There aren't a whole lot of details out there about this event, which is slated to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday on the lawn of Watson Library on KU's campus, but the KU video department put this video together and its intent is clear.
First-year KU football coach David Beaty is ready and willing to take on all comers in an oversized game cornhole, the popular tailgate game also known as bags.
The event is merely the latest way that Beaty is taking to the streets to engage with KU students and fans in an attempt to spark interest in and drum up support for a program that has struggled through six consecutive losing seasons under three different head coaches.
From the look of it, all you have to do is show up to participate in what's being dubbed "Coach Beaty's Campus Challenge." Be forewarned, though. As you can see in the video, the KU coach feels pretty good about his skills.
Friday's spring practice for the KU football team — No. 11 of 15 — kicked off with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson sending his guys back to the goal line after a lackluster breakdown that followed their warm-up.
“We're about to scrimmage, fellas,” Jackson and other coaches yelled. “Have some enthusiasm.”
Seconds later, the breakdown was much more spirited and the Jayhawks had that fire the coaches were looking for.
This, of course, is nothing new. Coaches do this all the time and it has happened at KU plenty. But regardless of whether it encourages you to roll your eyes or pump your fist, it definitely shows the kind of commitment to the small details that this coaching staff and these players are working toward.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the scrimmage but there were a few other things that caught my eye while we were out there. Here's a look:
• Probably the most interesting aspect of Friday came in the 7-on-7 period that happened just before we were asked to leave. Four different quarterbacks got four reps each and I timed how long it took each to get the ball out of his hands after receiving the snap. Here are the results: Michael Cummings – 2 seconds, 2.5 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds; Montell Cozart – 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds, 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds; Frank Seurer Jr. – 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 2.5 seconds; Brock Gilmore – 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 4.5 seconds. Now, just because those back-ups held the ball a little longer does not mean the passes were incomplete or the plays were a bust. But if it's tempo they're looking for (and it is) it's crystal clear that Cummings and Cozart are a full step ahead in terms of reading and reacting.
• One special teams drill I hadn't seen yet was the onside kick recovery drill, which featured roughly 30 different guys running through the drill. One at a time, the guys would practice fielding the bouncing kick and then going down to the ground to secure it. Mixed results, as expected, but it was a fun drill to watch. About that attention to detail, special teams coach Gary Hyman got all over his kickers during the drill for not going rapid-fire enough. “This is their drill, not yours,” Hyman barked. “Get the kicks off faster.”
• Watched the O-Line again for a while and saw Zach Yenser calling out protections and then hovering over his guys while instructing them what to do. Most of them knew what to do to begin with, but he was creating stress and forcing them to focus while under fire. Bryan Peters was working at left tackle with the ones and twos and I can't help but think he's going to wind up being one of those Gavin Howard type guys this fall. He may not be the most impressive guy they have, physically, but he's reliable, can play multiple positions and has a good head.
• The Jayhawks will take the weekend off and return to the practice fields on Tuesday for practice No. 12.
I'm not sure why but I've kind of overlooked the defensive line this spring — at least in terms of how often I've watched them work at practice.
Maybe it's because we've heard so much about how the D-Line is one of the strengths of the team and so many of those guys who play up front are familiar names — Ben Goodman, T.J. Semke, Andrew Bolton, Kapil Fletcher and others.
With that said, I made sure to go stand down there on Thursday at spring practice No. 10 and I'm definitely glad I did.
Not only was I impressed by what I saw — these guys really look to have good footwork, great get-off and solid work ethic — but I also was entertained.
Calvin Thibodeaux was a solid player on a few really good Oklahoma teams. From the look of things, he's also well on his way to becoming a solid coach and maybe even a comedian.
During one drill, in which the D-Linemen were working on lateral movement, a couple of guys stumbled over the bags on the ground. Thibodeaux let 'em have it.
“Don't whoop 'em, bags,” he kept yelling. “Oh man these bags are tough, aren't they? Glad we don't play the bags on Saturday.”
