As basketball has evolved into more of a floor-spacing, 3-point-friendly game over the course of the past several years, an increasing number of big men with frames both large and athletic enough to dominate the paint have relocated to the perimeter with the idea being they will better fit into modern offenses.
Six-foot-10 Kansas freshman David McCormack recognizes why some centers and power forwards want to adopt that style of play. But that’s not who he is.
McCormack prides himself on impacting the game with force on the interior.
“I definitely see myself as a classic big or more old school big,” he said. “I’m not one to tend to step out and shoot 3-pointers constantly or things of those sorts.”
Although it was only a glorified pick-up game, played to entertain the hundreds of KU basketball campers in attendance, McCormack performed with power around the basket in an intrasquad scrimmage this past week.
While scoring 18 points, the freshman from prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy showed off the following:
• a one-handed jam off a cut from the free-throw line
• a made jumper from beyond the right elbow
• a monster two-handed follow slam off a teammate’s missed 3-pointer
• a dribble into a contested baseline jumper from the right side
• a tomahawk slam to finish a fast break
• another two-handed follow dunk on the offensive glass
• a layup created by a teammate’s penetration
• a third fierce put-back jam, with two hands, upon meeting a teammate’s missed shot at the rim
While he at times resembles a big man from a bygone era, McCormack made it clear his effectiveness isn’t limited to layups, dunks, offensive rebounds and shots in the paint.
“I know I’m a back-to-the-basket big. But I also have the face-up game and mid-range,” he said.
McCormack, now in his second week of summer workouts at KU, began impressing his new coaches immediately. Assistant Kurtis Townsend said the 260-pound newcomer arrived with his body in great shape. A Bill Self assistant for the past 14 seasons, Townsend said McCormack dunks “everything around the basket,” has good hands, tries to block shots and already looks to be a “really good rebounder.”
A player of McCormack’s stature and four-star pedigree would immediately plug into most starting lineups as a freshman. But KU is so deep up front, with Udoka Azubuike, Dedric Lawson, Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, that the McDonald’s All-American figures to begin his college career as a super-sub.
“He plays with a high motor all the time,” Townsend said. “Sometimes he’s a little sped up, but, boy, if that’s your big guy that comes off the bench after those guys are pounding on Dok, I think he’s gonna be terrific.”
During his first week of workouts, pick-up games and one-on-ones — pretty much any time he was on a basketball court — McCormack said he most often found himself matched up with 6-9 sophomore forward De Sousa.
He’s looking forward to both training alongside and battling against every big in KU’s deep frontcourt.
“This is definitely a different experience with so many well-trained and developed bigs,” McCormack said. “Playing against another high-level athlete constantly with Dedric and Dok and Silvio and Mitch just constantly pushes you to be better.”
McCormack’s approach to the game should compel his teammates, as well, while also pleasing KU’s coaches. He’ll be too intense, mature and impactful to warm the cushy bench seats at Allen Fieldhouse as a freshman.
KU’s newest big man would fit in on a basketball court in any era. Just don’t be too surprised when he takes an old-school style into the 2018-19 season.
When USA Basketball announced this past March that University of Kansas coach Bill Self would lead the U18 men’s national team at the FIBA Americas championship it seemed fitting one of his assistants this summer would be former KU All-American and Self staffer Danny Manning.
As two of the most popular men in KU’s storied history reunited at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, in Colorado Springs, Colo., just more than a week ago, Manning, too, thought it felt natural.
“This is like learning to ride a bicycle again,” Manning told Gary R. Blockus in an interview for USA Basketball’s website. “I hopped out there onto the court and felt really comfortable with what coach Self was teaching and how he was teaching it. It felt really good.”
Manning, of course, played a part in both of KU’s two most recent national championships, leading the Jayhawks to the 1988 title as a player and later serving as an assistant on Self’s staff in 2008.
Now heading into his fifth season as Wake Forest’s head coach, Manning credited Self for helping him carve out his post-NBA career path. Upon retiring in 2003, Manning first served as a director of student-athlete development and team manager at KU, before Self made him an assistant.
“I needed to see this business from the bottom up, see how it worked and see the way guys handled things. I just wanted to be a sponge,” Manning said of learning from both Self and longtime KU assistant Norm Roberts.
