Busy working toward winning a gold medal with the U18 Men’s National Team at the FIBA Americas in Canada, which gets under way on Sunday, Bishop Miege standout forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has continued to keep one eye on his recruitment.
The No. 16-ranked player in the Class of 2019, according to Rivals.com, Robinson-Earl recently told Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans that five programs had stood out to him the most throughout his recruitment thus far, adding that he was still open to adding any other programs who show serious interest into the mix.
Those programs, as things stand today, are: Kansas, to no one’s surprise, North Carolina, which seems to be KU’s biggest competitor here, Arizona, UCLA and Virginia.
Robinson-Earl recently talked about all five programs with Evans, breaking down what he liked about each. Here’s a quick look at what he had to say about KU.
“Obviously, it is one of the best schools in the country, right down the road,” he began. “This (USA Basketball) experience has been good, with just seeing what (KU) coach (Bill) Self has been like in action instead of just seeing him being nice just to be nice, but rather out here coaching us to get better.”
Despite his father’s ties to KU — former McDonald’s All-American Lester Earl played at Kansas from 1997-2000 and went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant, among others, in the 1996 — and the school’s proximity to his high school and hometown, Robinson-Earl said he had been exploring all of his options throughout the past couple of years of his recruitment and continues to do so today.
“There is no pressure to go there,” he told Evans of KU. “When coaches ask about if KU is where I am going to go, I just tell them that I open to anybody and if you’re willing to recruit me, I am open to you.”
As for North Carolina, which many believe will be KU’s biggest threat to landing Robinson-Earl, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward made it clear in his interview with Evans that receiving interest from a coach like Roy Williams was both flattering and intriguing.
As is fairly standard, Robinson-Earl told Evans that he likely would start taking official visits this Fall and could see himself making a decision in the winter or early in 2019.
As for Evans’ read on Robinson-Earl’s recruitment, his take goes down as good news for the Jayhawks.
“Kansas has been and will continue to be the program to beat,” Evans wrote on Friday, “though Virginia, North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona could have a puncher’s chance as well.”
By now you all probably know that KU freshman Quentin Grimes made the U18 Men’s National Team and will represent USA Basketball next week at the FIBA Americas in Canada.
In doing so, Grimes will get a chance to play for his future college coach, KU coach Bill Self, who is coaching that U18 team and helped select the 12 players who will represented the United States in its quest for a fifth consecutive gold medal at the event.
It’s worth pointing out here that, while Grimes probably had the best shot of anyone to make the team going into the 33-man tryout, Self was not the only person with a say in who made and didn’t make the team. USA Basketball has a selection committee that helps make the cuts so Grimes, as expected, made it on his own merits as much as his status as a future Jayhawk.
Grimes’ role with Team USA should be fun to watch as it could resemble exactly what he’ll be asked to do during his time at Kansas.
With dynamic point guards Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey on the roster, Grimes will not have to handle the ball as much as he did in high school and can play off the ball, looking to slash and attack and shoot from distance throughout the games.
A similar role could be awaiting Grimes at Kansas, where Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson are entrenched as true point guards who figure to run the show while keeping Grimes off the ball.
That’s all speculation — with both teams — at this point, but it seems like a likely path and should give Grimes an opportunity to absolutely maximize his head start with Self while wearing a USA jersey.
As for the rest of the Team USA roster, here’s a quick look at the other 11 players and where they stand with regard to their recruitment.
Self told me before he went to Colorado Springs — the team’s in Canada prepping for the tournament now — that the opportunity to be around these young guys, most of whom are among the top talents in their high school classes, has been dubbed in the past as a recruiting advantage for the assistant coaches on the team but not necessarily the head coach. The reason? The head coach tells them when to sub in and sub out and has to be the guy that gets on them.
That said, there’s no doubt that Self’s extended time around these guys will give him a great opportunity to give them a glimpse into what playing for him at Kansas might be like.
• Cole Anthony, Briarwood, N.Y., 6-2, 180, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 4 overall per Rivals) – The son of former NBA and UNLV point guard and current college basketball analyst Greg Anthony, this electric point guard who blends incredible skill and speed with a high basketball IQ has been pretty tight-lipped about his recruitment thus far and seems wide open at the moment. One thing that’s certain about his recruitment is this: Whoever lands him will be getting a guy that many believe is the top point guard in the class and an instant high-impact player.
• Armando Bacot, Richmond, Va., 6-10, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 17 overall per Rivals) – Dubbed recently by Corey Evans, of Rivals.com, as the likeliest North Carolina commitment of all the top big men in the 2019 class, Bacot is also being pursued hard by Duke, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Georgia, with many believing the Tar Heels are the current leader.
