Posts tagged with Ku

A closer look at new KU big man Udoka Azubuike

All right. By now, you guys surely know how these highlight videos work.

They're exactly that. Highlights. You don't see the mistakes, the benchings, the rough stretches or the moments of confusion and missed steps. And, frankly, with most of the top high school prospects, guys who dominate the competition because of their superior size, athleticism and skills, there are not a ton of games that produce anything but highlights.

Such seems to be the case with Udoka Azubuike, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound center from Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, who moments ago announced on ESPNU that he would play his college ball at Kansas University.

The five-star Azubuike is the No. 27-ranked player in the Class of 2016 and the top-rated center and he chose KU over UNC as his finalists but also seriously considered North Carolina State and Florida State.

His addition to the KU program not only gives KU an exciting prospect to look forward to in the future, but also someone Jayhawk fans can salivate over right now. That's because, if it were allowed, Azubuike absolutely would be able to suit up and help this program today. He might not be a star, mind you (we've learned our lesson there, right?) but with that frame, he certainly would help.

At 6-11, 260, he's considerably bigger than anything the Jayhawks have down low today, standing an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than the Jayhawks' biggest body (6-10, 240-pound Landen Lucas).

Beyond that, Azubuike plays a style that none of KU's current players seem to be able to play. In short, he likes to dunk and he likes to dunk very, very hard.

Like most of you, I have not actually seen Azubuike play. But I have watched plenty of film on him and have been impressed by how well he moves. Sure, in these highlights, you're mostly treated to an endless buffet of Azubuike dunking the ball with authority and anger — and let's face it, KU could use some of that — but in some of the clips (and even when you're watching him hurt the rim) you can see how well this guy moves on his feet, how well he runs the floor, how good his balance is and how you could see him turning into a handful in the paint with the proper training.

He figures to get that and more at Kansas and his arrival will be one of the more exciting things to look forward to before the 2016-17 season.

Now that you've watched those, I want you to take a look at this gem I found — God bless the Internet — that was taken when Azubuike was just 14 years old.

He stood 6 feet, 10 inches tall and already showed strong affection for the slam dunk.

The thing I want you to pay attention to in the following clip is not his ferocious form or how mind-blowing it is that a 14-year-old can dunk like that, but instead look at his frame.

Watching this clip and then watching the one above shows you just how much Azubuike's body has developed in the past few years. And that's without the help of Andrea Hudy. Imagine what the KU body-shaping guru will do with this guy when he gets here.

Finally, for a little better perspective on Azubuike's actual skills and talent, here are a couple of videos where you can actually see Azubuike go up against players of similar size and skill.

In the next couple of videos, Azubuike is facing off against DeAndre Ayton, the No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2017.

In the first one, Ayton is No. 0 in black and Azubuike is No. 35 in white. In the second clip, Ayton is No. 92 in white and Azubuike is No. 105 in red.

Here's another one, from 2014, of Azubuike going up against Stephen Zimmerman, who last year chose UNLV over Kansas.

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Former Jayhawks Harris, Talib Super Bowl bound

After missing out the last time around, former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris will represent the Denver Broncos and KU football in Super Bowl 50. (Photo courtesy John Maestas, Facebook)

After missing out the last time around, former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris will represent the Denver Broncos and KU football in Super Bowl 50. (Photo courtesy John Maestas, Facebook) by Matt Tait

Former Kansas University cornerback Chris Harris is headed back to the Super Bowl. And this time he'll be playing.

Harris, the fifth-year pro who joined the Denver Broncos after going undrafted following his four-year career at KU, joined fellow former Jayhawk Aqib Talib in playing a huge role in Denver's 20-18, AFC Championship victory over New England on Sunday.

Dubbed by many as the top starting cornerback tandem in the NFL, Harris and Talib came up huge time and time again in the fourth quarter as Patriots QB Tom Brady tried to rally his team to a tying score.

Both players came up with crucial fourth-down stops inside the final five minutes and it was Talib's deflection of Brady's two-point conversion pass attempt that sealed the game for the Broncos, who are headed to their second Super Bowl in three seasons and eighth all-time.

Two years ago, following a record-setting season by the Denver offense, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl but were drubbed by Seattle in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls of all-time. Harris watched from the sideline during that one, unable to play because of an injury he suffered during the playoff run.

Talib, who is now in his second season with the Broncos, watched that one from home as he spent that season with New England and was part of a different Patriots team that lost the AFC title game in Denver.

