Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
The Kansas University athletic department finished the past year ranked 23rd nationally in total revenue earned, this despite continuing to field a football program that severely limits the earning potential of the department.
According to numbers published by USA Today on Friday, Kansas, led primarily by its elite men's basketball program, finished just shy of the $100,000,000 mark in total revenue, pulling in $97,681,066. That total put Kansas fourth in the Big 12 behind Texas (2nd, $161 million), Oklahoma (7th, $129 million) and Oklahoma State (11th, $118 million).
The next closest Big 12 school to Kansas was West Virginia, which pulled in $78 million during the past year and placed 35th nationally.
It's still a ways down the road and far from a guarantee. But imagine for a second if new football coach David Beaty and his staff can get things going again and have Memorial Stadium close to full on a weekly basis year after year. With that kind of financial impact, KU easily could jump into the Top 10, especially if the Big 12 dollars continue to grow.
Speaking of those, the USA Today numbers were released on the same day that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby revealed that the Big 12 institutions pulled in roughly $25.6 million apiece from a $252 million pie as a part of the conference's revenue distribution from TV deals. That number is for the eight full-share members of the conference. Newbies TCU and West Virginia each pulled in about $23 million as outlined in the agreement they signed when they joined the conference a couple of years ago.
Thanks to ever-increasing television contracts and the continued attractiveness of the Big 12 market, those numbers are higher than the conference was able to dish out a year ago and Bowlsby said that trend is expected to continue in the future. Big 12 officials believe that the payout could reach as high as $44 million per school by the end of the current TV contracts.
Football may be costing KU in a lot of ways, but the financial health of the athletic department certainly looks better than many believe. That's not to say it's smooth sailing up there, but it's also not complete chaos either. And a big chunk of the credit for that goes to athletic director Sheahon Zenger, his vision and his philosophies on spending and not writing checks that your butt can't cash, along with the dedication and commitment to those areas by his entire staff.
Of course, even Zenger himself would tell you that the incredible earning potential of the men's hoops program is the department's golden egg and that one of his main focuses since taking over the job was to make sure that program had everything it needed to continue to function as a national power and world-wide brand.
Not too long ago, the Big 12 Conference's spring meetings were all about conference realignment, athletic directors and presidents ducking out of back exits and reporters stalking the halls of some hotels near the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, hoping to discover some sort of breaking news.
Times have changed since then, of course, and with the spring meetings back in Dallas, some pretty interesting breaking news was dropped into the laps of the laptop jockeys in attendance.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby on Wednesday announced that the conference had passed a measure regarding potentially serious penalties for court-storming following men's and women's basketball games. This, no doubt, was a reaction to the scene that unfolded last winter in Manhattan after a K-State victory over KU in which Bill Self was pinned against the scorer's table and Jamari Traylor was trucked by a wild KSU fan.
Although there are not specific consequences laid out for court-storming incidents the way there are in the SEC — where the schools are fined increasing amounts of money depending on the number of the offense — Bowlsby said he has been given "broad authority" to implement penalties against programs who can't keep their fans off the floor.
Now, obviously this never has been and likely won't be an issue at Allen Fieldhouse, where court-storming just doesn't happen these days. But it's definitely an issue that the rest of the conference should and will take note of, especially when KU comes to town. It's been an all-too familiar scene in recent years to see home fans storm the floor after their squad pulls off the upset over Kansas. Heck, some of those schools have even been ranked in the Top 20 and still seen their fans storm the floor after the emotional win over the conference king.
So be it. But when things boiled over to the point of physical harm and/or danger for the visiting players, something had to be done and the Big 12 has done it.
Bowlsby said the penalties could range from fines to the loss of future home games, both of which surely will get the attention of administrators, coaches and even fans throughout the league.
According to Big 12 rules, it's the responsibility of the home team, not the league, to protect players and team personnel in the event of a court storming.
Bowlsby having the power to hand out such severe punishments should future incidents occur, should create an environment free of rushing the floor throughout the Big 12 in years to come.
It's an exercise that could be done and could change every NBA season and never stop being enjoyable and entertaining.
And it hit me last night while I was watching Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Cleveland and Atlanta.
As Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague had his way with the Cavs' smaller guards in the first half, my mind wandered and tried to remember where Teague played his college ball. After a few minutes of thinking, it hit me and the following “conversation” played out in my head. “Wake Forest. That's right. Wake's pretty well represented in the NBA these days with Teague, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan. I wonder who else they have.”
Perhaps spurred on by an earlier conversation at work about which Florida guys Billy Donovan might try to stockpile on the Thunder, I then got serious and started racking my brain and searching the internet for a current NBA starting five from several of the powerhouse college programs.
Kansas, of course, was included in the exercise and I have to admit, for all that talk about Bill Self not having put too many bona fide stars in the league, the KU squad is pretty nice.
Here's a quick look at it and several others that helped me pass the time as the Cavs pulled away and LeBron James moved one game closer to a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Unreal.
KANSAS – If you're trying to put the best KU players in the starting five, the Jayhawks wind up a little small. But I'm not putting Pierce on the bench and I think I'd rather have McLemore out there than Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson or Cole Aldrich.
PG Mario Chalmers
SG Andrew Wiggins
SF Ben McLemore
SF Paul Pierce
PF Markieff Morris
FLORIDA – Beal might not be a true point guard, but I'm sure he could handle the role with this squad of hard-working, defensive-minded Gators.
PG Bradley Beal
SG Corey Brewer
SF David Lee
PF Al Horford
C Joakim Noah
NORTH CAROLINA – I thought the UNC squad was going to be pretty bad but it's better than I thought. Lawson's a stud, Green and Barnes are lights out shooters and Hansbrough is, well, Hansbrough. Not the best on this list but not terrible either.
PG Ty Lawson
SG Danny Green
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Tyler Hansbrough
C Ed Davis
MICHIGAN STATE – Richardson's an actual old man and Harris has barely played (though I think he has a bright future), but those other three are pretty legit.
PG Gary Harris
SG Shannon Brown
SF Jason Richardson
PF Draymond Green
C Zach Randolph
KENTUCKY – There's no doubt that UK was everybody's guess for the best current NBA squad and I think this lineup proves it. A lot of talented former Wildcats didn't make the cut here, which only further speaks to Kentucky's stellar presence in the Association.
PG John Wall
SG Rajon Rondo
SF Eric Bledsoe
PF DeMarcus Cousins
C Anthony Davis
UCLA – I didn't even really want to do a team for UCLA, but Westbrook's too talented to not mention. As it turned out, the team was better than I expected. Even if it is lacking size, it's not lacking scoring or athleticism.
PG Jrue Holiday
SG Russell Westbrook
SF Matt Barnes
PF Trevor Ariza
C Kevin Love
TEXAS – The backcourt leaves more than a little to be desired, but Durant and Aldridge earned UT a spot at the table. Tristan Thompson is starting to come into his own, as well, making this one of the best front courts on the list.
PG Corey Joseph
SG Avery Bradley
SF Kevin Durant
PF Tristan Thompson
C LaMarcus Aldridge
DUKE – Nothing too special here... yet. Once Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow land on an NBA roster next month, all three will probably crack this starting five and help the defending champs' current NBA squad stack up with the rest a little better.
PG Kyrie Irving
SG J.J. Redick
SF Luol Deng
PF Ryan Kelly
C Carlos Boozer
WAKE FOREST – As I mentioned above, this whole thing started with me wondering who else Wake had in the league and I quickly found out that the answer was not much. Still, CP3, Duncan and Teague is a pretty nasty trio.
PG Chris Paul
SG Jeff Teague
SF James Johnson
PF Al-Farouq Aminu
C Tim Duncan
MARQUETTE – I did this one strictly for Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan (a Marquette grad, in case you're somehow unaware of that) and the rapidly-emerging Jimmy Butler. That guy's a stud and this team's better than you think.
PG Darius Johnson-Odom
SG Wesley Matthews
SF Dwyane Wade
SF Jimmy Butler
PF Jae Crowder
SMALLER SCHOOLS – No way I could leave Steph Curry, the reigning NBA MVP off of here, so I went with a “smaller schools” category that clearly features some absolute studs.
PG Steph Curry
SG Damian Lillard
SF Kawhi Leonard
PF Kenneth Faried
C Andrew Bogut
NO COLLEGE – And, finally, I rounded the whole thing out with the guys who never went to college at all. No surprise here that this team is absolutely loaded. Even with Kobe and KG getting up theere in years, it's still the best of the bunch.
