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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Self giddy over ‘premier’ newcomer class

Henrys, Johnson, Robinson, Withey project as a fabulous five

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Kansas freshman Thomas Robinson came to campus early and made a public appearance at Bill Self’s summer basketball camp.

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Elijah Johnson, of North Las Vegas Cheyenne- Pump N Run Elite, center, blasts through two Missouri Mustang defenders Saturday, May 3, 2008 during the 9th Annual Jayhawk Invitational at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Henny Ray Abrams/AP File Photo

In this April 1 photo, west player Xavier Henry, right, battles for a loose ball against East player Dexter Strickland in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Coral Gables, Fla.

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Transfer Jeff Withey looks on from the bench during the second half of the Jayhawks’ Jan. 13 game at Allen Fieldhouse.

Bill Self won’t complain if anybody wants to nickname his incoming class of recruits the “Fab Five.”

He’s awfully fond of the handful of guys he and assistants Joe Dooley, Danny Manning and Kurtis Townsend were able to corral.

“We’re very pleased with our class,” Self said of brothers Xavier and C.J. Henry, Elijah Johnson, Thomas Robinson and Arizona transfer Jeff Withey.

“Last year’s class surpassed what they were projected or rated, and this year’s class will go down as one of the premier classes in the country in large part to our late addition.”

The late addition is Xavier Henry, Rivals.com’s No. 8-rated player who signed a grant-in-aid with KU on April 23.

The 6-foot-6 Henry, who originally signed with Memphis, asked out of his letter-of-intent after coach John Calipari left for Kentucky.

“There are few players who possess the body, strength, explosion and outside perimeter shooting that Xavier has,” Self said of Henry, who averaged 28.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game for state champ Putnam City (Okla.) High.

“He’s the highest-ranked player we’ve ever signed. We’ve never been able to get a prospect rated so high across the board his entire high school career. I would say he ranks right up there potentially with the very best.”

He also could be a one-and-done player. Xavier wants to play in the NBA as soon as possible.

“I think he certainly has the potential to be that, and I won’t stand in his way,” Self said. “Based on my talks with him, his whole deal is ‘I want to go to college, I want to be a college kid, I want to help you win, to help the university win and when the time’s right, we’ll know it’s right.’ The big picture is if we do well, then those things take care of themselves. I know he’s very unselfish and he’ll be thinking along those lines.”

He’s complemented by brother C.J. Henry, a 6-4 guard who received a $1.6 million signing bonus with the New York Yankees in 2005, but saw his pro baseball career end last fall.

C.J. spent the season at Memphis, but decided to leave the Tigers’ program to join Xavier at KU.

“Xavier, deservedly so, gets a lot of credit,” Self said. “And the reason C.J. hasn’t gotten the credit is because he’s kind of been out of sight the last several years. But out of sight doesn’t mean that he can’t play. I really believe we’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the impact he’ll have on our program.”

During his senior season at Putnam City (Okla.) High School in 2005, C.J. averaged 23.2 points, 4.1 assists and 2.4 steals. He also earned all-state honors.

“He’s a guy that can play point guard and can shoot,” Self said. “We’ve got some guys that certainly have played college minutes and performed well. But he’s a guy that will come in and he’ll challenge for significant minutes right off the bat.”

Another guard is Johnson, 6-2 out of Las Vegas’ Cheyenne High. Johnson, Rivals.com’s No. 24-rated player, averaged 15.9 points and 3.9 assists per game his senior season.

“Elijah is a guy we targeted for a long time,” Self said. “We think his potential is very very high. He is a running, jumping, scoring, fast, active guard. He has a great chance to help us right off the bat.”

He chose KU over Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA and others.

“There are really no weaknesses in his game that I can see offensively,” Cheyenne coach Teral Fair said. “He is a streaky long-range shooter, legitimate NBA range when he’s on. He’s exceptional finishing around the basket. I’d like to see him develop his mid-range game more. His passing is the strongest point of his game. He’s unselfish to a fault.”

KU receives help at the power forward slot in Robinson, 6-8, from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. He averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks a game his senior season. He played his junior year at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md.

Robinson chose KU over Memphis and others.

“This guy is a rebounder first — rebounder, defender, runner, jumper,” Self said. “It’s hard to say anybody is athletic as ‘Shady’ (Darrell Arthur), but his motor, his quickness is kind of in that class of ‘Shady’ and Darnell (Jackson),” Self added.

Robinson was ranked No. 18 by Rivals.com.

“He goes after every ball. He probably has as good a motor as anybody we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Self said. “His skill set is improving all the time. He’s a good passer, good ball-handler. His shot is improving. He’s a prototypical athletic four-man.”

Robinson has heard he reminds some of the NBA’s Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard.

“Forwards who are versatile and can step out and hit the 15-footer and are also good down low,” said Robinson, who said he brings “energy and hard work on defense, rebounding.”

