Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
With the NBA combine kicking off today, we already know that former Kansas University sharp-shooter Brannen Greene did not receive an invitation to the event, which runs today through Sunday in Chicago, and, therefore, will have to go about earning a spot in the NBA through team workouts and the old school grind.
The news came as no real surprise, and leaves Greene, who hired an agent and is not eligible to return to school, on the outside looking in when it comes to hoping for an NBA future.
Those facts got me thinking: Did Greene make the right decision in leaving Kansas?
Let’s take a look.
Invites to the combine were sent out to a little more than 70 players regardless of age. We learned Tuesday that an injury will keep Wayne Selden out of the combine, leaving former Jayhawks Perry Ellis and Cheick Diallo as the only KU players competing. And some fantastically talented college players — namely Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell — were not invited. Like Greene, those players will be hoping to catch the eye of the right team at the right time through pre-draft workouts.
What’s more, the NBA announced recently that 162 early-entry players had declared for this year’s Draft — June 23 in New York — with 117 of them being from the college ranks and 45 being international players.
That’s 162 players, not counting college seniors. And there are only 60 selections in the NBA Draft.
Needless to say, that makes the chances of landing a spot on an NBA roster a long shot for roughly 75 percent of those players hoping they’ll hear their names called in this year’s draft.
OK. So now that we’ve established all of that, let’s get back to Greene. Did he make the right choice in leaving?
The numbers above might suggest no, but the correct answer is yes. Why? Because it was simply time for him to leave.
Greene had three years to earn a regular spot in the rotation and, outside of a stretch here or a stretch there, did not do it. What’s more, he seemed to be in constant conflict with KU coach Bill Self — that’s rarely the way to go about getting more playing time — and, with the arrival of freshman phenom Josh Jackson, likely would have been, at best, the fifth man in KU’s perimeter rotation next season, behind Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Jackson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Would there have been minutes for Greene next year? Probably. But would they have been consistent? Probably not. And would he have made the most of them? To that, too, you’d have to say probably not.
During his three-year career at Kansas, Greene recorded more suspensions than starts. In all, he played in 93 games and averaged a little more than 11 minutes per contest. That’s barely a quarter per game and anyone who watched those three seasons closely knows that he played single-digit minutes in roughly half of those 93 appearances. To think any of that was going to change next year is a reach.
I’m betting Greene knew that. Give him credit for that. A naïve player would’ve returned with the false hope and misguided belief that said, “Hey, it’s my senior year and it’s time to really make it count.” With Wayne Selden departing and the Josh Jackson commitment coming after he made his decision to bolt, Greene easily could’ve thought that way. But he’s too smart for that and clearly knew better.
He also could’ve believed that, because he would’ve been a senior, Self would’ve leaned on him for experience and that fact alone would have increased his minutes. But it’s not so much experience that gets you on the floor for Self as it is trust. And there’s no two ways about it; Self never trusted Greene.
That is merely one more factor that made leaving Kansas, regardless of what his pro basketball future becomes, the right move for Greene. He’s going to make it — or not — based on his ability to shoot the basketball at a world-class level. And nothing he would have done during one more season at Kansas was going to change that.
As stated above, Greene is one heck of a shooter and the NBA has proven that it has a place for players with that kind of specialized skill.
Nobody’s going to sign him for his defense or attitude or leadership. If Greene makes it, it’s going to be because he can square up, flick his right wrist and knock it down with the best of them.
So let’s say Greene gets picked up by an NBA team as a free agent and winds up making a roster after lighting up the summer league circuit. If that happens, he clearly made the right decision, that whole right place, right time thing, you know? From there, he begins an NBA career, that, with his skill set, could last a number of years and deliver big time bucks.
But even if that doesn’t happen and Greene is forced to give up his NBA dream and heads overseas to shoot the rock, he’s still going to be better off than he would’ve been playing 11 minutes off the bench at Kansas. He’ll be getting paid to play basketball and travel the world and he’ll actually be playing.
Greene needed a fresh start and KU needed a break from Greene.
Combine invitation or not, both the program and the player got what they needed from Greene making the decision he made and it should be interesting to see where Greene takes things from here.
Denver Broncos’ GM John Elway’s love of former Kansas football players has been well documented throughout the past several years.
Dating back to the addition of former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris as an undrafted free agent in 2011 to the addition of linebacker Steven Johnson a year later and the signing of Harris’ KU running mate, Aqib Talib, via free agency, it’s clear that Elway appreciates what former Jayhawks can bring to the roster.
Tuesday, that list grew by one when the Broncos claimed fullback Toben Opurum off of waivers from the New Orleans Saints.
Opurum, a former KU running back under Mark Mangino who was switched over to defense by Turner Gill and his staff, spent the past couple of seasons of his college career playing the Von Miller role for the Jayhawks. Opurum improved each year but never fully got his footing on defense and switched back to fullback prior to the 2013 NFL Draft in an attempt to make a roster on offense.
It worked. After signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Opurum was picked up by the Houston Texans later that year and then spent 2014 and 2015 with the Saints. He cracked the active roster with both the Texans and the Saints and spent the rest of the time on the practice squad.
Opurum’s road to making the Broncos’ 53-man roster this summer figures to be a long one, but there’s no question that this opportunity represents his best shot to make and stick with an NFL franchise full-time.
Recent events indicate that Denver head coach Gary Kubiak is very interested in operating with a fullback full-time in the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning offense. Expect the Broncos to carry one fullback on their final 53-man roster, and Opurum was brought in to compete with 2016 sixth-round draft pick Andy Janovich, of Nebraska.
Janovich may have the advantage in that Denver invested a draft pick in him, but Opurum brings to the table the advantages of NFL experience and the ability to lean on Harris, Johnson and Talib for a better understanding of what it takes to play for the Broncos.
What’s more, all of that adversity that Opurum battled through at Kansas could wind up serving him well now, just as it did Harris during his quest to make the Broncos’ 53-man roster. That time spent on defense should have him prepared to shine on special teams and everybody knows that the fastest way to make an NFL roster is to excel at your position and stand out on special teams.
It should be fun to see how Opurum fares, but there’s no doubt that this is his best shot at truly sticking with an NFL franchise. The fact that it’s with the KU-football-loving Broncos should come as no surprise.
Throughout his time as the head coach at Kansas, head football coach David Beaty has been a master at getting out and visiting fans.
From Kansas City to Dodge City, Wichita to Topeka and a bunch of areas in between, Beaty and some of his staff have pounded the pavement to meet and shake the hands of as many KU football supporters as they could possibly find and their interactions always have gone over very well.
Fans who entered the meet-and-greets frustrated by the recent struggles of KU football have come away excited about the future and fired up by Beaty's words, message and plan.
Monday night in Colorado, Beaty joined former KU great and current Denver Bronco Chris Harris at a sports bar in Denver, where both the coach and the former KU cornerback talked to the fans that showed up about the state of Kansas football entering 2016.
Beaty talked about how much his team had improved thus far under his leadership and emphasized how the team's focus has remained on getting better every day and was fixed on the season opener against Rhode Island on Sept. 3.
Having Harris participate in the event was no doubt a big pull and it also should have come as no surprise. Even though he has been gone for several years now, Harris has remained a strong supporter of his alma mater and continues to bang the drum for Kansas football on Twitter, by returning to games and practices and in NFL locker rooms.
"We believe in him," said Harris of Beaty. "All the KU guys, all the alumni guys that played at Kansas, we all believe in him and we loved him when he was there. He gave us so much energy."
The following, courtesy of Kansas Athletics, is a quick video that gives you a feel for how Beaty operates during these outings, which will continue throughout the offseason as the Jayhawks work with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and his staff to get better in the weight room and Beaty and company prepare for preseason camp in August and continue to hit the recruiting trail.
We were blessed with the best tonight pic.twitter.com/V2Thqnf25b— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) May 10, 2016
There are all kinds of numbers and statistics in the game of baseball that stand alone and are universally recognized as milestones that dozens of baseball players chase year after year.
Few are as powerful as the .406 batting average delivered by legendary Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams in 1941, the last time a Major League Baseball player finished a season above .400.
Kansas City Royals legend George Brett came close in 1980, finishing that year at .390, but the quest for .400 has remained elusive and, with pitchers only getting more powerful, seems to more of a longshot than ever.
That’s at the Major League level. In college, although hitters top .400 on a much more regular basis because there are fewer games, fewer at-bats and fewer top-quality pitchers, hitting the milestone is still something to write home about, and, this season, the Kansas baseball team has one guy chasing the mark.
His name is Michael Tinsley, he’s a junior catcher from Menlo Park, California, and, with a 2-for-3 effort in a losing effort against Texas Tech on Saturday, he brought his average to exactly .400 for the season.