PG Monta Ellis
SG Kobe Bryant
SF LeBron James
PF Kevin Garnett
C Dwight Howard
Did I miss anyone that belonged on these teams or forget to include a college that should've been on here, as well? I probably could've done a dozen or so more but had to cut it off somewhere.
Sure the NFL season remains several months down the road and, yeah, most of the pro football news of late has been about the recent NFL Draft or Tom Brady and Deflategate, but it's not every day that a former Kansas University football player gets tapped as the fourth best player in all of football so we might as well talk about it.
That day came Tuesday, when Pro Football Focus, one of the top resources for NFL analytics, dubbed former Jayhawk Chris Harris as the No. 4 ranked player in the Pro Football Focus 101 of 2014.
Harris, a native of Bixby, Oklahoma, who is about to enter his fifth season with the Denver Broncos, was one of the top cornerbacks in the league last season.
If the season Darrelle Revis had in 2009 was the single best year we have seen from a cornerback in the PFF era – and it was – then Harris in 2014 got as close to it as anybody has come, and did it despite tearing his ACL in the playoffs the previous year. He came into this year just eight months removed from that injury and yet finished the season with a monster coverage grade and statistics that rivaled anybody.
Here are some of those statistics:
Harris was thrown at 89 times and did not allow a single touchdown.
• Harris allowed 46 receptions (51.7 percent) but gave up an average of just 7.7 yards per catch.
• Harris was not beaten for a pass longer than 22 yards all season.
• Harris finished with 3 interceptions and 10 passes defended.
• When opposing QBs threw Harris' way, they finished with a 47.8 passer rating.
According to PFF, those raw coverage numbers rank pretty close to Seattle stud Richard Sherman (the other cornerback in the Top 10) and are made all the more impressive given that Harris lines up all over the field, left side, right side, slot, nickel.
Although his numbers and the praise he receives from players, coaches and analysts throughout the league certainly put Harris in the elite players at his position, Pro Football Focus believes that Harris' old school mentality, which favors hard work over flash, may be keeping him from being thought of in the same regard as Sherman, Revis or others like him in the past.
Harris has never been used as creatively as Rex Ryan or Bill Belichick used Revis, and he isn’t the masterful self-promoter that Sherman is. He sticks to the old attitude of letting his play do the talking. Unfortunately, in today’s NFL, that doesn’t necessarily get you ahead, and Harris’ understated excellence hasn’t been enough to get him the recognition he deserves. Last season he was truly excellent. Better than Darrelle Revis. Better than Richard Sherman. Better than Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson or any other cornerback that has been in the conversation for best in the league.
Knowing Harris like I do, these are the things that drive him. He likes knowing that people still doubt him and loves going out there and proving everybody wrong. More than that, though, he just wants to win. He gladly would give up all of the stats and recognition for a ring and now that he has that hefty new contract and some financial security for his family's future, the only thing on his mind from here on out will be delivering a championship back to Denver.
Seasons like 2014, as hard as they might be to duplicate, certainly help and you can bet Harris will be looking to top those numbers when things get crackin' this fall.
Between recruiting, returning to Texas to see his family and touring the state to drum up interest for his new program, Kansas University football coach David Beaty has spent a lot of time on the road since being named KU's newest football coach.
This week, in some of KU's most important recruiting territories, Beaty will be entering a few more miles into his travel log.
Beginning Tuesday in Houston, Beaty will make a few stops to share with KU fans his vision for the program and a state of the program as it stands today.
Beaty will be joined by fellow Jayhawks, members of the KU Alumni Association, KU administration and assistant football coaches for a happy hour to talk about what's next for Kansas Football. Food will be provided with a cash bar. The events are free to the public.
Here's a quick look at the schedule for the week:
• Tuesday — Houston, Texas — 7-9 p.m. at Christian's Tailgate Heights, 2820 White Oak.
• Wednesday — Dallas, Texas — 7-9 p.m. at Henderson Tap House, 2323 N. Henderson Ave.
• Thursday — Denver, Colorado — 7-9 p.m. at Stoney's Bar & Grill, 1111 Lincoln St.
After that, it'll be back to Lawrence to get the team's summer conditioning program and summer camp schedule under way.
While Beaty's away, the Jayhawks themselves will be focusing on this week's final exams.
Good luck to our players and all KU students this week on their finals! Finish strong!! #EarnIt— David Beaty (@beaty_david) May 11, 2015
Before we check out, here's a quick look at the new KU football poster for the upcoming season.
The NFL Draft has come and gone, and, by now, you've surely heard all about the 11 different Kansas University players who either were drafted or picked up by pro teams via free agency in the hours following the draft.
But rather than just knowing that this guy landed here or that guy landed there, it seems like a legitimate look at each guy's chances of making an impact — and a roster — might be in order.
As has been proven in the past by both draft picks and undrafted players, just because a guy was or was not selected does not seal his fate.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at KU's latest crop of NFL hopefuls.
• LB BEN HEENEY --- 5th round pick, Oakland Raiders (140 overall)
Heeney has all the makings of an immediate impact player on all of Oakland's special teams. However, given that the Raiders recently cut an experienced middle linebacker, he might be in line for some immediate playing time on defense and figures to be a guy who sticks around the NFL for a long time.
• CB JACOREY SHEPHERD --- 6th round pick, Philadelphia Eagles (191 overall)
Shepherd could very well go down as a guy who several teams regret passing on because of his injured hamstring. He was one of the top corners in the pass-heavy Big 12 during the past two seasons and has the physical and mental make-up to become a stud. He's probably not physical enough (yet) to follow in Chris Harris' footsteps, but his cover skills and athletic ability could earn him some big money someday.
• CB DEXTER MCDONALD --- 7th round pick, Oakland Raiders (242 overall)
McDonald was not a lock to get drafted but the fact that he did certainly increases his odds of making a roster. Some say it's better not to get drafted in the seventh round because then you can pick your team to tryout with based on the factors that best suit you. That's probably not the case with McDonald, who drew interest from Oakland before the draft and clearly stuck in their plans. Big, physical and gifted athletically, he'll definitely get every shot to make the Raiders' 53-man roster.
• WR NICK HARWELL --- FA pick-up, Dallas Cowboys
Good athlete, great hands and a knack for getting open, the native Texan could easily be one of those guys who opens eyes with his volume of work. The Cowboys already have Cole Beasley on the roster, but if there's room for a Beasley back-up, Harwell could be the guy. It won't be easy for him to make the roster and a lot of it will come down to whether the plays are called for him during camp and the preseason. Even the most talented guys get lost and cut when they don't get work.
• WR NIGEL KING --- FA pick-up, Miami Dolphins
I remember the Dolphins' scout sticking around KU's pro day to talk to King after the event. So it's likely he's been on their radar since at least then. Big, physical with strong hands and good measureables, King has all the physical tools to make a roster and has always approached the game with a business-like attitude. To me, he's one of the more likely KU free agents to stick.
• TE JIMMAY MUNDINE --- FA pick-up, Cleveland Browns
The biggest thing Mundine has going for him is his versatility. His pro day numbers were more impressive than many expected and he has the ability to stay in and block, run routes down the field or perhaps even play some fullback or H back in the right offense. That kind of versatility certainly increases his chances.
• P TREVOR PARDULA --- FA pick-up, Kansas City Chiefs
It sure seems like the Chiefs are set at punter with veteran Dustin Colquitt, but he is in his 10th season and, while that's still young by punter standards, it's not impossible to see a club going with a younger, cheaper option if one emerges. The biggest question for Pardula won't be the leg. It'll be his consistency.
• RB/WR TONY PIERSON --- FA pick-up, Chicago Bears
Straight-line style and injury history make Pierson a long shot to make a roster. But his insane speed earned him the opportunity. He'll make the most of it, and he's very deserving of the chance. Had injuries not slowed him down, I think there would've been a place for him somewhere.
• DE MICHAEL REYNOLDS --- FA pick-up, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Where Reynolds projects at the pro level is a question mark. He's a bit undersized as a D-End and maybe not quite fluid enough to play linebacker. Like most free agents, he'll have to make a roster as a special teams contributor, where fit doesn't matter as much as effort, heart and a willingness to sacrifice everything to make the play.
