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.
The football offseason is all about gains.
Bigger, stronger, faster. You’ve heard the go-to individual goals for the months between one year’s finale and the next’s opener a thousand times.
Returning Kansas players are just more than a week into spring practices and have countless more workouts in front of them before pre-season camp opens late in the summer.
But numerous Jayhawks, thanks to sessions with strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin and his staff, already have added weight to their frames, per the recently-released first edition of the 2018 roster.
A number of players expected to play prominent roles on KU’s 2-deep this coming fall have increased their weight by double digits, compared to their 2017 listings, including sophomore linebacker Kyron Johnson (+10), sophomore offensive lineman Earl Bostick Jr. (+16), senior quarterback Peyton Bender (+15), junior running back Khalil Herbert (+10) and four of the team’s key receivers, junior Daylon Charlot (+14), redshirt junior Chase Harrell (+13), junior Evan Fairs (+15) and senior Jeremiah Booker (+12).
Below are the weight gains — and some losses — among Jayhawks who were on the roster last year.
— Note: Players still listed at the same weight as 2017 were not included.
|KU DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
|88 - Sr. DT J.J. Holmes — 6-3, 330||-5|
|91 - R-Fr. DE Jelani Arnold — 6-2, 255||+30|
|92 - R-Fr. DT Dai Coye Haley — 6-2, 280||-10|
|95 - Soph. DE Vaughn Taylor Jr. — 6-3, 248||+18|
|97- Soph. DE Sam Burt — 6-4, 272||+32|
|98 - Sr. DL KeyShaun Simmons — 6-2, 295||+10|
|9 - Soph. LB Kyron Johnson — 6-1, 220||+10|
|18 - R-Jr. LB Denzel Feaster — 6-3, 225||+5|
|29 - R-Sr. LB Joe Dineen — 6-2, 235||+5|
|30 - R-Fr. LB Cooper Root — 6-2, 232||+12|
|31 - Sr. LB Osaze Ogbebor — 6-1, 225||+5|
|43 - R-Fr. LB Jay Dineen — 6-2, 230||-5|
|47 - Sr. LB Keith Loneker Jr. — 6-2, 228||+3|
|KU DEFENSIVE BACKS
|1 - Jr. S Bryce Torneden — 5-10, 197||+7|
|4 - Jr. S Shaquille Richmond — 6-0, 202||+7|
|8 - Sr. CB Shakial Taylor — 6-0, 178||+3|
|11 - Jr. S Mike Lee — 5-11, 181||+5|
|13 - Jr. CB Hasan Defense — 5-11, 188||+8|
|16 - Jr. CB Kyle Mayberry — 5-10, 180||+5|
|20 - Sr. S Emmanuel Moore — 6-0, 208||+18|
|22 - Sr. S Tyrone Miller Jr. — 6-0, 188||+6|
|25 - Jr. CB Julian Chandler — 6-0, 187||+2|
|27 - Jr. CB DeAnte Ford — 5-10, 181||+6|
|28 - R-Fr. CB Robert Topps III — 6-2, 201||+11|
|45 - R-Fr. S Nick Caudle — 6-0, 191||+6|
|KU OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
|55 - Sr. OL Jacob Bragg — 6-4, 280||-11|
|60 - Jr. OL Beau Lawrence — 6-5, 315||+6|
|62 - R-Fr. OL Jack Williams — 6-3, 275||+5|
|68 - Soph. OL Earl Bostick Jr. — 6-6, 286||+16|
|71 - R-Soph. OL Cam Durley — 6-6, 315||+15|
|74 - Jr. OL Clyde McCauley III — 6-5, 305||-5|
|76 - Soph. OL Chris Hughes — 6-3, 310||+10|
|77 - Jr. OL Andru Tovi — 6-3, 320||+10|
|78 - Jr. OL Hakeem Adeniji — 6-4, 300||+10|
|79 - R-Fr. OL Joey Gilbertson — 6-4, 290||+5|
Quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks
|KU OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
|7 - Sr. QB Peyton Bender — 6-1, 205||+15|
|9 - R-Jr. QB Carter Stanley — 6-2, 198||+2|
|10 - Jr. RB Khalil Herbert — 5-9, 210||+10|
|15 - R-Fr. QB Miles Fallin — 6-5, 220||+10|
|25 - Soph. RB Dom Williams — 5-10,195||+5|
|26 - Sr. RB Deron Thompson — 5-9, 193||+8|
|32 - Sr. RB Reese Randall — 5-11, 220||+4|
|35 - Jr. FB Caperton Humphrey — 6-2, 225||+18|
|37 - R-Fr. FB Quinton McQuillan — 6-2, 265||+40|
|46 - R-Fr. FB Sam Schroeder — 6-0, 243||+18|
|49 - Sr. FB Hudson Hall — 6-2, 230||+10|
Receivers and tight ends
|KU RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
|2 - Jr. WR Daylon Charlot — 6-0, 209||+14|
|3 - R-Jr. WR Chase Harrell — 6-4, 228||+13|
