David Beaty has toned down his wild-eyed optimism this spring, a conscious move that has resulted in the compliments he does pay to certain aspects of his fourth team carry more credibility.
Beaty singled out the cornerback position as the most improved on the team, which is a good thing, because it had such a long way to go.
"I am most excited about the corners," Beaty said. "I just keep coming back every week to the corner group. And we've got more of them, and we still have two more coming, which is great."
The most intriguing of the two cornerbacks who will join the program in June are Elijah Jones, who had committed to Central Florida but backed out after head coach Scott Frost left for Nebraska. He's a three-star recruit who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 175 pounds. Jones is a native of Fort Meyers, Fla. who played juco ball in Iowa. Elmore Hempstead, 6-0, 185, turned down scholarship offers from Arizona State, Central Florida and Iowa State to sign with Kansas.
They'll add depth, but it's primarily four corners already in camp who have convinced Beaty the team's pass coverage will be better: juniors Hasan Defense and Kyle Mayberry, freshman Corione Harris and senior Shakial Taylor.
"Each week I see one of those guys getting better," Beaty said. "Shak Taylor sticks out to me this week. Corione Harris is getting better by the day at what we're doing. He's very athletic, but he's becoming more of an efficient player because he's learning what to do."
It's not uncommon for cornerbacks to make big strides in their second year in the Big 12 after the shocking baptism that long, fast receivers put them through as rookies.
"Definitely," Defense said of expecting a big improvement in his second year in the pass-happy conference. "Big things are in store, I can promise you that."
Clint Bowen coaches cornerbacks now and Kenny Perry has moved to a new role as special teams coach.
"There's just a whole slew of them," Beaty said of corners who have improved. "Kyle Mayberry is doing some things over there that I wasn't quite sure that I would see him do. But he's done a nice job. I think Coach Bowen has done a really good job with those guys."
Kansas finished 126th in the nation with 296.8 passing yards allowed per game and surrendered 31 touchdown passes with just four interceptions in 2017. Dreadful numbers.
The beauty of the rule that allows college players to declare for the NBA draft without hiring an agent and then attend the NBA draft combine is that some of the best basketball mechanics in the world give them a free look under the hood and then present them with options and advice on how to become more efficient.
One of those options is to return to school if NBA talent judges tell them they aren’t ready for the world’s most competitive league and let them know what they need to improve to become more prepared.
From the outside, it seems as if Udoka Azubuike faces two easy decisions: Declare for the draft without hiring and agent and then return to school for another year after the NBA people tell them what they undoubtedly will, which is that he needs to develop a face-the-basket shot and a better shot from the free-throw line. With any luck, Ricky Barry will be hired at the last minute to work the camp.
Azubuike represents a classic example of a player who would benefit from returning to school. His high ceiling means that by jumping too soon he’ll deny himself the opportunity to come closer to his ceiling if he jumps too soon and rots on an NBA bench.
Even the G League isn’t a great option for him because most guards in that league hog the ball and would deny Azubuike the touches he needs to develop a better offensive game. He never would gain the confidence needed to become significantly better offensively. Plus, he can work on doing a better job of guarding face-up big men and improve his ability to guard the pick-and-roll, which he'll need to do constantly in the NBA.
He’ll have an even better chance to figure out how to score and pass out of double-teams next season. Defenses won’t be as mindful of shutting down 3-point shooters simply because Kansas won’t have as many, so Azubuike will be a great focal point of defenses. He'll need to become more creative and he has shown, even more than most, the more experience he gains, the better he becomes.
Why even go to the combine? Better question: why not?
He’s not likely to hear anything his coaches don’t already tell him, but affirmation never hurts. Azubuike’s a tremendous NBA prospect, but at this point that’s all he is, a prospect. He’ll add more polish playing in pressure-packed games in front of big crowds than in the G League and will gain more confidence as one of the main pieces of a highly ranked team.
You likely have heard it uttered about Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Tom Izzo or Bill Self, if not all four, at least once: "Yeah, but he's only won one national title."
As if coaches who have won multiple titles are walking all over the place at the Final Four. Before reading the next paragraph, close your eyes and see if you can guess how many active college basketball coaches have won multiple national titles.
Now open them. The answer is three: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (five), North Carolina's Roy Williams (three) and Villanova's Jay Wright.