Tinsley followed that up with a 2-for-4 effort against Tech in the series finale on Sunday and pushed his average to .402 with seven guaranteed games remaining.
KU plays a three-game series at Kansas State this weekend and then will play one game at Wichita State next week before closing the regular season with a three-game set at Oklahoma State.
We won’t be there for all of Tinsley’s at-bats, but we will track his chase for .400 in this blog right here, as he attempts to become the first Jayhawk since Joe DeMarco in 1997 (.439) to finish a season above .400 and just the seventh Jayhawk to accomplish the feat since 1971.
Let's take a look...
Updated Batting Average: .402
Name: Michael Tinsley
Measurables: 6-foot, 194 pounds
Multi-hit games: 25
Most recent outing: 2-for-4 in 6-3 home loss to Texas Tech on Sunday, May 8.
Details: Tinsley, who has worked hard on going to the opposite field all season, singled to left on a 2-2 count in the bottom of the first inning. In the bottom of the fifth, Tinsley repeated the feat, singling to left on a 2-2 count with one out. Tinsley also walked in the seventh and grounded out in the fifth and ninth.
Up next: Friday night at Kansas State.
While the Kansas University football coaching staff continues to mine the country for talent and send out offers to athletes in the Class of 2017 and beyond, one previously committed KU target has decided to go a different direction.
Class of 2017 offensive lineman Grant Polley, of Denton, Texas, this morning announced on Twitter that he was de-committing from Kansas.
"After further careful consideration, and many weeks of prayer I have decided to de-commit from the University of Kansas and open up my recruitment," Polley wrote. "I will not be entertaining any interviews concerning this as I just want to finish this school year strong, enjoy the recruiting process and focus on the upcoming season."
Polley, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound lineman who initially committed to Kansas last January following the commitment of fellow-Class-of-2017 lineman Jared Hocker, has started to receive more and more interest from several big-name programs, including Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and others.
Because his commitment to Kansas was merely an oral pledge, Polley is free to re-open his recruitment and, though it probably is not likely, could choose to re-commit to Kansas down the road.
Polley ranks as the 65th best prospect in Texas by Rivals.com and is ranked as the 39th best offensive tackle in the nation.
His change of heart leaves KU with three oral commitments in the upcoming recruiting class — Hocker, Dallas running back Dom Williams and Louisiana athlete Travis Jordan.
ESPN’s Marc Stein sent a jolt through the Kansas University basketball world on Wednesday when he Tweeted that the Houston Rockets are “intrigued” by the idea of Bill Self as their next head coach.
As many have mentioned on Twitter already, just because the Rockets are intrigued by Self does not mean Self is intrigued by the Rockets’ opening. What’s more, Stein has a long list of names on the Rockets “wish list” and most of them are guys with NBA experience, which the Rockets seem to value in their search.
Sure, it’s possible that Self could one day explore the idea of coaching in the NBA. Many believe that it’ll happen eventually in San Antonio, where his good buddy R.C. Buford runs the team. And even Self has talked about what a special situation Oklahoma City is, in his home state, with a couple of world-class talents like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But those jobs are not available at the moment and I just can’t imagine Houston being the situation that makes Self jump.
So, without further ado... 10 reasons why Bill Self is not leaving Kansas for the Houston Rockets:
1. Josh Jackson – There’s no way Self worked as hard as he did to land Jackson to say goodbye before he ever gets the chance to coach him. Especially not in exchange for the roster the Rockets have.
2. Big 12 title streak still in tact – We all know that it’s March success that gets remembered, but this Big 12 title streak is a big deal and there’s no reason to think it’s going to end any time soon. It’s not like he’ll stay to see it through the 27 in a row (or will he?) but I think passing UCLA and putting that kind of stamp on the history books is meaningful.
3. Have you seen James Harden “play defense” – Enough said. The guy is an amazing offensive talent, but he has no interest in playing defense — or even faking it — and I can’t imagine Self or anyone else getting through to him and changing that. And we all know how Self feels about players who don't play D.
4. More hardware, please – I’ve always thought (and heard) that winning a second national championship means a lot to Self. And until he gets one, I can’t see him going anywhere. There have been a lot of college coaches who have won one title. A lucky run, a hot streak or one strong recruiting class or player can deliver the trophy. But the coaches who have won multiple NCAA titles put themselves in elite company and I believe Self wants to be and belongs in that group. Add to that the fact that KU is positioned to be right there again at the end of the 2016-17 season and it’s easy to see him sticking around.
5. Tyler Self – It’s not as if Self’s son still being on the roster would prevent the coach from taking an amazing opportunity elsewhere. But it is a factor and this is not an amazing opportunity. Tyler has come this far and I can’t imagine Self choosing to bail during his son’s final season on the team.
6. Dwight Howard has to be a factor – Self loves big guys, but I don’t think he would love Howard. The Houston center has been a big time problem everywhere he’s been for the past several years and, even though he possesses all the talent and physical skill in the world, there’s just something missing there and I can’t imagine adding the Howard headache to your daily duties would be something anyone who already has a great job would want to take on.
7. Seniors matter – Much the same way Roy Williams had a hard time saying goodbye to Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison the first time he was offered the job at North Carolina, I think it would be tough for Self to say goodbye to guys like Frank Mason and Landen Lucas. Those two might not be as talented as Hinrich and Collison, but Self has been through a lot with both of them and respects them so much. Ditching them would be tough to do.
8. Money – I’m not sure what the Rockets could or even would offer to pay Self, but you can bet Kansas would do everything in its power to get close to that number to keep him around. So don’t think that this decision — if and when it ever happens — will be about money.
9. Big fish, little pond – Self likes being the man and as long as Kansas is winning he always will be the man in Lawrence, not to mention college basketball. Moving to Houston puts him in the position of having to compete — in a much bigger market — with the likes of the up-and-coming Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. Sure, Houston will support a winner in any and every sport, but those two programs are in great shape right now and definitely steal some of the thunder from the Rockets on an annual basis. There’s nothing stealing Self’s thunder in Lawrence and it just keeps rumbling louder and louder year after year.
10. Because he’s the friggin head coach at Kansas – Year after year, people love to discuss Self heading to the NBA. And it may happen some day. But it also may not. Self has a great gig, is king of the world in Kansas and has this thing rolling. Besides, just last year he talked about how he thought the program was on the verge of turning a corner for landing a ton of big time recruits. Why would anyone leave a situation like that?
Can't speak to the NBA aspirations of either one, but sources say two college coaches who intrigue the Rockets are Shaka Smart and Bill Self— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 5, 2016
Do your best to hide your shock after reading this, but former Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps is getting another shot at the NFL.
Earlier this week, Heaps revealed that he had signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks — his hometown team — and will attend minicamps and attempt to make the Seahawks’ roster or practice squad this offseason and preseason.
It’s a long shot, sure, but it is a shot and I’m well aware that many people — mostly likely many of you reading this — never believed that Heaps would do much after leaving Kansas following his junior season.
In reality, he didn’t, but you have to give the guy credit for continuing to chase his dream and play the game he loves.
After leaving KU, following one season as the Jayhawks' starter — as it goes around here lately, he was benched for the final three games of 2013 in favor of Montell Cozart — Heaps played his senior season at Miami, Florida, where he appeared in four games and completed just 6 of 12 passes for 51 yards while serving as the back-up to freshman Brad Kaaya.
That reality continued a trend for Heaps, who saw his production dip every season after his freshman year at BYU, where the former five-star QB began his promising career by setting several BYU freshman passing records.
That 2010 season, in which Heaps threw for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns went down as easily the best of his college career. During his lone season at KU, Heaps threw for 1,410 yards with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing just 49 percent of his passes.
Sure, Heaps’ ability was some of the problem, but the bigger issue, at least the way I always saw it, was KU’s inability to protect him and surround him with quality playmakers who could catch the football.
That’s not to put all of the blame for that poor offensive season on Heaps’ supporting cast. It definitely was a shared effort and both parties played a big role in the Jayhawks watching their struggles continue.
But I always thought both Heaps and Dayne Crist got a little too much blame for the KU offense's inability to produce. So it goes with the quarterback position.
Despite not playing much at Miami, Heaps received his first crack at pro football with the New York Jets. He made a couple of cuts, appeared in a preseason game or two and almost made the team. The reason? The guy can throw the football when the offensive line gives him time to do just that. He’s got a live arm and understands offenses very well. He’s just not that great at improvising on the fly and getting out of trouble, which makes Seattle’s decision to add him a head scratcher at the very least. Heaps’ skills in no way remind me of Seattle starter Russell Wilson, unless you’re talking about how both are quality young men with a serious competitive drive and passion for the game of football.
