The Bill Self statement that resonated most loudly at the team banquet came in reference to Malik Newman, who practiced with Kansas last season after transferring from Mississippi State.
“I’ll be disappointed if Malik’s not an all-league or All-American player next year,” Self said.
The KU coach ought to know an All-American when he sees one.
Kansas has had a remarkable run of Associated Press All-Americans since Sherron Collins became Self’s first Kansas recruit to earn the distinction with third-team honors in 2009.
That started a run of 12 All-Americans in the past nine seasons, a run in which at least one Jayhawk was named first, second or third-team All-American by AP in every season except 2015.
Devonte’ Graham also has the potential to land on an All-American team as a senior.
Of the 12 Self Kansas recruits honored by the AP, five were seniors (Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason), four juniors (Collins, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson), three freshmen (Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson).
A year-by-year breakdown of All-Americans in Self’s 14 seasons:
2017: Mason, first team; Jackson, third team.
2016: Ellis, second team.
2014: Wiggins, second team.
2013: McLemore, second team; Withey, third team.
2012: Robinson, first team; Taylor, third team.
2011: Marcus Morris, second team.
2010: Collins, second team; Aldrich, third team.
2009: Collins, third team.
2005: Wayne Simien, first team.
2004: Simien, third team.
Sophomore safety Mike Lee is the lone returner in the five-man secondary, so opponents will look to shred Kansas with the pass.
Or will they?
The Jayhawks have allowed higher than a five-yards-per-carry average and ranked outside the top 100 among 128 FBS schools in that statistical category. So unless the Kansas linebackers can do a better job of shedding guards with big size advantages, teams might try to hammer away with the run, rather than have quarterbacks under duress from a strong pass rush exploit an inexperienced secondary.
The emergence of 6-foot-2, 225-pound Keith Loneker, Jr., who came on late last season as a sophomore and had a strong spring, should help. Loneker played a huge role in the 24-21, overtime victory against Texas and looked faster and more impressive in pass coverage during the spring game. He has that fearless trait necessary to play linebacker and it comes in handy against the run.
Coming out of Lawrence Free State High, where he excelled as both a receiver and linebacker, Loneker graded out as either too small or not quite fast enough to merit a Big 12 scholarship, just the sort of football player his father's coach, Glen Mason, relied on heavily during his successful tenure at Kansas. Rather than walk on at Kansas, Loneker attended Baker University in nearby Baldwin City, earned freshman All-American honors, and then transferred to KU, paying his own way his first season and earning a scholarship for the next two
The fast, 6-1, 230-pound junior Joe Dineen, Loneker’s high school teammate, joins him as a first-team linebacker. Dineen missed enough of last season to maintain the year of eligibility and heads into junior season two years older than his last full season, when KU allowed 5.67 yards per carry, ranking 106th. The added experience and weight should enable Dineen to do a better job of shedding tacklers and making more stops closer to the line of scrimmage.
Lee (six unassisted) and Dineen and Loneker (each with three unassisted and two assisted tackles) led the team in stops during the spring game.
The Jayhawks did improve by half a yard and 17 spots in the national rankings in yards-per-carry allowed, but must do better than that this coming season, especially considering the defensive line projects to be among the best, if not the best, in the Big 12.
Based on the spring game, Osaze Ogbebor, a 6-1, 220-pound junior from Lorton, Va., and 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman Dru Prox from Kaufman, Texas, are the first linebackers supplying depth. Maciah Long has moved from linebacker to defensive end.
Not particularly tall, broad or mobile, Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender doesn’t need to be any taller, broader or more mobile to become the best prospect the Jayhawks have had standing in the shotgun since Todd Reesing.
Bender need do no more than he did in Saturday’s spring game to clear that bar. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception.
“I thought I did fine,” Bender said afterward. “I did what I was supposed to do. We kept the play-calling pretty simple.”
Bender looked comfortable and in charge.
As for how his spring has gone in general, Bender said, “I’ve been pleased. There’s room for improvement. There are plenty of mistakes I’ve made. I just have to continue on the learning process of the offense but so far I think it’s going pretty well.”
