Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Frank Mason set to fire first pitch at KU Day at The K

A glimpse at the Jayhawk-themed Royals hats that will be given out to the first 4,000 fans entering through Gate A at Sunday's game.

A glimpse at the Jayhawk-themed Royals hats that will be given out to the first 4,000 fans entering through Gate A at Sunday's game. by Matt Tait

KU senior Frank Mason Tweeted on Tuesday that he will be throwing out the first pitch at the Kansas City Royals game on Sunday.

Sunday is KU Day at The K and several Jayhawks from all across the athletic department, including players, coaches and administrators, will be in attendance when the defending World Series champion Royals take on the Minnesota Twins.

First pitch is set for 1:15 p.m. And, according to Mason, that won’t be the first chance fans get to see a strike.

“Throwing the first pitch at the Royals game Sunday. #GuaranteedStrike,” Mason Tweeted before adding, “Oh, and this is gonna be my first time attending a MLB game in my whole entire life.”

The latest KU Day at The K continues the long-standing relationship between the Royals and all three nearby universities. The Royals also will give away Jayhawk-themed Royals hats to the first 4,000 fans who purchased a special discounted ticket online and enter through Gate A at Sunday's game.

In 2014, KU football standout Ben Heeney, now with the Oakland Raiders, threw out one of the most memorable first pitches at KU Day, beaning KU mascot Big Jay with his pitch to the plate.

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It’s never too early for some preseason college hoops predictions

So here we sit, a little more than three weeks away from the start of football season and that means it’s time to start looking at preseason basketball predictions.... Wait, what?

As much as that might not be a reality anywhere else in the country, it certainly is the case here in Lawrence, where college basketball is a year-round passion and rankings, whether they’re posted in mid-April, the heart of the summer or the start of October, are taken seriously the minute they’re posted.

That’s why CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein caught the eye of Kansas fans on Monday when he dropped his early look at the Big 12 for the upcoming season, which actually will be here before we know it.

Technically dubbed Power Rankings, Rothstein’s picks did not cause any heart attacks — in other words, he properly picked Kansas to win the Big 12 again — but did create a little buzz at spots 2-10.

I’m actually good with a big chunk of his picks. I like Kansas to win its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, I like West Virginia to be the Jayhawks’ biggest challenger and I think K-State and TCU will finish closer to the bottom than the top.

It’s the middle of the pack that I’d change up, at least as of Aug. 16, 2016.

So my late-summer Big 12 predictions would look something like this:

  1. Kansas, 2. West Virginia, 3. Iowa State, 4. Baylor, 5. Oklahoma, 6. Texas, 7. Texas Tech, 8. Oklahoma State, 9. Kansas State, 10. TCU.

Here's a look at Rothstein's order:

Next up, Rothstein Tweeted out some individual awards, including player of the year, which he gave to KU freshman Josh Jackson.

It’s a bold pick given Jackson’s age, but might wind up being one we look back on and say, “Of course.”

Joining Jackson on Rothstein’s first team were:

Given the departure of so many of last year’s stars, either to graduation or early entry in the NBA Draft (I’m still bumming over Isaiah Taylor’s decision to leave Texas), first-team all-Big 12 honors are a bit wide open going into the 2016-17 season.

I’m in agreement with Jackson, Morris and Evans but think I’d give the slight edge to Devonte’ Graham over Frank Mason, I think Graham will score more and shoot a higher percentage. Plus, Graham’s on-court demeanor tends to stand out a lot more than the stone-faced senior.

After that, I’d give the final spot to either Motley or OU’s Khadeem Lattin, who will have to have a much bigger impact for the Sooners on both ends of the floor than he did with Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins in the lineup.

Rothstein lists Oklahoma State as his sleeper team and it’s tough to argue with that given the presence of all-world point guard Jawun Evans and the return of senior guard Phil Forte along with the dawn of the Brad Underwood era.

If there were a team other than OSU that I’d consider for this honor, it’s Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns, which I’ve got sixth and Rothstein had seventh. They’re missing some key pieces, particularly at the point, but UT has some terrific athletes and should be much more comfortable playing Smart’s style, which can be a nightmare for opponents. Predicting Texas to crack the Top 3 would be a reach, but it’s definitely easy to make a case for a fourth- or fifth-place finish.

Rothstein’s next few categories featured a few Jayhawks in some less-heralded categories.

Both Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot landed on his list of 10 impact freshmen and big man Dwight Coleby landed on his list of five his under-the-radar transfers.

I was surprised to see Lightfoot included on the impact freshmen list — though I wouldn’t be surprised if that prediction came true. It’ll all come down to opportunity, if you ask me — and even though Coleby definitely has some potential to impact this team, I’m not sure this will be the year he does that.

His final category was 5 breakout Big 12 players and I’m a big fan of all of them, but was shocked to see KU sophomore Carlton Bragg left off the list.

Bragg also has yet to appear on DraftExpress.com’s 2017 Mock Draft and, when I inquired about his absence there, I was told that they’d probably add him if he got off to a hot start, otherwise he’ll be on the 2018 Mock Draft as soon as they post it.

While the idea of Bragg sticking around for his junior season might be music to KU fans’ ears, I’m not sure he’s getting the hype he deserves heading into his sophomore season — at least not nationally.

Just by being out there the amount of time he figures to be on the floor, Bragg stands to be an automatic threat for a double-double on any given night. He easily has the prowess to pour in double figures in scoring and if his added bulk is paired with another level of intensity, he should be able to hit the glass and do some damage on both ends of the floor.

While predicting a double-double average for Bragg is also a bit bold, the numbers say that if his 2015-16 averages of 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9 minutes a game are projected over his more likely playing time of around 30 minutes a game in 2016-17, Bragg easily could wind up in the 12-point, 8-rebound range.

After all, with names like Mason, Graham, Jackson and Lucas out there on the floor with him, there will be very little pressure on the talented sophomore who, at least according to those you ask around here, sure seems to be headed toward a big time season.

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Wiggins’ star continues to shine brighter with new shoe release

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Shortly after becoming one of the prized signings of Kansas coach Bill Self, former KU star Andrew Wiggins became one of the premiere spokesmen for Adidas basketball.

Earlier this summer, Wiggins took another step toward becoming a mega shoe mogul when he helped Adidas launch its newest basketball shoe, the aptly named Crazy Explosive.

“You haven’t seen adidas shoes like this before,” Wiggins said in a promo. “These shoes are dope.”

The shoes, which utilize Adidas’ latest Boost technology and are said to feature equal parts comfort, performance and style, come in seven different models and colors. The “solar red” version currently is available worldwide and additional color schemes, including the Andrew Wiggins Home PE, will be rolled out throughout the rest of the year starting in October.

“Adidas came to me with a shoe to make me more explosive on the court,” Wiggins said in a recent interview with footwearnews.com. “When I tried this shoe for the first time, I really felt the difference when attacking the basket. And we all care about style.”

Picked No. 1 overall by Cleveland in the 2014 NBA Draft, Wiggins debuted his first Adidas shoe — the Crazylight Boost 2.5 — shortly after joining the Minnesota Timberwolves via trade. The shoe came in three styles and color schemes and featured on the tongue the initials AW, with a maple leaf designed to pay homage to Wiggins’ native Canada inserted into the A. That feature is also included on Wiggins’ second shoe.

A quick look at the new Crazy Explosive shoe from Adidas.