As Self, Manning and incoming KU freshman guard Quentin Grimes head this weekend into preliminary-round play at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, Manning’s past experiences with USA Basketball figure to be an immeasurable bonus in the team’s preparation.
The same year that he became the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Manning averaged 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds a game for the U.S. Olympic Team, which won a bronze medal in 1988. Prior to that, Manning was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 1987, after posting a team-best 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the U.S. Pan American Games Team, which captured silver. A versatile 6-foot-10 forward in his prime, Manning also won gold medals with the 1985 U.S. Olympic Festival North Team and the 1984 USA R. William Jones Cup Team.
What’s more, this isn’t Manning’s first time representing his country in a coaching capacity. He worked on the U.S. staff that won a bronze medal at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup and served as a court coach at the 2014 USA Men’s U18 National Team training camp.
So Manning enters the upcoming tournament featuring teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada, Chile and Ecuador uniquely knowledgable of all that goes into competing on such a stage.
“For other countries, playing against the USA team is something they look forward to,” Manning said. “I was guilty of overlooking that as a player, and to a certain extent, these kids are guilty as well, because they don’t know any better.”
Manning said he, Self and Dayton head coach Anthony Grant (the other assistant on the USA U18 staff) must make their assemblage of talented, young individuals understand what it means to have those USA letters on their jerseys.
“You’re going to get everybody’s best shot night in, night out, game in, game out,” Manning said. “You’ve got to be prepared for that, and you’ve got to be able to battle through some adversity if things don’t go your way. We’re trying to incorporate these things into the team process.”
Team USA opens the FIBA Americas U18 Championship at 5 p.m. CT, Sunday, versus Dominican Republic, with matchups against other Group A members Panama (Monday) and Puerto Rico (Tuesday) to follow. Tournament play begins Thursday, using the results from group play to seed the bracket.
“I’m looking forward to getting them as best-prepared as we can be,” Manning said, “with the ultimate goal of winning the gold medal.”
If NBA prospects carried business cards with them to pre-draft workouts, Svi Mykhailiuk’s would include the phrase “not just a shooter” somewhere adjacent to his unique name.
That’s the message the … well, how should we put this … 3-point shooter from Kansas is pushing as he meets with organizations.
Since Mykhailiuk began touring the country to meet with various NBA coaches and front office members, he hasn’t abandoned the skill that makes him a draft-able prospect. The 6-foot-7.75 Ukrainian guard just doesn’t want any potential employer thinking his long-range accuracy is all he has to offer.
Asked earlier this week following a workout in El Segundo, Calif., what he wanted to show the Los Angeles Lakers, Mykhailiuk turned to his go-to pitch.
“That I can do more than shoot, because everybody knows I’m a shooter,” said Mykhailiuk, who connected on 44.4% of his 3-pointers, making 2.9 a game as a KU senior this past season. “I think I can do way more than shoot and I think I showed it today.”
The 20-year-old Ukrainian prospect said he envisions himself as a combo guard once he gets to the NBA.
“I think I can handle the ball. Nobody really knew I can handle the ball,” Mykhailiuk identified as one attribute that might surprise evaluators. “Sometimes I used to play point guard (for Ukraine’s national program), so I think I have ball-handling skills.”
After testing the draft waters without an agent in 2017, Mykhailiuk worked on his defensive approach upon returning to Kansas for his final season of college basketball.
“I just had to step up,” he told ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony. “I think I had a bigger role and I needed to embrace it.”
As a shooting guard asked to defend opposing power forwards in KU’s four-guard lineup this past season, Mykhailiuk described how head coach Bill Self basically forced him to take his defensive responsibilities personally and play with more toughness while often trying to stop larger, stronger players.
“Defense is not about physical ability. It’s all about thinking,” Mykhailiuk said. “If you start in the right position it’s going to be easier to defend.”
He’s certain playing four years at KU made him a more complete player entering the professional ranks and Mykhailiuk expects to continue that development in the years to come.
“I’m still 20 years old, and I think I have a lot of room to grow,” he said, while also telling Givony whichever franchise takes him will get “way more than a shooter.”
In the upside-obsessed NBA, Mykhailiuk’s potential to be molded into a more effective player should help his stock. In a new mock draft published by Givony at ESPN.com on Thursday, Mykhailiuk is slotted at No. 56 in the 60-pick draft. The Ringer’s mock draft doesn’t include him, but SI.com predicts Mykhailiuk will go 58th.