Bender ran an Air Raid offense in high school in Florida, during a redshirt season and his redshirt freshman year at Washington State and as a sophomore for Itawamba Community College in Mississippi.
Every version of the Air Raid is a little different, including the one offensive coordinator Doug Meacham installed this spring.
“The Air Raid offense tends to be a little bit easier on the quarterback,” Bender said. “It’s fairly simple, but it’s a more complicated version of the Air Raid than I’ve run in any other system. It’s been a little bit more on my plate, but I think I’ve handled it well. I’m definitely learning it.”
Both Bender and redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley get snaps with the first string offense during practice and head coach David Beaty has not named a starter.
Still, I would be surprised if Bender doesn’t win the starting job, which would make Stanley the best backup Kansas has had at quarterback in many, many years.
Kansas sophomore Ryan Schadler started his collegiate athletic career as a sprinter for Wichita State and even he is taken aback at the amount of sprinting demanded of receivers in Doug Meacham’s offense.
“The first couple of spring practices I was like, ‘Man, this isn’t running back anymore,’ ” Schadler said after catching three passes for 37 yards for the winning side in Saturday’s spring game. “I’m running a lot of 40-yard sprints over and over and over. It’s good. In high school I was always a guy who played offense, defense, special teams, never coming off the field. It’s been a while since I’ve been running like that and I really love it.”
Schadler appears to love everything about playing football for Kansas and he has done a little bit of everything to utilize his speed. He scored on a 91-yard kickoff return in his Kansas debut in 2015 and he also appeared at running back.
He missed last season after being diagnosed with a birth defect involving the malrotation of his small and large intestines and appendix, which required surgery.
Fully recovered, he converted to slot receiver in advance of spring practices, a move initiated by Meacham.
“The biggest thing for me is getting in shape,” Schadler said. “Meach has said a receiver will run five, six miles at practice.”
The need for speed isn’t limited to running pass patterns.
“He always want to go faster,” Schadler said. “Lining up fast is more important than anything. If we can line up fast while the defense is trying to figure everything out, we have an advantage.
“With this Air Raid you’ve got to be able to just go, go, go. We wear the defense down in practice all the time just because we’re going and going and going and going. If we can be the fastest team in the Big 12 in that category, I think we’ll be OK because you can catch defenses off guard.”
Schadler has been the first-team “Y” receiver, fellow inside receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez the “H,” Daylon Charlot the “Z” and Steven Sims the “X.”
“Meach is so good in that video room and the meeting rooms,” Schadler said. “If you look at our film from Day 1 to now, we’ve come a long way. Our route-running and identifying coverages have come a long way.”
Nickel back, the football position in the secondary, not the widely mocked band, sometimes is filled by hybrid linebacker/safety, other times by a cornerback/safety hybrid. Tevin Shaw fell into the former category for Kansas the past couple of years.
Looking to field a quicker unit, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen sought someone with better coverage skills to fill the spot for 2017. He found his man in senior Derrick Neal.
Used in the past as a wide receiver, a kick returner and a cornerback, Neal has worked his way onto the first team as a nickel and he sounds as if he's convinced he has found a home.
"I think nickel’s the best spot for me because I’m always by the ball," Neal said. "I love to be by the ball. I’m a ball hawk. If I have a chance to get to the ball, that’s what I’m going to do.”
All Big 12 squads have one or two jets filling the slot receiver spot, which was why Bowen wanted to get quicker, more agile at the position.
"I can cover the the inside receivers," Neal said. "I’m a quicker guy and we need more cover guys on the field.”
That means Neal often finds himself matched up against LaQuvionte "Speedy" Gonzalez in practice.
“He’s one of the fastest dudes in the Big 12, so if I’m guarding him every day I feel like I’ll be ready for the season," Neal said. foot
He originally made a verbal commitment to play basketball with his twin, Erick, at UT-Arlington, but changed his mind and committed to play football for Kansas. Erick Neal has one year of eligibility remaining and already can be found in several places in the UTA basketball career statistics leaders, including in third place in assists and seventh in steals and made 3-pointers. He produced the school's first triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) as a sophomore and earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors as a junior.
