Vick’s return gives KU a loaded roster, but Bill Self has recent experience handling such a luxury
The benefits of his three-week stint with USA Basketball last month were many and seemed to cover just about every aspect of the coaching profession.
From getting a head start on working with a player he will coach at Kansas in Quentin Grimes — and spending extended time around a few key recruits in next year’s class — to dabbling with different styles of play and the personal pride of representing your country, KU coach Bill Self got a lot out of leading Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas tournament in June in Canada.
But figuring out a way to keep a crop of ultra-talented, elite-level players happy with the minutes they were getting for an extended period of time might go down as Self’s biggest advantage from the experience.
It worked. Obviously. The USA squad won gold and Self, and Grimes for that matter, came away from the experience with glowing reviews about how it felt to represent the United States and, more to the point, how impressed they were with how quickly the newly-formed team bonded and came together.
And now Self gets to do it for real, at Kansas, with the professional stakes much higher. And the success he had with Team USA indicates it is certainly possible for him to figure out how to handle this suddenly deep and loaded Kansas roster during the 2018-19 season. This, after playing a serious game of depth roulette for the past couple of seasons.
With KU’s stellar 2018 recruiting class and the addition of three red-shirt transfers who sat out a season ago, things certainly were deep enough for KU before last week’s Lagerald Vick announcement. Now, with Vick and his 94 career games and 41 career starts returning to the roster, it’s downright silly how deep and talented Kansas appears to be on paper. Now, all of those cliche’ comments about KU’s second five being able to finish in the Top 3 of the Big 12 actually seem true for a change.
Stick with me for a moment while I state the obvious: Self is not John Calipari. So he is not going to platoon lineups during the upcoming season in an attempt to keep everyone happy. But he could.
That might not mean five-in and five-out at all times, but it’s not hard to envision 10 players playing 20 minutes a game. And even at that, there are still more bodies Self could use.
Regardless of whether you agree with the breakdown or not, here’s a look at a potential first and second five for the 2018 season.
PG: Devon Dotson — Charlie Moore
SG: Quentin Grimes — Lagerald Vick
3G: Marcus Garrett — K.J. Lawson
PF: Dedric Lawson — Silvio De Sousa
C: Udoka Azubuike — David McCormack
So that’s 10 legit players, all of whom either have started or almost certainly will start college basketball games at some point in their careers.
Missing from that group are junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, junior guard Sam Cunliffe and freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, all big-time players who not only would be in the rotation for every other Big 12 program, but would also probably start for a lot of them.
So, obviously, something is going to have to give. A couple of guys are going to have to redshirt, a couple of guys are going to have to be OK with playing fewer minutes than they might during a more normal season and every one of those players is going to have to sacrifice and surrender his individual focus for the good of the team.
Sound familiar? It should. That’s exactly what a coach has to get out of his players in a USA Basketball setting and, again, Self succeeded big time with that challenge last month.
Fielding the cream of the crop in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes — a group of 12 players chosen from a tryout that included 33 Team USA hopefuls — Self found a way for all 12 players to average double-digit minutes per game.
What’s more, eight players averaged 16 minutes or more per game and just four averaged better than 21 minutes per game, with nobody topping Grimes’ 23.2 minutes-per-game average. Self also managed to trot out three different starting lineups during the six-game tournament, with Cole Anthony, Quentin Grimes, Tyrese Maxey, Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl starting together during four of the six games.
For clarification, while the sample size of six games might be a little small, these were 40-minute games like Kansas will play, which no doubt helped Self get a feel for juggling so much talent and keeping everybody locked in and ready to contribute. It’s not that Self has never done this, just that it has been a while and the past two seasons have been almost the polar opposite, depthwise, of what he’ll be dealing with this year.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Kansas fans, even those who like to question and cuss Self when the team does not play well, it’s that they generally trust KU’s head coach to figure it out no matter what obstacles he is facing. So it’s not as if people were even the least bit worried about whether Self would be able to handle a roster with so much talent and quality depth. But given how things have played out during the past couple of seasons, playing with a stacked deck will be different and challenging and, I’m sure, a whole lot of fun.
Before Self went to Colorado Springs for the Team USA tryout, he told me one of his big personal goals for the entire experience was to step out of his comfort zone in the way he operates, learn elements of a new system or two and be able to incorporate those new skills into his already successful coaching chops.
Getting a refresher course on how to run a loaded roster and succeeding with it in a short amount of time no doubt delivered on Self’s personal goals. Not only did it lead Team USA to gold, but it also figures to benefit Self and the Jayhawks quite a bit during the 2018-19 season.