Clemence getting back into action after ‘professional’ 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

When Zach Clemence returned to Kansas last offseason following a brief stint in the transfer portal and an ill-fated commitment to attend UC Santa Barbara, the agreement with head coach Bill Self was that Clemence would take a redshirt to work on his game, then emerge as a better player in 2024.

But, as KU saw key members of an already thin team miss time due to injury, did Clemence ever think about burning the redshirt?

“Every game,” he said. “Every game,” and then, after a pause, a third time for emphasis: “Every game.”

Put simply, “it sucked” watching from the sidelines, he said, but that was how it had to be.

“I think it was the best thing I could have done,” Clemence said on Sunday.

The 6-foot-11 forward from San Antonio, who had played about five minutes a game across his first two seasons in Lawrence, said he approached the mid-career redshirt year as “a professional thing” and that it went by extremely quickly for him.

“Every practice I still went in like I was about to play,” he said. “I think that’s what really helped me.”

He received uproarious praise from Self during and after the season and has emerged by all accounts as a significantly better athlete.

“He’s got a lot stronger, he got more physical, tougher, and just got more confident, in large part because he may have been stronger and tougher,” Self said at the team’s banquet in April.

Clemence said he’s up to 230 pounds, between 10 and 15 more than the weight he played at before. One particular focus of his training over the last year, he noted, has been playing without the ball.

The oft-cited issue with Clemence over the course of his KU tenure, and particularly since he returned to Lawrence a year ago, has been his positional fit.

On Sunday, Clemence said, “I feel like I’m a guy you could just plug in and do pretty much whatever you want,” which echoes a comment Self made in February on his “Hawk Talk” radio show: “I think Zach’s just a player. I think you can play him pretty much anywhere.”

On the other hand, Self has also said in fairly definitive terms, including at April’s banquet, that after previously playing Clemence at center at times, he now views Clemence as a 4-man, meaning KU would need to deploy him alongside someone like starting center Hunter Dickinson.

If that’s the case, expect the big men to fire away.

“I mean, he needs to shoot the ball. He’s great,” Clemence said of Dickinson. “For me, yeah, I’m going to shoot the thing if I can.”

Following the redshirt, Clemence has two years of eligibility left to play and, as he put it, he’s hoping to make them “two more great ones.”


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