Now, in two weeks, with Superman QB Cam Newton firing the passes, the former Jayhawks will try to do what they did in 2008 at Kansas — finish their season with a victory.

For Harris, the trip back to the big game represents an opportunity to experience the Super Bowl in an entirely new way. Two years ago, with the game played in New York, Harris was celebrated for his contributions with the team but did not participate in the same experiences as his teammates from everything to game planning and practicing for the big game to media day and even traveling with the team to the Big Apple.

Former KU cornerback Aqib Talib preps for an interview on the field following Denver's AFC title game victory on Sunday. (Photo courtesy David Beaty)

Former KU cornerback Aqib Talib preps for an interview on the field following Denver's AFC title game victory on Sunday. (Photo courtesy David Beaty) by Matt Tait

For Talib, the former first-round pick who will be making his first trip to the Super Bowl, the opportunity provides him with the kind of stage he was born to be on. Not only will Talib be playing in the biggest game of the season against the league's likely MVP, but he also will get two weeks to offer soundbites and entertainment that surely will not disappoint.

And for Kansas, a football program struggling through one of the roughest rebuilds in college football history, having two former Jayhawks start for the league's best defense in the Super Bowl provides head coach David Beaty and company with a little extra juice on the recruiting trail, particularly because Harris and Talib, out of high school, were unheralded, lowly ranked prospects similar to the types of players KU is recruiting and hoping to rebuild with today.

Beaty was on the sideline in Denver on Sunday — the guess here is that having the son of Denver's head coach on his staff helped him land the sideline pass — and he wisely made his presence known on various KU football social media sites by celebrating the performance of the two former Jayhawks.

That won't win KU any games in the near future, but it sure won't hurt to have two of the key starters at one of the most visible positions in this year's Super Bowl announce “Kansas” as their school when they're introduced both at the game and on television.

Here's a link to a quick video of Talib's reaction to finally reaching the big game:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/denver-broncos/0ap3000000627717/Talib-on-Super-Bowl-berth-Man-it-s-about-time

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With Bledsoe OU-bound, the focus on KU’s D-Line shifts to Isaiah Bean

While Thursday's news that four-star defensive end and Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe had picked Oklahoma over Kansas certainly qualified as disappointing for the KU football program, all is not lost.

The Jayhawks, who threw all they had at the local standout and did everything humanly possible to land him, will move on and still have five spots to fill in the 2016 recruiting class.

Granted, none of them look as appealing today as Bledsoe and it's doubtful that any of them — or even all of them combined — could bring the same kind of lift and momentum to the program that Bledsoe picking Kansas would have. But what's done is done and crying about what could have been certainly will not do anything to help this rebuilding program improve.

Give Kansas credit for cracking Bledsoe's final two. Even if the Jayhawks did not get him, encouraging a player of that caliber to give the program a long, hard look eventually will be seen as a good thing.

Today, however, the news is pretty disappointing.

That said, KU coach David Beaty and company don't have time to sulk. They've got a handful of visitors lined up for this weekend and they'll start trickling in tomorrow. The last thing those kids need to see is a coaching staff that's bummed out over losing Bledsoe. And they won't. Beaty and his staff, no matter how hard they took this one, know that this is the way recruiting in the college football world goes. You win some, you lose some and you can't get too high or too low no matter what the outcome.

Here's a list of some of the most likely candidates to fill KU's five remaining scholarships in the 2016 recruiting class that we posted the other day.

But, for now, with the news of Bledsoe picking Oklahoma still so fresh, let's take a closer look at one in particular.

His name is Isaiah Bean and he's a two-star defensive end prospect from Houston.

Bean currently stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs just 210 pounds. But it's easy to see that with a year to red-shirt and the proper strength and conditioning, he could quickly add 20-30 pounds to his frame and be more prepared to operate as a speed rusher.

The Summer Creek High prospect listed by Rivals.com as an “Athlete” has shown his versatility throughout his career, playing both offense and defense, and working at various summer camps as both a defensive end and a wide receiver.

You can see his frame and athleticism in the videos below.

Is Bean a ready-made, Day 1 contributor like Bledsoe? Not a chance. Could he be an intriguing project that pans out in a couple of years and impacts the program in a positive way? You bet.

And, right now, with KU in need of a defensive end in this class to fill the void left by Bledsoe's decision to pick OU, Bean is definitely better than nobody.

