For now, Frank Mason III is a Sacramento King. Kind of. But not really.
The franchise that drafted the former Kansas all-American in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft announced earlier this week it is waiving Mason but keeping the 25-year-old point guard on its summer league roster.
The Kings seem to be doing Mason, suddenly a free agent, a favor by taking him with them on their trip to Las Vegas. When they waived him on Independence Day the summer league rosters for the rest of the league were pretty much set, leaving Mason few other options in a short window of time. If the Kings really do intend to play Mason — and that seems to be the case, due to how much respect he earned from the organization over the course of two seasons — other teams will be able to watch him in person in Vegas and gauge their interest in a prospect who was college basketball’s national player of the year just two seasons ago.
In a league abundant in point guards, Mason may not have many suitors. Still, there are some potential employers out there for Mason and other low-cost point guards on the market.
And if you’re a free agent looking for a chance and not one worried about maximizing your money, what better place to cast your eyes than the Los Angeles Lakers? One of the league’s marquee franchises, the Lakers have the bulk of their money tied up in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And once reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard decides where he wants to sign, the Lakers will have to start filling out a mostly empty roster, with or without Leonard.
As of Friday, the Lakers were tied to all of six players: James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels and Zach Norvell Jr., an undrafted rookie from Gonzaga whom they signed to a two-way contract. They also could sign second-round draft pick Talen Horton-Tucker, from Iowa State.
Each NBA team has 15 available roster spots, with 13 players active on game days. So the Lakers have some work to do in filling out the rest of their team, particularly at point guard, considering they don’t even have one at this juncture. (Yes, LeBron is essentially a gigantic point guard, but you get it.)
Now, James’ history indicates he’d want a veteran point guard on his team, and Mason isn’t considered a starting level floor general in the NBA, so the Lakers — if they were interested in Mason — wouldn’t be looking at him as someone to play major minutes. But if they are in desperate need of a backup point guard or maybe even a third point guard on the cheap, Mason just might be able to make his case for that job with a strong showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, where the Kings open their schedule Saturday night versus China.
Mason’s statistics and playing opportunities decreased during this past season, his second with the Kings. He went from playing in 52 games and averaging 7.9 points and 2.8 assists in 18.9 minutes as a rookie to appearing in only 38 games and putting up 5.1 points and 2.2 assists in 11.4 minutes in his second year. Mason shot 31-for-86 (36%) from 3-point range as a rookie and 14-for-64 (22%) on 3’s in Year 2.
During the 2018-19 season, Mason played more than 15 minutes in a game just once from January through April, and that came in the Kings’ final game of the season. Mason had 15 points and 1 assist off the bench, while shooting 6-for-13 from the field in what amounted to a meaningless regular season finale.
That’s why the Las Vegas Summer League — the Sacramento Bee reported Mason missed the California Classic earlier this week due to soreness in his right hip — will be so crucial for the former KU star.
Maybe some team’s scouts already like Mason’s bulldog mentality even if they have seen his flaws against real NBA competition. Perhaps other team’s scouts have already written Mason off after he was unable to find consistent minutes with Sacramento.
Either way, Mason will need to make the most of his opportunity with the Kings in Vegas while his agent pitches the idea of signing him to any team willing to listen.
As Mason told The Bee just a week ago, before the Kings cut him loose, he has one objective this summer.
“My job is to get better and focus on what I can control,” he said. “Other than that, it’s all business, so whatever happens happens. I just have to be ready and stay professional.”
Supply and demand will dictate where exactly Mason spends what could be his third season in the NBA. The Lakers aren’t the only team that could still use some depth at point guard.
Atlanta doesn’t have a definitive backup for 2018 lottery pick Trae Young. For now, Goran Dragic is the only true point guard in place for Miami. Technically, Portland doesn’t have a second point guard to play behind star Damian Lillard — though the Blazers can just stagger rotations to use fellow starter C.J. McCollum in that second point guard role.
The Hornets might need a third point guard to put behind Terry Rozier and Mason’s old pal, Devonte’ Graham. The Nets, although they signed free agency’s top point guard this summer, Kyrie Irving, don’t yet have a third option at the position to put behind Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie. Oklahoma City, as well, lacks a third point guard to backup Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder. Milwaukee might need some depth at that spot in case Eric Bledsoe and George Hill don’t hold up for the full season.
It’s also important to remember the market is always fluid, especially this time of year, when NBA teams are more eager to make roster reshaping moves in the offseason. A team that doesn’t need someone like Mason now just might be interested in him one transaction later.
