Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
When the Kansas basketball program faces top-ranked Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, they’ll do so without having to worry about three Duke players who played a big role in the Blue Devils earning that No. 1 ranking in the preseason polls.
Talented freshmen Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum have yet to play a game for the Blue Devils, who raced out to a 2-0 start with easy victories over Marist and Grand Canyon over the weekend. And it does not look like the match-up with Kansas in the annual Champions Classic is going to be their first game either.
Speaking after Duke’s Sunday victory over Grand Canyon, head coach Mike Krzyewski told reporters, “I don’t anticipate these guys playing on Tuesday, and they might not play all week.”
Good news for Kansas, bad news for the event, which has become one of the most exciting early-season tip-off classics and is expected to draw more than 50 NBA scouts to one of the best basketball venues in the world.
KU coach Bill Self certainly is not planning to feel too sorry for Coach K and the Blue Devils, who still saw five players reach double figures in both weekend victories and features five other former McDonald’s All-Americans who figure to give Kansas all it can handle, including leading scorer and national player of the year candidate Grayson Allen along with super sixth man Frank Jackson.
“They’re still gonna have plenty of guys that are capable of playing very well,” Self said. “They still have good players. They’ve still got McDonald’s All-Americans playing with those other guys who can play. It just goes to show you how deep they are.”
With Krzyzewski revealing that the talented trio was not likely to play on Tuesday, Self said he had no reason to believe that would not be the case. Beyond that, though, he said Kansas would not prepare any differently whether those guys were playing or not playing because most of KU’s preparation for Duke — and most of its opponents — comes down to one thing.
“If they have two bigs in the game, we’ll prepare (one) way and if they have one big in the game we’ll prepare (another) way,” Self said. “That’s gonna be the case regardless of who’s out there.”
Kansas' current roster features three former McDonald's All-Americans — Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike and Carlton Bragg Jr.
That tie is far from the only connection these two blue blood programs have at the highest levels of college basketball.
Kansas and Duke are two of just four NCAA Division I men's basketball programs with more than 2,000 all-time victories. Kentucky (2,205), leads with Kansas (2,186) in second, followed by North Carolina (2,177) and Duke (2,087).
Dating back to 1990, Kansas' 27 current consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the nation's longest active streak, and is tied for the NCAA record. Duke is next with 21. KU has five national championships, including three NCAA titles, while Duke has five NCAA championships.
Kansas ranks fourth in all-time NCAA Tournament games played at 144. Duke is fifth at 141. Kansas and Duke have met 10 times, including eight match-ups on neutral floors and five in the NCAA Tournament. Three of those five were in a Final Four (1986, 1988, 1991). Duke defeated Kansas, 72-65, in the 1991 NCAA Tournament title game.
A week in paradise was spoiled by a hard-fought, overtime loss to No. 11 Indiana on Friday night, and now the Kansas men’s basketball team heads to New York, where its reward for dropping the season opener is a date with No. 1 Duke on Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks were good for long stretches of Friday’s loss, great for small spurts and still sluggish too many other times. Combine all of that together and pit it against a team that endured a very similar night, and it’s no wonder you got a high-octane game that came down to the final few possessions and needed an extra five minutes to be decided.
The teams shot an identical 31-of-71 clip from the field in this one, but the Hoosiers dropped in eight more three-pointers and just four fewer free throws. That should tell you just how well the Jayhawks actually did play. To give up a 20-point edge at the three-point line and free throw line combined and still have a chance to win the game is pretty solid.
Not everybody had a good night and a couple of guys were downright awful, but it’s important to remember that this was still just the first game and that the last time these guys played anything that had that much intensity and emotion and excitement tied to it was last March when they fell one win shy of reaching the Final Four. Competing at that high of a level takes time to perfect and is something that needs to be learned and there are still a few Kansas players who need to find their way.
I definitely don’t think it’s any time to panic. For one, I think Indiana’s damn good. And they’re so tough and relentless on the glass. For two, I thought Kansas did enough good things to encourage people to believe that this team is on its way to being solid but, like all teams, still needs a little time to truly find itself and mesh all of the parts. I’m sure part of the reason this one stings is that it was the season opener in a high-profile game against another highly ranked team. Losing’s never any fun, but losing those types of games always has a way of stinging, at least in the moment. In the big picture, though, this will be one that benefits Kansas. Not only did they learn a few things they need to work on, they also learned that they can overcome a little adversity when it hits. Now they just need to learn to finish once they do.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Frank Mason’s will to win is flat-out incredible, perhaps up there with any Jayhawk ever to play for Self. With KU looking dead in the water late in regulation, Mason threw the team on his back, attacked the rim relentlessly and helped force overtime. There’s been a lot of talk about the improvement of other Jayhawks over the summer, but it appears that Mason, who was already terrific to begin with, might have improved as much as anybody.
2 – The Jayhawks competed. You can say they should’ve done this, could’ve done that or didn’t do something else, but there’s no doubt that these guys were battling in an absolute dog fight of a college basketball game. Indiana was strong and scrappy and KU did its best to match the Hoosiers’ fight and intensity from start to finish.
3 – Basketball’s back. It’s such a simple one, but it’s worth remembering and especially worth focusing on following a tough loss. This college basketball season figures to be very exciting and very entertaining for the Jayhawks and we now are officially under way. Enjoy the ride.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – It’s only been a couple of games and it may not last, but Devonte’ Graham’s cramps could be a concern. It was not all that humid in the Stan Sheriff Center nor was it that hot of a day outside. Graham said last week that he thought the issue had to do with not eating enough and you can bet the KU medical staff is doing all it can to figure this thing out. It looked as if Graham began feeling the effects of cramping with about 10 minutes remaining so give him credit for playing through it to the end of regulation.
2 – What was up with the KU bench? Entering the season, there was a ton of talk about KU’s deep and talented lineup that figured to include some seriously talented depth. It’s not there yet. Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot are going to need some time still to develop into players KU can count on and even sophomore Lagerald Vick showed he still has some work to do to make the leap from most improved player to prime time contributor. They’ll get there, but this game was a good reminder of just how important the guys KU lost were to the Jayhawks’ success last season.
3 – Landen Lucas battled his butt off, but he can only do so much. And if he has to play that hard against talented big men, it’s going to make him less effective at times. IU center Thomas Bryant exploited that a little bit and even though going small is something that will work against a lot of teams, it’s clear that it’s not going to work against every team, therein making the development of KU’s young bigs even more important.
After two days of rest, recovery and licking their wounds, the Jayhawks will jump right back in to another high-profile, hellacious battle when they face No. 1 Duke at 8:30 p.m. in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Indiana during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the loss against Indiana
- Blue Bloodied: Jayhawks drop opener to Indiana in OT, 103-99
- KU’s Bill Self laments team’s mistakes as much as missed calls in season-opening loss to Indiana
- Notebook: Self calls opener a ‘seeding game,’ willing to make IU an annual series
- The Keegan Ratings
- Matt Tait's postgame Report Card
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 103-99, overtime loss to No. 11 Indiana in the Jayhawks’ season opener Friday night in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Scoring 99 points and shooting 52 percent in the first half generally sounds like a nice start toward a good offensive night. But too many key contributors — most notably Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson each going 3-of-11 — struggled in this one, leaving the door open for Indiana to walk out with the win.