Rivals.com lists KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux as the lead recruiter for Bean, who also visited Tulsa and UNLV and plans to visit Fresno State.

Bean is expected to visit Kansas during the next two weekends and also holds offers from Fresno State, Iowa State, Tulsa, UNLV, Illinois, UMass, Louisiana-Lafayette, Prairie View A&M, Texas State and UT-San Antonio.

In the mood for more? Here's a link to Bean's HUDL page, which features game videos from his 2015 season.

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/2581502/isaiah-bean

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Former Jayhawks Harris, Talib picked for second straight Pro Bowl

A pair of former Kansas University cornerbacks became the first NFL teammates to be selected for back-to-back Pro Bowls in 25 years.

Denver Broncos Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, who helped the Broncos field one of the league's top ranked defenses this season, earned the Pro Bowl nod for the second year in a row, the league announced Tuesday night.

Harris, the un-drafted free agent who has gone on to become one of the most productive and stingy cornerbacks in all of football, has started all 14 games for the Broncos this year and has totaled 52 tackles (43 solo), two interceptions (94 yards), four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

He becomes one of just five un-drafted cornerbacks in NFL history to make multiple Pro Bowls with his original team.

Like Harris, Talib, now in his second year with Denver, also has started all 14 games for Denver and has totaled a team-best three interceptions (123 yards, 2 TDs) and 13 passes defensed to go along with 38 tackles (33 solo).

Talib was picked to the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive season, as he also earned the honor in 2013 as a member of the New England Patriots. During his three-year run as a perennial Pro Bowler, Talib is tied for fourth at his position with 11 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns.

After having a league-best nine players selected to last year's team, Denver (10-4) had just four this season — pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware also earned the nod — and the once powerful Broncos' offense was shut out of the all-star showcase.

After another hot start, Denver has dropped two games in a row and seen its lead in the AFC West shrink to one game over the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs with two games to play.

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

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VIDEO: Gameday in Omaha - Let the wait begin

Here's a quick, on the road version of KU Sports Extra from the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska tonight at 8:30.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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VIDEO: Sights & sounds from the KU Volleyball Experience in Omaha

Here's a quick look at the venue and some practice scenes at the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where No. 9 overall seed Kansas (30-2) will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska (30-4) tonight at 8:30 in the second national semifinal.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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VIDEO: KU volleyball fitting right in at Final Four in Omaha

Here's a look back at what we learned on Day 1 of the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska tonight at 8:30.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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Penn State match in early 2014 gave KU volleyball first-hand look at what it takes

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard speaks with the team during a timeout Friday night in San Diego.

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard speaks with the team during a timeout Friday night in San Diego. by Megan Wood/Special to the Journal-World

Early last season, while several of this year's Final Four-bound Kansas University volleyball players were still freshmen figuring out how to adjust to the college game, the Jayhawks met up with defending national champion Penn State and 2013 NCAA tournament MVP Micha Hancock during a tournament in Philadelphia.

The Jayhawks lost, three sets to none, that day, but after being swallowed whole during the opening set, 25-10, did more than an admirable job of bouncing back and competing, falling in the next two sets, 27-25 and 25-23.

No one remembered the match as a close one — 3-0 sweeps are rarely viewed in that manner. But hanging in there with one of the nation's truly elite programs proved to be another mini-milestone on a wild ride that the Jayhawks have enjoyed during the past few seasons.

A little more than three months after that loss to Penn State, KU watched as Hancock and the Nittany Lions repeated as NCAA champions.

Today, just one year down the road, it's the Jayhawks who are two victories away from a national championship and that fact, given the context of having played Penn State a few months before they were crowned, has created a surreal vibe around the KU program all week.

“Oh, absolutely,” junior libero Cassie Wait. “That's been our word, surreal. Not that you never believed that you could do it, but each point even, each set, each game, it just gets that much more real — this is what we're doing, this is where we're headed, this is what our program stands for, this is who we are.”

A big part of the reason these Jayhawks have replaced Penn State in this year's Final Four — other than the fact that Hancock graduated and ended her run as one of the most dominant players in college volleyball — is the growth that those younger girls have experienced.

Setter Ainise Havili, though sensational as a freshman, is a much more mature, experienced and steady presence this season. Monster right-side hitter Kelsie Payne has transformed herself from a player with great potential into a player who can take over a match. And the girls who, as sophomores and juniors, were asked to be veterans a year ago — Wait, Tayler Soucie, Tiana Dockery, Janae Hall, etc. — actually are veterans this season.