|6 - Soph. WR Quan Hampton — 5-8, 178||+8|
|14 - Sr. WR Kerr Johnson Jr. — 5-11, 193||+13|
|16 - R-Fr. WR Takulve Williams — 6-0, 196||+11|
|19 - Jr. WR Evan Fairs — 6-3, 210||+15|
|80 - R-Fr. WR Hunter Kaufman — 5-11, 183||+13|
|81 - Soph. WR Kameron McQueen — 6-0, 195||+5|
|83 - Soph. WR Kwamie Lassiter II — 5-11, 170||+5|
|88 - Sr. WR Jeremiah Booker — 6-2, 212||+12|
|37 - R-Fr. K Cole Brungardt — 6-5, 218||+18|
|38 - Soph. P Kyle Thompson — 6-4, 215||+5|
|39 - Sr. K Gabriel Rui — 5-11, 205||-10|
|46 - Soph. K Liam Jones — 5-10, 178||+8|
|67 - Jr. LS Logan Klusman — 6-1, 220||-10|
|87 - R-Sr. LS John Wirtel — 6-3, 250||+15|
Nearly four years ago, at the age of 16, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a life-altering decision to make.
Already an accomplished youth basketball player within Ukraine’s national team program, as well as the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, it was time for Mykhailiuk to pick:
• Stick with the established protocol for promising young European talents, and sign to play professionally.
• Or head to the U.S. and take a crack at college basketball.
Upon seriously contemplating his options, it came down to relocating to Spain to join Real Madrid or migrating even farther west to play at the University of Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, now known as “Svi” by anybody associated with the KU basketball program, of course, opted for a decision that may have seemed odd to his contemporaries at the time.
“Most of them try to stay there and make money,” he related this past week, during the last days of his four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Reflecting on his unique basketball path now, is the 6-foot-8 guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine, glad he chose Lawrence, Kansas, and college over Madrid, Spain, and a contract?
“Yeah, for sure,” Mykhailiuk replied, without hesitation. “I met a lot of new people. I’ll be able to get a degree from Kansas and just be a part of a program like Kansas and make it to the Final Four.”
KU and 15th-year head coach Bill Self couldn’t have reached college basketball’s ultimate weekend for the first time since 2012 without Mykhailiuk. The senior guard’s 236th 3-pointer as a Jayhawk tied an Elite Eight matchup against Duke with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, allowing Kansas to reach overtime and eventually emerge victorious.
Further memorable baskets wouldn’t follow in a national semifinal loss to Villanova, in San Antonio. Mykhailiuk completed his KU journey with 10 points and three assists, in defeat.
He shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior and leaves the program with the current record for 3-point makes in a season (115). The final “Svi for 3,” in his 136th game and 70th start, moved him to fourth place all-time at KU for 3-pointers in a career, with 237.
Even more important to Mykhailiuk, he can now proceed to the professional ranks confident his experience at Kansas shaped him into a better player.
“Being here four years, being coached by Coach Self, and he’s a hall of famer,” Mykhailiuk said, “so I think if I hadn’t got here I wouldn’t have played for a hall of famer.”
Self thought so highly of his Ukrainian recruit that he even tried the freshman out as a starter at the age of 17. Although that move didn’t stick past a six-game stretch of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule, Mykhailiuk said his relationship with Self only improved from that point. By his sophomore and junior years, Mykhailiuk noticed Self pulling him aside during practices for more and more conversations.
“If I’m open, he always wants me shooting the ball, no matter what,” Mykhailiuk shared of how Self boosted his confidence. “He’s always telling me, ‘Just be a player.’”