Regardless, it’s cool to see Heaps get another shot just the same as it was to see Crist get his crack at the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens after his rough one-year run at Kansas.
Both are great dudes who did all they could to help Kansas and truly committed to the cause while they were Jayhawks. Both also made some lifelong friends at KU and have nothing but good things to say about their experience here, even with the record and the stats not being what either of them hoped.
That’s the sign of quality individuals and that, along with his rocket right arm, probably has as much to do as anything with Heaps getting this second chance.
Best of luck to him and what a cool opportunity to try out for the team you grew up rooting for.
Although it never was in doubt, the Kansas basketball fan base no doubt breathed a little sigh of relief on Tuesday, when KU officially announced the signing of freshman-to-be Josh Jackson.
Jackson, the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016 according to Rivals.com, already is pegged as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and, barring something crazy, will spend just one season as a member of the Jayhawks.
Regardless of how limited his time will be in Lawrence, Jackson still figures to make a major impact on the KU roster, the Big 12 and college basketball in general.
KU coach Bill Self said as much on Tuesday when announcing the signing and it’s clear that the college basketball ceiling for Jackson is as high as any we’ve seen around here in recent years, including Andrew Wiggins.
Since it was the first we’ve heard from Self about his new star-in-the-making, let’s take a little deeper look at what Self said about Jackson and break those comments down into why and how Jackson fits so well at KU.
Self's comments are in bold below, my commentary is in italics after.
“Josh has been a guy that is so respected in all high school circles the last four years.”
This, to me, is a sure sign that KU is getting a young man who is ready for everything that will be thrown at him in the next 10-12 months. Media barrage? Check. Face of the program? You bet. Pressure of playing at KU? No doubt. Chatter about being KU’s latest one-and-done stud and turning pro? Yep. The maturity seems to be off the charts with this guy and I don’t think this will turn into a case of KU getting a player who is a little immature and not ready for life on his own let alone big time college basketball. Jackson seems already to be a grown man and it should be interesting to observe that in the wake of players like Carlton Bragg, Cliff Alexander and even Wiggins.
“He is very similar to Andrew Wiggins. He’s a tall guard that can do a lot of everything. We feel his impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.”
Many, including our own Tom Keegan, already have written the inevitable Andrew Wiggins comparison, but it was noteworthy that Self went there. He certainly didn’t have to. And comparing Jackson to a player who was the runner-up in the Big 12 player of the year voting and wound up going No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft certainly is no subtle thing. That, to me, tells you exactly how much faith Self has in Jackson’s ability to handle the spotlight. We all know that Self is a master at handling the mental side of the game and pushing exactly the right buttons with his players at precisely the right times. Starting out with Jackson on this note tells me that Self believes this young man can handle anything.
“He’s extremely athletic but, more importantly, extremely competitive.”
This was interesting to me because I’ve seen it debated a few different places among fans on the Internet. Some have called Jackson an incredible athlete and others have said that he’s more of a quality basketball player and not quite in the category of freak athlete. So here you’ve got Self calling the kid “extremely athletic” and I’m guessing that pretty much ends the debate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Jackson is anywhere near as athletic as Wiggins (who is?) and that easily could be the part of the debate that’s getting lost in translation.
“He is probably as highly thought of as any recent player to come out of high school because of his competitive nature. We have a very competitive culture at Kansas, but I think it just got improved with the signing of Josh.”
Throughout the years we’ve heard some big time comment and compliments from Self about his teams and individual players. But this might be one of the best. And the kid hasn’t even suited up in a KU uniform yet. We all know how much competing means to Self so to pay a young player like Jackson this kind of a compliment at this stage in his career is about as big as it gets. The important thing to remember here, too, is that Self already signed him and won the recruiting battle. It’s not as if this was just some comment he made to try to woo him to Kansas.
“He’s a guy that everybody enjoys playing with because he is so unselfish but also a guy that can take a game over.”
I’ve been trying to think of a former KU player who also fit this mold and it’s been difficult. A few guys who come to mind include Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Keith Langford, Wayne Simien, Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis. If Jackson winds up anywhere near that company, his one year at Kansas will be memorable.
“Josh has a great feel for basketball...”
This is one area where Jackson seems to differ a little from Wiggins. Wiggins, as you all know, was a freak athlete who dominated competition both in high school and at Kansas by using his physical tools. Simply put, he could run faster, jump higher, jump quicker, and move better than most players on the floor every time he played. If Jackson truly does have a better feel for the game, he should be able to impact the action in ways that go beyond athleticism. We’ve heard he’s a great passer and a better ball-handler than Wiggins. And based on what I’ve learned and what little I’ve seen, he seems to have very good command of what everyone on the court is and/or should be doing. It will be interesting to see if that same “feel” that he already seems to possess translates to Kansas and major college basketball right away.
“His recruitment was fierce and deservedly so. Coach Townsend has done such a good job for a long period of time of making sure Josh and (his mom) were both comfortable and educated on our situation and how Kansas could be a good fit for them.”
Recruit the parents, land the player. It doesn’t always work this way, of course, but it often plays a huge role. And Self and his staff know this — and do this — as well as anybody out there. I also think it’s worth noting Self’s praise for Townsend in these comments. Clearly, Self is the closer when it comes to landing these types of players. But without a strong effort from his staff to lay the foundation and, more importantly, stick with the recruitment every minute of every day and as much as needed, his success rate of landing these highly coveted one-and-dones would not be near what it is. Cool to see Self share the love. It’s that kind of feedback and praise that keeps these assistant coaches working so damn hard in a cut-throat and never-ending endeavor such as pounding the pavement on the recruiting grind.
So here we go again.... again.
As if any of us needed any more proof that it’s college football, and nothing else, that’s driving (and has driven) the seemingly constant changes on the landscape of college athletics, we now have more evidence.
The Big 12 Conference, which in the past five years has lost Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M while adding TCU and West Virginia, recently revealed that data from an in-depth study on expansion and how it relates to the College Football Playoff showed that adding members would upgrade the Big 12’s chances of competing for national championships in football.
This news and the results of this study are something we’ve been waiting on and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other Big 12 brass have been promising for weeks. And now that it’s here, the Big 12’s reaction to it should get very interesting in a hurry.
According to Bowlsby, the numbers run by Chicago-based Navigate Research show the Big 12 has a 4-5 percent better chance of reaching college football’s final four by adding two teams, playing one less conference game each season and hosting a championship game.
Should the Big 12 deem that data to be significant enough to again get serious about expanding, it would mean that the conference has to (a) agree and finalize its choices for which programs to add to the conference and then move quickly to bring them in and (b) get used to the idea of going back to an eight-game conference schedule with four non-conference games and scrap the whole idea of round-robin play determining its champion, a reality the conference has been beating the drum loudly about during the past few years.
Both developments, as well as the addition of a couple of teams that might not be on the same level as the nasty gauntlet that makes up the current Big 12 schedule, would be good news for Kansas football in the future and would be a significant lift for KU’s hopes of rebuilding its down-in-the-dumps football program.
Now the hard part.
If you’ve been following along at all during the past couple of years, listening to all of the rumors and speculation and wish lists and pipe dreams, you already know that identifying and adding a couple of teams to the conference will not be easy because there are no slam-dunk, obvious, home-run additions available.
Bowlsby said the research firm that studied the data ran 40,000 simulations to reach its conclusion. The question the Big 12 faces now and into the future is this: Is that 4-5 percent enough to move the needle and make expansion the desired course of action?
Well, do your best to hide your shock when you read this next part, but it seems that the decision won’t be based solely on the on-the-field impact of such a decision. It will be and always has been about money.
“If we do nothing, we’ll fall behind the SEC and the Big Ten in terms of [revenue],” Bowlsby told reporters Monday in Phoenix at the Big 12 spring meetings. “We may be every bit as competitive as we are today, but we’ll fall behind financially.”
Later this month the Big 12 presidents will host their own meetings in Dallas, and that’s where things should get very interesting.
It’s hard to know exactly what’s next for the league, both in long-term and in the short term, as those in favor of expansion, like Oklahoma president David Boren, now have more muscle behind their push for expansion.
How hard will Boren and others recruit the rest of the conference to get on board with the idea based on this data? How difficult will it be for the conference to identify and agree upon the additions should they decide expansion is the right move? How quickly will this actually move? My gut tells me it will take some time and won’t be able to happen as soon as this summer as the pro-expansion crowd certainly would prefer.
Ever since the Big 12 starting losing teams to other conferences, the conference has operated with patience and taken a measured approach to every decision it has made or not made in regard to the long-term future of the league.