A quick look at the new Crazy Explosive shoe from Adidas. by Matt Tait

His initial deal with Adidas was the largest signed by an NBA rookie in company history. Reports pegged the deal as a five-year commitment worth somewhere in the $12-13 million range. Wiggins’ agent Bill Duffy later went on record saying those numbers were inaccurate, leading many to believe they were low.

There’s nothing low about the Crazy Explosive, though, and, in June, several shoe buffs hammered the shoe on the Internet for looking more like a hiking boot or being something someone’s grandmother would knit.

The pairing of Wiggins and Adidas was a marriage that everybody knew was coming given KU’s association with the popular shoe brand and Wiggins’ status as both a bona fide college phenom and future NBA star.

With his pro career taking off — Wiggins averaged 20.7 points per game during his second NBA second, up four points a night from his rookie year — and Wiggins becoming one of the most popular and powerful young players in the league, Adidas certainly appears to be on the verge of cashing in on whatever investment it made in the former Jayhawk.

While he currently is known as an exciting and explosive scorer for an up-and-coming team, stunts like his recent attempt at a 720-degree slam dunk merely add to the buzz surrounding the young Canadian.

Like anything, though, Wiggins’ star will shine brighter if his team becomes more relevant. That, according to Wiggins, is on the way. During a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, the third-year pro declared that the Timberwolves, “can make the playoffs.”

Getting there would take quite a jump, especially in the Western Conference. But with a young core of Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine, among other young and promising talents, it’s easy to see the T’Wolves improving on their 29-53 record from a season ago.

“I think we're going to have a way better season than we had this year,” Wiggins told SI. “We've got some new pieces. I think last year we could've beat any team on any given day. This year we need to be more consistent with it.”

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KU’s Jackson, Graham among most coveted players in the country

There’s no doubting that college coaches across the country would enjoy the opportunity to coach more than a few members of the Kansas men’s basketball team.

Year after year, KU coach Bill Self beats out a varying number of college coaches for some of the top talent in the country. And year after year, Self takes that talent and makes it the class of the Big 12 and a national title contender.

Self doesn’t get them all, of course. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and many others have won recruiting battles for more than their share of players that Self and the Jayhawks tried to sign. But Self’s batting average with the players he targets as most important is among the best in college basketball.

As is common at most schools, I’m sure, Kansas fans believe their players are the best in the country and that any coach would be lucky to coach any one of them, from the top point producer to the key role player off the bench. With that in mind, and much, much more, CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander recently conducted a poll of more than 100 college coaches and asked them which player on another team they most would like to have on their team.

Two Jayhawks landed on the list, with freshman phenom Josh Jackson getting 5 percent of the vote and junior guard Devonte’ Graham getting 2 percent.

Those are good numbers but they pale in comparison to the feedback for Duke’s Grayson Allen (13 percent) and fellow Blue Devil Harry Giles (10 percent).

Without knowing the exact number or identity of the coaches CBS polled, it’s hard to know exactly what this means. But given the fact that he reached out to more than 100 of them, you have to think that at least half were of the Power 5 variety, so this isn’t just a case of mid-major coaches clamoring for the elite-level talent.

Speaking of elite-level talent, Duke actually landed a third player on list. Jayson Tatum tied with Jackson and received 5 percent of the vote.

The three Blue Devils marked the most for any team, with Kansas, Kentucky (Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo) and Villanova (Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart) all getting two players on the list. Those four teams also are ranked 1 through 4 in CBS’s preseason poll.

These types of polls and exercises obviously don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. But they are fun and interesting and you can’t help but wonder which player Self picked if he were asked.

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Bowlsby’s strong strategy helps Big 12 navigate latest expansion saga

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has faced recent criticism for being a commissioner that changes with the wind and not putting forth a strong enough presence to lead the conference through what only can be described as a crucial stretch.

While it’s true that Bowlsby has not presided over the Big 12 expansion talks like Castro running Cuba, the mere fact that the conference is in the position to get serious about expanding at all is a testament to Bowlsby’s leadership qualities.

We need look no farther than the recent past for proof of that, as previous men in the same post allowed the power brokers in the conference — most notably Texas — to steer the ship, creating an unbalanced power system that left some members seeking the exits and others holding on for dear life.

Allow that same scenario to emerge again and your expansion questions will be answered because no one will want to join that kind of conference.

As you probably have heard dozens of times already, Bowlsby and the Big 12 are finally to the point where they are seriously exploring the idea of adding schools to the Big 12. Whether that’s two, four or even zero newcomers remains to be seen and varies depending upon who you talk to, what you read and, really, what you want to hear. A source familiar with the conference’s stance on expansion told me Friday that two, four and zero are all still in play and that the number and plan often fluctuates. It's kind of hard to not change with the wind — in this case, the appetite of your current members — when it's blowing wildly and from many different directions.

Since Bowlsby and the Big 12 announced in mid-July that the conference would start kicking the tires on parties interested in joining the conference, it’s been a little like the Wild Wild West out there. University athletic directors and presidents are throwing themselves at the feet of the Big 12 brass, begging to be heard, and schools within the conference are flexing their muscles by endorsing the candidates that best fit their agendas.

As has been common in these sorts of situations, Kansas has remained publicly quiet, but both AD Sheahon Zenger and chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little continue to be involved with the talks behind closed doors.

If this expansion thing is going to work, it’s going to take a true consensus of the Big 12 schools to make it happen. And it’s worth pointing out that an argument could be made that television partners ESPN and FOX also could be added into that consensus, though I recently was told a little too much was made of their frustration with the pool of candidates from which the Big 12 may be choosing.

It’s hard to envision a school getting in simply because Texas or Oklahoma wants it added. We’ve been down that road before and it does not lead anywhere good. If things are going to go that way, the Big 12 would be better off (a) not expanding at all or (b) turning out the lights and closing the doors. None of the parties involved are interested in option B, however — at least not as a first and actively sought choice — so it makes sense to conclude that if the conference can’t reach a unanimous decision about which programs to add, it likely will not add any at all.

That’s not to say that people aren’t out there trying. The campaigning has been rich with this one and longtime administrators around the conference have told me that the whole thing is unlike anything they’ve ever seen in college athletics.

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy on Friday reported that 17 different schools — SEVENTEEN!!! — would get video conference interviews with Bowlsby in the near future, therein giving each one a golden opportunity to make its strongest case for inclusion.

Among the 17 schools scheduled for the pseudo-face-to-face meetings with Bowlsby are Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, South Florida, Central Florida, UConn, Memphis, Colorado State, Boise State, Tulane, Temple, East Carolina, SMU, New Mexico, Northern Illinois and San Diego State, according to McMurphy’s report.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you already know that more than half of the schools on that list do not have any real shot of getting in. And their desire to make their pitch speaks at least as much to the desperation of the schools on the outside of the Power 5 looking in as it does the strength and attractiveness of the Big 12.

It’s hard, at this point, to even hazard a guess as to what is going to happen. But let’s not forget that none of this would be happening at all if Bowlsby had not forced the conference to focus and get serious about moving forward one way or another. Left to its own devices or guided by a weaker leader, the Big 12 likely would have dilly-dallied around for months, maybe even years, before reaching the point where it got serious about expansion.

That might not make Bowlsby look like the best leader in the world in the eyes of many. But in the context of what the Big 12 needs during this tumultuous time, laying down and sticking to any kind of plan or agenda is evidence of leadership at the highest level.

Now, if only we knew where it was taking us...

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Further proof that Kansas, Missouri don’t mix

Tim Kaine, the democratic nominee for vice president and running mate of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has been in the news for a number of reasons since his name was announced on the ticket with Clinton.