For organizations more intrigued by the idea of a younger option at point guard in free agency, Mason has competition — think: Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Delon Wright and Trey Burke, for example.
Of course, there still are veteran free agents out there, too — such as Rajon Rondo, Jerryd Bayless, Raymond Felton, Shelvin Mack and Jeremy Lin.
Mason is too dogged to let any of these factors faze him. This is a backed into a corner type of summer for Mason in terms of his NBA future. But given his mental toughness it’s difficult to see it not working out for him eventually.
Even if his route begins in the G League next season, roster spots inevitably open up throughout The Association. Odds stacked against him won’t stop Mason from working toward a spot in the NBA. He’s not the type to flame out after two years.
There are far easier paths to an NBA career than the one Dedric Lawson must now traverse.
No one expected the offensively gifted forward who spent his redshirt junior season at Kansas leading the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding to become a lottery pick or first round pick in Thursday night’s draft. Most experts didn’t even project Lawson as a second round pick, and they were proven correct.
The undrafted Lawson at least has a shot, though, thanks to the Golden State Warriors offering him a spot on their summer league roster. And if he’s going to prove himself deserving of a regular season spot with the defending Western Conference champs or one of the league’s other 29 teams, it will likely be Lawson’s jump shot that determines his staying power.
He may be 6-foot-8.5 in shoes and weigh 233 pounds, but Lawson isn’t going to suddenly become an elite finisher at the rim or a sturdy defender of the paint. His successes, whether great or few in number, will come when he has the ball in his hands outside of the post.
Lawson proved to be a reliable 3-point shooter as a big during his one season playing for the Jayhawks, knocking down 39.3% from outside (35 for 89 in 36 games).
And, believe it or not, that particular skill actually is one that Golden State could use some more of next season. Even though the greatest shooter of all time, Steph Curry, will still be around, Kevin Durant is widely expected to bolt in free agency, and even if Durant were to re-sign with the Warriors his ruptured right Achilles’ tendon will most likely sideline him for all of the 2019-20 schedule. Then there’s the matter of sharpshooter Klay Thompson. Curry’s Splash Brother tore an ACL in the Warriors’ Game 6 loss to Toronto in the NBA Finals. Most expect Golden State to re-sign Thompson, who is a free agent, but his knee injury will force him to miss most if not all of next season, as well.
In that regard, it’s not completely absurd to talk yourself into a scenario in which Lawson excels offensively this summer, gets a training camp invite as a result and ultimately becomes a reserve forward worth keeping around on the cheap.
However, it will take Lawson looking proficient and maybe even playing above his head to make that a reality. Though the only players currently under contract with the Warriors for next season are Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Jacob Evans, Damian Jones, Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo McKinnie — and the contracts of Livingston and McKinnie aren’t guaranteed — there are incoming rookies who soon will join that list, and Lawson will have to either outperform them or prove he meshes well with them.
Golden State drafted shooting guard Jordan Poole late in the first round, but both of the organization’s second round choices qualify as competition for Lawson, because they are forwards and will be given a priority over a summer league roster player.
Alen Smailagic, the No. 39 pick in the draft, is a player in whom the Warriors truly are invested. A 6-10 big known for his pick-and-pop ability as well as slashing, Smailagic spent this past year playing for Golden State’s G League team, Santa Cruz.
Two picks later, Golden State snatched up another forward, 6-6 Eric Paschall, from Villanova. The hard-nosed Paschall is tough enough to defend inside even though he is undersized, and he shot 34.8% from 3-point range as a college senior.
Lawson’s chances to stick with the Warriors would seem far more feasible if Smailagic and Paschall weren’t in the mix. We don’t yet know what other forwards Golden State may add this offseason, and there already are four ahead of Lawson in the pecking order, with Green, Iguodala and the two rookies, not to mention McKinnie, if he’s back.
The good news for Lawson, though, is that he has the flexibility to end up with another franchise if he plays to his strengths with the Warriors’ summer league team. He may lack the athleticism and explosiveness of other rookies, but the 21-year-old prospect understands the game. If Lawson fits in well offensively with his summer teammates as a shooter and ball mover — and don’t forget that he can be an effective rebounder, too — that could be enough to impress other team’s scouts and coaches.
Organizations looking to spend big this summer in free agency will have to fill out their rosters with inexpensive players. And if a maxed out team ends up needing a big who can shoot and pass, that would be an ideal landing spot for the forward from Memphis with an enviable basketball IQ.