Whether that’s the best mode to move in which to move forward now depends on how significant the conference deems this data to be. The guess here is that it is significant enough and the winds of change will start blowing again. After all, doesn’t it seem like an extra 4-5 percent two years ago would’ve helped the conference tremendously when both Baylor and TCU missed out on being included in the first ever College Football Playoff?
There are, of course, other issues still in play — most notably what to do with the Longhorn Network and potential for a Big 12 Network — but the slow and methodical approach to exploring the possibility of expanding back to 12 at some point has eliminated a lot of those and it should be very interesting to see where things go from here. Will we see the Big 12 start to move toward getting serious about expansion or will it be more of the same?
The shame of this Big 12 study is that its "best" route to the playoff is a worse way to determine its champion. https://t.co/fvUxFei29H— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) May 3, 2016
Big 12 analytics: B12 best with 12 teams, 8 cont games and league champ game. https://t.co/fD1uwg3xb4— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) May 2, 2016
Big 12 expansion linked to greater CFP chances, research suggests: https://t.co/DBJr1el5h4— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) May 2, 2016
Another NFL Draft has come and gone and, not so surprisingly, no Jayhawks were selected in this year’s seven-round draft.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when three former Jayhawks — Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald — were drafted in the seven rounds.
As is the case just about every year, a handful of former Jayhawks who finished their college careers in 2015 were signed as undrafted free agents following the draft, so there is the possibility that the number of Jayhawks in the NFL could go up by the time August rolls around.
But going the free-agent route makes all of those guys longshots to stick so the better way to examine this year’s draft is through the lens of what the teams with Jayhawks did that might impact the former KU players already in the NFL.
The good news on that front is the answer, in just about every case, is not much.
Here’s a quick look.
Denver Broncos — The Broncos did pick up a pair of defensive backs in this year’s draft, but both were safeties and neither will threaten the status of starting cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Let’s face it; even if the Broncos had drafted a corner, even that would not have threatened Harris and Talib, the former KU teammates who have become two of the top corners in the league and, in many eyes, the top cornerback duo in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints — Former KU running back Toben Opurum has spent the past couple of seasons with the Saints, primarily on their practice squad and he appears to be doing enough in that role to keep his bosses happy. The Saints did add a running back in the draft but not until the final round.
Oakland Raiders — The Raiders added two defensive ends and an outside linebacker, but none of those players should impact Heeney, who had a stellar rookie season playing inside and in the heart of the Oakland defense. The talk out of Oakland both immediately after the 2015 season and in the offseason sure made it sound a lot like the Raiders were thrilled with what they had in Heeney and that his role would only increase from here on out. This draft definitely indicates that. The Raiders also stayed away from the cornerback position, good news for Dexter McDonald.
Philadelphia Eagles — I’ve heard nothing but good things about JaCorey Shepherd’s recovery from a torn ACL last preseason as well as the Eagles’ feelings on him as a big part of their future. The Eagles’ draft certainly would lend support to that claim. Phily did add a pair of DBs in the 6th and 7th rounds and one of them, Blake Countess of Auburn, seems to have some steal-type potential. But even at that, Countess seems more like a true cover corner and the Eagles were looking at Shepherd as more of a nickel back. All in all, in could have been worse for Shepherd and he has to be feeling good that the franchise did not feel as if it needed to use a high pick on a player in the secondary.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Steven Johnson signed with the Steelers this offseason mostly because of the opportunity to not only make the roster but also impact the team. The Steelers added two linebackers in the draft — a sixth-round pick from Washington and a seventh-rounder from Temple — and it’s entirely likely that Johnson, who has spent time with the Broncos and Tennessee Titans after landing in the league as an undrafted free agent, will have to compete with those two players for a possible spot on the 53-man roster. Competing and being in that underdog role is nothing new for Johnson, so don’t expect him to shy away from the challenge. When I caught up with him at this year’s spring game, he seemed ecstatic about the opportunity in Pittsburgh and no doubt will be ready for the battle.
San Diego Chargers — No safeties in the draft for the Chargers is excellent news for former KU standout Darrell Stuckey, who not only has entrenched himself as a key part of the Chargers’ special teams — he earned a Pro Bowl nod for that role two years ago — but also may be in line for more time in the secondary now that stud Eric Weddle, who mentored Stuckey, is no longer with the team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs added two cornerbacks but no safeties, which should inspire former Jayhawk Bradley McDougald to release a sigh of relief. McDougald has been rock solid for Tampa during his years with the franchise and continues to improve each season. He’s still young but now trending toward veteran status and seems to be a big part of their defense.
There are, of course, a handful of other former Jayhawks still trying to hang around with this team or that team, but as for the players who have carved out key roles in pro football, this draft did not seem to hurt any of them.
One quick note about Tanner Hawkinson, who was drafted by Cincinnati and then spent time in Phily before getting picked up by Jacksonville... I saw Hawkinson before this year’s spring game, as well, and he said he was not completely sure what his future held. There’s no doubt that he could still make a roster, but his time in the NFL might have come to an end and he might have been a victim of not catching on in quite the right situation. We’ll keep an eye on it and see what he ends up doing.
When people used to talk (and probably still do) about a school’s footwear of choice playing a role in the decision-making process of top-ranked basketball recruits, I used to think they were crazy.
I mean, are we really living in a world where a young man might pass on going to Kansas because the Jayhawks are an adidas school and he would prefer to wear Nike?
I guess in some ways we are. And as sad as that is for so many reasons, it still is not entirely true.
After all, that was the scuttlebutt during the recruitment of Andrew Wiggins a couple of years ago. Because Wiggins’ Huntington Prep crew wore Nike, there was talk that the Jayhawks had no shot at landing him because he was not going to wear adidas.
That, of course, turned out not to be true. Wiggins came to KU, wore adidas everything for 10 months and, after being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, signed a deal to have his own adidas line and become one of the few faces of the company’s basketball brand, joining such NBA stars as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Damian Lillard and, in years gone by Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant.
I’m not a huge shoe guy. Don’t get me wrong. I like the looks of so many of them and enjoy scouting out who wears what and how they look on the floor. But rarely do I commit such information to memory and, when it comes to slapping sneaks on my own two feet, I keep it pretty simple and shoot for comfort, price and functionality as my main criteria.
Benton Smith is our resident shoe guy here at KUsports.com and while I know his shoe game has helped him build a rapport with all kinds of KU athletes during the past several years, I’ve also heard from more than a few people who believe Benton may have a problem. He tends to do that. If you ever run into him or anyone who knows him, feel free to ask about last summer’s phenomenon known as “Jerseys July.”
Anyway, back to the shoes and why I’m even writing this.
As I said, I used to think that these things did not matter. After all, they’re just shoes. And it’s not as if KU, by signing a lucrative, long-term deal with adidas, is asking its athletes to wear low-top Kangaroos with the zippers on the sides that put them at a disadvantage. Nike, adidas, Under Armor, they all make quality shoes that are worn and trusted by some of the best athletes in the world.
So Nike here, adidas there, who cares, right?
Well, evidently at least one former Jayhawk does. Wayne Selden Jr., who, last month, announced that he would forego his senior year and head to the NBA Draft on Monday night posted a photo of himself working out at a training facility in California.
The post, which popped up on Selden’s Twitter feed (@WayneSeldenJ) highlighted the work Selden has been putting in leading up to the June draft and featured a photo of him shooting a jumper in a gym.
There, toward the bottom of the photo, Selden’s shoes jumped off the screen at me. Instead of the adidas kicks that he’s been wearing for the past three years, Selden was rocking a pair of black Nikes. (I’m sure Benton could tell you in two seconds what kind they were).
What does all of this mean? Nothing, I suppose. I just found it interesting that he would be working out in Nikes when he spent the past three years playing and training in adidas gear.
To be fair, this could have been a one-time thing or Selden could be wearing both brands depending on the type of workout he’s doing.
Either way, I guess the shoes really do matter to these guys.
I'm sure a much bigger concern for Selden today, however, is putting in the work required to be selected in this summer's draft.
As things stand today, DraftExpress.com has Selden listed as a second-round pick, No. 42 overall to Utah. Seems like a safe bet that he'll fall somewhere in that range, but if he does enough to impress teams at the pre-draft workouts, he could slide into the late first round and high 20s.
It should be interesting to track his path along with the paths of fellow former Jayhawks Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis and possibly Brannen Greene.
For the past couple of years a lot of the talk surrounding Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart focused on what other position Cozart could play as much as it did on his qualities as a quarterback.
And given the Bishop Miege graduate’s elite-level athleticism, that type of chatter made perfect sense.
However, as things stood entering the 2016 season — spring football wrapped up last week — I was one of the rare people who still believed that Cozart, incredible athlete or not, actually served this team best as a quarterback.