Derrick summed up his twin's game in one short sentence: "He's nice."
Yes, he is.
Injuries and lack of experience have made cornerback the position with the least depth during Kansas’ spring football practice, which has made a productive spring from junior college transfer Hasan Defense all the more important.
Defense, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., spent one season at Kilgore College and has three remaining years of eligibility. He was chosen sixth overall when assistant coaches Tony Hull and Kenny Perry chose sides for Saturday’s spring game at Memorial Stadium, 1 p.m. kickoff, free admission.
“It definitely feels pretty good,” Defense said of being chosen that high. “It makes me feel that my hard work and dedication are being recognized, so that’s always good to hear.”
Defense shared what he thought earned him the honor of going so high in the spring draft.
“I’ve shown I’ve been able to make plays, whether it’s on defense or on special teams,” he said.
Only the first 10 selections were made public. Wide receiver Daylon Charlot was not among the first 10 picks, but Defense cautioned not to read too much into that.
“He’s given me the most trouble,” Defense said. “He’s a really good receiver. Coming from ’Bama, he has a lot of things that most receivers don’t have and a lot of ways that he beats me, and that teaches me to make my game better.”
“He uses his hands very quickly and efficiently to get away from the DB and that teaches me to use my hands better,” Defense said.
Defense won't be matched up against either Charlot or big-time playmaker Steven Sims, the No. 1 overall selection of the spring draft. All three are playing for Team Jayhawks, coached by Hull. Peyton Bender will be throwing to Charlot and Sims.
Las Vegas casinos don't carry betting lines on the Kansas spring football exhibition, but if they did, the guess here is Team Jayhawks would be favored over Perry's Team KU.
For the first time in David Beaty’s tenure as head football coach at Kansas, the spring exhibition will be played and scored like a game. That’s good news because it stands as evidence of greater depth in the program than during his first two springs.
The next thing to study is whether the Jayhawks have more star-power. One way to do that is to look at the first five selections from each team in Wednesday’s draft between Tony Hull-coached Team Jayhawks and Kenny Perry-led Team KU and then guess at what names would have been selected two years ago if the top picks were from the same positions.
Team Jayhawks (possible pick from the spring of 2015):
1 - Steven Sims, wide receiver (Rodriguez Coleman): Long and fast, Coleman didn’t last into the fall and finished his KU career with 11 catches in two seasons.
2 - Hakeem Adeniji, left tackle (Larry Mazyck): Big Physique eventually played his way out of the lineup, starting just four games as a senior.
3 - Hasan Defense, cornerback (Greg Allen): Moved to safety and had a solid career, mostly as a second-teamer.
4 - Ryan Schadler, wide receiver (Tre’ Parmalee): Parmalee led KU receivers in catches (41) yards (599) and touchdowns (three).
5 - Derrick Neal, nickel back (Tevin Shaw): Contrast in these two players shows the different ways the position can be used. Shaw was a strong tackler, but didn’t have Neal’s coverage ability because he wasn’t as fast, quick or agile.
Team KU (possible pick from the spring of 2015):
1 - Dorance Armstrong, defensive end (Ben Goodman): Armstrong was KU’s first unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection last season. Goodman was one of the better players on the 2015 team and earned conference honorable mention.
2 - Daniel Wise, defensive tackle (Daniel Wise): A 260-pound prospect who had not yet played a game two springs ago, Wise was chosen second-team All-Big 12 by the Associated Press in 2016 and checks in at 290 pounds.
3 - Mike Lee, safety (Isaiah Jonson): Taking advantage of the graduate-transfer rule, Johnson left after that spring and spent his final season as a starter at South Carolina.
4 - Ben Johnson, tight end (Kent Taylor): Johnson will be used as a tight end and blocking back. Taylor had good speed for a tight end but never got the hang of blocking.
