Self not actively seeking walk-ons to add to Jayhawks’ thin roster
One week ago, during the Kansas basketball program’s second of three exhibition games this season, the Jayhawks rode out the final few minutes of their 100-54 blowout victory over Pittsburg State with regular rotation players Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot on the floor.
Don’t be surprised if you see that or something awfully similar again the rest of the season.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Monday said he was not actively seeking any additional walk-ons to join Clay Young and Chris Teahan on the 2017-18 roster. But Self added that he would be open to bringing another player on board if everything fell into place.
“The only way we would take somebody else is if he was big and could defend better than what Teahan or Clay could,” Self said, referring mostly to a potential player’s practice role. “You’d rather have some big bodies in practice. There’s no question about that. But I’m not going to take a guy just to take a guy. But if there’s somebody that falls in our lap, whether it be from the walk-on tryouts that we just had or if somebody were to get hurt, we’ve got guys that we could call. But I’m not interested in doing that.”
One reason he isn’t is because the bodies are there for practice. They just can’t play in the games. Transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore all represent quality options for KU’s scout team in practices so adding more players for that reason is not on the table. And, if you think about it, each season includes a lot more time practicing than it does closing out games.
Even still, for a team that features precious little depth in the front court and is working with just eight scholarship players in all during the first semester of the 2017-18 season, it was a little strange to see such prominent players on the floor so late in a lopsided game.
Normally, moments such as those, both during exhibition play and the regular season, are the time for walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship to shine. And, throughout the years, most KU squads have had no shortage of walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship players.
Just think back to the 2014-15 season, when Self could toss this group onto the floor at the end of games — Christian Garrett, Josh Pollard, Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Hunter Mickelson. Or, the year before, when Niko Roberts, Justin Wesley and a young Landen Lucas could be added to that group. Even last year’s team had Tucker Vang, Tyler Self, Clay Young, Dwight Coleby and a freshman Lightfoot to play at the end of games.
The point was, Self didn’t have to worry much about any of those guys playing in garbage time because they weren’t critical parts of KU’s lineup during the rest of the game and could usher in the early celebration of another victory with some fun moments and memorable highlights.
But last Tuesday, Self had no choice but to play three of his rotation guys. And it figures to be that way at least for the near future.
The KU coach said he kept Azubuike on the floor for conditioning purposes. And it may play out that way again early in the season. But no matter how it goes, he’s going to have to pick three of his top eight players to join Young and Teahan in the game’s final moments.
It’s safe to assume that it won’t often be Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick or Azubuike. Those four, in some order, would probably get the most votes for most valuable players on this team.
That leaves Garrett, Lightfoot, Svi Mykhailiuk and Billy Preston as the most likely players to join KU’s walk-on duo in closing out games. All four of those players would compete for starting spots at most schools and could find themselves starting for Kansas a time or two this season.
When the first semester ends and transfer guard Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible, he figures to be a prime candidate to join Young and Teahan as regulars in the late-game lineup, but even that will force the Jayhawks to use two rotation regulars along with them.
But Self seems content to do that before crowding his bench by adding another walk-on.
“We’ve taken some guys in the past out of the student body and it’s worked out well for us and we’ve taken some guys in the past that it hasn’t worked out well for us,” Self said. “But we don’t need another guard. He’d have to be another big guy.”