Ribbings like those were seemingly endless, but they all were done with a purpose — to motivate the guys to prove Thibodeaux wrong. Like I said, they've got great work ethic and I can't help but think that's where some of it comes from.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye on Thursday:
• During Wednesday's meeting with the media as I was talking with offensive coordinator Rob Likens, special teams coach Gary Hyman came over and pointed something out to me that I had never noticed. “Greatest hair in all of NC-2A right there,” Hyman said as he messed with Likens' 'do and walked away with a laugh. In the interest of being thorough, I decided to take a closer look at Thursday's practice, but was foiled. See, Likens most often wears a hat out there at practice, so he wasn't letting anybody see the locks. Guess we'll just have to trust Hyman on that one.
• Speaking of assistant coaches, co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry donned a little something extra to get his point across to his defensive players at Thursday's practice. Instead of just yelling things to help leverage like, “Bend your knees,” and “You're too high, you're too high,” and “Stay low, get down,” Perry wore a long sleeve T-Shirt with those instructions plastered across the front. Bend. Your. Knees. It's one thing to bark orders, but it's another to remind guys constantly even when they just look at you.
• One more note about Hyman, whom you've already heard has an incredible amount of energy. During a kickoff return drill, one kick returner caught the ball, rolled up the right side and then cut it back to daylight on the left side and broke free. Now in a game that might not be frowned upon. But at Thursday's practice, that wasn't the case. Hyman lit him up for cutting it back because the drill they were doing was designed to work on blocking assignments with a right return. Cutting it back does not allow the guys in the drill to see whether what they had done actually worked or not and Hyman made sure the returner and everyone within ear shot knew it.
• During the 11-on-11 live offense period, Montell Cozart was the first QB out there with the first team. That could mean something, but it also might not. Likens said the other day that he makes a conscious effort to ensure that both Cozart and Michael Cummings work equal reps with the first-team offensive line and the second-team offensive line so he can see how each guy reacts to the adversity and advantages that come with both. It might have just been how the rotation fell today so I wouldn't read too much into Cozart being out there first just yet.
• Speaking of QBs, one thing I noticed that was new to me was hand signals from the quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage. Now, we're not talking Peyton Manning stuff here, but I did see these guys signaling to receivers and possibly even linemen with their hands after taking the calls from the sideline. All in the name of tempo, I'm sure.
If you're looking for signs of optimism regarding the progress of the Kansas University football team this spring, here's a nugget that might interest you.
On Tuesday, at the ninth practice of the spring, the Jayhawks jumped right into a special teams period following the stretching and warm-up session as they normally do.
For the second time in the past few practices, kickoff return was the focal point of the period and it jumped out at me how much the Jayhawks had improved in such a short time in this department.
Things that were merely being taught at a practice last week now looked like things these guys had been doing for years. And the overall energy and intensity of the drill looked much sharper, crisper and efficient.
It's one drill. And this does not mean that all is well and that this coaching staff has a magic wand that can turn frogs into princes.
What it does mean, though, is that these players are continuing to put in the work and what they're being taught is starting to take hold.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice:
• There has been some message board chatter about the health of left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith and I even wrote last week that he wasn't working in every drill. But he was out there today and seemed to be fine. Good news for an offensive line that's still coming together.
• I thought it was interesting to watch the tight ends working drills with some of the wide receivers on Tuesday. Ben Johnson, who every day looks like he's poised to step into a big time role, and Kent Taylor were working on routes with Tre' Parmalee, Rodriguez Coleman and Tyler Patrick. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but it speaks to the potential interchangeable nature of these positions in an offense that may use as many as 8-10 pass catchers per game.
• Speaking of interchangeable, I noticed that former Free State High standout Joe Dineen was working with the safeties at Tuesday's practice. Dineen, who started as a safety and then moved to running back and finally linebacker, is listed on the roster as a linebacker. He's been held out of most contact drills throughout the spring while recovering from an injury so maybe him working with the safeties was just a way to get him some more mental reps and keep things sharp in case he's needed back there, as well.
• We continue to hear nothing but good things about the way Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings are battling for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback. So I took an extended look at both on Tuesday. Forget arm strength, footwork and those types of things. I'm not fully qualified to critique that, nor do I get to hear what they're asked to do with each rep. One thing that jumped out at me while watching though was how both guys constantly looked for time to get some work in between reps. If Cozart wasn't throwing live, he was working on his arm placement or drop back. And if Cummings wasn't up in the drill, he was doing the same, while also clearly working through some mental reps. We've heard a lot over the years about the importances of these extra reps and it's cool to see both guys taking it seriously.