KU allowed the Hoosiers, who shot 43.7 percent for the game, to make 48.4 percent of their three-point attempts. That alone was enough to kill Kansas, saying nothing about KU’s difficulty keeping the IU guards in front of them at times.
Landen Lucas’ 11 and 7 were good, but he had an opportunity to do better and didn’t. Carlton Bragg took a nice step forward but still had a few mental mistakes and no one else was much of a factor up front. KU also was out-rebounded 50-39 and blocked just 2 shots.
Anytime you have a player do what senior point guard Frank Mason III did in this one, that’s going to be enough for an entire unit to get an A of some kind. Mason flirted with a triple-double by pouring in 30 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds in 40 minutes.
Although Svi was one of KU’s better players in the game, his bench mates — though lacking for opportunity — did not do much to help the Kansas cause. Lageraled Vick scored 7 points and grabbed 1 rebound in 28 minutes and Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and even Tyler Self did not even combine to play 10 minutes.
Individuals with knowledge about the recruitment of Class of 2017 point guard Collin Sexton by both Alabama and Kansas told the Journal-World on Wednesday that neither side knew, as of late Wednesday, whether the No. 7-ranked player in the country, according to Rivals.com, was going to pick them.
Rivals.com reported earlier Wednesday that sources had indicated that Sexton’s decision could come down to the wire. If it does, that should make for a very interesting afternoon Thursday, as the 6-foot-1, 170-pound, five-star prospect is slated to announce his decision on ESPNU at 5 p.m. central time.
Although the Mableton, Georgia, guard made official visits to Oklahoma State and NC State, and even kept alive in-state programs Georgia and Georgia Tech, recruiting analysts for weeks have had this pegged as a race between Alabama and Kansas.
Sexton, who has made it clear that he would sign in the early signing period — which began Wednesday and runs through next Wednesday — announced his decision date two weeks ago and has had nothing but great things to say about both Alabama and Kansas.
A source said Wednesday that Sexton came to a decision on Monday after sitting down with his family and coaches. But the same person said late Wednesday night, that it appeared that Sexton had not informed either program of his decision.
Widely regarded as one of the most dynamic and talented players in the class, Sexton is seeking immediate playing time and an opportunity to develop his game into NBA-ready status. While both Alabama, led by former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson, and Kansas, led by Mr. Draft Lottery, Bill Self, seem to have that going for them, only one has a campus located reasonably close to Sexton’s home town.
Whether that proves to be a critical factor or not remains to be seen, but unless Sexton decides to put things on hold, we’ll know one way or another later today.
The Kansas basketball teamtoured the USS Chafee at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman near Honolulu on Wednesday, and, in doing so, provided a wonderful opportunity to observe the Jayhawks away from their area of expertise — the basketball court.
KU's coaches, players, managers and support staff toured the ship for roughly 45 minutes, getting lessons about the ship's history, its operations and stories from several active Naval officers.
The tour included an up-close look at the destroyer's weapons system, operating instructions for the 15,000-pound anchor, a trip inside the control room, where the captain's chair sat proud at the front of the ship and handshakes and smiles from the Jayhawks to the military men and women and plenty of smiles right back.
The opportunity to tag along provided great images, both of still photographs and videos, for Nick Krug and I to grab and there's no doubt that we both also immensely enjoyed the experience in such an historic environment.
In case you're not a Twitter follower or didn't have an opportunity to hop on Twitter yet today, here's a quick look at some of the videos that we posted during the tour. Nick broke off and went with the players and I stuck with KU coach Bill Self and his staff.
Exhibition games are no way to judge basketball players on where their games are and what kinds of production they’ll deliver during the upcoming season, but for the next two-plus days, that’s all we’ve got to go on with the Kansas men’s basketball team.
With that in mind, as we count down to the regular season opener against No. 11 Indiana at the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu — 8 p.m. central on Friday — let’s take a look at which Jayhawks impressed the most and are playing the best entering Game 1 of the 2016-17 season.
There certainly were a few surprises — both good and bad — during KU’s victories over Washburn and Emporia State last week, and it’s interesting to note, at least in my mind, that two of KU’s five projected starters landed on the bottom half of this list.
Sign of things to come or merely a case of prime time players waiting for the lights to shine brighter before bringing out their best? Time will tell, and we can all expect to know a lot more about this KU team than we know today Friday night and next Wednesday after a bout with No. 1 Duke in the Big Apple.
For now, though, the exhibition report card is the best we’ve got, so let’s have one more look.
1 - Frank Mason III – Not only was the senior guard KU’s best player, scorer and competitor in the two exhibition games, but he also was by far the team’s most consistent performer. After hitting 13 of 19 shots from the floor and averaging 19 points and 7 assists in the two tune-ups, Mason appears poised for a big final season in Lawrence.
2 - Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – A brutal miss on his first shot of exhibition play quickly was forgotten by Svi, the coaching staff and the KU fan base. The junior wing responded by hitting 10 of his next 15 shots, including 6 of his next 9 three-point attempts. Beyond that, the young man from Ukraine got involved in all aspects of the game and looked much more aggressive, comfortable and polished than ever before.
3 - Lagerald Vick – All that talk about how good he looked this summer and how much improvement he made certainly seems legit. Vick looks comfortable on the floor, both as a shooter and when attacking the rim, and appears to have figured out how to use his length, speed and athleticism to impact the game on both ends.
4 - Josh Jackson – After a slow first half in the opener, Jackson became much more attack-minded and began to demonstrate why so much praise has been heaped on him during the past several months and years. He still settles for his jump shot a little too much for my taste, but that figures to change as soon as Jackson fully understands his role and what this team wants and needs him to do.
5 - Devonte’ Graham – It wasn’t that Graham was bad, more that he just didn’t do much. Sixteen total points on 10 combined shots in 25 minutes per game during the two exhibitions is decent for most players but sub-par for Graham, who has the ability to take over games and lead this team in scoring. It’s hard to think that the junior’s average stat line being anything more than him deferring to others in games that did not matter.
6 - Udoka Azubuike – KU coach Bill Self warned against getting too excited about Azubuike’s preseason dunk party because it came against players 5, 6 and 7 inches shorter than he was. Obviously, those types of looks aren’t going to be there as easily against tougher competition, but you have to like the fact that the big fella knew what to do with them when they were. If not for his foul trouble (8 in 2 games) and limited minutes (24 total), he might have landed a little higher on this list. Either way, he remains a work in progress but certainly should feel good about his debut as a Jayhawk.
7 - Mitch Lightfoot – If you don’t like what Lightfoot did in the exhibitions, you don’t like Kansas basketball. He scrapped, played with great energy, looked much more comfortable than most freshmen would and even filled up the stat sheet in limited minutes. That kind of play will earn you a spot in Bill Self’s rotation and as long as he sustains it, Lightfoot appears to have won the job of KU’s fourth big man.