But one of the most intriguing reasons, at least for readers of this site, is his position as a die-hard Kansas basketball fan and University of Missouri graduate.

Huh?

OK. I get it. There are people out there who cross allegiances from time to time and have no problem dealing with the wrath that follows. One of the most popular that I've heard is the native Kansan who's a KU hoops fan and a K-State football fan.

I'll admit it. I'm not a fan of that one either, but it seems to be a far cry better than the one that Kaine is trying to pass off.

Even if Kaine truly is some sort of strange Jayhawk/Tiger hybrid, he recently showed that he just doesn't quite get the hatred and bad blood that exists between the two when he responded to an article explaining that he's the perfect person to "finally melt the ice between the Jayhawks and Tigers." Those words came from Missouri governor Jay Nixon. And that sentiment, along with Kaine's response via Twitter, shows just how far out of touch the Missouri side is on this whole thing.

Here's a look at Kaine's Tweet.

Let me clear it up: Whether the Clinton/Kaine ticket wins the presidency or not, the Border War is not coming back any time soon.

The leaders in the Kansas athletic department — most notably head basketball coach Bill Self and athletic director Sheahon Zenger — have made it abundantly clear that it is their belief that Mizzou was the one that chose to end the rivalry by leaving for the SEC and Kansas does not owe the Tigers any sort of good will when it comes to the idea of bringing it back.

I'm sure Kaine does not truly believe that he can actually get this done. What's more, I hope he doesn't really care. For starters, reviving the Border War rivalry should be the least of his concerns as he tries to come up with a plan to defeat Donald Trump in November and deal with all of the problems currently plaguing the United States.

What's more, I would hope that he would feel that there is no real place in sports for politics. There are several examples from the past when the two have not mixed and this, at least to me, is just another example of that.

Yeah, it might sound good and win you some votes in the Show-Me State — God help those who base their vote for president on athletics — but it's not something a potential vice president of the United States should be spending any time thinking about, let alone making public those thoughts.

Add this to the list of crazy occurrences that have made this the wildest campaign/election season ever.

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Why it might actually be OK to get excited about KU football’s 2 Alabama transfers

I know you’re out there. I can hear you all the way over here. And I don’t blame you.

But I do think you should take a brief pause from the eye-rolling and exhaling that surely hit most of you after learning about the pair of Alabama football transfers that announced plans to come to Kansas this week.

It’s not your fault that your gut reaction is to be skeptical. Heck, after all of the seemingly-promising transfers that have passed through here and never quite panned out, I would think skepticism would be a gut reaction upon learning that more were on the way.

But there’s something different about Alabama’s Daylon Charlot and Charles Baldwin that you might want to consider before writing them off.

There’s a lot different, actually.

First of all, these are not the Dayne Crists, Mike Ragones, Anthony McDonalds, Jake Heapses and Justin McCays of the world. All of those aforementioned players, and a few others just like them, came to Kansas on the heels of some serious hype because of their previous recruiting buzz and the names of the universities from which they came. Notre Dame. Oklahoma. BYU.

Players good enough to land scholarships at those schools traditionally do not come to Kansas. In each of those instances there were extra circumstances at play that paved the way for them to land in Lawrence. And while each of them had good moments and gave everything they had, none of them really proved to be the caliber of player that KU fans were expecting to get. Because of that, KU fans then built up a wall that prompted them to first laugh and scoff at the news of any transfers coming this way in the years that followed.

As I mentioned above, I get it. I was duped too. And maybe if things were different in some ways or if they had come at a different time, those former transfers would have enjoyed terrific careers at KU and this narrative would be completely different. But that didn’t happen. So those guys and many others who followed in their footsteps immediately were labeled as busts, has-beens or never-would-bes because the guys before them didn’t quite pan out.

In almost every one of those cases, though, we already knew what type of player Kansas was getting. Sure, the idea that they had played at OU or suited up at Notre Dame sounded like a dream scenario for a struggling KU program. But each was deep into his career and had not really shown anything at the previous stop to make people here think things were going to be different. The excitement of the shiny name and the hope of better days blinded many of us to that fact.

That’s on us. Our expectations and preconceived notions created that. Not the players.

But, guess what? These guys who are coming from ’Bama are not proven — good or bad. And we don’t know that they couldn’t cut it in Tuscaloosa. All we know is that they want to try it somewhere else.

In the case of Charlot, that was after one season and, most likely, because he wants a better chance to get on the field or to play in a different style.

In the case of Baldwin, he was dismissed for violation of team rules, so we have to be careful there. And like current Jayhawk Anthony Olobia or former Jayhawk Marquel Combs before him, he was one of the highest rated junior college prospects in the country before heading to Alabama. While that part might sound familiar and surely leaves more than a little to be desired given the way things played out with Combs and Olobia, the big difference is this: Baldwin was a player Ala-freakin-Bama wanted. The best programs on Olobia’s offer list included Texas Tech and Utah.

Besides all of those facts, this is a different era of Kansas football. Much of the failed junior college experiment and transfer route took place under Charlie Weis, who was simply trying to crawl out of the mess made by Turner Gill and wound up creating a different kind of mess because of it.

Had the transfers mentioned above panned out, Weis would’ve looked like a genius and KU would’ve won a bunch more games. Neither happened and that led to the arrival of David Beaty.

Believe me, Beaty does not go into these deals lightly. If he’s taking a transfer, it’s because he thinks — maybe even knows — that adding that player immediately makes KU better. If he doesn’t believe that’s the case, he doesn’t take the player. It’s that simple.

Transfers are tricky and there is no guarantee that any of them are ever going to be what fans and coaches hope they will be. Many of them aren’t.

There’s no doubt that both Charlot and Baldwin will forever be labeled as the former ’Bama guys and, therefore, will both be held to that standard, especially in the eyes of KU fans desperate to see this program return to its winning ways. And the scenario exists that has these two playing good but not great or even being downright busts and becoming the next in a long line of promising transfers who went on to disappoint.

But I’d say the odds that they’ll succeed are at least as good as the odds that they’ll fail and probably better. Better, because they’re coming into a whole different set of circumstances than those players from the past.

So to write these two off just because of the past failures of so many others who came to KU and underperformed is a bit premature.

Things are different now. And maybe this time it will wind up being OK to be excited about this kind of potential good fortune happening to Kansas football.

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Self addresses KU football team on opening day of preseason camp

The start of preseason football camp always comes with a lot of routine, more than a little excitement and a vibe that speaks to both the promise and the pressure of the fast approaching season.

And while that often means a lot of the same for the players who have been through it before, every once in a while there’s something new that pops up.

The Jayhawks received a special treat at the beginning of this year’s camp on Wednesday, when KU basketball coach Bill Self addressed the team on Day 1.

I haven’t seen or heard much about the specifics of Self’s talk, but, judging by the first-hand accounts that popped up on Twitter, it seems like the 14th-year hoops coach emphasized the importance of the Jayhawk family and winning.

The football program, as you know, has not done much of the latter in the past several years. But Self on the other hand certainly has.

Obviously there is a dramatic difference between what it takes to win a game of basketball and what it takes to win a game of football, but the concept of promoting a winning culture can be strikingly similar no matter what program you’re talking about.

I’m guessing that was the focal point of Self’s speech and that he promoted things like attitude, character, effort, pride and passion and shared how he believed all of those elements, along with things like attention to detail, sound fundamentals and high standards, can impact a program.

