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.
Daylon Charlot didn’t transfer from Alabama to Kansas to play safety.
So this spring, and a return to his old position, wide receiver, invigorated one of the most intriguing talents on the Jayhawks’ roster.
Late this past fall, Charlot’s first as an active member of KU’s roster, a void at safety, as well as the apparent inability of the one-time four-star prep prospect form Patterson, La., to crack the offense’s two-deep, inspired coaches to move Charlot into the secondary.
Too raw and inexperienced at his new position to get onto the field in any of the Jayhawks’ final five games, Charlot tried to make the best of his predicament at practices. In that setting, he often let the receivers he had spent more than a year working alongside know he looked forward to squaring off with them.
“Daylon always tried to hit us,” KU receiver Steven Sims Jr. said, grinning. “That’s all he talked about, ‘He’s gonna catch us slipping,’ and stuff like that. It’s good to have him back.”
The extent to which Charlot feels revitalized, for now, is known only by the the 6-foot, 209-pound receiver and those with which he has shared that notion directly. Though requested for interviews throughout the spring, a KU communications staff member said Charlot had a schedule conflict on each of the three days in April when players were made available. Interview requests were not taken following the spring’s final, open-to-the-public practice.
Sims, who has spent plenty of downtime and prep time around Charlot since the Class of 2015 Alabama signee arrived in Lawrence as a ballyhooed transfer in 2016, shared his assessment of Charlot’s mindset this spring.
“I know he’s happy to be back. He feels a little rusty, but I know he’s happy to be back on offense,” Sims said. “Nobody wants to play defense. He got abused by us every day in practice.”
The KU offense needs Charlot to start resembling the type of receiver many envisioned when he was a consensus four-star prospect in Louisiana, as a high schooler. The kind of player renowned Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban didn’t want leaving his program.
Redshirt junior Carter Stanley said he and KU’s other quarterbacks noticed the short-lived safety responding positively this spring upon returning to the offense.
“I think it’s his natural spot. I really like Daylon as a receiver. He’s put in great work already,” Stanley said. “I think he’s there to stay.”
According to fourth-year Kansas coach David Beaty, the need for some depth at safety forced what proved to be a temporary relocation project for Charlot.
“You know, we always knew that if we were able to go and get what we needed in recruiting, we wanted to bring him back over (to offense),” Beaty remarked. “So he's back in the position that he started at. I know he's excited about that.”
Charlot added 14 pounds to his frame from a year ago this offseason, but Sims related his fellow receiver might cut some of that weight in the weeks ahead in hopes of maximizing his speed.
“I do think moving him back refocused him,” Sims observed. “I feel like Daylon’s ready to take on his role now at wide receiver and I feel like he’s focused. He’s learning it over again, because he kind of forgot the stuff a little bit,” Sims noted early in the spring. “He’s getting his confidence back. It’s good to see that.”
Among the 15 Jayhawks who caught a pass in 2017, Charlot ranked last in productivity. His one reception, in a Week 2 loss to Central Michigan, registered no gain — a zero-yard catch. Kansas has to get substantially more out of the receiver in his upcoming junior season.
Kansas loses two of its top three receivers from a year ago, with Ben Johnson graduating and Chase Harrell transferring. While Sims, Evan Fairs, Jeremiah Booker, Ryan Schadler and Quan Hampton give the receiving corps capable options with varying degrees of experience, Charlot finally living up to his potential and performing like one of the Big 12’s top-flight receivers should stimulate the offense.
Remember: KU only averaged 14.3 points and 237.8 yards per game in Big 12 play in 2017. The Jayhawks will take an uplift anywhere they can find one, and Charlot holds the pedigree and potential to do his part in putting a more effective offense on the field, if focused and eager.
During the first couple of weeks of spring football, Kansas coach David Beaty hesitated to heap too much praise on individual players for their performances.
Though measured again in his tenor, the fourth-year KU coach found himself more willing to identify spring standouts earlier this week, having observed nine of the team’s 15 practice sessions.
When solicited to disclose which offensive players have delivered behind the closed gates of the practice fields, Beaty said several Jayhawks “have really stuck out” and “deserve to be mentioned.”
The first skill position player’s name to leave Beaty’s mouth belonged to the program’s newest quarterback, sophomore Miles Kendrick.