• Matthew Hurt, Rochester, Minn., 6-9, 200, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 5 overall per Rivals) – Most recruiting analysts believe that Kansas is the team to beat for Hurt, whom the Jayhawks have been recruiting hard for a few years. He has no shortage of options, however, from in-state Minnesota, where his brother plays, to North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke and more. Getting some bonus time with Self can only help the Jayhawks’ chances of landing one of their top targets in the 2019 class but there still is work to be done to reel him in.
• Trayce Jackson-Davis, Greenwood, Ind., 6-9, 210, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 22 overall per Rivals) – Jackson-Davis said last week that his recruitment was still “wide open” while adding that he would like to trim his list to a final five or seven sometime in August. Of those schools pursuing him, Indiana, Michigan State, UCLA, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State, Georgia and Memphis have made the hardest push.
• Josiah James, Charleston, S.C., 6-6, 190, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 15 overall per Rivals) – Among the dozens of programs going after James, Clemson, South Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State currently sit in the best positions, according to a recent James interview from the USA Basketball tryout in Colorado Springs.
• Tyrese Maxey, Dallas, 6-4, 185, 5-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 14 overall per Rivals) – Maxey committed to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on May 9.
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bishop Miege, 6-9, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 16 overall per Rivals) – Bishop Miege standout who lives just down the road from Lawrence, Robinson-Earl has attracted interest from all of the major programs but appears to be headed toward a final two of Kansas and North Carolina. Nothing is even close to official on that front yet, but KU has been in a good position for a long time and UNC is the one other program that keeps coming up as a place JRE could see himself playing. This one could very well come down to whether or not he wants to stay close to home or get away for his year or two of college basketball. Arizona, UCLA and Virginia remain alive and Robinson-Earl recently said he was still open to any newcomers.
• Mark Watts Jr., Detroit, 6-3, 180, 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 67 overall per Rivals) – Nicknamed “Rocket” for his fast and furious style of play, Watts is one of the fastest-rising prospects on the board in the Class of 2019 and UConn, Ole Miss, Marquette, Michigan State, Michigan and Mississippi State appear to be the programs making the strongest push for Watts’ services. Michigan, Michigan State and Marquette seem to have put in the most time recruiting Watts, but he recently told Rivals that he also wants to get out west to visit USC and UNLV.
Like Grimes, there are three other players on the U18 roster who will be freshmen during the 2018-19 college basketball season.
• Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago, 6-4, 185, PG, Illinois
• Kamaka Hepa, Portland, Ore., 6-8, 210, PF, Texas
• Coby White, Goldsboro, N.C., 6-3, 170, SG, North Carolina
A photograph taken by USA Basketball photographer Bart Young and released on Wednesday, one day after the organization announced the identity of the 12 players who made the 2018 U18 Men’s National Team, got me thinking a little bit about KU’s presence within the history of USA Basketball.
As you all surely know, there were no Jayhawks on the original Dream Team, which featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and a dozen other NBA all-time greats back in 1992, but before that and in the years since, the Kansas basketball program has put its stamp on Team USA in a bunch of different ways.
The most recent example of this, of course, surfaced this week, when current KU freshman Quentin Grimes, made the 12-man U18 team that is coached by current KU head coach Bill Self, former KU star and assistant coach Danny Manning and features trainer Bill Cowgill and video man Jeremy Case in support roles.
Those five were in the photo that Young shared and all five will be making the trip north to Canada on Thursday to prepare for play in the FIBA Americas tournament next week.
So, too, will Class of 2019 KU targets Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
KU assistant coach Norm Roberts was in Colorado earlier this week and he said it was clear that Self was soaking up the experience.
“He’s doing great," Roberts said. "I was out there a couple of days ago and I think he’s really enjoying it. It’s quite a bit of work now. They’re going two-a-days and meetings at night and that stuff. And I think USA Basketball really wants this team to be good and do well and I think he’s enjoying it. I think he’s having fun.”
As for Grimes being with Team USA instead of the rest of his Kansas teammates in Lawrence for summer workouts, Roberts said the scenario was a win-win for the KU freshman.
“We’d love to have him here, but that environment will be great for him, a great experience," Roberts said. "I know coach is enjoying working with him and everything.”
While these names are the newest with KU ties to be linked to USA Basketball, the Kansas connection, like so many things in the game of basketball, dates back to 1936, when legendary KU coach Phog Allen played an instrumental role in getting basketball into the Olympic Games.
From there, as his coaching legacy continued to grow, Allen later helped coach a group of seven Jayhawks to a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics.
That group, which included Charlie Hoag, Bill Hougland, John Keller, Dean Kelley, Robert Kenney, Bill Lienhard and Clyde Lovellette, later was joined by the following Olympic medalists who called KU home at one time or another: Allen Kelley, Arthur Lonborg and Dean Nesmith (gold, 1960); Jo Jo White (gold, 1968); Danny Manning (bronze, 1988); along with Roy Williams and Larry Brown, who served as coaches on Team USA’s bronze medal bunch in 2004.