“Nobody knows, man.” the former KU guard told reporters in El Segundo, when asked if he had heard about where he might land. “There’s no way to really tell where you’re gonna go, so I guess we’re gonna see.”
The projected late second-rounder experienced his eighth pre-draft workout Wednesday, with Sacramento.
Although he admitted to feeling “a little” worn out by all the traveling, Mykhailiuk asserted he found the process enjoyable, because there are “no distractions.” Right now, his life is just about basketball and not much else.
That focus helped him at his previous stop, with the Lakers. Near the end of a workout, prospects are put through what L.A. calls its “mentality drill.” A player is asked to dribble up and down the floor and make as many shots as possible in 90 seconds. You get one point for a layup, two for a jumper and three for a shot from beyond the arc.
The Lakers told the soon-to-be 21-year-old after the fact he finished one point shy of the best performance they had seen.
“I didn’t know the record so I kept shooting 3’s,” Mykhailiuk said, grinning. “I should’ve got two layups.”
The truest and most effective 3-point shooters don’t allow recent misses to turn into second-guesses.
It’s a quality sharpened over time and one Svi Mykhailiuk brings with him into every pre-draft workout.
During his four seasons playing at the University of Kansas, Mykhailiuk drained 237 shots from beyond the arc. But none of the other makes will be remembered as fondly or clearly as the 3 the 6-foot-7 guard hit in the 2018 Elite Eight, tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and paving the way for KU to defeat Duke in overtime en route to the Final Four.
Mykhailiuk delivered that crucial basket on a day when many of his 3-pointers weren’t falling. But the NBA prospect from Ukraine displayed no hesitation — only confidence — on his game-tying release.
Appearing on “Off The Bench,” a podcast for the Wizards’ website, following his workout with Washington this past week, Mykhailiuk, who shot 3-for-9 against Duke this past March, explained what enabled him to connect on the biggest shot of his college career.
“I know I’m a pretty good shooter and I know my teammates believe in me. That’s why they wanted me to shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “At that time, I didn’t really know what time was on the clock and (Devonte’ Graham) passed me the ball and I felt confident in my shot. I just stepped to it and just shot it. I got lucky it went in,” he added, with a self-deprecating laugh.
A 44.4% 3-point shooter as a 20-year-old senior at KU, Mykhailiuk possesses a defining, if not elite-level, skill — a claim many draft hopefuls can’t make. He’s attempting to model his game after one of the NBA’s greatest shooters, Klay Thompson, as he embarks on his professional career. But he also aims to prove to coaches and executives in the coming weeks he has more to offer.
“I’m a very versatile guy, can guard from 1 to 4 and I just know my role and know how to do the little things,” Mykhailiuk said of what he tries to display during workouts.
In Washington, he shared court time with, among others, Michigan’s Mo Wagner, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. But Mykhailiuk was far more pleased to see good friend and fellow Jayhawk Graham at the workout. It marked the second time the KU duo ended up at the same evaluation session for a team (Chicago being the other).
“It’s definitely cool coming to the same workout with a guy who was with you for four years, best friends,” Mykhailiuk said. “Just kind of makes you relaxed and do better during the workout. We help each other, which is great.”
At times during their trip to D.C., the prospects from Kansas had to square off. Mykhailiuk said neither minded, though, because it wasn’t their first time battling.
“We like to have fun and go one-on-one and it usually gets competitive. We know each other, we know our strong and weak sides and each other’s moves,” he shared, “so it’s kind of hard for us to score against each other.”
Mykhailiuk worked out for Phoenix on Monday.
ESPN’s current mock draft projects the Ukrainian shooting guard as the No. 51 choice in the 60-pick draft. Sports Illustrated’s predictions have Mykhailiuk going 60th, while The Ringer currently expects him to go undrafted.
The NBA Draft is June 21, in Brooklyn.
If you’re looking for Devonte’ Graham these days, he’s most likely inside an NBA practice facility, at an airport, on a plane or somewhere in between.
The four-year point guard from Kansas finds himself bouncing from coast to coast on what amounts to a debunking tour. Graham’s out on a mission to prove to every franchise willing to look at him that it’s OK to draft a proven college graduate over a less experienced prospect who may — or may not — have upside.