• DB CASSIUS SENDISH --- FA pick-up, Cleveland Browns
Like his fellow former-KU-now-Cleveland teammate, Jimmay Mundine, Sendish's versatility could prove huge. Nobody worked harder than this guy from the time the season ended until draft day — he kind of reminded me of Chris Harris in that way — and his ability to play corner, safety and nickel, along with any number of special teams, could make him a tough guy to cast aside.
• DB/LB VICTOR SIMMONS --- FA pick-up, Seattle Seahawks
Such a naturally gifted athlete, Simmons should be able to fit into to whatever role the Seahawks want him to play. He's undersized to be an NFL linebacker, but not in terms of strength. Safety might be his best bet and Seattle might be a great fit given that the organization has proven it has no issue whatsoever with how a guy looks, only how he plays.
• NOTEWORTHY: It's also worth pointing out that former KU quarterback Jake Heaps, who finished his playing career with the Miami Hurricanes, received a camp invitation from the New York Jets. Heaps, the former 5-star QB who started the 2013 season at Kansas after transferring from BYU, was en route to New Jersey Thursday morning. In related news, former KU safety Keeston Terry, who left KU after the arrival of former coach Charlie Weis and played out his college career at nearby Pitt State, received a rookie mini-camp invite from his hometown Kansas City Chiefs. Terry's father, Doug, played DB for Kansas City from 1992-95. One more former Jayhawk who joined the ranks of the NFL was wide receiver Andrew Turzilli, who played his final year of college football at Rutgers and signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans following this year's draft.
There aren't a whole lot of details out there about this event, which is slated to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday on the lawn of Watson Library on KU's campus, but the KU video department put this video together and its intent is clear.
First-year KU football coach David Beaty is ready and willing to take on all comers in an oversized game cornhole, the popular tailgate game also known as bags.
The event is merely the latest way that Beaty is taking to the streets to engage with KU students and fans in an attempt to spark interest in and drum up support for a program that has struggled through six consecutive losing seasons under three different head coaches.
From the look of it, all you have to do is show up to participate in what's being dubbed "Coach Beaty's Campus Challenge." Be forewarned, though. As you can see in the video, the KU coach feels pretty good about his skills.
Friday's spring practice for the KU football team — No. 11 of 15 — kicked off with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson sending his guys back to the goal line after a lackluster breakdown that followed their warm-up.
“We're about to scrimmage, fellas,” Jackson and other coaches yelled. “Have some enthusiasm.”
Seconds later, the breakdown was much more spirited and the Jayhawks had that fire the coaches were looking for.
This, of course, is nothing new. Coaches do this all the time and it has happened at KU plenty. But regardless of whether it encourages you to roll your eyes or pump your fist, it definitely shows the kind of commitment to the small details that this coaching staff and these players are working toward.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the scrimmage but there were a few other things that caught my eye while we were out there. Here's a look:
• Probably the most interesting aspect of Friday came in the 7-on-7 period that happened just before we were asked to leave. Four different quarterbacks got four reps each and I timed how long it took each to get the ball out of his hands after receiving the snap. Here are the results: Michael Cummings – 2 seconds, 2.5 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds; Montell Cozart – 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds, 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds; Frank Seurer Jr. – 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 2.5 seconds; Brock Gilmore – 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 4.5 seconds. Now, just because those back-ups held the ball a little longer does not mean the passes were incomplete or the plays were a bust. But if it's tempo they're looking for (and it is) it's crystal clear that Cummings and Cozart are a full step ahead in terms of reading and reacting.
• One special teams drill I hadn't seen yet was the onside kick recovery drill, which featured roughly 30 different guys running through the drill. One at a time, the guys would practice fielding the bouncing kick and then going down to the ground to secure it. Mixed results, as expected, but it was a fun drill to watch. About that attention to detail, special teams coach Gary Hyman got all over his kickers during the drill for not going rapid-fire enough. “This is their drill, not yours,” Hyman barked. “Get the kicks off faster.”
• Watched the O-Line again for a while and saw Zach Yenser calling out protections and then hovering over his guys while instructing them what to do. Most of them knew what to do to begin with, but he was creating stress and forcing them to focus while under fire. Bryan Peters was working at left tackle with the ones and twos and I can't help but think he's going to wind up being one of those Gavin Howard type guys this fall. He may not be the most impressive guy they have, physically, but he's reliable, can play multiple positions and has a good head.
• The Jayhawks will take the weekend off and return to the practice fields on Tuesday for practice No. 12.
I'm not sure why but I've kind of overlooked the defensive line this spring — at least in terms of how often I've watched them work at practice.
Maybe it's because we've heard so much about how the D-Line is one of the strengths of the team and so many of those guys who play up front are familiar names — Ben Goodman, T.J. Semke, Andrew Bolton, Kapil Fletcher and others.
With that said, I made sure to go stand down there on Thursday at spring practice No. 10 and I'm definitely glad I did.
Not only was I impressed by what I saw — these guys really look to have good footwork, great get-off and solid work ethic — but I also was entertained.
Calvin Thibodeaux was a solid player on a few really good Oklahoma teams. From the look of things, he's also well on his way to becoming a solid coach and maybe even a comedian.
During one drill, in which the D-Linemen were working on lateral movement, a couple of guys stumbled over the bags on the ground. Thibodeaux let 'em have it.
“Don't whoop 'em, bags,” he kept yelling. “Oh man these bags are tough, aren't they? Glad we don't play the bags on Saturday.”
Ribbings like those were seemingly endless, but they all were done with a purpose — to motivate the guys to prove Thibodeaux wrong. Like I said, they've got great work ethic and I can't help but think that's where some of it comes from.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye on Thursday:
• During Wednesday's meeting with the media as I was talking with offensive coordinator Rob Likens, special teams coach Gary Hyman came over and pointed something out to me that I had never noticed. “Greatest hair in all of NC-2A right there,” Hyman said as he messed with Likens' 'do and walked away with a laugh. In the interest of being thorough, I decided to take a closer look at Thursday's practice, but was foiled. See, Likens most often wears a hat out there at practice, so he wasn't letting anybody see the locks. Guess we'll just have to trust Hyman on that one.
• Speaking of assistant coaches, co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry donned a little something extra to get his point across to his defensive players at Thursday's practice. Instead of just yelling things to help leverage like, “Bend your knees,” and “You're too high, you're too high,” and “Stay low, get down,” Perry wore a long sleeve T-Shirt with those instructions plastered across the front. Bend. Your. Knees. It's one thing to bark orders, but it's another to remind guys constantly even when they just look at you.
• One more note about Hyman, whom you've already heard has an incredible amount of energy. During a kickoff return drill, one kick returner caught the ball, rolled up the right side and then cut it back to daylight on the left side and broke free. Now in a game that might not be frowned upon. But at Thursday's practice, that wasn't the case. Hyman lit him up for cutting it back because the drill they were doing was designed to work on blocking assignments with a right return. Cutting it back does not allow the guys in the drill to see whether what they had done actually worked or not and Hyman made sure the returner and everyone within ear shot knew it.
• During the 11-on-11 live offense period, Montell Cozart was the first QB out there with the first team. That could mean something, but it also might not. Likens said the other day that he makes a conscious effort to ensure that both Cozart and Michael Cummings work equal reps with the first-team offensive line and the second-team offensive line so he can see how each guy reacts to the adversity and advantages that come with both. It might have just been how the rotation fell today so I wouldn't read too much into Cozart being out there first just yet.
• Speaking of QBs, one thing I noticed that was new to me was hand signals from the quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage. Now, we're not talking Peyton Manning stuff here, but I did see these guys signaling to receivers and possibly even linemen with their hands after taking the calls from the sideline. All in the name of tempo, I'm sure.
If you're looking for signs of optimism regarding the progress of the Kansas University football team this spring, here's a nugget that might interest you.
On Tuesday, at the ninth practice of the spring, the Jayhawks jumped right into a special teams period following the stretching and warm-up session as they normally do.
For the second time in the past few practices, kickoff return was the focal point of the period and it jumped out at me how much the Jayhawks had improved in such a short time in this department.
Things that were merely being taught at a practice last week now looked like things these guys had been doing for years. And the overall energy and intensity of the drill looked much sharper, crisper and efficient.
It's one drill. And this does not mean that all is well and that this coaching staff has a magic wand that can turn frogs into princes.
