Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Given that the game took place just two days earlier, in the very same venue in which he was speaking on Tuesday, no less, it made sense that the brief renewal of the Kansas-Missouri Border War rivalry was a hot topic during Big 12 media day at Sprint Center this week.
All three Kansas players — Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman — were asked about beating the Tigers and building from the early-season test. And Kansas coach Bill Self also was asked about the exhibition game for charity, both in the context of whether he would consider playing the Tigers again in the future and how much good had come from the event that raised nearly $2 million dollars for hurricane relief.
No strong or surprising stances emerged on either topic, with the four Jayhawks continuing to say that they enjoyed the test, loved the atmosphere and were thrilled to be able to use their platform to raise so much money for such a good cause.
But there were still a couple of interesting nuggets and tidbits that came on Tuesday that sort of put a bow on the whole experience.
Here’s a look.
• The last time Graham played in Sprint Center prior to Sunday’s 93-87 victory over Mizzou came during KU’s heartbreaking Elite Eight loss to Oregon in last season’s NCAA Tournament. In that game, Graham struggled mightily, finishing with an uncharacteristic line and a lot of questions.
In 38 minutes on the floor against Oregon, Graham was 0-of-7 from the floor, 0-of-6 from 3-point range and finished with just three points and little else.
Sunday, against Mizzou, the KU senior flipped the script completely, leading all scorers with 25 points and knocking in 6-of-13 3-pointers and adding 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals to his line.
Asked Tuesday if his disappointing night vs. the Ducks back in March provided any added motivation for Sunday’s monster game against MU, Graham said the Oregon dud was not on his mind at all.
“It honestly wasn’t until the next day, when somebody said it,” Graham said Tuesday. “They were like, ‘I’m glad you got to have a good game in there after the last one,’ and I hadn’t thought about that. It was crazy because I played terrible then and I came out and played a good game (Sunday). I wasn’t thinking about it, though. … I just wanted to win.”
• Although it was addressed briefly on Sunday after the game, Self was asked again on Tuesday if he would play Missouri again in the future for a similar event.
Before answering, he reminded that the two schools needed a waiver to get the game approved in the first place and added that he was unsure whether something like this would be easier to accomplish in the future.
“It goes against their bylaws to say, ‘Hey, go play another game,’” Self said of the NCAA. “There has to be a reason and the reason was good.”
As for whether he would be in favor of another charity game, be it for the benefit of victims of a natural disaster or something as simple as a way to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club or a similar organization, Self did not hesitate with that stance.
“Yeah, if there was something that would warrant doing something that was good for others,” he said. “I think what some people misinterpret about this is, if it would have been Creighton that would’ve brought in the most money, we would’ve played Creighton. If it would’ve been Washburn that could bring in the most money, we would’ve played Washburn. The reason we played Missouri was because it brought in the most money. … I think there’s a lot of things that need to be thought through on it, like where the money would go, but I would be all for doing something. Absolutely.”
But instead of just thinking about one game or a handful of games like it around the country, Self is thinking bigger for the next round. And he has been for a long time.
"I certainly think we missed an opportunity after (Hurricane) Katrina to do something like this," he said on Tuesday. "I would like to see it be a lot bigger than this. The way we're doing it now, you've gotta understand it's on two weeks notice. So it's hard for people to pull it off. But what about if every school was allowed to play one and every Div. II and every Div. III and every NAIA and every juco and every high school in the country could just do one thing to give money, you're talking 50-100 million dollars. Then you're talking about real money. That, to me, would be the dream."
• Because he and his coaching staff immediately hit the road to recruit following Sunday’s victory, KU coach Bill Self said Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet watched the full game film from KU’s win over the Tigers.
But based on feel alone, Self said he thought his team probably played about 15 good minutes during the 40-minute exhibition scrimmage.
“I actually thought we did some good things and I thought we did some things really poorly,” Self said.
After an afternoon practice on Tuesday, following their obligations at Sprint Center, Self and the Jayhawks watched the Missouri film in its entirety for the first time.
Next up: KU's exhibition opener at Allen Fieldhouse, Tuesday vs. Pittsburg State.
Sunday’s Border War break was nice while it lasted, but Monday marked a return to business as usual for the Kansas men’s basketball program.
Specifically, to recruiting.
And, in actuality, there was really nothing normal about the move the KU coaching staff made on Monday in its pursuit of five-star Class of 2018 prospect Quentin Grimes.
Grimes, who visited KU a couple of weeks ago and was in town when former Jayhawk Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers practiced at Allen Fieldhouse, has narrowed his list to a final four of Kansas, Marquette, Kentucky and Texas.
According to 247 Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions, the Jayhawks remain the leader for the 6-foot-5 guard from The Woodlands, Texas, but Bill Self and company are not leaving anything to chance.
According to a Tweet from 247 recruiting analyst Evan Daniels, Self on Monday, with all three assistant coaches by his side, joined Jerrance Howard, Norm Roberts and Kurtis Townsend in making a trip south on Monday to visit Grimes at his school.
The five-star prospect who is ranked No. 16 in the 2018 class by 247 Sports, wrapped up his official visits over the weekend with a trip to Marquette and has now made official visits and hosted in-home visits with all four of his finalists.
The KU coaches, who, according to Matt Scott of TheShiver.com, made the trip to Texas shortly after the Border War win over Mizzou on Sunday, have been ultra-aggressive in their pursuit of Grimes, whose mother attended KU, and, according to several reports have told the talented shooting guard that they believe he is the best guard in the class.
"Grimes had a great time during his visit to Kansas with his family," Scott wrote Monday. "And he plans on announcing between now and the end of the year. Texas, Kentucky, Marquette and Kansas are the schools Grimes is considering, but Kansas is the run-a-way leader at this point."
As long as the whole band was on the recruiting trail together, Self and company decided to make one more stop, according to Adam Zagoria of zagsblog.com. KU’s coaches were slated to check in on Class of 2019 forward Matthew Hurt later in the day Monday.
Hurt, a 6-foot-9, 199-pound athletic forward from John Marshall Senior High in Rochester, Minnesota, is ranked as the No. 5 overall player in the 2019 class by 247 Sports.
Hurt made an unofficial visit to KU for Late Night in 2016 and has been firmly on KU’s radar throughout the recruiting process. Zagoria reported Monday that Hurt plans to visit Lawrence again for the Nov. 17 South Dakota State game at Allen Fieldhouse.
While there’s still plenty of time to make a final push for Hurt and the rest of the 2019 class, it’s quickly approaching crunch time in the 2018 class, which will be first eligible to sign national letters of intent on Nov. 8.
The early signing period runs through Nov. 15 and the Jayhawks, who currently have the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.com, are expected to receive letters from big men Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack along with point guard Devon Dotson next month.
Adding Grimes to that trio would only bolster KU’s impressive 2018 class and put the Jayhawks in the running for the top spot in the standings, with more scholarships to give and a few of their top targets still undecided.
Speaking of those undecideds, Zagoria also reported that a source told him five-star forward Zion Williamson was no longer considering UCLA and will not visit Los Angeles this weekend.
While many believe the battle for Williamson will come down to KU, plenty still believe in-state schools Clemson and South Carolina are both still very much alive for the ultra-athletic forward.
Well, that was fun. And I have to admit, I was more than a little surprised by how well Missouri played during the first half in not only hanging with Kansas but also building a four-point halftime lead and more than a little momentum.