Hougland also won gold in 1956 and former Jayhawk Darnell Valentine competed with a USA Basketball team in the Gold Medal Series, a stretch of games against NBA All-Star teams in various cities in the United States.
As evident by Grimes, Self and company participating with the U18 team this summer, USA Basketball’s exploits exist well beyond the Summer Olympics and several former Jayhawks have participated in those events as well.
Here’s a look:
• World Championships — B.H. Born and Allen Kelley (gold, 1954); Mark Randall (bronze, 1990) and Kirk Hinrich (bronze, 2006).
• Pan American Games — Melvin Kelley and Robert Kenney (gold, 1955); Jo Jo White (gold, 1967); Norm Cook (gold, 1975); Danny Manning (bronze, 1987); Keith Langford (bronze, 2015).
• U18 National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 1998; Travis Releford was a silver medalist in 2008 while Grimes is going for gold next week.
• U19 Junior World Championships — Kerry Boagni won a gold medal in 1983; Larry Brown (head coach) and Kevin Pritchard teamed to lead the U.S. team to silver in 1987; Nick Collison won silver in 1999; and Tyshawn Taylor was on a gold medal team in 2009.
• U22 National Team — Steve Woodberry and Roy Williams (head coach) led Team USA to silver in 1993. (Williams also was the head coach of the U.S. Olympics Development Team in 1992).
• U.S. Men’s Senior National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2003.
• USA Men’s World Championship Team — Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz were on the 2002 team that took 6th a the FIBA World Cup.
• USA World Championships for Young Men Team & Qualifying Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2001 and Collison and Drew Gooden won silver while qualifying a year earlier.
• USA Men’s Select Team — Nick Collison, in 2000, and Marcus Morris, in 2010, participated with this team.
• U.S. Olympic Festival Competition — Greg Dreiling (1981-82); Kerry Boagni (1983); Danny Manning (1985); Kevin Pritchard and Mark Randall (1986); Lincoln Minor (1987); Richard Scott (1991); Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard and Jerod Haase (1993); Raef LaFrentz (1994); Billy Thomas (1995). Boagni, who later transferred to Cal-State Fullerton, and Vaughn were named to their respective all-festival teams.
• Nike Hoop Summit — Ryan Robertson (1995); Eric Chenowith (1997); Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich (1999); Brandon Rush and Julian Wright (2005); Xavier Henry (2009); Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre (2014); Josh Jackson (2016); and Quentin Grimes and David McCormack (2018).
That list does not even count KU representing the United States in the World University Games a few years back or the handful of future Jayhawks who played in the USA Basketball program before getting to KU.
In addition, current Jayhawk Udoka Azubuike (Nigeria), along with former KU standouts Sasha Kaun (Russia), Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and Andrew Wiggins (Canada) also have international experience playing for their respective countries throughout the years.
We got our first extended look at the 2018-19 Kansas basketball team on Tuesday afternoon during the first of two camp scrimmages expected to take place during the next couple of weeks.
Although the scrimmage, won by the seven-man red team over the six-man blue squad, was hardly complete without possible starting guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes in attendance, it did offer a great look at a few of the newcomers and several returning Jayhawks as well.
By far the thing that stood out most to me was just how competitive everybody was. I realize that being competitive is what these guys do. You don’t get to a program like Kansas without registering off the charts in that department. But it’s one thing to play that way throughout your high school and AAU life, and it's something completely different to do it during a meaningless summer scrimmage in early June.
Still, as Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson so perfectly pointed out after scoring 20 points in the blue team’s loss, “This is just how we play.”
“There was a play the other day in practice, Sam (Cunliffe) went up for a dunk and Mitch (Lightfoot) went up with him and he fell hard. That’s just how coach has us playing, with that competitiveness.”
That was on full display throughout Tuesday’s scrimmage, with bodies flying and players trying to assert themselves on both ends of the floor.
When KU coach Bill Self gets the report about how the scrimmage went — Self is in Colorado Springs, Colo., working with USA Basketball and would not have been able to watch Tuesday’s game anyway because of NCAA rules — he, no doubt, will be encouraged by what he hears.
After all, shortly before leaving for Colorado Springs, Self in a conversation with the Journal-World outlined one of the things he was most eager to discover about the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks, and it had a lot to do with that competitive fire.
“I'm really anxious to see the commitment level of Charlie (Moore) and K.J. and Dedric (Lawson), after sitting out a year to see how much they'll be turned up compared to this past year,” Self said. “And I thought they all three had really good years last year.”
Tuesday’s scrimmage may have been just one day in a long stretch of important ones that lie ahead. But that trio, along with the rest of the KU roster, showed a willingness to compete and get after it that KU’s coaching staff would surely love to have seen.