What it does mean, though, is that these players are continuing to put in the work and what they're being taught is starting to take hold.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice:
• There has been some message board chatter about the health of left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith and I even wrote last week that he wasn't working in every drill. But he was out there today and seemed to be fine. Good news for an offensive line that's still coming together.
• I thought it was interesting to watch the tight ends working drills with some of the wide receivers on Tuesday. Ben Johnson, who every day looks like he's poised to step into a big time role, and Kent Taylor were working on routes with Tre' Parmalee, Rodriguez Coleman and Tyler Patrick. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but it speaks to the potential interchangeable nature of these positions in an offense that may use as many as 8-10 pass catchers per game.
• Speaking of interchangeable, I noticed that former Free State High standout Joe Dineen was working with the safeties at Tuesday's practice. Dineen, who started as a safety and then moved to running back and finally linebacker, is listed on the roster as a linebacker. He's been held out of most contact drills throughout the spring while recovering from an injury so maybe him working with the safeties was just a way to get him some more mental reps and keep things sharp in case he's needed back there, as well.
• We continue to hear nothing but good things about the way Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings are battling for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback. So I took an extended look at both on Tuesday. Forget arm strength, footwork and those types of things. I'm not fully qualified to critique that, nor do I get to hear what they're asked to do with each rep. One thing that jumped out at me while watching though was how both guys constantly looked for time to get some work in between reps. If Cozart wasn't throwing live, he was working on his arm placement or drop back. And if Cummings wasn't up in the drill, he was doing the same, while also clearly working through some mental reps. We've heard a lot over the years about the importances of these extra reps and it's cool to see both guys taking it seriously.
• Speaking of the two QBs, I believe we'll get to talk to them and maybe a few other players sometime this week. So it should be fun to hear how the battle's progressing and how they're liking the Rob Likens/David Beaty offense.
Through his first three seasons as a Jayhawk, we've seen KU forward Perry Ellis do just about everything.
He's been good in the post and hit from the outside. He's shown the ability to put the ball on the deck and create for himself and score by hitting the offensive glass. His mid-range jumper (particularly from the baseline) is as smooth as butter and he's a career 74 percent free throw shooter.
When he started his four-year journey back in 2012 we knew that Ellis had all of the raw tools to develop into that kind of player. But they did not all show up at once. Little bit little — game to game, week to week and even year to year — Ellis unveiled new parts of his game that almost always took him to another level.
Remember the 2013 Big 12 tournament, where he helped carry the Jayhawks to the title and landed a spot on the all-tourney team? That was the first time Ellis showed consistent willingness and ability to be a force around the rim. And he never took a step back from there, even if asserting himself and his personality remained a work in progress.
Remember the end of the 2013-14 season and start of the 2014-15 season, when Ellis showed that he was both able and willing to shoot more three-pointers? He took 46 and made 18 (39 percent) over the course of his junior season and never looked anything but comfortable doing it. Those numbers doubled his career totals from his first two seasons.
Remember Ellis' insanely productive stretch during the 2014-15 season before he got hurt, when he improved his point total in six straight games and topped 18 points in five of them? That included a 28-point, 13-rebound explosion in a home win over Texas and seemed to indicate that Ellis finally understood that he could dominate games. He got hurt in the very next contest and he was not quite the same the rest of the season.
That stretch, perhaps as much as anything, may have been what led Ellis to decide to return for his senior season at Kansas.
It's not necessarily that he had anywhere to go nor was he deemed a lock to succeed in the NBA. Far from it. Instead, it seems logical that the most productive stretch of his career reminded Ellis just how much more he could improve and served as all the feedback he needed to believe that, with a return to KU, he could hone certain skills and better showcase his abilities in hopes of landing a spot in the NBA in 2016.
Time will tell how likely a prospect that last part is. But both Ellis and KU coach Bill Self believe it can happen and that will be a crucial driving force this offseason.
Talking after Monday's team banquet, Ellis pointed to things like better ball handling, improving on the perimeter and becoming even quicker, particularly defensively. Those specifics point to a guy who realizes that his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame is not power forward material in the NBA and his only path to achieving that dream is likely as a small forward.
While it's logical to think that Ellis, with his skills, work ethic and determination, can get there, it's also important to point out who some of the top small forwards in the NBA game are today — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jeff Green, Josh Smith, Draymond Green and Luol Deng.
Ellis has a long way to go before he's on the same level as any of those guys, but you don't have to squint too hard to see it happening, at least in terms of him being able to compete at their position. Draymond Green was a power player for the Michigan State Spartans during his college career and he's now another one of those perimeter weapons for the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was among the conference leaders in rebounding during his days at San Diego State but now looks like one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game.
Ellis will never be as good as Leonard or Green. But the one delivered by Green, who stands 6-7, 229 pounds, is the perfect type of transformation for Ellis to aspire to have. Think Poor Man's Draymond Green on the end of some NBA bench. Sound a little underwhelming? I bet Ellis would take it in a second.
If Self and the Jayhawks can land a couple of big men in this recruiting class — say Cheick Diallo, Mike Thorne Jr., and/or Stephen Zimmerman — that will give Ellis more freedom to hone those small forward skills, much in the same way Marcus Morris was able to do it during his time as a Jayhawk.
If not, well, what's Ellis have to lose by returning to school and passing on a draft that might not have had a spot for him anyway?
No need to be alarmed, but Friday's eighth practice of the spring session for the Kansas University football program may have been the first in which special teams coach Gary Hyman did not sport his signature look of a turtleneck and pants.
According to one KU official, who also noticed the fashion trend, Hyman was mic'd up for Friday's practice, an episode of KU's web-only, behind-the-scenes look at practice that surely will go down as a must-watch.
Hyman usually looks something like he does in the photo below:
All joking aside, I continue to be amazed by Hyman's energy. It's as if the guy just never has a bad day — or at least as if he's immune to showing it. When he's on the practice field, his entire focus is on giving every ounce he's got to teaching the Jayhawks in front of him whatever drill or skill they're working on that day.
It's not just Hyman who operates this way, but he's definitely one of the loudest and most entertaining of the bunch.
With Friday marking the first practice of the second half of the spring, I tried to spend a little more time looking at depth chart situation, knowing darn well that what's out there today could change a dozen times before the first game. Still, it's at least an indicator of which guys have performed well through the first part of spring ball.
Here's a look at what else caught my eye at Friday's practice:
• I got my first look at some kickoff return drills and it's safe to say that there's still quite a battle going on back there for which guys will get first team reps with that unit this fall. On Friday, Rodriguez Coleman, Derrick Neal, Ke'aun Kinner, Corey Avery, De'Andre Mann and walk-on Ryan Schadler (a red-shirt freshman from Hesston, Kansas, who ran track at Wichita State and continues to catch my eye with his blazing speed and all-out effort) all took turns with the first team. There's a long way to go before that gets sorted out, but it's definitely fair to say that's one area where KU is not hurting for options, provided they can afford to use front line guys in that role.
• Speaking of that drill, LBs coach Kevin Kane and WRs coach Klint Kubiak (I guess it was a K-name thing) ran the drill and their emphasis was not on the return guys but rather on the first three blockers in front of them. Not only did they emphasize steps and direction and spacing, but they also made it a point to hammer home to those guys that it's extremely critical for them to yell to the wall in front of them that the ball has been caught and they're coming. “Caught it, caught it, caught,” barked Kubiak, demonstrating the proper style and volume. “Yell and be loud out there, fellas. Make sure they hear ya,” Kane added.
• Quick update on the first- and second-string O-Line units. It seems as if regular first-team left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith might be dealing with some kind of a nagging injury so on Friday the ones lined up like this: LT Joe Bloomfield, LG Bryan Peters, C Keyon Haughton, RG Junior Visinia, RT Larry Mazyck. The twos looked like this: LT Devon Williams, LG Kyle Pullia, C Jacob Bragg, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Jayson Rhodes.
• I spent the last part of the practice we were allowed to watch observing the wide receivers and both Rodriguez Coleman and Tre' Parmalee jumped out at me throughout the drills. Coleman just looks so effortless in everything he does. If you're not into that sort of thing, you might mistake it for a guy with a lack of a motor, but I don't think that's the case. He just moves so well and has some pretty good experience, that this is all old hat for him. As for Parmalee, his hands (which never were an issue) look stronger and better than ever and he's another one of those guys who you can tell has played a little bit. Both guys are going to have to really step up for this young and inexperience receiving corps this fall, but it seems like they're doing a solid job of leading by example and helping bring the young guys along.