It was the Tigers, or so I thought, who looked like the team that had played together longer and Kansas who struggled to get in sync for most of the first half.
That all changed — and changed quickly — when KU found its flow early in the second half and raced out to an insurmountable lead to cruise to a 93-87 victory in the Border War revival that raised nearly $2 million for hurricane relief.
The Jayhawks’ second-half spurt, which turned a 50-44 deficit into an 83-66 lead — that’s a 39-16 run for those of you not interested in doing the math — featured superior play by the Jayhawks all over the floor.
The guards pressured on the defensive end and turned up the tempo, making it a fast-paced game and getting a bunch of easy buckets because of it. And when they were unable to score off the sprint, the Jayhawks pounded the ball inside to Udoka Azubuike, who, as KU coach Bill Self pointed out in the postgame presser, played with a purpose and was much more efficient and effective in the game’s final 20 minutes.
All eight Jayhawks who played in this one made at least a couple of memorable contributions. And, even though Devonte’ Graham and Azubuike carried a lot of the load, neither player was perfect, which made for an interesting, albeit somewhat expected, first look at the 2017-18 Jayhawks against legit competition.
With that in mind, here are a few quick-hitter thoughts about all eight Jayhawks who played, some good, some bad, all important for the weeks and months that lie ahead.
• Devonte’ Graham – What can you say about a player who led Kansas in points (25), assists (5) and rebounds (10) in a big time, bragging-rights atmosphere? Easy. And former Graham running mate, Frank Mason III, came through via Twitter while watching from afar instead of standing next to him. “3tae Graham,” Mason wrote after the KU victory, playing off of Graham’s popular nickname of “D-tae.” A stat line like the one Graham turned in on Sunday brought two things to mind: (1) It’s too bad this was an exhibition game because those are numbers he would like to count. (2) Maybe Graham following in Mason’s footsteps isn’t such a stretch. Hell of a game.
• Malik Newman – After his impressive showing in Italy, I was surprised to see Newman look a little tentative early on during Sunday’s game. That changed in the second half, when the Mississippi State transfer became much more aggressive and started attacking the rim off the dribble, which opened up scoring and passing lanes. Self pointed out that Newman did not have his best night, but he did have good moments and you could visibly see when Newman felt good. He looked confident, cocky even, and carried an attacking personality with him no matter where he stood on the court, with or without the ball. Newman added six rebounds and five assists during what turned out to be a pretty productive night.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – Overall, a pretty disappointing night for the senior sharp-shooter who neither shot the ball that well from the outside (1-for-4 from the floor on the night) nor showed off much of his attack-the-rim game that pro scouts want to see more of. Outside of KU’s first bucket of the second half — a nifty and explosive drive to the rim and finish — Mykhailiuk was next to non-existent out there despite playing 27 minutes. Two points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists. KU didn’t need Svi to do much more than that to handle the Tigers. But that won’t be the case all that often this season.
• Lagerald Vick – I thought Vick settled for jumpers way too often in the early going. He made just 4-of-11 shots on the night — 1-of-5 from 3-point range — and didn’t factor into this one all that much in any other category but scoring. Two rebounds, one block, one steal, one turnover, all in a team-high 36 minutes. Playing less stiff competition during the coming weeks will help Vick better understand (and execute) his role and send his confidence sky high, which should position him to deliver exactly what KU needs by the time Big 12 play rolls around at the end of December. Not a bad night by any stretch of the imagination. But there is definitely much more in Vick’s tank than he showed on Sunday.
• Udoka Azubuike – If they gave an award for comeback player of the game, Azubuike would easily win it. The 7-footer delivered a strong second half after a forgettable first half in helping lead Kansas to victory. Playing against legit size and talent all night, Azubuike showed in the first half that he still struggles to score down low when he takes too long to make a move to the basket. And it’s not a pretty sight when that’s the case. But when the big man works fast and appears decisive, he’s a nightmare for just about anyone. Still so much room to improve and yet such an impressive line anyway. Azubuike’s development and week-by-week improvement should be one of the more enjoyable things for KU fans to track this season.
• Billy Preston – For my money, Preston was the biggest surprise in this one. He looked strong and confident, played hard and smart and did everything that was asked of him, some of it good, some of it bad. In short, he did more for KU inside in a single exhibition game than Carlton Bragg Jr., did all of last season. And that was big news because there’s no denying that the Jayhawks are going to need his size, athleticism and strength inside often. Played just 15 minutes, but hit 4-of-5 field goals, all four of his free throw attempts and gave consistently good effort during most of his minutes. If this is the starting point, and things only go up from here, Preston’s in for a very nice freshman season.
• Marcus Garrett – As advertised, Garrett did a little bit of everything in Sunday’s win, scoring on a sweet put-back, defending Michael Porter Jr., and even helping run the point a time or two during those rare moments when Graham was out. Four points, four rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes seems like a solid representation of what Garrett can and likely will do during his rookie season. There will be times he does more and times he does less, but as long as he’s hitting close to this baseline production, the minutes will be there. Shot just 1-of-3 from the floor and 2-of-4 from the free throw line, but we’ll chalk that up to the juice and possibly even a few nerves from playing in such an electric and enormous atmosphere during his first game as a Jayhawk on American soil.
• Mitch Lightfoot – I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Lightfoot’s night, as he did absolutely everything you could want him to do on a nightly basis this season and did not attempt to do more than he’s capable of. The result was pure gold as the scrappy sophomore forward finished with four points, a couple of boards and three blocks to help deliver the win. He can and should do better on the glass and keeping his turnovers down will be crucial, as well. But his energy was terrific, his effort was just as good and was rewarded for both with a nice line and a dozen minutes.
• BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
• KU-MIZZOU TRIVIA: How much do you know about the history of KU's biggest rivalry? Take this quiz to find out and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Missouri
- Border Winner: Azubuike sparks Jayhawks in exhibition win over Mizzou
- Tom Keegan: Devonte Graham shows smarts, aggressiveness against Missouri
- Bill Self on playing Mizzou: ‘I don’t think there’s been any change in our position’
- Self: Jayhawks did ‘decent’ job guarding ‘terrific, terrific’ Michael Porter Jr.
- Rivalry renewed: Jayhawks prevail vs. Mizzou in charity exhibition
There’s a very obvious pecking order that outlines exactly who Sunday’s Border War scrimmage for hurricane relief is actually for.
First in line are the victims of the tragic hurricanes, who, according to KU coach Bill Self, stand to receive “well north of a million (dollars)” from proceeds from the game. That number easily could go up, if not double, now that the schools have created a pay-per-view option for fans to watch the game from home.
Second is the fans, both at home and in attendance, who figure to show up hours early and scream until their voices give out, rooting against the players and fans from their most bitter rivals.
And third is the players and coaches in both programs.
In actuality, it’s that last group that stands to benefit the most in terms of immediate gains from the exhibition game that was thrown together in a little over a week and has the entire area buzzing.
But in terms of lasting memories and long-term impact, it’s those first two groups that will be talking about this contest long after the 2017-18 Jayhawks and Tigers have moved on to their respective seasons.
Self knows that better than anyone, and on Thursday he explained why.
“I’d be shocked if (the players) feel like fans do,” Self said. “There’s not one player on Missouri’s team that’s connected to Kansas and there’s not one player on our team connected to Missouri. Whenever we used to play, everybody in both programs was totally connected because we’d been playing each other. So the connection (today) is through the fans, it’s not through the individuals.”
