Jayhawks content fielding nine scholarship players — for now
Last year’s Kansas men’s basketball team had 13 players on scholarship, and its bench was widely considered one of its greatest weaknesses; the Jayhawks’ backups averaged just 10.89 points per game, one of the lowest marks in the country.
This year, with Zach Clemence still slated to redshirt after his unexpected return from the transfer portal (in what coach Bill Self called a “very fair” arrangement), and with Arterio Morris dismissed from the team last Friday, the Jayhawks will have just nine scholarship players available.
However, sixth-year senior and team leader Kevin McCullar Jr. still said Monday, “We’re going to be a deep team this year.”
“Everybody off the bench can come in and contribute,” he said, “everybody that’s out there that’s starting, you got to do what you’re supposed to do.”
Freshmen Jamari McDowell and Johnny Furphy are expected to join Santa Clara transfer Parker Braun and either fellow freshman Elmarko Jackson or Towson transfer Nick Timberlake on the Jayhawks’ shallow, but high-upside, bench.
“I think now, everybody’s just ready to take a new task,” forward KJ Adams Jr. said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more opportunity for people to show up.”
Self pointed out that he won’t give nine players a lot of minutes anyway; indeed, the coach is known for running a rather tight rotation. He did acknowledge, though, that injuries could cause problems.
“And I don’t know how you prepare for that now,” he said. “I’m not really into load management at this juncture of the season.”
But Self continued and brought up an intriguing possibility: “What we could do is be open to bringing somebody in at Christmas. You could do that and then you add some depth on the perimeter, and could eliminate some of that, if that’s an option. Right now, we’re certainly looking at that.”
He suggested that the staff could consider adding an international player, in particular, to reinforce the roster at midseason.
In the interim, while Jackson was always a favorite to contribute immediately, his fellow freshmen may have to pull additional weight. McDowell, a guard who will supply a nice mix of athleticism and shooting acumen off the bench, now won’t be an option to redshirt, Self said.
Adams, for his part, cited McDowell as a player who’s caught his attention during the preseason.
“Jamari hasn’t really been looked at a lot for a lot of things like that, he hasn’t got a lot of hype, but I think Jamari’s going to catch a lot of eyes this year,” Adams said.
The latest and most enigmatic addition to the KU roster is the Australian freshman Furphy, a breakout player over the summer who had initially reclassified to 2024 but returned to the class of 2023 following interest from powerhouse schools and picked Kansas while the Jayhawks were in Puerto Rico for their August exhibition tour.
Self, who once compared Furphy (now listed at 6-foot-9, 202 pounds) to a cross between past KU standouts Svi Mykhailiuk and Christian Braun, noted Monday that Mykhailiuk was just 16 when he committed to KU out of Ukraine, while Furphy is already 18. However, Furphy is still “young in the way that we do things over here.”
“But he’s very very bright, he’s got great feel,” Self said. “And physical strength would be the one thing that would probably hold him back a little bit if anything, just because he’s got a body like Svi. And Svi early in his career could get knocked around a little bit.”
His more experienced teammates have already been impressed by the skills he’s displayed in six short weeks on campus, as well as his personality; Adams called him “a really good character.”
“He’s been great, coming in and learning so fast,” McCullar said. “His basketball IQ’s on a whole ‘nother level. He’s going to be a great player for us this year. We’re definitely going to need him.”