high school events.
Known for his eye-popping dunks and athleticism and big time ability as both a passer and a rebounder, the one knock on Williamson continues to be his shooting ability, but the pros in his game far outweigh the cons in the eyes of most coaches.
Officially, Williamson is down to Clemson, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. He was only able to make official visits to four of those six schools, but because of his proximity to both Clemson and South Carolina, he is very familiar with the two schools closest to his high school.
247 Sports, which joins Rivals.com in listing Williamson as the No. 2 overall player in the 2018 class, has Clemson and Kentucky as the co-leaders in their Crystal Ball rankings, with each program picking up 41 percent of the predictions. Kansas and North Carolina are next with 6 percent apiece, with Duke and South Carolina considered longshots.
Despite the good time during his trip to Lawrence, people have speculated for weeks that KU is all but out of the running for Williamson, mostly because his family would like to see him stay close to home.
"He has taken official visits to Kansas, UNC, Duke and Kentucky, and any of the four would love to add the talents of Williamson," wrote Rivals recruiting analyst, Corey Evans. "However, the talk lately has centered around the Clemson basketball program. Off to its best start since the hiring of Brad Brownell, the Tigers have sold (Williamson on) the idea of playing for his home state and (Clemson) is also the place where Williamson's stepfather, Lee Anderson, played his college ball from 1981 to 1983."
Nothing will be official until Williamson makes the announcement, which is now a little more than two weeks away.
KU plays at home against Baylor on Jan. 20 and that game is sandwiched between road games at West Virginia (Jan. 15) and Oklahoma (Jan. 23), so, clearly, the Jayhawks will have plenty on their minds on Williamson's decision day.
This merely adds to the list and is worth tracking, even if the Jayhawks appear to be a longshot at this point.
With Kansas basketball fans becoming more disgruntled by the minute about the delay in the NCAA’s decision on the status of freshman forward Billy Preston, KU coach Bill Self has a message for anyone frustrated by the process.
“It’s not the NCAA’s fault, folks,” Self said Wednesday night on his weekly Hawk Talk radio show.
Reiterating what he has said at various times throughout the long, drawn-out process, Self once again explained that KU officials sought to be as thorough and complete as possible with their investigation into the financial details of the car Preston was driving during a non-injury, single-car accident in early November.
“The way it had to be submitted, it had to be turned in after it was completely done, with corrections, so that way the NCAA doesn’t come back and say, ‘We need more information,’” Self explained. “We tried to make it a complete file.
“When we got it (finished), it was very close to Christmas break (so) it’s been 10-12 days with not a lot being done with it. That’s not anybody’s fault at all. I know it’s frustrating. It’s more frustrating for Billy and obviously his mother than anybody else. We think we’ll have a final decision on this very soon. When that decision is made, we are optimistic and hoping for the best.”
While Self has hinted at a resolution in the Preston situation for the past couple of weeks, the KU coach took things one step further on Wednesday night, saying, “It’s a situation right now where we think we could know any minute on what his situation is. We actually feel very good about what the NCAA has in their hands what we submitted.
“There’s a lot of different things that go into it when you go through all records,” Self said. “As an institution I know we have done a nice job of being very thorough to the point we presented this after more interviews and things like that that you can imagine. If you think of it like this, if you are looking into something and someone tells you one name, you’ve got to go talk to that one name. If somebody tells you two names, that’s two more names you’ve got to go talk to. It takes a little bit longer to do a thorough job to present to the NCAA where they could make their final determination. I know we as an institution believe we have been very cautious and very thorough and basically a young man has been hurt a pretty fair amount by something that he is totally oblivious to.”
Self added that he thought KU’s decision to hold Preston out for the past 14 games as a precaution should be viewed as punishment enough.
“If there is a problem, which we are not saying there is, but if there is one, he has already sat how many games now? Fourteen games? Gosh dang,” Self said. “We certainly hope and believe that would be sufficient if there is (a problem). We are not even admitting there is one. That’s where we are at right now.
“I’m trying to be patient. Certainly the NCAA knows obviously there is a lot at stake, but what is at stake, more than anything else, is a young man’s well being. I’m certainly hopeful that we’re going to have him real soon.”
