~ Recorded Tuesday, May 2, 2017
* Recorded the afternoon of Tuesday, April 11, before the men's basketball banuqet.
- Recorded Tuesday afternoon, before the men's basketball banuqet.
Former Kansas walk-on C.B. McGrath, who played for former KU coach Roy Williams from 1995-98 and then spent the next 18 years as part of Williams’ coaching staff for four seasons at Kansas and the last 14 at North Carolina, is officially setting out on his own.
McGrath, a native of Topeka, who starred at Topeka West High, was officially announced as the next head coach at UNC Wilmington on Monday, a few hours before the Tar Heels knocked off Gonzaga to win this year’s national title.
McGrath will be introduced at the school on Thursday and, from there, will start chasing his former coach and boss’ incredible records which include more than 800 victories and three national championships.
"Ever since I began visiting the Wilmington area, UNCW has always been a dream job for me," McGrath said in a statement. "I've been following the program for some time. It's on the upswing, and we want to move it forward from there. I'm looking forward to the challenge and using what was accomplished the past two years as a springboard for the future.”
During his final season as a Jayhawk, McGrath was a team captain and lettered four seasons as a point guard under Williams. The Jayhawks were 58-0 at home during his career as a player and he played in 112 career games, scored 82 points and had 113 assists and 35 steals.
Although he was known throughout the area for tearing up the high school circuit before living out his dream of joining the Jayhawks, one of McGrath’s better known moments in crimson and blue came in December of 1996, when he played out the final few minutes of a 105-73 Kansas rout of UNC Asheville and drew a wild reaction from the crowd and the Kansas bench when his breakaway dunk attempt came up just short and caught the front of the rim.
With McGrath’s dunking days likely behind him, his new bosses at UNC Wilmington seem completely content to hand over a basketball program that has reached the last two NCAA Tournaments and six all-time to a man like McGrath, with playing and coaching experience at two of the top programs in the country.
“We’ve recruited an outstanding head coach to mentor these student-athletes for success on and off the court,” UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli said in a statement. “C.B. McGrath has been an integral part of North Carolina’s winning tradition, and I know he will bring us that same commitment to sportsmanship and excellence. Seahawk fans everywhere are looking forward to watching the team achieve even greater heights under Coach McGrath’s leadership.”
Although it wasn’t as hyped up or exciting as an NCAA Tournament game, I’m sure more than a few fans of Kansas basketball tuned into ESPN last night to watch five-star forward Billy Preston play in this year’s McDonald’s All-American Game.
Preston, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward with guard skills, started for the West squad which won the game by two and finished with 10 points and 3 rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-2 shooting from 3-point range.
Outside of a few highlight videos, which you can check out below, this was my first extended look at Preston, which I’m sure was the case for many of you.
A couple of things immediately stood out, some good, some bad. But before we get into them, it’s important to point out one thing — Billy Preston is not Josh Jackson. He never will be, they don’t play the same way and holding him to those standards or expectations for next year or beyond will only leave you disappointed.
That’s not to say Preston won’t impress. The guess here is that he will. Big time. But Jackson, with his maturity, effort, tenacity and all-around game, was a special player, one of those that does not come along very often. While Preston will be asked to fill some of the void left by Jackson’s likely departure, he will not do so in exactly the same manner. Simply put, he’s just not quite as quick or explosive as Jackson. But that’s not a knock. Very few players are. In fact, of all the players on the floor in last night’s McDonald’s game, none really seemed to match what Jackson brought to the table for 35 games for the Jayhawks during the 2016-17 season.
And while the fact that the KU freshman’s time with the program is already over is disappointing — Jackson has not announced his intentions yet, but it will be nothing short of a major shock if he decides to do anything but enter the draft — life will go on, the Jayhawks will be good again and Preston will be part of the reason.
So, quickly, let’s get into some of the things that stood out about Preston’s game during last night’s showcase.
The first and most obvious skill that caught my eye was Preston’s jump shot. That’s one area where he will have an edge on Jackson, at least in terms of how the shot looks; it remains to be seen if he’ll shoot 38 percent from 3 like Jackson.
Not only does Preston have legit 3-point range, but he looks good (and comfortable) shooting from deep and can both step into it on the catch and create the shot off the dribble.
His step back 3-pointer from the wing was impressive in two ways — 1. He maintained his balance and rhythm throughout the shot, and 2. His length created even more separation than a guard taking a similar shot would have been able to create. If he can get and hit that shot with consistency next season, he’ll be tough for anyone to handle.