The shooting, passing, rebounding and defensive reps could have come anywhere. Mykhailiuk feels grateful his took place at Kansas these past four years, because he learned more about how to be an impactful player as a result.
“It’s all about the mental part. It’s not about physicality and stuff,” he said of some of his biggest lessons. “It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you’re ready.”
After testing the NBA’s draft waters a year ago, Mykhailiuk determined he wasn’t yet prepared to leave college basketball behind. Attending the league’s combine and receiving feedback from scouts, coaches and general managers proved beneficial in his development, too.
“I think it just helped me mentally, knowing I can play against other people. And it helped me know what I’ve got to do to go to the next level and be a better player,” he said.
Mykhailiuk took all the information from Self and NBA decision-makers and turned it into a second-team All-Big 12 season. He averaged career-highs with 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 3-point makes per game.
“Just be more aggressive,” Mykhailiuk said of the most significant piece of advice he carried with him into his final season, “and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Still just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in June), Mykhailiuk projects as a mid-second-round pick in the 2018 draft, four years after he could have become a young pro in Europe. Other than Ukrainian teammate Ilya Tyrtyshnik, who played at Ole Miss this past season, most of his peers chose a more typical basketball path.
What made Mykhailiuk different?
“That’s just me,” he said. “Every person’s different. I just wanted to play NCAA.”
Basketball lifer Larry Brown coached the Denver Nuggets, UCLA Bruins, New Jersey Nets, Kansas Jayhawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats and SMU Mustangs during the course of the past 40-plus years, after getting his start in the profession with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
Two years as a retiree hasn’t kept the former coaching nomad from spending time around the game, though. Brown arrived in San Antonio this past week with the Kansas contingent at the Final Four, three decades removed from winning it all with the Jayhawks.
Now that leading a team is no longer his job, Brown explained what he misses about his former life.
“I don’t like games. I like being around the coaches and teaching the kids,” he told a group of reporters on the eve of the national semifinals. “And I get a little frustrated, because I don’t think a lot of kids are getting taught. They’re leaving too early. They’re thinking they’re in the NBA before they play a college game. A lot of them think they’re failures if they don’t make it, and that troubles me.”
The compositions of the teams that advanced out of their regionals and made it to the Alamodome, though, offered Brown encouragement on that front. Although one-and-done talents such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony have helped lead their teams to six NCAA Tournament wins and a national title in the past, this March’s Final Four field lacked one such freshman star.
Seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, as well as junior Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman, in his third season with a college program, were instrumental in getting KU to San Antonio. The same was true of Loyola seniors Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram, and Aundre Jackson, plus junior Clayton Custer. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and juniors Moe Wagner and Charles Matthews propelled Michigan to the Final Four, as did Villanova juniors Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
“It seems to me the longer they stay, the better they are and the more chance they’ll have to graduate and make something of their lives,” Brown said, while praising KU’s Bill Self, Loyola’s Porter Moser, Michigan’s John Beilein and Villanova’s Jay Wright for being coaches who go about their business “the right way.”
From Brown’s perspective, college basketball provides players with “an unbelievable opportunity” to receive an education and “make their lives better,” while crafting their skills in the hope of extending their basketball experience to the professional ranks.
However, Brown isn’t against allowing high school players to skip college completely and enter the NBA Draft — a system the league went away from in 2006, leading to college basketball’s current era of one-and-dones.
“Golfer, tennis player, musician, you can come out if you have a gift,” Brown offered, in regards to other young adults turning their skills into jobs without ever attending a university.
Here’s the catch. Brown would be in favor of keeping those players who go to college with a program for multiple years, instead of giving them the option to declare for the draft after as little as one year of education.
“If they go to school, I’d like to see them stay as long as possible,” he said.
A similar structure is in place for the MLB draft. A player can declare out of high school. But once a baseball player joins a college program, he can’t turn pro until completing his third year. In the NFL, a player has to be three years removed form high school graduation to turn pro.
“To me the longer you stay, the better your life’s gonna be, the better you’re gonna impact others,” Brown said. “And then when you do get to the NBA the better prepared you’re gonna be.”
The longtime coach, who has observed from both sides of the spectrum, called college basketball “the greatest minor-league system in the world.” Brown conjectured struggling young NBA players who leave college after one year weren’t ready to become professionals when they declared.
