A look at the short and long-term fallout from Ernest Udeh’s decision to enter transfer portal; all of KU’s 2022 recruiting class now gone

Kansas center Ernest Udeh Jr. (23) makes his way off the court as the Arkansas players celebrate following their 72-71 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

And now there were two left — or, perhaps, none, depending on who you are counting.

With the news that Kansas big man Ernest Udeh, Jr. has hit the transfer portal, KU has just two scholarship players from last year’s team set to return next season. Or, another counting exercise shows that KU’s entire 2022 recruiting class of Gradey Dick, MJ Rice, Zuby Ejiofor and Udeh have all left the program.

Dick, of course, left via becoming a budding superstar who has entered the NBA draft and is projected to be a first-round pick. The other four have all decided that Kansas may be a blue blood, but the transfer portal leads to greener pastures nonetheless.

Udeh announced on Thursday that he would enter the transfer portal. The immediate impact for Kansas is the loss of a player who averaged just 2.6 points per game, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 blocks, while averaging about 8 minutes a game off the bench in his freshman season.

Losing that production is not a killer for Kansas. It is the loss of the potential, though, that was causing some fans and analysts who follow the KU program to groan.

“I think it is possible that he becomes the most dominant defender in college hoops,” CJ Moore, college basketball writer for the Athletic, said via Twitter. “Also, one of the best lob finishers around. Puts constant pressure on the rim. Love his potential.”

Indeed, Udeh was a rim-rattler for KU. Last season his 76% field goal percentage was tops on the team.

His pedigree coming to Kansas also was highly regarded. He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Orlando, Florida where he averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds a game for his high school team. Of course, he also has what you can’t teach. He checks in at 6-foot-11 and is equipped with a 250-pound body that can drop anchor in the lane.

All that said, though, Udeh did not play his way anywhere close to coach Bill Self’s starting lineup, despite KU having a real lack of size on the floor. Udeh couldn’t surpass 6-foot-7 KJ Adams, Jr. for the bulk of the minutes available at KU’s big man spot in the rotation.

Thanks mainly to TV timeouts, a combined 23 penalties and 48 incomplete passes — two dozen by each team — the game lasted three hours and 45 minutes, or 45 minutes longer than the non-televised home opener against Tulsa and a half-hour longer than the 63-14 win over Toledo, another game that wasn’t on TV.

That competition, though, became moot the moment that KU landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson in the transfer portal. The 7-foot-1 Dickinson was widely regarded as the top player in the transfer portal, bring with him averages of 18.5 points and 9 rebounds per game.

Dickinson widely is expected to get 30 to 35 minutes of playing time per game for the Jayhawks next season, which means that the best case scenario for Udeh likely was that his minutes would stay the same. Worst case scenario was that his minutes could be drastically cut, especially if Self decides not to use a lineup that features both Dickinson and Adams on the court at the same time.

It was unclear how Self was going to structure next year’s lineup — and it still is — but Udeh’s departure may have the most impact on lineup flexibility. Similar in size, there was a thought that Udeh could make a natural backup for Dickinson when he needs a breather or gets in foul trouble. That scenario would have freed up Adams to play more of a true forward or No. 4 position on the court.

Now, there’s a chance that Adams may have to be the primary backup to Dickinson. That brings up another question: How well will KU make in-game transitions from being a team anchored by a 7-foot-1 center one moment to being a team that has a 6-foot-7 forward trying to play the role of big man the next?

Such transitions can be tricky for a team to make, but in fairness, they also can be tricky for your opponent to adjust to defensively. With three scholarships left to give, Kansas was also in the running to pick up Mackenzie Mgbako, the No 8-ranked high school player in this year’s class.

Mgbako ultimately chose Indiana, but none of that mattered to Udeh. The likely scenario of limited minutes next season made the short-term math on this transfer pretty easy. The more interesting calculations come with the longterm equations. Udeh was just getting his KU career started. While Dickinson — though he technically has two years of eligibility remaining — is largely expected to be at KU for just one season.

That’s where the transfer portal — and the money involved with Name, Image and Likeness deals — is the changing the traditional calculations.

Several former KU players and analysts took to Twitter and social media in the hours after Udeh’s announcement commenting on how much everything has changed in the college basketball world.

“KU gonna be a revolving door for players, I think,” former four-year KU player Jamari Traylor said via Twitter. “Might have to get used to the window for having your favorite player on the team being only one or two years now.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that the system won’t work out in KU’s favor. Some players said the new reality is that a coach’s ability to bring the personalities of a team together in a short period of time will be more important than ever.

“Yearly roster overhauls are going to become more of the norm,” former KU player Mitch Lightfoot said via Twitter. “The key to success is going to be how do you get a team with 13 new guys to gel like they have been together for the past three to four years. High level coaches will be able to make it work.”

With Udeh’s pending transfer, KU now has had eight players leave via the transfer portal: Bobby Pettiford (East Carolina), Cam Martin (Boise State), Zach Clemence (Santa Barbara), Joseph Yesufu (Washington State) and MJ Rice (North Carolina State), while Kyle Cuffe and Zuby Ejiofor have not yet selected schools.

In the cases of Martin, Clemence, Rice, Cuffe and Ejiofor, each had limited playing time for the Jayhawks, and how much that would change next season was unclear.

That may be the biggest change in this new era of college basketball — patience is a long gone virtue.

“Welcome to the new reality of college basketball,” college basketball writer Isaac Trotter wrote on 247 Sports. “Waiting one year for a big role is a tough sell. Waiting two years? Good luck.”


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