• Speaking of the two QBs, I believe we'll get to talk to them and maybe a few other players sometime this week. So it should be fun to hear how the battle's progressing and how they're liking the Rob Likens/David Beaty offense.
Through his first three seasons as a Jayhawk, we've seen KU forward Perry Ellis do just about everything.
He's been good in the post and hit from the outside. He's shown the ability to put the ball on the deck and create for himself and score by hitting the offensive glass. His mid-range jumper (particularly from the baseline) is as smooth as butter and he's a career 74 percent free throw shooter.
When he started his four-year journey back in 2012 we knew that Ellis had all of the raw tools to develop into that kind of player. But they did not all show up at once. Little bit little — game to game, week to week and even year to year — Ellis unveiled new parts of his game that almost always took him to another level.
Remember the 2013 Big 12 tournament, where he helped carry the Jayhawks to the title and landed a spot on the all-tourney team? That was the first time Ellis showed consistent willingness and ability to be a force around the rim. And he never took a step back from there, even if asserting himself and his personality remained a work in progress.
Remember the end of the 2013-14 season and start of the 2014-15 season, when Ellis showed that he was both able and willing to shoot more three-pointers? He took 46 and made 18 (39 percent) over the course of his junior season and never looked anything but comfortable doing it. Those numbers doubled his career totals from his first two seasons.
Remember Ellis' insanely productive stretch during the 2014-15 season before he got hurt, when he improved his point total in six straight games and topped 18 points in five of them? That included a 28-point, 13-rebound explosion in a home win over Texas and seemed to indicate that Ellis finally understood that he could dominate games. He got hurt in the very next contest and he was not quite the same the rest of the season.
That stretch, perhaps as much as anything, may have been what led Ellis to decide to return for his senior season at Kansas.
It's not necessarily that he had anywhere to go nor was he deemed a lock to succeed in the NBA. Far from it. Instead, it seems logical that the most productive stretch of his career reminded Ellis just how much more he could improve and served as all the feedback he needed to believe that, with a return to KU, he could hone certain skills and better showcase his abilities in hopes of landing a spot in the NBA in 2016.
Time will tell how likely a prospect that last part is. But both Ellis and KU coach Bill Self believe it can happen and that will be a crucial driving force this offseason.
Talking after Monday's team banquet, Ellis pointed to things like better ball handling, improving on the perimeter and becoming even quicker, particularly defensively. Those specifics point to a guy who realizes that his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame is not power forward material in the NBA and his only path to achieving that dream is likely as a small forward.
While it's logical to think that Ellis, with his skills, work ethic and determination, can get there, it's also important to point out who some of the top small forwards in the NBA game are today — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jeff Green, Josh Smith, Draymond Green and Luol Deng.
Ellis has a long way to go before he's on the same level as any of those guys, but you don't have to squint too hard to see it happening, at least in terms of him being able to compete at their position. Draymond Green was a power player for the Michigan State Spartans during his college career and he's now another one of those perimeter weapons for the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was among the conference leaders in rebounding during his days at San Diego State but now looks like one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game.
Ellis will never be as good as Leonard or Green. But the one delivered by Green, who stands 6-7, 229 pounds, is the perfect type of transformation for Ellis to aspire to have. Think Poor Man's Draymond Green on the end of some NBA bench. Sound a little underwhelming? I bet Ellis would take it in a second.
If Self and the Jayhawks can land a couple of big men in this recruiting class — say Cheick Diallo, Mike Thorne Jr., and/or Stephen Zimmerman — that will give Ellis more freedom to hone those small forward skills, much in the same way Marcus Morris was able to do it during his time as a Jayhawk.
If not, well, what's Ellis have to lose by returning to school and passing on a draft that might not have had a spot for him anyway?
No need to be alarmed, but Friday's eighth practice of the spring session for the Kansas University football program may have been the first in which special teams coach Gary Hyman did not sport his signature look of a turtleneck and pants.