Cleared to play basketball again just a few weeks back, University of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike isn’t quite back to his rim wrecking ways.
That’s not to say one of the leading candidates for Big 12 Player of the Year next season has much to worry about regarding his future on the court. It was just obvious Tuesday afternoon inside Allen Fieldhouse that Azubuike can’t yet dominate inside the way he’s used to doing.
The 7-footer from from Nigeria still dunked with ease during a low key scrimmage designed to entertain the kids attending Bill Self’s basketball camp. Azubuike simply wasn’t wholly vicious in doing so like you know a 100% recovered “Dok” would be.
That’s no criticism of the Jayhawks’ 280-ish pound pivot, either. The big man hasn’t played in a real basketball game — this scrimmage existed on the opposite end of the competitive and intense spectrum — in more than six months, after suffering a wrist injury that ended his junior season.
The four dunks Azubuike completed with ease, while tamer than the ones that comprise the center’s career highlight reel, because no one had to fear whether the stanchion could handle the aftershock, were a sign he’s easing his way back into form, and back into commanding the paint.
Azubuike didn’t spend the first-to-80 scrimmage outrunning any of KU’s other bigs, either, but that’s never been his game. He at least was able to get up and down the floor without looking overwhelmingly plodding for most of the affair, while fellow bigs David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot (Silvio De Sousa was absent on this particular afternoon) obviously benefited from being in far better condition — see: Azubuike’s aforementioned long non-basketball rehab and recovery process.
While the two free throws Azubuike knocked down late in the scrimmage had to be a nice little confidence booster for the career 39.4% foul shooter, the good news for KU’s frontcourt is that Azubuike still has another four-plus months to get back to tyrannizing opponents who have the misfortune of trying to defend him in the low post.
And by then Azubuike surely will feel more comfortable relying on his strength inside than he does at this juncture. At the height of his powers the center would have scored far more than the 23 points he put up in his Blue team’s narrow loss at Self’s camp. And he would not have been so quick to settle for and take lower-percentage jumpers when he’s better off prevailing through and over interior defenders above and around the rim.
Azubuike no doubt benefited psychologically from taking jump shots that he clearly has spent some time on in hopes of adding to his repertoire. And the massive Jayhawk even had a little fun in front of the campers, trying to show off his handles with some length of the floor low dribbling displays. The youth were so inspired that by the time the game was on the line they serenaded the big with chants of “Dok for 3,” a request that not even Azubuike wanted to grant.
But we know where his shots will come from when the games mean something again. Azubuike’s dunks and jump hooks will be a staple of KU’s offense in 2019-20. By the time the season gets here, he’ll be back to his authoritative, intimidating attacks in the post.
For a brief period of time this spring, shortly before he was scheduled to pack up and move to Lawrence to embark upon his college basketball career at Kansas, Issac McBride found himself at least a little preoccupied with the future of another Jayhawk.
While working diligently with his trainer in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., McBride plugged away keeping in mind that he might arrive at KU not as a teammate of starting point guard Devon Dotson, but as his replacement.
Dotson, of course, was exploring his NBA chances, and it wasn’t until the May 29 draft deadline for withdrawing that Dotson ultimately decided to remain with the Jayhawks.
“That was something that we pondered on every day,” McBride said of Dotson’s decision process and the impact it could have on McBride’s role as a freshman, “considering he might not be able to or might not be coming back. And after we saw his draft combine, he did really well and played very great. And we expected that, because Devon’s a really talented player.”
With Dotson potentially keeping his name in the draft, McBride prepared for a scenario in which he could have ended up being asked to take over KU’s starting point guard duties as a freshman, just as Dotson did this past season.
Enhancing his pick and roll skills immediately became a priority for McBride as a result, with both his trainer and KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend telling the soon to be freshman he needed to become more effective in those situations.
“We didn’t know if he was coming back or not,” McBride said of Dotson, “but we studied it real closely and then we worked according to if Devon’s not going to be able to come back. But we have him back and that’s going to make our team even more dangerous.”
When McBride discussed Dotson returning to KU he did so not as a player wishing the starting job and/or more playing time would be heading his way this coming season, but as a team-first guard excited to learn from Dotson. McBride said ever since he first committed to KU that Dotson treated him as a teammate, and that Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett really made him feel welcome, too, even before officially joining the roster this summer.