8 - Landen Lucas – Like Graham, Lucas is listed low here because he just didn’t do much, mostly because of early foul trouble in both games. Like most of the Jayhawks, however, Lucas’ second game was much better than his first — 7 rebounds vs. 1 rebound — and he’s smart enough and experienced enough to know it’s going to take a different focus, effort and intensity to knock of Indiana and Duke. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Lucas in the past 10-12 months, it’s that we know he’ll show up.
9 - Carlton Bragg Jr. – It’s hard to say if it was the match-ups or the expectations that led to Bragg’s rough outings, but there’s no denying that the sophomore forward had a rough go of it against Washburn and Emporia State. The good news for Bragg is that his confidence will be restored to full capacity — if not higher — if he performs well against the Hoosiers and Blue Devils in games that are far bigger than either of the last two.
10 - Dwight Coleby – Doesn’t look fully recovered from the injury and also does not appear to be executing to Self’s liking. It’s hard to see Coleby playing much of a role this season except in the cases of extreme foul trouble or blowouts.
It’s obviously still early, but if KU’s exhibition victories over Washburn and Emporia State are any indication of what’s to come, junior guard Devonte’ Graham could be on pace to accomplish a feat that only two other players have achieved in the Bill Self era at Kansas.
Graham’s .441 three-point field goal percentage during the 2015-16 season put him second (minimum 100 attempts) among all KU players under Self in that category.
Mario Chalmers’ .468 clip during the 2007-08 national title season ranks first and teammate Brandon Rush (.438 in 2006-07) ranks third.
Chalmers and Rush — in those back-to-back seasons — are the only two Jayhawks under Self to twice finish a season with a three-point percentage above .400. Remember, we’re talking players who qualify in the minimum 100 attempts category here.
Interestingly enough, Graham’s teammate Frank Mason finished the 2014-15 season at .429, but Mason did so in 98 attempts. It marked just the third time since Self arrived in Lawrence that KU’s yearly three-point percentage leader did not top the 100-attempt mark. KU’s record book keeps the statistic for players with a minimum of 40 attempts, but 100 felt like a better number for this blog because it provides a good look at true three-point gunners who were key members of their KU squads.
Back to Graham, he finished KU’s exhibition tune-ups with a .444 percentage from behind the three-point line — 2-for-5 against Washburn and 2-for-4 against Emporia State.
If Graham is able to keep that up, he’ll join Chalmers and Rush on this exclusive list. If he can’t, it’s not likely to be the attempts that cost him. Graham connected on 75 of 170 three-point attempts last season, and, with the Jayhawks slated to play smaller and with more four-guard lineups this season, Graham actually could get more attempts in 2016-17. The only question then will be will he make enough to qualify?
Here’s a quick look at the eight previous times a KU player under Self with at least 100 three-point attempts in a season topped 40 percent from long range.
• Mario Chalmers - 2007-08 - .468
• Devonte’ Graham - 2015-16 - .441
• Brandon Rush - 2006-07 - .438
• Xavier Henry - 2009-10 - .423
• Ben McLemore - 2012-13 - .420
• Brandon Rush - 2007-08 - .419
• Mario Chalmers - 2006-07 - .417
• Brady Morningstar - 2008-09 - .415
*minimum 100 attempts
It’s worth noting that Morningstar nearly accomplished the feat again in 2009-10 (.396) and teammate Tyrel Reed came crazy close to joining this list in both of those seasons (.398 in 117 attempts in 2008-09 and .484 in 91 attempts in 2009-10).
If I had a dollar for each time I heard a member of KU’s coaching staff or roster tell me after Sunday’s 104-62 victory over Emporia State that working out the kinks was the reason they play these exhibition games, I’d be able to treat the first five commenters on this blog to a delicious McPick 2.
Quarter pounders and chicken nuggets aside, the sentiment behind that statement is great news for the Jayhawks, who clearly are willing to put in the work to improve and also fix whatever needs to be addressed.
With the NCAA’s 12 days of mandatory time off a thing of the past — Tuesday’s travel day will mark KU’s final required off day — the Jayhawks can spend the next few days focusing hard on their first opponent, No. 11 Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic.
The Hoosiers are a talented team that returns a few big time players. But KU has the edge in experience and depth and should benefit from its veteran mentality and focus. There’s no doubt that KU’s next game will have an NCAA Tournament feel to it and that’s why it’s good the Jayhawks truly used the exhibition outings to identify issues and then work on them rather than sleep-walking through them.
Like most of you, I saw a KU team that took coaching well and responded to the challenges the Kansas coaching staff threw at them in the days following the Washburn victory. KU was more aggressive, made rebounding a key part of the game and played with great effort and energy at both ends. That’s the sign of a veteran team and that’s reason enough to believe that these guys will be ready for real competition against some of the best teams in college basketball in a matter of days. When KU is clicking and playing with great effort and intensity, the pieces become a little bit interchangeable and the outcome usually goes the Jayhawks’ way.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU’s transition offense was so good in this one that it had to make you think that playing with four guards most of the time might be the right move. Match-ups, of course, will determine a big chunk of that, but these guys are fast and furious when they get out and go and, with multiple players able to attack the rim in transition, it has to be a nightmare for opponents to both gameplan for and stop when the clock is running.
2 – It’ll be interesting to see how freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot fares against tougher competition, but you had to love the way the guy debuted in a Kansas uniform. He plays hard, he plays smart and he’s tougher than you might have expected. Lightfoot scored in spurts in this one and finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal in 15 minutes. If he continues to bring the same energy to the floor that he did in the exhibition games, his minutes per game number may hover around double digits. But don’t expect it to be there Friday against Indiana or next Tuesday against Duke unless foul trouble becomes a factor.
3 – KU hit 5-of-9 three-pointers in the first half of this one and finished 7-of-18 for the game, for 38.9 percent. Add to that the lights-out, outside shooting that the Jayhawks delivered against Washburn (10-of-22, 45.5 percent) and it’s clear that this team is comfortable bombing away from behind the three-point line. The best part about those shots (other than the fact that many of them went in) is that KU finished exhibition play 12-for-22 (.545) from three-point land in the first half and enters the season with a ton of confidence pulling the trigger from behind the line.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Players go through funks and come out of them all the time. It happens. But I’d be lying if I said KU fans should not be concerned about the funk that KU sophomore Carlton Bragg is in. Not only was he bad in the two exhibition games, he also looked like he could not get out of his own head and therefore started pressing and thinking about what he was not doing right. The expectations (and need) for Bragg to have a huge season are so great that Bragg not playing up to his potential would be bad news for Kansas. But it’s clear he’s not quite ready for a major role. That could change quickly and likely will come down to Bragg finding a way — any way — to regain his confidence. That’ll be tougher to do against Indiana and Duke, but if it happens, it could go down as a confidence boost on steroids.