After working out for Washington in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Graham, a 23-year-old prospect in a draft class full of younger players, challenged the notion that college basketball veterans have peaked before they even arrive in the NBA.
“I feel like every year in the league people develop,” Graham told a group of reporters. “Like LeBron’s playing his best game right now in his 15th year in the league. So I don’t think (age) has anything to do with it.”
The All-American from KU pointed to the 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft, four-year Villanova standout Josh Hart, as a recent example of a seasoned college player helping a team immediately. Hart shot 46.9% from the floor, 39.6% on 3-pointers and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“You can always develop your game and get better,” Graham said. “No matter how long you was in college.”
On ESPN’s most recent mock draft, Graham, projected as the No. 43 overall pick, is the second-oldest player listed — younger than only TCU forward Kenrich Williams, by a couple of months. ESPN’s top 100 list includes just two other players older than Graham: Colorado’s George King (24) and Cincinnati’s Gary Clark (born 3 months before Graham).
With those few extra years of basketball and life experience comes wisdom. Graham didn’t bring up his 3-point shooting (40.6% as a senior) or passing (7.2 assists per game while leading KU to the Final Four) when discussing what he tries to prove to NBA coaches and executives during workouts.
“Just be aggressive, show I can compete, defend,” Graham explained of his strategy. “A lot of teams know what you can do offensively. So I just try to show them the little things that help a team win.”
Playing four years for Bill Self helped Graham’s confidence, too, which ultimately allowed him to enter the pre-draft process at his best.
“I could just see him believing in me, so I believed in myself a lot more,” Graham related, while getting into what molded him into the player he has become. “Just having that chip on my shoulder like I have something to prove. Because I was supposed to be at Appalachian State. So I just carried that with me and took it to the gym every day.”
Self, Graham added, “definitely” required much from him as a point guard.
“But he felt like I was one of the best leaders, so he demanded a lot more out of me,” Graham added.
KU’s most recent Big 12 Player of the Year called upon his predecessor, Frank Mason III, for advice before embarking on his workout and interview journey. Like Mason, who became the 34th pick in the 2017 draft, Graham will have to take care of his body in the weeks ahead while jetting to and from a long list of destinations.
Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday, and will do the same with Phoenix Friday. Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and many other teams remain on his docket.
“I’ve got like 13, 14 workouts,” Graham said with a shrug, “so I’ve got a good amount.”
Washington owns the 44th pick in the draft, a spot where Sports Illustrated’s mock draft predicts Graham could end up.
“I like the way they play,” Graham said of the Wizards, a team led by star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. “That’s the way we tried to play at Kansas. Fast. They’ve got good guards that can handle it, pass it, shoot it. I feel like I can do that pretty well. Just come off the bench and do my role.”
If you call yourself a shooter, there’s no reason to aim for average. You might as well go ahead and model yourself after one of the best.
That’s the approach four-year Kansas marksman Svi Mykhailiuk carries with him as he prepares for the NBA Draft.
This past week at the league’s combine for potential incoming rookies, Mykhailiuk, of course, showed off his 3-point precision. But the 20-year-old from Ukraine also made it clear he’s holding himself to a high standard while attempting to prove himself worthy of some team’s draft pick.
Mykhailiuk’s eyes lit up during a media interview at the combine when asked what part of his game translates best to the NBA level.
“Definitely shooting,” KU’s all-time leader for 3-point makes in a season (115) replied. “In the NBA everybody needs shooting. Everybody needs to stretch the floor. And everybody needs a guy who can create. So I think I’m one of them guys.”
At this juncture at least, Mykhailiuk isn’t considered a lock to hear his name called over the course of the two-round draft on June 21, in Brooklyn. ESPN’s mock draft lists him at No. 51, Sports Illustrated slots the 6-foot-7 shooter as the 60th and final pick of the draft and The Ringer projects him as undrafted.
Undaunted, Mykhailiuk didn’t think twice when asked whether he tries to model his game after any current NBA players.
“Definitely. I watch a lot of Klay Thompson,” Mykhailiuk said of the Golden State shooting guard, already a a four-time all-star. “I think we’re similar. We have the same height. And I think I can play at that level.”