According to one KU official, who also noticed the fashion trend, Hyman was mic'd up for Friday's practice, an episode of KU's web-only, behind-the-scenes look at practice that surely will go down as a must-watch.
Hyman usually looks something like he does in the photo below:
All joking aside, I continue to be amazed by Hyman's energy. It's as if the guy just never has a bad day — or at least as if he's immune to showing it. When he's on the practice field, his entire focus is on giving every ounce he's got to teaching the Jayhawks in front of him whatever drill or skill they're working on that day.
It's not just Hyman who operates this way, but he's definitely one of the loudest and most entertaining of the bunch.
With Friday marking the first practice of the second half of the spring, I tried to spend a little more time looking at depth chart situation, knowing darn well that what's out there today could change a dozen times before the first game. Still, it's at least an indicator of which guys have performed well through the first part of spring ball.
Here's a look at what else caught my eye at Friday's practice:
• I got my first look at some kickoff return drills and it's safe to say that there's still quite a battle going on back there for which guys will get first team reps with that unit this fall. On Friday, Rodriguez Coleman, Derrick Neal, Ke'aun Kinner, Corey Avery, De'Andre Mann and walk-on Ryan Schadler (a red-shirt freshman from Hesston, Kansas, who ran track at Wichita State and continues to catch my eye with his blazing speed and all-out effort) all took turns with the first team. There's a long way to go before that gets sorted out, but it's definitely fair to say that's one area where KU is not hurting for options, provided they can afford to use front line guys in that role.
• Speaking of that drill, LBs coach Kevin Kane and WRs coach Klint Kubiak (I guess it was a K-name thing) ran the drill and their emphasis was not on the return guys but rather on the first three blockers in front of them. Not only did they emphasize steps and direction and spacing, but they also made it a point to hammer home to those guys that it's extremely critical for them to yell to the wall in front of them that the ball has been caught and they're coming. “Caught it, caught it, caught,” barked Kubiak, demonstrating the proper style and volume. “Yell and be loud out there, fellas. Make sure they hear ya,” Kane added.
• Quick update on the first- and second-string O-Line units. It seems as if regular first-team left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith might be dealing with some kind of a nagging injury so on Friday the ones lined up like this: LT Joe Bloomfield, LG Bryan Peters, C Keyon Haughton, RG Junior Visinia, RT Larry Mazyck. The twos looked like this: LT Devon Williams, LG Kyle Pullia, C Jacob Bragg, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Jayson Rhodes.
• I spent the last part of the practice we were allowed to watch observing the wide receivers and both Rodriguez Coleman and Tre' Parmalee jumped out at me throughout the drills. Coleman just looks so effortless in everything he does. If you're not into that sort of thing, you might mistake it for a guy with a lack of a motor, but I don't think that's the case. He just moves so well and has some pretty good experience, that this is all old hat for him. As for Parmalee, his hands (which never were an issue) look stronger and better than ever and he's another one of those guys who you can tell has played a little bit. Both guys are going to have to really step up for this young and inexperience receiving corps this fall, but it seems like they're doing a solid job of leading by example and helping bring the young guys along.
• The Jayhawks will have the weekend “off” and will return to the practice field on Tuesday for spring session No. 9.
Let me start by saying I thought Wayne Selden's announcement — via press release — that he was returning to Kansas University for his junior season was handled perfectly.
Selden, who enjoyed a solid freshman season but took a step back in a few areas as a sophomore, sounded sincere, outlined several good reasons for his return and even addressed how motivated he was by his rough 2014-15 season.
Good on ya.
The problem, though — at least in my eyes and surely many of yours — is that I'm not really sure Selden needed to announce that he was returning in the first place.
The stay-or-go question posed to Selden after his freshman season was legitimate given his recruiting ranking, his productive season and the inevitable departure of his then-teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But that same question was not really on the minds of those who follow KU basketball this time around.
Selden has talent. He has good size, can shoot the ball, is a terrific passer and has been trustworthy enough in the eyes of Bill Self to average roughly 30 minutes per game during his first two seasons as a Jayhawk. That last part is no small feat.
But I've often wondered what's driving Selden as a college athlete, and Friday's announcement only added to my curiosity.