Kansas players come together in celebration after scoring a point during their volleyball match against Kansas State on Wednesday evening at Ahearn Field House. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats in four sets to improve their record to 25-2 on the year.

Kansas players come together in celebration after scoring a point during their volleyball match against Kansas State on Wednesday evening at Ahearn Field House. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats in four sets to improve their record to 25-2 on the year. by John Young

That rapid growth, incredible chemistry and blatant talent inspired Havili to change her thinking from “maybe getting to the Final Four is something we could do junior or senior year” to “maybe this is something we can do now.”

“I remember playing Penn State really clearly,” Havili said. “And I remember looking at Micha Hancock and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this girl is so scary.' But a year later, I'm here, and it's not that scary any more. It's crazy to think how far we've all come and how much we've grown in one year.... All these games, how we practice every day, how we build together, it all adds up to what we're doing right now.”

Added Wait, when asked what she and the team learned from the experience of being on the same court as Penn State a season ago: “If we play for each other, if we're willing to make all of the sacrifices, then you give yourself the best chance of achieving big things. If you can take that on and truly play as a team, I think that gives you the best shot, and, one year later, look where we are.”

Kansas junior Cassie Wait dives to make a dig  during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep.

Kansas junior Cassie Wait dives to make a dig during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep. by John Young

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Unprecedented KU volleyball success a few years in the making

Kansas University volleyball players rush the court after their Elite Eight victory over USC.

Kansas University volleyball players rush the court after their Elite Eight victory over USC.

One of the coolest things about Saturday night's thrilling Kansas University volleyball victory over top-seeded USC in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament was the aftermath that followed.

No, I'm not talking about the eruption on the floor, the celebration in the locker room that included head coach Ray Bechard getting drenched with water or the looks on the faces and sounds in the voices of the girls who made history.

Don't get me wrong; those moments and so many others were all incredibly cool. What was even cooler, at least to me, was the outpouring of love that Jayhawks past and present showered this team with on Twitter and via text messages.

Former KU football standout Ben Heeney, not long after touching down in Denver for Sunday's Broncos-Raiders game, gave a shout-out to the volleyball team on Twitter. And several other former and current KU football players did the same. The official KU football Twitter account even acknowledged the team's intentions to show up for this evening's 5 p.m. homecoming celebration at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

In the basketball world, KU junior Wayne Selden on Twitter posted a photo of him watching the KU-USC match on his iPad on the bus ride home from the his team's own comeback victory at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Several other KU athletes, from golf and baseball to track and tennis, also took time to congratulate the KU volleyball team on its historic accomplishment.

Lost in the euphoria, however, might have been the experience of a few former KU volleyball players who helped make a night like Saturday happen.

Former Jayhawks Bri Riley, Erin McNorton, Chelsea Albers and Jaime Mathieu, who not long ago were the toast of the KU volleyball world for becoming the first crew to reach a Sweet 16, watched Saturday's upset of USC together and celebrated every point as if they were on the court or bench in San Diego. In many ways, they were.

See, those girls, along with about a dozen others, were the ones who made Saturday night possible. That's to take nothing away from the current team or coaching staff that went out and did the deed. This year's team, in just about every way, is more talented than that first Sweet 16 team of trailblazers who played every night with the kind of grit and joy you saw on display throughout the season from this year's squad.

Hmm. Wonder where this group of girls learned to play like that?

Not everyone on this year's team played with the Riley, McNorton, Albers, Mathieu, Caroline Jarmoc, Sara McClinton, Catherine Carmichael crew that broke through and put Kansas volleyball on the map to stay. But a few did. And that's what adds an extra dose of family feels to this incredible achievement.

Junior libero Cassie Wait learned from Riley and is now playing a lot like her. Junior middle blocker Tayler Soucie, as a freshman, played a huge role on that Sweet 16 team and learned the ropes while those girls were on their way out. Senior Tiana Dockery was a consistent part of the rotation for that team, and juniors Maggie Anderson and Janae Hall were around that group long enough to understand that Kansas volleyball had entered a new era.

Kansas University senior Tiana Dockery lets her emotions out after the Jayhawks' five-set victory over Southern Cal on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in San DIego.

