Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
For four former Kansas basketball players, this week will go down as one of the biggest of their lives.
It begins today, with regular workouts and possibly a few more inquiries from NBA teams and scouts. And it ends Thursday night, with Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Billy Preston all hoping to be hear their name called during one of the 60 times an NBA official walks to the stage in Brooklyn and announces the next pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
For the past couple of months, everything these guys have done has been with this week in mind.
Workouts, eating right, testing, more testing, traveling and retooling the weak parts of their games, all with the hope of catching the eye of that one scout or one team who will allow them to live out their NBA dreams in the coming years.
The prospects look better for some of these guys than others, but all four appear to be in the mix for at least a second-round selection, which is all anyone can ask for at this point — a chance.
That we know from the dozens of variations of the mock drafts that have been done over the past several weeks. But by far one of the most interesting breakdowns I’ve seen came Monday morning when Seth Davis, of The Fieldhouse at The Athletic, dropped his look at the Top 50 prospects in this year’s draft class through the eyes of a man named Finch.
Finch, as Davis’ story explains, is not one man but a combination of the insights and opinions of five different NBA scouts, who, in this latest draft breakdown, give their honest assessment of these players and how they might or might not fit in the NBA.
This story alone, in my opinion, is worth the subscription cost. So check it out if you’re so inclined. And if you’re not, here’s a quick look at what Finch had to say about two of those four former Jayhawks.
There was no breakdown on Preston (no surprise) and Mykhailiuk, in my opinion, was surprisingly missing from the list, as well. More on that later in the week.
On Devonte’ Graham:
“He’s going to make shots, but I don’t know what else he’ll do. I see him maybe as a third point guard. He knows what it takes to win. Size would be the biggest concern. Is he more of a 2-guard? He only had to play the point for one year because he had Frank Mason with him. He doesn’t have the jet quickness you need at point guard, but he has a strong mind. Big-time character. He’s not dynamic with the ball, he’s not going to get by you, but he can be a backup and make a couple of baskets.”
On Malik Newman:
“Well, he helped himself in the tournament, that’s for sure. I think the kid learned how to play. He thought he was just a natural, and it didn’t work out at first. He’s going to have to come off the bench and score in bunches. I don’t think he’s going to play true point guard. He’s small. He has to be a Lou Williams-type, and I don’t know if he can do that. I don’t know how devoted he is to the defensive end.”
Busy working toward winning a gold medal with the U18 Men’s National Team at the FIBA Americas in Canada, which gets under way on Sunday, Bishop Miege standout forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has continued to keep one eye on his recruitment.
The No. 16-ranked player in the Class of 2019, according to Rivals.com, Robinson-Earl recently told Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans that five programs had stood out to him the most throughout his recruitment thus far, adding that he was still open to adding any other programs who show serious interest into the mix.
Those programs, as things stand today, are: Kansas, to no one’s surprise, North Carolina, which seems to be KU’s biggest competitor here, Arizona, UCLA and Virginia.
Robinson-Earl recently talked about all five programs with Evans, breaking down what he liked about each. Here’s a quick look at what he had to say about KU.
“Obviously, it is one of the best schools in the country, right down the road,” he began. “This (USA Basketball) experience has been good, with just seeing what (KU) coach (Bill) Self has been like in action instead of just seeing him being nice just to be nice, but rather out here coaching us to get better.”
Despite his father’s ties to KU — former McDonald’s All-American Lester Earl played at Kansas from 1997-2000 and went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant, among others, in the 1996 — and the school’s proximity to his high school and hometown, Robinson-Earl said he had been exploring all of his options throughout the past couple of years of his recruitment and continues to do so today.
“There is no pressure to go there,” he told Evans of KU. “When coaches ask about if KU is where I am going to go, I just tell them that I open to anybody and if you’re willing to recruit me, I am open to you.”
As for North Carolina, which many believe will be KU’s biggest threat to landing Robinson-Earl, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward made it clear in his interview with Evans that receiving interest from a coach like Roy Williams was both flattering and intriguing.
As is fairly standard, Robinson-Earl told Evans that he likely would start taking official visits this Fall and could see himself making a decision in the winter or early in 2019.
As for Evans’ read on Robinson-Earl’s recruitment, his take goes down as good news for the Jayhawks.
“Kansas has been and will continue to be the program to beat,” Evans wrote on Friday, “though Virginia, North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona could have a puncher’s chance as well.”
By now you all probably know that KU freshman Quentin Grimes made the U18 Men’s National Team and will represent USA Basketball next week at the FIBA Americas in Canada.
In doing so, Grimes will get a chance to play for his future college coach, KU coach Bill Self, who is coaching that U18 team and helped select the 12 players who will represented the United States in its quest for a fifth consecutive gold medal at the event.
It’s worth pointing out here that, while Grimes probably had the best shot of anyone to make the team going into the 33-man tryout, Self was not the only person with a say in who made and didn’t make the team. USA Basketball has a selection committee that helps make the cuts so Grimes, as expected, made it on his own merits as much as his status as a future Jayhawk.
Grimes’ role with Team USA should be fun to watch as it could resemble exactly what he’ll be asked to do during his time at Kansas.
With dynamic point guards Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey on the roster, Grimes will not have to handle the ball as much as he did in high school and can play off the ball, looking to slash and attack and shoot from distance throughout the games.
A similar role could be awaiting Grimes at Kansas, where Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson are entrenched as true point guards who figure to run the show while keeping Grimes off the ball.
That’s all speculation — with both teams — at this point, but it seems like a likely path and should give Grimes an opportunity to absolutely maximize his head start with Self while wearing a USA jersey.
As for the rest of the Team USA roster, here’s a quick look at the other 11 players and where they stand with regard to their recruitment.
Self told me before he went to Colorado Springs — the team’s in Canada prepping for the tournament now — that the opportunity to be around these young guys, most of whom are among the top talents in their high school classes, has been dubbed in the past as a recruiting advantage for the assistant coaches on the team but not necessarily the head coach. The reason? The head coach tells them when to sub in and sub out and has to be the guy that gets on them.
That said, there’s no doubt that Self’s extended time around these guys will give him a great opportunity to give them a glimpse into what playing for him at Kansas might be like.
• Cole Anthony, Briarwood, N.Y., 6-2, 180, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 4 overall per Rivals) – The son of former NBA and UNLV point guard and current college basketball analyst Greg Anthony, this electric point guard who blends incredible skill and speed with a high basketball IQ has been pretty tight-lipped about his recruitment thus far and seems wide open at the moment. One thing that’s certain about his recruitment is this: Whoever lands him will be getting a guy that many believe is the top point guard in the class and an instant high-impact player.
• Armando Bacot, Richmond, Va., 6-10, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 17 overall per Rivals) – Dubbed recently by Corey Evans, of Rivals.com, as the likeliest North Carolina commitment of all the top big men in the 2019 class, Bacot is also being pursued hard by Duke, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Georgia, with many believing the Tar Heels are the current leader.
• Matthew Hurt, Rochester, Minn., 6-9, 200, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 5 overall per Rivals) – Most recruiting analysts believe that Kansas is the team to beat for Hurt, whom the Jayhawks have been recruiting hard for a few years. He has no shortage of options, however, from in-state Minnesota, where his brother plays, to North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke and more. Getting some bonus time with Self can only help the Jayhawks’ chances of landing one of their top targets in the 2019 class but there still is work to be done to reel him in.
• Trayce Jackson-Davis, Greenwood, Ind., 6-9, 210, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 22 overall per Rivals) – Jackson-Davis said last week that his recruitment was still “wide open” while adding that he would like to trim his list to a final five or seven sometime in August. Of those schools pursuing him, Indiana, Michigan State, UCLA, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State, Georgia and Memphis have made the hardest push.
• Josiah James, Charleston, S.C., 6-6, 190, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 15 overall per Rivals) – Among the dozens of programs going after James, Clemson, South Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State currently sit in the best positions, according to a recent James interview from the USA Basketball tryout in Colorado Springs.
• Tyrese Maxey, Dallas, 6-4, 185, 5-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 14 overall per Rivals) – Maxey committed to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on May 9.
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bishop Miege, 6-9, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 16 overall per Rivals) – Bishop Miege standout who lives just down the road from Lawrence, Robinson-Earl has attracted interest from all of the major programs but appears to be headed toward a final two of Kansas and North Carolina. Nothing is even close to official on that front yet, but KU has been in a good position for a long time and UNC is the one other program that keeps coming up as a place JRE could see himself playing. This one could very well come down to whether or not he wants to stay close to home or get away for his year or two of college basketball. Arizona, UCLA and Virginia remain alive and Robinson-Earl recently said he was still open to any newcomers.
• Mark Watts Jr., Detroit, 6-3, 180, 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 67 overall per Rivals) – Nicknamed “Rocket” for his fast and furious style of play, Watts is one of the fastest-rising prospects on the board in the Class of 2019 and UConn, Ole Miss, Marquette, Michigan State, Michigan and Mississippi State appear to be the programs making the strongest push for Watts’ services. Michigan, Michigan State and Marquette seem to have put in the most time recruiting Watts, but he recently told Rivals that he also wants to get out west to visit USC and UNLV.