With that said, even when the rivalry was at its hottest, it was still the fans who made the rivalry as intense as it was.
Yeah, there were some serious villains, epic games and intense memories — good and bad on both sides — but, for the players and coaches themselves, those games, though huge in the moment, merely represented one or two parts of a season-long quest to win a conference championship, reach the Final Four and challenge for a national title.
More often than not, and probably more often than fans would care to admit or even realize, the war waged between the players was about the basketball first and foremost, with the bitterness and nasty part of the rivalry being most prominent with fans, before, during and after the games were played.
“Even when we used to play,” Self began. “You can talk about the great games we’ve had at Missouri and the hatred and the rivalry. But, hey, go interview (former Mizzou guard) Kim English and ask him if he hated the Kansas players. His first response will be, ‘No, I loved competing against them.’ Go interview Thomas Robinson and see if he hated Missouri. He’d say, ‘No, I didn’t hate (them). Those guys were cool. I just loved playing against them.’ It didn’t have anything to do with the individuals and it didn’t have anything to do with the coaches either. It wasn’t a bigger game for me because we were going against Frank (Haith) or Mike (Anderson). Or for them because they were going against me. It was a bigger game because it meant so much to the fan base.”
See, guys like English and Robinson, and dozens of others before them, were a part of the rivalry only for a handful of years. They never heard the chants of "Sit Down Norm!" or saw the Antlers in action or knew what it felt like to watch Anthony Peeler or Doug Smith make life miserable for the Jayhawks. They had their time, it was spectacular, but it came and went just like the rest of their careers.
The fans, though, most of them lived every wild and crazy moment. Many can tell you where they were precisely when this shot or that game went down. Most of them can recall what they were wearing and why. So for them, the Border War was not a fun four years of ups and downs, high intensity and horrible heartbreak. It was a way of life. And, even with the rivalry dormant for the past five-plus years, all of those moments and memories have lived on with them and continued to be talked about year after year.
To say every player who ever participated in the rivalry felt the way Self suspects English and Robinson did would be flat-out wrong. There are former players on both sides of the state line who, to this day, still harbor a lot of disdain for the opposing side and can, in a second, get fired up when talking about the past and the Border War rivalry. But the two teams that take the floor on Sunday will not benefit from that added incentive.
Sure, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and the rest of this year’s Jayhawks, along with Michael Porter, Cuonzo Martin and the new-look Tigers will want to represent their schools and bring Border War bragging rights back home with them.
But it won’t be because they hate the other side. It will be because they know their fan bases do and giving the fans something to be proud of is a big part of why these guys compete the way they do.
In a world where hate fills the headlines day after day, sometimes hour after hour, it does not seem necessary for an exhibition game for a good cause to include hatred as part of the hook.
“You can try to sell it that way,” Self said. “But why waste energy trying to sell it that way for an exhibition game? The whole deal is to try to get better. I’ve said this before and I’ll reiterate it; this thing was done to raise money. So everybody in attendance can be proud that they’re doing something for others as opposed to just coming and watching their school play what was once considered, without question, their biggest rival.”
As with most games and nearly every special event, all sides and viewpoints will be represented in this one. Some fans will go just to enjoy the experience and add it to a long list of enjoyable KU basketball outings. Others will go with their intention being to get nasty and stir up trouble. As long as the two can peacefully coexist, to each his own.
But for the players themselves, Sunday’s game will not be about hating Mizzou or wanting to send a message. Instead, it will be about taking advantage of a golden opportunity to test themselves against another talented team before the season even begins and getting better in the process.
That is the main reason they plan to show up and play hard. And honoring the stakes their fans have in the bragging rights game, though important, is secondary motivation.
“It’s big,” sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “It’s another opportunity to play against a team that has legitimate talent and it’s an opportunity for us to see how we stack up and what we need to address heading into the season.”
As for the role the fans will play, Lightfoot said he and his teammates heard from a few hundred women during the program’s recent Ladies Night Out fund-raiser about how important this game was, and, while creating equal parts excitement and laughter, Lightfoot said he understood their message.
“They were just expressing how much they wanted us to win and stuff like that and telling us their memories from the Border War,” he said. “It’s really cool to see their passion about it.”
Added Newman, when asked whether he thought his team would get after it on Sunday: “Of course,” he said. “Why are you gonna go out there in front of all the fans and not play hard like it’s a real game?”
• BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of KU-MU Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
Lest we forget that athletes are human, too, the announcement of a 7 p.m. CT, primetime matchup featuring KU football and TCU on FOX this Saturday brought a little joy to the KU locker room.
The Jayhawks are coming off back-to-back-to-back-to-back 11 a.m. (CT, of course) kickoffs, starting at Ohio in a game that was technically played in the eastern time zone.
The Jayhawks' schedule on those days involved a 7 a.m. wakeup — which can be as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m. for players who require treatment — followed by a 7:30 a.m. offensive meeting and walkthrough. Then the players eat a meal and head to the stadium, all before 9 a.m. on a Saturday.
"Everyone's different. Some people like to sleep in, some people are early-morning risers," said quarterback Peyton Bender.
Anyone stand out in that second group?
"Not that I know of," Bender said with a laugh. "They kind of force us to be morning people, though."
It shouldn't come as any semblance of a shock that players relish the chance to sleep in.
It's also no excuse for the Jayhawks' performances over the last four weeks of the season, since their opponents have to wake up at the same time.
Still, the change is welcome.
"One thing that we've learned through our years is that you can't get them to take the rest on the front end. Kids just don't do it. Neither do we," said KU coach David Beaty. "They'll sleep in the morning, but they won't sleep at night. They're going to bed when they go to bed. That's just the way it is."
Some players handle the schedule better than others.
Redshirt junior Joe Dineen identified junior wideout Jeremiah Booker as someone who consistently brings energy no matter what time it is.
Dineen admittedly isn't much of a morning person himself, though he still manages to make it to the field on time.
"The thing with me is I get really nervous and I get anxiety so it's hard for me to sleep the night before a game anyways, let alone if I have to wake up early," Dineen said. "I'm not tired before the game, though. I'll tell you that. I get up and ready to go before the game. But maybe when I first get up I'm a little sleepy."
On the road, Dineen rooms with former Free State High teammate Keith Loneker Jr. — "Loud. Loud. Snores. Loud. Phone is loud," Dineen jokes of Loneker's morning habits — but that isn't where the biggest problems happen.
The night before a game, especially on the road, the coaches can just about guarantee players have their lights turned out by 10 or 10:30 p.m., depending on the schedule.
The rest of the week, however...
"It's critical," said defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. "That's where sometimes having older, mature kids is a little bit better. You know these guys in their first, second, even third year of college, it's still kind of fun for 'em."
The coaches address that very thing with the players. In addition to conversations about sleep and decision-making throughout the week, players can also read articles posted on the wall of the weight room with studies relating sleep to peak performance, reaction time and memory, according to Dineen.
That being said, the coaches aren't blind to the idea that college kids are going to be, well, college kids.
"You know what I mean," Bowen said with a smile. "You remember those first few years."
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
One of the most popular comments from the Kansas basketball crowd that was not in favor of renewing the Border War with Sunday’s Showdown for Relief scrimmage at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., was the declaration that they would write a check to hurricane relief for 10 times the amount of a ticket to keep the game from happening.
Well, the game is happening and, as you surely know by now, is already sold out. So finding fans to gobble up those tickets clearly was not that tough of a task.