• The Jayhawks will have the weekend “off” and will return to the practice field on Tuesday for spring session No. 9.
Let me start by saying I thought Wayne Selden's announcement — via press release — that he was returning to Kansas University for his junior season was handled perfectly.
Selden, who enjoyed a solid freshman season but took a step back in a few areas as a sophomore, sounded sincere, outlined several good reasons for his return and even addressed how motivated he was by his rough 2014-15 season.
Good on ya.
The problem, though — at least in my eyes and surely many of yours — is that I'm not really sure Selden needed to announce that he was returning in the first place.
The stay-or-go question posed to Selden after his freshman season was legitimate given his recruiting ranking, his productive season and the inevitable departure of his then-teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But that same question was not really on the minds of those who follow KU basketball this time around.
Selden has talent. He has good size, can shoot the ball, is a terrific passer and has been trustworthy enough in the eyes of Bill Self to average roughly 30 minutes per game during his first two seasons as a Jayhawk. That last part is no small feat.
But I've often wondered what's driving Selden as a college athlete, and Friday's announcement only added to my curiosity.
To me, it seems Selden spends too much time worrying about his image — how he looks when he plays, how he's perceived in the eyes of all kinds of people and how he's talked about as a prospect. If he worried as much about consistently playing hard as he did about looking hard, I think he could become a serious impact guy and a future pro.
As it stands, he's been a pretty good college player and may very well be on his way to becoming a four-year player. Remember when that wasn't a bad thing?
Taking this a step further, this whole thing seems to be a cultural problem, though, not just a Selden problem.
So many college players these days, talented and otherwise, seem to feel like they're missing out or falling behind their peers — or, worse yet, the high school guys coming behind them — if they're not constantly thrusting themselves into the national conversation or following the ever-growing trend of self promotion that has turned college basketball into a spectacle at which even Hollywood would blush.
On the handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts I searched, Selden was listed on just one — and that was as a late second-round pick. No way that guy's going to jump to the NBA unless there were some extenuating circumstances that would make such a move necessary. With Selden there are none, which made his return to KU not only the right move but also the obvious one.
No need to announce it. No need to give it a second thought. Just get into the gym and go to work. Maybe doing that will make the question relevant again next year.
Regardless of how it was announced or whether it even needed to be, at least Selden made the right move and didn't allow outside influences or his own ego to send him down the wrong path.
That's something. And it should be very interesting to see what the Wayne Selden Experience 3.0 looks like.
Wayne Selden By The Numbers
2013-14: 9.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 53% 2pt, 36% 3pt, 25 steals, 66 turnovers
2014-15: 9.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 39% 2pt, 37% 3pt, 21 steals, 70 turnovers
With Cliff Alexander officially announcing his decision to leave school after one season on Tuesday, we can finish the chapter of Kansas University's one-and-done players, at least for another year.
Alexander and teammate Kelly Oubre, who announced his decision to turn pro a week earlier, become the sixth and seventh KU players to go the one-and-done route and, as many of you surely know, the results of those one-year runs by some incredibly talented players have been fairly mixed.
Despite the high rankings, McDonald's All-American tags and enormous hype and hope surrounding all seven of these players, very few of them actually lived up to what you expect from these types of players or, in some ways, what you see from one-and-done ballers at other schools.
There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is simply bad luck, but it's definitely not necessarily a KU problem.
Take Alexander, for instance. He would've been welcomed onto the roster of pretty much any program in the country, and, although he might have performed better at different places, his overall adjustment to the college game seemed like a struggle. It's safe to say then that Alexander may just have ended up being a bust no matter where he went to school. Then again, maybe not.
Such is life when covering, coaching and predicting one-and-done players. And it will be that way until something drastic changes, which may never happen.
With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the one-and-dones KU has welcomed into the fold throughout the past several seasons along with my ranking of how they performed while at Kansas.
• JOEL EMBIID • Injury limited the 7-footer from Cameroon to just 28 games during his lone season at Kansas, but boy was he impressive during those 28 games. After a relatively slow start in which he came off the bench for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season, Embiid finished with 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Modest numbers, to be sure, but when you project those out over 40 minutes (19.4, 14.0, 4.5) or 100 possessions (28.2, 20.5, 6.5) it clearly demonstrates the impact that Embiid had on the game. Of course, you did not need numbers to see that for yourself. It was very obvious that KU was a completely different team with Embiid and without him and his absence in the NCAA Tournament played a huge role in the Jayhawks going home early. As good and as important to that team as Andrew Wiggins was, one could make the case that had he been the one who was injured and Embiid stayed healthy, KU would've advanced to the second weekend. Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2014 draft by Philadelphia.
• BEN MCLEMORE • McLemore was on a darn good team during the one season he was eligible to play at Kansas, but his all-around game was a huge reason for that. The smooth shooting St. Louis native averaged 15.9 points per game and made 42 percent of his three-point shots. There were times during the middle of the 2012-13 season when McLemore was in such a zone that it seemed like 15 points per night was automatic. He also rebounded well for his position (5.2 per game) and worked defensively. Sure, he fit well into the veteran team around him, but McLemore rarely passed up shots he needed to take and was an absolute highlight machine in transition. Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2013 draft by Sacramento.
• ANDREW WIGGINS • As was the case throughout his time at KU, Wiggins probably fell to third on this list because it was impossible for him to live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded him when he arrived in Lawrence. I was never one who thought Wiggins was anything other than fantastic as a Jayhawk, I just think those two guys above him had better seasons. Wiggins' importance to his team was undeniable. He led KU in scoring, free throw shooting, played lock-down defense and ripped down six rebounds a game, many of them coming on the offensive end on his own misses. The truth of the matter is Wiggins and McLemore finished their KU careers with incredibly similar single-season statistics, but because McLemore's came without much hype and Wiggins' numbers were “disappointing” given that most of the free world believed he would average 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 dunks per game. Unfair? You bet. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Wiggins' one season in Lawrence was anything other than extremely solid. The early tournament exit and his no-show in his final game in a KU uniform certainly hurt people's memory of his time here. Drafted: No. 1 overall by Cleveland.
• XAVIER HENRY • On a team loaded with veterans, Henry was actually pretty solid. He finished with 13.4 points-per-game average and also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists per game, all while drilling 42 percent of his three-point shots. The thing is, on a different team or even in a different time, Henry could have — and likely would have — been a guy that a coach built an entire offense around. He was a great spot-up shooter, had the frame needed to drive to the rim, hit 78 percent of his free throws and was athletic and quick in transition. He could've been an amazing player who put up huge numbers and delivered highlights night in and night out. But because he was such a good dude, such a solid team player and, let's face it, still such a kid, he happily deferred to guys like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. Henry left KU with tears. Based on the way his pro career has played out, it might not have been a bad idea for him to come back for his sophomore season and fine-tune those alpha dog skills. Drafted: No. 12 overall by Memphis.
• KELLY OUBRE • It took Oubre a while to get going, but once he did, he had plenty of nights where he looked like the Jayhawks' most valuable player. For the first 10 or so games of the season, Oubre could barely get off the bench. But after cracking the starting lineup mid-way through the season, Oubre started every Big 12 game except one (Senior night) and started every game of the postseason. When he was on, he was on, whether that meant getting to the free throw line or raining from three-point range. And, defensively, he used his length and drive to frustrate opponents and help on the boards. But he never truly developed into a highly skilled offensive player and struggled to use his off hand throughout the season. Those skills are the type that can be honed in the NBA, where working on his game will be his full-time job, and Oubre's time as KU likely will be remembered by most as solid but not spectacular. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• CLIFF ALEXANDER • Alexander avoided the cellar on this list because of his solid production out of the gate and the way he impacted games when he was able to play double-digit minutes or greater. His double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse was critical and his early-season strategy of go-get-the-rebound-and-dunk-it helped him break out quickly. But as the demands from the coaching staff grew, Alexander struggled to stay caught up and that left him watching from the bench more often than not. Add to that his eligibility mess that kept him out of the final eight games of the season and it's hard to call Alexander's lone season as a Jayhawk anything other than a disappointment. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• JOSH SELBY • The No. 1 ranked player in his recruiting class sure knew how to make an entrance. But after his hot-shooting, 21-point game against USC in his first game as a Jayhawk (after a nine-game suspension due to eligibility concerns) Selby pretty much disappeared for the rest of the 2010-11 season. A lingering foot injury contributed to some of his lack of production, but the Baltimore native never appeared to fully buy in or get into the flow during his one year of college ball. He averaged 7.9 points per game and made 36 percent of his three-point attempts but played just 20.4 minutes per game and shot just 38 percent from the field overall. Drafted: No. 49 overall by Memphis in second round of 2011 NBA Draft.