After all, even though freshman quarterback Ryan Willis showed a ton of potential last season and appears to be poised for big things in the future, he missed most of the spring with an injured wrist and the rest of the position behind him is wildly inexperienced. Therefore, Cozart, even in a back-up type role, can still bring something of value to the roster as a passer. Besides, if he were to move to wide receiver, he’d be plugging himself into a deep and talented position and competing for playing time with teammates who have been running routes and catching passes their entire lives.
Those were my thoughts before Wednesday.
But now, in the wake of the news that Cozart, along with fellow KU quarterback Deondre Ford, had been granted a hardship waiver that came with an extra year of eligibility, my mind is starting to go to that place that so many other minds already have been.
Should Montell Cozart switch positions?
Cozart himself was asked this question earlier this spring and, as much as the young man fancies himself a quarterback, he proved that he truly is a team player by saying he inquired about switching positions if that was what the coaches thought was best for the team. It wasn’t then. But it might be now. And that extra year of eligibility has a lot to do with it.
See, with just one year left, it would be tough for Cozart to fully make the jump from QB to wide receiver or DB or wherever else they thought he might be able to help. After all, even former Jayhawk JaCorey Shepherd, who went on to become a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, needed a full year and then some to make the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. And that switch is a much easier transition than going from quarterback to anywhere.
So that’s what is so intriguing about that extra year that Cozart now has at his disposal. If they make the move now, he could spend the summer, preseason camp and all of the 2016 season easing into the transition and then be ready to truly make some noise at his new position heading into next spring.
With young QBs Carter Stanley (red-shirt freshman) and Tyriek Starks (incoming freshman) in place and ready for action — along with Ford and Keaton Perry on the roster for QB insurance — the Jayhawks have the bodies behind Willis to give Cozart a shot somewhere else. Besides, it's not like he couldn't move back if something happened to Willis or the need popped up.
That’s not to say Cozart could not move at a faster pace and contribute in a different role as soon as the 2016 season, but the extra year takes some of the pressure off and gives him time.
The only thing left to do now is to figure out the best spot to move him and then pull the trigger.
Having said all of that, don’t count Cozart out of the QB race just yet. Willis did next to no throwing this spring because of that wrist injury and Cozart has never been anything but supremely confident in his skills.
Like it or not, there exists the real possibility that Cozart could be lined up under center for the first offensive snap of the season just as he was in each of the past two seasons.
The good news, though, is this: If he’s not, it now looks as if there’s time to find him somewhere else to contribute.
The speculation from most fans and observers regarding Kansas guard Frank Mason throughout the 2015-16 KU men’s basketball season was that some kind of nagging injury might have been bothering him during various portions of the Jayhawks’ run to a 33-5 record and trip to the Elite Eight.
There certainly were times when Mason, a junior from Petersburg, Virginia, looked a little off of his game and did not play at the same level that he had during his stellar sophomore season.
Mason, like the consistently solid player he has proven to be, always found a way to contribute and, more importantly, always bounced back from those rough stretches, but it seemed to me and most of the people I talked to about Mason throughout the season that he was not playing at quite the same level as a junior as he did as a sophomore.
With the season now in the past and my curiosity racing, I checked out Mason’s stats from both seasons to see how they compared.
The result? It turns out Mason is way more consistent than I even realized.
In the 25 statistical categories kept every season for each player, Mason stayed the same or improved in 20 of them.
The entire lot will be outlined a little later, but, for now, let’s focus on the five categories in which he took a step backwards.
• FG percentage — Mason shot .434 as a junior, seven tenths of a percentage point lower than his .441 average as a sophomore. The interesting thing about this stat, however, is that Mason both took and made more shots during his junior season, with the higher number of attempts creating the slightly lower shooting percentage. It’s also worth noting here that Mason, who played in and started every game during the past two seasons, received the benefit of two more games as a junior because the Jayhawks advanced two rounds farther in the NCAA Tournament. So keep that in mind when reading these stats.
• Three-pointers attempted — Depending on how you look at it, this, too, could have gone down as an “improvement” because Mason took 113 threes as a junior and just 98 as a sophomore. The reason I tossed it into the “got worse” category, though, was because the higher volume of three-point attempts led to Mason shooting a worse percentage.
• Three-point percentage — Mason shot .429 from behind the three-point line as a sophomore and dipped to a .381 three-point shooter his junior season. As mentioned above, the 15 more attempts (again, remember the two extra games) was a big factor for the lower percentage and it’s interesting to note that Mason made just one more three-pointer (43) as a junior than he did as a sophomore (42). In fact, Mason either tied or missed tying by one in seven of the 25 statistical categories: Games started (all), minutes per game (33.5), three-point makes (43-42), turnovers (73-74), steals (50) and blocks (3-4).
• Free throw percentage — As was the case with his three-point shooting, a higher volume of free throws led to a lower percentage for Mason, who shot .739 as a junior compared to .786 as a sophomore. That .739 clip came in 44 more free throw attempts and Mason made 26 more free throws in 2015-16 than he did during the 2014-15 season. Again, you have to take into account those two extra games when considering these and all of his numbers, but, even with that included, Mason exceeded what a lot of his numbers should have been based on his career averages.
• Personal fouls — Mason fouled a whopping 19 more times during the 2015-16 season, hacking opponents 84 times compared to just 65 the previous season. When you consider that his minutes per game and starts were the same as the year before, this stat is a pretty good illustration of just how the way officials emphasized the new rules for fouls (especially early in the season) impacted the game.
So what does all of this mean? As with most stats, it really can mean whatever you interpret it to mean. But one thing that cannot be argued is that Mason, injured or not, was at least as productive as a junior as he was during his sophomore season.
In fact, even his points-per-game average was nearly identical — 12.9 ppg as a junior and 12.6 ppg as a sophomore.
A couple of reasons it might not have seemed that way throughout the season? 1. The better season turned in by Wayne Selden, who replaced Mason as the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer behind Perry Ellis. 2. The emergence of sophomore Devonte’ Graham, who played a much bigger role during his second season with the Jayhawks than he did during his first, which often allowed Mason to do more blending in rather than leading the charge.
Either way you viewed it then or view it now, Mason, as any coach would like to see from his point guard, has been remarkably consistent during the past two seasons and has been the steady driving force behind the team’s recent success.
So what should we expect from Mason as a senior in 2016-17? Here’s a wild guess — more of the same.
— Here's a quick look at the comparison between the two seasons, first in overall stats and second in numbers per 40 minutes. The only stats of the 25 I referenced not shown in the table below are (totals listed in parentheses, with 2015-16 listed first): Games started (38-36), Average minutes (33.5), Average rebounds (4.3-3.9), Assist per game (4.6-3.9) and Average points (12.9-12.6) —
Mason's past two seasons
Mason's past two seasons per 40 minutes
Tuesday afternoon’s two-hour practice, which came three days after the annual spring game, represented our final chance to see the 2016 Kansas University football team until preseason camp.
And, at least through these eyes, the 14th session of spring ball offered a much better look at this group of Jayhawks, mostly because we had more time and did not have to worry about trying to keep up with that strange scoring system that decided the spring game.
The biggest difference between Saturday and Tuesday was the fact that the Jayhawks were wearing shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Tuesday instead of full pads and it sounds like that’ll be the case again Thursday, when the Jayhawks close out their spring schedule.
From there, they’ll focus on finishing school, getting through finals and then jumping into the always-grueling summer session, which will be run by the players themselves and strength coach Je’Ney Jackson and his staff.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few things that caught my eye on Tuesday, both the good and the bad...
• As I wrote in a short article after practice, sophomore QB Ryan Willis was throwing — albeit with a Nerf football — during the early portions of practice and, from the looks of things, the Jayhawks can’t get him back soon enough. Maybe it was just a bad day, but all four of KU’s other quarterbacks showed accuracy issues and failed to consistently put the ball where it needed to be in team drills, on everything from short throws to the flat to deep shots down the field. Willis is not perfect, but he’s got a great arm and he just might believe he is.
• One thing that really jumped out during the entire two-hour session was how much KU’s coaches emphasized good footwork. Sure, fundamentals are stressed every day. And let’s face it; when you’re in the position that KU football is in, you sure better be focusing hardcore on fundamentals. But the specific nature of how much they drilled footwork was interesting to me.
• You know those tomahawk and buckeye stickers that Florida State and Ohio State players (and several other teams with their stickers) put on their helmets when players reach certain goals? It looks as if the Jayhawks are joining the club? I don’t know yet if this is just a practice thing, just a spring thing or something more permanent. But I do know that it’s just a reward for KU’s defensive players right now and that could be the result of the defense getting the better of the offense on a pretty consistent basis throughout the spring. Either way, the tiny Jayhawk stickers look pretty cool.