Here’s a quick look back at a few other things that stood out to me during Tuesday’s action:
• Charlie Moore can play. We knew that already, of course, given his solid freshman season at Cal and his Chicago pedigree. But he looks like he’s ready to step into the role vacated by Devonte’ Graham (and before that Frank Mason III), and he should get a chance to do just that. Whether he wins the starting point guard job, shares it with Dotson or plays in a rotation role off the bench, Moore will help this team a ton. He’s lightning quick, good with the ball and fearless. He also shot it pretty well from distance on Tuesday, something the Jayhawks are going to need him to do well this season to help make their offense complete. Moore’s size is the only concern about his game, but it does not appear to be something that bothers him even a little bit. I was really impressed by the way he played and carried himself as a leader during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
• Tom Keegan broke it down even deeper in his column from the scrimmage, but it’s worth noting here, as well: Freshman center David McCormack is a beast, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to keep off the floor. Does that mean he’s going to play 30 minutes a game? Doubtful. But with all of those big men at his disposal, Self may very well have the luxury of asking each of those guys to play as hard as they can for as long as they’re on the floor while rotating them all in for 15-20 minutes a game in order to keep them fresh. If that’s how it plays out, McCormack will make an immediate impact. He’s got tremendous size, great power and good hands and feet. Beyond that, he doesn’t have a timid bone in his body.
• Speaking of players who aren’t shy, sophomore Silvio De Sousa on Tuesday looked a lot more aggressive than almost at any point during his recent half season with the Jayhawks. His transition from IMG to KU was well documented last winter, and the reasons for his slow growth all made plenty of sense then. It’s just not easy flipping that switch and trying to join a big-time college program on the fly. But, as was the expectation at the end of last season, that little taste De Sousa got is really going to benefit him for his sophomore season, and it looks like it already has. He has so much more to his game than he was able to show last season. And so much of that peeked through during Tuesday’s scrimmage. He can shoot it, he’s got post moves, he’s strong and physical and he plays best when he’s in attack mode. Questions about De Sousa’s eligibility will linger for a while, perhaps even throughout the first few months of the 2018-19 season. But all indications right now are that the program is moving forward with the expectation that he will be on the roster and fully available for the 2018-19 season. If that’s the case, he, too, will have a huge role for the 2018-19 Jayhawks. Self’s ability to bring De Sousa and McCormack in off the bench is the kind of luxury that other teams and coaches would kill to have.
• Let’s finish this off with a couple of quick hitters. Marcus Garrett’s shot looked better. It didn’t go in a lot, and he still hesitated to pull the trigger at times, but it did look better. His hands appear to be in better position and the ball had better flight. Remember, he’s only been working on the shot overhaul for about a month. Give it time. He’ll get there.
• Sam Cunliffe looked by far as comfortable as I have seen him at Kansas. Maybe it was the environment, or maybe it was because he feels like he belongs now and is comfortable with his place on the team. What that is and how many minutes it will bring him remains to be seen. But he shot the ball with confidence and played loose throughout the scrimmage. If he’s maturing, that will only help his chances of getting on the floor.
• Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji is a player you all are going to absolutely love in time. Having drawn comparisons to former Jayhawk Travis Releford, it was pretty funny to see the two out there running around on the same court. Releford was the only KU alum who played in Tuesday’s scrimmage, and he said afterward that he was impressed by the young Kansas City native’s game.
“I like that guy. He’s good,” Releford said. “I think he’s going to have a bright future.”
• Udoka Azubuike did not play in Tuesday’s scrimmage because of a summer cold. But he was in the gym, and it was crystal clear that he has the opportunity to be the unquestioned face of the program this season. He received by far the biggest ovation from the few hundred campers when assistant coach Kurtis Townsend introduced the team before the scrimmage. And the kids spent a few minutes chanting “We want Dok, we want Dok,” while the scrimmage was being played. Azubuike, if he wants to let it shine through, definitely has the personality to handle this role and the game to back it up, and it should be interesting to see how quickly he embraces it in the coming months.
A bit of strange news from the Jayhawks trying to make it in the NBA Draft circuit that surfaced late last week received a little clarity on Monday.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello, who is in Colorado Springs covering the USA Basketball tryout for the U18 Men’s National Team that will be coached by KU coach Bill Self, got a chance to talk with Self over the weekend about former Kansas guard Lagerald Vick’s decision to pull his name out of the NBA Draft pool.
Vick, as his mother, LaLa, told the Journal-World on Friday night, is considering a whole host of options now that the NBA Draft is officially out of the running, and exploring a potential return to KU is, at least in some small way, one of them.
When Vick declared he was leaving Kansas after his junior season in early April, both he and Self said they believed the time was right for Vick to move forward with his professional career. And that is still the overwhelming favorite for what will happen with Vick this summer, be it in the G League or some other professional endeavor.
“Lagerald and I talked at the end of the season, and it was a situation where he was going to do his best to prepare himself and put himself in position to stay in the draft," Self said Saturday. "And if he didn't stay in the draft, there was certainly the option for him to transfer. I haven't made a final decision on the situation, but the talk we had at the end of the season would be that he would go somewhere else if he decided to stay in school. That was something we talked about; we kind of agreed on that.”