Other than the 80-plus degree temperatures that made the Memorial Stadium turf feel like it would in the middle of a summer day, the main thing that jumped out to me at Monday and Tuesday's sixth and seventh spring practices for the KU football program was the attention to detail and fundamentals stressed by every coach during every drill.
On Tuesday — as is the case on most days — special teams coach Gary Hyman was the man flying around the field yelling and screaming about technique, steps, shoulders and leverage.
He's a blast to watch because he's so passionate about what he does and he puts every ounce of what he's got and who he is into every rep. The Jayhawks would be in great shape if they had a bunch of Gary Hymans to suit up and play this fall.
But they don't, so he's doing the best he can to mold them into guys who have his personality. I can't imagine what it's like to play for him, but it's a lot of fun and very informative to watch him work. He's equal parts praise and critique and you have to listen carefully to the words to determine which is which because his voice and tone rarely change.
Whether it's “Goooood, that's the way to do it, son,” or “Why did you let him get outside of you,” Hyman puts his signature roar on each teaching point.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye during Monday and Tuesday's practices:
• One of Monday's most interesting special teams drills involved a volleyball. Yep. A volleyball. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane was working with guys on rushing the punter and instead of using a football, the mock punter had a volleyball and simply flipped it with his hands whenever guys got close enough to get a block. They did this drill from a full 10 yards back and also did it from a couple of feet away, where they simulated running with their arms and then just flipped their hands out when Kane blew the whistle. This was just one of the many special teams drills that they did during the past two days, but it was cool to see how seriously the guys were taking it. Fundamentals reign supreme.
• In case you missed it, also on Monday, 5-star Antioch, California, running back Najee Harris, 6-2, 220 pounds, was on campus for an official visit. It was Harris' second visit to KU in a month and, although he's just a sophomore, the interest in the program seems to be genuine.
• Moving on to Tuesday, tackling was a huge emphasis of the portion of practice that we were able to see. I'm sure it is every day in a number of different ways, but the focus on wrapping up and bringing guys down really jumped out to me during this one. Kevin Kane ran a station that focused solely on wrapping up at the line of scrimmage. Every position group but the offensive line and quarterbacks came through it, even the wide receivers. Clint Bowen and Kenny Perry also ran tackling drills with mats and bags. The one thing Kane kept yelling over and over — other than great things like, “Holy Moses,” after a poor rep — was: “Guys, you've gotta get better at tackling. You've gotta get better at tackling.” Continued effort like they showed on Tuesday certainly won't hurt.
• Speaking of Kane, by far the most hilarious portion of Tuesday's practice came when “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival blared over the loud speaker. Kane, who must be a CCR fan, started barking at the players at his station at the time, “Who sings this?” “Who sings it?” “Who. Sings. This. Song.” Each time, the Jayhawks delivered a shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders. I can't say I expected any of them to know the answer, but watching Kane try to coach it out of them was hysterical. Finally, after about a minute, he gave up and told them. I'm not sure the actual answer rang any bells either. Good stuff.
• This is really nothing new, but it's pretty impressive what kind of shape this coaching staff is in. These guys look good, they move well and they clearly have made fitness an important part of their lives. It's easy, when you work the kind of hours that these guys work, to let that area of your life slip, but these guys — many of them young dudes — have not done that. That kind of example can only help, especially when it allows them to jump into drills and join in the conditioning elements of practice.
• As for specific players who have stood out the past couple of days, defensive end Damani Mosby continues to look like a man possessed. He goes hard every single rep (at least the ones that I've seen) and, physically, looks like the kind of guy who could make a significant impact on the field this fall. Another guy who looks good is Ronnie Davis. He's still a work in progress in some areas, but, physically, he's put together well and, like Mosby, he goes all out all the time.
• To be fair to the KU wideouts, who have struggled with drops at times this spring, there was a deep ball fade and back-shoulder drill they did while we were out there and I only saw one ball hit the turf. They ran this on one side of the field from the 40 yard line in and then lined up in the end zone on the other side of the field and ran it from the goal line out. Minor detail, but it's this kind of efficiency that KU coach David Beaty has always been impressed by and it's no surprise that he's incorporating a whole bunch of it into his first practices as a college head coach.
• Now at the halfway point of spring football, the Jayhawks will be off Wednesday and Thursday and return to the field on Friday for practice No. 8 of 15 scheduled for the spring. The final date will be the annual spring game, which is scheduled for April 25.
The 2014-15 college basketball season may just have ended — in thrilling fashion, no less; I mean, how about those Kentucky-Wisconsin and Duke-Wisconsin games to finish things off! — but there are plenty of people already looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, which is still six months away.
The folks in Lawrence, Kansas, certainly make up a large chunk of that group, as Jayhawk fans are always in basketball mode and the intensity only grows after a disappointing tournament exit like the one the Jayhawks suffered a few weeks ago.
With that in mind, let's take a quick ride down Prognosticator Place, where several national college basketball writers were bold enough to post their “way too early Top 25” lists for the 2015-16 season.
As you'll see, the Jayhawks were given a lot of love from these guys, just like they seemingly always are.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks will look awfully familiar in 2015-16. Freshman wing Kelly Oubre Jr. began the season in shaky form, turned into a reliable slasher, and still provided a minor shock when he announced his decision to turn pro. That may be the Jayhawks' only notable departure. Oubre's highly touted classmate, Cliff Alexander, proved to be too raw to play a major role as a freshman; he could benefit as much as any player in the the sport from another year in the Bill Self developmental churn. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III and Brannen Greene -- who should slide into Oubre's spot, and provide more 3-point shooting in the exchange -- are the same group that fended off a brutal Big 12 for KU's 11th straight regular-season title. Throw in Top-25 recruit Carlton Bragg, and there's no inherent reason to expect anything less from the Jayhawks in the year to follow.
Key losses: F Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander (projected to leave)
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Perry Ellis, G Devonte Graham, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Brannen Greene G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Notable newcomers: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Thanks to the anticipated return of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas appears pretty loaded on the perimeter. What will determine whether the Jayhawks extend their Big 12 title streak and make a deeper NCAA tournament run next March is how they address a series of questions about their frontcourt. Will all-conference forward Perry Ellis return for his senior season? Can heralded incoming freshman Carlton Bragg make an immediate impact? Will Kansas further bolster its frontcourt by landing spring targets Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo or Thon Maker? The return of Ellis would be critical because he was Kansas’ lone low-post scoring threat this past season. Undersized forward Jamari Traylor and reserves Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson are all back too, but each are better suited for backup roles. If Ellis returns and Kansas adds another big man to its class, the Jayhawks could be poised for a special season. If Ellis unexpectedly turns pro, there will be pressure on Bragg and any other incoming freshmen to develop a college-ready low-post game quickly.
Notable players definitely gone: Kelly Oubre
Others expected to leave: Cliff Alexander
Notable players expected to return: Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Jamari Traylor, Brannen Greene, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Landen Lucas
Others expected to join the roster: Carlton Bragg
Why the Jayhawks are ranked here: KU's roster will lack starpower. But so many quality pieces from a Big 12 championship team are returning that it would be silly to have Kansas outside of the top five. In other words, yes, the Jayhawks should win a 12th straight league title next season -- unless one of the next two teams listed wins the Big 12 instead.
No. 7 Kansas
Why They're Here: Consistency. Even with losing Kelly Oubre and likely Cliff Alexander, Kansas has a veteran core returning. As long as Perry Ellis doesn't leave for the NBA as well, Bill Self will have four of the five guys back who were starting at the end of the season. The Jayhawks will also be banking on a big jump for Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Even though he only played 11.2 minutes per game and had 10 DNPs this year, NBA scouts considered the Ukrainian KU's best pro prospect. Mykhailiuk turns 18 in June and has the ability to be an All-Big 12 wing if he's able to relax and just play—he often looked sped up and nervous as a 17-year-old freshman.
