KU junior Jalen Wilson says Jayhawks’ current freshman class reminds him of the group he came in with in 2019
photo by: Emma Pravecek/Journal-World Photo
A couple of weeks after making the decision to return to Kansas for his redshirt junior season, KU’s Jalen Wilson noted that the freshman class the Jayhawks will go to battle with during the 2022-23 season reminded him a lot of the group he came in with as a freshman in 2019-20.
“Just long wings that can do different things and are really versatile,” he said. “I see really good things ahead.”
Other than true big man Ernest Udeh Jr., who figures to compete for minutes at the 5, those words perfectly describe current Kansas freshmen Gradey Dick, Zuby Ejiofor and MJ Rice, all players who can fill a variety of roles and play different positions.
Even though it was not that long ago, let’s look back to Wilson’s class, which is almost all gone now, to see what kind of shoes the current crew will be trying to fill.
Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. was a bit of a late get in the 2019 class and it was clear pretty early that he would redshirt his first season with the program.
Little Rock, Arkansas, guard Issac McBride was also in that class, but he didn’t stick around. So it’s basically down to Wilson, Christian Braun and Tristan Enaruna being the three guys who remind Wilson of this year’s gang.
Braun made an immediate impact and left KU after three seasons as a national champion and a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Enaruna transferred out, first to Iowa State for a year and then to Cleveland State, where he’ll play the 2022-23 season.
Wilson, of course, wound up redshirting that year, too, but only after suffering a broken ankle in the second game of the 2019-20 season.
His potential was evident to those around him early on, though. Former Wilson teammate Ochai Agbaji, now a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, called Wilson “different” when talking about him getting the start in the first exhibition game of the season.
“He was already hype for it. He was excited and at the same time he was confident, too, and that’s something I respect about him,” Agbaji said at the time.
According to the recruiting sites, Wilson was the highest-rated prospect Kansas signed in the 2019 class. But he was not quite in the same category as Dick or Rice, who were both five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans.
Dick is a 6-foot-8, 205-pound, sweet-shooting athlete whose offensive game is already pretty refined. He compares most favorably in this context to Braun in that he, like Braun a few years ago, is ready to play big minutes in his first. year.
Rice is a 6-5, 220-pound scorer who uses his physical frame and body control to score at all three levels. He compares most favorably to the 2019 version of Wilson and is probably more prepared for a bigger role today than Wilson was then.
And Ejiofor is a 6-9, 230-pound athlete who can play on the wing or down low. It’s still early, but he seems far bigger and more assertive than Enaruna was at any point during his time at Kansas. Minutes could be tough to come by because of the depth and talent ahead of him, which was the case for Enaruna in 2019, as well.
While the group Wilson came in with was asked to play only a small role on a loaded team, KU’s crew from the Class of 2022 could feature a couple of starters and likely will see three players — possibly even all four — land in the rotation.
Their pedigree, along with their talent and skill sets, is a big reason that Wilson believes the 2022-23 Jayhawks have enough to make another run at a national title next spring.
“I think it’s really good,” he said of KU’s current roster. “You look at the young guys, you look at the guys who were already here with us last year, I think there’s a lot of potential.”