There are only seven active coaches who have won at least one.
|Mike Krzyzewski (5)
||Duke||1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015
|Roy Williams (3)
||2005, 2009, 2017
|Jay Wright (2)
In addition to the three active college coaches with multiple NCAA tournament titles, 11 coaches who are either deceased, retired or working in the NBA have won more than once.
||1948, 1949, 1951, 1958
||UCLA||1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975
||Indiana||1976, 1981, 1987
||1999, 2004, 2011
The Montell Cozart who played one season for Boise State was so superior to the quarterback who played parts of four seasons with Kansas that it became easy to draw a couple of conclusions.
First, Cozart must have had better blockers and receivers surrounding him in his final season. Second, he must have received superior coaching.
Cozart’s numbers playing half of his Kansas career for Charlie Weis weren’t much different from his numbers playing for David Beaty.
Then Cozart competed for Bryan Harsin at Boise State in 2017 and was a completely different quarterback.
Cozart at Kansas: 5.7 yards per pass attempt, 14 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions. Cozart at Boise State: 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 10 touchdown passes, one interception. Under Beaty, Cozart and Ryan Willis, both graduates of Bishop Miege High, lost the job to each other. Neither QB ever played consistently well enough to claim it outright.
Cozart headed west as a graduate transfer, Willis east to Virginia Tech, where he sat out a season as a redshirt.
Early returns suggest Willis might be in line for a big improvement as well. Josh Jackson is expected to start at quarterback for Virginia Tech, but it was Willis who had the more impressive spring football game Saturday.
Willis completed 10 of 15 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Sean Savoy in stride on a sideline sprint that went 83 yards. Willis also completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Phil Patterson on a post pattern.
Willis has two remaining years of eligibility. In two seasons at Kansas, he compiled statistics similar to Cozart’s. Willis averaged 5.9 yards per pass attempt. He threw 11 interceptions and 17 touchdown passes.
Tight end Jace Sternberger joined Cozart and Willis in leaving the KU football program after 2016, his second season in Lawrence. Sternberger redshirted in 2015 and was used mainly on special teams in 2016. His only reception, for a 5-yard gain, came on opening week against Rhode Island.
Confident in his ability to draw interest as a junior-college recruit, Sternberger had a big juco season, signed with new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and stood out Saturday in the Aggies’ spring game. Sternberger caught eight passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. The first question put to Aggies quarterback was about Sternberger’s value.
“Very, very valuable,” QB Nick Starkel said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s been making those plays every day, ever since he got here. Coach [Tim] Brewster’s on him really hard every day because he sees the potential in him, and I see the potential in him. I tell him every day, ‘Man, you’re a great tight end. Let’s go be great out there.’ ”
Successful football coaches have a way of drawing greatness out of talented athletes.
Shortly after the Boston Celtics hired as head coach Brad Stevens away from Butler in 2013, I had an informal discussion with someone who works in the NBA about what type of college coaches are best equipped to make the transition and whether Bill Self was among them.
He said a college coach had to be smart enough to know that not everything that works with college athletes works with professionals, so the coach had to be willing to adjust and couldn’t be too dictatorial, too stubborn to change.
He also said that his personal list of coaches able to fit just that one criterion was very short. Self was on his list. So was Billy Donovan, since hired by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jay Wright of Villanova and Chris Mack, who recently left Xavier for Louisville.
Now that’s just one man’s list and it doesn’t mean his list of nearly five years ago has anything in common with that of current New York Knicks management, but it is interesting that the Knicks reportedly have reached out to Wright, winner of two of the past three NCAA championships.
Should Wright turn down the Knicks, could Self be contacted next? Anything’s possible. The Cleveland Cavaliers, shortly before re-signing LeBron James, expressed interest in stealing Self from Kansas, but the interest wasn’t mutual.
I've always viewed an NBA job as something that only would interest Self as a last stop toward retirement, but with the landscape of recruiting in college basketball under so much scrutiny and possibly headed for change, many college coaches might find the NBA more tempting than in the past.
After the Celtics hired Stevens, Matt Norlander of CBSsports.com compiled records of coaches who left college jobs for the NBA in the previous 22 years. The damning data: a .559-900 (.383) record in the regular season, 3-12 in the playoffs. P.J. Carlesimo coached three playoff victories and went 136-109 in the regular season.
Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tim Floyd, Mike Montgomery, Reggie Theus and Leonard Hamilton all posted losing records, although Pitino went 90-74 in an earlier stint with the Knicks.
Stevens (221-189 regular season, 11-17 playoffs) and Donovan (150-96/12-11) have bucked the trend. Fred Hoiberg (110-136/2-4) hasn’t fared as well.
It makes sense that Wright was the first college coach mentioned for the Knicks' job. Watching Villanova attack Kansas with five skilled players armed with 3-point range it was difficult not to think of the Golden State Warriors and other NBA franchises.
Entering his 11th season in Durham, head football coach David Cutcliffe really has things humming at Duke, former perennial football doormat.
Cutcliffe's Blue Devils, who hammered Kansas 41-3 in 2013, have had a winning record in four of the past five seasons. His 2012 squad ended the school's 18-year bowl drought. Despite all that success, the Blue Devils still must play in front of so many empty seats.
Among the 65 power-five schools, plus Notre Dame, Duke had the second-lowest average attendance in the nation (26,797) in 2017. It's not cool to be a football fan at Duke. Krzyzewskiville is cool. Shame.
At least Kansas has a legitimate excuse for even smaller, albeit just barely, crowds (26,641). The Jayhawks are 3-33 the past three seasons. Nobody wants to watch their teams lose, especially in such uncompetitive fashion.
Eighty percent of power-five football programs draw more than 40,000 fans per game and 97 percent draw more than 30,000 a game, Duke and Kansas being the lone exceptions.
For winners and losers, though, crowds at college football games have been on a steady decline in recent years. A look at the 13 power-five schools with the smallest football crowds:
|Power 5 School||2017 Attendance
Most children dream about becoming rock stars and professional athletes, lottery winners and world-famous fashion designers, cops and firefighters, doctors and lawyers, stuff along those lines.
Just in case a boy or girl out there with eyes closed is imaging the pageantry of inauguration day and that first year as chancellor of the University of Kansas, snap out of it, and don’t ever let yourself go there again.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, welcome to the chancellor’s mansion, aka “The Outlook.” Where would you like me to put your bags down? Over here, OK, enjoy your new residence and prestigious job.
Hello, ticket scandal. It happened Gray-Little’s first year at the prestigious post and turned it into a waking nightmare for a while.
Dr. Douglas Girod, your turn. Hope you enjoyed those opening months of relative calm, aside from the weekly embarrassments on the gridiron, which not many people witnessed anyway. Now your have your very own version of the ticket scandal: Adidas payola.
Girod’s baptism included witnessing a 14th consecutive Big 12 basketball title and a trip to the Final Four. Time will tell if all that really happened or was just an illusion captured by the word "Vacated."
Silvio De Sousa, as hungry a rebounder as Kansas has had in quite some time, became a productive player just in time to help KU make it to the Final Four, even with center Udoka Azubuike slowed by a sprained MCL of the left knee.
The federal indictment released Tuesday charged that the guardian of a player who announced on August 30 he would be attending Kansas, proving wrong those who guessed he would attend Maryland, would receive payment from Adidas.
De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, denied to the Journal-World’s Matt Tait taking any money to steer the power forward to Kansas.
If it’s proven that De Sousa was steered with a payment and he knew about it, the NCAA could rule that Kansas played an ineligible player and he would have to forfeit eight victories from the Big 12 regular season, one nonconference victory (Texas A&M), three Big 12 tournament games on the way to the title, four NCAA tournament games, and the word “Kansas” would be changed in the 2018 Final Four record book to “Vacated,” which could explain why Villanova had such an easy time scoring.
It’s all such messy stuff to have to come across a chancellor’s desk. Normally, I’d say football season can’t come soon enough for the chancellor, but we all know how that story will unfold.
By the way, walking in East Lawrence Tuesday evening, I caught up to Gray-Little. As much as I hate being the bearer of bad news, I was the first to let her know that the Adidas scandal had reached Kansas and asked her if she would want to give me a comment.
“Oh, no,” she said.
Kansas one-and-done star Josh Jackson isn't going to be named NBA Rookie of the Year. Ben Simmons, drafted in 2016, Jayson Tatum, taken third this past draft, or Donovan Mitchell, picked 13th, will take home the prize.
But if hardware existed for in-season improvement, Jackson would be leading the pack, which bodes well for his chances of passing those having better rookie seasons.