Like Grimes, there are three other players on the U18 roster who will be freshmen during the 2018-19 college basketball season.
• Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago, 6-4, 185, PG, Illinois
• Kamaka Hepa, Portland, Ore., 6-8, 210, PF, Texas
• Coby White, Goldsboro, N.C., 6-3, 170, SG, North Carolina
A photograph taken by USA Basketball photographer Bart Young and released on Wednesday, one day after the organization announced the identity of the 12 players who made the 2018 U18 Men’s National Team, got me thinking a little bit about KU’s presence within the history of USA Basketball.
As you all surely know, there were no Jayhawks on the original Dream Team, which featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and a dozen other NBA all-time greats back in 1992, but before that and in the years since, the Kansas basketball program has put its stamp on Team USA in a bunch of different ways.
The most recent example of this, of course, surfaced this week, when current KU freshman Quentin Grimes, made the 12-man U18 team that is coached by current KU head coach Bill Self, former KU star and assistant coach Danny Manning and features trainer Bill Cowgill and video man Jeremy Case in support roles.
Those five were in the photo that Young shared and all five will be making the trip north to Canada on Thursday to prepare for play in the FIBA Americas tournament next week.
So, too, will Class of 2019 KU targets Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
KU assistant coach Norm Roberts was in Colorado earlier this week and he said it was clear that Self was soaking up the experience.
“He’s doing great," Roberts said. "I was out there a couple of days ago and I think he’s really enjoying it. It’s quite a bit of work now. They’re going two-a-days and meetings at night and that stuff. And I think USA Basketball really wants this team to be good and do well and I think he’s enjoying it. I think he’s having fun.”
As for Grimes being with Team USA instead of the rest of his Kansas teammates in Lawrence for summer workouts, Roberts said the scenario was a win-win for the KU freshman.
“We’d love to have him here, but that environment will be great for him, a great experience," Roberts said. "I know coach is enjoying working with him and everything.”
While these names are the newest with KU ties to be linked to USA Basketball, the Kansas connection, like so many things in the game of basketball, dates back to 1936, when legendary KU coach Phog Allen played an instrumental role in getting basketball into the Olympic Games.
From there, as his coaching legacy continued to grow, Allen later helped coach a group of seven Jayhawks to a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics.
That group, which included Charlie Hoag, Bill Hougland, John Keller, Dean Kelley, Robert Kenney, Bill Lienhard and Clyde Lovellette, later was joined by the following Olympic medalists who called KU home at one time or another: Allen Kelley, Arthur Lonborg and Dean Nesmith (gold, 1960); Jo Jo White (gold, 1968); Danny Manning (bronze, 1988); along with Roy Williams and Larry Brown, who served as coaches on Team USA’s bronze medal bunch in 2004.
Hougland also won gold in 1956 and former Jayhawk Darnell Valentine competed with a USA Basketball team in the Gold Medal Series, a stretch of games against NBA All-Star teams in various cities in the United States.
As evident by Grimes, Self and company participating with the U18 team this summer, USA Basketball’s exploits exist well beyond the Summer Olympics and several former Jayhawks have participated in those events as well.
Here’s a look:
• World Championships — B.H. Born and Allen Kelley (gold, 1954); Mark Randall (bronze, 1990) and Kirk Hinrich (bronze, 2006).
• Pan American Games — Melvin Kelley and Robert Kenney (gold, 1955); Jo Jo White (gold, 1967); Norm Cook (gold, 1975); Danny Manning (bronze, 1987); Keith Langford (bronze, 2015).
• U18 National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 1998; Travis Releford was a silver medalist in 2008 while Grimes is going for gold next week.
• U19 Junior World Championships — Kerry Boagni won a gold medal in 1983; Larry Brown (head coach) and Kevin Pritchard teamed to lead the U.S. team to silver in 1987; Nick Collison won silver in 1999; and Tyshawn Taylor was on a gold medal team in 2009.
• U22 National Team — Steve Woodberry and Roy Williams (head coach) led Team USA to silver in 1993. (Williams also was the head coach of the U.S. Olympics Development Team in 1992).
• U.S. Men’s Senior National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2003.
• USA Men’s World Championship Team — Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz were on the 2002 team that took 6th a the FIBA World Cup.
• USA World Championships for Young Men Team & Qualifying Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2001 and Collison and Drew Gooden won silver while qualifying a year earlier.
• USA Men’s Select Team — Nick Collison, in 2000, and Marcus Morris, in 2010, participated with this team.
• U.S. Olympic Festival Competition — Greg Dreiling (1981-82); Kerry Boagni (1983); Danny Manning (1985); Kevin Pritchard and Mark Randall (1986); Lincoln Minor (1987); Richard Scott (1991); Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard and Jerod Haase (1993); Raef LaFrentz (1994); Billy Thomas (1995). Boagni, who later transferred to Cal-State Fullerton, and Vaughn were named to their respective all-festival teams.
• Nike Hoop Summit — Ryan Robertson (1995); Eric Chenowith (1997); Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich (1999); Brandon Rush and Julian Wright (2005); Xavier Henry (2009); Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre (2014); Josh Jackson (2016); and Quentin Grimes and David McCormack (2018).
That list does not even count KU representing the United States in the World University Games a few years back or the handful of future Jayhawks who played in the USA Basketball program before getting to KU.
In addition, current Jayhawk Udoka Azubuike (Nigeria), along with former KU standouts Sasha Kaun (Russia), Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and Andrew Wiggins (Canada) also have international experience playing for their respective countries throughout the years.
We got our first extended look at the 2018-19 Kansas basketball team on Tuesday afternoon during the first of two camp scrimmages expected to take place during the next couple of weeks.
Although the scrimmage, won by the seven-man red team over the six-man blue squad, was hardly complete without possible starting guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes in attendance, it did offer a great look at a few of the newcomers and several returning Jayhawks as well.
By far the thing that stood out most to me was just how competitive everybody was. I realize that being competitive is what these guys do. You don’t get to a program like Kansas without registering off the charts in that department. But it’s one thing to play that way throughout your high school and AAU life, and it's something completely different to do it during a meaningless summer scrimmage in early June.
Still, as Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson so perfectly pointed out after scoring 20 points in the blue team’s loss, “This is just how we play.”
“There was a play the other day in practice, Sam (Cunliffe) went up for a dunk and Mitch (Lightfoot) went up with him and he fell hard. That’s just how coach has us playing, with that competitiveness.”
That was on full display throughout Tuesday’s scrimmage, with bodies flying and players trying to assert themselves on both ends of the floor.
When KU coach Bill Self gets the report about how the scrimmage went — Self is in Colorado Springs, Colo., working with USA Basketball and would not have been able to watch Tuesday’s game anyway because of NCAA rules — he, no doubt, will be encouraged by what he hears.
After all, shortly before leaving for Colorado Springs, Self in a conversation with the Journal-World outlined one of the things he was most eager to discover about the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks, and it had a lot to do with that competitive fire.
“I'm really anxious to see the commitment level of Charlie (Moore) and K.J. and Dedric (Lawson), after sitting out a year to see how much they'll be turned up compared to this past year,” Self said. “And I thought they all three had really good years last year.”
Tuesday’s scrimmage may have been just one day in a long stretch of important ones that lie ahead. But that trio, along with the rest of the KU roster, showed a willingness to compete and get after it that KU’s coaching staff would surely love to have seen.
Here’s a quick look back at a few other things that stood out to me during Tuesday’s action:
• Charlie Moore can play. We knew that already, of course, given his solid freshman season at Cal and his Chicago pedigree. But he looks like he’s ready to step into the role vacated by Devonte’ Graham (and before that Frank Mason III), and he should get a chance to do just that. Whether he wins the starting point guard job, shares it with Dotson or plays in a rotation role off the bench, Moore will help this team a ton. He’s lightning quick, good with the ball and fearless. He also shot it pretty well from distance on Tuesday, something the Jayhawks are going to need him to do well this season to help make their offense complete. Moore’s size is the only concern about his game, but it does not appear to be something that bothers him even a little bit. I was really impressed by the way he played and carried himself as a leader during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
• Tom Keegan broke it down even deeper in his column from the scrimmage, but it’s worth noting here, as well: Freshman center David McCormack is a beast, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to keep off the floor. Does that mean he’s going to play 30 minutes a game? Doubtful. But with all of those big men at his disposal, Self may very well have the luxury of asking each of those guys to play as hard as they can for as long as they’re on the floor while rotating them all in for 15-20 minutes a game in order to keep them fresh. If that’s how it plays out, McCormack will make an immediate impact. He’s got tremendous size, great power and good hands and feet. Beyond that, he doesn’t have a timid bone in his body.