Kansas University senior Tiana Dockery lets her emotions out after the Jayhawks' five-set victory over Southern Cal on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in San DIego.

“I think our class really set the new standard for Kansas volleyball,” Riley said Sunday while still buzzing over Saturday's result. “We all had the mindset that we wanted to make a difference for this program and not only leave our mark but also create a legacy of consistent dominant teams to follow and this year's group has certainly lived up to that standard.

“There is such a great sense of pride knowing that the success and hard work we put in and the coaching staff has put in is being carried through by this year's amazing team that has had a remarkable season. Everyone associated with the program is just so thrilled to watch the run these girls are on right now.”

Thanks to Saturday's stunner, that run is still going, and regardless of what happens in the next week, it figures to extend well into the future because of this team, the teams that came before it and the sky-high standard this program now holds.

The No. 9 overall seed Jayhawks (30-2) will play No. 4 seed Nebraska at 8:30 p.m. (central) Thursday in the Final Four in Omaha, Nebraska.

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Bledsoe decision similar to past KU football great Gilbert Brown

LHS senior Amani Bledsoe gives his signature salute (the Moose) after a sack in a 63-7 victory over Olathe South on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, at LHS.

LHS senior Amani Bledsoe gives his signature salute (the Moose) after a sack in a 63-7 victory over Olathe South on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, at LHS. by Richard Gwin

When news broke Friday morning that four-star Lawrence High defensive end Amani Bledsoe was making an official visit to the Kansas University football program this weekend, the question begged, how much of a shot do the Jayhawks really have at landing him?

Kansas coaches can't talk about Bledsoe — or any other recruit — in any way, shape or form, so we'll have to lean on a little history to examine the odds.

Should Bledsoe pick Kansas, he would become the highest rated recruit to ever sign with Kansas football. That alone would make him a part of KU history for life. From there, anything he did on the field simply would add to his legacy.

After looking at it a little closer, I can't help but see strong comparisons between Bledsoe and former KU great Gilbert Brown.

Like Bledsoe in Kansas, Brown was one of the most highly decorated players during his senior season at Detroit's Mackenzie High. Named Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year, the defensive tackle easily could have gone to in-state power Michigan or any number of other big time programs. Instead, he picked Kansas, where he helped build one of the best defenses in school history, was a part of the 1992 Aloha Bowl championship team and started all but two games during his four-year Kansas career before going on to enjoy a 10-year career in the NFL, where he won Super Bowl XXXI with the Green Bay Packers after being selected in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft, No. 79 overall, by Minnesota.

Gilbert Brown, left, and Khristopher Booth helped lead the 1992
Jayhawk defense.

Gilbert Brown, left, and Khristopher Booth helped lead the 1992 Jayhawk defense. by J-W file photo

Brown was in town for a KU game during the 2015 season, and I remember then asking KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen about his former KU teammate's path to Kansas.

Bowen said he used to ask Brown all the time why in the heck he chose to come to Kansas instead of joining the Wolverines and playing in front of 100,000 fans every Saturday. The answer, according to Bowen, was simple: Brown wanted to play for a program where he thought he could make a more immediate and meaningful impact and help build something out of nothing.

There isn't a more nothing program out there right now than Kansas, which just wrapped up an 0-12 season, and Bledsoe picking the Jayhawks could have the kind of impact that Brown choosing Kansas did for Glen Mason.

There's no doubt that the tall, lean and athletic 6-foot-5, 272-pound D-End would be in line for some serious playing time right away at KU. Heck, he probably could have logged some serious snaps for KU in 2015 as a high school senior.

Bledsoe has a final five of Baylor, Kansas, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Oregon. And he already has visited the other four programs. The fact that he chose Kansas as the place to take his fifth and final official visit — instead of picking some place like UCLA — shows just how serious he is about the Jayhawks. The fact that it is believed Bledsoe will be the only official visitor in town provides KU coach David Beaty and company a golden opportunity to put on the full-court press to convince Bledsoe that staying home is the right move for him. They might not fly planes around town pulling signs with Bledsoe's name and jersey number in crimson and blue, but you can bet that the 2015 all-state selection, Sunflower League MVP and recent Buck Buchanan Award winner will have the full and undivided attention of every KU coach and staff member in town this weekend.

From the sound of things, Oklahoma appears to be KU's biggest competition for Bledsoe. And isn't OU an awful lot like Michigan?

The only question left to answer now is whether Bledsoe is an awful lot like Brown.

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