Ultimately, McBride anticipates benefiting from Dotson’s presence over the course of the coming months.
“Having him back is going to be something different, of course. Guarding someone every day that fast, that quick, that strong and that smart,” McBride explained. “It’s only going to make me a better defender and a better player and a tougher competitor.”
McBride could still end up becoming Dotson’s replacement, but that won’t come for at least another year now. Until then, McBride can play against Dotson at practices, pick his brain when the freshman is looking for advice and ease into the spotlight of playing in the backcourt for a nationally renowned program.
“Having someone like that will be a blessing,” McBride said of teaming with Dotson, “and not even a blessing in disguise but just out there. That’s someone that can help not only me, but our whole team. That’s a whole different dynamic to our team.”
Indeed, the Jayhawks will fare far better with Dotson in 2019-20 than they would have without the blur of a point guard. The fact that McBride is so ready to recognize that speaks to his maturity and desire to win.
McBride made sure to ready himself for a season without Dotson, but now that they’ll be teaming up — and with McBride comfortable playing off the ball the duo could give KU an ultra-quick backcourt in spurts — McBride will be even better set up for longterm success with the Jayhawks.
Not one of the four four-star freshmen on the 2019-20 roster screams guaranteed NBA lottery pick at this point, the earliest stage, of each of their college basketball careers at the University of Kansas.
Yet not one of them has failed to impress their new teammates and coaches in one fashion or another during their brief time on KU’s campus.
The Jayhawks’ supposedly underwhelming — at least by the ridiculous standards of this particular program — freshman class is full of players Bill Self is convinced will contribute at some point in the future, even if the coach has not figured out quite yet how much KU will ask of forwards Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna or guards Issac McBride and Christian Braun during their collective debut season.
For what the freshmen may — for now — lack in jawdropping talent or five-star power, it seems they are making up for it with the types of efforts that will earn them not only respect, but also playing time.
“They came in here ready to work,” sophomore David McCormack said Monday of what the youngest and newest players on the team have done to stand out so far. “They play hard. Definitely. The whole group of freshmen, they’re tough. They don’t take crap from no one when it comes to practice or games or anything.”
Perhaps that’s why Self thinks all four could end up factoring into KU’s rotation this coming season.
“I think they’re all good players,” Self said on more than one occasion of the freshmen on Monday. “I think we’ve got to figure out some things with the minutes standpoint, which may be a situation we didn’t think we would have to deal with. But, hey, they’ve all been good (on the court since arriving).”
Ahead of his 17th season at KU, Self made it clear neither Wilson, Enaruna, McBride nor Braun will leave the type of footprints as freshmen that some of the more heralded recruits Self and his staff have landed through the years, citing the names Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ben McLemore and Josh Jackson.
“But these guys are going to be really good college players,” Self predicted.
From what senior forward Mitch Lightfoot — he’s already a senior? — has witnessed from the freshmen during the summer, he thinks they can make a “huge” impact for the Jayhawks.
“The thing about these freshmen is they play so hard. They’re all willing to get better from what I’ve seen,” Lightfoot shared. “They like to learn. And then coach is obviously confident in them and he’s letting them know that. I think that’s important for them for their development.”
Wilson, who just committed to KU this past week, didn’t arrive in Lawrence until the weekend. On Monday afternoon, when he left KU’s locker room inside Allen Fieldhouse to head to a training session, he turned the wrong direction before Self redirected him toward the correct destination.
The coach and the 6-foot-8 forward who had previously planned to play at Michigan are just getting to know each other. At the moment Self was asked what Wilson will bring to KU’s lineup, the coach made sure to point out that he had only worked with the freshman once since Wilson enrolled.
“But he gives us size, he gives us toughness and he gives us skill,” Self said. “He’s not going to wow you like some people may think, like Josh (Jackson) could from an athletic standpoint and quick twitch standpoint. But he just knows how to play. He’s a winner. And I think his ability to shoot the ball is probably as good, close to as good as anybody on our team. And to have that as a guy that’s potentially a bad matchup four at least at times during the game, I think, is going to be real important to us.”
All four freshmen figure to prove themselves as vital components of a winning KU team next season. Wilson and the 6-8 Enaruna give the Jayhawks some flexibility and size on the wing whenever needed. McBride looks like an ideal backup point guard for Devon Dotson, and would also feel comfortable playing with Dotson. Braun could prove to be one of the Jayhawks’ better 3-point shooters.