2 – Landen Lucas’ foul trouble also is a concern. He was so good last season about playing defense — really, really good defense close to the basket — without fouling. But whether it’s the new rules emphasis or the undersized opponents, Lucas could not keep from fouling during exhibition play. He’s so smart and so skilled that there’s no doubt he’ll adjust. But therein lies the concern — will his adjustment make him a different player?
3 – It’s a minor deal and likely no reason to sweat, but the Jayhawks struggled at the free throw line for the second game in a row. Getting there 32 times is great news, but making only 65.6 percent of the free throw attempts is not. Teams don’t shoot free throws quite as well as they used to. Last season’s squad shot just 71.3 percent for the year. But if Kansas wants to get off to a 2-0 start against a pair of Top 12 teams, it’s going to need every free point it can get.
The 2016-17 regular season gets under way for real at 8 p.m. Friday, when the Jayhawks travel to Honolulu to take on No. 11 Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic. Nick Krug and I will be representing the Journal-World and KUsports.com on the islands, so be sure to check out all kinds of coverage this week leading up to the game.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Emporia State during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the exhibition win over Emporia State
- Mr. Do-It-All: Mykhailiuk shows leap of improvement in 104-62 exhibition win
- Tom Keegan: Azubuike flashes potential in exhibition win
- Notebook: Rebounding was ‘better’ in exhibition win; Vick earns start
- Josh Jackson learning it's better to drive than dance
- Matt Tait's postgame Report Card
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 104-62 victory over Emporia State in the Jayhawks’ exhbition finale Sunday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The turnovers were down (11), the shooting percentages were up (61 percent from two, 39 percent from three) and KU was so, so good in transition all night. Another sub-par night at the free throw line (21-of-32) accounts for the minus.
Several Jayhawks had active hands all night, both when guarding the ball and in the passing lanes, and the home team got nine blocked shots from five different players, led by three from Udoka Azubuike.
The rebounding was better — especially in terms of effort on the offensive glass — but Landen Lucas was still pretty quiet (though aggressive at the start of both halfs) and Carlton Bragg had another rough night.
Frank Mason picked up where he left off in the exhibition opener to set the tone and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson joined in from there.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Udoka Azubuike contributed 30 points in 37 combined minutes and delivered a good chunk of KU’s highlights in this one, from behind-the-back passes in transition to monster flush after monster flush on alley-oops from teammates.
Freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot learned a couple of things during Tuesday night’s exhibition victory over Washburn, his first actual game against an opponent in Allen Fieldhouse.
The first was what it looked like to see 40-50 rows of people packed in behind the basket when you’re trying to shoot free throws.
The second was what exactly he wanted his role to be for this Kansas team during the 2016-17 season.
“For me, I’ve gotta be able to move the ball, rebound and defend,” Lightfoot said during a Thursday meeting with the local media. “That’s my biggest thing. Coach has really emphasized that with me.”
Asked if those things came naturally for Lightfoot, who scored 23 points and 12 rebounds during his senior season of high school, the 6-foot-8 forward from Gilbert, Arizona, said filling those roles well throughout the preseason caught him by surprise.
“It’s been something that I didn’t really know I could do well,” he said. “But I’ve kind of realized that I do that.... When I first got out there, the first minute or two, I felt like I was moving a million miles an hour. I’ve gotta get to the point where I can find the happy medium between going as hard as I can and doing everything correctly.”
One way he plans to do that is to try to fill the role vacated by former Jayhawk Jamari Traylor, whom KU coach Bill Self constantly praised for his effort and energy and willingness to do the little things to help the team win throughout his KU career.
“I loved how Jamari played,” Lightfoot said. “Just kind of does all the dirty work, gets all the rebounds, all the 50-50 balls. I really want to be like that. The hard worker is kind of what I like to be labeled as.”
Lightfoot showed flashes of that during Tuesday’s exhibition opener, finishing with 3 points and 7 rebounds in 9 minutes. But he’ll be the first to tell you that he, like everyone on the team, still needs to get better and get more comfortable with where and how he fits into this team.
With Traylor no longer in town, Lightfoot has found a current teammate who spent a year learning from Traylor to act as his unofficial mentor.
“Carlton (Bragg) would be the one that I’ve learned the most from,” Lightfoot said of the sophomore forward. “He’s only a year older than me, but (in) that year he learned so much from being here and learning from Perry (Ellis) and Jamari and all them. I’m just trying to be a sponge to everything he has to teach, him and Landen (Lucas).”
College basketball is back in Lawrence, Kansas, and while that, generally speaking, is enough to excite just about everybody in this town, Tuesday’s 92-74 exhibition victory over Washburn at Allen Fieldhouse left just as many people scratching their heads as it did jumping for joy.
Although the score does not indicate a struggle, the third-ranked Jayhawks were sloppy, sluggish and outworked during much of Tuesday’s game by a smaller, less talented Washburn team that simply competed.
KU coach Bill Self was far from pleased after the win and it’s clear that there are a few areas that Self and his staff will emphasize — and emphasize and emphasize — this week during practice in order to help Kansas prepare for a regular season stretch that opens in 9 days against No. 11 Indiana and No. 1 Duke four days apart.
One of the things that stood out most to me after this game was freshman guard Josh Jackson’s comment about how he was not overly worried about the way his team played because it was the first time for them playing all together as a team.
In practices, for months now, these guys have gone against one another, been divided up into blue and red teams for scrimmages and been battling in mostly pick-up style environments. Never had they been a team of 10 players all working toward the same goal, with substitutions and rotations and all of those things that come with a normal game. It might sound like an excuse, but I’ll buy it.
After all, that’s exactly what these exhibition games are for — to allow teams to work out the kinks and figure out what they do well and what they need to work on. There’s no doubt that what we saw on Tuesday night won’t fly against Indiana and Duke — or even most teams in the Big 12 — but the guess here is that KU, with a few more practices and another exhibition game, will get things together in time to put much better showings on the floor in those two regular season openers.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Frank Mason’s ready for a big year. That fact probably does not surprise a soul, but boy was it evident in this one. Mason was by far KU’s best player, start to finish, and he looked even better than he had during his strong sophomore and junior seasons.
One thing that really struck me about Mason’s 21-point, 10-rebound, 9-assist night was how he continued to attack the rim and play with great aggression but did not hit the deck nearly as often as he has seemed to in the past. That’s good news for Kansas because the Jayhawks are going to need their floor leader to be fresh and at his best right out of the gate if they hope to compete with the likes of Indiana and Duke in the next couple of weeks.
2 – Josh Jackson figured it out. He had a slow start and looked nothing like the ultra-competitive, alpha dog that Self and others have described him to be during the first 26 minutes of this game. But Jackson finally broke through midway through the second half and showed that he understands exactly the way this team needs him to play all season. He was aggressive, he attacked the rim whenever possible and rarely settled for jumpers even when that would have been the easy thing to do.
Jackson said nerves and his focus being on not messing up instead of playing well cost him in the first half. Sounds like a legit excuse to me. We’ll know if it was by the way Jackson plays the next time out. If he attacks from the beginning and plays the entire game the way he finished this one, all will be well and Jackson will be on track to deliver what so many expect of him this season.