• Speaking of players who aren’t shy, sophomore Silvio De Sousa on Tuesday looked a lot more aggressive than almost at any point during his recent half season with the Jayhawks. His transition from IMG to KU was well documented last winter, and the reasons for his slow growth all made plenty of sense then. It’s just not easy flipping that switch and trying to join a big-time college program on the fly. But, as was the expectation at the end of last season, that little taste De Sousa got is really going to benefit him for his sophomore season, and it looks like it already has. He has so much more to his game than he was able to show last season. And so much of that peeked through during Tuesday’s scrimmage. He can shoot it, he’s got post moves, he’s strong and physical and he plays best when he’s in attack mode. Questions about De Sousa’s eligibility will linger for a while, perhaps even throughout the first few months of the 2018-19 season. But all indications right now are that the program is moving forward with the expectation that he will be on the roster and fully available for the 2018-19 season. If that’s the case, he, too, will have a huge role for the 2018-19 Jayhawks. Self’s ability to bring De Sousa and McCormack in off the bench is the kind of luxury that other teams and coaches would kill to have.
• Let’s finish this off with a couple of quick hitters. Marcus Garrett’s shot looked better. It didn’t go in a lot, and he still hesitated to pull the trigger at times, but it did look better. His hands appear to be in better position and the ball had better flight. Remember, he’s only been working on the shot overhaul for about a month. Give it time. He’ll get there.
• Sam Cunliffe looked by far as comfortable as I have seen him at Kansas. Maybe it was the environment, or maybe it was because he feels like he belongs now and is comfortable with his place on the team. What that is and how many minutes it will bring him remains to be seen. But he shot the ball with confidence and played loose throughout the scrimmage. If he’s maturing, that will only help his chances of getting on the floor.
• Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji is a player you all are going to absolutely love in time. Having drawn comparisons to former Jayhawk Travis Releford, it was pretty funny to see the two out there running around on the same court. Releford was the only KU alum who played in Tuesday’s scrimmage, and he said afterward that he was impressed by the young Kansas City native’s game.
“I like that guy. He’s good,” Releford said. “I think he’s going to have a bright future.”
• Udoka Azubuike did not play in Tuesday’s scrimmage because of a summer cold. But he was in the gym, and it was crystal clear that he has the opportunity to be the unquestioned face of the program this season. He received by far the biggest ovation from the few hundred campers when assistant coach Kurtis Townsend introduced the team before the scrimmage. And the kids spent a few minutes chanting “We want Dok, we want Dok,” while the scrimmage was being played. Azubuike, if he wants to let it shine through, definitely has the personality to handle this role and the game to back it up, and it should be interesting to see how quickly he embraces it in the coming months.
A bit of strange news from the Jayhawks trying to make it in the NBA Draft circuit that surfaced late last week received a little clarity on Monday.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello, who is in Colorado Springs covering the USA Basketball tryout for the U18 Men’s National Team that will be coached by KU coach Bill Self, got a chance to talk with Self over the weekend about former Kansas guard Lagerald Vick’s decision to pull his name out of the NBA Draft pool.
Vick, as his mother, LaLa, told the Journal-World on Friday night, is considering a whole host of options now that the NBA Draft is officially out of the running, and exploring a potential return to KU is, at least in some small way, one of them.
When Vick declared he was leaving Kansas after his junior season in early April, both he and Self said they believed the time was right for Vick to move forward with his professional career. And that is still the overwhelming favorite for what will happen with Vick this summer, be it in the G League or some other professional endeavor.
“Lagerald and I talked at the end of the season, and it was a situation where he was going to do his best to prepare himself and put himself in position to stay in the draft," Self said Saturday. "And if he didn't stay in the draft, there was certainly the option for him to transfer. I haven't made a final decision on the situation, but the talk we had at the end of the season would be that he would go somewhere else if he decided to stay in school. That was something we talked about; we kind of agreed on that.”
Although Self sort of left the door cracked to at least entertain the idea of a Vick return to Kansas, all signs point to that being a long shot at best.
Yes, KU does have one scholarship still to give and, yes, Vick would immediately step in as the most accomplished and experienced player in a KU uniform, but Vick’s return to Kansas does not appear to be something Self is planning on in any way, shape or form.
“He should look into whatever he wants to do, or look into other schools or whatnot," Self told Borzello. “But there will be a point in time when I get back (from the USA Basketball stint in mid-June) that I'm sure we'll sit and down and we'll visit and talk about the situation. But I have not planned on having him back since the season was over.”
As for Self’s first few days out in Colorado Springs, which included trimming the roster down from 33 to 18, with six cuts still to go before the team heads to Canada for the FIBA Americas tournament, those close to him have said Self is having a blast during his head coaching debut with USA Basketball.
“He’s doing great,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said on Monday. “I was out there a couple of days ago and I think he’s really enjoying it.”
By “enjoying it,” Roberts made sure to point out he was not talking about some kind of basketball vacation, where his boss just gets to kick back and watch some of the best talent in the country get after it a couple of times a day and then head back to the hotel for some R & R afterwards.
“It’s quite a bit of work now,” Roberts said. “They’re going two-a-days and meetings at night and that stuff. And I think USA Basketball really wants this team to be good and do well and I think he’s enjoying it. I think he’s having fun.”
Here’s the thing about Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot, now a junior in his third year in the program, that makes it impossible not to like him.
He gets it.
And it’s not like, ‘Oh, he finally gets it now that he’s a junior and has grown up and figured it out.’ No. The guy has always got it.
From Day 1 of his freshman season throughout his sophomore year that featured everything from 1 or 2-minute outings to hearing his name called in the starting lineup in the NCAA Tournament, Lightfoot has known his role, played it well and not had any pretenses about deserving or expecting more.
That clarity and understanding was on full display again on Sunday afternoon, when Lightfoot spoke to a handful of media members about returning to campus for the start of summer workouts and the unofficial beginning of his third season as a Jayhawk.
By the time you reach your junior year, it’s only natural for your expectations to go up about your role, minutes and importance. And there’s no doubt that Lightfoot, as the most experienced Kansas basketball player in terms of games played (64), believes that he has what it takes to help Kansas win.
But he also understands that the most important part of the whole equation is that Kansas does win. Who makes that happen and how much they play is merely secondary.
That’s why Lightfoot said again on Sunday that the most important thing to him was doing whatever KU coach Bill Self wanted him to do to help the team have success.
Would he like to play 20 minutes a game? You bet. And after averaging 3.9 minutes per outing as a freshman and 14 minutes per game as a sophomore, a jump into the 20s during his junior season would not be that unreasonable of an expectation for most players.
But Lightfoot is not most players and Kansas is not most places.
The Jayhawks are absolutely loaded in the front court this season and because of that, it’s more likely that Lightfoot’s minutes will go down this year, compared to last, rather than go up.
He’s smart enough to understand that and tough enough to accept it.
While he was not asked about red-shirting this season during his Sunday meeting with the media, it does not sound like Lightfoot has discussed the idea with any of the KU coaches at this point.
If that’s the case, there are likely a couple of reasons why.
No. 1 — The 2018-19 season has not actually started yet and it would make perfect sense for Self to allow Lightfoot, a junior who has paid his dues and been a team player through and through, to at least have the opportunity to compete and show where he’s at throughout the summer and early fall. After all, while some of these KU newcomers sure seem to have higher ceilings, Lightfoot has the experience edge and might just surprise people.
No. 2 – If the Jayhawks really are going to play two bigs on the floor for the majority of the 2018-19 season, as their personnel would suggest they will, Lightfoot easily could be a factor in the rotation. Even if projected starters Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson wind up being backed up by freshman David McCormack and sophomore Silvio De Sousa, Lightfoot still could have an important role as a player capable of backing up both spots, which would be incredibly valuable in the case of extreme foul trouble or injury.
So while the talk out there about Lightfoot possibly red-shirting certainly makes sense — and, for what it’s worth, I do think that if he were asked to do it, he’d do so in a second — it also makes sense for Self and company to let the young man compete and show them what he’s got.
After all, Lightfoot has a real shot of being this team’s best leader and it’s much easier to lead when you’re actually playing.
Time and common sense will sort all of that out. But if there’s one concrete thing we know about the situation today it’s this: Mitch Lightfoot will do whatever is asked of him and whatever gives Kansas the best chance to win. That’s just how he’s wired.
Officially, Quentin Grimes’ first game under Kansas coach Bill Self is supposed to take place Nov. 6, when the Jayhawks face Michigan State in the annual Champions’ Classic in Indianapolis.
But by the time that game actually rolls around, Grimes may have as many as four or five games as a Self player already under his belt.
That’s thanks to the USA Basketball experience that both Grimes and Self are currently going through in Colorado Springs, in preparation for the FIBA Americas basketball tournament in Canada later this month.
Grimes, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018 who was ranked No. 8 overall by Rivals.com and signed with KU last November, was one of 33 players who tried out for the U18 Men’s National Team that will be coached by Self in the upcoming FIBA Americas event.
Having made the first cut, Grimes now gets another couple more days to see if he can get a couple more weeks with his college coach.
Grimes was one of 18 U18 hopefuls who survived the first cut, which trimmed the talent pool from 33 to 18. Self and company will have to cut six more players before they leave for Canada on Thursday and it’s not likely that Grimes will be one of them.