• Minor detail here, but it definitely stood out: DC Clint Bowen was not at practice because, as Beaty said, he was "as sick as a dog." You know he'd have to be to stay away from one of 15 spring practices that are so valuable to the team. That said, the defense seemed to move fine and work with a business-as-usual attitude and effort without their leader their. Good sign.
• Now for some individual notes.... I’m telling you what, man. This walk-on freshman receiver named Keegan Brewer can really play. He’s physical enough to play right now, runs great routes, has good hands and just oozes confidence. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll see him playing plenty of snaps this fall and during the next four years. And he looks like a pretty dynamic player with great drive and work ethic.
• Return man and former Wichita State sprinter Ryan Schadler was back working with the running backs on Tuesday. Because of a minor injury Schadler did not get any carries (or snaps) during last weekend’s spring game, but him working with the RBs certainly is no surprise. It’s a thin position and Schadler has some skills, so don’t be surprised if that role sticks. One other quick note here: The thin and inexperienced nature of the position should provide a good opportunity for incoming freshman Khalil Herbert to get some carries right away, provided he reports in good shape and picks up the offense quickly.
• I love the look of Fish Smithson and Tyron Miller at safety. Both guys look like natural leaders and bring confidence to the KU secondary. Miller looks about the same, physically, but he appears to be so much more comfortable at his position of choice.
• Remember Chase Harrell? The big, athletic wide receiver who graduated high school early last year and came to KU in time for spring practice? There was a lot of hype around him early on because of that (which might have been unfair) but Harrell went on to red-shirt the 2015 season. I haven’t heard or seen much from him this spring and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll be one of those late bloomers, especially when you consider how many talented receivers are already taking snaps ahead of him. This group of wideouts might not wow the folks at Alabama, but I think there are at least three or four receivers on this team that could play at just about any school in the country. That’s what makes finding the right QB all the more important.
• At the top of that list — though he’s not all that young — is transfer wideout LaQuvionte Gonzalez. You all saw what “Quiv” can do during the spring game, but watching him school the young DBs in KU’s secondary with his quickness and route-running savvy is good entertainment.
• Red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger is a horse. He came in with good size and appears to have gotten much bigger but, and here’s the important part, he does not seem to have lost his athleticism and speed. I think this guy is going to have a big and very versatile role in KU’s offense this season and beyond. He really seems to be a coach’s dream, too — always attentive, always ready, locked in from start to finish.
• Curious about the first-string offensive line? Well, this was the way it looked during the spring game and it stayed consistent during Tuesday’s practice. From left to right: LT Clyde McCaulley, LG Jayson Rhodes, C Joe Gibson, RG Jacob Bragg, RT De’Andre Banks. It’s hard to know whether that’s what it will be this fall or not, especially when you consider last year’s left tackle (Jordan Shelley-Smith) is currently nursing an injury. But that’s the way it looks right now. Having said that, I was surprised to see how many little details the coaches still had to remind these guys about during Tuesday’s practice. I don’t know if this group has worked together most of the spring or not, and that could’ve been part of the problem. But for all of the good things we’ve heard about how far this group has come in the weight room and conditioning, it seems there’s still more than a little work to do on the field.
• One of the strangest things I saw at Tuesday’s practice came in the final 15 or 20 minutes, when it was offense against offense and defense against defense. What I mean by that is this: Wideouts Shakiem Barbel and Steven Sims alternated between receiver and defensive back. Ryan Schadler played some safety. Offensive lineman Will Smith played some linebacker. Weird, huh? Now, it’s important to note that none of these offensive players “playing defense” of the defensive guys posing as point-producers on the other side of the field actually were running things. It seemed to me as if going offense vs. offense and defense vs. defense was merely a way to keep more players engaged and learning, instead of having the offense go against the defense and putting half of the team on the bench or sideline. Can’t hurt, right?
It’s a dangerous and somewhat foolish endeavor to put expectations of any kind on incoming college freshmen, but most of us just can’t help ourselves, can we?
Whether you’re talking about the type of insane hype that surrounded Andrew Wiggins — which would’ve been there wherever he chose to go to school — or the more tempered hopes put on guys like Wayne Selden, Cole Aldrich, Drew Gooden and dozens of others, fans, media members and even the coaches and players always seem to have some notion of what they expect to get from their shiny new Jayhawks.
That certainly is and will continue to be true of Josh Jackson, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2016, who, minutes ago, picked Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State.
But it seems to me that whatever lofty expectations are tossed onto the shoulders of the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing player who likely will fill Selden’s role in KU’s starting lineup next season, Jackson is in the best position of any KU wing in recent memory to live up to them.
Jackson will be set up to succeed better at Kansas than any wing player since Ben McLemore because of the supporting cast around him.
And, with all due respect to how great McLemore was as a red-shirt freshman during the 2012-13 season, the hype attached to him was not anything close to what we saw with Wiggins, Selden, Kelly Oubre and, of course, now Jackson.
Like McLemore, though, Jackson will be surrounded by a veteran group of quality players who not only know how to play for KU coach Bill Self but also how to navigate the wild world of college basketball.
That can only help — be it in terms of taking the target off of Jackson’s back or in the mentor-student capacity — as Jackson brings his insane athleticism, killer outside shot and all-around impressive game to Lawrence for what figures to be his only season of college basketball.
Just think about KU’s backcourt for a minute. From Day 1, Jackson will be playing next to Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, a senior and a junior who have the skills and mindset to make plays for themselves and others and the experience to help show Jackson the way and push him to match their focus, tenacity and hunger.
Picture this: Mason attacks the paint and kicks to a wide open Jackson on the wing. After the catch, Jackson will have a few options. 1. Knock down the open jumper with space and time to step into that smooth shot. 2. Attack the rim while the collapsing defense scrambles to recover. 3. Become a facilitator himself by driving to create and then kicking to Mason, Graham or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, all of whom can bury open jumpers from anywhere on the floor.
Beyond those on-the-court, in-game advantages, Jackson also will benefit from playing under the leadership of a couple of strong seniors in Mason and Landen Lucas.
McLemore enjoyed similar riches by being plugged into a starting lineup that included seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, four Jayhawks who finished the previous season on the doorstep of a national championship.
While that team was crazy talented in terms of toughness and experience, the 2016-17 team figures to have the edge in terms of guards who can make plays off the bounce.
Just think about what having one lead guard like that (Sherron Collins) did for all of those players around him on the 2009-10 team. Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and the Morris Twins all consistently got easy looks and open attack lanes because of the way Collins played the game.
If the combination of Mason and Graham can do that for Jackson — and, in turn, him for them — then KU’s newest one-and-done sensation could easily surpass the production of the others who came before him.
Here’s a quick look back at the hand dealt to each of KU’s high-profile wings in the past 10 years.
• Wayne Selden (2013-16) — Selden came in at the same time as Wiggins and played with the same lineup. What’s more, because of the presence of Wiggins himself, Selden was forced to play out of position his first season in Lawrence, which not only hurt his own growth and development but also created issues for the team. It was not until his junior year that Selden finally shined and, even then, he had plenty of moments when he disappeared. Though not as physical, Jackson seems to be coming to Kansas with a more advanced game than Selden brought.
• Kelly Oubre (2014-15) — Like Wiggins, Oubre held down the three spot in KU’s lineup and that, again, forced Selden to play the two. Although most of the key players on the roster were a year older than they were when Wiggins played, that did not necessarily make them a year wiser. Mason was much improved, but the Jayhawks replaced the experienced Tharpe with a rookie in Devonte’ Graham and still had a very young core group.
• Andrew Wiggins (2013-14) — Seven players in KU’s rotation during Wiggins’ lone year in Lawrence were sophomores or younger. That includes Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis. The only player on that KU team with any kind of veteran hue to him was junior guard Naadir Tharpe and, although I always thought Tharpe was a good leader, he was not the kind of guard who made others better with his play on the floor. Because of that, Wiggins often had to do too much and even though his insane talent led to some pretty darn good numbers (17 points, 6 rebounds in 33 minutes per game), you can’t help but wonder what those numbers might’ve been with a few tried and tested teammates taking off some of the pressure.
• Ben McLemore (2012-13) — After sitting out the 2011-12 season, McLemore was a star during the 2012-13 season but he benefitted big time from being eased into the role of hot shooter and highlight dunker because of the talent around him. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford were tough proven perimeter players who were deadly in transition. And Jeff Withey and Kevin Young were so go inside (especially on the glass) that it allowed McLemore to roam free and play wherever he was most comfortable. Jackson could enjoy similar freedom.