To me, it seems Selden spends too much time worrying about his image — how he looks when he plays, how he's perceived in the eyes of all kinds of people and how he's talked about as a prospect. If he worried as much about consistently playing hard as he did about looking hard, I think he could become a serious impact guy and a future pro.
As it stands, he's been a pretty good college player and may very well be on his way to becoming a four-year player. Remember when that wasn't a bad thing?
Taking this a step further, this whole thing seems to be a cultural problem, though, not just a Selden problem.
So many college players these days, talented and otherwise, seem to feel like they're missing out or falling behind their peers — or, worse yet, the high school guys coming behind them — if they're not constantly thrusting themselves into the national conversation or following the ever-growing trend of self promotion that has turned college basketball into a spectacle at which even Hollywood would blush.
On the handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts I searched, Selden was listed on just one — and that was as a late second-round pick. No way that guy's going to jump to the NBA unless there were some extenuating circumstances that would make such a move necessary. With Selden there are none, which made his return to KU not only the right move but also the obvious one.
No need to announce it. No need to give it a second thought. Just get into the gym and go to work. Maybe doing that will make the question relevant again next year.
Regardless of how it was announced or whether it even needed to be, at least Selden made the right move and didn't allow outside influences or his own ego to send him down the wrong path.
That's something. And it should be very interesting to see what the Wayne Selden Experience 3.0 looks like.
2013-14: 9.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 53% 2pt, 36% 3pt, 25 steals, 66 turnovers
2014-15: 9.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 39% 2pt, 37% 3pt, 21 steals, 70 turnovers
With Cliff Alexander officially announcing his decision to leave school after one season on Tuesday, we can finish the chapter of Kansas University's one-and-done players, at least for another year.
Alexander and teammate Kelly Oubre, who announced his decision to turn pro a week earlier, become the sixth and seventh KU players to go the one-and-done route and, as many of you surely know, the results of those one-year runs by some incredibly talented players have been fairly mixed.
Despite the high rankings, McDonald's All-American tags and enormous hype and hope surrounding all seven of these players, very few of them actually lived up to what you expect from these types of players or, in some ways, what you see from one-and-done ballers at other schools.
There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is simply bad luck, but it's definitely not necessarily a KU problem.
Take Alexander, for instance. He would've been welcomed onto the roster of pretty much any program in the country, and, although he might have performed better at different places, his overall adjustment to the college game seemed like a struggle. It's safe to say then that Alexander may just have ended up being a bust no matter where he went to school. Then again, maybe not.
Such is life when covering, coaching and predicting one-and-done players. And it will be that way until something drastic changes, which may never happen.
With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the one-and-dones KU has welcomed into the fold throughout the past several seasons along with my ranking of how they performed while at Kansas.
• JOEL EMBIID • Injury limited the 7-footer from Cameroon to just 28 games during his lone season at Kansas, but boy was he impressive during those 28 games. After a relatively slow start in which he came off the bench for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season, Embiid finished with 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Modest numbers, to be sure, but when you project those out over 40 minutes (19.4, 14.0, 4.5) or 100 possessions (28.2, 20.5, 6.5) it clearly demonstrates the impact that Embiid had on the game. Of course, you did not need numbers to see that for yourself. It was very obvious that KU was a completely different team with Embiid and without him and his absence in the NCAA Tournament played a huge role in the Jayhawks going home early. As good and as important to that team as Andrew Wiggins was, one could make the case that had he been the one who was injured and Embiid stayed healthy, KU would've advanced to the second weekend. Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2014 draft by Philadelphia.
• BEN MCLEMORE • McLemore was on a darn good team during the one season he was eligible to play at Kansas, but his all-around game was a huge reason for that. The smooth shooting St. Louis native averaged 15.9 points per game and made 42 percent of his three-point shots. There were times during the middle of the 2012-13 season when McLemore was in such a zone that it seemed like 15 points per night was automatic. He also rebounded well for his position (5.2 per game) and worked defensively. Sure, he fit well into the veteran team around him, but McLemore rarely passed up shots he needed to take and was an absolute highlight machine in transition. Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2013 draft by Sacramento.