Although Self sort of left the door cracked to at least entertain the idea of a Vick return to Kansas, all signs point to that being a long shot at best.
Yes, KU does have one scholarship still to give and, yes, Vick would immediately step in as the most accomplished and experienced player in a KU uniform, but Vick’s return to Kansas does not appear to be something Self is planning on in any way, shape or form.
“He should look into whatever he wants to do, or look into other schools or whatnot," Self told Borzello. “But there will be a point in time when I get back (from the USA Basketball stint in mid-June) that I'm sure we'll sit and down and we'll visit and talk about the situation. But I have not planned on having him back since the season was over.”
As for Self’s first few days out in Colorado Springs, which included trimming the roster down from 33 to 18, with six cuts still to go before the team heads to Canada for the FIBA Americas tournament, those close to him have said Self is having a blast during his head coaching debut with USA Basketball.
“He’s doing great,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said on Monday. “I was out there a couple of days ago and I think he’s really enjoying it.”
By “enjoying it,” Roberts made sure to point out he was not talking about some kind of basketball vacation, where his boss just gets to kick back and watch some of the best talent in the country get after it a couple of times a day and then head back to the hotel for some R & R afterwards.
“It’s quite a bit of work now,” Roberts said. “They’re going two-a-days and meetings at night and that stuff. And I think USA Basketball really wants this team to be good and do well and I think he’s enjoying it. I think he’s having fun.”
Here’s the thing about Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot, now a junior in his third year in the program, that makes it impossible not to like him.
He gets it.
And it’s not like, ‘Oh, he finally gets it now that he’s a junior and has grown up and figured it out.’ No. The guy has always got it.
From Day 1 of his freshman season throughout his sophomore year that featured everything from 1 or 2-minute outings to hearing his name called in the starting lineup in the NCAA Tournament, Lightfoot has known his role, played it well and not had any pretenses about deserving or expecting more.
That clarity and understanding was on full display again on Sunday afternoon, when Lightfoot spoke to a handful of media members about returning to campus for the start of summer workouts and the unofficial beginning of his third season as a Jayhawk.
By the time you reach your junior year, it’s only natural for your expectations to go up about your role, minutes and importance. And there’s no doubt that Lightfoot, as the most experienced Kansas basketball player in terms of games played (64), believes that he has what it takes to help Kansas win.
But he also understands that the most important part of the whole equation is that Kansas does win. Who makes that happen and how much they play is merely secondary.
That’s why Lightfoot said again on Sunday that the most important thing to him was doing whatever KU coach Bill Self wanted him to do to help the team have success.
Would he like to play 20 minutes a game? You bet. And after averaging 3.9 minutes per outing as a freshman and 14 minutes per game as a sophomore, a jump into the 20s during his junior season would not be that unreasonable of an expectation for most players.
But Lightfoot is not most players and Kansas is not most places.
The Jayhawks are absolutely loaded in the front court this season and because of that, it’s more likely that Lightfoot’s minutes will go down this year, compared to last, rather than go up.
He’s smart enough to understand that and tough enough to accept it.
While he was not asked about red-shirting this season during his Sunday meeting with the media, it does not sound like Lightfoot has discussed the idea with any of the KU coaches at this point.
If that’s the case, there are likely a couple of reasons why.
No. 1 — The 2018-19 season has not actually started yet and it would make perfect sense for Self to allow Lightfoot, a junior who has paid his dues and been a team player through and through, to at least have the opportunity to compete and show where he’s at throughout the summer and early fall. After all, while some of these KU newcomers sure seem to have higher ceilings, Lightfoot has the experience edge and might just surprise people.
No. 2 – If the Jayhawks really are going to play two bigs on the floor for the majority of the 2018-19 season, as their personnel would suggest they will, Lightfoot easily could be a factor in the rotation. Even if projected starters Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson wind up being backed up by freshman David McCormack and sophomore Silvio De Sousa, Lightfoot still could have an important role as a player capable of backing up both spots, which would be incredibly valuable in the case of extreme foul trouble or injury.
So while the talk out there about Lightfoot possibly red-shirting certainly makes sense — and, for what it’s worth, I do think that if he were asked to do it, he’d do so in a second — it also makes sense for Self and company to let the young man compete and show them what he’s got.
After all, Lightfoot has a real shot of being this team’s best leader and it’s much easier to lead when you’re actually playing.
Time and common sense will sort all of that out. But if there’s one concrete thing we know about the situation today it’s this: Mitch Lightfoot will do whatever is asked of him and whatever gives Kansas the best chance to win. That’s just how he’s wired.
Officially, Quentin Grimes’ first game under Kansas coach Bill Self is supposed to take place Nov. 6, when the Jayhawks face Michigan State in the annual Champions’ Classic in Indianapolis.