“And a lot of them, they have developmental coaches,” Brown said. “We need teachers.”
The man who owns both an NCAA and NBA championship ring said this year’s Final Four featured four “great teachers.”
“But,” he added, wearing a grin, “I’m like a voice in the wind.”
San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.
The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.
Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.
Not much offensive flow
For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.
Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.
The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.
Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.
In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.
His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.
The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.
Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.
In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.
Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.
Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.
Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.
No stopping Paschall
The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.
Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.
When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.
The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.
A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).
The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.
The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.
Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).
Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.
Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.
Some promise for De Sousa’s future
Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.
One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.
Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.
Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.
In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.
De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.
By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.
De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.
When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.
San Antonio — Tight end James Sosinski was a no-show for the Kansas football team’s first two spring practices this week. And for a good reason.
Sosinski, a walk-on with KU basketball since December, boarded a plane on Wednesday and flew south for the Final Four as his football teammates gathered their helmets and gear for a pads-free start to their March-and-April practice regimen.
On Friday, dozens of the football players Sosinski will spend the next several months with were back on the secluded turf for more. On the same afternoon KU’s tight-end-turned-reserve-post-player ran onto the basketball court at The Alamodome for an open practice in front of thousands of spectators.
Football can wait for the 6-foot-7, 250-pound two-sport athlete from Chandler, Ariz. Sosinski has been so immersed in KU’s run through the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament that he hasn’t had a lot of communication with his football teammates and coaches the past month or so.
But Kansas coach David Beaty texted the backup tight end following the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Duke to congratulate him.
“So they’re real supportive and real understanding,” Sosinski said of football coaches and players.
Whether the Kansas basketball season ends Saturday night at the Final Four or Monday in the national title game, Sosinski won’t spend any time resting at its conclusion.
“Right back into it,” Sosinski said of joining spring football, once the Jayhawks are back in Lawrence. “Even though I’m happy I’m missing this time right now, I don’t want to miss too many practices.”
Sosinski, who will be a junior tight end this coming fall, had almost no time for football activities since the 2017 season ended in late November.
On an occasional off day for basketball during the past four months he would find his way to the football practice fields for the best tune-ups he could manage.
“Running routes, catching the ball, just trying to get my feet under me a little bit,” Sosinski shared. “But we really haven’t had too much time with our busy schedule, so it hasn’t been that much.”
When he had chances to do so, Sosinski talked with KU quarterback Carter Stanley, as well, and reviewed some of the offensive playbook “so my brain stays fresh.”
While playing basketball every day has easily kept Sosinski’s conditioning at an optimal level, he expects to have “a little bit” of football rust once he re-joins those Jayhawks.
“I just need to get my legs under me, running routes again. Just gain the coordination for running routes, catching the ball, blocking and stuff,” Sosinski said. “I think I’ll be good running-wise and shape-wise. It’s just gonna be different movements and getting my coordination back.”
San Antonio — If Villanova were slated to play any other team in the country on Saturday at the Final Four, Fred Quartlebaum would feel like one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans.
NCAA Tournament assignments and results from the past four rounds didn’t allow the Kansas basketball program’s director of student-athlete development to become an emotionally invested spectator of another elite team, though.
Quartlebaum, per usual, will be squarely in the Jayhawks’ corner for the national semifinal. The strange twist for the high-energy, always-smiling assistant will be actively — at least for a couple of hours — rooting against someone close to him.
Now in his fifth season on Bill Self’s staff at KU, Quartlebaum first met Villanova junior Eric Paschall when the starting forward was a middle-schooler.
“He is a tremendous kid, tremendous competitor,” the upbeat KU staffer known as “Coach Q,” shared at The Alamodome on Friday.
For a short time in his coaching profession, Quartlebaum didn’t work at the college level. He was involved with a leadership and mentoring program for students in the Westchester, N.Y., area when he first met Paschall.
A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., native, just like KU’s assistant, a young Paschall attended a Quartlebaum camp upon recommendation.
“We’ve just always kept a close relationship since then,” Paschall revealed.
A few years later, the camper became a counselor for “Q.” By the time he graduated from high school, Paschall was off to start his college career at Fordham, the same program where Quartlebaum played from 1985 to 1989.