• Josh Selby (2010-11) — Though more of a true guard than a wing, Selby’s issue (other than his personal shortcomings) was that he joined a team with too many quality veterans. Don’t get me wrong, if Selby had been as good as advertised, he would’ve played a ton and probably would’ve found his way into the starting lineup. But after a one-game explosion, the Baltimore guard who was ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 1 player in his class did little to back up that ranking and, instead, watched heady veterans like Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Travis Releford and Mario Little dominate the minutes on the perimeter.
• Xavier Henry (2009-10) — Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were a dominant one-two, inside-out punch and everything else kind of fell in line around them. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of talk throughout the past several years from people wondering just how much more Henry could have shown/produced if he had been on a team like the one Wiggins was on. Instead of being leaned on as a primary piece, Henry spent most of his short KU career trying to fit in and fill a small role, which he did well.
• Brandon Rush (2005-08) — Many believed Rush was a one-and-done prospect when he came to Kansas, but he quickly showed that he needed at least a couple of seasons. A big reason for that was the fact that he came in with a bunch of guys who also were learning on the fly. Granted, that group made up the core of Bill Self’s 2008 national title team, but not having a single veteran who did not start out as a walk-on (Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody and Stephen Vinson all played an unexpectedly big role on this young team) put Rush in the position of having to do more than he might have been ready for back in an era when other college teams still featured upperclassmen with some regularity.
• Julian Wright (2005-07) — Like Rush, Wright came in with that young core of future national champions and although Wright’s confidence and fearless approach to the game helped make him a lottery pick a year before his classmates won it all, Wright also would have benefitted from playing with a couple of veterans like Jackson will during the 2016-17 season.
As you may have read yesterday, the Kansas University football team has changed up its open-practice policy and limited how much we can see this spring.
Because of that, the “What Caught My Eye” blogs that many of you have come to enjoy during the past six years have gone by the wayside, with most of the media portion of practices this spring being limited to stretching and a special teams drill or two — the same thing, day after day.
In an earlier blog, I promised to come up with something to fill the void and that’s what this is. Instead of “What Caught My Eye,” it’s “What Caught My Ear.”
As I hustled around the room to get to as many players and coaches as I could during the player availability sessions this Wednesday and last Wednesday, I did so with the dog days of summer in mind. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few tidbits about the progress of this team at this point along the way.
Here’s a look at a few things that caught my ear...
• LaQuvionte Gonzalez has definitely emerged as a team leader and seems to be dying to hit the field to show what kind of play maker he is. Most guys I talked to said “Quiv” is the fastest dude on this team and Gonzalez himself said, as difficult as it was to sit out last season, it made him appreciate his opportunity to play this game more than ever before and positioned him to make the most of every opportunity, every rep, every drill and every game in 2016. There’s not a ton of known commodities to look forward to with this team this fall, but Gonzalez should definitely land on that list.
• Speaking of speed, I keep hearing about sophomore running back Taylor Martin and how much faster and better he looks this season. Martin, who was a star in Texas at the prep level, didn’t get a ton of opportunities to carry the ball and showcase his game last season, but it sounds like he’s healthy and much more comfortable with the speed and complexities of the college game this spring. Given the lack of depth at KU’s RB position, that qualifies as very good news for this team, provided Martin can carry it over to preseason camp and then the season.
• Speaking of running backs, we learned this spring that juco transfer lead back Ke’aun Kinner played hurt all of last season. He had a torn labrum in his left shoulder entering college and it never fully healed while Kinner stepped into a heavy load with the Jayhawks during his first season in town. I talked to Kinner this week and he said he’s healthy now and feels great. I doubt it will impact much in terms of how he runs, but it should help in areas like pass protection, stiff-arms and those sorts of things.
• As far the quarterbacks go, you know by now that Ryan Willis was severely limited this spring because of a right wrist injury and that wrist issue will keep Willis out of Saturday’s spring game. Because of that, Montell Cozart — who lists himself at 90-95 percent healthy — got the first chance to run as the top quarterback in Beaty’s new “more of a true Air Raid” offense. It should be interesting to see how Cozart looks on Saturday and it will be good to talk to Beaty about Willis’ progress, too. At this point, if you made me bet, I’d bet on Cozart starting at quarterback in the season opener against Rhode Island. But it’s still very early and a lot could change in that department. As for the other QBs, I didn’t hear much about Deondre Ford, Keaton Perry or Carter Stanley this spring and newcomer Dagan Haehn is still recovering from his knee injuries and has been a non-factor. The only other intriguing player at this position is Louisiana athlete Tyriek Starks, who will report to campus in June.
• Here’s a quick look at a few names who have earned “Player of the Day” honors this spring: — Offense — James Sullivan (RB), Emmanuel Moore (WR), Tyler Patrick (WR), Austin Moses (WR), Darious Crawley (WR), LaQuvionte Gonzalez (WR), DeAndre Banks (OL), Jacob Bragg (OL) and Jayson Rhodes (OL). — Defense — Stephan Robinson (CB), Joe Dineen (LB), Damani Mosby (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Tyrone Miller (S), Anthony Olobia (DE), Fish Smithson (S), Derrick Neal (CB), Osaze Ogbebor (LB) and Greg Allen (S). — Special Teams — Keith Loneker (LB), Joe Dineen (LB), Josh Ehambe (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Matthew Wyman (K), Damani Mosby (DE) and Ben Johnson (TE). Joe Dineen and Damani Mosby were both two-time winners and Chevy Graham was a three-time honoree.
• Defensive end Dorance Armstrong continues to impress and is looking to build on a solid freshman season. But the biggest thing he’s focusing on right now is adding weight. D-Line coach Michael Slater said he wanted Armstrong to add some bulk so he can stay on the field and hold up.
• New special teams coach Joe DeForest said the vibe around KU today reminds him a lot of the feeling in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when he joined Les Miles’ staff at OSU at the beginning of the Cowboys’ rebuild in 2001.
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens said the carry-over from last year’s initial installation to this year has been phenomenal. There has not been much time devoted (and/or wasted) on reteaching fundamental things about the Jayhawks’ offensive, defensive and cultural philosophies.
• Regarding the new offense, the main thing I keep hearing over and over about it is, "it's easier." They're also talking about how much fun it is and how it presents great potential for big plays all over the field. That, as much as anything, should be on full display during Saturday's spring game.
• As for last year’s 0-12 season, the Jayhawks have not forgotten about it and are eager to use it to drive them and fuel their fire this season. Having said that, they definitely are not dwelling on it and seem to be operating like a new team with a fresh start. That’s no surprise given the fact that this group actually held up pretty well mentally while going through that winless season. Obviously, none of this means more wins are automatically on the way, but, from the mental side of things, this team appears to be in good shape and continuing to move forward — however slowly — in its attempt to strip away the culture of losing that has hung over the program since the end of the Mark Mangino era.
• The spring game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium and the weather forecast is fantastic. 67 degrees under mostly sunny skies with 0 percent chance for rain. It will be windy, so keep that in mind when looking at kicks and deep balls. And also be forewarned that this year’s spring game won’t actually be a game at all, more of an extended scrimmage. I’ll have a little more on that in my preview story later tonight.
Sadly, it seems we might have reached the end of an era here at Tale of the Tait — at least for now.
For the past half a dozen years, as you all well know, I’ve done my best to bring a little bit of insight and analysis from all of the KU football practices that we’ve been allowed to attend.
Sometimes, the input has been rather insignificant and focused on something a coach did or said or how much energy a certain player — or group of players — had to start practice. The always popular song of the day updates also falls into the insignificant category.
Other times, however, we have been able to check out some more interesting stuff such as how an injured player appeared to be moving around, just how big the new lineman really looked in person and what kind of effort was being put forth by the players and coaches during certain drills.
Now, however, those days appear to be done — at least with any consistency.
We’re scheduled to get a chance to see one entire spring practice sometime in mid-April, and that, along with Saturday’s spring game, should give us a decent idea of just how much better the Jayhawks look and perform. Up to this point, we’ve only heard such reports. So you can expect to see some thoughts of my thoughts in the blog after we attend that.
Other than that, though, the portion of practice they have kept open for us has included two things — eight minutes of stretching, five minutes of a special teams/field goal drill followed by a walk to the exits.
We also watched those sessions in the past, but always were able to see at least one or two position drills, as well. From those, you can tell a lot more — though, still, not all that much — about how players were progressing, who was out-working whom and things of that nature.
What we get now is pretty much designed to open the gates for us to get photos and video of certain players and/or coaches we might be writing about and that’s it, which is fine.
It’s completely up to them — specifically second-year head coach David Beaty — how much or little they let the media in, and if they want to keep it limited so their players can just focus on going to work, then so be it.