Since the Warriors made Thompson their late-lottery selection (11th overall) in 2011, the 6-7 guard from Washington State has drilled 1,557 3-pointers, hitting 42.2% of his attempts over the course of seven regular seasons. Thompson already ranks 24th all-time in career NBA 3-pointers made and has finished in the top 10 in 3-point percentage in five different seasons.
So Mykhailiuk wasn’t fooling around when he chose a 3-point shooting role model.
No one expects the Jayhawks’ most recent long-range specialist to go down as one of the NBA’s all-time sharpshooters, which is the trajectory for Thompson. Still, it’s worth noting they experienced similar success at the college level.
Thompson — who turned 21 in February of his final collegiate season — shot 39.8% from 3-point range as a junior before leaving WSU early to enter the draft. That’s the same percentage Mykhailiuk — who will turn 21 in June — put up his junior season, before nailing 44.4% from beyond the arc as a senior.
Obviously Svi’s shooting spirit animal had much more to offer as a prospect in 2011. The son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay averaged 21.6 points as a WSU junior and attacked his way to the free-throw line for 5.4 attempts a game. Mykhailiuk, as a senior, averaged 14.6 points and attempted 1.4 free throws while playing alongside All-American point guard Devonte’ Graham at KU.
While Thompson then — like Mykhailiuk now — navigated the pre-draft process facing questions about his defense and athleticism, he did have a 6-9 wingspan and 8-7.5 standing reach working in his favor. A starter with the Warriors as a rookie, Thompson eventually proved skeptics wrong.
Mykhailiuk’s wingspan measured at 6-4.75 with a standing reach of 8-4 at this year’s combine. Who knows if any team will ever see him as a rotation player, let alone a starter.
Regardless of where his professional career begins or ends up, Mykhailiuk is appreciative to have teams considering him for the draft. And he’s trying to prove there’s more to him than his specialty.
Asked what area of his game improved the most during his senior year, Mykhailiuk responded with “literally everything.”
“Dribbling, penetration, shooting, passing,” he added. “I’m trying to show everything.”
If an organization does draft Mykhailiuk, though, it will be primarily for his 3-point shooting, and because he demands so much of himself in that category.
Both Mykhailiuk and Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday, and the KU duo will again be on the same practice court Wednesday, when they put their games on display for Washington.
As the NBA Draft Combine gets underway in Chicago, it’s important to remember that not all analysts are as high on this year’s crop of Kansas prospects as others.
While ESPN long has included Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk among its list of projected second-rounders for 2018, the newly unveiled mock draft at The Ringer only expects two Jayhawks to earn selections.
A little more than a month ahead of the draft, The Ringer’s guide forecasts Newman as the first Kansas player off the board, with the 21-year-old guard going 44th overall (14th in the second round).
Unlike ESPN’s mock, which currently values Graham as the best player from KU, The Ringer slotted the 23-year-old point guard at No. 53 in the 60-pick draft.
Graham’s four-year year teammate and on-and-off-the-court running mate, Mykhailiuk, didn’t appear on the list.
Ringer draft pundit Kevin O’Connor, who provided scouting reports on the likely draftees, touted Newman for his “spark-plug scoring,” describing the redshirt sophomore guard who helped KU reach the Final Four as “a pure bucket-getter who can generate offense off the bench, though his defense limits his upside.”
And because it’s officially player comp season, The Ringer’s comprehensive guide includes a handy profile of each draft hopeful. Likely in order to tone down any basketball-internet backlash against the analysis, instead of straight comparisons — which typically are unfair anyway — each profile includes names of past or current NBA players who one might see “shades of” while watching a prospect.
When inspecting video of Newman, O’Connor noticed some similarities to Monta Ellis, Dion Waiters and Seth Curry.
As far as Graham’s potential is concerned, his main selling point was described as “gritty defense.”
O’Connor’s scouting report described the KU All-American as “a high-energy, hard-nosed defender who improved his point guard skills as a senior.”
In Graham’s footage, he saw “shades of” a “lean” Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Wilbekin.
O’Connor lists Newman as the No. 41 prospect in the draft class, and Graham at No. 48. Ringer staffers Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks also provided their own big boards. Chau placed Newman 48th, with Graham 50th. Tjarks gauged Newman as the 42nd-best player, and had Graham 44th.
The good news for Newman and Graham, as well as Mykhailiuk, and former KU teammates Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike is the pre-draft process is just beginning. The days and weeks ahead — and how they perform in workouts, scrimmages and interviews — will ultimately determine their draft stock. Now it’s up to them to prove themselves to NBA coaches and executives.