5 - Taylor Martin, running back (Corey Avery): After losing the trust of teammates, Avery was dismissed from the program.
Michael Cummings, blasted into retirement on a spring-game tackle that shredded his knee, and Montell Cozart were the top two quarterbacks on that team, Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley on this one.
No way of knowing what motivational factors played a part in the 10 players chosen with the first selections in Wednesday’s draft. Were some players rewarded for giving maximum effort and making improvements and others omitted as a way of showing that effort and attention to detail win the day? Probably, but it was a fun, well-executed exercise.
He played in just 11 games, went scoreless in two and scored in double figures in just one, yet even at that, Udoka Azubuike left no doubt that he will have a lengthy NBA future and earn tens of millions of dollars playing basketball.
If I had my choice of skimming 1 percent of career earnings from any player eligible to compete in games next season for Kansas, I would choose Azubuike, even ahead of guard Malik Newman.
The pool of 7-foot, 280-pound athletes with nimble feet, pretty sure hands and a zest for punishing rims is quite shallow.
Speaking at the program’s annual banquet, KU's Hall of Fame coach Bill Self called Azubuike, “probably the most talented big guy that we’ve had here in a long, long time, other than Joel (Embiid).”
Self added that Azubuike’s trajectory “is off the charts,” reminding the audience that the big man won’t turn 18 until next Sept. 17.
“When he was hurt, we thought that was a huge blow because he’s going to be so darn good,” Self said.
Azubuike totaled six points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes vs. Duke, overpowered a short UNC-Asheville with 17 points in 23 minutes, and in 11 games blocked 18 shots in 142 minutes.
More often than not, he dunked, and hadn’t developed enough shooting skill to do any better than .379 from the free-throw line. The good side of that coin is that he hangs out close to the basket and doesn’t entertain any guard fantasies.
Azubuike showed great potential and raw edges during his 11 games, but it's not as if he's been playing video games all year without learning anything that will help him next season.
"From him sitting through every scouting report and making him a part of everything that's going on, I think he definitely understands the game better than he did, without question," Self said.
If Azubuike can become a respectable free-throw shooter, eliminating Hack-A-Dok as a defensive strategy, he'll be extremely difficult to guard and quickly become more than just a shot-blocking, rebounding force. He's a very exciting prospect.
If he continues to struggle mightily from the line, Azubuike ought to consider shooting free throws underhanded. Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry, two Hall of Fame perennial All-Stars, weren't too proud to do it.
Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson became the 20th McDonald’s All-American recruited to Kansas by Bill Self.
That’s a big number for a coach entering his 15th season, but the favorite to become Self’s first Kansas recruit to earn the honor of selection to play in the NBA All-Star game was not a McDonald’s honoree.
A look at the players with the best chance to become Self’s first All-Star Jayhawk:
1 - Joel Embiid: He has played just 31 games in three seasons since leaving Kansas, where he played 28 games and averaged 23.1 minutes.
Embiid played in 31 games for the Philadelphia 76ers this season before shutting it down to have a torn meniscus in his left knee repaired.
After missing two seasons with a career-threatening foot injury, Embiid was put on a minutes restriction and still managed to produce All-Star-caliber numbers for the Sixers.
Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.
Even if the Sixers continue to watch his minutes next season, he has a strong shot to become an All-Star.
2 - Josh Jackson: Rookies seldom make a big enough splash to earn All-Star status and it likely will take Jackson a few years to reach that level of recognition, but he’s such a nasty competitor and versatile performer that it’s easy to project him quickly becoming an NBA star.
3 - Andrew Wiggins: Averaging 23.7 points per game, Wiggins loves to shoot, but doesn’t seem terribly interested in rebounding (4.1 per game) or passing (2.2 assists). Heading into the season finale vs. Oklahoma City, Wiggins is shooting .454 and has a chance to finish a season with more assists (182) than turnovers (181).
It takes more than scoring a lot of points for a bad team to earn All-Star recognition, so unless Wiggins expands his game, even if that means shrinking his scoring average, he’s not likely to become Self’s first Kansas All-Star.