But by the time that game actually rolls around, Grimes may have as many as four or five games as a Self player already under his belt.
That’s thanks to the USA Basketball experience that both Grimes and Self are currently going through in Colorado Springs, in preparation for the FIBA Americas basketball tournament in Canada later this month.
Grimes, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018 who was ranked No. 8 overall by Rivals.com and signed with KU last November, was one of 33 players who tried out for the U18 Men’s National Team that will be coached by Self in the upcoming FIBA Americas event.
Having made the first cut, Grimes now gets another couple more days to see if he can get a couple more weeks with his college coach.
Grimes was one of 18 U18 hopefuls who survived the first cut, which trimmed the talent pool from 33 to 18. Self and company will have to cut six more players before they leave for Canada on Thursday and it’s not likely that Grimes will be one of them.
“Quentin is a very talented guy,” Self said in a recent interview with the Journal-World. “And the fact that we know we will be depending on him in big ways this year (at KU), I think it is going to be beneficial to him, if he's fortunate enough to make the team, to kind of be in a system that he understands and then he can kind of help with the other three freshmen (back in Lawrence).”
Put a different way, when asked during a conference call if the USA Basketball experience would be good for Grimes, Self said simply: “I don’t know how it can’t be good.”
“I love Quentin and I certainly hope he comes and plays extremely well, but I’m not approaching this as, he has an advantage over other guys because he’s coming to KU,” Self continued. “And he knows that. He’s going into a situation where he’s going to have to play, and I think those are all positives. ... To have the chance to play in a setting that is not an all-star-game-type setting, where you’re playing for something that’s very important to a lot of people, I think that definitely will help him moving forward and certainly get him prepared to compete when he gets (to KU).”
As for the rest of the group Self saw last week — a group that included, and still includes, more than a few KU recruits in the 2019 and 2020 classes — Self said being around all of those athletes was a memorable experience.
“We had 33 guys come here and all 33 competed hard,” Self said per @USABasketball. “We were all so impressed with how much it meant to all of them. But at the end of the day these 18 were the 18 who stood out the most and are certainly very deserving of the opportunity to continue. Now from this, they’ll each get a couple full days in order to show that they could be one of the 12 to make this team the best team it possibly can be moving forward into competition.
“It’s going to be difficult to get down to 12. Sometimes putting a USA team together is a little different than just looking at who can score the most points and who can get the most rebounds. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. But the 18 that were selected, we thinks give us a great pool of players to give us the best chance to win.”
Here’s a quick look at the 18 players still vying for a roster spot on this year’s U18 team in Colorado Springs:
• Cole Anthony, Briarwood, N.Y., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 4 overall per Rivals)
• Armando Bacot, Richmond, Va., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 17 overall per Rivals)
• Keion Brooks, Ft. Wayne, Ind., 4-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 35 overall per Rivals)
• DJ Carton, Bettendorf, Iowa, 4-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 30 overall per Rivals)
• Hunter Dickinson, Hyattsville, Md., 5-star C Class of 2020 (No. 18 overall)
• Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago, Illinois freshman PG
• Quentin Grimes, The Woodlands, Texas, KU freshman SG
• Kamaka Hepa, Portland, Ore., Texas freshman PF
• Matthew Hurt, Rochester, Minn., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 5 overall per Rivals)
• Trayce Jackson-Davis, Greenwood, Ind., 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 22 overall per Rivals)
• Josiah James, Charleston, S.C., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 15 overall per Rivals)
• Jalen Lecque, Teaneck, N.J., 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 9 overall per Rivals)
• Tyrese Maxey, Dallas, 5-star SG Class of 2019 & Kentucky commit
• Justin Moore, Hyattsville, Md., 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 57 overall per Rivals)
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bishop Miege, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 16 overall per Rivals)
• Anton Watson, Spokane, Wash., 4-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 82 overall)
• Mark Watts Jr., Detroit, 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 67 overall per Rivals)
• Coby White, Goldsboro, N.C., North Carolina freshman SG
Kansas coach Bill Self has been up to his ears in basketball evaluations during the past couple of days, but not in search of players to add to the KU roster in the Class of 2019 and beyond.
Instead, Self has been busy evaluating the 33 players invited to try out for the U18 USA Basketball team this week in Colorado Springs, where Self is making his debut as a head coach with the USA Basketball organization.
Before taking the team to Canada to compete in the FIBA Americas basketball tournament in mid-June, Self’s first job will be to trim the roster down from 33 to a group of finalists and, eventually, to the 12-man team that will compete for a gold medal.
Finalists are expected to be announced Saturday and the final cut will come a day or two later.
Earlier this week, Self discussed the USA Basketball experience with the Journal-World and made it clear that his No. 1 focus was to keep the gold medal streak alive. But there’s no denying that the chance to be around some of the best players in the 2019 and 2020 high school recruiting classes will not hurt Self when it comes to putting together his roster at Kansas in the coming years.