3 – Bill Self is not afraid of the four-guard lineup. Self hinted the other day that even though it seems clear that KU has a set starting lineup, he’s not certain that the five he threw out there to start this one would be his best lineup because he believes his best lineup could be small. It certainly was on Tuesday, when Lagerald Vick was in there playing well with Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Jackson.
KU’s experiment with the four-guard look was significant on Tuesday and it featured a variety of different lineups. What impressed me the most about it, though, was even when it wasn’t sharp — when ball movement suffered or Washburn made KU pay on the glass or inside — Self did not panic. He stuck with the lineup for extended minutes and did not allow the knee-jerk reaction to a couple of bad possessions to lead to him putting a second big man back out there.
Foul trouble probably played some part in that, but I’m guessing that the other major factor was Self understanding that those smaller lineups are probably going to be critical for Kansas this season and he knew he needed to let those guys get comfortable out there playing together.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Kansas was out-rebounded by Washburn in this one, but it was not just the final numbers (45-44) that were a concern as much as it was the way Washburn got there. The much smaller Ichabods team was more aggressive, played hungrier and looked to want it more and that led to several second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass and a few defensive rebounds they should not have had, as well.
This aspect surprised me. I thought this Kansas team, with all of its veteran experience and promising newcomers would be full of life and energy when it finally hit the floor for a real game, but Washburn stole the show in that area.
2 – Remember when Carlton Bragg knocked in a few outside shots during the Late Night scrimmage and we all went nuts about how it’s clear he’s ready for that Perry Ellis role? Tuesday’s effort showed otherwise. Bragg was far too passive in this one and did not look willing — or even able — to go inside and battle on the glass. He is, of course, but he’s going to have to show it in order for his head coach to believe that.
At this point, Bragg’s sole focus for the next exhibition game should be to go out and grab 10 rebounds or more no matter how he has to get them or what it takes to make that happen. Heck, at this point, Self would probably even be thrilled if Bragg ripped a couple of rebounds away from teammates. That’s the mentality he needs to bring to every game and if he doesn’t, he’s not going to play enough minutes to fill Ellis’ former role.
3 – A turnover party broke out at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night and just about every Jayhawk who suited up was invited. The Jayhawks turned it over 24 times in this one, with five different Jayhawks recording three or more, including Josh Jackson’s team-high five. It wasn’t just a freshman problem, though. Frank Mason had three. Landen Lucas had three. Svi had four. And nearly all of them were of the careless, pass-dribble-or-jump-before-you-think variety.
Turnovers that come from great effort are one thing and Self has proven he can live with those. A few of them anyway. But turnovers that come from just throwing the ball away or playing out of control or trying to force something when executing the simple play is the right move will drive the KU coach bonkers.
Whether it was a two-handed temple rub, throwing his play sheet down or rolling his eyes, throwing his hands behind his head and sitting back in his chair and sighing, Self had a stressful night Tuesday and KU’s sloppy play with the ball was a big reason for that.
Kansas will close out its exhibition season at 7 p.m. Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse against Emporia State.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Washburn during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the exhibition victory against Washburn
- Tom Keegan: Frank Mason stands tall in near triple-double effort
- Svi Mykhailiuk fan of KU’s four-guard lineups
- Notebook: Jackson blames nerves for slow first half in exhibition win
- Matt Tait’s postgame Report Card
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 92-74 victory over Washburn in the Jayhawks’ exhibition opener at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks scored 92 points and had some efficient moments, but overall were far too loose with the basketball, missed too many free throws and had a few too many stretches of one-on-one play. The Jayhawks’ 39 percent clip from three-point range helped salvage the offense’s night.
KU’s size and length really bothered the Ichabods everywhere but the three-point line, where WU hit 10-of-26 tries. Kansas also recorded 9 blocked shots, led by 2 apiece from Jackson and Azubuike.
Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike recorded 5 fouls in the first 5 minutes of the game and generally had a difficult time scoring in the block despite KU trying to force feed them the ball during portions of the game. Beyond that, KU's bigs were out-rebounded 45-44 and consistently got out-hustled to loose balls and missed shots.
Frank Mason (one assist shy of a triple-double 21-10-9) and Lagerald Vick (9 points in 29 minutes) were among KU’s best players in the game and Josh Jackson, once he got going, showed why he was the No. 1 recruit in the country last year. He finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds and 5 turnovers in 19 minutes.
Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk knocked down shots and Azubuike and Lightfoot brought pretty good energy and were active throughout the game. Other than Vick’s first half, no bench performance stood out as the kind that could win KU a game, but nobody really hurt the Jayhawks either, other than Azubuike’s early foul trouble.
The intent when this series began was to give a little deeper look at what to expect from each key member of this year’s Kansas basketball team leading up to the start of the season.
There was no exact plan for the timing or when to roll each installment out, but we certainly can’t complain with the final edition being posted the morning of the exhibition opener.
Today’s "He Will, He Won’t, He Might" features the 10th player in our series and one of the Jayhawks fighting to become an important part of KU’s regular rotation.
Sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, who has received a fair amount of hype of his own this preseason, said Monday that the one player who has caught his eye during recent practices is freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot. Asked why, Vick responded with, “I just see him getting comfortable every day, fitting in, learning fast.”
While nearly all of this team’s most important roles are already established and clearly defined, this battle between Lightfoot and junior transfer Dwight Coleby for second big man off the bench minutes should be as intriguing as any to watch, especially early in the season as the roles and rotation are being established.
In case you missed any of the earlier installments in this series, follow the links below:
Now, back to what to expect from Lightfoot...
He will: Be ready for big time college basketball
Does that mean he could start for the Jayhawks and help them win 30 games this season? Probably not. But there’s just something about this young man that projects that none of this is too much for him.
He looks calm, he looks comfortable, he looks beyond excited and he plays with a natural vibe and flow and never appears to be trying to do too much. That’s a quick way to get meaningful minutes and an even better approach to improving quickly.
The players who think too much about everything little detail often wind up pressing and getting in their own heads. We haven’t seen even a hint of that with Lightfoot and it will be interesting to see if that continues once they tip it off for real. If it does, this guy is going to be a player sooner rather than later.
He won’t: Be overlooked by Bill Self
KU coach Bill Self clearly knows what he has in Lightfoot, both in the short term and the long term. He’s said as much and continues to sing his praises every time he talks about the freshman class.
Self’s method of playing the guys who deserve the minutes, regardless of age, name, hype, etc., ensures that (a) the players who can best execute what he wants done will be on the floor, and (b) freshmen, newcomers and veterans who some think have been left for dead will get an equal opportunity to prove to Self that they belong in the rotation.
Lightfoot has already done enough to prove to Self that he’s worthy of consideration for that. All that’s left to do now is to prove he can handle the bright lights and pressure from opponents. If he can, Self will recognize it with ease and Lightfoot will have a role right away.