• ANDREW WIGGINS • As was the case throughout his time at KU, Wiggins probably fell to third on this list because it was impossible for him to live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded him when he arrived in Lawrence. I was never one who thought Wiggins was anything other than fantastic as a Jayhawk, I just think those two guys above him had better seasons. Wiggins' importance to his team was undeniable. He led KU in scoring, free throw shooting, played lock-down defense and ripped down six rebounds a game, many of them coming on the offensive end on his own misses. The truth of the matter is Wiggins and McLemore finished their KU careers with incredibly similar single-season statistics, but because McLemore's came without much hype and Wiggins' numbers were “disappointing” given that most of the free world believed he would average 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 dunks per game. Unfair? You bet. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Wiggins' one season in Lawrence was anything other than extremely solid. The early tournament exit and his no-show in his final game in a KU uniform certainly hurt people's memory of his time here. Drafted: No. 1 overall by Cleveland.
• XAVIER HENRY • On a team loaded with veterans, Henry was actually pretty solid. He finished with 13.4 points-per-game average and also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists per game, all while drilling 42 percent of his three-point shots. The thing is, on a different team or even in a different time, Henry could have — and likely would have — been a guy that a coach built an entire offense around. He was a great spot-up shooter, had the frame needed to drive to the rim, hit 78 percent of his free throws and was athletic and quick in transition. He could've been an amazing player who put up huge numbers and delivered highlights night in and night out. But because he was such a good dude, such a solid team player and, let's face it, still such a kid, he happily deferred to guys like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. Henry left KU with tears. Based on the way his pro career has played out, it might not have been a bad idea for him to come back for his sophomore season and fine-tune those alpha dog skills. Drafted: No. 12 overall by Memphis.
• KELLY OUBRE • It took Oubre a while to get going, but once he did, he had plenty of nights where he looked like the Jayhawks' most valuable player. For the first 10 or so games of the season, Oubre could barely get off the bench. But after cracking the starting lineup mid-way through the season, Oubre started every Big 12 game except one (Senior night) and started every game of the postseason. When he was on, he was on, whether that meant getting to the free throw line or raining from three-point range. And, defensively, he used his length and drive to frustrate opponents and help on the boards. But he never truly developed into a highly skilled offensive player and struggled to use his off hand throughout the season. Those skills are the type that can be honed in the NBA, where working on his game will be his full-time job, and Oubre's time as KU likely will be remembered by most as solid but not spectacular. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• CLIFF ALEXANDER • Alexander avoided the cellar on this list because of his solid production out of the gate and the way he impacted games when he was able to play double-digit minutes or greater. His double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse was critical and his early-season strategy of go-get-the-rebound-and-dunk-it helped him break out quickly. But as the demands from the coaching staff grew, Alexander struggled to stay caught up and that left him watching from the bench more often than not. Add to that his eligibility mess that kept him out of the final eight games of the season and it's hard to call Alexander's lone season as a Jayhawk anything other than a disappointment. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• JOSH SELBY • The No. 1 ranked player in his recruiting class sure knew how to make an entrance. But after his hot-shooting, 21-point game against USC in his first game as a Jayhawk (after a nine-game suspension due to eligibility concerns) Selby pretty much disappeared for the rest of the 2010-11 season. A lingering foot injury contributed to some of his lack of production, but the Baltimore native never appeared to fully buy in or get into the flow during his one year of college ball. He averaged 7.9 points per game and made 36 percent of his three-point attempts but played just 20.4 minutes per game and shot just 38 percent from the field overall. Drafted: No. 49 overall by Memphis in second round of 2011 NBA Draft.
Other than the 80-plus degree temperatures that made the Memorial Stadium turf feel like it would in the middle of a summer day, the main thing that jumped out to me at Monday and Tuesday's sixth and seventh spring practices for the KU football program was the attention to detail and fundamentals stressed by every coach during every drill.
On Tuesday — as is the case on most days — special teams coach Gary Hyman was the man flying around the field yelling and screaming about technique, steps, shoulders and leverage.
He's a blast to watch because he's so passionate about what he does and he puts every ounce of what he's got and who he is into every rep. The Jayhawks would be in great shape if they had a bunch of Gary Hymans to suit up and play this fall.