With that in mind, here’s a quick glance at some of the more intriguing names among the 33-man group vying to make the 2018 U18 squad.
• Quentin Grimes, Class of 2018 — By far the most interesting name from a Kansas perspective, Grimes, who signed with KU last November and will be a freshman and likely starter on the 2018-19 KU team, will get an early opportunity to be coached by Self for a couple of weeks if he makes the team. Given the fact that he’s one of just eight players from the 2018 class at the tryout, Grimes, a McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant, has a shot to be one of the top players on the team and his chances of making the final 12 are good.
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Class of 2019 — One of KU’s top targets in the 2019 class, Robinson-Earl’s presence in Colorado Springs can only help Self’s chances of landing him when the son of former KU player Lester Earl makes his college decision. Beyond that, though, Robinson-Earl is one of the top talents in the 2019 class and has a good chance of making the final roster on his own merits.
• Zion Williamson, Class of 2018 — Williamson may have picked Duke over Kansas during the recruiting process a few months back, but that does not mean Self will not get a chance to coach him. Williamson suffered a minor injury during his time on the all-star circuit but he appears to be fully recovered from that and should be a factor in competing for a spot in the final 12.
• Matthew Hurt, Class of 2019 — Versatile forward who the Jayhawks have liked and been recruiting for a long time should get a chance to shine in front of Self and could get an opportunity to see another side of the KU coach than he already has seen. Think of it as an extended recruiting visit.
• Bryan Antoine, Class of 2019 — A 5-star shooting guard in the Top 20, Antoine, who plays for the Mario Chalmers-backed Team Rio, is a 6-4, 170-pound teammate of Scottie Lewis' at Ranney Prep School in Tinton Falls, N.J., who is drawing the same kind of interest as his close friend.
• Scottie Lewis, Class of 2019 — One of just a few shooting guards in the top of Rivals' rankings, Lewis is a 6-4, 170-pound 5-star scorer from Tinton Falls, N.J., who is ranked No. 11 overall and holds 18 offers from all of the country's powerhouse programs. Also plays for Team Rio.
• Jalen Lecque, Class of 2019 — Ranked No. 9 in the class, Lecque is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound 5-star point guard who has more than two dozen of the country's top basketball schools pursuing him. KU assistant Norm Roberts is listed as the lead recruiter for Lecque, who hails from Arden, N.C.
• Cole Anthony, Class of 2019 — Ranked as the No. 4 player in the 2019 class, this 6-foot-2, 180-pound 5-star point guard from New York City is drawing major interest from Georgetown, Oregon, Pitt, St. John's, Kansas, Wake Forest and UCLA.
For those of you who might be interested in just what goes on at these events, consider it a little like one of KU's practices before last year's summer trip to Italy.
There's work to be done and a lot to install and get on the same page about, but it's not as if it's mid-February and a Big 12 title is on the line. Things will get to that point, of course, as the U18 squad gears up to go for a fifth consecutive gold medal later this month. But right now, with Self and his coaching staff trying to wade through all of that talent, it's more about getting guys as many reps as possible to see how they might fit in to what Self and company want to do.
With that end goal in everyone's mind, the team, after kicking off practices last night, will practice twice a day for the next six days, with Self trimming the roster to a group of finalists and later a final 12 in the coming week and that group leaving for the FIBA Americas tournament in Canada on June 7.
The news came out slowly and from a variety of places a little before 12:30 p.m., central time, on Wednesday afternoon.
So, officially, it will go down as KU big man Udoka Azubuike making a decision to return to Kansas with 11 hours to spare instead of at the 11th hour like his former teammate Svi Mykhailiuk a year ago.
But regardless of the timing or the circumstances surrounding each, in the end the decisions were the same — Azubuike, like Svi, wanted one more year at Kansas.
About 20 minutes after KU coach Bill Self confirmed to the Journal-World that Azubuike would return for the 2018-19 season, KU officials sent out a news release that included a few thoughts from Azubuike.
In it, he explained what went down during the past month and sounded like a young man eager and excited to make another go of it with the Jayhawks.
"I received good feedback from many sources around the NBA over the last month but in the end, after discussing with my family and coaches, we decided it would be in my best interest to return to Kansas for my junior year," Azubuike said in the release. "I want to thank the people in the NBA who gave me this opportunity. I believe it was an important step as I chase my dream to play basketball at the highest level. I'm looking forward to next season and can't wait to get to work with my teammates. Rock Chalk!"
As of Tuesday night, Self still was not fully aware of what Azubuike's decision would be. But the Kansas coach who is set to enter his 16th season with the program — and now has to be looking forward to it a lot more than he would be had Azubuike decided differently — said he never had any issue with the 7-foot center taking his time with the decision.
"He knows he's got to do it and why wouldn't he take the maximum amount of time to try to figure out what all the information is," Self said Tuesday night. "I think he's done that and I don't see anything negative about it."