He might: Play more minutes than Dwight Coleby
As mentioned above, this battle is one of the more intriguing battles for minutes on the roster. With the starting five set and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk both shoe-ins to play perimeter minutes off the bench, that leaves KU’s frontcourt rotation in question.
Because of his X-factor potential and raw size, Udoka Azubuike seems destined to become the first big man off the bench, but in those games when Self needs another, it’s either going to come down to Coleby or Lightfoot. Coleby has the edge in experience and Self said Monday that the Ole Miss transfer has looked much better of late. But Lightfoot is the better athlete in some ways and, at least at this point, appears to have a little more confidence. Beyond that, I think Lightfoot fits a little better with KU’s desire to play fast and small.
Regardless of which one of these guys wins the battle — and a scenario exists in which they both play in rotating fashion — neither figures to average high minutes. But during those games where foul trouble hits or a big lineup comes calling, one of them will be a factor at some point or another this season and it’ll be very interesting to see if the young freshman can jump the upperclassmen for the No. 9 spot in the rotation.
As we close in on the unofficial start of the 2016-17 Kansas basketball schedule — the Jayhawks host Washburn at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse — we also wind down to the end of our He Will, He Won’t, He Might series that previews what to expect from each individual player during the upcoming season.
We began with the projected starting five and moved to the bench and are now down to the final two players who figure to factor into the rotation this season — freshmen Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot.
Today’s installment takes a look at Azubuike, the 7-foot center from Nigeria who Bill Self has said has a chance to be a special player during his two (or more) seasons as a Jayhawk.
Incredibly young and still a little raw, Azubuike is not quite a project, but also far from a polished product.
His development figures to be one of the more interesting and entertaining aspects of the 2016-17 season and could play a huge role in just how good this Kansas team will be.
In case you missed the earlier installments of this series, follow the links below:
Now, back to what to expect from Azubuike...
He will: Be an X-Factor for this year’s team
We all know about the talent that Kansas possesses on the perimeter. And it’s obvious that Landen Lucas is a very solid starting option at one forward spot and Carlton Bragg Jr. is poised for a breakout season at the other.
But Self would not continue to talk so much about his team needing to figure out ways to throw it inside and score in the paint if he wasn’t at least a little worried about whether or not this team had a guy who could do that.
Azubuike is that guy.
Lucas, though constantly improving and as intelligent as anyone on this team, still is not a natural scorer down low. And it remains to be seen if Bragg’s bigger frame can help him handle the beating he’ll have to take if he wants to score at the rim.
Azubuike’s not ready yet. And it’ll take some time for him to get move past either of the aforementioned options. But as long as he continues to post steady improvement, both in terms of developing his body and learning the game, he easily could become one of the more important players on this team by March, even if he’s not the most talented.
He won’t: Run the floor like many Self big men of the past (but Self won’t mind)
Azubuike has good feet and Self has marveled at his athleticism. But after missing almost all of Boot Camp the young man is still a ways away from being in the kind of shape required to play basketball for Bill Self and the Jayhawks.
That’s not to say he won’t play during the first couple of months of the season. He will. Even if it’s not against Indiana or Duke to open the season.
But he will play throughout the rest of November and December and his minutes should increase as the season goes on.
Even with that being the case, Azubuike is not the kind of beat-you-down-the-floor big man that Kansas has had in the past. Asked about his mindset and skill set during the recent Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City, Self described Azubuike as the kind of player who knows where he should be at all times on the floor on offense — down low, with his back to the basket, working to get position for an easy bucket.
Azubuike showed a desire during camp games this summer to stroke jumpers from beyong the three-point line. And even though he’s got a good shot and soft touch, you can bet he won’t pull many (if any) of those during the upcoming season.
In fact, Self chuckled when the idea of Azubuike shooting from the outside was brought up earlier this week.
The bottom line is this: When Azubuike is in the game, the Jayhawks will play through the post, run their high-low stuff and operate more like a 3-out, 2-in team. When the Jayhawks want to run and get up and down the floor, Azubuike will not be in the game.
It’s as simple as that.
He might: Rip down a backboard at some point this season
That’s the stated goal of the freshman big man every time he goes to dunk the basketball. And even though this one is a little tongue and cheek, it still applies as a legitimate possibility. And who’s the last Jayhawk you could say that about?
Thomas Robinson tried to hurt the rim every time he dunked, but he shined with his athleticism as much as his power. Joel Embiid has grown a ton since leaving KU and never was really that rip-the-rim-down kind of force during his lone season at Kansas. And even though it looked in high school as if all Cliff Alexander ever wanted to do was rock the rim, he proved to be less Shaq and more shackled during his days as a Jayhawk.
I’ve had multiple Azubuike teammates tell me that if the Nigerian freshman gets you sealed off, it’s over. Those were the exact words they used. It’s. Over. With that wide body, big frame and good footwork, the hard part is done as soon as Azubuike catches the ball after sealing his man. From there, it’s just a matter of how angry he is and how much energy he wants to exert at that particular moment.
It may be a longshot, but it would not surprise me for one bit if we find ourselves sitting through a repair-the-basket delay at some point during the 2016-17 season.
When you’re the king of the Big 12 Conference, you tend to carry yourself a little differently than all of the other coaches trying to knock you off your spot at the top of the mountain.
There’s a certain element that can only be described as cool, calm and collected that comes with it and although the 10 men’s basketball coaches in the Big 12 all have a great deal of respect for one another, it’s Kansas coach Bill Self who seems most comfortable among his peers.
That was crystal clear while observing Self at Tuesday’s Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City, where the coaches and several players came together to preview the upcoming season and discuss the ins and outs of men’s hoops in the Big 12.
Naturally, talk about the league’s best players, best team and biggest surprises popped up in front of every microphone and camera. But with three new leaders in the conference this season, Self had some new material to talk about. Not that that kept Self from having fun at West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ expense. I’m not sure anything could keep Self from a wise crack and a smile or 20 about Huggins. But the presence of Oklahoma State’s Brad Underwood, TCU’s Jamie Dixon and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard at least took Self’s attention off of Huggy Bear for a bit.
While it’s clear that Self is excited to have all three newcomers in the conference — he said Beard would win a congeniality award among Big 12 coaches and added that it was only a matter of time before Dixon got things rolling at TCU — it’s Underwood who Self has the most significant personal connection to among the trio of first-year Big 12 bosses.
Asked about their relationship — past and present — during Tuesday’s Media Day, Self was equal parts complimentary and class clown.
“I showed Brad around on his recruiting visit to Oklahoma State,” Self recalled. “I was a freshman and he was a senior in high school. Thank God, for Oklahoma State, Brad is a much better coach than he was a player. He was actually a guy I hoped that we could sign because I didn't think that that would take away many minutes.”
With the laughter from the media members in attendance still audible, Self transitioned into talk about the path that led Underwood to his alma mater.
“He has done so well,” said Self of Underwood, who was 89-14 in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin from 2013-2016. “What he did at Stephen F., I mean, that's remarkable what he did and how players got better.”