“Quentin is a very talented guy,” Self said in a recent interview with the Journal-World. “And the fact that we know we will be depending on him in big ways this year (at KU), I think it is going to be beneficial to him, if he's fortunate enough to make the team, to kind of be in a system that he understands and then he can kind of help with the other three freshmen (back in Lawrence).”
Put a different way, when asked during a conference call if the USA Basketball experience would be good for Grimes, Self said simply: “I don’t know how it can’t be good.”
“I love Quentin and I certainly hope he comes and plays extremely well, but I’m not approaching this as, he has an advantage over other guys because he’s coming to KU,” Self continued. “And he knows that. He’s going into a situation where he’s going to have to play, and I think those are all positives. ... To have the chance to play in a setting that is not an all-star-game-type setting, where you’re playing for something that’s very important to a lot of people, I think that definitely will help him moving forward and certainly get him prepared to compete when he gets (to KU).”
As for the rest of the group Self saw last week — a group that included, and still includes, more than a few KU recruits in the 2019 and 2020 classes — Self said being around all of those athletes was a memorable experience.
“We had 33 guys come here and all 33 competed hard,” Self said per @USABasketball. “We were all so impressed with how much it meant to all of them. But at the end of the day these 18 were the 18 who stood out the most and are certainly very deserving of the opportunity to continue. Now from this, they’ll each get a couple full days in order to show that they could be one of the 12 to make this team the best team it possibly can be moving forward into competition.
“It’s going to be difficult to get down to 12. Sometimes putting a USA team together is a little different than just looking at who can score the most points and who can get the most rebounds. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. But the 18 that were selected, we thinks give us a great pool of players to give us the best chance to win.”
Here’s a quick look at the 18 players still vying for a roster spot on this year’s U18 team in Colorado Springs:
• Cole Anthony, Briarwood, N.Y., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 4 overall per Rivals)
• Armando Bacot, Richmond, Va., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 17 overall per Rivals)
• Keion Brooks, Ft. Wayne, Ind., 4-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 35 overall per Rivals)
• DJ Carton, Bettendorf, Iowa, 4-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 30 overall per Rivals)
• Hunter Dickinson, Hyattsville, Md., 5-star C Class of 2020 (No. 18 overall)
• Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago, Illinois freshman PG
• Quentin Grimes, The Woodlands, Texas, KU freshman SG
• Kamaka Hepa, Portland, Ore., Texas freshman PF
• Matthew Hurt, Rochester, Minn., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 5 overall per Rivals)
• Trayce Jackson-Davis, Greenwood, Ind., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 22 overall per Rivals)
• Josiah James, Charleston, S.C., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 15 overall per Rivals)
• Jalen Lecque, Teaneck, N.J., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 9 overall per Rivals)
• Tyrese Maxey, Dallas, 5-star SG Class of 2019 & Kentucky commit
• Justin Moore, Hyattsville, Md., 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 57 overall per Rivals)
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bishop Miege, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 16 overall per Rivals)
• Anton Watson, Spokane, Wash., 4-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 82 overall)
• Mark Watts Jr., Detroit, 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 67 overall per Rivals)
• Coby White, Goldsboro, N.C., North Carolina freshman SG
Whether it was during the Western Conference Finals, earlier in the playoffs or at some point during Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, you might have caught a glimpse of a familiar face near the Golden State Warriors bench that you just couldn’t place.
Try this and see if it helps — add a headband, a splash of crimson and blue and a No. 11 jersey.
Yep. It’s Aaron Miles, the Big 12 Conference’s assist king and one of the best pure point guards to come through the Kansas basketball program.
So what’s he doing so close to the action for Golden State?
Miles, you might remember, is the head coach of the Warriors’ G League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors and, as a part of his new job, which wrapped up in March after a 23-27 season, Miles has been able to spend the past couple of months with the big league franchise working as an official member of Steve Kerr’s Golden State staff.
“Nothing set in stone right now in terms of anything particular,” Miles told the Journal-World during a recent interivew. “I just kind of float around and help where needed and assist where I can.”
Assist. Appropriate choice of words for a guy who dished 954 of them during his four-year KU career and still sits as the all-time leader in Big 12 Conference history, 161 assists ahead of Doug Gottlieb who ranks second on the list.
While Miles might not be game-planning ways to stop LeBron James and certainly is not making the decisions about who checks in when, he is around to both offer input and soak up as much of the experience as he can, which, he believes, will only help him as his coaching career moves forward.
One of the biggest roles Miles has played has been to work with the Warriors’ G League alums to help make sure those young guys are as locked in as possible and prepared to execute whatever it is that Kerr and company ask of them.
Four players who spent time in Santa Cruz are on the Warriors’ Finals roster, with all but one of them having played significant minutes.
Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney have both played key roles in each playoff series this season and guard Quinn Cook also has played spot minutes in the playoffs after starting 18 games for Golden State during the regular season while earning all-G League first team honors as well. Only Damian Jones has yet to see time since May 6.
“I knew I was going to be a part of the organization,” Miles said of his expanded role. “But I didn’t know exactly how much I’d be involved, and this has been more than I even thought so it’s been great. It’s been a great opportunity, I’m learning a ton and I can’t wait to bring it back to Santa Cruz.”
Early last month, Miles, who spent a year on Bill Self's staff at Kansas in 2015-16 and followed that up by working as an assistant coach to Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast for the 2016-17 season, received a bit of a feather in his cap when he learned that Santa Cruz had been named the NBA G League Franchise of the Year.
Kansas coach Bill Self has been up to his ears in basketball evaluations during the past couple of days, but not in search of players to add to the KU roster in the Class of 2019 and beyond.
Instead, Self has been busy evaluating the 33 players invited to try out for the U18 USA Basketball team this week in Colorado Springs, where Self is making his debut as a head coach with the USA Basketball organization.
Before taking the team to Canada to compete in the FIBA Americas basketball tournament in mid-June, Self’s first job will be to trim the roster down from 33 to a group of finalists and, eventually, to the 12-man team that will compete for a gold medal.
Finalists are expected to be announced Saturday and the final cut will come a day or two later.
Earlier this week, Self discussed the USA Basketball experience with the Journal-World and made it clear that his No. 1 focus was to keep the gold medal streak alive. But there’s no denying that the chance to be around some of the best players in the 2019 and 2020 high school recruiting classes will not hurt Self when it comes to putting together his roster at Kansas in the coming years.
With that in mind, here’s a quick glance at some of the more intriguing names among the 33-man group vying to make the 2018 U18 squad.
• Quentin Grimes, Class of 2018 — By far the most interesting name from a Kansas perspective, Grimes, who signed with KU last November and will be a freshman and likely starter on the 2018-19 KU team, will get an early opportunity to be coached by Self for a couple of weeks if he makes the team. Given the fact that he’s one of just eight players from the 2018 class at the tryout, Grimes, a McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant, has a shot to be one of the top players on the team and his chances of making the final 12 are good.
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Class of 2019 — One of KU’s top targets in the 2019 class, Robinson-Earl’s presence in Colorado Springs can only help Self’s chances of landing him when the son of former KU player Lester Earl makes his college decision. Beyond that, though, Robinson-Earl is one of the top talents in the 2019 class and has a good chance of making the final roster on his own merits.
• Zion Williamson, Class of 2018 — Williamson may have picked Duke over Kansas during the recruiting process a few months back, but that does not mean Self will not get a chance to coach him. Williamson suffered a minor injury during his time on the all-star circuit but he appears to be fully recovered from that and should be a factor in competing for a spot in the final 12.
• Matthew Hurt, Class of 2019 — Versatile forward who the Jayhawks have liked and been recruiting for a long time should get a chance to shine in front of Self and could get an opportunity to see another side of the KU coach than he already has seen. Think of it as an extended recruiting visit.
• Bryan Antoine, Class of 2019 — A 5-star shooting guard in the Top 20, Antoine, who plays for the Mario Chalmers-backed Team Rio, is a 6-4, 170-pound teammate of Scottie Lewis' at Ranney Prep School in Tinton Falls, N.J., who is drawing the same kind of interest as his close friend.
• Scottie Lewis, Class of 2019 — One of just a few shooting guards in the top of Rivals' rankings, Lewis is a 6-4, 170-pound 5-star scorer from Tinton Falls, N.J., who is ranked No. 11 overall and holds 18 offers from all of the country's powerhouse programs. Also plays for Team Rio.
• Jalen Lecque, Class of 2019 — Ranked No. 9 in the class, Lecque is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound 5-star point guard who has more than two dozen of the country's top basketball schools pursuing him. KU assistant Norm Roberts is listed as the lead recruiter for Lecque, who hails from Arden, N.C.
• Cole Anthony, Class of 2019 — Ranked as the No. 4 player in the 2019 class, this 6-foot-2, 180-pound 5-star point guard from New York City is drawing major interest from Georgetown, Oregon, Pitt, St. John's, Kansas, Wake Forest and UCLA.
For those of you who might be interested in just what goes on at these events, consider it a little like one of KU's practices before last year's summer trip to Italy.