While four of the league’s best teams remain alive (technically) for the 2018 championship, it’s currently pre-draft season for most NBA franchises.
Prospects and evaluations will dominate conversations in the coming days at the NBA Draft Combine, in Chicago, as executives, coaches and scouts scrutinize the viability of the 69 draft hopefuls in attendance. As everyone involved with the combine attempts to forecast the careers of the candidates on display, player comparisons almost become unavoidable.
From his days as a five-star prospect in Jackson, Miss., to the past three years as an aspiring NBA player at Mississippi State and the University of Kansas, Malik Newman has heard his name tied with various supposedly similar professional guards who came before him.
In the midst of his stunning NCAA Tournament run with the Jayhawks — 21. 6 points per game, 47.1% shooting, 15-for-34 on 3-pointers, 27-for-30 on free throws — Newman was presented with a player comparison, courtesy of a former KU guard. While watching Newman go against Clemson in the Sweet 16, former Bill Self pupil Russell Robinson tweeted out that Newman’s game reminded him of 13-year NBA veteran Lou Williams.
Like Newman, Williams was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. Since bypassing college for the NBA in 2005, the 6-foot-1 guard has scored 11,807 career points, picking up the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2015. Williams’ most recent season, his 13th, was his best, as he averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists — both career highs — garnering all-star consideration while primarily coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Listed at 6-3 and more of a scorer than distributor at heart, did Newman like being connected him Williams?
“Yeah. I love Lou Will’s game,” Newman replied in late March. “I feel like he’s an underrated scorer in the league. That’s what he’s known for is getting buckets. So, I mean, I’ll definitely take that.”
Oddly enough, Newman said two comparisons he often had received were to Williams and another former Sixth Man of the Year (2005), 6-3 guard Ben Gordon, the third overall pick by Chicago in 2004.
“So I’ll definitely take both of those,” Newman added.
He won’t be a lottery pick like Gordon was coming out of UConn. But if Newman wants to follow someone’s career trajectory to NBA success, Williams would serve as an ideal role model. In 2005, Philadelphia selected Williams in the middle of the second round (No. 45 overall). Entering this week’s combine, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony projects Newman as a mid-second round pick (No. 44 overall).
Some players go into this pre-draft process with unrealistic expectations for themselves. In fact, it’s possible for some to entertain impractical ideas after hearing from people employed in the NBA. This past March, one league executive told TNT’s David Aldridge that Newman reminded him of Ray Allen “in size, personality and shooting ability,” characterizing the possibly overlooked Newman as a “value pick.” Allen is a 10-time all-star and hall of famer.
It’s to Newman’s credit that someone would even conjure up such a career track for him. It’s also encouraging that he isn’t headed to the combine thinking he’s about to become an all-time great.
Newman said he doesn’t even have a specific NBA player he tries to model his game after. His two favorites are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. But he’s not claiming to be either of those all-stars. He’s not even hyping himself as the next Lou Williams or Ben Gordon — though he’d leave the league fulfilled if able to mirror either of their careers.
Grounded while confident is an ideal approach for a prospect entering the pre-draft process, and it seems Newman is willing to follow that strategy, even as more player comparisons are likely to be thrown his way in the weeks leading up to the June 21 draft.
Spring football came and went in Lawrence without anyone knowing for sure who will open the 2018 season as the starting quarterback at Kansas. But if forced today to take a stab at the winner of the competition nearly four months ahead of the Jayhawks’ season opener, the safest bet would be senior Peyton Bender.
So even though some KU football supporters might think new sophomore QB Miles Kendrick or redshirt junior Carter Stanley would be better suited for the job, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the unpredictability of the battle, that Athlon Sports rolled with Bender when ranking the top starting quarterbacks in FBS.
A 6-foot-1 senior who began his college career at Washington State and played at Itawamba Community College (Miss.) one season before transferring to Kansas, Bender started eight games and threw for 1,609 yards (20th all-time at KU), 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while completing 54.2 percent of his 273 throws in 2017. Those numbers landed Bender at No. 108 out of 130 passers on the list.
“The Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense for eight consecutive seasons,” Steven Lassan wrote for Athlon. “Without better play under center in 2018, that streak is likely to extend to nine.”