Speaking of handles, Preston definitely looks comfortable handling the basketball on the perimeter, which should make him a weapon in multiple areas. As mentioned above, not only can he create his own shot off the bounce, but he also showed the ability to use both hands and attack the paint.
Don’t confuse “attack the paint” in this case for what you came to expect from Frank Mason III and Jackson this season. But for a 6-9 forward, Preston has impressive skills in this department.
One other thing about his ability to handle the ball that stood out was that it did not appear that he only put the ball down looking to score. On a couple of occasions, Preston drove to pass, which was impressive in a game that usually does not include much passing.
A couple of other things I liked about Preston’s night: He looked comfortable in the high post area, which, if used their often, would make him a handful for opposing defenses; he was active on the glass and showed a knack for hustling and being around the ball and he always appeared to be in control of his movements while playing a fairly cerebral game.
In playing alongside 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, who picked Arizona over KU, you got a small taste of what it might be like for Preston to play with KU 7-footer Udoka Azubuike next season.
This was particularly interesting to watch on the defensive end, where Preston was able to use his length and athleticism to roam around and create problems for the offense while Ayton held it down in the lane.
Because Ayton and Azubuike differ so much as offensive players — Ayton’s a perimeter player in a 7-foot body and Azubuike loves to do his damage as close to the rim as possible — we didn’t learn much about how the two Jayhawks might work together on the offensive end, but there’s no doubt that their size and length will give KU coach Bill Self plenty of options there.
Like any high school senior or incoming freshman, Preston is not without his areas that need work. And a couple of those surfaced Wednesday night, as well.
I thought he could’ve moved a little better without the ball on offense and too often appeared to be watching the player with the ball, waiting for and expecting a pass to come his way. That makes sense for a player who is used to being the focal point of his offense wherever he plays, but won’t fly at Kansas.
And even though he was willing to share the ball, some of his decisions and passes weren’t exactly the best. My guess is that at KU this won’t hurt him too much because he won’t have the ball in his hands a ton looking to create plays for others. Instead, he’ll operate within the offense and be put in a position to make plays himself, with the only passes being extra passes for easier shots for teammates or basic ball movement stuff, both of which are areas he’s fully competent.
After signing Preston last November, Self compared him a little bit to Marcus Morris and added that he did not remember having the opportunity to coach a taller, more skilled big man.
Beyond that, Preston’s size and strength, which should only improve in the months ahead, make him a candidate to do whatever is needed down low when he’s not dominating on the perimeter.
With KU’s roster still a work in progress for the 2017-18 season — with both guys deciding if they’ll return and the coaching staff recruiting more players — it is not yet known exactly what style and system the Jayhawks will utilize next year.
What is known, though, is that, with a player like Preston on board, Self and his staff will have a ton of versatility and plenty of options.
Arrivederci, Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas Jayhawks are headed to Italy.
Long after the current Kansas men’s basketball team wraps up what has been an amazing 2016-17 season, the encore edition of those players who remain, along with any newcomers in the fold, will make a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for four exhibition games in Italy this summer.
The trip, which is slated for four games on Italian soil — two in Rome and two in Milan — will take place in early August and will be like past foreign trips taken by Kansas, which also has traveled to Canada, Switzerland, France and South Korea in recent years.
KU’s Williams Education Fund has put together travel packages for active members interested in joining the Jayhawks overseas, and the packages include tickets to all four games, air and ground transportation, hotel accommodations, guided tours, a reception with the team and more.
While the trip offers a wonderful chance for fans to explore Italy with a Kansas flare, the week-long escape to the heart of Italy (July 31-August 8) represents an opportunity for what figures to be a new-look team to come together on the basketball court, as well.
The Jayhawks are certain to lose seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas to graduation. Freshman Josh Jackson is likely NBA bound. And KU coach Bill Self has said that he expects both juniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk to at least test the NBA waters. Positive feedback from the pro ranks about their draft stock could lead to the departure of either or both of those players, as well.
The Jayhawks will have transfer guards Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe eligible to play in Italy and also should have big man Udoka Azubuike back in the mix from his injured wrist.
A trip like this will give that trio, along with newcomers Marcus Garrett, Billy Preston and whoever else Self signs in the 2017 recruiting class an opportunity to develop some chemistry and get used to playing together a couple of months before the official kickoff of the 2017-18 season.
KU’s games in Italy are scheduled for Aug. 2 and 3 in Rome and Aug. 5 and 6 in Milan.
For more information, contact the Williams Fund.