None of them will be asked to carry more of a load than they can handle. And all of them just might end up too hardnosed and essential to keep out of a deep KU rotation.
Both have just one season of college basketball experience on their résumés. In terms of height, one of them has just one inch on the other. And when it comes to fit, either of the two University of Kansas big men have the ability to partner effectively inside with 7-footer Udoka Azubuike.
So which sturdy forward is the man for the frontcourt supporting role next to Azubuiike when KU plays big? Silvio De Sousa or David McCormack?
Head coach Bill Self and his staff, of course, have much of the offseason, preseason practices, scrimmages and even exhibitions to navigate before they really have to figure that part out.
In the meantime, the rest of the Jayhawks should get to witness quite a competition between the 6-foot-10, 260-pound McCormack, who became a more impactful player for KU late in his freshman season, and the 6-9, 245-pound De Sousa, whose first year of college basketball followed a similar path before the NCAA ruled him ineligible for what would have been his sophomore season.
“It could be,” McCormack said recently, when asked whether his battles with De Sousa in the weeks and months ahead could determine which of them enters the 2019-20 season as a starter. “But, I mean, I see it as friendly competition, pushing us to get better. And I know either way it’s going to benefit us both.”
As a freshman this past season, McCormack played in 34 games, averaging 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10.7 minutes a game. The big man who played at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) as a prep finished his debut college year shooting 62.5% from the floor, and proved to be far more effective toward the end of the schedule, after growing more comfortable at the collegiate level.
In early March, McCormack put up double-digit points in three consecutive games. In his season finale he provided 11 points and 6 boards against Auburn. McCormack projects as an overall more effective player for KU as a sophomore, particularly with the positive individual momentum that led into his offseason.
De Sousa’s a lock to blow away his previous season’s numbers, as well. Before breaking through late in KU’s 2018 Final Four season, De Sousa often played sparse minutes when asked to prove his merits to Self. Four minutes there, two minutes here. De Sousa played one minute three times in his 20 appearances off the bench for KU. In half of those 20 games he played four or fewer minutes.
It’s already been more than a year and two months since De Sousa proved in an Elite Eight matchup versus Duke (4 points, 10 rebounds and 1 block) that his presence can change a game for the better for KU. The big man never got the chance the following year to show off how much he had added to his repertoire since putting up 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 8.8 minutes as a freshman, when he shot 68.1% from the floor.
Ahead of his junior year with the Jayhawks, the forward from Angola expects his clashes inside with McCormack will be intense.
“Oh, yeah,” De Sousa began, before making it clear that didn’t mean any animosity existed between the two KU bigs. “Battles are on every team. Everybody who wants to play, they must earn it.”
After watching closely as McCormack developed into a more forceful presence inside, De Sousa assessed that his teammate had a good freshman season.
“So I’m going to have to battle and fight every single day and just kind of earn the spot,” De Sousa added.
These two will be tussling in the paint and around the rim on KU’s practice courts, but how they handle various other parts of the job is likely to dictate who plays more.
If Self wants to start two big men, rather than four guards around Azubuike, ultimately, the forward who emerges as the starting 4-man will be the one who is the best fit for the lineup overall. And that might come down to which of them is more comfortable operating from the high post and/or playing some on the perimeter in order to better balance the floor.
Neither has proven in live action what he can do in that role, and neither is likely to look as natural doing so as Dedric Lawson, for example.
Both could kill it on the offensive glass playing next to Azubuike and both burly forwards possess the potential to make the paint a treacherous place to visit for KU opponents.
However, unless one of De Sousa and McCormack unexpectedly dominates the other, making the victor a no-brainer of a decision for Self, it could come down to other intangibles. Who is more versatile defensively? Which one can keep the ball moving offensively and feed Azubuike in the post? Who can drive the ball not just to score but to help keep the offense flowing?
They’ll have all summer long and then some to fine tune those aspects of the game that might not come as naturally as a jump hook off a post up.
De Sousa seems to have the more natural jumper between the two, and not because of that, but due to the tenacity that characterizes much of his game and his bounce, the sure to be fan favorite inside Allen Fieldhouse who won his appeal after the NCAA robbed him of a year of his basketball career would be my pick to win the available staring job up front.
And McCormack would be a terror of a first big off the bench.
Topeka — Between Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot, manning the paint should be a non-issue for next season’s Kansas basketball team.
There’s no doubt the Jayhawks’ bulky frontline of 6-foot-8 to 7-footers will be one of the team’s substantial strengths.
