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Tale of the Tait

An appreciation of all things Landen Lucas

Kansas forward Landen Lucas pulls away an offensive rebound from West Virginia forward Elijah Macon (45) and guard Tarik Phillip during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas pulls away an offensive rebound from West Virginia forward Elijah Macon (45) and guard Tarik Phillip during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

So this is what it took for the legion of Kansas basketball fans who had spent most of the 2015-16 season — and, really, the past couple of years — trashing every move that Landen Lucas made and begging Bill Self to keep him off the floor and out of the lineup?

Sounds about right. A 16-rebound, 4-block, 9-point performance in arguably the biggest game of the season to date has a way of quickly changing minds.

Of course, even with Lucas’ monster night against West Virginia — and don’t sell him short by calling it anything else; Lucas absolutely dominated portions of Tuesday’s 10-point victory — there were still those out there who called his game garbage and said he was lucky. Those sentiments came mostly from the Twitter trolls, so a quick “consider the source” disclaimer would be a good thing to throw in here. But, still. Why do people have such a hard time giving Lucas credit when credit is deserved?

Just this morning, as I was driving to work, I heard a sports talk radio host discrediting Lucas’ big night by saying he picked up most of those 16 “easy” rebounds because the opposing team was so focused on Perry Ellis, who finished with just one rebound. Offensively, I’ll give you that. Ellis attracts so much attention from opposing defenses that it often leaves teammates wide open for easy shots, some they miss and some they make.

But I’m not buying that when it comes to rebounding. For one, Ellis is not and has never been anything close to a force on the boards, so, usually, one man doing his job of properly boxing Ellis out is sufficient. It’s not as if two and three bodies immediately go lean on Ellis when a shot goes up, leaving Lucas all alone to wait for the ball to fall into his hands. Not even close.

Lucas grabbed some big time boards last night, against a physical team that bumps and shoves every time the ball is in the air. He was a manchild. And he nearly matched the rebounding total of WVU’s entire starting five by himself.

KU loses that game without Lucas. Maybe by a lot.

So it’s time to at least start giving the man the courtesy of not trashing him for his limitations and celebrating him for the things he does well.

And I’m not just talking rebounding here. I’m also not talking offense, either. He still has a long way to go in that department before he can be considered a real threat, but the best part is he knows that. And he doesn’t care. It’s not like this is a guy unaware of who he is who chucks up 15 shots a game when he should probably be taking far less than half that number.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Lucas’ performance on Tuesday night was how well he kept his cool when teammates and opponents around him were on the verge of melting down in a physical, highly competitive game that meant a ton to both teams.

The Jayhawks come together during a break from action in the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks come together during a break from action in the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The best example of this came after Devonte’ Graham was called for a foul on a play where Graham clearly did not believe he did anything wrong. With Graham jumping up and down and the pain of officiating injustice splashed across his face, Lucas calmly walked up to his teammate and said, “Hey, keep your composure.” He said it twice for emphasis and then let Graham handle the rest.

Those are the types of things people don’t always see. Or, if they do, don’t always choose to recognize. And those are the reasons, among others, Self is so comfortable playing Lucas big minutes.

He’s a great teammate, a selfless competitor and a guy who would do anything to help KU get a victory.

It just so happens that more often than not, doing the dirty work of grabbing rebounds, setting screens and making life easier for others is what Lucas is best equipped to contribute.

But what’s wrong with that?

Get this: In the 22 games he has played this season, Lucas has failed to grab an offensive rebound in just three of them. And the biggest reason for that was a lack of opportunity. His average minutes played in those three games (Oregon State, Baylor and at TCU) was 9.

Other than that, Lucas, who is arguably KU’s best rebounder, has snagged at least one offensive rebound in 19 other games, grabbing multiple offensive boards in nearly half of those.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been hard on Lucas — and Self’s insistence on using him — throughout his career. So, yeah, can you go back and find things I’ve written that say Lucas can’t play? You bet.

But I’ve been over that for weeks now, largely because, for weeks, it has been crystal clear that Lucas is improving and working his butt off to get what he can when he’s out there.

This team needs a guy like that. Heck, this team needs several guys like that.

There still will be games this season when Lucas plays 10 minutes and doesn’t do much. Self has made it clear that the rotation at the 5 is almost entirely dependent upon match-ups. And Lucas is not able to match-up with the quicker post players in college basketball.

That’s just the reality of it.

Want to know what else is reality? Lucas earns everything he gets out there and almost none of it comes easy.

Remember that when you look back at his 9-16-4 line from last night. If you do, you’ll better recognize why he was the story of the game, why it’s accurate to say he dominated portions of the game and why it’s fair to say KU would’ve lost without him.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up to defend against a shot from West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up to defend against a shot from West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Reply 19 comments from Jay Scott Austin Gray Jerry Walker Dirk Medema Dennis Privat Janet Olin Tony Bandle Joe Ross Otavio Silva Len Shaffer and 6 others

Harris, Talib offer bright spot during dark days of KU football

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Sunday night was a good night for fans of Kansas University football.

