How should KU approach its scholarship situation?

photo by: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Kansas head coach Bill Self, center, and his staff looks on during the second half of a second-round college basketball game against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 23, 2024.

The Kansas coaching staff has certainly not given the impression that it is done recruiting for its 2024-25 roster.

But should it be?

When KU was in the final days of recruiting Alabama wing Rylan Griffen, before he committed Friday, the school still made the top five for Dayton sharpshooter Koby Brea. And even in the days since, with Brea visiting other schools on his list and ultimately committing to Kentucky on Wednesday, the KU staff has also reportedly reached out to Miami transfer Wooga Poplar (per 247Sports), Mississippi State transfer Shakeel Moore (per On3) and UTSA transfer Jordan Ivy-Curry (per The Portal Report). And so on.

With incoming freshman point guard Labaron Philon recently released from his letter of intent, in theory it makes sense that the Jayhawks could want to seek out another guard. In practice, though, the Jayhawks already have 12 players on scholarship and would move up to 13 if Johnny Furphy withdrew from the NBA Draft process.

That’s the maximum, and KU has to surrender one scholarship either this year or next due to the last remnants of self-imposed penalties as part of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process.

It’s easy to say that because of Bill Self’s goal to increase his team’s depth, the Jayhawks should load up with 13 players this season. But with the sheer quantity of transfer portal acquisitions already on board — they are at four, and Self said he wanted three or four from the portal — plus a near-miraculous retention of all six scholarship players remaining from last season, there are almost too many mouths to feed as is. That’s a refreshing problem for KU to have after last season (remember when walk-on Wilder Evers came in for a play before halftime at Texas Tech?) but one that should still discourage further additions.

Returning starters Dajuan Harris Jr., KJ Adams and Hunter Dickinson will almost certainly retain their places in the lineup, meaning that between a reigning league player of the year who happens to be from Lawrence (Zeke Mayo), a top-notch scorer (AJ Storr), a reliable 3-point shooter who embraces the responsibility of defending the opponent’s best player (Rylan Griffen) and a talented athlete who did his best work when he was starting (Riley Kugel), Self will have to pick two more.

That will mean two high-level transfers, plus a former McDonald’s All-American who Self has projected to make a leap in his second season (Elmarko Jackson) and a recent McDonald’s All-American who is the consensus top center in the class of 2024 (Flory Bidunga), coming off the bench.

Self isn’t exactly known for giving considerable minutes to nine players as part of his rotation, let alone more than that — and Zach Clemence, Jamari McDowell and Rakease Passmore, particularly Clemence in his return from a redshirt, will undoubtedly make cases for time on the floor themselves.

What role could another transfer possibly fill?

The obvious answer after Philon’s departure would be for KU to go after a ball-handling guard. But given that Mayo has experience at the point and Jackson did some of his best work as a freshman with the ball in his hands, it’s not clear how many minutes would even be available in such a role, and how appealing of a pitch that might be, particularly for the sort of experienced player KU would typically go after in the portal.

Given that Clemence is a power forward and Bidunga will be undersized and inexperienced when he arrives in Lawrence, a backup center in the vein of last year’s Parker Braun might make sense, but by all accounts and reports Self’s staff hasn’t reached out to many of those since the portal opened. And again, that would mean pitching a veteran player on, at the absolute most, Braun’s seven minutes per game, without the added advantage of Braun’s family and social connections to KU.

Next season, KU will lose returners Adams, Dickinson and Harris to graduation, along with the transfer Mayo. It will be as important as ever for the Jayhawks to bring in and retain a robust freshman class. Thirteen scholarships could be quite useful to have at their disposal next season if the 12 they already hold this year are going to such competent and immediately ready players.

The exception would be if KU both knows for certain Furphy is not returning from the draft and also unexpectedly does not close its acquisition of Kugel, who committed on Easter but is the only transfer who has not yet signed a financial aid agreement (Griffen, in fact, signed one on the day he committed). If Kugel’s transfer somehow didn’t come to fruition, then KU would obviously need to add someone else barring an unexpected return for Furphy — although given that the Jayhawks have Storr and Griffen signed to play on the wing, they might not necessarily want to choose someone with the exact same positional fit as Kugel.

Barring that circumstance — and Kugel has given no indication publicly that such a circumstance would become reality — it’s harder to justify continuing to add when the opportunity to put the IARP fully in the past is right there. As Self said at the team’s banquet, “12 is enough, if you take care of your business.” The group of 12 KU currently has, especially, should be enough.


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