But who among their KU teammates are capable of providing the team with reliable 3-point shooting in 2019-20?
It’s a question that might not totally be answered until some of the program’s newest members prove themselves worthy of playing time.
This past season, 3-point shooting was more of a mixed bag for Kansas than a dependable source of offense. KU shot 260-for-743 on 3-pointers (35%, ranking 143rd in the nation) over the course of its 26-10 campaign. What’s more, this coming season, with the 3-point line moving back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for Division I play, KU will be without its three most productive shooters from the 2018-19 roster.
Lagerald Vick, who only played in 23 games before leaving KU in early February, made a team-best 66 3-pointers on 145 attempts (44.5%). Quentin Grimes shot 54-for-159 (34%) and Dedric Lawson was 35-for-89 (39.3%). Of course, Grimes, after testing the NBA Draft waters this spring, withdrew his name from professional consideration and entered it into the NCAA’s transfer portal, while Lawson, as expected, decided to stay in the draft following his redshirt junior season.
Taking a stab in June at which Jayhawks will be asked to carry the 3-point load in November through March, the list of candidates is both obvious and alarmingly succinct: Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji.
Dotson, who connected on 33 of 91 3’s (36.3%) as a freshman, becomes the de facto top returning shooter for the Jayhawks. Agabaji, who played in only 22 games in his debut season, wasn’t too far behind, knocking down 23 of 75 3’s (30.7%).
Kansas may need much more 3-point production from both guards during their upcoming sophomore seasons. Agbaji said while speaking with reporters at Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp this week that measures already are being taken with that in mind.
“Our coaches really emphasize how much we’re in the gym shooting,” Agbaji said. “And when we go to workouts later, that’s what we’ll be doing, just getting shots up — bigs, too — and all of that. Shooting’s definitely something we’re going to focus on in this offseason.”
Good thing, too. Beyond Dotson and Agbaji, the Jayhawks don’t have much proven fire power in place for the 2019-20 season. Dotson and Agbaji account for 56 of the combined 72 made 3-pointers among KU’s returning players.
This past season, Marcus Garrett shot 12-for-49 (24.5%), Lightfoot converted 2 of his 10 3-point tries (20%) and walk-on Chris Teahan went 2-for-5 (40%). Neither McCormack nor Azubuike as much as attempted a 3. Nor are those two bigs expected to transform into 3-point shooters between now and November.
So from whose hands might some additional 3-pointers originate?
“Right now it’s so early you can’t really tell,” Teahan admitted. “Everybody’s going to be working hard, and I think everybody’s going to be getting their shots up and we’ll continue to progress. But if I need be out there to shoot, then I’m going to be ready for it.”
All three incoming freshmen in KU’s 2019 recruiting class have a chance to contribute in this area of need. And while 6-9 forward Tristan Enaruna, 6-6 wing Christian Braun and 6-foot guard Issac McBride all arrived on campus earlier this week, they’re still miles away right now from demonstrating they can make up for KU’s dearth of shooters.
“I think they all can stroke it,” Teahan said of the trio of freshmen. “I think it just depends on whose day it is and if they can shoot consistently.”
Agbaji also pointed to Braun and McBride in particular as potential 3-point threats in the season ahead.
“I would hope to see that Marcus has developed a little bit some moving forward,” Agbaji added of Garrett, a career 25.5% 3-point shooter 69 games into his college career.
Even teams capable of dominating inside need some trustworthy shooters to space the floor. Perhaps Braun, McBride and/or Enaruna can emerge in that role. Or maybe head coach Bill Self and his staff will fill one or more of the team’s current three open scholarship spots with someone who can knock down shots on the perimeter.
At this stage of the offseason, though, only two Jayhawks could be considered sound options from downtown.
“You haven’t really seen any in-game competition stuff,” Teahan said, when asked to identify KU’s surefire shooters, “so that’s kind of hard to say. But I trust Devon and I trust Ochai, because I’ve seen them shoot the ball.”
Even so, will KU have enough shooting overall?
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Agbaji contended. “I’m confident in all my teammates to hit shots and all of that. I think we’ll improve and we’ll definitely be better.”
Topeka — On what seemed at the time like an uneventful Friday afternoon in late May, a two-word text message sent University of Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji into a frenzy.
“He’s free,” read the incoming note on Agbaji’s phone, sent from Fred Quartlebaum, the team’s director of student-athlete development.