There's work to be done and a lot to install and get on the same page about, but it's not as if it's mid-February and a Big 12 title is on the line. Things will get to that point, of course, as the U18 squad gears up to go for a fifth consecutive gold medal later this month. But right now, with Self and his coaching staff trying to wade through all of that talent, it's more about getting guys as many reps as possible to see how they might fit in to what Self and company want to do.
With that end goal in everyone's mind, the team, after kicking off practices last night, will practice twice a day for the next six days, with Self trimming the roster to a group of finalists and later a final 12 in the coming week and that group leaving for the FIBA Americas tournament in Canada on June 7.
Before we put the whole Udoka Azubuike testing the NBA waters issue to bed, let’s be clear on one thing: Azubuike did not miss out on a chance to leave school early because of his lack of a jump shot.
The sooner people understand that popular take on why the NBA was not ready to draft him, the sooner people will be able to put out of their minds the visions — some might call them fears — of Azubuike pulling mid-range jumpers throughout the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
That’s not going to happen. No one wants it to and no one needs it to.
Despite the recent changes in the NBA — from a game dominated by the biggest of men to one that favors smaller, quicker, more skilled scorers — a path still exists that takes Azubuike to the NBA after his time at Kansas is finished.
And all he has to do to get on it is become more dominant at the things which his massive size puts him in a terrific position to do. Believe it or not, that has a lot more to do with his defense than any improvements Azubuike needs to make on the offensive end.
Wednesday night, not long after Azubuike decided to return to Kansas for his junior season, I caught up with an assistant coach from an NBA team in the Eastern Conference and he had some interesting thoughts on where Azubuike stands heading into his junior season at Kansas.
In addition to stating some of the more obvious areas of Azubuike’s game that need work — i.e. improved free throw shooting — the assistant focused almost exclusively on Azubuike’s defensive potential.
“As you watch the playoffs, and the upcoming Finals, you don’t see a lot of guys with his body type playing,” the coach said. “The league has gone to so much switching defensively that there could be concerns as to whether he can defend smaller, quicker players at all. I do like him and I think he definitely has a spot at this level. But how big of a role he’ll have I think will hinge on his ability to become more versatile defensively.”
For comparison’s sake, and to illustrate his point, the coach brought up Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, a 6-10, 240-pound athlete who, during the Rockets’ series with Golden State routinely found himself switching onto Steph Curry and Kevin Durant as much as he guarded big men Draymond Green and Jordan Bell.
“The league is trending toward more versatile bigs that can pass, dribble and shoot,” the coach said, noting that none of those three are particular strengths of Azubuike’s. “But there is still a place for a guy that can set screens, roll hard to the rim and finish above the rim or in traffic. Capela is an example, but he has the ability to switch onto guards defensively and can make them miss. Can Udoka do that? Or can he be a rim protector like DeAndre Jordan? Those are things people are going to want to see.”
And those are the things Azubuike should focus on during the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
Forget developing a jump shot. I’m not sure a scenario exists, in college or the NBA, where a coach ever would want Azubuike taking jumpers. And forget trying to become something that better fits into the small-ball world the NBA is quickly becoming.
Instead, Azubuike should continue to focus on improving what he does best, dominating whenever and wherever possible — we’re talking a goal of a 10 rebounds per game and pushing his blocked shots total from 60 to 100 — and punishing the rim and whoever tries to get in his way every time he gets the ball down low.
“His ability to catch lobs and finish above the rim are definite positives,” the coach said.
Doing both of those, while focusing his improvement efforts on defense and the glass, will help both Azubuike and the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks.
The news came out slowly and from a variety of places a little before 12:30 p.m., central time, on Wednesday afternoon.
So, officially, it will go down as KU big man Udoka Azubuike making a decision to return to Kansas with 11 hours to spare instead of at the 11th hour like his former teammate Svi Mykhailiuk a year ago.
But regardless of the timing or the circumstances surrounding each, in the end the decisions were the same — Azubuike, like Svi, wanted one more year at Kansas.
About 20 minutes after KU coach Bill Self confirmed to the Journal-World that Azubuike would return for the 2018-19 season, KU officials sent out a news release that included a few thoughts from Azubuike.
In it, he explained what went down during the past month and sounded like a young man eager and excited to make another go of it with the Jayhawks.
"I received good feedback from many sources around the NBA over the last month but in the end, after discussing with my family and coaches, we decided it would be in my best interest to return to Kansas for my junior year," Azubuike said in the release. "I want to thank the people in the NBA who gave me this opportunity. I believe it was an important step as I chase my dream to play basketball at the highest level. I'm looking forward to next season and can't wait to get to work with my teammates. Rock Chalk!"
As of Tuesday night, Self still was not fully aware of what Azubuike's decision would be. But the Kansas coach who is set to enter his 16th season with the program — and now has to be looking forward to it a lot more than he would be had Azubuike decided differently — said he never had any issue with the 7-foot center taking his time with the decision.
"He knows he's got to do it and why wouldn't he take the maximum amount of time to try to figure out what all the information is," Self said Tuesday night. "I think he's done that and I don't see anything negative about it."
Asked then what he was hearing from the NBA evaluators who spent time in the past few weeks looking into Azubuike's draft status, Self painted the picture of a player who had more than a few admirers.
"You know what I have heard? I've heard that people are really impressed," Self said. "He played well in Chicago. All our guys did. And I think the opinions people have of him are very, very high. There are a lot of people who think very highly of him and he also knew what his goals were going into the process and what he needed to find out to stay in the draft."
Clearly, those goals and that information were not provided and now Azubuike can flip the switch fully to focusing on his third season with the Jayhawks, which officially gets under way next week when the KU players report to campus for summer school and the start of summer workouts.
One of the biggest things Azubuike likely will hope to get out of his junior season involves his health.
After playing in just 11 games as a true freshman before a wrist injury sidelined him the rest of the way, Azubuike suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his left knee in early March, which caused him to miss KU's three games in the Big 12 tournament and play at less than 100 percent in KU's five NCAA Tournament games.
Seeing what he can do with a full season, along with the feedback he received from the NBA folks during the past month, would surely increase Azubuike's chances of entering the draft in 2019.
Azubuike started 34 games for KU in 2017-18, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game. His 77 percent field goal shooting led the nation and set a Big 12 single-season record. He also ranked eighth in the conference with six double-doubles and his 1.7 blocks per game were sixth in the Big 12. He was an All-Big 12 third team selection following the season and also earned a spot on the Academic All-Big 12 second team.
Azubuike has played in 47 games for Kansas, with 40 starts and an 11.1 points-per-game average. He has scored 20 or more points in seven of those 47 games, with each coming during his sophomore season.
The KU center from Nigeria takes career highs of 26 points (vs. Nebraska, Dec. 16, 2017) and 13 rebounds (at Texas, Dec. 29, 2017) into the rest of his KU career.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has had “preliminary” conversations about the university's open athletic director job in the eight days since KU chancellor Doug Girod announced that Sheahon Zenger had been fired.
But Self classified the entire process of finding Zenger's replacement as still in its infant stages and added that he did not anticipate being a huge part of the search.
“I don't know that I'll be able to be involved very much just because I'm going to be gone,” said Self, who will head to Colorado Springs on Wednesday to begin a two-week stint with USA Basketball.
Despite being away from campus until mid-June, Self said he would remain available and added that he hoped to receive updates on how the search was going during that time.
“I think there'll be probably a lot of movement on it as far as some preliminary work and that kind of stuff during the time I'm not around,” said Self, who revealed that he was not a part of the search committee. “But I'll do anything that the chancellor asks of me and I do hope that I'm somewhat in the know on what's going on.”
To this point, Self said his discussions about the job have been very basic and have covered more of the big picture issues rather than diving in on specific candidates.
“It's still early,” he said. “And the conversations that I've had (have been) more of what kind of person, why type of strengths, those types of things, will be best for our school. As far as names and things like that, no. I don't believe there's been near as much discussion on that as what some people would think. But I'm sure it's going to get hot and heavy soon.”
Asked what traits he had discussed that might make KU's next athletic director the right fit for the department, Self chose to keep the details private.
“I really don't want to go into it from that standpoint,” he said. “Obviously, we hope we hire the best person we possibly can for the circumstances at KU and some of the things that need to be done here. But I'd rather let our chancellor or the committee speak to that point rather than a guy that's not as directly involved with it.”
A time normally reserved for summer camps and welcoming his incoming freshmen to campus for the first time will be decidedly busier for Kansas basketball coach Bill Self.
Instead of sticking around Lawrence for the early part of June, Self on Wednesday will head to Colorado Springs to open training camp for the USA Basketball Under-18 team men's national team that will compete in the FIBA Americas basketball tournament June 11-17 in St. Catherines, Canada.
The stint will mark Self's first as a head coach with a USA Basketball team. He told the Journal-World earlier this week that he had been approached a couple of times in the past about leading a team but the timing did not work out. This time, however, it did and Self, who served as a member of the USA Basketball Men's Collegiate selection committee from 2005-08, is looking forward to taking full advantage of the opportunity.
“It'll be a challenge,” Self told the Journal-World. “But also a lot of fun and I'm really going to enjoy working with these guys.”