With 385 wins against just 83 losses in his first 13 seasons at KU, few are as qualified as Self to talk about winning. And the fact that he took time out to address David Beaty’s football program says a great deal about the camaraderie and family vibe that currently exists in the KU athletic department.

Self has long been a strong supporter of Kansas football and has never shied away from sharing his beliefs about how important having a winning program is to both the university and the basketball program.

It’s cool to see him take an active role in trying to help create that instead of just expecting someone else to handle it and waiting for it to happen.

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Ridiculous highlight videos featuring former Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins and current KU guard Frank Mason

Wednesday was a big day for KU basketball highlights on the Internet, whether by current players or former stars.

Three such videos caught my eye and had me talking about them well into the night and even still this morning.

The first was from former Jayhawk and current Minnesota Timberwolve Andrew Wiggins, who attempted and nearly finished a 720-degree dunk.

You’ve heard of the popular 360 that guys try and almost always send crowds into a frenzy? Yeah, this is two of those. On the same jump. By the same guy. In mid-air.

Those of us who got an up close look at Wiggins for several months during the 2014-15 season at Kansas surely could have predicted that some day Wiggins would try — and possibly even accomplish — something like this.

Shame on us for even entertaining the thought that a human being could do something so incredible and shame on him for nearly doing it. What an incredible athlete and what a fortunate thing for the Kansas program that one of the NBA’s brightest young stars chose to spend his lone season of college in Lawrence. The gift that keeps on giving, man.

Next up, were a pair of ridiculous videos (shown below in the same minute-long clip) starring senior-to-be Frank Mason, who, along with Devonte’ Graham and Carlton “Don’t Call Me Charlton” Bragg, have been representing Kansas (and themselves) at the adidas Nations event in Southern California.

Mason, who looks even more athletic and stronger than he has during his first three seasons as a Jayhawk impressed everybody with his bounce at the event.

As you’ll see in the video, some of that came during a dunking showcase, when Mason tossed the ball off the backboard or bounced it to himself and then flushed it with authority.

The other, which comes at the 35-second mark is a monster block of an unsuspecting big man who seemed to think he was seconds away from an easy, rim-rocking dunk.

Mason had other ideas and packed the attempt from behind like he had a personal vendetta against the young man.

If this is any indication of the frame of mind that Mason has entering what will be his final season as a Jayhawk, the Big 12 Conference should be flat-out terrified and the Jayhawks should be thrilled. Of course, would anyone really expect Mason to take any other state of mind into the 2016-17 season?

As for Graham and Bragg — who, on at least one of the box scores at the event was dubbed “Charlton Bragg — they, too, delivered strong performances at the adidas Nations showcase, playing for Team Mavericks which also features Iowa State guard Naz Long.

All four were college counselors at the event that combines some of the nation’s best prep prospects with some of the top college players in the country in a camp setting.

Mason, Graham, Bragg and the rest of the Jayhawks are expected to return to Lawrence by August 20.

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Early start to potentially key 2017 recruiting class puts KU basketball ahead of the game

Despite being nine years apart, Kansas basketball’s 2008 recruiting class and 2017 recruiting class might wind up having a lot more in common than anyone could have predicted.

We won’t know, of course, what KU’s 2017 class looks like for several weeks, perhaps even months, but it did get off to a solid start this week when the Jayhawks landed a commitment from versatile Dallas guard Marcus Garrett, the 44th ranked player in the country according to Rivals.com.

While it remains to be seen exactly how big — or how stellar — KU’s 2017 class will be, this much we know today: It is likely going to consist of somewhere between 4 and 6 players and nearly all of them will make up key parts of the 2017-18 rotation.

Sound familiar? It should. KU coach Bill Self has rebuilt his rotation on more than one occasion during his days at Kansas. And each time he’s done it with a great deal of success.

Few were as impressive as the 2008 class, which was finalized less than a month after Self led the Jayhawks to a national title with a roster dominated by upperclassmen.

Only Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich returned as key contributors on that title team.

Five players from that 2008 national championship squad were lost to the NBA draft. And four others — Russell Robinson, Jeremy Case, Rodrick Stewart and Brad Witherspoon — left town after graduation. That’s nine players gone from a roster of 17, two of them walk-ons.

Needless to say, Self’s work on the recruiting trail as he simultaneously attempted to guide Kansas to the title was more than a little important.

Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo.Kansas newcomers front row sitting: Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrone Appleton and Quintrell Thomas. Back row from left are Markieff Morris, Mario Little and Marcus Morris.

Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo.Kansas newcomers front row sitting: Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrone Appleton and Quintrell Thomas. Back row from left are Markieff Morris, Mario Little and Marcus Morris. by Nick Krug

The same could be said about the current state of Kansas basketball. We don’t know yet if the 2016-17 team will bring home a title, but it certainly looks like a legit contender. What’s more, Self stands to lose a good chunk of this year’s roster at season’s end, whether the Jayhawks win it all or not.

KU’s official roster includes 15 players. Of those, we know that seniors Frank Mason, Landen Lucas and Tyler Self won’t be back.

Beyond that, we know there’s a better-than-good chance that freshman Josh Jackson, junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and possibly even Carlton Bragg and Devonte’ Graham won’t return.

(For what it’s worth, I’d bet money Graham will be back for his senior season, but you never know.)

For this exercise, let’s say Graham’s back and the rest leave; that’s six players departing from a roster of 15, or 40 percent.

In 2008, KU lost 53 percent of its roster. The big difference, though, was that just six of the nine players — 67 percent — who bolted after the national title were regular parts of the rotation, while five of the six — 83 percent — who could leave after the upcoming season figure to be key rotation guys.

There exists the possibility, of course, that Bragg, Graham and Svi all could return for the 2017-18 season. Heck, even Jackson, technically could return, though that’s much less likely. If any or all of those players were to come back, the importance of the 2017 class obviously would be lessened and Self once again would roll out a talented and experienced crew to start the 2017-18 season.

Either way, Self is staring at, in the very least, a restocking of the roster, even if he does not have a full rebuild on his hands.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see that the coach set to enter his 14th season in charge of the Kansas program is well ahead of the game compared to the way things played out in 2008.

KU basketball commitment Malik Newman signed with the Jayhawks on Friday, July 1 and will transfer to Kansas from Mississippi State.

KU basketball commitment Malik Newman signed with the Jayhawks on Friday, July 1 and will transfer to Kansas from Mississippi State. by Photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics

Even though they're not traditional members of the 2017 class, Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and Liberty transfer Evan Maxwell already are on campus and practicing with the team. Both will sit out this season and be eligible again in 2017.

Add to that the early commitment from Garrett and you’re looking at a three-player headstart for Self and the Jayhawks.

KU’s 2008 class, which consisted of guards Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrone Appleton and Travis Releford and forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, Quintrell Thomas and Mario Little, landed its first official commitment in June of 2007 (Releford, a local prospect, committed June 20) but did not fill up until Taylor’s commitment on April 29, 2008.

So even though Garrett’s commitment came a few weeks after Releford’s on the calendar, one of the most important pieces in that 2008 class came at the very end, and the presence of Newman and Maxwell, along with Garrett, puts KU ahead of the recruiting pace from 2008.

Add to that the fact that Self and the Jayhawks still are in pursuit of some of the top talent in the country, including No. 1 overall prospect DeAndre Ayton and Top 10 prospects Kevin Knox, Billy Preston and Troy Brown, among others, and it’s safe to say that the prospects for the 2017-18 season look a lot less scary than the outlook for that 2008-09 season once did.