Greatest Asset: Guard play. Frank Mason made a huge leap his sophomore season—averaging 12.6 points and 3.9 assists per game—and he should continue to improve. Wayne Selden has been a bit of a disappointment at Kansas because of his inconsistencies, but there's a reason scouts once viewed him as a first-round prospect. If Mykhailiuk doesn't assert himself, Self has plenty of options. Backup point guard Devonte' Graham came on strong at the end of the year, and Brannen Greene is a knockdown shooter who is a nice asset when his shot is falling.
Will Change If... Ellis leaves or Self adds another blue-chipper or two. There are rumblings that Ellis will consider skipping his senior season. Self is also still in the mix for several of the top unsigned players.
And, of course, we can't forget Joey Brackets, who already has unveiled the first edition of his ESPN.com feature, Bracketology, which has KU listed as a 3 seed in the Midwest, where North Carolina and Roy Williams loom as the No. 1 seed.
Let the countdown begin!
We've reached April, known in NFL circles as draft month, and it's time to do some quick inventory on the former Jayhawks hoping to get their chance to catch on with an NFL team for the 2015 season and possibly beyond.
As you know, Ben Heeney and JaCorey Shepherd are the former Jayhawks most likely to get drafted in the April 30-May 2 draft, which will take place in Chicago, but there are more than a few other guys from last year's team who figure to get their shot.
Let's start with Heeney and Shepherd and go down the list. As you may have seen, both guys continue to show up on various mock drafts that attempt to predict how this year's draft will play out. The most recent deep mock draft I've seen, a five-round mock draft done by Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune, had both Heeney and Shepherd hearing their names called in this year’s draft. Brown has Heeney going as a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals at pick No. 123 overall. He has Shepherd slotted one round later, as the fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos at pick No. 164. As you know, Denver already has former Jayhawks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib in its secondary (along with Steven Johnson at linebacker), but the Broncos snagged Harris as an undrafted free agent and went after Talib during free agency two years ago. Maybe it's time they actually drafted a Jayhawk. Time will tell.
Speaking of Shepherd, it's worth noting that the former KU wide receiver turned cornerback who was invited to the NFL Combine but could not participate because of a hamstring injury ran his 4.65-second 40-yard dash time at KU's pro day in late March with a torn hamstring. Several scouts on hand that day came solely to see what Shepherd could do, and even though his 4.65 time was slower than the 4.4 range he had hoped, the fact that he ran that decent of a time with a severe injury showed the scouts plenty.
According to his Kansas City-based trainer, Dexter McDonald's Pro Day, which included some of day's best numbers and times across the board, may have been enough to get teams seriously interested in drafting him. Joseph Potts, a former KU football player and owner of Top Speed Sports Performance, said McDonald's agent recently told him that a few teams have mentioned the possibility of taking McDonald in rounds 3-5 and added that both Oakland and Arizona were planning to fly McDonald out to their headquarters to meet with him and show him around. McDonald, who was fabulous in 2013 and merely solid in 2014, definitely has the athleticism, size, ball skills and toughness to get a shot. Whether that comes via the draft or not remains to be seen.
Former KU defensive tackle Keon Stowers is another guy hearing good things from a few NFL clubs. Stowers, who tore his right pectoral muscle during the bench press portion of KU's pro day after appearing to be well on his way to 25 or 30 reps, is stuck rehabbing now and won't be able to go full speed for at least a few more weeks. Still, several scouts told Stowers that they liked what they had seen on film and that he should expect a phone call following the draft.
I haven't heard too much about KU's trio of wide receivers — Nigel King, Nick Harwell and Tony Pierson — but it seems like a safe bet that at least two of the three will get invited to a camp if they're not drafted. Because of his size, great hands and solid pro day numbers, King figures to be the guy with the best shot in this bunch. But Harwell was productive throughout his career and is a dependable route runner with good hands, so it seems like he should at least get a shot, as well. Pierson, though blazing fast, is probably a bit of a long shot given his size, lack of a true position and injury history.
Tight end Jimmay Mundine is another guy who could be flying under the radar a little bit. I've heard that several teams are intrigued by his physical make up and versatility. He could be used as a second tight end or even flipped to fullback or H back in the right offenses. Mundine really helped himself at pro day, with numbers and times that were better than most expected.
Other than those guys, Victor Simmons, Cassius Sendish, Michael Reynolds, Tedarian Johnson and Trevor Pardula (a combine invitee) also are hoping to catch the right eye during the next few weeks and earn an invitation to show what they can do.
Thursday's KU football practice included the first full-on scrimmage of the spring, which, according to the feedback gathered from social media, went pretty well.
We were only able to stay for the first 20 minutes of practice, so we did not get to see how the 11-on-11 action looked when things were run full speed and the hitting was live. That's probably just as well. It's far too early — and there are way too many players missing, either because of injury or because they have not enrolled yet — to make too many definitive calls on what this team looks like or how it plays.
That said, there were plenty of things that caught my eye prior to our departure and the beginning of the scrimmage.
Here's a quick recap:
• Like the defense with the red pants the other day, the offense suited up for practice in gray pants on Thursday. Who knows why? And it's clearly not that big of a deal. Could be as simple as if you've got 'em, you may as well use 'em. But I'll definitely ask to see if there's any more to it.
• Strength coach Je'Ney Jackson hit the field with a bull horn during the early portion of practice. Word is, he was tired of trying to yell over the music. Can't blame him, either. Even with the bull horn, it was hard to hear him. But you can be sure that the players have no difficulty knowing exactly what he wants and expects, booming voice or not.
• Thursday's practice took place entirely in Memorial Stadium, most likely because they were going to scrimmage and did not want to waste time moving from one field to the other. Most days, KU starts on the practice fields and then moves into the stadium for the final 30-45 minutes, when they run seven-on-seven drills and live 11-man offense. It's during this part of practice when they keep track of how many plays they run in how many minutes. Earlier this week, OC Rob Likens said he did not keep track the same way head coach David Beaty does, so the only numbers we have to go on are still those 94 plays in 44 minutes and 92 plays in 42 minutes that we heard after the first two days of spring. By comparison in terms of tempo and urgency, it looks as if they've done about that same number during the days since. Likens said he would start to keep track more when fall camp rolls around but right now his entire focus is on fundamentals and installation.
• The KU defense was flying around like wild men during Thursday's practice. It may have just been a coincidence and it may have just been for that drill, but the way KU's DBs and Linebackers were practicing on Thursday leads me to believe that group has plans to be ultra-aggressive this fall. Several guys in both units recorded multiple pass break-ups and even when a receiver caught a ball, he was smacked immediately. This makes sense given the fact that the coaching staff, so far, has identified the D-Line as the strength of this KU defense. The faster the guys up front can get to the quarterback and force the ball out, the more aggressive the guys behind them can be without fear of getting burned or having to cover too long. Should be interesting to see how that holds up, but it's quite clear that both Kenny Perry and Clint Bowen want this group to play physical, aggressive football.
• Speaking of this drill, there were quite a few wide receiver drops during the time we were out there. Now that's not the end of the world and it was just one or two drills, but it just gives you an indication of how far that group has to go and how wide open that competition for playing time truly is. At this point, it looks as if the guys who can make plays on a consistent basis — regardless of age, size or experience — will be the guys who get on the field the fastest.
While the addition of new Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart to the Big 12 certainly figures to have a major impact on the balance of power in the conference, it still will take the new kid on the block several years to unseat KU coach Bill Self as the best in the league.
That much is almost impossible to argue, save for a few Iowa State fans who probably really like their guy and even a few Baylor people who believe Scott Drew does not get enough credit.
Outside of that, though, it's Self and everyone else. I mean, look no further than the 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles for all the support you need. Oh, and Self's record outside of the conference, in the tournament and on the recruiting trail is pretty decent, as well.
Having said that, adding Smart to the Big 12 is an incredibly exciting prospect that got me thinking about just how good the coaches in this league were. I hopped on Twitter a couple of nights ago to explain how impressive I thought the top-tier trio of Self, Fred Hoiberg and Smart was and, while several of my fabulous followers whole-heartedly agreed, others quickly came to the defense of the guys I did not mention. What about this guy? What about that guy?
What about a blog explaining exactly how I think the men's basketball coaching rankings unfold in the Big 12.
I asked a couple other guys in the office to give me their lists as well and will include those at the end. For now, though, here's how I think the Big 12's hoops bosses stack up.
In case you can't tell, I'm incredibly excited about seeing Smart join the conference and I don't think I'm alone.
