Overland Park Hunter Mickelson had a smile on his face and bounce in his steps as he worked with 100 or so youths at Wednesday’s Ed Fritz College Stars camp at the Fieldhouse of Kansas City.
Mickelson, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound Kansas University junior basketball center, has a lot to be enthused about now that his dreaded red-shirt season following his transfer from the University of Arkansas is over.
“It was pretty rough,” Mickelson said of the 2013-14 campaign, during which he practiced against the likes of Joel Embiid, Tarik Black, Landen Lucas, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis, but could not play in games in accordance with NCAA rules. “I became good friends with guys on the team, so it made it a little bit easier. Just the aspect of me wanting to play and compete ... that part made it tough.”
He was in town for summer school last year as he is this year — he’s taking 16 hours of coursework the next six weeks or so — but now his sweat is closer to paying off in games.
“I actually kind of dropped a little bit (of weight) to kind of tone up. I put on a little too much when I was at Arkansas,” said Mickelson, who left Arkansas at 240 pounds. “My goal here was to increase strength and tone up a little bit. I feel a lot stronger. Our workouts with coach Hudy (Andrea, strength coach) have been great. I’ve been doing the best I can. I can definitely tell I’m getting stronger.”
Known as an oustanding shot blocker — he had a freshman record 72 blocks his first season at U of A — Mickelson also has a reputation as a guy who can stretch the defense with his shooting accuracy.
“Unless you came to Late Night, you haven’t seen him. Next to Andrew White, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, he probably led us in scoring at practice,” KU coach Bill Self said at the season-ending awards banquet. “He can score. He’s good. He can shoot. Anytime you have tall guys that can shoot, it’s something.”
Big-man coach Norm Roberts added Wednesday: “He’s probably a prototypical inside guy who can protect the rim with the ability to shoot from 15 to 18 and pick and pop. He has to get better at getting angles on the post. It’s all new to him. He worked hard last year. He gave us great minutes as a practice guy and everything. Now he has to take what he’s done in practice, take it to the game and competition. He will.”
Mickelson has heard the encouraging words from his coaches.
“He (Self) has been talking like I can shoot, so hopefully I’ll be able to show everybody,” Mickelson said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do to help the team. If I end up out there (playing the 4), that’s fine, but if I’m down low on the blocks, that’s fine, too. The way we play, I’m sure I’ll move around a bit.”
KU has a big-man group of Mickelson, Ellis, Cliff Alexander, Lucas and Traylor. Another big, Texas high school standout Myles Turner, chose Texas over KU late in the last signing period.
“I wasn’t really worried about it. If he could have come and helped the team or wanted to help the team, that would have been great,” Mickelson said. “I guess he ended up not coming. That’s fine, too. We’re going to go to battle with what we’ve got.”
All business so far at KU, Mickelson has not yet done any fishing or hunting in the Sunflower State. His two hobbies so far have been confined to his trips to Arkansas.
“It doesn’t matter where I’m at, I’m still going to hunt and fish,” the Jonesboro native said. “If I’m fishing, I’ll go find a river or pond somewhere. If I’m hunting, then get the 12-gauge shotgun (back in Arkansas).”
Graham arrives: KU freshman point guard Devonté Graham arrived for summer school at 2 p.m. Monday. The Raleigh, N.C., native was on the court practicing two hours later.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hard,” he said of college. “We had my first lift and on-court workout yesterday. It was pretty tough,” he said Wednesday at the College Stars camp.
Graham, who played lead guard for national prep-tournament champion Brewster Academy (33-2) last season, will be battling Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp for the starting point-guard job.
“Those are two really good players. I think we all will make each other better throughout the year, and we all bring different things to the table,” Graham said.
“We can do big things,” he added of KU’s freshman class. “Me, Kelly (Oubre), Cliff and Svee (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) — I think that’s how you pronounce his name — I think we have potential to be really good as freshmen.”
Graham, who said he measured 6-foot-1 1/2 in shoes this week, is rooming with Oubre this summer.
Of what he brings to the table, the player who averaged 17.2 points and 5.0 assists for Brewster, said: “I think a guard that is able to facilitate and also create for my own, get my own shot and make others better.”
He said he won’t be homesick, thanks to his year at Brewster in New Hampshire, far from his Raleigh home.
“It’s beautiful,” Graham said of KU’s campus. “I haven’t been around as much, but now that classes have started, I’ll be around it more often.
“Winning,” he added with a smile, asked what he was most looking forward to. “That’s all I can say.”
Bouncin’: KU sophomore Wayne Selden, who is close to 100 percent following offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, posted an amazing photo of his leaping ability on Instagram this week, taken in KU’s practice gym. “Bounce coming back,” Selden stated at http://ljw.bz/1xaaYDK