So how’d the Jayhawks fare in 2008-09? KU rolled to a 14-2, first-place finish in the Big 12 Conference and topped out at 27-8 overall, falling to eventual national runner-up Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

Blue Team center Evan Maxwell gets a bucket over against Red Team guard LaGerald Vick during the Bill Self basketball camp alumni scrimmage, Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Blue Team center Evan Maxwell gets a bucket over against Red Team guard LaGerald Vick during the Bill Self basketball camp alumni scrimmage, Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center. by Nick Krug

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Kemper Arena soon will have a new name

Sophomore guard Jeff Gueldner, right, embraces a teammate following KU's NCAA Championship game victory over Oklahoma, 83-79, in Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

Sophomore guard Jeff Gueldner, right, embraces a teammate following KU's NCAA Championship game victory over Oklahoma, 83-79, in Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

Imagine the following conversation, set well in the future, creating some serious confusion for Kansas basketball fans.

Fan 1: I still can’t believe that magical run the Jayhawks made in 1988 at Mosaic Arena.

Fan 2: Mosaic? What are you talking about?

Fan 1: You know, the venue right down the road where Danny and the Miracles capped off their run to the national title, KU’s first since 1952.

Fan 2: Yeah. I know the story. But what’s this Mosaic you’re talking about? That Final Four took place at Kemper Arena.

Fan 1: No. It was at Mosaic.

Fan 2: Umm, no. It was Kemper.

Fan 1: Nuh uh. Mosaic.

Fan 2: I’m leaving.

There’s no need to get frustrated or lose friends over this. It’s as simple as Kemper Arena, site of the 1988 Final Four and so many memorable Big Eight tournaments, finally receiving a name change after all these years.

According to a Tuesday news release, Kemper Arena will be renamed Mosaic Arena under an agreement announced by Foutch Brothers, the development company that plans to turn the arena in the West Bottoms into a regional amateur sports venue. The deal, with Mosaic Life Care, makes Mosaic the naming rights sponsor for the arena.

Mosaic Life Care is a health care company based in St. Joseph, Mo., that is expanding its services into the Kansas City metro area. CEO Mark Laney said in a release that he believed taking over the naming rights for Kemper Arena would help the company expand its brand. But for fans of KU basketball the move likely will be remembered as little more than the reason that one of the most important venues not named Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas basketball history now goes by a new name.

The guess here is that most KU fans will continue to refer to the arena as Kemper, but there does exist the potential for confusion like the mock conversation that played out above to one day occur between different generations of KU hoops fans.

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Are the Big 12 and its TV partners bumping heads over expansion?

Well, isn’t this just completely fitting?

Just when you start to think that the Big 12 Conference is making moves in the right direction regarding expansion, something pops up that completely calls into question what the conference is doing and now, if they’re not careful, the conference could have a heck of a problem on its hands.

That’s the gist of a report from Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal that indicates that the powers that be at the Big 12’s television partners are not happy with where expansion might be headed.

Before we go any farther, let’s take a quick pause for a moment of honesty. Is anybody really happy about the direction of Big 12 expansion?

I mean, yeah, there appears to be more money to be made if the conference expands from 10 to 12, or even 14 (more on that in a moment), but it’s been well documented that the pool of candidates does not include the kind of knock-your-socks-off schools that would turn the concept of expanding from something that makes sense and seems fairly practical into something about which people — fans, players, coaches and administrators — would get excited.

And therein lies the issue that the conference’s TV partners have.

For those of you who have not been keeping up with this whole saga, there’s a clause in the Big 12’s media rights agreement that automatically creates higher revenue in the event of expansion. The clause is known as “pro rata” and could be worth as much as $80 million annually to the conference. Add to that number, what the Big 12 would gain in terms of revenue from a conference championship game (which will return in 2017), and you’re looking at a potential increase of $100 million annually for the Big 12.

Throw in the fact that the new members would not immediately pull in the same percentage as the existing members and you’re looking at quite a deal for the 10 schools that already call the Big 12 home.

That’s for now, though. The clause is written in plain English and, despite reports about ESPN and FOX pursuing legal action, I can’t really see any way of them getting out of it. Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I have not studied things that closely.

What I do know, however, is that while this could be a big time gain for the Big 12 in the short term, it could wind up being a nightmare in the long term. Let’s say the Big 12 goes through with expansion against the wishes of its TV partners, who do not deem any of the “available candidates” to be sexy enough to move the television ratings needle. That might deliver big time dough through 2025, but it also might deliver a heck of a chip on the shoulders of those media giants and when the grant of rights agreements expire and the Big 12 is back at the drawing board looking for stability and partnership well into the future those powerhouses might not be there.

It’s risky. And it’s precisely the reason Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other Big 12 brass are negotiating and trying to find a peaceful and profitable resolution for all parties.

Can they get there? The guess here is no. The make-up of these schools who are seeking admission into the Big 12 is not going to change and it would be a nightmare to even consider the idea of pulling in teams from another Power 5 conference — though, that idea is not entirely crazy.

My guess is that the TV muscle wins out this time but that the Big 12 gets some sort of quiet assurance — written or otherwise — that ESPN and FOX will be there, ready to re-sign, when the current deals expire.

If that’s the case, it probably goes down as a win for the conference, which misses out on the exciting headline grab that would come with announcing expansion but also gets long-term stability and continues to be able to spread the wealth among 10 members, an enviable position as long as the money continues to rise.

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How hiring Matt Baty to lead the Williams Fund can help KU football

The Kansas University marching band and many other high school bands from Kansas and Missouri perform during the halftime show as part of Band Day on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

The Kansas University marching band and many other high school bands from Kansas and Missouri perform during the halftime show as part of Band Day on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Thursday’s news that former KU baseball standout Matt Baty had been hired to lead the Williams Education Fund included one key quote from athletic director Sheahon Zenger that figures to have a huge impact on the future of Kansas football.

“It’s now time to focus on Memorial Stadium,” Zenger said.

No, Baty will not be the man in charge of remodeling, renovating or even conceptualizing what will go down when KU finally gets around to upgrading its football venue. Heck, most of that is already done as it is, though we’re still not anywhere close to targeting a date or perhaps even a year when that might begin.

But Baty will play a crucial role in organizing some of that and also will handle a lot of the day-to-day goings on within the Williams Fund that will make it possible for Zenger to hire another fund-raiser who will be specifically assigned to football and the Memorial Stadium facelift.

Talk about clearing the deck. It’s a phrase that Zenger has used often during the idle chatter concerning what will happen with Memorial Stadium. First came Rock Chalk Park, then the construction of the McCarthy Hall basketball dorm and the DeBruce Center, which houses James Naismith's original rules of basketball. All were crucial moves that, as Zenger liked to say, cleared the deck for more focus to be put on football.

And, in a sense, the hire of Baty and the coinciding announcement of a national search for a football-specific fund-raiser further clears the deck for real progress to be made.

For starters, there’s so much that goes into running the Williams Fund that it’s difficult for any one person to be committed exclusively to any one task. That often made things difficult because of the importance of men’s basketball but also the great many needs that football is facing. Now, with Baty in place, he will be able to run the ship and offer his expertise in many areas and this new person, whomever it is and whenever he or she may be hired, will be given the freedom to pin his or her ears back and attack the football challenge with ferocious intensity.

I’ve heard that this will not be a small hire and that some of the interested parties form an impressive list. That alone brings an element of excitement to the future of football at KU, which, as you all know, is vital for the long-term success and profitability of the athletic department and, in many ways, the university.

