‘Up in the air’ whether Kugel will come to KU, Self says

photo by: AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Florida guard Riley Kugel (2) walks off the court after a first-round college basketball game against Colorado in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 22, 2024, in Indianapolis. Colorado won 102-100.

The Kansas men’s basketball staff began what turned out to be an impressive run in the transfer portal back on March 31 when it earned the commitment of former Florida wing Riley Kugel.

KU went on to earn commitments from — and, importantly, sign to financial aid agreements — guard Zeke Mayo (South Dakota State) and wings AJ Storr (Wisconsin) and Rylan Griffen (Alabama).

Now there is some question as to whether Kugel, whose analogous signing has not been announced, will make it to campus at all.

In an interview with the NCAA’s Andy Katz, published Monday, Self began by explaining how KU sought to address its weaknesses in the portal (weaknesses that, as he’s said, include perimeter shooting, athleticism and depth): “I don’t know that we’ve addressed every one of them, but for the most part I think we’ve done a pretty good job, with Zeke Mayo and Rylan Griffen, obviously, and AJ Storr.”

He continued, though, by making a reference to Kugel, the first time he has discussed the Orlando, Florida, native publicly: “We also got a commitment from a young man from Florida, Kugel, Riley Kugel, that it’s up in the air whether or not Riley will come, but certainly those other three we feel really good about.”

Self didn’t elaborate further to explain the uncertainty of Kugel’s commitment.

A highly athletic scorer, Kugel experienced a bit of a downturn during the 2023-24 season after a promising first year that got him NBA Draft buzz and Southeastern Conference all-freshman honors. His sophomore year at Florida saw him get gradually moved way down in the rotation; he finished the season averaging 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

As he told Shay Wildeboor of JayhawkSlant.com, Kugel dreamed of going to KU growing up and lived in Overland Park for part of his childhood.

“I mean, it was kind of a no-brainer,” he told Wildeboor. “Once I had the opportunity to play for Bill Self, it was a no-brainer.”

Self said in the interview with Katz that he felt Kevin McCullar Jr.’s injury last season dropped KU from “five legitimate starters to four,” and mentioned some of the ways the Jayhawks tried to tinker with their rotation to have a particular five play 35 minutes together on the floor.

“I don’t want to have to think like that again,” Self said. “I want eight starters.”

He elaborated with a comparison to reigning two-time champion UConn: “Connecticut had their main guys. There’s no doubt. But you could bring a guy off the bench and rest somebody for a certain period of time, whether it be in the pivot, or whether it be a rotational guard or whatever, and there’s not a drop-off.”

How Kugel figures into that picture is now unclear. The Jayhawks return starters KJ Adams, Hunter Dickinson and Dajuan Harris Jr., as well as a previous starter in Elmarko Jackson, and have added Griffen, Mayo and Storr in the portal.

The uncertainty of Kugel’s commitment does explain why KU has continued to recruit in the portal even as it approaches its apparent scholarship limit. Without him, the Jayhawks would have just 11 scholarship players locked in. A reported target, UTSA transfer Jordan Ivy-Curry, narrowed his list down to Auburn, UCF and Wake Forest on Monday, according to On3.


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