A fifth member of the recruiting class is seven-footer Withey, who decided to leave Arizona following the October resignation of coach Lute Olson.

The player who averaged 20.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 7.0 blocks and 4.0 assists his senior year at San Diego’s Horizon High chose KU over Texas, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Indiana, San Diego and S.D. State.

“Jeff will be a big asset to us,” Self said. “You can physically see he is very tall, very long, a good shot blocker. He’s also a guy who can run and has a great touch.”

“He has a chance to be a terrific player. He still has to get stronger. He has great skill. When the light comes on — not if — he’ll have the chance to impact this program in a big way.”

Withey — he said he’d like to be 240 pounds next season — said he likes to “drop step, dunk the ball, block shots and rebound.” He loves his new locale.

“I like change. I like adventure. This is another step in life,” Withey said.

Comments

100 10 years, 5 months ago

Welcome, guys -- gonna be a lot of work but it will be worth it.

Only team we're chasing this year is Michael Jordan & the '82 Tar Heels.

Is 40-0 impossible? If anybody can do it, you guys can with the help of Coach Self & staff...

Rock Chalk

Chris Shaw 10 years, 5 months ago

100: Ugggggggg! The talk of going undefeated! It gets mentioned briefly evey year and I wish it would just go away. The depth and talent across college basketball has increased greatly since 1976 (Indiana) and I don't think it will happen. I just hope this team is able to keep the thoroughbreds stabled to a degree. When the time is right, I hope Self will release the fury. I really haven't felt this giddy about a team since the 97 season. I just hope my feelings in March don't end the same way. Go Hawks!

Joe Baker 10 years, 5 months ago

Stop with the stupid superstition...let's have fun and enjoy it all!! Don't let some goofy coincidence ruin the year! They'll do fine.

I'm looking forward to a great year no matter what. They're going to be fun to watch more than any other time.

Who cares about being "undefeated"? It will be a good year period

d_prowess 10 years, 5 months ago

Quick question, do I remember correctly that Withey can't play until the first semester ends?

Joe Baker 10 years, 5 months ago

d_prowess (anonymous) says... Quick question, do I remember correctly that Withey can't play until the first semester ends?

Yep...he plays in December, I believe!

JayCeph 10 years, 5 months ago

I am gettin' pretty amped in anticipation of this season. This team screams 'awesome.' I can't wait to start worshiping at the church of AFH again. Hurry up, Autumn, and get here!!

dubya 10 years, 5 months ago

"The depth and talent across college basketball has increased greatly since 1976 (Indiana) and I don't think it will happen."

Agreed; and the 35-40 game schedules teams end up playing decrease the odds further. There is just too much talent and too many games to win em all. Despite our immense talent this year, I don't think we'll go undefeated in conference play (I do see us winning another Big XII, outright, however). Texas, OU, Mizzou, KState, A&M, Iowa State all make for stout opposition.

Kent Wells 10 years, 5 months ago

Dynomite: I think she's tapping the guy in front of her.

100 10 years, 5 months ago

The correct answer is -- yes, 40-0 is absolutely a possiblity with this group.

How big of a possibility remains to be seen -- Self just has so many tools to put the game away early & often, especially second semester.

All of you make great points -- and yes, it has been since 1976 that this feat was accomplished, and yes the times have certainly changed.

The fact is if our hearts are in it each & every game & Self is making the right adjustments, we are heads and heels the best team in every game we'll play this year. One fact is true -- never in the history of colege basketball has there been a team this talented, in terms of depth. Our starting five will be fantastic & could knock off UNLV's '91 team with the help of some of Coach Self's adjustments & timely subbing. By the end of that game the Runnin Rebels would have their hands on their knees in fetal position. The last five minutes Aldrich & Withey alone would have 7 alley oop dunks apiece on UNLV's exhausted full court press, which just finished the previous five minutes dealing with the Morris twins & the jumping rebounding machine Robinson. With Self showing such a different approach to breaking a press last year (take Missouri game at Allen), there is a good chance we flat out slice up teams trying to press us this year -- it's always a very hard pill for a college coach to swallow, but so often the best point guard simply needs to slice up the zone press which seems so vaunted. At base a zone press is a weakness, but much like chipping away at a big rock until David appears, the same can be said for a coach uncovering the truth about the faults of a zone press. If you let them be weak, they are -- you need a star dribbler, but if you let him go (aka Pritchard in '89 against UK) he will always find the alleyoop over the top (to Mark Randall) or dish to the wing (for a 3 from Terry Brown), or pull up for an easy 10 footer, or layup for that matter.

It's a matter of pregame preparations for shooters, gametime preparations, for forty games, not taking a game off, & fantastic in game adjustments (I.e. learning from the past, Bucknell for instance -- should we EVER play down to anyone this year?). Arizona in '97 is another key lesson for a team that was the best -- a very winnable game, but Roy made ZERO adjustments. The point is, each year that passes, we see Selftaking lesson after lesson & instead of being stubborn -- he listens to his assistant coaches & applies the lessons learned. In short, we have the AP coach of the year with the deepest team in the history of college basketball. So...

