Busy week of Kansas basketball departures a win-win for both sides

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) slaps hands with teammates as the starting lineup is announced prior to tipoff against West Virginia on Thursday, March 9, 2023 at T Mobile Center in Kansas City. Photo by Nick Krug

In the span of four days this week, four players who helped make up the Kansas men’s basketball team’s bench during the 2022-23 season made the decision to enter the transfer portal instead of returning to Kansas for another season.

There could be more where that came from, but, either way, this is great news for all parties involved.

For the players — good dudes with high character and the hope of untapped potential — it represents an opportunity for a fresh start with a new program, one that may better suit their specific skill sets and needs.

For the Jayhawks, it offers the chance to rebuild a bench that was in desperate need of a makeover. And, who knows; it might even open the door to more than that.

It’s not crazy to think that Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff will find a starter or two in the transfer portal this offseason. In fact, it might even be likely.

Even if they don’t, putting more experienced and proven commodities in key bench roles should help the outlook for the 2023-24 season tremendously.

The guys who are leaving never quite got to the point where they could be trusted. And that’s one of the most important traits for a bench player to possess.

Self has talked often about bench players not needing to come in and star or be standout performers but rather to enter the game and at least keep the game where it’s at for a few minutes. Maybe grow the lead, maybe not. But the goal of the reserves is always to keep the opponent from taking control so Self has the time he needs to give his starters a rest.

If not for foul trouble and fatigue, most coaches in America would play their five starters for all 40 minutes of every game. They’re starters for a reason, right?

But they need breathers, too. And, in the case of the 2022-23 Jayhawks, that concept applied as much to the mental side of things as the physical side of things.

In fact, I think KU’s inability to trust or develop its bench this season might have been a slightly overlooked reason behind KU’s season-ending loss to Arkansas.

That night in Iowa, a couple of KU starters looked to be wound a little tight and over-stressed, much more so than they had been throughout the season.

Part of that can be attributed to the stakes and the NCAA Tournament environment, but the other part, in my opinion, was because of the shortcomings of the bench.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if KU’s starters felt immense pressure to stay on the floor because of the fear of what going to the inexperienced and unproven bench might do to their chances.

That, in turn, forced them to play tight and with added pressure, and that, in turn, led to a few key breakdowns at crucial times, be them missed free throws, fourth fouls or what have you.

Look at last year’s title team, for example. Mitch Lightfoot and Remy Martin weren’t exactly world beaters all season long, but they were confident, reliable pieces (eventually) and the starters knew that both players would execute what was asked when they went into the game.

It wound up winning KU a title and both guys played an important role in making that happen.

You don’t have to have a title-worthy team sitting on the bench year in and year out, but you have to have guys who have confidence, who know their roles, who can deliver and who you can trust.

Kansas didn’t have that during its most recent season, so now they’re on the search for a group that can fill those incredibly important bench seats.


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