I just figured you guys should know what’s going on so you don’t think it’s me being lazy when the “What Caught My Eye” blogs are fewer and far between.
No bitterness here. I’ll find something else to occupy my time and also will come up with another blog of some sort to fill the void left by the absence of the What Caught My Eye blog.
Like many of you who I already have heard from on Twitter and via email, I’m bummed, too. But rules are rules so we do the best we can with what access the program does give us.
While watching Villanova celebrate and cut down the nets after Monday night’s thrilling victory over North Carolina in the national title game, a topic popped up on Twitter that I felt was worth looking into a little deeper.
Seeing how Kansas was knocked out of this year’s tourney by the Wildcats, I and dozens of other people in the Twitterverse began wondering how many times that had happened to KU in the past.
The answer? Quite a lot. In fact, since 1991, KU’s tournament fate has been tied to teams playing for the national title on the last Monday of the college basketball season nearly half the time.
Breaking it down further, KU has lost to the eventual national champion 7 times since 1991. What’s more, KU has lost to the eventual runner-up 5 more times in that same stretch. And, of course, the Jayhawks themselves have been the national runner-up 3 times in that span (1991, 2003 and 2012) and, of course, won one national title themselves (2008).
Take it back a few years farther and you can add another national title (1988) and another loss to the eventual runner-up (Duke in 1986).
I know a lot has been made about KU’s early exits, both under Roy Williams and Bill Self, and these facts certainly don’t eliminate those losses. But it sure seems like the following list proves, in yet another way, just how consistently strong Kansas basketball has been in the past 30 years.
Here’s a more detailed look:
1986 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Duke in national semifinals.
1988 – KU beats Oklahoma for the national championship.
1991 - KU loses to Duke in national title game.
1993 – KU loses to eventual national champion North Carolina in national semifinals.
1996 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Syracuse in Elite Eight.
1997 – KU loses to eventual champ Arizona in Sweet 16.
2002 – KU loses to eventual champ Maryland in national semifinals.
2003 – KU loses to Syracuse in national title game.
2004 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Georgia Tech in Elite Eight.
2008 – KU beats Memphis for the national championship.
2009 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan State in Sweet 16.
2012 – KU loses to Kentucky in national title game.
2013 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan in Sweet 16.
2016 – KU loses to eventual champ Villanova in Elite Eight.
Friends and teammates of former Kansas University running back Brandon Bourbon (2010-14) have become concerned about Bourbon’s safety after attempts to reach his phone for the past two-plus days have been unsuccessful.
Monday afternoon, a missing persons report was filed with the Missouri State Highway Patrol that indicated Bourbon had not been heard from since 7:30 p.m. on April 2.
The former four-star prospect from Potosi, Mo., who came to Kansas after initially committing to Stanford, suffered through an injury-plagued five-year run at KU and finished his career at Washburn University in Topeka.
During a mid-February phone interview with the Journal-World, Bourbon sounded like his usual full-of-life self and expressed excitement about plans to start up a training business for young athletes in and around his hometown, similar to the one former KU running back Jake Sharp has started in Salina.
Several friends, family members and former teammates took to social media on Monday to help locate Bourbon.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney sent out a handful of Tweets. Former KU wide receiver Josh Ford posted a message on Facebook that was shared by dozens of former Jayhawks. And Bourbon’s mother, Janet, posted the following on her personal Facebook account:
“Looking for my son Brandon K. Bourbon. He's not been heard from by anyone who knows him since Saturday evening. There is some incorrect information on Facebook that he was active a few hours ago. That (he) was on his computer. Please keep an eye out for him!”
According to a Tuesday update from The Associated Press, Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Zach Jacobsen said that Bourbon's family last saw him Saturday evening in the Potosi area, where his family lives. He says Bourbon's car, a silver minivan, is also missing, and that Bourbon's phone is off.
Jacobsen also said, since leaving college, Bourbon had been living in the Potosi area. He said authorities don't suspect foul play but are concerned because it's out of character for Bourbon to leave without contacting his family.
Anyone with information on Bourbon is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 573-438-5478.
For those KU basketball fans who have not sworn off college hoops and crawled into a cave until October, when another season rolls around, this weekend’s Final Four offers a trio of intriguing rooting options.
With that in mind, I checked in with a dozen of the most die-hard KU fans I know to find out who they’re pulling for to take home the national title now that their beloved Jayhawks are no longer in the running.
• Roy Williams and North Carolina — Old habits die hard and if KU can’t win it, why not pull for the man who won 418 games in 15 seasons and led Kansas to four Final Fours. Enough time has passed between Ol’ Roy’s departure and today that going this route has become easier for most.
• Buddy Hield and Oklahoma — Big 12 pride runs deep around here these days and it seems safe to say that many KU fans would pull for just about any Big 12 team in the Final Four. Add to that the fact that OU star Buddy Hield has the utmost respect from the KU fan base and is as good of a guy as there ever has been in college basketball and this option becomes even more appealing. Besides, the Big 12 winning it all only further validates KU’s 12th consecutive Big 12 title and postseason tourney triumph.
• Jay Wright and Villanova — Believe it or not, there are some sports fans out there — even within Jayhawk Nation — who make it a rule to root for the team that knocked their team out. This, of course, makes the season-ending loss easier to swallow even if getting over the heartbreak of losing to said team can be a major challenge.
So there are the options because, as you all know, there’s probably not a single KU fan out there who would pull for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, even if they are a double-digit-seeded underdog and even if it has been 13 years since that tough loss to the Orange in the title game.
Let’s see what a few of these fine folks had to say.
“I’m rooting for OU over Nova because I love Buddy and really didn’t enjoy the Nova fans. And I’m rooting for UNC over ‘Cuse because I just like them better overall. If OU and UNC meet in the final, I will pull for Roy because I think it’s time for him to hang it up and go out on top. I still love him and I also don’t want to listen to OU fans throw the national championship in our face.” — 40-year-old female Lawrence resident.
“I am cheering for OU. I like Buddy and (OU coach) Lon (Kruger), plus I think it helps the Big 12 brand a little bit.” — 32-year-old male Shawnee resident.
“I think the best team is North Carolina, but that’s not the team I’m going to root for. I’m going to root for Villanova because I like the way they play better than anyone else and I think their big guys are better than I thought they were.” — 65-year-old male Lawrence resident.
“Oklahoma because I think they always give every game their all and they share the ball a lot. They are great guys and I think they are going to go all the way.” — 11-year-old female New Jersey resident.
“I have some very close connections to North Carolina and, obviously, Roy gave us 15 great years, so I love those guys and I root for them now. So there’s a part of me that wants them to win, but, boy, I like Buddy Hield, too. How do you root against that guy? I don’t think you can. Normally, I would root for UNC, but I probably want Buddy Hield to win a national championship.” — 43-year-old male Lawrence resident.
“I’m not rooting for anyone now. My heart always breaks when the season ends with anyone but Kansas on top. The tournament is over in my mind. It’s also possible I’m a sore loser.” — 31-year-old female Lawrence resident.
“I was hoping Virginia was going to beat Syracuse and then I would’ve been fine with any of the four winning it because I really like all four of those teams and coaches. But I’d like to see Carolina win it. As a KU fan, I think it’d be nice to see the best team left rewarded by winning it all.” — 36-year-old male North Carolina resident.
“Definitely OU. Lon Kruger is nothing but class and has really done an amazing job in Norman. His players reflect his demeanor. They play hard with respect for the game and their opponents. There is no better representative of what college basketball should be than Buddy Hield. If KU isn’t going to have its One Shining Moment then I hope OU does.” — 40-year-old male New Jersey resident.
“My heart says to pull for OU due to conference ties and the class act of the coach and players. And that's probably all that matters. But pocketbook-wise, I’ll finish in second place and win $30 in the the “investment” pool I'm in if Syracuse wins one game or Villanova wins it all.” — 59-year-old female Independence, Mo., resident.
“I’m cheering for Oklahoma because Buddy Hield is the rare non-KU player who you wish was a Jayhawk. And even though they once were at Kansas State, Lon Kruger and Steve Henson are both native Kansans and their success helps make our state look good.” — 38-year-old male Lawrence resident.
“Roy. He's family. Also, watching the Tar Heels makes me nostalgic for his era of Jayhawks. Basically, after we beat the Tar Heels in 2008, it healed all wounds with Roy ever since.” — 36-year-old female Fairway resident.
“I’m actually currently in Norman, Oklahoma, so I will be rooting for OU. However, that is partly because the Nova fans were a bit arrogant in Louisville and that made me want them to lose. If OU does win Saturday, I don’t want them to win it all because I don’t want a Big 12 school to be national champs if it isn’t Kansas.” — 41-year-old male Lawrence resident.