1. BILL SELF, KANSAS – For the reasons outlined above and so many others, the guy easily sits at the top of the coaching food chain in what has proven to be a heck of a regular season conference. His accomplishments speak for themselves, but one thing that really hammers home his place at the top of this list is the fact that Self won Big 12 title No. 11 this year, guided an incredibly young team to 27 victories against the nation's toughest schedule, entered the Big Dance as a 2 seed — the sixth year in a row KU had been either a 1 or a 2 — and yet the season was wildly regarded throughout Jayhawk nation and in other parts of the world as an extreme disappointment. That's incredible. That's some Godfather stuff, right there.
2. FRED HOIBERG, IOWA STATE – You can't argue with what Hoiberg has done at his alma mater. He's a fantastic X's and O's coach, recruits the right players for his system and is a master at finding talented transfers to plug into his roster in order to assure that there will be no drop off from year to year. His head-to-head record against Self is pretty impressive during the past few years and you kind of get the feeling that Hoiberg's only getting better.
3. SHAKA SMART, TEXAS – I think this guy will be a beast at Texas. He'll get players. His players will love him. And he'll bring a tenacious style of play and provide the program with a serious and much-needed dose of excitement and enthusiasm that, basically overnight, could turn UT back into a place that will be incredibly tough to play and a potential sleeping giant on the national scene. It may not happen immediately, but don't be surprised if it does. How cool is it that Shaka's coming to Allen Fieldhouse every year for the foreseeable future.
4. LON KRUGER, OKLAHOMA – All he's done everywhere he's been is win. From K-State to Florida, to Illinois, UNLV and now OU, you don't rack up 561 victories over 29 seasons without knowing what you're doing and doing it well. And you don't get jobs at all of those places without being the kind of guy who gets kids to play the right way and also takes care of all of those other elements of what it means to be a student-athlete unless you can flat-out coach. Kruger's teams typically are tough, gritty teams that run good offense and always find a way to win ballgames. Kruger-coached teams have won fewer than 20 games just one time in the last nine years. And that was his first season at OU, where he has increased his win total during each of his four seasons.
5. BOB HUGGINS, WEST VIRGINIA – A master at taking the players he has and fitting them into a system that can win, Huggins, despite his wild and crazy persona, is so often overlooked in today's game. This guy is still one of the best in the business and the reason is simple — he demands perfection from his players and settles for nothing less. That doesn't mean he always gets it, but more times than not he gets the kind of effort that can lead to some seriously good basketball.
6. SCOTT DREW, BAYLOR – KU fans like to clown Drew, but I think it's tough to argue that the guy's pretty good at what he does. Of late, this season notwithstanding, Drew's Baylor teams, of all the squads in the conference, have most consistently played deep into the NCAA Tournament. Two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16 in five seasons has a pretty nice ring to it. And I don't think anyone will argue his ability to get talented players to Waco.
7. TRENT JOHNSON, TCU – This guy should probably be higher. He's a fantastic coach who started at TCU with a light deck and has scratched and clawed and grinded his way into fielding competitive teams. The jump the Frogs made from 2013-14 to 2014-15 was as impressive as any team in the conference. Part of that was Johnson working his butt off on the recruiting trail and the other part of it was the way he runs his program, practices, in-game coaching and off-the-court responsibilities. A demanding coach with winning records at Nevada, Stanford and LSU, Johnson is well on his way to following suit in Fort Worth.
8. TRAVIS FORD, OKLAHOMA STATE – It's not just our site that has its doubts about Ford, just last week news broke out of Stillwater that said the school was looking into whether moving forward with Ford as the leader of the basketball program was the right move. Ouch. Ford's had some great moments at OSU, and he, too, has been able to attract some serious talent to a not-so-attractive place. But his ability to get that talent playing on the same page consistently and with the kind of effort needed to be a top-half program night in and night out has left a little to be desired. That said, he still has a darn good basketball mind and the fact that he's listed eighth here is just another sign of how good of a basketball conference the Big 12 is.
9. BRUCE WEBER, K-STATE – Give him some talent and he'll coach it to great things. Ask him to build something of substance that will stand the test of time and you might find yourself wishing you hadn't. That's been the book on Weber at both Illinois and K-State and it's hard to call it anything other than fair. He did a great job with Self's players at Illinois and with Frank Martin's guys at K-State, but as soon as those wells ran dry, things got a little testy and people started to question Weber. He heads into his fourth season desperately needing to reverse the trend of watching his win total dip each season. If he doesn't, it could be on to head coach No. 4 in the past 10 seasons for the Wildcats.
10. TUBBY SMITH, TEXAS TECH — Unfortunately for Smith, we're talking about Big 12 coaches as they stand today. Otherwise, with his track record, he clearly would be higher on this list for his achievements at Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and Tulsa. But now is now and Smith definitely does not seem like the same coach he once was. Don't get me wrong, the Red Raiders should be thrilled to have him and you never know, with all of that past success, when he'll be able to get things rolling again. But the Red Raiders roster I saw this season was among the worst I've seen since the Big 12 was formed and it doesn't exactly look as if that's going to change drastically any time soon.
With that, I give you a quick look at the way Benton Smith and Tom Keegan rank the Big 12's men's basketball coaches.
— BENTON SMITH —
- Bill Self, KU
- Shaka Smart, UT
- Fred Hoiberg, ISU
- Bob Huggins, WVU
- Lon Kruger, OU
- Scott Drew, BU
- Trent Johnson, TCU
- Tubby Smith, TTU
- Travis Ford, OSU
- Bruce Weber, KSU
— TOM KEEGAN —
- Bill Self, KU
- Bob Huggins, WVU
- Fred Hoiberg, ISU
- Shaka Smart, UT
- Lon Kruger, OU
- Trent Johnson, TCU
- Tubby Smith, TTU
- Scott Drew, BU
- Travis Ford, OSU
- Bruce Weber, KSU
Although the first things that truly caught my eye at Tuesday's KU football practice — No. 4 of the spring season — were the red pants worn by the defense (first time I can recall seeing that in the past six years), the presence of a former KU quarterback stole the show while the Jayhawks stretched and warmed up.
Mark Williams, who engineered that solid 10-2 season in 1995 and helped KU finish ranked ninth in the final AP poll, was in attendance to watch his alma mater run through drills, albeit in an entirely new environment than anything he remembered seeing during his playing days.
Williams, 42, recently relocated back to Lawrence by transferring within his job and said he was thrilled to be back.
As far as him showing up for practice, Williams said KU had done a great job of reaching out to him during the past few years and added that he often found something from Kansas waiting for him in his mailbox.
Williams seemed thrilled to be back on the field and even looked like he could still play if given the chance.
Here's the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice, the first of the spring in which we were asked to leave early as had been normal in the past.
• Quick look at the updated offensive line: The first stringers on Tuesday, left to right, were Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, Junior Visinia and Larry Mazyck. The second group included: Devon Williams, Joe Bloomfield, Jacob Bragg, D'Andre Banks and Jayson Rhodes. Again, don't read too much into any of this, but it's always worth keeping an eye on. As for guys who stood out. Shelley-Smith looks to be getting more comfortable every day and I thought Peters moved well, especially on some of the guard pulls and running plays where he had to cover some distance.
• As Beaty mentioned on Day 1, Corey Avery has been very limited this spring because of a shoulder injury and that has opened the door for some other guys to get some solid reps. Juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner lined up with the ones on Tuesday and Taylor Cox ran with the twos. Kinner has been getting first-team reps throughout the spring and it looks like his speed could help the KU offense replace Tony Pierson. At quarterback, Montell Cozart ran with the first offense (at least for the portion of practice we saw), followed by Michael Cummings. That battle, as you surely know by now, will be ongoing and will not be limited to just those two guys.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, I haven't been able to see too much of the offense yet, but what I have seen has included a lot of movement by the quarterbacks. Both Cummings nad Cozart have been asked to keep the ball and run, roll out and throw and move the pocket. Even with that, the ball has come out quick and KU really seems to be emphasizing quick passes to easy targets and taking care of blocks down the field to get those guys positive yardage.
• As is common, Tuesday's practice began with a heavy dose of special teams work. Even though that's not that unusual, the way these guys work is. The whole thing is incredibly well organized and seems to have more of a game-prep, walk-through feel to it than a meaningless drill in a spring practice. Everywhere at every moment, these coaches are urging their guys to find a way to get better even in the smallest area.