However, clearing the deck — in all senses of that phrase — is only one step on the road to football renovations. Zenger, Baty and whomever this new hire winds up being still will need some help from the football program itself.

Momentum has been another key word popping up around the conversations regarding stadium renovations during the past few years. And while these hires and other moves made by the athletic department have helped pave the way, nothing is likely to be done until that momentum is secured.

And momentum, though officially defined as the impetus of a body resulting from its motion, as well as driving power or strength, may as well be synonymous, at least in this case, with victories. Because without wins there can be no momentum within Kansas football and that’s what makes the upcoming season so important for KU.

Second-year coach David Beaty and the Jayhawks do not have to go 6-6 this year to get things rolling. It would help. But it’s not realistic and not even necessary. They do, however, have to win. And more than once. Last year’s 0-12 season, though difficult for many, was hardly a surprise. But following that up with another dud will not be a good sign for the future nor will it make this new football fund-raiser’s job one worth bragging about.

Win three or four games, however, and then things get interesting. Momentum starts to build and that job becomes not only one to be excited about but also one that might actually produce results.

Time will tell how things play out. But bringing Baty back to KU was a good first step in what figures to be a very interesting big-picture process.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 2 - WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez

We've reached the Top 2 spots in our summer countdown and one of them comes from the offense and the other comes from the defense.

In all, our list of the Top 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 season includes 13 offensive players and 12 defensive players, which speaks to the balance needed for the Jayhawks to become competitive, but also to the fact that it's the offense that has a little farther to go and the most room for improvement.

No player on the roster should help with that as much as the No. 2 athlete on our board. And his positioning near the top of this list clearly illustrates his importance.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez takes off after catching a pass during the first day of spring practice on Sunday afternoon at the practice fields north of Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez takes off after catching a pass during the first day of spring practice on Sunday afternoon at the practice fields north of Memorial Stadium. by John Young

2. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Jr. Wide Receiver

There have been a few exciting play makers come through the Kansas football program during recent years, even though KU’s rough record during that time may have overshadowed their talent.

Tony Pierson was electric, lightning fast and a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Nick Harwell, though only eligible for one season, had a knack for making plays all over the field. Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears also both played bigger on the field and in the highlights than their frames suggested they would.

But if everything we’re hearing is true, it’s possible that all of them will pale in comparison to finally-eligible Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who figures to be both the focal point and one of the leaders of the Kansas offense in 2016.

Gonzalez, as has now been well documented, carries a couple of nicknames that hint at his top skill — Speedy Gonzalez and The Streakin’ Puerto Rican. And it’s those nicknames and that skill that have the KU coaching staff dreaming up all kinds of different ways for Gonzalez to touch the ball on offense this season.

You name it, he’ll probably do it. And that’s not giving anything away to opposing defenses because, with all of that versatility, no one will ever know exactly how and when KU plans to utilize Gonzalez.

From lining him up out wide to putting him in the slot, he’s a threat at several receiver positions. From those same spots, Gonzalez can — and likely will — come in motion and take direct snaps or run reverses. The possibility even exists that he’ll actually line up in the backfield and take some direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation and/or possibly even look to throw while streaking out to the edge after getting the ball.

His usage is limitless and he’s in such good shape — mentally and physically — that it’s easy to expect and predict him to be on the field as often as humanly possible.

The key to all this, of course, will be finding the right quarterback to get him the ball and, perhaps more importantly, finding an offensive line that can protect that QB. If those two positions hold up even just reasonably well, Gonzalez should have a terrific opportunity to put up some big time stats. Opposing defenses clearly will have something to say about it, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to see a scenario in which Quiv — that’s another of his nicknames — touches the ball on average 10-12 times per game this season.

He showed in the spring game, beyond a shadow of the doubt, what he is capable of, turning a seemingly easy and harmless completion into a big play. And he'll be asked to do a lot more of that when the Jayhawks line up against the 12 teams on their 2016 schedule this fall.

Some within the program have called him the most dynamic player in a KU uniform since Aqib Talib and Gonzalez’s ability to impact the game as a kick returner as well, puts him in position to have a dual-impact much the way Talib did during his days as a Jayhawk.

It’s hard to know exactly where to set the bar of expectations for Gonzalez, but this much is clear: KU’s offense needs him to be as good as advertised in order for the whole thing to click. Because if he is, that puts all of the other wideouts on the roster in a better position to make plays and also takes some of the burden off of the QBs and opens up the running game, as well.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

No. 4 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 3 - RB Ke'aun Kinner

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Sizing up what the top Big 12 expansion candidates mean for Kansas

If you’ve followed any of the Big 12 expansion talk, whether in the past few years or just the past few days, you’ve probably heard it all.

From which universities are most likely to join the conference to which are the best fit and whether those who already are in the conference are planning to stay there, you’ve likely heard it all.

Of course, a good chunk of that time was spent deciphering whether the Big 12 was even going to expand at all. And, although we still do not know with 100 percent certainty that that is going to happen, the conference’s recent vote that authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to strongly dissect the pros and cons of all interested parties leads many to believe that Big 12 expansion is coming.

We may know more as soon as September and the big questions now are this: Who’s joining and will the Big 12 expand to 12 or 14?

Hindsight many years from now may tell us otherwise, but as things stand today, it does not seem like expansion will be a bad thing for KU. There’s the fear by some that the revenue split will go down, which certainly would be bad for KU, but if the TV contracts are renegotiated then the bottom line number may not drop that much and could even go up.

With that element of this whole situation understood and still as vague as it can be, let’s take a quick look at what the addition of each rumored contender would mean for Kansas.

BYU – Adding the Cougars does not really do anything for Kansas that it doesn’t do for the rest of the conference. If anything, it would bring another tough football program that KU will have to contend with as it attempts to climb out of the Big 12 basement and rebuild its football program into something respectable. BYU’s national brand would bring a few more eyeballs and television sets to Lawrence, Kansas, but not so much that it makes the BYU addition a reason to celebrate.

CINCINNATI - Cincy’s a much bigger city — 65th largest city in the US, 34th largest TV market — than the rest of the Big 12 home bases, which are described as college towns and not metropolitan areas, and adding the Bearcats would bring respectable football of late, a historically solid basketball program and inroads into a strong football recruiting base. That recruiting door sliding open — both for football and basketball — would probably be the most noteworthy aspect of this addition for Kansas.

COLORADO STATE - Kansas is already used to this trip, having partnered with Colorado in the Big 8 and Big 12 for years, so expansion to its neighbor to the west would not be as big of a transition for KU as it would for others. At least today, KU has a bigger athletic department budget than CSU and would be well positioned to stay ahead of the Rams in the Big 12 pecking order. But CSU is in the process of bringing to Fort Collins a $200-million on-campus football stadium and, under former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, who is more than a little familiar with Kansas basketball, has enjoyed a strong and somewhat silent stretch of basketball during the past few seasons. Clearly, this is a program on the rise and, if what I’ve heard about their campaign for Big 12 inclusion is accurate, this is going to be one of the more aggressive schools out there when it comes to bidding for a Big 12 spot.

HOUSTON - I’m a big fan of what Houston is doing right now, but I’m not sure Kansas should be. Houston, in many ways, is a bit of a sleeping giant and could really blow up if it lands under the Big 12 umbrella. That would not necessarily be good news for Kansas, especially the football program. Right now, KU football can go into Houston and get some of those athletes who do not choose to sign with Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Baylor, occasionally even beating out UH for some of the same recruits. But if the Cougars are added to the conference, KU’s edge of being in a Power 5 conference goes away and it would make sense to assume that more than a few of those athletes would decide to stay home.

