Freshman guard Gradey Dick’s reemergence at Baylor a small silver lining for struggling Kansas

Kansas guard Gradey Dick (4) drives the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

On Monday night in Waco, Texas, the Baylor Bears did to Kansas freshman Gradey Dick what the teams that faced him in the few games leading up to Monday did with a fair amount of success.

They kept him from going off from 3-point range.

So rather than stay on the wing, firing away with the belief that the next one would go in, Dick attacked the basket.

The result left him one point shy of tying his career-high of 25 points and gave the 9th-ranked Jayhawks what they sorely had been missing during their three-game losing streak — another scorer besides junior forward Jalen Wilson.

Dick drilled two 3-pointers early in the game, but finished just 2-for-5 from long range after Baylor adjusted on the defensive end. With the Bears chasing him off the 3-point line, Dick had to prove he can make things happen in a different way.

So he looked to drive more frequently and emphasized getting to the rim when it became available. Dick scored 11 points at the rim, according to Synergy Sports Technology, a basketball analytics service. Monday’s game actually marked the most points Dick has scored at the rim in a game this season.

The play that best illustrated this was a transition sequence at the 16:15 mark in the second half. Dick caught the ball on the right wing and pump-faked his defender, blowing by Baylor freshman Keyonte George to his right. Dick met another Baylor defender at the rim, converting a layup through contact for the and-one play. It was one of six free throws on the day for Dick, thanks to his aggressiveness.

Dick’s reemergence did not lead to a Kansas victory. But it did give the Jayhawks confidence that the freshman who is enjoying one of the best rookie seasons in Kansas basketball history still has plenty left in the tank.

“I thought he did fine,” KU coach Bill Self said after Monday’s loss at Baylor. “It was probably his best offensive game that he’s had in the last couple of weeks.”

And it came after he combined to shoot 3-of-16 from 3-point range in losses to Kansas State and TCU last week. Against Baylor, Dick hit two of five from long range, giving him 50 3-point makes on the season and tying him with Brandon Rush for sixth place on KU’s all-time list of 3-pointers made in a season by a freshman.

The fact that he still has at least 12 games remaining this season — and the potential for as many as 19 — puts Jeff Boschee’s freshman record of 79 3-pointers by a KU freshman in real jeopardy.

The Jayhawks would like to see Dick get there, of course. But they know he won’t be able to get there alone.

“I definitely think that we have to help him,” KU junior Jalen Wilson said after Monday’s loss at Baylor. “Everyone knows that he’s a great shooter and they’re not just going to let him get open shots. I think today was great for him to make some shots.”

Both Wilson and Self noted Monday night that they’ve seen a shift in the way teams have attacked Dick defensively.

“We didn’t get a lot of good looks,” Self said. “But we drove the ball and got to the hole more. They took Gradey and Jalen away behind the arc pretty well tonight.”

Added Wilson: “Guys are not just going to let him walk into 3s. They respect him enough that they’re going to make him put the ball on the ground and things like that. It’s on me and other guys to get him through those kinds of things.”

Dick did some of that on Monday against the Bears, but benefited most from back cuts that led to dunks and layups.

The more he makes plays like that, the more it will open things up for him on the outside. And Wilson said being able to do both would be big for the Jayhawks as a whole.

During the first two games of the losing streak, Dick went a combined 3-for-16 from long range and 7-for-26 from the floor. His offensive impact was minimal after the 3-ball was taken away from him, but that certainly wasn’t the case on Monday. Dick never stopped moving, and he was rewarded for it.

In the Baylor loss, Dick went 8-for-13 from the floor. It marked the most shots he has made in a game since he went 8-for-12 against Indiana on Dec. 17.

“On the defensive side they might be face-guarding, but that’s just stuff we’ve got to figure out,” Dick said. “There is always going to be something we can do differently, whether it be get face-guarded and get other guys open or just driving.”

Baylor has been the worst defense in the Big 12, so this was always an opportunity for Kansas to figure some things out on the offensive end.

Dick learned that he can make some things happen off the bounce. His teammates now have a better understanding of what they can do to keep Dick involved on the offensive end. And it changes the overall outlook of KU’s offense in the process.

“For sure. That’s why we’ve got to get him more shots,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to look to screen for him more. When he’s hitting, guys are coming out to the arc and we’re able to drive by and it definitely helps our offense.”

Regardless of how Dick gets his points or how easily they come, the KU veterans remain impressed by how well he has carried himself through his first run through the always-tough Big 12 Conference.

“He’s doing great,” said KU senior Kevin McCullar Jr. “I know it’s hard as a freshman. I remember my freshman year in the Big 12; it was rough on me. But he’s doing a great job. He’s getting the best defender every night out there chasing him around. I think he’s doing an excellent job and he’s keeping a level head and he’s competing on both ends of the floor.”

— Shane Jackson contributed to this report.


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