Although the early portion of the two-week stretch will be all about picking his team, Self, who will be assisted by former KU standout and assistant coach Danny Manning, now the head coach at Wake Forest, and Dayton head coach Anthony Grant, Self said he has thought plenty about how he will coach this particular team in its quest to win a gold medal.
“We're going to coach them the way we would coach our own team,” he said. “There won't be 75 sets, but we'll probably have 10 or 12 sets and we'll have a couple modes we play out of and we're going to have to figure out how to guard man, ball screens, play a soft press, implement a zone. You've got your zone offenses, you've got your out-of-bounds side, you've got your under. You've got a lot of different things and there really isn't much time to put in everything in just eight days.”
Self said personnel would dictate a lot of the specifics of how this particular Team USA plays, but added that he's hoping to have the freedom to experiment a little.
“It'll be, in theory, very similar (to what we do at KU),” Self said. “But there'll be a lot of changes. I don't want to do just what we've done. I want to also use this as a time that I can use some different ideas also.”
One player vying to make the U18 squad and spend a couple of weeks with Self is KU signee Quentin Grimes, a five-star freshman from The Woodlands, Texas, who is one of four members of a 2018 recruiting class ranked No. 6 in the nation per Rivals.com.
Although Grimes, like everyone at the training camp, first will have to make the team to get the opportunity to spend a little bonus time with his new coach, Self said the head start, should Grimes make the team, would be huge for both Grimes and the 2018-19 Jayhawks.
Because his birthday falls after Jan. 1, 2000, Grimes is eligible to try out for the team. KU's two other Top 40 signees in the Class of 2018, Devon Dotson and David McCormack, are both too old to try out.
While past opportunities like the one Self has in front of him have led many analysts and even a few coaches to call the chance to lead a U18 USA Basketball team a recruiting advantage, Self made it clear that his mind is on one thing and one thing only — the same thing it's been on throughout his 15 seasons at Kansas.
“I'm not looking at this as a recruiting opportunity,” Self said. “I'm looking at this as, 'Let's go win.' Besides, people have told me that if there's any recruiting help it's for the assistants and not the head coach because the head coach has to be the bad guy.
“I've had a chance to call almost all of the guys that are trying out and I can tell how excited they are to compete for a spot and be a part of this,” Self added. “It's a great group of people that run USA Basketball and it'll be done first class.”
As for the rest of KU's 2018-19 roster, the Jayhawks are expected to report back to Lawrence this weekend, with freshmen McCormack and Ochai Agbaji headed in Saturday and Dotson arriving early next week because of a family commitment.
Grimes will report to Lawrence either after the try out, if he does not make the team, or, if he does, after the FIBA Americas in Canada.
The 10th annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic is fast approaching and event organizer and voice of the Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, has found a way to make this year bigger and better than the nine that came before it.
As always, the money raised from the game featuring some of the biggest names from Kansas basketball's past will go to help with medical costs for five families battling pediatric cancer.
Last year, in what was a record-setting summer, Hanni and crew were able to raise more than $57,000 from the annual event. And this year, Hanni believes the number will be even bigger.
“As has been the case every year in our 10 years of doing the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, we've always tried to make it bigger and better than the year before. And this year, being our 10th event, we decided to make it one big weekend.”
The game will still be on Thursday night — June 14 at Free State High, $10 tickets can be purchased at 23rd Street Brewery in Lawrence, at Jersey Mike's on Wanamaker and Kansas Avenue in Topeka and at the KC Soda Company's Legends and City Market locations in Kansas City — but after that Hanni's organization has teamed up with Baby Jay's Legacy of Hope and The Landen Lucas Foundation to create two more days of KU basketball fun, which will include a VIP event and dinner on Friday, June 15 and a celebrity golf tournament on Saturday, June 16. Tables ($1,000 for a table of eight) or individual tickets ($100 per person) are still available for the VIP dinner and there is still room for a handful of teams to sign up for the golf tournament, which will feature a Jayhawk celebrity in every group, carts, greens fees, lunch and beverages for $800 per team.
“People know what the game is, they can imagine what the golf tournament will be like, getting to spend five hours on the course with some of your favorite Jayhawks, but the Friday night VIP dinner is a little unique,” Hanni said. “We're going to have a celebrity at every table and then we're going to do a five-person panel on stage telling some untold stories and talking KU hoops. These are some big time names and even bigger personalities.”
The Friday night event will also feature live and silent auctions and attendees who will be playing in the Saturday golf tournament will have a chance to bid on their KU hoops celebrity golfer for the next day.
While the basketball game remains the signature event and helping young people battling cancer the purpose, Hanni believes this year's event, thanks to the partnering with two other great charities, will make Year 10 both the most enjoyable and successful Rock Chalk Roundball Classic to date.
While Hanni is still lining up guests and trying to confirm travel arrangements for a handful of attendees, he did say that first-time participants Walt Wesley and Ron Kellogg would be making their Rock Chalk Roundball Classic debuts next month.
“We've got upwards of 50-plus former players coming back to coach or play, 35-plus confirmed for the VIP dinner at The Jayhawk Club and 20-plus planning to play golf,” Hanni said. “The continued support of so many great Jayhawks is truly overwhelming and it's so great that we get to have a weekend like this all in the name of a great cause.”
For more information on any of the events, check out the event's web site for complete details about the upcoming weekend extravaganza.
While the Kansas men's basketball program still has one scholarship to give in the 2018 recruiting class, Bill Self and the Jayhawks are making some solid progress on the 2019 class, as well.
Never was that more clear than earlier this week, when Class of 2019 point guard Tre Mann, from The Villages, Fla., included Kansas in his trimmed-down list of finalists that also included Florida and Tennessee.
Mann, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound four-star prospect, is ranked No. 37 overall by Rivals.com in the 2019 class.
Busy rehabbing an injured knee and trying to help his AAU team qualify for this summer's Peach Jam event, Mann recently talked to a couple of recruiting analysts about where he stands in his recruitment and had some flattering things to say about Kansas and Self.
“They have great guards that have come through there,” Mann told Russ Wood of Rivals site GatorTerritory.com. “They had guards with size, like tall guards, they have guards that can score from outside then they have another guard that’s also good at getting to the basket. So they were saying that I could be the guard with (incoming Class of 2018 point guard) Devon Dotson to score outside while he’s scoring inside. And really how much they know about developing players for the next level. We haven’t discussed any visits yet, we’ve just been talking and building relationships right now.”
In an interview with Pat Lawless of PrepCircuit.com, Mann added: “They told me that they will help me reach my goal, which is to get to the next level. I’ve seen them do it before with other players that are in the league now so I believe them. I know they are a really good program so why not have them in your top choices.”
Mann, who took two of his five official visits to Florida (May 1) and Tennessee (April 24) still has three visits remaining. Although nothing is on the schedule for a visit to Kansas, it seems like Mann would like to make the trek to Lawrence to take a closer look at the KU program.
Between his own AAU schedule and Self's duties coaching the USA Basketball U18 team during the first couple of weeks of June — Self leaves for training camp in Colorado Springs on Wednesday — the earliest Mann could set an official visit to Kansas would be late June.
But the playmaking point guard who is averaging 16 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists per game so far this AAU season said he was interested in a KU visit.
“It will probably be later on,” he told Lawless. “I don’t have any set dates, but I didn’t have any set dates for Tennessee or Florida. I kind of felt like I wanted to go and I just set it up.”
As for a decision date?
“I don’t have any time in mind right now,” said Mann. “I’m just going with the flow, but I think it could be after AAU season.”
Earlier this month, KU also made the Top 6 for five-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley, a 6-5, 170-pound North Hollywood, Calif., prospect ranked No. 26 in the 2019 class by Rivals.com. Included with Kansas in Stanley's Top 6 — announced on Twitter — were Arizona, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and USC.
It's not yet clear how many scholarships the Jayhawks will have to give in the 2019 class, but the KU coaching staff seems to be operating with the idea that it will have at least three or four scholarships available for 2019 prospects.
Those would come from at least a couple of early departures from a crop that includes Udoka Azubuike, if he elects to return for his junior year — the deadline for Azubuike to decide hits Wednesday — Dedric Lawson, Silvio De Sousa and incoming freshman Quentin Grimes. Self also could still have in his pocket that remaining scholarship in the 2018 class.
Even as late as Wednesday night, in a hotel room in Winston Salem, N.C., one half of the KU women's tennis doubles team playing in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament thought there was an outside shot that pain from her injured ribs would subside just long enough to actually let her play a normal match on Thursday afternoon.
But it never happened.
Not long into the warm-up session for their match against Central Florida on Thursday, KU junior Anastasia Rychagova, who teamed with Nina Khmelnitckaia to knock off the No. 61-ranked UCF doubles team of Ksenia Kuznetsova and Maria Martinez in a three-set thriller (6-4, 5-7, 10-4 tiebreaker), gave in to the idea of serving the entire match underhanded.
“I don't even think when I was four years old I was serving underhand,” Rychagova told the Journal-World in a phone interview after the improbable victory. “When I first heard my coaches talking about me serving underhand, I just remember thinking, 'There's no way you're being serious, right?' But that was the only way.”