MEMPHIS - That high-dollar FedEx sponsorship that has been promised, should Memphis get in, would be a great thing for the Big 12 Conference and every single school in the league would benefit big time from that. From a competition perspective, it doesn’t seem like the Tigers would be too much of a threat to what KU can do. We’ll find out more about that in mid-September, when the Jayhawks head to Memphis for their third football game of the season. If anything, adding the Tigers would be a boost for the KU basketball program, provided that new head coach, Tubby Smith, can do in Memphis what he was starting to do at Texas Tech, giving KU an even greater strength of schedule than it already would have and another quality component to battle with in the weeks leading up to the Big Dance.

TULANE - Like the addition of Houston, this would be another blow to KU football, given KU’s recent success in recruiting the New Orleans area. If Tulane gets in, it joins LSU in becoming the only other Power 5 program in the state. That would do wonders for the Tulane football program, which, after inclusion, would have a lot more to offer all of that in-state talent that now is looking elsewhere for its college football needs. There are two sides to every coin, though, so as much as adding Tulane could hurt, it also could help make the mileage gap between Lawrence and Louisiana seem a little smaller given the conference brotherhood.

UCF – Orlando’s a big time market and there’s a lot to gain for the entire conference, should the Big 12 brass believe that now is the time to expand its footprint into Florida. The guess here is that it won’t be, but UCF recently has upgraded its coaching by bringing in Johnny Dawkins (of Stanford and Duke fame) to coach hoops and Scott Frost (of Nebraska and Oregon fame) to coach football. If that doesn’t tell you how serious the Knights are about upgrading their athletic department, nothing will. Adding a Florida-based program would be a bigger lift for KU football than KU hoops. Right now, Bill Self can go anywhere on the planet to recruit an athlete, while KU football has a more focused recruiting region. Adding UCF to the Big 12 would probably be the push KU needed to start exploring with a little more regularity what it can do in the Sunshine State.

UCONN – By far the biggest basketball program on the list that would add buzz to the Big 12, bringing UConn in would give Kansas its first truly elite conference partner in the college basketball world. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas during the past decade or so all have been big time in the college basketball world. But those three combined can’t touch what UConn has done on the college basketball landscapre. National titles — both men’s and women’s — and Hall of Fame coaches are commonplace in Storrs, Connecticut. Add to that the fact that the UConn campus is less than an hour from ESPN headquarters in Bristol. The travel hit here would be significant. Storrs is 524 miles east of West Virginia (think Lawrence to Dallas), but the advantages seem to far outweigh the disadvantages.

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Could former Big 12 members be in the expansion mix? Bill Snyder thinks so

Big 12 expansion is hot again — maybe hotter than ever — and universities all across the country are making comments, pushes, pleas even, to the Big 12 brass to find a way to place themselves on the VIP list.

This, of course, is a reaction to the Big 12’s announcement earlier this week that commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been given the go-ahead to gauge the interest and viability of particular schools that might be — today or someday — good fits for the Big 12 should it elect to expand back to 12 or perhaps even to 14.

The usual suspects are hot on everyone’s radar and that include Cincinnati, UConn, BYU, Houston, Memphis and others.

And then you have the group that has been mentioned several places and would be equally as excited to even get a shot to make their case. Think Colorado State, Tulane, Central and South Florida.

But a couple of the more interesting options, which a few people have discussed during recent weeks, surfaced this week when Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder was interviewed by a few media members at Big 12 media days in Dallas.

They’re familiar names and seem to be programs that Snyder would add if all of this were exclusively up to him.

Here’s the quote:

“I may be wrong and other people may see it differently, but I don’t think anyone could be in a better situation than the teams we have in our conference,” Snyder said. “I’ll tell you what. There are teams that left our conference right now that wish they could get back in our conference.”

Asked how many, Snyder twice responded: “Two I know of.”

Given that the Big 12 has lost four and added two in the realignment craze, that can only mean he’s talking about Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M.

So who is it?

I have my suspicions and I think it’s pretty clear which programs he’s referencing. Here’s a look.

1. Colorado — CU bolted the Big 12 out of fear that the whole thing was falling apart. It wasn’t the worst move for the Buffs, as it tied them closer into one of their hot recruiting territories (California) and also provided Colorado with some conference stability in unsettling times. But the west-coast existence has not been all roses for the former Big Eight member, especially when it comes to television exposure. Now that the Big 12 is stable again — at least for now — there’s no doubt in my mind that CU would jump back in if the opportunity presented itself. The recruiting base in California is there. Rejoining the Big 12 would allow Colorado back into Texas. The time zones for television purposes would create better exposure for all of its programs and the Buffs would be back with some of their friendly and more familiar foes. Makes perfect sense to me and, going a step farther, is 100 percent worth exploring.

2. Nebraska — As much as anybody, the Cornhuskers headed to the Big Ten in an attempt to get away from Texas and its stranglehold of power on the Big 12 Conference. And although that was definitely one of the positives of the move north, it has been one of the only ones. Beyond that, Texas no longer has quite the same amount of power as it did during those tumultuous summers of realignment, both at conference headquarters and on the playing fields. Is that reason enough for Nebraska to want back in? No. But the fact that the Big 12 continues to close the gap in its revenue distribution — up 19% from 2014 to 2015 and another 20% from 2015 to 2016 — certainly paints the picture of a stronger and more profitable conference than the one the Cornhuskers left. Add to that the fact that it seems to be common knowledge the NU is struggling with forcing rivalries with Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota instead of cozying up to longtime rivals like Kansas, Oklahoma and others in the Big 12 and it’s even easier to see why the Huskers could be longing for the good old days.

3. Missouri — Say what you will about all of that talk that just never seems to end about Missouri folks saying they’d love to play Kansas again, but I just can’t see the Tigers jumping ship to get back into the Big 12. First of all, I’m not sure the Big 12 would have them. Second of all, it seems that Mizzou still believes that being in the SEC footprint and bringing in SEC dollars is a better position to be in than any other. The Mizzou athletic department and the university as a whole are not only stubborn but also a little bit dysfunctional at the moment and, outside of familiarity and the renewing of some old rivalries — none more important and visible than the Border War — I can’t see many compelling reasons for either side to want to get back together. Still, the Tigers certainly belong at No. 3 on this list, simply because of the reasons you'll read about in No. 4.

4. Texas A&M — No chance it’s the Aggies. They’re happy and seemingly much better off in the SEC, where they enjoy the best of both worlds – drawing the highest conference revenue distribution check out there year after year and still having a strong recruiting presence in the state of Texas. The Big 12 could offer A&M the moon and the stars to return — which it wouldn’t — and I still don’t think the Aggies would even consider it.

So there you have it. My best guess at which institutions Bill Snyder was referencing when he talked about former conference members wanting back in earlier this week.

One key thing to remember here, in case some of you out there are rolling your eyes about the mere thought of all of this: Bill Snyder is a man of few words and one who likes to avoid the spotlight and keep things close to the vest at all times and at all costs. So if he’s publicly saying that two former Big 12 programs would be interested in rejoining the conference, you can bet there’s a whole lot of truth to that. He does not play games or become a part of tactics to put pressure on others or move an agenda forward. He calls it like he sees it, when he’s calling it at all, and that’s what makes his recent comments all the more interesting.