But I don’t think those folks who said they’d rather donate their money another way were all that crazy. In fact, they might have been on to something.
Instead of breaking down and bringing the Border War back for a day, KU and Mizzou easily could have waged a fund-raising war against one other, with coaches and even players (if the NCAA would allow it) urging their fan base to donate to a specific charity in support of hurricane relief.
It could’ve been a weeklong endeavor or a month or even a year and both athletic departments could have updated fans on a regular basis about where they stood in an effort to (a) drive the competition and (b) keep people informed about how much money had been raised to date.
It might not have brought the same excitement as Devonte’ Graham and Udoka Azubuike against Michael Porter Jr. and new MU coach Cuonzo Martin, but it definitely would have worked toward achieving the end goal of raising money for hurricane relief.
As it stands, they’ll play a game instead and donate a bunch of money to hurricane relief while, at the same time, giving fans from both sides — and, yes, there are KU fans out there who are more than fired up about Sunday’s showdown — a nice memory in the storied Border War rivalry and yet another reason to get excited about the upcoming season.
But don’t give up on that idea of a head-to-head, fan base vs. fan base fund-raising campaign on the side.
One of our commenters here at KUsports.com — David Robinett — was part of a group that put together exactly the type of challenge we’re talking about. And it could not be easier to execute.
All you have to do is dial #250 from your cell phone and then follow the prompts that ask you for a “key word” — in this case, “Kansas” or “Missouri.”
From there, you will receive a text message with a link to a Red Cross account that is designed to collect money for hurricane relief from either Kansas or Missouri fans.
Robinett, a member of the KU Class of 1983, said they will track the results, i.e. who donates more, KU or MU fans, and we’ll definitely get an update from him sometime next week.
No need to worry about this being any kind of a scam. I tried it myself and the text came with a link that takes you to a redcross.org page where you can donate.
Following the link that is sent to you via text is important, though, because that’s how they’ll track things.
Without so much as scoring an actual basket or helping the Jayhawks snag a victory that counts, freshman guard Marcus Garrett already has made quite an impression on Kansas coach Bill Self.
That’s because Garrett, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Dallas native who has grown bigger, stronger and tougher every day since arriving in Lawrence last summer has carried himself like a veteran from the minute he arrived.
There is no immaturity in Garrett’s game. There’s even less in his demeanor. But he’s also not one of those overly intense athletes about whom the words, “Chill, man” come to mind when watching him operate.
Instead, Garrett is just sort of there, ready, willing and able to fill whatever role the Kansas coaches ask him to fill and having a blast while doing it.
The versatile guard so perfectly has fit into the Kansas basketball culture that Self constantly goes out of his way to mention Garrett when talking with reporters. Sometimes it’s his defense. Other times it’s his versatility. And still other times it’s the potential for him to be the one player best suited to fill the Josh Jackson role from a season ago, albeit not at the level that the future-No. 4 overall pick did.
His teammates like him. He already looks like the kind of player who has been around KU for years. And, the best part about all of it is that it seems incredibly likely that he will be around for at least the next three. That sets him up to have a pretty nice career and the early stages of it will be seen plenty this season.
Asked for his thoughts about Garrett during KU’s recent media day, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham’s face lit up when he started talking about him.
“He’s gonna be good a player here,” Graham said simply. “He’s gonna be really, really, really good.”
While that might be forecasting ahead a bit, let’s take a look at what to expect from Garrett during the 2017-18 season.
He Will: Become a KU fan favorite almost immediately
There’s a chance that this will happen without a lot of people even noticing. After all, this is still a team with Graham and Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick and Billy Preston on it. And those guys, as well as others, figure to catch the attention of Kansas fans much more often than Garrett.
Still, there will be those moments, perhaps even once per game, when just about every KU fan out there finds themselves saying, “Man, I really like this kid,” when Garrett checks out of the game after a productive and no-frills four or five minutes on the floor.
The reason? He’s a hustler. Garrett knows how to play, he knows how to do what the coaches ask and, perhaps most importantly, he’s willing to take on whatever role is necessary to both get him minutes and help the team.
Sometimes that will be locking down an opposing scorer. Other times that will be hitting the glass when KU’s bigs are in foul trouble. And other times it will be for hustling to get back just in the nick of time to save a bucket or diving out of bounds after a loose ball to save a possession.
He Won’t: Play enough minutes to put up big numbers in any category
It’s obvious that Self likes Garrett and plans to use him. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Remember, the four guards in the rotation ahead of Garrett are proven players with a ton of talent and even more experience.
So, whether Self loves him or not, it’s not as if the Kansas coach is going to play Garrett 30 minutes a game by limiting Graham, Malik Newman, Vick or Svi Mykhailiuk in the process. Those guards area all going to play well above 30 minutes a game so the minutes available for Garrett in the backcourt should be limited.
The good thing about it, though, is the Dallas freshman who was a triple-double machine at Skyline High during his senior season, is capable of learning all four positions and therefore can spell any of the four whenever they need a break, be it for a breather or because of foul trouble.
That alone should allow Garrett to play in the 10-12 minute range on most nights. And, if the bigs get into foul trouble and he is asked to emulate Jackson by using his strength, length and size to hold it down at the 4 for a few minutes one night, his minutes will go up from there.
But even if he is on the floor for as many as 20 minutes a game, it’s not as if he’s suddenly going to be a No. 1 option in any area. As is the case with most freshman, Garrett’s numbers will come from him being ready to contribute whenever and wherever his number is called. But that role is not one that often fills up a stat sheet.
He Might: Be this team’s best defender
Quick hands, a good head, long legs and physical strength, Garrett is so gifted athletically that he can match up with just about anybody, 1 through 4, when he’s on the defensive end of the floor.
More than his ability to do it is his willingness, as Garrett has never seen a challenge he didn’t like.
It’s going to take a lot more than the solid defense he showed during the team’s exhibition trip to Italy to prove that Garrett can be a big time defender in the Big 12. But, again, the freshman is up for whatever role he can find that helps the team. And he’s smart enough to know that the fastest way to playing time with Bill Self is to become a tough and trustworthy defender.
Garrett will never have the too-cool-for-school vibe that some players exhibit which prevents them from giving all they have on the defensive end.
And being willing is half of the battle to becoming a good defender. The other half is listening to Self and his assistants, emphasizing team defense as much as individual defense and competing tooth and nail on every possession no matter who the opponent is or what the situation.
Garrett will do those things, he’ll like doing them and it will be easy to see when, night after night, he frustrates older, more experienced players, even if for just a few minutes.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman
Part V: • Udoka Azubuike
Part VI: • Billy Preston
The work is not done in the 2018 recruiting class for the Kansas men’s basketball program, which, after landing three big time commitments in the past couple of months, currently boasts the No. 2-ranked class to date per Rivals.com, just three points behind Michigan State, which has five 2018 players committed.
Among the 2018 class thus far, Bill Self and company are tied for tops in the nation, with Arizona and Duke, with two five-star commitments and also sit tied with Arizona with a 4.67 average-per-playing star rating.
Point guard Devon Dotson, who committed to Kansas last week, and Oak Hill big man David McCormack, are both five-star prospects. And IMG forward Silvio De Sousa, who was the first in the class to commit to Kansas, is a listed as a four-star prospect with the potential to move up.
Needless to say, that trio alone would leave Kansas in pretty good shape, both in terms of reloading its roster and in the team rankings when the ink on all of the signings is dry.
