Clemence honing strength, versatility during unusual redshirt year

Kansas forward Zach Clemence (21) puts up a shot during warmups prior to tipoff against Arkansas on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball player Zach Clemence, speaking on the “Hawk Talk” radio show Monday night, described the potential role he’s looking for next year as that of a “4-man that can help a team, whatever that is — shooting, passing, guarding, whatever that is, is something I can bring.”

His coach, Bill Self, quibbled with one part of the description: the positional label of “a 4-man.”

“I don’t know that I totally agree with that,” Self said. “I think Zach’s just a player. I think you can play him pretty much anywhere.”

A player for KU he has been and a player he will be, but this season he has spent off the court completely, as a redshirt. Clemence initially planned to transfer to UC Santa Barbara in the offseason before reversing course and agreeing to come back to KU. Since then, he’s spent games on the bench, but practices testing his teammates as part of the “red team” — KU’s scout team tasked with helping its starters and role players get better.

Self said Clemence is already seeing numerous benefits from the unconventional mid-career redshirt (the likes of which he noted had previously been undertaken by Brady Morningstar and Travis Releford).

“He’s a much more physically gifted, athletic, play-through-contact type player this year — I think Zach would agree with that — than he has been up until this point,” he said.

Clemence, a San Antonio native able to stretch the floor from his forward spot, played about five minutes per game across his first two seasons in Lawrence, shooting just 32.4% from the field while averaging 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 junior has been working on his defense and his strength and said Monday he’s up to 229 pounds.

He’s also proven “hard to guard, and he’s shooting it so well,” Self said.

The players tasked with going against him in practice, the likes of Hunter Dickinson (“real skilled, left, right, fade, head fake, spin, he’s got a lot of things to him,” Clemence said) as well as Clemence’s classmate KJ Adams, are making Clemence better in the process.

“He’s gone so far in the right direction, just from everything from shooting to defense to just really knowing his role,” Clemence said of Adams. “It’s crazy to see, knowing that we didn’t play much our freshman year, now he’s doing literally everything.”

That improvement from Adams created a scenario, Self said, where Clemence and Adams could theoretically play alongside each other despite playing the same position on paper.

That could come into play next season, as both players retain eligibility, and KU will need as many spots as possible to disperse its supposed post players with Flory Bidunga coming in and Dickinson potentially returning.

The fact that Self considers Clemence positionally versatile is an encouraging sign for his development given that upon his return in June, Self lamented that “he hasn’t been utilized in a way that best suits his own skill set” because his “prototypical 4-man” talents clashed with the sort of guard that KU prefers to use at that spot in the lineup.

Clemence’s unseen improvement prompts the question of how useful he could be to a squad currently struggling with a lack of bench production.

“I’ve talked to him about it all the time — ‘Ah, what a mistake. We shouldn’t ever have redshirted him,'” Self said. “But it was best for him and that was what we had talked about the entire time before he got here this summer. But he’s made the most of this. His future is bright.”

Self also made sure to note that he doesn’t think it’s been “bad for us,” the team, “even though you can look out there and say ‘God, we could use another perimeter shooter and this or that,’ which we can.

“But the reality of it is, what’s best over time, I think, is exactly what he’s doing.”


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.