“His work ethic,” Beaty began, regarding the 5-foot-10 QB who transferred to KU from College of San Mateo (Calif.). “He's thrown 127 passes in the spring through team and seven-on-seven, and he's had two balls intercepted. That's not bad. That's good ball security. That means a guy's prepared and he knows what he's seeing.”
Next, Beaty lauded a pair of upperclassman receivers, both of whom are expected to feature prominently within the team’s passing game this coming fall.
“Steven Sims sticks out to me again, just athletically,” Beaty said of the 5-10 senior from Houston. “But just understanding how to become even more of a savvy route-runner, he's doing a nice job.”
The coach then pointed to 6-3 junior Evan Fairs, who began to stand out in November of 2017, with a seven-catch game at Texas and six receptions versus Oklahoma.
“I think he can be a really good player,” Beaty said of Fairs. “I really think he can. We have high hopes for him.”
Subsequently, the coach shifted his focus to what’s left of the team’s offensive line — numerous injuries at the position led KU to cancel a traditional spring game and replace it with a practice. Beaty began at left guard, with redshirt sophomore Malik Clark.
“He's kind of been forced to take more reps than probably he would like. But I think back to him coming in … he was 350-something pounds, and he's down to 325 or so (listed at 320), and he looks good,” Beaty said of Clark, a New Orleans native. “He's getting a lot of reps, and you're starting to see him improve.”
KU’s head coach also mentioned banged-up junior O-lineman Antione Frazier before extolling the development of redshirt junior Clyde McCauley, “another guy that nobody talks about very much,” Beaty said of the 6-5, 305-pound tackle, McCauley. “But he may be one of the more improved guys that we've had up front, which is good. He's going into year four for him, so you're starting to see guys' experience pay off a little bit.”
Beaty then circled back to the quarterback position and the improvement of senior Peyton Bender, calling him a “very, very talented guy,” who, like Kendrick, is completing more than 70% of his passes at practices, during team periods and seven-on-sevens.
“Some of the things that we're doing with understanding what we're seeing,” Beaty said in reference to Bender reading defenses, “I think it's really helping him.”
The coach closed his spiel by mentioning tight ends James Sosinski and Mavin Saunders, too, but actually led into his whole rundown of high-quality offensive performers by hailing the efforts of two special-teamers.
“Maybe one of the guys that is most well-respected on this team is Gabe Rui,” Beaty declared of the redshirt senior kicker who made 17 of 20 field goals and went 23-for-23 on extra points in 2017. “Now I know he is not an offensive football player, but he puts up a lot of numbers for us. He has had a terrific spring. He's really done well. His confidence is pretty impressive for a kicker.”
At an often overlooked position, long snapper, Beaty commended redshirt senior John Wirtel for reshaping his body.
“He's almost 255, 260 pounds now,” the coach said of the specialist who missed most of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries. “He's got NFL caliber. He's a talented guy. Having him back healthy has been good.”
Tuesday afternoon’s Kansas football practice marked the ninth of the spring for the Jayhawks.
The brief 15-minute window made open to media members provided at least a little bit of insight into some of the more minor details of the off-season work.
Here are a few observations from the open period:
• Kansas, on this day at least, had just a handful of players taking reps at punt returner as most of their teammates went through stretches and warm-ups elsewhere on the practice fields.
Joining senior receiver Steven Sims Jr. on the south end of the facility fielding punts were sophomore receivers Quan Hampton and Kwamie Lassiter II, senior receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. and sophomore safety Davon Ferguson, a junior college transfer from Hartnell College.
• Senior quarterback Peyton Bender worked on his quick kicks before passing drills began. On one attempt the QB punted the ball directly toward the pylon at the front of the end zone, along the right sideline. The ball appeared to head out of bounds in the air, right around the 1- or 2-yard-line, prompting head coach David Beaty to joke with Bender, claiming that specific placement wasn’t what the QB intended when he punted the ball away.
• Redshirt senior kicker Gabriel Rui looked just as accurate as ever, drilling field goals from 37, 42 and 47 yards, connecting on one as Beaty tried to distract him a few yards away with taunts of a pending misfire.
• Sophomore QB Miles Kendrick served as holder on the field goals for Rui. When left-footed sophomore Liam Jones took his reps, junior defensive back Bryce Torneden, who played QB in high school at Free State, came in to hold.