But they don't, so he's doing the best he can to mold them into guys who have his personality. I can't imagine what it's like to play for him, but it's a lot of fun and very informative to watch him work. He's equal parts praise and critique and you have to listen carefully to the words to determine which is which because his voice and tone rarely change.
Whether it's “Goooood, that's the way to do it, son,” or “Why did you let him get outside of you,” Hyman puts his signature roar on each teaching point.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye during Monday and Tuesday's practices:
• One of Monday's most interesting special teams drills involved a volleyball. Yep. A volleyball. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane was working with guys on rushing the punter and instead of using a football, the mock punter had a volleyball and simply flipped it with his hands whenever guys got close enough to get a block. They did this drill from a full 10 yards back and also did it from a couple of feet away, where they simulated running with their arms and then just flipped their hands out when Kane blew the whistle. This was just one of the many special teams drills that they did during the past two days, but it was cool to see how seriously the guys were taking it. Fundamentals reign supreme.
• In case you missed it, also on Monday, 5-star Antioch, California, running back Najee Harris, 6-2, 220 pounds, was on campus for an official visit. It was Harris' second visit to KU in a month and, although he's just a sophomore, the interest in the program seems to be genuine.
• Moving on to Tuesday, tackling was a huge emphasis of the portion of practice that we were able to see. I'm sure it is every day in a number of different ways, but the focus on wrapping up and bringing guys down really jumped out to me during this one. Kevin Kane ran a station that focused solely on wrapping up at the line of scrimmage. Every position group but the offensive line and quarterbacks came through it, even the wide receivers. Clint Bowen and Kenny Perry also ran tackling drills with mats and bags. The one thing Kane kept yelling over and over — other than great things like, “Holy Moses,” after a poor rep — was: “Guys, you've gotta get better at tackling. You've gotta get better at tackling.” Continued effort like they showed on Tuesday certainly won't hurt.
• Speaking of Kane, by far the most hilarious portion of Tuesday's practice came when “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival blared over the loud speaker. Kane, who must be a CCR fan, started barking at the players at his station at the time, “Who sings this?” “Who sings it?” “Who. Sings. This. Song.” Each time, the Jayhawks delivered a shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders. I can't say I expected any of them to know the answer, but watching Kane try to coach it out of them was hysterical. Finally, after about a minute, he gave up and told them. I'm not sure the actual answer rang any bells either. Good stuff.
• This is really nothing new, but it's pretty impressive what kind of shape this coaching staff is in. These guys look good, they move well and they clearly have made fitness an important part of their lives. It's easy, when you work the kind of hours that these guys work, to let that area of your life slip, but these guys — many of them young dudes — have not done that. That kind of example can only help, especially when it allows them to jump into drills and join in the conditioning elements of practice.
• As for specific players who have stood out the past couple of days, defensive end Damani Mosby continues to look like a man possessed. He goes hard every single rep (at least the ones that I've seen) and, physically, looks like the kind of guy who could make a significant impact on the field this fall. Another guy who looks good is Ronnie Davis. He's still a work in progress in some areas, but, physically, he's put together well and, like Mosby, he goes all out all the time.
• To be fair to the KU wideouts, who have struggled with drops at times this spring, there was a deep ball fade and back-shoulder drill they did while we were out there and I only saw one ball hit the turf. They ran this on one side of the field from the 40 yard line in and then lined up in the end zone on the other side of the field and ran it from the goal line out. Minor detail, but it's this kind of efficiency that KU coach David Beaty has always been impressed by and it's no surprise that he's incorporating a whole bunch of it into his first practices as a college head coach.
• Now at the halfway point of spring football, the Jayhawks will be off Wednesday and Thursday and return to the field on Friday for practice No. 8 of 15 scheduled for the spring. The final date will be the annual spring game, which is scheduled for April 25.
The 2014-15 college basketball season may just have ended — in thrilling fashion, no less; I mean, how about those Kentucky-Wisconsin and Duke-Wisconsin games to finish things off! — but there are plenty of people already looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, which is still six months away.