Quartlebaum’s text, which included a picture of a smiling Silvio De Sousa with his lawyer, delivered to Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, Udoka Azubuike and De Sousa himself, was how Agbaji, relaxing on his bed at the time, learned De Sousa’s appeal was successful and the forward had been cleared to return and play for the Jayhawks next season.
“After that I just lost it,” a smiling Agbaji recalled Tuesday, after spending some of his morning working as a counselor at Washburn University’s basketball camp at Lee Arena.
“I went to my mom, I was like, ‘Yo, they got him free.’ I called my dad — he was at work,” Agbaji went on. “It’s exciting.”
The chance for the Jayhawks to team up with De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward, during the 2019-20 season felt gratifying for his teammates, such as Agbaji, because the whole ordeal dragged on for so long and seemed so beyond anyone’s control, making De Sousa’s future with the program a giant unknown.
“It’s something that we had, not really affecting us, but just something we had going on that was off the court, and it was really unnecessary I think,” Agbaji said, as he and other Jayhawks had their first opportunity with media members to reflect on the successful De Sousa appeal. “Having that done and good and having him back is really exciting. And I think it’s kind of motivating our team a lot, too.”
For the Jayhawks that May 24 victory is easy to lump together with Udoka Azubuike returning for his senior season and Devon Dotson withdrawing from the NBA Draft. But the De Sousa ruling and the emotions it inspired made it unique.
David McCormack recalled a push notification on his phone informing him of the De Sousa news. He said less than a minute later the Jayhawks’ group chat “blew up” because all of the players were chiming in, and sending messages to their rescued big man.
“Just congratulating him and (telling him) how we’re proud of him and all of that,” McCormack shared of the interactions within that ecstatic moment for the teammates.
KU walk-on Elijah Elliott was on a plane, coming back from the beach, when his phone began buzzing because of the De Sousa ruling. Elliott said he immediately called up the KU big man to share his excitement.
The outpouring of support had everything to do with what De Sousa’s teammates had witnessed over the course of the previous season, during which De Sousa never was able to play a game, was ruled ineligible and kept on practicing and believing in himself, despite his circumstances.
“His attitude never wavered,” Elliott said of De Sousa. “He never had a bad attitude. I think through the whole thing it was just constant with him and it paid off in the end.”
Although most of the college basketball world hasn’t seen De Sousa play since he carved out an important role for himself as a freshman on KU’s 2018 Final Four team, his teammates this past year, during a lost sophomore season for the forward from Angola, witnessed him improving behind the scenes, as De Sousa continued practicing with the Jayhawks.
“He’s just really been working on his skill set and getting better on different aspects,” McCormack revealed. “I would say shooting, dribbling, anything. His game I can see has just progressed all around.”
When De Sousa finally reemerges on the national stage this coming season for what looks like another Final Four contender for Bill Self’s Jayhawks, everyone will get to see for themselves what De Sousa’s teammates have been watching.
Elliott predicted the forward’s competitive nature will shine above everything.
“He’s super competitive, loves to compete,” Elliott emphasized. “Great teammate and gives it everything he has every day when he steps on the court.”
Popular with his teammates and the KU fanbase alike, De Sousa already has injected the Jayhawks with energy and momentum, and the season is still five months away.
A Devon Dotson-less Kansas basketball team would have figured out some way to succeed in the 2019-20 season — Bill Self is still the Jayhawks’ head coach after all. That alternate reality isn’t one even the most diehard KU follower could stomach in fan fiction form, though.
If Dotson had decided to go ahead and keep his name in this year’s NBA Draft, maybe Quentin Grimes would have tried to return to KU and play some point guard instead of entering his name in the transfer portal. Perhaps incoming freshman Issac McBride would have emerged as the team’s primary ball handler. More likely, junior Marcus Garrett would have served as a large floor general.
The truth is none of those alternatives could be characterized as ideal. Had Dotson not saved KU from that actuality with his decision to return, observers would constantly have wondered how much better the Jayhawks would have looked with the point guard from Charlotte, N.C., running the show.
The Jayhawks should be what-if free next season, though, with Dotson back and Silvio De Sousa cleared. KU even projects as strong enough with its veteran heavy lineup to keep people from wondering how R.J. Hampton would have looked in a KU uniform.
With Dedric Lawson trying to carve out a spot for himself in the NBA and Hampton playing in New Zealand, this will be Dotson’s team. And maybe that played some factor in his decision to put his NBA career on the back burner for one year. (See Self’s statement on Dotson: “We feel like we have a very high draft pick in next year's draft returning as our point guard.”)