“I had an opportunity to see him grow up, and to see what type of young man he’s become and, gosh, he’s turned out to be a terrific basketball player, which no one was surprised about that,” Quartlebaum added of Paschall, now in his second season with the Wildcats and averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds after transferring from Fordham.
The two reunited on Thursday at the Final Four Fan Fest. Quartlebaum greeted his Saturday foe with a “big hug” to let Paschall know how proud he is of what he has accomplished.
“I’m gonna love you today, but come Saturday we’re gonna go head-to-head,” the coach told his former pupil. “We both just laughed.”
The reunion near San Antonio’s River Walk for the duo who grew up in a N.Y. village along the Hudson River just so happened to come at college basketball’s biggest weekend.
“We knew it was a possibility,” Paschall said of he and Quartlebaum one day finding themselves as opponents, “just knowing that I was going to Villanova and he was at Kansas. But we never really talked about it. We always just have real conversations — like how we’re doing. I always ask about his two kids, Trey and Mayson. I remember coaching them in camp, so I always keep up with them.”
It’s been easy for Quartlebaum to track Paschall’s career just through social media, with so many in the Westchester area excitedly sharing the hometown hero’s highlights. The KU assistant has consumed even more footage during the past several days of preparation, too, since sending Paschall and his father, Juan, congratulatory texts following Villanova’s victory over Texas Tech.
“The cool thing about Eric is he’s extremely humble off the court, but such a fierce warrior, competitor that’s out there,” Quartlebaum said, describing his one-time protege as a versatile and integral part of the Villanova lineup. “He can shoot the ball, he can finish at the rim. He had an unbelievable dunk (in the Sweet 16, against West Virginia big Sagaba) Konate. So he can do a lot.”
Paschall said he’s happy for Quartlebaum’s success.
“That’s my guy. Always had love for him. He’s a great dude,” the younger Dobbs Ferry representative at the Final Four said of the village’s elder statesman. “He’s always had my back and he always keeps in contact.”
Only one of the two from the small river village in New York will move on to Monday’s national championship game. It’s safe to say each will be rooting for the other from here on out — barring a March Madness rematch in 2019, that is.
“Eric has been a part of my basketball experience for quite a bit,” Quartlebaum said, “so what an honor to be here with him and celebrate this atmosphere at the Final Four.”
San Antonio — When No. 1 and No. 2 seeds began dropping out of the South and West regionals before the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it became clear The Madness was intent on devouring the left side of the bracket.
So by the time a team emerged from each region as a Final Four participant, one national semifinal quickly became characterized as the undercard.
With the first national semifinal Saturday night at The Alamodome placing No. 3 seed Michigan against March darling and No. 11 seed Loyola (5:09 p.m., TBS), some have gone as far as to label the matchup on the opposite side of the bracket between No. 1 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas as the de facto national championship game.
In his 17th season at Villanova, head coach Jay Wright trusts his players won’t buy into that line of thinking. Whichever team gets out of KU-Villanova alive will have to win one more time to secure the national title.
“The good thing is I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament,” Wright said earlier this week, “so I don't think they would even think that this is the national championship game. Our guys wouldn't think that way.”
The NCAA could avoid having one semifinal appear more stacked than another by changing its Final Four format and re-seeding the teams for the season’s ultimate weekend. This year, for example, Villanova, as the top remaining No. 1 seed, would take on No. 11 Loyola in one game, while No. 1 KU and No. 3 Michigan would play in the other.
Kansas coach Bill Self, asked for his thoughts on the re-seeding debate, replied: “Well, since they are not going to, I'm going to say: No, I love it exactly the way it is.”
The coach then conceded it would be “great” to re-seed for the national semifinals.
“I think whoever is saying that, obviously is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves,” Self said of KU and Villanova being a two-days early title game. “It looks like it's maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it's one versus one, but trust me, the other game is just as marquee as this one.”
Of course, nationally renowned coaches ultimately don’t care how games are being categorized or what modifications talking heads are debating. Wright mostly is concerned with devising a game plan that will push Villanova (34-4) past Kansas (31-7) and into the actual national championship game.
“They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men,” Wright said. “And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had.”
Wright said he and his staff, through the years, have always watched Self’s teams to pick up different ideas on how to best use their big men.
“And now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing,” Wright said. “So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”