A look at Jackson's improvement since the All-Star break, compared to some other rookies from this past draft:
|DONOVAN MITCHELL (Jazz)
|JOSH JACKSON (Suns)
|KYLE KUZMA (Lakers)
|DENNIS SMITH (Mavs)
|JAYSON TATUM (Celtics)
|LONZO BALL (Lakers)
A breakdown of the Kansas football roster by position and class shows that the Jayhawks have one quarterback in each class and decent balance at several other positions.
It also shows that KU has developed a heavy reliance at recruits from junior college at defensive line and in the secondary. All nine defensive linemen are either juniors and seniors and there is one freshman defensive back and redshirt freshman.
A look at scholarship players and a few key walk-ons on the roster by class:
Freshman: Torry Locklin.
Sophomore: Miles Kendrick.
Junior: Carter Stanley.
Senior: Peyton Bender.
Freshman: Pooka Williams.
Sophomore: Dom Williams.
Juniors: Khalil Herbert, Kezelee Flomo, Kendall Morris.
Seniors: Taylor Martin, Deron Thompson (RS).
Freshmen: Joseph Gilbertson (RS), Jacobi Lott.
Sophomores: Malik Clark (RS), Chris Hughes (RS).
Juniors: Hunter Saulsbury (RS), Andru Tovi.
Seniors: Jacob Bragg (RS), Larry Hughes.
Freshmen: Mac Copeland, Nick Williams.
Sophomores: Earl Bostick, Cam Durley (RS).
Juniors: Hakeem Adeniji, Antione Frazier, Reuben Lewis, Clyde McCauley (RS).
Freshman: Kenyon Tabor (RS).
Junior: James Sosinski (RS).
Senior: Mavin Saunders.
Freshman: Takulve Williams (RS).
Sophomores: Quan Hampton, Stephon Robinson.
Juniors: Daylon Charlot, Evan Fairs, Chase Harrell,
Seniors: Jeremiah Booker, Bobby Hartzog (RS), Kerr Johnson,Tyler Patrick (RS), Ryan Schadler (RS), Steven Sims.
Sophomore: Liam Jones.
Senior: Gabriel Rui.
Sophomore: Kyle Thompson (So.).
Junior: Cody Cole.
Senior: Isi Holani (RS), J.J. Holmes, Daniel Wise (RS).
Juniors: Foster Dixon, Azur Kamara, Willie McCaleb (RS), Najee Stevens-McKenzie.
Senior: Keyshaun Simmons.
Freshmen: Kenny Bastida, Jay Dineen (RS), Ryan Malbrough.
Sophomores: Kyron Johnson, Dru Prox (RS).
Juniors: Denzel Feaster (RS).
Seniors: Joe Dineen (RS), Keith Loneker Jr., Osaze Ogbebor,
Sophomore: Davon Ferguson.
Junior: Mike Lee, Shaquille Richmond (RS), Bryce Torneden, Jeremiah McCullough.
Senior: Tyrone Miller, Emmanuel Moore.
Freshman: Corione Harris, Robert Topps (RS),
Junior: Hasan Defense, Elijah Jones, Kyle Mayberry, Julian Chandler.
Senior: Shakial Taylor.
Kansas football coach David Beaty got around to answering the question put to him about tight end James Sosinski, who walked onto the basketball team, but first Beaty chose to address another member of the athletic department.
"I would be remiss if I didn't congratulate coach (Bill) Self and the basketball team, and Devonte' Graham, and what an unbelievable career," Beaty said. "I don't know if I've seen, in the times I've been here, a kid that has literally unified an athletic department like this Devonte' Graham kid has. He might be one of the most electric personalities I've ever seen."
Beaty didn't stop there.
"I've just watched him make all of our programs better," Beaty said. "This kid is an amazing person. To get him to be able to go experience that (Final Four), I was so happy for him and the job that coach Self and those guys did."
Watching Graham so consistently throw long passes on the money and watching him dart so quickly at both ends, it was easy to picture him joining the quarterback competition at KU. To steal a quote from Dana Carvey doing an impression of President George H.W. Bush, not going to happen, wouldn't be prudent. Obviously, Graham has an impending professional basketball career for which to prepare.
Still, it's interesting to think about how many quarterback qualities he possesses: born leader, accurate passer, fast, quick, elusive, never makes excuses, performs well in the clutch.