Bender didn’t finish last among Power Five quarterbacks. That unflattering distinction went to Illinois’ Cam Thomas (116th). Another Big Ten QB, who happens to be on KU’s schedule this fall, Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski (110th) also ranked behind Bender. The only other QB from a power conference lower than Bender was Oregon State’s Jake Luton (109th).
While Bender registered closer to 130th-ranked Kilton Anderson of Coastal Carolina, one of his Big 12 peers, West Virginia senior Will Grier, is Athlon’s No. 1 QB in the country.
The majority of the league’s other quarterbacks ended up closer to, or in, the middle of the pack: Baylor’s Charlie Brewer (32nd), Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt (33rd), Texas’ Sam Ehlinger (34th), Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (35th), Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson (54th), TCU’s Shawn Robinson (70th) and Oklahoma State’s Dru Brown (77th). The only Big 12 QB in Bender’s neighborhood was Texas Tech’s McLane Carter (97th).
Although Bender experienced enough turmoil in his debut season with KU that he lost the starting job seven games into 2017, Stanley didn’t show enough to win the gig for himself entering the off-season, and Kansas brought in sophomore junior college transfer Kendrick to enter the fray this spring.
The battle to become KU’s starting QB could very well continue through the week of preparation leading up to the team’s Sept. 1 opener versus Nicholls State. Bender didn’t do well during his junior year when the offensive line broke down, so if the coaching staff envisions such scenarios becoming commonplace again in 2018, Bender might not end up starting.
But if head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham see enough promise and improvement up front from O-line coach A.J. Ricker’s group, it could become Bender’s job to lose. A fifth-year player — he took a redshirt his first season at WSU, in 2014 — Bender has studied and made throws in some version or other of the Air Raid longer than Stanley or Kendrick. Plus, Bender projects as the most consistent downfield passer.
If Kansas can find a way to balance its offense by featuring Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams in the run game, it might help the offense play to Bender’s strengths and make him a more effective QB.
Of course, all of those best-case scenarios hinge on the success of the offensive line, which lost center Mesa Ribordy to retirement this off-season.
As usual with KU football, more questions exist than easy solutions.
Headed into his fourth season in charge of the ever-floundering Kansas football program, David Beaty has boundless miles to go before proving he is capable of making the Jayhawks winners.
A reminder of the deficit in which Beaty finds himself operating surfaced Tuesday, when CBS Sports published the first installment of its Power Five conference coaches rankings.
On the worst-to-best ordered countdown of head coaches employed in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12, Beaty’s name popped up at the top — that is to say, the writers at CBS judged KU’s coach as the worst among the 65 candidates.
Beaty inherited a challenging situation at Kansas when he took over in December of 2014, for sure. After an 0-12 debut season, the Jayhawks went 2-12 in Beaty’s second year on the job, prompting some hope for the future. But 2017 bottomed out with an 11-game losing streak following KU’s season-opening win over outmatched Southeast Missouri State.
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports explained no specific guidelines were used for the rankings. Still, it’s easy to quickly dissect the list and determine how Beaty landed at No. 65. KU’s coach is 1-26 in Big 12 games and 1-32 versus Power Five competition. The only head coach from a major conference Beaty has defeated is Charlie Strong, whom Texas fired a week later. Strong resurfaced outside of the Power Five, as head coach at South Florida.
In what some thought could be a relatively competitive season for KU football, the Jayhawks not only went winless in the Big 12 in 2017, but also were outscored on average, 46.4-14.3, in league games.
Kansas finished Beaty’s third season at the helm ranked 100th or worse among 129 FBS programs in 26 of 47 statistical categories tracked on the NCAA’s official website.
“I’m not sure how my colleagues based their rankings,” Fornelli wrote, “but my approach was likely similar to theirs. I took into account all that a coach has accomplished, and then I considered which coach I'd want to hire the most were I an athletic director with deep pockets and a vacancy to fill. Then we put the results together, and we got our final rankings.”
Beaty dropped five spots from a year ago on the CBS Sports list. He finished behind Arizona State’s Herm Edwards (No. 64), Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke, Indiana’s Tom Allen and Rutgers’ Chris Ash. The Jayhawks play host to Rutgers on Sept. 15 this coming fall.
The Big 12 coach closest to Beaty in the rankings was Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, at No. 49.