And so Rychagova, who hails from Moscow, Russia, powered through and did the best she could to make her serves count.
Anyone familiar with tennis at the major college or professional level knows that most serves are ripped faster than cars can travel on the highway, so the mere thought of Rychagova serving underhanded, and at speeds not even half as fast as her overhand serve, makes it nearly impossible to imagine her team winning.
“I was trying to make it more creative, trying to put more spin on it and make it as low as I could so they couldn't really attack as much,” Rychagova said. “We really had nothing to lose so why not try it.”
Making matters worse, but also contributing to that devil-may-care attitude, was the location of Thursday's thrilling match.
“I was talking to my coach and I was like, 'I just really hope they put us on the lower court so people cannot come watch me,'” Rychagova said. “But they put us on center court so there were a lot of people watching because they were right there.”
Rychagova's wild win on Thursday marked her first time on the court in an actual match for Kansas in more than two months. Multiple rib injuries, including one this spring just when her and Khmelnitckaia were hitting their stride and had climbed to as high as No. 12 in the nation, cost her some serious time, but they never broke her spirit.
When the Jayhawks qualified for nationals, Rychagova, who typically is a singles player and was ranked No. 1 in the country after the Fall season, No. 3 when she was injured in March and still as high as No. 8 this week, immediately put it in her mind that she would play, one way or the other.
“I really wanted to play this tournament and I knew it would be a close call,” she said. “I haven't played in eight weeks and three days before the tournament started I realized I can't really serve fully because my ribs were still really bothering me. But that really didn't matter. I knew if serving underhand was the only way for me to play, I would take it any day.”
After a string of bad luck kept Rychagova from enjoying the junior season she envisioned, a little good luck actually worked in her favor on Thursday. See, although she and Khmelnitckaia did not actually win any of the service games on Rychagova's serve — except for match point in the 10-point tiebreaker in the third set — they did notice the UCF team getting more and more frustrated by the unusual style as the match wore on.
“I feel like it was putting a little pressure on them because they knew they had to take this game because of my serves,” Rychagova said. “When they ended up losing a point they were kind of freaking out because they knew they shouldn't be losing.”
Rychagova credited Khmelnitckaia for her willingness to help carry the load and adjust to whatever new strategies they had to try to get through the match. And KU coach Todd Chapman had nothing but praise for both players after the victory.
“We are so proud of Nas (Rychagova) and Nina," Chapman said. "They haven't played a match together in nine weeks and to come through in such a pressure situation is quite unbelievable."
The perfect ending to the unexpected day came in the third set, when it was Rychagova's serve that kicked off the rally that led to match point and sent the Jayhawks into the Sweet 16, where they'll take on Vanderbilt at noon Friday with a trip to the quarterfinals, which would earn both players All-American honors.
Vanderbilt's doubles team of Fernanda Contreras and Astra Sharma upset No. 2 seed North Carolina on Thursday.
As for Rychagova's mindset heading into Thursday night, she was right back to where she was Wednesday, looking for a miracle so she can play the kind of tennis she's used to.
“I'm still kind of hoping it's going to kind of completely heal, but we'll see,” she said. “We'll kind of keep it a secret and go from there. But we're excited and we have nothing to lose. Maybe I'll ace some tomorrow.”
As the Kansas men's basketball program closes in on one week remaining until players report back to campus for the start of summer school and summer workouts — and their leader prepares to leave campus for his stint with USA Basketball — KU coach Bill Self said his team was enjoying a quiet time of sorts in the wild and always-on modern world of college athletics.
A guest on Andy Katz's March Madness 365 podcast this week, Self said the past couple of months have been about as calm of a stretch as any he can remember.
“There have been less balls in the air this spring than there have been a lot of years,” Self said.
One of the reasons for that is the fact that Self and company nearly completed their recruiting in the 2018 class during the early period. Sure, the Jayhawks stayed in pursuit of Romeo Langford through the spring and do still have one scholarship still to give, but that was much easier to manage than it could have been, especially given the fact that the Jayhawks had five scholarships to dish out in the 2018 class.
“We signed one youngster late, but he had committed to us in January, so that wasn't really a surprise,” Self explained. “We were pretty much settled in early with our recruiting class, we signed a few early and then the one that committed to us in January. There weren't a lot of decisions to be made because four of my (2017-18 starters), two of them walked in and said they wanted to go to the combine and sign with an agent and two of them were seniors and so that left just one kid, Udoka Azubuike, to determine what he wanted to do.”
Azubuike, of course, spent last week at the NBA combine in Chicago and has until next Wednesday to decide whether to remain in the draft or pull his name out and return to Kansas for his junior season.
If he elects to do the latter, the 7-foot center will bring quite a bit to the Kansas lineup that will be looking to replace those four starters Self talked about.
“First of all, Udoka's so much better than even where he was four months ago, three months ago,” Self said. “We had to have a good spring with three or four of our guys and I think that happened.”
Asked to share names of those players, Self did not hesitate to mention a handful of newcomers and one returning player poised to make a big jump.
“Dedric Lawson's a really good player. He's taken his body and (improved it) and everything,” Self said of the Memphis transfer who sat out the 2017-18 season and is a likely starter at the 4 spot during the 2018-19 season. “And his brother, K.J. Lawson, has been really solid for us. Then the two kids who have been really impressive are a freshman we had, Marcus Garrett, most kids make the biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore year, and then we had a freshman sit out this past year that started at Cal last year, Charlie Moore.”
Although three of those four will be new to game action at KU next season, Self said the Jayhawks, though young in many ways, figure to have the luxury of still feeling like a veteran club because of the presence of that trio of transfers and Garrett.
“You look at it,” Self began. “We could lose all five starters, we will lose at least four, and what do they have coming back? The reality is we've got quite a bit coming back because we had those three sitting out last year.
“The big thing with us is we've been really fortunate that when we lose a bunch of guys we've had some guys waiting in the wings who have been role players that turned out to be primary guys for us.”
Two of those players, provided Azubuike returns, which most who have tracked his NBA testing expect to happen, can give Kansas the same type of elite player they have had during the past couple of years, albeit at a different position.
Asked if he thought he had a player who could follow in the footsteps of Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham, who earned back-to-back Big 12 player of the year and All-American honors, Self said simply, “I actually think we do.”
“I actually think that, depending on what Udoka does, Dedric Lawson is a guy that could compete for conference player of the year honors in addition to Udoka,” he said. “And the freshmen we have coming in, Devon Dotson and David McCormack were McDonald's All-Americans and all of that, but we have one freshman coming in, Quentin Grimes, that may be a guy that could be mentioned as one of the premiere freshmen in our league, as well. So I think we've got a nice blend of guys but we're just going to be a lot younger and more inexperienced.”
The tendency, when it comes to hiring searches of any kind, is to identify a handful of candidates who have ties to the place that has the job opening and go from there.
While that makes perfect sense, and while ties to any particular institution, in this case a university like KU, certainly can't hurt a candidate's chances, the connection is not something that makes any given candidate a lock to be a finalist or even receive serious interest from those doing the hiring.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a handful of athletic administrator types with ties to KU who might come to mind for some folks as Drue Jennings, Chancellor Doug Girod and the search firm KU has hired to help find their next AD go out into the world to begin their search.
Less than 24 hours after the news of Sheahon Zenger's firing had been made public, I received a handful of phone calls from people trying to rally support for their guy. In each case, their guy had those Kansas ties we talked about above and some were more interesting options than others.
• Mike Harrity, Senior Associate AD at Notre Dame
Harrity, a Kansas City native who received a journalism degree from KU and also has a Master's degree in education, worked in both the KU and Minnesota athletic departments before moving to Notre Dame in 2011.
Since joining the Fighting Irish athletic department, Harrity has handled a number of roles and duties, most of them designed with the student-athlete experience in mind.
According to his Notre Dame bio, Harrity works “closely with the Athletics Advancement team on top priorities, including the Advisory Council for the Student-Athlete, to secure funding for key department strategic initiatives. The Advisory Council for the Student-Athlete is comprised of alumni, family and friends of Notre Dame who invest their time, talent and treasure helping fuel the vision for Athletics while building an endowment for all coaching positions, grants-in-aid and student-athlete services. Harrity serves as Athletics Chair on three of the four Advisory Council committees: Sports Science/Sports Performance, Leadership and Personal Growth, and Career Development.
A few people I spoke with said they thought Harrity would consider the KU AD position a dream job and one even called him the perfect fit for the position.
Age, Harrity was in school around the same I was and is likely in the 39-41 range, and limited experience could make it difficult for Harrity to crack the list of finalists, but he seems like a name worthy of a spot on the radar.
A few years back, I talked with Harrity about one of his crowning achievements outside of a college athletic department, his 2012 book titled “Coaching Wisdom,” in which he solicited the help of 13 college coaches who had won a combined 103 championships — including Lou Holtz and John Wooden — to examine the creation of cultures of sustained excellence.
• Greg Gurley, Assistant Athletic Director, Major Gifts at KU
Gurley's is another name that I received a couple of calls about in the past 24 hours and I even saw Fox Sports anaylst Doug Gottlieb out on Twitter trying to promote Gurley as a decent candidate for the job.