It looked like Dotson would have been a late second-round pick this year. Now he has a full season of starring for what looks like a legit Final Four contender ahead of him. More national television exposure and countless opportunities to showcase what kind of growth he has made as a playmaker, shooter and finisher after averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman, when he made 48.2% of his shots and 36.3% of his 3-pointers.
Dotson won’t have to lead KU in scoring — a healthy Udoka Azubuike would be more than capable of that — but he could. Dotson had the best free throw rate (.482) among KU starters this past season and he became more adept at getting into the paint and drawing contact as his first college season progressed. He’ll be even more comfortable, not to mention stronger, by the time his sophomore season begins, and Dotson is dedicated and competitive enough to become a more effective scorer off the dribble, whether that’s at the rim or at the foul line.
And you know he’ll spend the offseason working on his 3-point shot and trying to improve his ability to drive to set up shots for his teammates, because those are two qualities that will better his chances of getting drafted early in 2020 like Self thinks he can.
A leader in waiting and as obsessed with winning as anyone on KU’s roster this past season, Dotson can now smoothly step into the spotlight, while assuring the Jayhawks play with speed, as well as some confidence and passion. Next year’s KU team won’t look much like its predecessor. Not with a driven Dotson back and taking on an even larger role.
With Dotson, Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas has a core of rotation players that looks on paper like a Big 12 title-winning lineup and a top-five team in the country. Their ceiling could go even higher if some combination of freshmen McBride, Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun prove themselves ready. Plus, with three open scholarships at this point, there’s a chance Self and his staff could still add even another player or two capable of contributing right away.
As talented as all those individuals are, each of their jobs would have been more taxing without Dotson around. His presence changes everything for the better for KU, and saves everyone invested in the program from wondering what if.
Since the Kansas basketball team’s loss to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks have been steeped in decision season.
Which players would decide to declare for the NBA Draft? Whom among the 2018-19 Jayhawks would elect to transfer? Would five-star prospects such as Matthew Hurt, Precious Achiuwa or R.J. Hampton choose to play at KU? What would the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Reinstatement committee determine about Silvio De Sousa’s appeal?
While it may seem KU head coach Bill Self and his staff have experienced fewer victories during decision season than the program’s rabid fan base would deem acceptable, this all-important portion of the offseason isn’t over yet.
One of the biggest resolutions capable of impacting next season’s roster will be reached by Wednesday night. That’s when the deadline arrives for every college player who entered the NBA’s pre-draft process and attended the combine but hasn’t yet decided whether to keep his name in the draft pool or return the college ranks for at least one more go-round.
And that’s when Self and the Jayhawks will find out whether high-speed point guard Devon Dotson will be blurring up and down the court at Allen Fieldhouse this coming season or embarking on his professional career.
The verdict is one Dotson will reach with his family, and they will do so from a well informed position now that the 6-foot-2 (in shoes) point guard has spent the past several weeks working out in front of and receiving feedback from NBA executives, coaches and scouts.
While it seems Dotson improved his stock through this process, his NBA future remains no sure thing. Unless there is some franchise who fell in love with Dotson and assured him he will be picked at the end of the first round or beginning of the second, it appears he could add further value to his draftability by returning for his sophomore season. As of Tuesday morning, ESPN’s list of best prospects available ranks Dotson 59th overall for the 60-pick draft. Quentin Grimes, who also has yet to announce his staying or going status, ranked 73rd on the list, while Dedric Lawson was 67th.
Self will find a way to get by without Dotson if the point guard’s ultimate choice is to remain in the draft. But Dotson resolving to come back to KU would qualify as a massive decision season win for the Jayhawks.
If Dotson announces he’s sticking around, it helps lessen the blow felt by Hampton’s Tuesday announcement that he’ll play professionally in New Zealand, as well as his subsequent declaration on “The Yak” radio show that he would’ve chosen KU had he decided to play college basketball.
Much more importantly, though, Dotson choosing the known of starring at Kansas over a murkier immediate future likely involving a lot of time next season in the G League would solidify KU’s standing as one of college basketball’s top teams in 2019-20.
More decisions that will impact KU’s next roster will come, including one from four-star forward Jalen Wilson, set to visit later this week.
But no conceivable conclusion at this juncture can do for the Jayhawks’ 2020 Final Four chances what Dotson could by deciding to run it back in a KU uniform.