It’s Underwood’s coaching chops, along with the passion and character he figures to bring to OSU, that makes Self feel so certain that the Cowboys are in great hands.
“From what I understand, and I don't need anybody telling me this because you knew it would happen, he's done an unbelievable job connecting with and reconnecting the OSU community and family,” Self said of Underwood, who played at Kansas State and also coached there under Huggins and Frank Martin from 2006-12. “And as you guys follow basketball in our league, Oklahoma State, the tradition and history that exists there is relevant to the college basketball game on the national scene, as well. I think he'll do a very nice job in making all Cowboy fans and alums proud.”
That’s the goal, according to Underwood, who said OSU’s history played a big part in luring him back to the Big 12.
“I'm an old-school guy from the standpoint of the tradition means a great deal,” Underwood said. “I still get goose bumps and hair on the back of my neck stands up when I walk into Gallagher-Iba every single day. And I did not get to know Mr. Iba. I got to visit with him briefly when I was at Kansas State with Jack Hartman. I know what a great teacher, innovator of the game he was. To stand on Eddie Sutton court every day, there is 806 wins there with Coach Sutton, two Final Fours. Coach Iba won a couple of national titles. That's pretty important.
“I've always said Gallagher-Iba is one of the elite basketball arenas in all of the country, and that excites me, getting that crowd going and getting that fan base. We have an extremely educated fan base. That excites me. That all plays into it. As a young guy growing up in McPherson, Kansas, and understanding those Saturday game of the week (broadcasts) in the Big Eight back in that day and then getting the opportunity to play in those arenas and then go back as a coach in those arenas, this is very special for me and I'm very, very fortunate and very blessed to be back in this great league.”
Bill Self. Josh Jackson. Landen Lucas. Fran Fraschilla.
Coaches, teammates and analysts alike all have pointed to Kansas sophomore Lagerald Vick as one of the most impressive Jayhawks during the early going of the 2016-17 season.
Not only have the aforementioned people gone on record to say how impressed they have been by the improvement Vick has made in his game from the end of last season to the beginning of this season, but they also have been wowed by the way he has performed in practices so far this season.
A much more confident and comfortable player than at any time during his rookie season, Vick seems to be sitting on the brink of a pretty big job and a pretty great opportunity to go from end-of-the-bench afterthought to key component on a Top 5 team.
Whether that comes to fruition or not remains to be seen, but the hype and hope, excitement and expectations certainly are there.
In case you missed the earlier installments of this series, follow the links below:
Now, back to what to expect from Vick...
He will: Be a fixture in the regular rotation
This much is a given. And it remains to be seen whether it’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk or Vick who plays his way into the role of first guard off the bench and player KU coach Bill Self trusts the most to log big minutes during the 2016-17 season.
It’s possible it will be both and if it is it’ll likely be because of Svi’s experience (as well as his own maturation in the offseason) and Vick’s size, length and athleticism.
There’s a role out there for Vick to settle into and as much as most of the offseason talk has been about his improvement on the offensive end, I’m not so sure that the role he fills this season won’t be more heavily rooted in defense, where Vick can be a nightmare for opposing guards.
He won’t: Score the way he did this summer
Say what you will about Vick’s improvement – and plenty of people have been more than willing to discuss it during recent weeks — but it’s worth remembering that the sophomore guard from Memphis still has a long way to go before he becomes a high-volume scorer for the Jayhawks.
During a couple of summer camp scrimmages back in June, Vick got hot from the outside and poured in a whole bunch of points, scoring as many as 29 in one game. That was the first sign that he had developed a better shot and made some significant improvements in the offseason, but taking that to mean that he’s going to put up big numbers for the Jayhawks this season is a bit of a reach.
There still will be three, maybe four, players on the floor at all times when Vick’s in the game who will be better offensive options. In the backcourt alone, Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson all figure to push for double-figure averages, leaving Vick to average somewhere in the 4-6 points per game range.
He’ll have a few games where he’ll go for double digits himself, but he’ll also have a few in which he’s closer to scoreless than double digits. It will be important to remember that Vick’s statistics at the end of the season won’t necessarily indicate his importance to this team or the improvement he made in the offseason.
He might: Take a while to get comfortable
It might not be a wildly popular take, but it’s possible that all of the hype around the jump Vick has made this offseason might be setting him up for failure. At least initially.
No matter how much bigger, faster or stronger Vick has become and no matter how much he has improved his jumper, he’s still a very inexperienced player and could take a while to feel comfortable in his new role.
Doing it during practice is one thing, but doing it in front of 16,300 at Allen Fieldhouse or against Indiana in Hawaii or Duke in New York is something completely different.
This is not a knock on Vick. Enough people who know the game inside and out have said they’re impressed by the player he has become to make it seem like real progress has been made. But real progress or not, the emerging fan favorite still has some work to do to prove he’s completely comfortable when it counts the most.
So skilled as a basketball coach and so blessed with some of the most talented athletes and players in the country, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self rarely blinks when he gets wind of a movement to alter or re-emphasize existing rules that could create change in the college game.
Such was the case Tuesday at Sprint Center, where the Big 12 hosted its annual Media Day and Big 12 coordinator of men’s basketball officials Curtis Shaw explained some of the points of emphasis for the upcoming college hoops season.
The bulk of Shaw’s presentation focused on physical play in the paint.
“We put a new interpretation in this year that if contact occurs in the restricted area, even (if) it’s initiated by the offense and the defensive player doesn’t leave his feet and go vertical, it will be a blocking foul if the shot’s missed,” Shaw explained. “If he makes the shot and the contact’s not severe, we’re going to probably play through it. But (if) he misses the shot, we want a blocking foul every time.”
This initiative is no different than the one from a year or two ago that focused on similar contact on the perimeter. Back then, the season began with a ton of whistles and a lot of grumbling from fans and coaches alike. But then the players started to get it, the coaches started to teach it and the game adjusted.
“The results were good,” Shaw said. “Scoring went up over five points a game, but we only averaged over 1.1 free throws more. So it wasn’t just a free throw contest, the game was getting better.”
In time, that’s what Self believes will happen with the new emphasis in the paint.
“Will it be good for our game over time,” he asked. “I would say it probably will be. But, initially, there’s going to be some heartache and probably more so on the big guys than anyone else.”
KU forward Landen Lucas, a senior who last season made a name for himself by defending opposing post players with a little contact but no real harm said he was not going to worry too much about the new rule emphasis because there’s not much he can do to change it. Lucas on Tuesday said he would continue to play with his head as much as his body and rely on fundamentals and scouting reports to help him stop opposing players.
That’s the best way to approach it, according to Self.
“It’s going to be difficult to play the game and have your players be aggressive playing the game based on the way it’s supposedly going to be called,” he said.
A large part of the reason for these recent tweaks is to up the pace and get an element of wide-open offense back into basketball.
With that as the goal, Self elaborated on a few things he thought could change that would help that. Most of them came from his experience leading KU to the gold medal at the World University Games during the summer of 2015.