But the fact that KU is still heavily involved with some of the top players in the class, including powerhouse forward Zion Williamson, leaves the potential for KU’s 2018 recruiting class to be the best in school history, no small feat.
The Jayhawks remain in the hunt for Williamson, and also are pursuing guards Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford. It’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which all three decide to become Jayhawks and it seems likely that at least one of them will.
KU has been rumored for weeks to be a strong possibility for Langford and the addition of Dotson only strengthens KU’s chances at landing Williamson because the 6-7, 230-pound, do-everything forward who visited KU for Late Night absolutely loves playing with Dotson.
Add to that the fact that Dotson is now in hot pursuit of any and all potential Kansas teammates and it’s easy to see that the Jayhawks are far from done in what is already shaping up to be a stellar class.
“Of course I’m gonna be going hard after some other players in my class trying to get them to join me,” Dotson wrote in his USA Today blog after his commitment. “I’m gonna be talking to Zion. I feel like me and Quentin Grimes would play well together and Romeo Langford too. Those are the players I’m focusing on for now.”
While Dotson turns up the heat on some of the top remaining talent in the 2018 class, the KU coaches continue to try to close the deal on a couple more 2018 prospects while also exploring possibilities for 2019 and beyond.
Self and company got some good news on that front earlier this week, when Vernon Carey, the No. 1 overall player in the 2019 class, per Rivals.com, revealed his Top 8, with Kansas firmly in the mix.
Carey, a 6-9, 230-pound forward from University High in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, listed Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, UCLA and UNC as his finalists, telling Corey Evans of Rivals.com: “I just feel like I have good relationship with all their coaching staffs. I am probably talking to Duke, Michigan State and Miami the most.”
KU has some work to do to crack Carey’s final list, but the Jayhawks also have time. Carey told Evans that he planned to trim his list one final time next summer before making a decision.
That gives the KU coaches time to continue to make their pitch to the versatile lefty while also continuing efforts to add to the already-stacked 2018 class that just keeps getting better and has taken a lot of the stress of the class out of the equation by landing so many quality early commitments.
Remember, KU had just one early commitment in the 2017 class — four-star guard Marcus Garrett — and only wound up with two players in the entire class, leaving KU with one unused scholarship heading into the 2017-18 season.
• Entire segment is about the upcoming KU-Mizzou exhibition game at Sprint Center.
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
One day after learning that Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham had been named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list, Graham’s running mate, Malik Newman, landed on the Jerry West list.
Newman, a transfer from Mississippi State, who sat out last season and is eligible to play this year, is one of 20 shooting guards from throughout the country to land on the Jerry West preseason list.
Named after Hall of Famer and 1959 NCAA Final Four Most Valuable Player Jerry West, the annual honor, in its fourth year, recognizes the top shooting guard in Division I men's college basketball.
A national committee comprised of top college basketball personnel determined the watch list of 20 candidates, which can be altered at any point during the 2017-18 season.
The list will be trimmed to 10 in February, five in March and a winner will be announced in April during the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles.
Newman, the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, led the Jayhawks in scoring during their four-game exhibition trip to Italy this summer. Before that, he averaged 11.3 points per game while starting 22 of 29 games during his freshman year at Mississippi State.
2018 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award Candidates
Allonzo Trier - Arizona
Mustapha Heron - Auburn
Jerome Robinson - Boston College
TJ Haws - BYU
Marcus Foster - Creighton
Grayson Allen - Duke
KeVaughn Allen - Florida
Rob Gray – Houston
Malik Newman - Kansas
Hamidou Diallo - Kentucky
Bruce Brown Jr. - Miami
Lonnie Walker - Miami
Quinndary Weatherspoon - Mississippi St.
E.C. Matthews - Rhode Island
Khadeen Carrington - Seton Hall
Shamorie Ponds - St. John's
Tyus Battle - Syracuse
Andrew Jones - Texas
De'Anthony Melton - USC
Daxter Miles Jr. - West Virginia
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
The day hundreds of KU fans and nearly every Missouri fan has been waiting years for is now just a few days out, when the Border War returns, for one day only, in the form of a basketball scrimmage Sunday at Sprint Center.
While the reasons for the game have been well documented and are almost entirely focused on raising money for hurricane victims and little else, there’s still plenty to like about the idea of these two bitter, old rivals getting back together for what promises to be an intriguing match-up at the very least.
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing clear up front: Kansas is and should be a heavy favorite in this game, with the fictional point spread hitting somewhere around 10-12 points in KU’s favor.
The experience, the talent, the familiarity within the system and the coaching advantage all favor Kansas. And if both teams were to line up and play a winner-take-all type of game, the Jayhawks would probably win by double digits.
The fact that it’s an exhibition game that means nothing and figures to feature every player on both rosters getting at least a few minutes of court time changes things a little because we just don’t know how hard either side will compete — or coach — to win this game.
Sure, it’s important. Neither side wants to lose it. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth wearing down your guys or risking injuries just to win a game that does not count. So you have to factor that into the equation when thinking about just how competitive this one will be.
The guess here is that it will be more fun than ferocious. Remember, none of the players on either side have ever experienced a true Border War game. They might know the history and even know a couple of players who competed in the good old days, but that still keeps them at a bit of a distance from the teeth of the rivalry and one random Sunday exhibition won’t change that.
With that said, here’s a quick look at five things I’m most looking forward to about Sunday’s Border War Showdown for Relief:
1 – The crowd split
This one feels a little like an NCAA Tournament game or neutral site clash in that one of the big questions surrounding it will be which team’s fans show up in greater numbers.
Remember wondering that during the Big 12 tournament for a couple of those KU-Iowa State clashes? Or how about up in Omaha, during the NCAA Tournament, when KU and Wichita State finally faced off? Each university in this scenario was given exactly half of the tickets available for the Border War revival. But does that mean Sprint Center will be 50 percent crimson and blue and 50 percent black and gold? I doubt it.
One side will have more fans there and one side will be louder. Will those two be the same?
2 – Michael Porter Jr.
I won’t lie. I want to see how good this kid is. Every recruiting guru out there has raved about him for the past couple of years and the most recent ESPN.com 2018 NBA mock draft by Jonathan Givony (formerly of draftexpress.com) has him listed as the No. 2 overall pick.
That’s serious praise for some serious talent, something KU fans know a thing or two about. It’ll be interesting to see if it jumps off the court in this one or if Porter, at this stage in the season, looks like just another guy.
3 – Udoka Azubuike vs. real talent
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the KU big man play against real talent. And, no, those camp scrimmages in the summer do not count because nobody is actually trying to stop him because nobody wants to (a) get hurt or (b) hurt him. And this summer, in Italy, where Azubuike played just two games, the Italian teams he faced offered little resistance in the way of size or skill, which led to a dunk fest for two games for the KU big man.
The Tigers’ roster features three players who have the kind of measurements that might allow them to match up with KU’s 7-foot, 280-pound monster. One is Porter’s brother Jontay, a 6-11, 240-pound forward who reclassified to join the team. Another is prized freshman Jeremiah Tilmon, who stands 6-10, 252, and was actually recruited by KU for a little bit. And the other is 6-10, 252-pound sophomore Reed Nikko, who played in 28 games a year ago. None of these three are as big and imposing as Azubuike, but, as a trio, they should be able to challenge him a little.
4 – What lineup will Kansas go with?
I’m not talking about just a starting lineup here — although that will be interesting — I’m talking about the way the Jayhawks play throughout the course of the scrimmage.