It will not be easy for the Big 12 to get two of its former members back even if it wanted to. But my guess is that if there’s genuine interest from both sides, it could one day happen. Beyond that, if it were to happen, I think the Big 12 would go past 12 to 14 during its next round of expansion.

It sure seems like it’s coming. As always, it’s just hard to pinpoint the names of those who will be involved.

Buckle up.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 4 - LB Joe Dineen

As we head down the stretch of our summer countdown of the most crucial Jayhawks on the 2016 football team, we start to find some of the most talented and accomplished Jayhawks on the roster.

Beyond that, the names at the top of this list seem to be among the best leaders in the Jayhawks' locker room and players who will be counted on heavily for production and guidance during the 2016 season.

Today's entry plays in the heart of the Kansas defense and figures to play a big role in just how good this year's defense can be.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) reaches for a catch during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) reaches for a catch during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

4. Joe Dineen, Jr. Linebacker

The Lawrence native and Free State High grad has a chance to be the best player on this year’s roster. But just because people expect him to be one of the best does not mean he is the most crucial.

In fact, the bar that Dineen has set for himself has created a situation in which people are expecting a big season and therefore it will be hard for him to outdo what many think he’s capable of.

Having said that, there’s no doubt that the second-year linebacker will try.

Tough, physical, faster than you think and learning more about his relatively new position each and every day, Dineen is the perfect player to fit into the heart of the Kansas defense.

Now a junior, his leadership skills are starting to surface and his personality is one that makes him both likable and easy to follow.

He has positioned himself well to become the next great linebacker at KU on a list that features some pretty impressive names from the recent past. Late last season, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen told me that Dineen had a legit chance to crack that list and, with two years of eligibility still remaining, he appears to be well on his way.

Dineen is far from a perfect player. But his heart, desire to develop his craft and the passion for both the program and to represent the city in which he grew up helps overcome any weaknesses he has as a player.

In short, Dineen is exactly the kind of Jayhawk that head coach David Beaty is trying to sign and develop more of. And the mere thought that he has only scratched the surface on how good he can be at the position makes for an intriguing 2016 season.

We know Dineen will be a huge and crucial part of the Kansas defense. What we don’t know yet is how good he’ll be and how impressive his stats will look.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

We've reached the Top 5 of this year's Most Crucial Jayhawks list and it's time to get to some of the heaviest hitters on this year's team.

No. 5 is a name that many have heard but not everyone is incredibly familiar with. But we expect that to change in 2016, when Daniel Wise will look to build on a strong red-shirt freshman season and transform himself from a nice, up-and-coming player into an absolute monster with which opposing offensive lines are going to have to deal with in the heart of the trenches.

Hailing from Hebron High in Lewisville, Texas, Wise earned honorable mention freshman All-American honors during the 2015 season and is looking for similar accolades in 2016.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) is snagged by Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) during the second quarter, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) is snagged by Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) during the second quarter, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

5. Daniel Wise, Soph. Defensive Tackle

There’s no denying how huge the gap has been between the defensive linemen that Kansas has played in recent years and the talent at that position throughout the rest of the Big 12 Conference.

That’s no knock on the D-Linemen who have suited up for the Jayhawks. They’ve done their best, often in the face of tremendous adversity or while severely overmatched.

But Daniel Wise is trying to change all of that. By himself, of course, Wise is just one 290-pound man who might be able to make a few plays here and there but won’t really tip the balance of power. That’s why Wise, who enjoyed a modest breakout season in 2015, has made it a priority to push and lean on and inspire others around him.

D.J. Williams, Josh Ehambe, newcomers DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani all have encountered a different Daniel Wise than the one who arrived on campus before the 2014 season. This version, which enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough season in 2015 — as measured in terms of confidence and comfort — is more of an all-business type of player who quickly is becoming one of the more consistent workers and play makers on the KU defense.

Big and getting bigger, tough and getting tougher — mentally and physically — and smart and getting smarter, Wise appears to have hit that moment in his career when he understands exactly what it takes for him to play at a high level and he’s going relentlessly after that goal day in and day out.

He played in all 12 games a season ago and started seven of them. He finished with 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. With a terrific offseason under his belt and all the confidence in the world after a productive and perpetually improving red-shirt freshman season, it’s easy to see Wise improving on all of those numbers in 2016, when he should be a starter from Day 1 and one of the most critical parts of KU’s defensive line throughout the season.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

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How difficult is the Kansas football job?

Kansas head football coach David Beaty responds to questions during Big 12 media days, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Kansas head football coach David Beaty responds to questions during Big 12 media days, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) by Matt Tait

During the past few decades bigger, taller, meaner, older men and all kinds in between have tried to tackle the job entrusted to second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty.

And very few of them have succeeded.

So just how difficult is the Kansas football job?

Beaty was asked that question — and dozens of others — Monday at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, and, like with most things, the KU coach gave an honest and enthusiastic answer.

“You know what? It is a difficult job,” Beaty said. “But all these jobs are difficult. But I tell you what, it's a great opportunity. We know where we are headed and our players do as well. I can't wait for you guys to hear from those guys because I think you will hear in their voices, they know where we're headed.”

Unlike a year ago, when Beaty spent a good chunk of his time on the podium subtly pushing the recruiting angle, this year he talked more about concrete proof of progress, the process and what his players have done during his first year in charge.

No one can say Beaty was pleased with the winless season and the final record, but there were elements of that first season that made him happy.

“For us to go through a season that we went through, if you would have come to that last practice before that last game you would have never thought we hadn't won a game,” he said. “That was probably what I was most proud of. Our guys worked and enjoyed everything they did with regard to development. They know where we are heading and they can see the future.

“Is it difficult? Yes, but every job is difficult, doesn't really matter where you're coaching, everything has their own unique set of characteristics that make it difficult, but there is a lot of great things about 'em, too, and there is a lot of tremendous support at KU. They want to win. They give us what we need. We're finishing up a $2 million renovation and our fans want it and they know it's coming and our guys know it's coming, too.”

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KU coach David Beaty: The Jayhawk Nation deserves better

Heading into Year 2 in charge of the Kansas football program, David Beaty brings with him an 0-12 career record that no coach would enjoy having.

But Beaty never has tried to dodge the facts nor has he sought sympathy for what can only be described as a tough 2015 season.

Monday, speaking at Big 12 media days for the second year in a row, Beaty expressed his disappointment for the way his first year as the leader of the Jayhawks went and emphasized yet again that he did not hurt for himself.

“You know, my biggest ache was for our fans, our coaches and our players,” Beaty said. “Because they deserve more. They really do.

“The Jayhawk Nation deserves better than what we were able to give ’em and what they’ve gotten in the recent past. We were doing foundation work, and it’s hard, but it’s necessary.”

To that end, the Jayhawks had to start from zero and build up. That meant getting rid of some personnel, changing the way practices are run, elevating the expectations, both personal and athletic, on and off the field, and Beaty said from the beginning that he would not deviate from that plan.

“We could have probably cut some corners and maybe taken a few guys that might have got us one or two (wins). But at the end of the day it wouldn’t have been worth it because our foundation is so important and we wanted to make sure it was something that was going to be long-lasting.”

With the foundation set — and, perhaps more appropriately, his one shot at setting it now in the past — Beaty realizes what must come next.

“Our deal now is we gotta win games,” he said. “That's why we're here, so we have to win football games and we are completely and totaled focused on the most important game in the history of our program, which is the next one, Rhode Island (Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium). I don't know who we play next. I don't care. We are focused on Rhode Island and that's the most important game that we have ever played in our lives. We are focused on that and after that it will go to the next one.”

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