“I actually thought that was a better game to coach and play than the collegiate game,” said Self of the international rules. “In large part because of the clock and the offensive rebounding and how things are done there.... I do think we should extend the (three-point) line. I think the wider lane is fine. But I think what we really need to look at, if we want to have more pace, is when we get an offensive rebound or when there is a dead ball situation off a foul in the fourth quarter or whatnot, we don’t have to reset (the shot clock) to 30 (seconds). I wish we’d reset it to 20 or 18 or whatever it is. That way we can get back into action.”
For all of the comparisons between Kansas freshman Josh Jackson and former one-and-done KU star Andrew Wiggins — those you’ve heard and those still yet to come — the one that struck me as the most impressive and most telling about the kind of player Jackson is came from Kansas coach Bill Self at Tuesday’s Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City.
Talking about Jackson’s maturity, which Self says Jackson owes his mother, Apples Jones, the 14th-year Kansas coach was asked how Jackson has responded — and how he thinks he will respond against real opponents — when players have gone right at him in an attempt to test and see just how talented the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit really is.
It’s something that inevitably happens with all of the top freshmen each year. And it comes as much from teammates in the early going as it does opponents in the heart of the season.
Self loves it and believes Jackson will, too.
“I think he’s coming in here about as mature and about as worldly as any kid that we’ve ever had,” Self said. “He’s well beyond his years for a college freshman. And even though he’s had so many things written about him, he doesn’t act spoiled. He acts like a guy that wants to prove as opposed to a guy that thinks he’s already arrived.”
Although practice is barely two weeks old and Self’s Jayhawks have begun to spend as much time preparing for opponents as they have testing each other, the KU coach has seen enough to drum up a prediction for what Jackson will do when Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. or Duke’s Grayson Allen (both juniors) go at him on the offensive end and find some success in a couple of weeks.
“He’s the type of kid, I think,” Self began, “that could have somebody score two straight baskets on him and his way of getting back at him is to make sure our team has a good possession on the other end, as opposed to going back and shooting the ball and trying to get it back himself. I don’t think a lot of kids get that. I think he does.”
That, at least in Self’s eyes, is why Jackson is among the most competitive players he’s ever coached. Being competitive is about more than being willing to take the shots, soak up the spotlight and become the face of the team. It also is about being the smartest player you can be and digging in on defense and doing as many little things as possible to help your team win a game.
Jackson is ready, willing and able to do all of the above and, perhaps most impressively, wants to do it against the best players college basketball has to offer. A few of those players are on his own team. And that’s one of the big reasons Jackson picked Kansas in the first place. Rather than having to wait for the big challenges to pop up on his schedule, Jackson gets to encounter them each and every day.
And, so far, he has more than held his own, according to Self.
“I don’t know that you respond every single time that somebody goes at you,” Self said. “But if he doesn’t respond, then it’s in the minority. He is a competitive dude that likes when somebody else is good because now he can test himself against the best. He enjoys that.”
“I think, in his mind, whether or not he plays better from a points (and) production standpoint, I think he’ll do more to fight for his team if he feels like he’s being challenged each and every day.”
As for all of the attention Jackson already has received and is sure to get from opponents on the floor during the upcoming season, Self said Jackson’s maturity and demeanor make him well equipped to handle that, as well.
“Apples did an unbelievable job,” Self said. “Granted, there’s still some things that are gonna happen with him that he hasn’t seen yet and he’s gonna feel some pressures that he’s never experienced yet, but his mother has done an unbelievable job preparing him for this moment. It’s something they’ve talked about a lot.”
“Wiggs was mature, too,” he continued. “But Wiggs was different in that he didn’t need the attention, but he also didn’t want the attention. Josh, to me, doesn’t need it, but he doesn’t mind it.”
When the more than 400 women who flocked to Allen Fieldhouse for the 7th annual Ladies Night Out with Kansas basketball event got their turn to fire a few questions toward the Jayhawk players, they inquired about things like superstitions and the upcoming season and which players worked the hardest and had the best GPA.
While those questions and others created the opportunity for some entertaining answers, the most interesting bits of information came moments before the Q&A, when Kansas coach Bill Self asked his players to introduce themselves by name, where they’re from and why they chose to play basketball at Kansas.
The name and hometown bit is pretty standard and an obvious part of any introduction. But that last piece of information was included at the suggestion of junior guard Devonte’ Graham, who offered up the suggestion when Self was searching for a third piece to the intro puzzle.
The answers came out quickly and one by one. And they provided an interesting look at both the individual make-up of each player on this year’s roster as well as a big-picture glimpse into all that makes Kansas basketball such a unique program.
Here, in order, were the answers the players provided:
• Jr. Dwight Coleby - “Why not Kansas?”
• Jr. Clay Young – “I picked Kansas because it’s the best school in the nation.”
• Jr. Evan Maxwell – “I picked Kansas because it was the best fit for me.”
• Sr. Landen Lucas – “I chose Kansas because of all these beautiful ladies.”
• Jr. Tucker Vang – “I picked Kansas because of this place (motioning to Allen Fieldhouse).”
• Jr. Devonte’ Graham – “Like Dwight said, ‘Why not Kansas?’ and like Landen said, ‘The ladies here.’”
• Soph. Malik Newman – “Like Dwight said, ‘Why not Kansas?’”
• Soph. Lagerald Vick – “Just the tradition.”
• Jr. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – “I came here because Kansas is one of the best colleges in the NCAA.”
• Sr. Frank Mason III – “It’s the best tradition you could ever be a part of.”
• Fr. Josh Jackson – “I chose Kansas because I wanted to play with all these guys.”
• Fr. Udoka Azubuike – “Because of the tradition and winning.”
• Sr. Tyler Self – “Kansas is home.”
• Fr. Mitch Lightfoot – “I chose Kansas because of all the great teammates, coaches and fans.”
• Soph. Carlton Bragg Jr. – “I chose Kansas because it’s a special place.”
Someone in KU's Williams Education Fund captured the second half of Wednesday's sharing session on video and posted it to Twitter.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Wednesday night was asked by a member of the more than 400 women who attended the 7th annual Ladies Night Out with Kansas basketball event for an update on Scott “Scooter” Ward, who, two weeks ago, was rushed into emergency surgery to repair a torn aorta and has been hospitalized and on the road to recovery ever since.
Self said he and other members of the Kansas athletic family had Lawrence Memorial Hospital to thank for “getting him prepared perfectly to get him to KU Med.”
Self also referred to the life-saving treatment Ward received at both hospitals as “a total team effort” and offered the following update on Ward's current condition:
“He’s doing remarkably well," Self told the crowd. "He’s got a relatively long road (in the) short term. You know, his cavity’s gotta heal from the open-heart surgery and he’s gotta be able to get his strength back and things like that. His mind is sharp. Everything’s good. He should make a full recovery. It’s just gonna take a little bit.”
The women in attendance at the Ladies Night Out event followed up Self's news with a thunderous round of applause and Self joked that Scooter would be thrilled to hear that the ladies were asking about him.