The folks in Lawrence, Kansas, certainly make up a large chunk of that group, as Jayhawk fans are always in basketball mode and the intensity only grows after a disappointing tournament exit like the one the Jayhawks suffered a few weeks ago.
With that in mind, let's take a quick ride down Prognosticator Place, where several national college basketball writers were bold enough to post their “way too early Top 25” lists for the 2015-16 season.
As you'll see, the Jayhawks were given a lot of love from these guys, just like they seemingly always are.
The Jayhawks will look awfully familiar in 2015-16. Freshman wing Kelly Oubre Jr. began the season in shaky form, turned into a reliable slasher, and still provided a minor shock when he announced his decision to turn pro. That may be the Jayhawks' only notable departure. Oubre's highly touted classmate, Cliff Alexander, proved to be too raw to play a major role as a freshman; he could benefit as much as any player in the the sport from another year in the Bill Self developmental churn. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III and Brannen Greene -- who should slide into Oubre's spot, and provide more 3-point shooting in the exchange -- are the same group that fended off a brutal Big 12 for KU's 11th straight regular-season title. Throw in Top-25 recruit Carlton Bragg, and there's no inherent reason to expect anything less from the Jayhawks in the year to follow.
Key losses: F Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander (projected to leave)
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Perry Ellis, G Devonte Graham, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Brannen Greene G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Notable newcomers: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Thanks to the anticipated return of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas appears pretty loaded on the perimeter. What will determine whether the Jayhawks extend their Big 12 title streak and make a deeper NCAA tournament run next March is how they address a series of questions about their frontcourt. Will all-conference forward Perry Ellis return for his senior season? Can heralded incoming freshman Carlton Bragg make an immediate impact? Will Kansas further bolster its frontcourt by landing spring targets Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo or Thon Maker? The return of Ellis would be critical because he was Kansas’ lone low-post scoring threat this past season. Undersized forward Jamari Traylor and reserves Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson are all back too, but each are better suited for backup roles. If Ellis returns and Kansas adds another big man to its class, the Jayhawks could be poised for a special season. If Ellis unexpectedly turns pro, there will be pressure on Bragg and any other incoming freshmen to develop a college-ready low-post game quickly.
Notable players definitely gone: Kelly Oubre
Others expected to leave: Cliff Alexander
Notable players expected to return: Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Jamari Traylor, Brannen Greene, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Landen Lucas
Others expected to join the roster: Carlton Bragg
Why the Jayhawks are ranked here: KU's roster will lack starpower. But so many quality pieces from a Big 12 championship team are returning that it would be silly to have Kansas outside of the top five. In other words, yes, the Jayhawks should win a 12th straight league title next season -- unless one of the next two teams listed wins the Big 12 instead.
Why They're Here: Consistency. Even with losing Kelly Oubre and likely Cliff Alexander, Kansas has a veteran core returning. As long as Perry Ellis doesn't leave for the NBA as well, Bill Self will have four of the five guys back who were starting at the end of the season. The Jayhawks will also be banking on a big jump for Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Even though he only played 11.2 minutes per game and had 10 DNPs this year, NBA scouts considered the Ukrainian KU's best pro prospect. Mykhailiuk turns 18 in June and has the ability to be an All-Big 12 wing if he's able to relax and just play—he often looked sped up and nervous as a 17-year-old freshman.
Greatest Asset: Guard play. Frank Mason made a huge leap his sophomore season—averaging 12.6 points and 3.9 assists per game—and he should continue to improve. Wayne Selden has been a bit of a disappointment at Kansas because of his inconsistencies, but there's a reason scouts once viewed him as a first-round prospect. If Mykhailiuk doesn't assert himself, Self has plenty of options. Backup point guard Devonte' Graham came on strong at the end of the year, and Brannen Greene is a knockdown shooter who is a nice asset when his shot is falling.
Will Change If... Ellis leaves or Self adds another blue-chipper or two. There are rumblings that Ellis will consider skipping his senior season. Self is also still in the mix for several of the top unsigned players.
And, of course, we can't forget Joey Brackets, who already has unveiled the first edition of his ESPN.com feature, Bracketology, which has KU listed as a 3 seed in the Midwest, where North Carolina and Roy Williams loom as the No. 1 seed.
Let the countdown begin!