40-0 is definitely a possibility, this year more than ever -- I'm excited to say -- we really do control our own destiny, each & every game. No exceptions this year.

I guarantee Cole & Sherron are not backing down from the '82 Tar Heels or the record the '76 Hoosiers hold so dear to their hearts.

Heck, while we're knockin' down some dominoes, let's knock all forty of them down!

KUbsee69 10 years, 5 months ago

40-0 would be great. But, I'll settle for 6-0 ... in the NCAA tourney :)

Joel Hood 10 years, 5 months ago

100,

Absolutely no disrespect meant by this….

Clearly I am one of the biggest KU homers around and I am as excited about this season as anyone. But, this team will very likely have some injuries, losses, and frustrations. I agree that this team appears to be deeper than any team in recent memory. But, it lacks experience and will probably drop a few road games because of that. Of course we will be picked to win every game we play this year, but the statistical odds of that happening are remote. The 2008 team was loaded with talent, experience, and youthful athleticism, but they dropped three road games they “should” have won.

We may look back on the 2010 Jayhawks as the best KU team ever – who knows. But, there will be five new faces who have never played a D1 game before on this team. Although deeper, I think this team will be comparable to the 2007 Jayhawks in terms experience and talent and they lost a heartbreaker against a more experienced team in the Elite 8 game (and worse – the Oral Roberts game in November 2006.)

Why do I bring all this up? I’m not trying to be a buzz kill, but I’d hate for the expectations to be so high that nothing but crushing perfection will satisfy our fan base. That isn’t realistic or fair to the KIDS who will represent KU next year. It also makes KU fans look ridiculous when (if) we have that first ugly road loss and all the complaining begins. RCJHKU

100 10 years, 5 months ago

Nice points JayhawkerJoel,

However... You're simpliy talking about expectations -- expectations are a great building tool & via supreme preparation (ala Bill Self not Roy as much in terms of adjustments).

If 40-0 is a fan's expectation, believe me, the players & coaches' are much more specific. Someone like Sherron for instance may harbor a simple a goal of winning every game by at least 25 points. Will he achieve that? Who knows, but it's the expectations you put on yourself in life/ basketball that drives us to greatness.

That's why we can surpass Michael Jordan's '82 Tar Heels this year.

That's what we as coaches, players & fans want -- great expectations.

Every game this year is not only winnable, each game is land-slide winnable.

Let's keep it simple & win em all -- I guarantee that's what Sherron & Cole are planning, on the bare minimum.

hawk316 10 years, 5 months ago

Monstrous kudos to the coaching staff for what appears to be an outstanding recruiting class. Lots of hours, lots of miles, lots of time away from home and family. Guys, I want you to know that this KU fan truly appreciates your hard work and sacrifice. May you be greatly rewarded for your efforts.

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 5 months ago

"The ball is tipped...there you are........." ( One Shining Moment :Luther Vandross )

This should be played at Late Night just to get everybody psyched up. We'll be enjoying it again on Monday April 5, 2010 just like we did on Monday April 7, 2008!

100 10 years, 5 months ago

Memhawk -- best post of the year -- what a great idea.

How about the original score from 1987 (same that was used in 88)? Played by our band...

I can see the lights slowly dimming...

And then with the first few eery notes of that song, laser lights zapping at the Phog, then the the ku video zaps on the scoreboard when luther says, "the ball is tipped"

At the end of the video our players run onto the floor, becoming momentarilly deaf by the thunder from the Phog

Lin Rahardja 10 years, 5 months ago

Wow, Self has so many tools this year... top Senior, Junior, and highly talented new players. This IS a different team from last year. The key is to gel these talents to give the team the best possible chance to win it ALL late in the season. This could mean some losts along the way to gain much needed experience. I have no expectation we will go undefeated.

Derek Conway 10 years, 5 months ago

kubsee69- Very good post. We can go undefeated in the regular season or lose 6 games as long as we go 6-0 in the tourney that is all I am concerned with. The regular season is about building your team and staff up to the best that they can possibly be for the tournament. If that means going undefeated for us, than that would be an added bonus. The real glory comes tourney time, where the true champions come to play.

Michael Bratisax 10 years, 5 months ago

This is the first time since the 96-97 team that I expect to be national champs. I knew we had a chance 2 years ago but this is one of those teams that has it all. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we will be putting a new banner in Allen Fieldhouse. This team is already under tremendous pressure but I think with Bill Self having already won a national championship, he will keep them focused and have a best shot of any other team in the country.

phog10 10 years, 5 months ago

Love the sentiment of the "One shining moment" post but lets forget about Luther Vandross. The David Barrett original is, and will remain, the best.

Wish I could be there to see it happen but I will be in Boulder with the Fighting Manginos!

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