There are, without question, qualities that Gurley possesses that would serve him well in an athletic director role, but those qualities do not outweigh Gurley's lack of administrative experience.
Yes, he has worked closely with the Williams Fund for years in a fund-raiser role — in addition to his gig as a color analyst for KU men's basketball games on the radio with Brian Hanni — but Gurley's resume pales in comparison to the candidates who likely will be on the search committee's list, many people who have made it their life's work to pursue the path of one day winding up in an AD role.
I caught up with Gurley about the idea on Tuesday afternoon and he seemed to be in agreement that his limited experience would not make him the best candidate for the job.
“It's very flattering to hear that people think I might be good at it,” Gurley told the Journal-World. “But I'm very happy in my current position. My goal is to be a lifer in this athletic department and to eventually be in a John Hadl type of role where I've been around for a long time and done a little bit of everything. I'd like to be a guy who ends up putting my stamp on a bunch of things in college athletics, but administration is not really my thing.”
Beyond that, Gurley, who has seen some of the inner workings of the athletic director job, added that the role of an AD in today's world is “a stressful job and I respect the heck out of the guys who do it.”
• Terry Mohajir, Athletic Director at Arkansas State
Mohajir's name was on our initial list and it's possible that he might wind up on the committee's list, as well.
After spending 13 months at KU — following a stint on Glen Mason's football staff in the 1990s — Mohajir has been at ASU for the past six years in addition to his time as a Senior Associate AD at Florida Atlantic from 2004-11, when he oversaw development, ticket sales, corporate sales and the media relations department.
Mohajir's ties to KU may be somewhat limited, but his work away from Lawrence has put him in a favorable light.
While at Kansas, his duties included many of those that he handled elsewhere and expanded to include assisting in the operations for the Williams Educational Fund and directing the efforts of the Marketing and Game-Day Experience staffs.
Since landing at Arkansas State, his alma mater, Mohajir has impressed with his ability to upgrade facilities and also worked with elite football coaches, first for one year with Gus Malzahn, who now is at Auburn, and later hiring Bryan Harsin, who now leads the Boise State program.
• Banks Floodman, Sunflower Development Group
The former face of the Williams Fund who was a standout linebacker at KU during his days as a college athlete, Floodman had long been one of the more polished, popular and liked people in the KU athletic department.
However, in 2016, almost to the day, Floodman announced that he as leaving KU to get into the commercial construction business and, from talking to those who know him well, he has just started to flourish in his new role.
That does not mean that Floodman would not be interested in talking about the KU AD job. But one person told me that, while Floodman “has AD material written all over him” he might be a better candidate the next time the job comes open, when he has both more experience in the business world and more time to make connections that might serve him well.
While heading up the Williams Fund for three years, Floodman played a crucial role in raising the funds to build the relatively new basketball dorm, McCarthy Hall, the DeBruce Center, which houses James Naismith's original rules of basketball, and a $2 million renovation of the Anderson Family Football Complex next to Memorial Stadium.
• Richard Konzem, head men's and women's golf coach Rockhurst University
A familiar name and face around KU throughout the past few decades, Konzem has been involved in intercollegiate athletics for more than 35 years, including four years as the athletic director at Rockhurst University, from 2007-11, and a stint as the interim AD at KU during his days with the Kansas athletic department.
Konzem spent 23 years at KU, filling a bunch of difference roles, including Senior Associate AD who supervised men's and women's basketball, football, baseball and golf.
He also had a stint as the AD at Benedictine College in Atchison and also was the Chief Operating Officer for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
By far the biggest athletic department veteran on this list, Konzem's name would be familiar to boosters and his love of KU is well known. His time away from major college athletics might be too much of a hurdle to overcome for him to merit any serious consideration for the job. He could, however, be a valuable resource for the department after a hire is made or perhaps even during the search.
His role in the hiring of Bill Self back in 2003 was significant and he has connections and history with administrators throughout other athletic departments in the Big 12.
• Sean Lester, interim AD at Kansas
Another name on the original list, Lester is beginning his second stint as interim AD at KU and his role under both Lew Perkins and Zenger seemed to increase just about every year since he arrived in 2003.
Lester, who has played a key role in overseeing men's basketball, football and baseball, as well as special projects throughout his time at Kansas was promoted to Senior Associate AD in July of 2011 and promoted again to Deputy AD in January 2013.
The fact that he now has been twice trusted to handle the transition from one athletic director to the next says something.
• Pat Warren, President Kansas Speedway
A blast from my personal past came up this afternoon when Pat Warren's name was tossed my way. Warren, who served as an Associate AD at KU under Bob Frederick when I was in school in his late 20s and early 30s was the KU official I interviewed for a story I did way back when about KU's construction of the giant press box and suites that have been a fixture at Memorial Stadium for the past couple of decades now.
Anyway, here's why he's a name worth watching. Warren is sharp. Like big time sharp. He's loaded with university and business-world experience and also has a KU law degree on top of his political science degree from KU. In addition to that, he holds a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in marketing and finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Promoted to Speedway president in March of 2010, Warren seeks to provide strategic leadership across all aspects of the facility’s operations including financial and capital planning, ticket sales, event execution, sponsorship sales, marketing and public relations. He also represents Kansas Speedway within the industry and community, continually elevating the facility’s profile both regionally and nationally.
Warren was previously Kansas Speedway’s Vice President and was responsible for developing and executing marketing plans, developing all corporate partnerships, overseeing the development and execution of media relations plans for Kansas Speedway and its events, and community relations.
Prior to his time at Kansas Speedway, Warren, an Overland Park native, worked for Embarq, a spin-off company of Sprint-Nextel, where he worked in consumer marketing after leaving KU.
• Jay Hinrichs, Development Director, Johnson County Parks and Recreation District
Don't let the current title scare you off. Hinrichs is one of the few people on this list who actually has sat in an AD's chair. He did so for eight years at Northern Colorado after leaving KU, where he served as an associate AD from 2002-04.
Prior to that, Hirnichs was the Vice President of Business Development for two years with the Kansas City Royals and he worked as the Royals' Assistant GM and Director of Stadium Operations for 15 years prior to that.
Hinrichs has been in parks and recreation for the past couple of years and holds degrees from KU in psychology and personnel administration and an MBA in finance.
It's comparison season here at KUsports.com and we have no shortage of former Kansas basketball players to pay attention to this week at the NBA combine in Chicago.
As you surely know by now, KU sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk went off on Thursday during his first scrimmage of the combine, knocking in 6 of 9 from 3-point range and leading his team with a game-high 20 points.
KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said Svi “opened some eyes” with his Thursday performance. And while there are still mock drafts out there that don't have him being drafted, there also are a few that do.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Svi and the draft — June 21 in Brooklyn, N.Y. — and, at this point, it's anybody's guess whether his pro basketball future lies in the NBA or in Europe.
But couldn’t that be in both places, though?
Let’s say that Svi gets drafted and is “stashed” — as the NBA Draft lingo goes — in Europe for a couple of years, with an NBA team retaining his rights while he develops overseas. His native Ukrainian status make him an easy option to send overseas for a while because teams know he could handle the cultural adjustment.
Besides, the move is good for both player and team, with the former making a little money — or perhaps even a lot — along the way.
Put aside what you know about the player I’m about to mention and just look at the potential similarities. Don’t look at skill set, style of play or, obviously, the career enjoyed by the comparison. Instead, look at how he got there.
When you do, I think you’ll see that it’s entirely possible that Svi Mykhailiuk could — again, could — go on to follow the career path of San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili.
Way back in 1999, at the age of 22, Ginobili was drafted with the No. 57 pick (of 60) by San Antonio and then promptly spent the first three years of his professional career playing overseas in Italy.
Obviously, Ginobili did enough there to catch the eye of the folks in San Antonio and the rest is history.
Over his 16-year NBA career, Ginobili won four NBA titles, was named to the All-Star team twice, earned all-NBA honors twice and also was the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2008.
Even if his career goes as well as he could possibly hope, it’s hard to imagine Svi enjoying a career like that. Those are some incredible accomplishments and Ginobili is almost certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday. Svi’s not there yet. Not even close.
But he is on the brink of getting drafted. And if he does it’s looking more and more likely that it will be in the mid-to-late second round. Beyond that, there’s a better-than-good chance that whichever team does draft him also will want to at least explore the idea of the soon-to-be 21-year-old playing a couple of seasons overseas to better develop his game before joining the big league club.
A lot of this, of course, depends on which team ultimately drafts him and what that franchise needs at the moment.
There’s probably a better comparison for Svi in the NBA. And probably one that doesn’t match him up against a future Hall of Famer.
But when you consider the path that Ginobili took to get to that status, it’s not hard to envision Svi’s pro career at least starting in a similar way.
Where he takes it from there is up to him. But he would do well to watch plenty of film on Ginobili and soak up as many of the skills and philosophies that made the Argentinian such a sensational player for so many seasons, not to mention a thorn in the side of so many NBA teams and superstars.
Evidently, he’s already well on his way.