Last week, a media day, KU coach Bill Self said he wanted to play with two big men at least 50 percent of the time, down a little from the 70 percent goal he had stated after Late Night. While drawing too many conclusions from what happens in a meaningless exhibition game would be foolish, it would also be foolish to not at least take note of how Self works his rotation and what kinds of lineups he puts on the floor against a real, live, breathing, potentially Top 25 Division I team.
5 – How much money can they raise?
Let’s not forget the whole point of this deal, and, with ticket prices expected to bring it at least a quarter of a million dollars on their own, it will be interesting to see just how much money they can get for this high-profile fundraiser.
Self said last week that the hope was to exceed $1 million and, with concessions and other opportunities to donate all over the arena being prevalent, it certainly seems possible.
KU officials said on Tuesday that they had sold out of their allotment of tickets and Missouri announced the same thing earlier in the week, meaning the secondary ticket market is the only remaining place to purchase tickets for Sunday's 3 p.m. game.
One thing I’ve seen a ton of people complain about is how the game won’t be televised and how they’re missing out on a great opportunity to get even more money from television viewers. But that’s a bad excuse for not donating. If you’re complaining about it because you would’ve donated had the game been on television, bust out your credit card and donate to the American Red Cross now and follow along with our coverage and/or on the radio broadcast on game day.
One KU official told me that KU and MU could have televised the game but elected not to because their priority was to fill the building.
With rumors of a possible scrimmage, for charity, between the Kansas and Missouri men's basketball teams later this month dominating sports talk in the area late Thursday afternoon, one natural question came to mind.
Are Kansas fans excited or upset about the idea of renewing the Border War with the Tigers, even if only for a day?
A quick Twitter poll that was open for just 15 hours drew more than 1,700 votes and revealed that people appear be split down the middle, with 52 percent of voters saying they were against the idea and the other 48 percent saying they couldn't wait for it.
While there still has been no official word about whether the scrimmage will actually happen, it's worth noting that this is far from a slam dunk, at least from the Kansas side of things.
Sure, the idea behind the game is a good one — old rivals come together to raise money for hurricane relief. How can anyone argue with a good cause like that?
But it seems as if there are more than a few KU fans who still believe the Jayhawks and Tigers should never play again because, in their minds, it was Mizzou who ended the rivalry and the Jayhawks don't own them anything.
That debate will rage on for a while. Possibly even decades. And the particulars have been well documented throughout the past few years.
What will be interesting is to see how the attendance breaks down at Sprint Center, if this scrimmage is in fact played. The guess here is that the crowd advantage would got to the Tigers, with the advantage on the court clearly going to Kansas.
Time will tell if either of those guesses are true or if the game even happens. But, at least based on a little feedback from Twitter, it's clear that not everyone is giddy about the potential game.
The most popular theory circulating among fans of the Kansas men’s basketball program says that point guard Devonte’ Graham returned to KU for his senior season to take the reins from Frank Mason III and make his own run at national player of the year honors.
At least one publication believes that scenario is entirely possible.
Attempting to pinpoint the preseason picks for national player of the year during the upcoming 2017-18 college basketball season, Chris Johnson, of SI.com, recently tossed Graham into his first tier, labeled “The Favorites.”
Graham was joined by Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Duke’s Grayson Allen.
“Last season Graham played second fiddle to the senior guard who swept the national player of the year awards, Frank Mason,” Johnson wrote. “Mason’s departure, as well as that of lottery-bound freshman forward Josh Jackson, should enable Graham to spread his wings as a featured scorer and lead playmaker while piloting a team that’s heavily favored to take home at least a share of its 14th consecutive Big 12 championship.”
Johnson projects Graham’s senior stats to look something like this — 15.8 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game and 4.3 assists per game.
While those numbers are a notch below what Mason was able to produce last season — 20.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.2 apg — they speak to a similar impact, with Graham both scoring and setting up teammates to do the same while chipping in on the glass and on defense.
Beyond that, Johnson’s projections and lofty praise are based on the fact that Graham’s minutes and points per game increased during each of his first three seasons at KU.
“Our model likes Graham to continue his positive year-over-year trend in scoring efficiency, and he’s a good bet to shoulder one of the heaviest minutes loads in the conference,” Johnson wrote. “The biggest cause for hesitation with Graham involves one of his teammates: The more times Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman calls his own number, the fewer shots there will be for Graham to take.”
While those four were listed as the favorites, Johnson’s list featured six other names broken into two more tiers.
The “Challengers” included Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), and Joel Berry II (North Carolina). The “Don’t Overlook These Guys” tier included Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) and Jock Landale (Saint Mary’s).
It’s not in any way Billy Preston’s fault.
The Kansas freshman was not the man who labeled himself a five-star player. He did not place himself in the Top 10 of most recruiting rankings. And he did not award himself a spot on the McDonald’s All-American or Jordan Brand All-Star rosters.
All he did was grow to be 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, with a freakish frame, incredible athleticism and skills that few men his size possess.
So, yeah, when the college basketball world sees a player like Preston, the hype and expectations are going to be through the roof for what he can do or should be.
People, whether they want to admit it or not, already are expecting and hoping for Preston to be KU’s next great one-and-done player. And he might end up being just that.
But as of today, he’s just another player on a good team that’s trying to put it all together in time for the start of the 2017-18 season, which is now just three weeks away.
Remembering that will go a long way toward allowing fans to enjoy the Billy Preston experience at Kansas and here’s a quick look at what to expect, whether the upcoming season is Preston’s lone season at KU or not.
He Will: Frustrate the Kansas coaches for most, if not all, of the 2017-18 season.
This isn’t a knock — far from it. It’s just that when someone is gifted with a frame and the kind of physical tools that Preston possesses, they’re going to encounter situations where their coaches have high expectations and always want to see them play up to their ceilings.
That’s tough for any player to do consistently. But it’s even tougher to ask that of a true freshman getting his first taste of big time college basketball.
I don’t think the KU coaches will ask too much of Preston. But I do think they’ll expect him to at least be a factor inside and also will constantly be waiting for that moment when it all clicks and the five-star forward transitions from understudy to monster.
If such a moment happens for Preston, it will go a long way toward making the Jayhawks one of the top NCAA title contenders in the country. Who knows whether it will. But you can count on their being some frustrating games and practices while we wait to find out the answer.
He Won’t: Stop working to try and improve.
We haven’t seen a ton of Preston yet, but what we have seen has looked an awful lot like a young man who wants to learn as much as possible while he’s in college.
What Preston lacks in terms of giving all-out effort and intensity when he’s on the floor, he makes up for behind the scenes, where he constantly seems to be working to understand and utilize the lessons being thrown at him by the Kansas coaching staff and KU’s upperclassmen.
Going as far as to call him a sponge might be a step too far, but it’s clear that he has that insatiable desire to learn and improve his game.
The big question for Preston will be if he can improve to the point where his effort and intensity are consistent enough to match his desire to be great.
Doing so will require him to ditch his old habits, get out of his comfort zone and play with the kind of tenacity that Josh Jackson showed throughout his lone season as a Jayhawk. That's not to say Preston should try to be — or even could try to be — Jackson, but he absolutely could play with the same kind of fire that Jackson brought to the floor for every possession on both ends of the court. He just needs to change his mindset, listen to his coaches and convince himself that substance matters more than style.
He Might: Figure it all out by Big 12 play and be the X Factor for this KU team.
