Self believes 2018-19 Jayhawks could have 2 Big 12 Player of the Year candidates

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas head coach Bill Self gives a pat on the chest to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) at the conclusion of the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

As the Kansas men’s basketball program closes in on one week remaining until players report back to campus for the start of summer school and summer workouts — and their leader prepares to leave campus for his stint with USA Basketball — KU coach Bill Self said his team was enjoying a quiet time of sorts in the wild and always-on modern world of college athletics.

A guest on Andy Katz’s March Madness 365 podcast this week, Self said the past couple of months have been about as calm of a stretch as any he can remember.

“There have been less balls in the air this spring than there have been a lot of years,” Self said.

One of the reasons for that is the fact that Self and company nearly completed their recruiting in the 2018 class during the early period. Sure, the Jayhawks stayed in pursuit of Romeo Langford through the spring and do still have one scholarship still to give, but that was much easier to manage than it could have been, especially given the fact that the Jayhawks had five scholarships to dish out in the 2018 class.

“We signed one youngster late, but he had committed to us in January, so that wasn’t really a surprise,” Self explained. “We were pretty much settled in early with our recruiting class, we signed a few early and then the one that committed to us in January. There weren’t a lot of decisions to be made because four of my (2017-18 starters), two of them walked in and said they wanted to go to the combine and sign with an agent and two of them were seniors and so that left just one kid, Udoka Azubuike, to determine what he wanted to do.”

Azubuike, of course, spent last week at the NBA combine in Chicago and has until next Wednesday to decide whether to remain in the draft or pull his name out and return to Kansas for his junior season.

If he elects to do the latter, the 7-foot center will bring quite a bit to the Kansas lineup that will be looking to replace those four starters Self talked about.

“First of all, Udoka’s so much better than even where he was four months ago, three months ago,” Self said. “We had to have a good spring with three or four of our guys and I think that happened.”

Asked to share names of those players, Self did not hesitate to mention a handful of newcomers and one returning player poised to make a big jump.

“Dedric Lawson’s a really good player. He’s taken his body and (improved it) and everything,” Self said of the Memphis transfer who sat out the 2017-18 season and is a likely starter at the 4 spot during the 2018-19 season. “And his brother, K.J. Lawson, has been really solid for us. Then the two kids who have been really impressive are a freshman we had, Marcus Garrett, most kids make the biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore year, and then we had a freshman sit out this past year that started at Cal last year, Charlie Moore.”

Although three of those four will be new to game action at KU next season, Self said the Jayhawks, though young in many ways, figure to have the luxury of still feeling like a veteran club because of the presence of that trio of transfers and Garrett.

“You look at it,” Self began. “We could lose all five starters, we will lose at least four, and what do they have coming back? The reality is we’ve got quite a bit coming back because we had those three sitting out last year.

“The big thing with us is we’ve been really fortunate that when we lose a bunch of guys we’ve had some guys waiting in the wings who have been role players that turned out to be primary guys for us.”

Two of those players, provided Azubuike returns, which most who have tracked his NBA testing expect to happen, can give Kansas the same type of elite player they have had during the past couple of years, albeit at a different position.

Asked if he thought he had a player who could follow in the footsteps of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, who earned back-to-back Big 12 player of the year and All-American honors, Self said simply, “I actually think we do.”

“I actually think that, depending on what Udoka does, Dedric Lawson is a guy that could compete for conference player of the year honors in addition to Udoka,” he said. “And the freshmen we have coming in, Devon Dotson and David McCormack were McDonald’s All-Americans and all of that, but we have one freshman coming in, Quentin Grimes, that may be a guy that could be mentioned as one of the premiere freshmen in our league, as well. So I think we’ve got a nice blend of guys but we’re just going to be a lot younger and more inexperienced.”

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