During his Thursday press conference inside Allen Fieldhouse, Self was asked whether he expected to hear about Preston’s status before Saturday night’s game at TCU. KU’s coach said he hoped to have “some semblance or some idea” of where the process stood before the Jayhawks play in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Certainly I've said for a while now sooner rather than later. I can guarantee you it will be sooner rather than later,” Self said, “but I don't know what the outcome will be on it, honestly.”
If Preston does get cleared to play, Self thinks the 6-foot-10 former McDonald’s All-American will be “pretty ready” to step in and contribute.
“I think we're talking about basically two months since he's played. Has he practiced? Yes. But he's also been on the scout team a lot. If he practiced for an hour and a half, it's hard to give a guy you know is not going to play in the foreseeable future enough reps to really take it away from somebody else that does have to play,” Self said, adding it will take Preston some time, perhaps a week, to get comfortable.
“You shouldn't expect too much right out of the chute, but he's a talented kid, though,” KU’s coach said.
— KUsports.com's Benton Smith contributed to this update.
When it comes to updates on the status of withheld Kansas basketball freshman Billy Preston, Jayhawk fans will take absolutely anything they can get their hands on.
That's what made a series of late-night Tweets from Preston's mom on Tuesday more than a little interesting.
It's unclear what prompted the string of Tweets, though message board nonsense and Twitter trolls seem like a fairly likely answer.
But regardless of where the inspiration came from, Preston's mom broke her silence on the matter and shared a few of her thoughts on just how hard the past seven weeks have been on Preston and his family.
While that Tweet certainly did not shed a ton of light on exactly what has been happening with Preston and the deep look at a vehicle he was driving during a single-car, non-injury accident back in early November, Preston's mom hinted both at the fact that she believed Preston still will play this season and at more input to come from her in the future.
What's more, she praised her son for his attitude and loyalty to KU and his teammates and coaches and also said that she was tired of hearing people attack her character and that of her son's.
It remains to be seen how much longer Preston will be held out of competition or if he will return to the floor at all this season.
KU coach Bill Self and a handful of Preston's teammates have said they, too, have been impressed by his attitude throughout the entire ordeal, but Self said recently that he was unsure how quickly Preston would be able to help the team on the floor if he is cleared because his frustrations over the situation have allowed his focus to slip.
The most recent update provided by Self indicated that KU had finished its review of the case and passed the information along to the NCAA.
Now, KU is merely waiting on the NCAA to make a ruling, which could come any day now that the NCAA offices are back up and running following the holiday break.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has an interesting theory about upperclassmen and underclassmen that played a fairly important role in the Jayhawks' 12-point home loss to No. 18 Texas Tech on Tuesday night.
Sure, the Red Raiders out-rebounded the Jayhawks 44-29, and, yeah, Chris Beard's squad did a better job of taking care the ball and making clutch shots when they mattered most.
But, according to Self, it was not so much the numbers that showed up on the stat sheet that cost Kansas as what he saw with his own eyes on the floor.
“So you miss a shot,” said Self, setting up his point. “What do you do after the ball's shot?”
On Tuesday, the answer for Texas Tech was a whole lot, as the Red Raiders were far more active on nearly every possession, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds and outscoring KU 15-4 on second-chance points. The answer for Kansas was not much.
“They were 6-of-24 from 3,” said Self, refusing to allow KU's off shooting night of 6-of-26 from 3-point range to be used as an excuse for a poor offensive night. “And they found some ways to score.”
The reason they did was simple in Self's eyes. And it had everything to do with desire.
The Red Raiders started five seniors, many of whom have taken their lumps in past meetings with Kansas. But Self said that fact was only part of the reason Texas Tech led from start to finish and outplayed KU all over the floor.
After all, freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver combined for 23 points and nine rebounds on seven of 15 shooting in 54 combined minutes, adding phenomenal support to Texas Tech's upperclassmen.
“I've always thought that a senior can kick a freshman's butt from an experience standpoint, but never from a try standpoint,” Self said. “To me, age is irrelevant when it comes competing and trying. Young kids may not know how to do it as well and know how to focus at game point and stuff like that. But for the most part, they say, 'Which would you rather have, talent or experience?' And the answer's obviously both, but you want competitors. You want guys who really want to compete.”
The Jayhawks had too few of those on Tuesday night and the Red Raiders had an abundance. When looking at it through that perspective, the final score is hardly a surprise.
The big question for Kansas now is this: Will seeing the result of that kind of lopsided effort in the try department inspire change or lead to more of the same?