No matter who they are or what their status, freshmen typically need time to adjust to the college game. And Preston will be no different.
Even though KU’s non-conference schedule features a lot of home games against low-profile teams from smaller conferences, many of those teams feature veterans who have played a lot of college basketball and have matured, both mentally and physically, to the point of being able to hang with even the most talented freshmen in the college game.
So while one might think that a player of Preston’s pedigree should dominate teams like Tennessee State and Toledo and Texas Southern, that’s not always the way it goes. In fact, it rarely happens that way.
Those games do, however, provide a good opportunity for freshmen like Preston to learn and grown, make mistakes and get better, all with the goal being to have things figured out well enough by January to jump into Big 12 Conference play with a better understanding of what it takes to compete at this level and play at Kansas.
The biggest key here is consistency and progress. If Preston can get a little bit better each day and each week and avoid taking steps backwards or hitting major roadblocks, the coaching he gets and teammates he’s playing with will get him to the point where he can be a factor for this team when conference play begins (Dec. 29 at Texas) and the Jayhawks fire up their run for a record 14th consecutive Big 12 title.
Few teams Kansas faces will have a player who can match up with Preston's combination of size, skill and athleticism. And if he reaches the point where he is able and willing to exploit that by playing on the perimeter when it's warranted and doing work inside when it's needed, the freshman could play a huge role in just how far this team can go this season.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman
Part V: • Udoka Azubuike
This is how it starts.
An ESPN.com report from Jeff Borzello, dated Oct. 7, indicates that five-star, Class of 2018 prospect Jahvon Quinerly, who currently is committed to Arizona, has hired a lawyer in response to the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
According to Borzello, Quinerly, who was briefly recruited by Kansas — KU offered Quinerly a scholarship in August of 2016 and continued to recruit him through April of 2017 — has not been contacted by federal agents and it is important to note that there was nothing in the FBI’s initial findings directly linking the five-star point guard to any wrong-doing.
But the mere fact that he and his family feel the need to hire legal representation shows you, yet again, just how serious this thing could get.
Picture this: Here’s a young man on the brink of his senior season of high school basketball who just committed to Arizona after being wooed by some of the biggest and baddest college basketball programs in the land. Quinerly should be having the time of his life. Instead, he has hired a lawyer and is reading things with his name attached to them that reference the potential for him to miss some or even all of his freshman season of college ball if there’s even so much as the smallest link between him and the corruption that already took down Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson.
Talk about scary times.
According to Borzello’s report, Quinerly was recruited by Richardson, one of four assistants at four schools who were named in the initial findings, and investigation documents allege that a $15,000 bribe was paid by Richardson to “Player-5,” who “verbally committed to attending” Arizona “on or about August 9, 2017.”
According to 247 Sports, Quinerly committed to Arizona on Aug. 8.
For now, there is nothing concrete about Quinerly’s involvement in any of this. But the simple act of putting two and two together sure makes it look like there could be something there.
And if there is, you can add another party to the long list of players who have the potential to blow this thing wide open, a list that now includes federal investigators, high school recruits, current college players, former college players, head coaches, assistant coaches, fired coaches, administrators, parents, shoe company executives and more.
I mean, Quinerly might be the absolute best young man in America, but if the feds are able to prove he was involved in this corruption, it’s not hard to imagine the New Jersey point guard sharing everything he knows, good and bad, with eager investigators.
A New York Post report from Sept. 30 tells the story of a father of an unnamed former Louisville standout who claims his son was offered $100,000 “by someone from a rival of Louisville’s,” during his recruitment.
While the identity of that Louisville "rival" certainly is intriguing, it's hardly the most important part of the story. What is is the fact that this kind of behavior has been going on for some time now (big surprise, right?) and more and more people are slowly starting to tell their stories.
In the New York Post story, the father also claims that “while Adidas had no impact on my son’s decision to go to Louisville, other kids he played with in AAU were definitely led by sneaker companies. I saw it all the time. Their influence runs very deep — especially with families that don’t have means.”
With Twitter messages from national college basketball reporters and even the likes of college hoops guru Dick Vitale starting to surface about the likelihood that more names soon will be implicated in the scandal that could change college basketball forever, it appears as if this story is likely to get more intense as the days go by.
While college programs across the country continue to pursue them at a fevered rate, some of the best high school players in the country will get a break from the recruiting rumbling this weekend for an opportunity with USA Basketball.
Saturday and Sunday in Colorado Springs, 54 elite prep prospects will participate in a USA Basketball minicamp, with the goal of giving the athletes continued exposure to the international game while also advancing and developing their overall skills in a fun and ferocious setting.
“This minicamp will be extremely competitive as we are bringing the top seniors in the country along with the top U17 players together,” said USA Basketball’s Don Showalter, who has guided USA Basketball to nine-straight gold medals as head coach of the USA Men’s U16 and U17 National Teams since 2009. “These players will be competing against the best, so the scrimmages will be intense. They are all familiar with the FIBA rules and understand international competition to a degree, and most will come in with some knowledge of the USA Basketball culture, having been to a training camp previously.”
Eighteen of the 54 invitees are from the prep class of 2018, including Kansas targets Zion Williamson, Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford.
The remaining 36 spots will be filled by players in the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021, including R.J. Hampton, Jalen Suggs, James Wiseman and many other players on KU’s radar.
The 2018 graduates are eligible for the 2018 USA Junior National Select Team that will compete in the 21st annual Nike Hoop Summit next April. The underclassmen will be eligible for the 2018 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Cup Team, which will compete in Argentina next summer.
Thirty-nine of the invited minicamp participants own prior USA Basketball experience, including 15 gold medalists. They will be coached by Showalter and a group of assistants that includes former NBA star Penny Hardaway.
The two-day minicamp will feature morning and afternoon sessions each day, with scrimmages and skill sessions accounting for the majority of their time in Colorado.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown is focused on October 18. Lawrencians may have an earlier date in mind.
On Thursday, former KU standout and current 76er Joel Embiid participated in full court 5-on-5 scrimmages with his team for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left knee in March. The team listed him as a full participant in practice, though it noted he'll be out for Friday's game against the Celtics.
So what's with the dates?
First, there's October 18, the day of the regular season opener for the 76ers this year. According to NBC Sports' Jessica Camerato, the goal for Embiid was to be ready to play in that game against the Wizards, which, by the way, will be televised on ESPN.
The second date, though, has a little more local meaning.
On Friday, October 13, Embiid and the 76ers will play an exhibition game against the Miami Heat at Sprint Center, meaning fans will get the chance to watch the former lottery pick in person some 40 miles east of Allen Fieldhouse — that is, if he plays.
"I would like to play preseason," Embiid said on Thursday, according to Camerato, "because last year I think it helped me a little bit just get in a groove."
Sure enough, Embiid appeared in seven preseason games last year, scoring in double figures in each of the last five.
Though he never played more than 20 minutes in any of those contests, Embiid was able to carry that momentum into the regular season. He broke out with a 20-point, 7-rebound, 2-block outing on opening night and impressed so much that despite only playing in 31 games he finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year.
"He's dominant and it's hard really, like, to find matchups," Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters on Thursday. "He comes in and he really does make an impact immediately on whatever we're doing."
So far, per Camerato, Embiid is on schedule with his rehab. If anything he might even be ahead of pace.
So where does that leave Embiid? Clearly he'd like to play sooner rather than later, and there's a lot for fans hopeful to watch him in person to be encouraged with.