4 - The rest: The Morris twins are productive, versatile NBA players, but haven’t quite played to the level they merit consideration for the honor. Markieff has started 242 of 448 NBA games, including all 76 games this season with the Washington Wizards. Marcus has started 218 of 416, including all 159 in his two seasons with the Detroit Pistons.
Malik Newman? Dedric Lawson? If they develop into pros of that caliber, someone else likely will have beaten them to All-Star status.
McDonald’s All-Americans recruited to Kansas by Self:
Cole Aldrich, Cliff Alexander, Darrell Arthur, Udoka Azubuike, Carlton Bragg, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Cheick Diallo, Micah Downs, Perry Ellis, Xavier Henry, Josh Jackson, Newman, Kelly Oubre, Billy Preston, Josh Selby, Wayne Selden, Wiggins, Julian Wright.
At first, I didn’t think much of it when Alabama transfer wide receiver/return man Daylon Charlot told me Wednesday afternoon that the vibe on the practice field and in the locker room is much more positive now than last season.
I dismissed it in my head as typical spring optimism. In baseball, for example, it’s easy to feel optimistic during spring training because the season hasn’t started and the bullpen hasn’t blown up in a game that counts yet. Then the season starts and the Twins string together six-run seventh innings in the first two games.
“Last year there was a lot of negativity on the team and that’s what brings a team down real quick,” Charlot said. "This year it seems like the team is making a big step. This year everyone’s committed to the process. Everyone’s on the same page.”
Charlot’s words have stayed in my head, resurfacing from time to time, and the more I thought about it, the more I could see a legitimate cause of an uptick in attitude. It started to make sense.
The most overlooked, least talked about aspect of a coaching change often is that it creates a split between players recruited by a coach who prefers one system and recruits to that system and the successor who favors different types of players because they fit his system better. That inevitably leaves many of the holdovers believing that the new coach is playing favorites because his reputation as a recruiter and his talent-evaluation abilities will be based on the performance of the new guys, not the holdovers.
Well, no need to fear such a split now. True, all the players in their fourth and fifth years in the program were recruited by Charlie Weis, but there are about half as many Weis recruits left as last season. Not many. When Kansas opens its 2017 season, nearly the entire roster will be made up of players in their first, second and third seasons on the roster, recruited by David Beaty and his staff.
So it stands to reason that the players are doing a better job of staying on the same page since more than 90 percent of the scholarship athletes were recruited by the same head coach.
Only two players remain from Charlie Weis’ 2013 recruiting class: defensive lineman Kellen Ash and tight end Ben Johnson. Defensive back Colin Spencer no longer is listed on the roster. Fifth-year senior center Joe Gibson’s name is still on the roster, but he arrived as a walk-on, so he wasn’t an official member of the class of scholarship players.
Just seven players recruited on scholarship from Weis’ final recruiting class remain in the program: center Jacob Bragg and wide receivers Bobby Hertzog and Tyler Patrick on offense and linebacker Joe Dineen, defensive linemen Josh Ehambe and Daniel Wise and defensive back Derrick Neal on defense.
The holdovers who didn’t follow so many classmates out of the program tend to be the players with either the best attitude and/or ability and durability. Or they are just better fits, which by nature would give them more positive attitudes.
Charlot definitely brings a positive yet realistic frame of mind to practice. He drew raves from Beaty and his staff for how invested he was in practice on a daily basis throughout last season, even though he was not eligible to play in games. When Charlot sees something he doesn’t like in a teammate, Charlot’s not bashful about sharing what it was like at Alabama, the most successful college football program in America.
“I was telling all the receivers and all the quarterbacks what it takes too get to a bowl game because I’ve been through it already,” Charlot said. “I told them it takes leadership, discipline, effort, strength, all the little things. The little things matter the most. Staying positive plays a role in body language. Say somebody scores on us, I tell them it’s not the end of the world. We just have to respond to going through adversity. So they scored on us. That’s done. We’ve got to try to get them back.”