Asked then what he was hearing from the NBA evaluators who spent time in the past few weeks looking into Azubuike's draft status, Self painted the picture of a player who had more than a few admirers.
"You know what I have heard? I've heard that people are really impressed," Self said. "He played well in Chicago. All our guys did. And I think the opinions people have of him are very, very high. There are a lot of people who think very highly of him and he also knew what his goals were going into the process and what he needed to find out to stay in the draft."
Clearly, those goals and that information were not provided and now Azubuike can flip the switch fully to focusing on his third season with the Jayhawks, which officially gets under way next week when the KU players report to campus for summer school and the start of summer workouts.
One of the biggest things Azubuike likely will hope to get out of his junior season involves his health.
After playing in just 11 games as a true freshman before a wrist injury sidelined him the rest of the way, Azubuike suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his left knee in early March, which caused him to miss KU's three games in the Big 12 tournament and play at less than 100 percent in KU's five NCAA Tournament games.
Seeing what he can do with a full season, along with the feedback he received from the NBA folks during the past month, would surely increase Azubuike's chances of entering the draft in 2019.
Azubuike started 34 games for KU in 2017-18, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game. His 77 percent field goal shooting led the nation and set a Big 12 single-season record. He also ranked eighth in the conference with six double-doubles and his 1.7 blocks per game were sixth in the Big 12. He was an All-Big 12 third team selection following the season and also earned a spot on the Academic All-Big 12 second team.
Azubuike has played in 47 games for Kansas, with 40 starts and an 11.1 points-per-game average. He has scored 20 or more points in seven of those 47 games, with each coming during his sophomore season.
The KU center from Nigeria takes career highs of 26 points (vs. Nebraska, Dec. 16, 2017) and 13 rebounds (at Texas, Dec. 29, 2017) into the rest of his KU career.
While the Kansas men's basketball program still has one scholarship to give in the 2018 recruiting class, Bill Self and the Jayhawks are making some solid progress on the 2019 class, as well.
Never was that more clear than earlier this week, when Class of 2019 point guard Tre Mann, from The Villages, Fla., included Kansas in his trimmed-down list of finalists that also included Florida and Tennessee.
Mann, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound four-star prospect, is ranked No. 37 overall by Rivals.com in the 2019 class.
Busy rehabbing an injured knee and trying to help his AAU team qualify for this summer's Peach Jam event, Mann recently talked to a couple of recruiting analysts about where he stands in his recruitment and had some flattering things to say about Kansas and Self.
“They have great guards that have come through there,” Mann told Russ Wood of Rivals site GatorTerritory.com. “They had guards with size, like tall guards, they have guards that can score from outside then they have another guard that’s also good at getting to the basket. So they were saying that I could be the guard with (incoming Class of 2018 point guard) Devon Dotson to score outside while he’s scoring inside. And really how much they know about developing players for the next level. We haven’t discussed any visits yet, we’ve just been talking and building relationships right now.”
In an interview with Pat Lawless of PrepCircuit.com, Mann added: “They told me that they will help me reach my goal, which is to get to the next level. I’ve seen them do it before with other players that are in the league now so I believe them. I know they are a really good program so why not have them in your top choices.”
Mann, who took two of his five official visits to Florida (May 1) and Tennessee (April 24) still has three visits remaining. Although nothing is on the schedule for a visit to Kansas, it seems like Mann would like to make the trek to Lawrence to take a closer look at the KU program.
Between his own AAU schedule and Self's duties coaching the USA Basketball U18 team during the first couple of weeks of June — Self leaves for training camp in Colorado Springs on Wednesday — the earliest Mann could set an official visit to Kansas would be late June.
But the playmaking point guard who is averaging 16 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists per game so far this AAU season said he was interested in a KU visit.
“It will probably be later on,” he told Lawless. “I don’t have any set dates, but I didn’t have any set dates for Tennessee or Florida. I kind of felt like I wanted to go and I just set it up.”
As for a decision date?
“I don’t have any time in mind right now,” said Mann. “I’m just going with the flow, but I think it could be after AAU season.”
Earlier this month, KU also made the Top 6 for five-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley, a 6-5, 170-pound North Hollywood, Calif., prospect ranked No. 26 in the 2019 class by Rivals.com. Included with Kansas in Stanley's Top 6 — announced on Twitter — were Arizona, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and USC.
It's not yet clear how many scholarships the Jayhawks will have to give in the 2019 class, but the KU coaching staff seems to be operating with the idea that it will have at least three or four scholarships available for 2019 prospects.
Those would come from at least a couple of early departures from a crop that includes Udoka Azubuike, if he elects to return for his junior year — the deadline for Azubuike to decide hits Wednesday — Dedric Lawson, Silvio De Sousa and incoming freshman Quentin Grimes. Self also could still have in his pocket that remaining scholarship in the 2018 class.