But hey, even if you can't make it out for the game, there might be another way you can catch him live. It'll save you a little money on seats, though the plane ticket to Philadelphia might set you back a few hundred bucks.
He’s arguably the most important and easily the biggest player on the 2017-18 Kansas basketball roster and he enters the upcoming season with the potential to go a number of different directions.
His name, of course, is Udoka Azubuike, and he’s KU’s 7-foot sophomore who played just 11 games last season and missed out on an outstanding opportunity to ease into college basketball with a veteran team so he would be ready for a much bigger role during the 2017-18 season.
That season is here now — practices officially began earlier this week — and, ready or not, Azubuike’s role is as crucial as any on this team.
Not only will he be asked to rebound and protect the paint on the defensive end, but KU coach Bill Self keeps talking about the big fella developing enough of a true post game to be a force on offense, as well.
If that happens, regardless of how many minutes he can play, the sky’s the limit for Azubuike, both during his sophomore season and beyond.
If not, it will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks’ thin front court and deep crop of guards works around whatever shortcomings Azubuike has.
Throughout the offseason, Self has been pleased with the effort and work Azubuike has put in to improving his body, his stamina and his game. But with the season now right around the corner, the time has come for Azubuike to take an even bigger step and prove that he can be everything this team needs him to be.
Whether that’s the case or not will play a big part in just how big the upcoming season can be.
He Will: Break a rim this season
During the two games he played in Italy, Azubuike nearly ended the Rome portion of KU’s exhibition tour by breaking/bringing down the baskets they used in the small gymnasium the Jayhawks played in.
Granted, those goals were not the same kind of goals that you see in college basketball arenas across the United States, but that was hardly the point.
Every time he gets near the rim, Azubuike tries to bring the thing down. It’s just his mindset and his desired approach and he’s very, very good at it.
Azubuike’s penchant for punishing rims showed up at Late Night last week and that was against his own teammates. When he gets into game mode, against an opponent, there will be a night — maybe one of his six- or seven-dunk nights — where the rim gets a little weak and Azubuike brings it down.
I’m not saying he’ll shatter the glass or rip the whole unit to the floor, but I am saying there will be a night when the big man’s assault on the rim does enough damage to cause some kind of delay. For my sake, I’m hoping it doesn’t happen during one of KU’s later tip-offs. And for the sake of my friends and the good people in the KU facilities department, I’m hoping it doesn’t happen at Allen Fieldhouse.
He Won’t: Be in the conversation for all-Big 12 honors unless he develops better post moves
There’s no doubt that Azubuike will be a major focal point for every team KU plays this year. And the reality of it all is that there are very few teams out there who have a player who can match up well with the KU sophomore’s size and strength inside.
That’s good news for KU and, obviously, is the reason many believe, and even expect, that Azubuike could be a double-double machine this season.
Now the bad news: He has yet to show that he can consistently make the kind of post moves needed to be a guy the Jayhawks can throw the ball to when they need a bucket from the paint.
Don’t get me wrong, Azubuike will score plenty in the paint. But the guess here is that most of it will come from penetration by KU’s guards, who, after forcing the defense to collapse, will simply throw it up and let the big guy go get it. He does that very well and should get at least a few dunks and easy buckets a game on that alone.
He also figures to get fouled a lot simply because his size in close will be too much for most to handle. So if he has improved as a free throw shooter, he should be able to get points there, too.
But the combination of foul trouble (more on that in a minute) and his inconsistency as a back-to-the-basket scorer (at least as of today) lead me to believe that he won’t quite match what his enormous size advantage says he should.
An all-Big 12 second-team or honorable mention nod seems more likely than a first-team spot.
He Might: Be known as much for constant foul trouble as his monster dunks
OK. So back to that foul trouble thing.
KU coach Bill Self has talked a lot about Azubuike needing to learn how to play better defense in order to avoid foul trouble.
Self’s suggestions include, Azubuike using better footwork to guard his man; Azubuike doing more work early in the defensive possession to keep his man from getting good position; And Azubuike playing smarter when he does go to block a shot, which the Jayhawks will want him to do as often as humanly possible.
All three areas will take time. Remember, this is still a very young player we’re talking about. He turned 18 just a couple of weeks ago and, as mentioned above, only experienced this level of college basketball for 11 games a season ago.
During those 11 games, Azubuike averaged 8.7 fouls per 40 minutes, which proved to be the first red flag to announce that there might be an issue here.
Natural maturity and a better understanding of his role on the team and college basketball as a whole should be enough to get that number down. And, obviously, Azubuike is not going to play 40 minutes per game. But he can play 30, as long as he plays smart enough to stay on the floor.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman
Class of 2018 point guard Devon Dotson, the No. 17-ranked player in the country according to Rivals.com, appears to be down to two finalists in his recruitment — Kansas and Maryland.
And an announcement seems to be forthcoming.
So says Dotson’s father, Dana Dotson, who told Russ Wood, of the Rivals.com site Terrapin Sports Report, that his son’s decision would be revealed, “Pretty soon. Like in a week or so.”
That was Monday, so the smart money is on Dotson making some kind of announcement next week. While it remains to be seen which program he picks, it’s a safe assumption that it will be either KU or Maryland.
Florida was the other program with the best chance at landing Dotson, but the Gators' Monday commitment from five-star point guard Andrew Nembhard is believed to have closed the book on the idea of Dotson becoming a Gator, leaving KU and Maryland as the clear leaders.
Dotson has visited both programs — Kansas in late August and Maryland last weekend — and he also has hosted coaches from each program for in-home visits.
If you’re the type that likes to dive into the reaction from each visit to see if that will predict what decision will be made, you might be inclined to say advantage Kansas.
When asked after the visit to Lawrence how things went, Dotson’s father used the word “great” when recapping the visit for recruiting analysts. When asked the same question by Wood about last week’s visit to Maryland, Dotson’s father said the visit was “good.”
Those are just words. And it’s hardly a safe bet to base any kind of prediction off of a single word. But there’s little denying that most people believe that great is better than good.
Either way, it was information the Dotson family was in search of during these visits. Specifically, how each program saw the 6-foot-1, 180-pound, five-star point guard from Charlotte fitting into their roster next year.
At Kansas, the feedback was favorable, as Dotson’s father told him the coaches continually emphasized that they could see Dotson operating as the team’s point guard right away.
At Maryland, which features sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan already in place, the focus was on how the Terps’ roster would look a year from now.
“The one thing we did ask for on the way out is just their projected depth chart,” Dotson’s father told Wood. “We wanted to see, ‘Who do you really expect to be there next year, who do you really expect to be there sophomore year?’ They have a couple of guys that are pretty talented and have a shot of going to the NBA. We do it ourselves, but we can’t do it from a coach’s point (of view).”
That’s where help from the coaches comes in and they often have to answer the same questions more than once just to reassure players and their families that what they remember or are thinking is correct.
While Maryland gained an advantage in hosting Dotson most recently, it’s worth noting that during the past two weeks alone, KU coaches Bill Self, Norm Roberts and Jerrance Howard all have made their way to Charlotte to check in on Dotson.
With the visits behind them and all of the information and answers in front of them, it seems as if it now is time for the Dotson family to wade through it all and come to a conclusion about which school is best for them.
For what it’s worth, the 247 Sports Crystal Ball predictions have Kansas listed as the heavy favorite for Dotson, at 82 percent.