However short the moment might have been, the few hours that made up and followed the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 gave KU fans an opportunity to brag on a couple of their own.

Former Jayhawks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, starting cornerbacks for the Broncos’ dominant defense, played a big role in knocking off the Panthers and delivering the third world championship to Denver.

Sunday’s Denver victory marked the first time since offensive lineman Justin Hartwig won Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers that a former Jayhawk stood on top at the end of an NFL season and just the second time ever that a pair of teammates who played their college ball at Kansas won football’s top prize together, joining Don Davis and Rod Jones, who helped St. Louis win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Obviously, Talib and Harris winning a Super Bowl does not erase the misery of the past six KU football seasons. Nor does it automatically make the outlook for the next year or two suddenly sunnier than it once was.

But bragging rights are bragging rights and when you’re a fan base as starved for success and feel-good moments as KU’s, you take ‘em where you can get ‘em, and this was certainly a place where you could get it.

For starters, Harris is as good of an ambassador for KU football as there is on the planet. He’s proud of his time at Kansas, still keeps up with the program regularly — even going as far as to watch and Tweet about most of KU’s games on Saturdays — and every time I’ve talked with him in the past five years has spent a good 5-10 minutes of each conversation drilling me on the ins and outs of the KU program and the Jayhawks’ chances at turning things around. He lives that whole “Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk” thing.

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris signs autographs after drills at the team's NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris signs autographs after drills at the team's NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

And he deserves every bit of the success and credit he is getting for helping Denver win it all. Mostly, because he created it for himself.

Undrafted out of college, Harris worked his butt off to make the Broncos’ roster as a free agent and made his way up through the ranks by standing out on special teams. There came a point, early on, when his passion, heart and effort spoke so loudly that the coaches had to put him on the field on defense to see what he could do. The only thing that has pulled him off since then is injury.

And now Harris and Talib, who started in KU’s secondary on that Orange Bowl championship team back in 2008, can put a little NFL hardware next to their college accolades. Knowing these guys, you can bet that simply tasting that kind of success is only going to make both guys even more hungry for more in the future.

Most of this you know. I’m aware of that. But one of the things that seems to be missing from the feel-good narrative of the former Jayhawks turned NFL champs is the incredible amount of work both players have put in to get to this point.

Give former Kansas coach Mark Mangino plenty of credit for recruiting both of them. For different reasons, each player was an overlooked or unwanted two-star prospect with few other options and Mangino saw enough in both of them to roll the dice. I know these guys love the man and appreciate everything he did for them and their careers.

But to say Mangino developed them into the players they are today is wildly underselling the commitment to excellence that both players have displayed throughout their post-KU careers.

As a four-year starter for the Jayhawks, senior cornerback Chris Harris has seen the highs and lows of the football program. His freshman year culminated in an Orange Bowl victory. In his senior year, the team is 2-6 going into today’s home game against Colorado.

As a four-year starter for the Jayhawks, senior cornerback Chris Harris has seen the highs and lows of the football program. His freshman year culminated in an Orange Bowl victory. In his senior year, the team is 2-6 going into today’s home game against Colorado. by Nick Krug

Particularly Harris.

Talib, the former All-American, possessed such raw talent and incredible ability — not to mention all of the confidence in the world — that he parlayed his stellar KU career into becoming a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and has been highly sought after throughout his pro career, even if his antics on and off the field have given him less than a sterling reputation. Still, put away all of the extra-curricular activities and trash talk and Talib’s talent is undeniable.

For Harris, it’s been a little bit different. Jerked around throughout college, some by Mangino and a lot more by Mangino replacement Turner Gill, Harris had to overcome way more than going undrafted to get to this point. And he’s done it with a huge smile and even bigger chip on his shoulder every step of the way. Not that you’d ever know about the second part. Harris is one of the genuinely nicest players in the game today and his passion for helping people has earned him all kinds of well deserved recognition in Denver and his native Bixby, Oklahoma.

No one but Harris (along with a handful of his closest friends and personal trainers) helped him make the Broncos’ roster that summer in 2011 after the NFL lockout — another obstacle that made Harris’ path to pro success more difficult — and no one but Harris put in the work to become bigger, stronger, faster and flat-out better to the point where he soon would become one of the top-paid and most respected cornerbacks in today’s game.

During my time covering Kansas, Harris is by far the one athlete, in any sport, who blew my mind with the way he improved by leaps and bounds after he left KU.

Was he a fantastic player at Kansas? You bet. But Harris made himself a future Super Bowl champion and top-tier NFL cornerback by putting crazy amounts of work after he left.

Sunday night it paid off and I don’t doubt for a second that Harris was thrilled to bring KU fans along for the ride.

Reply 4 comments from David Robinett Michael Lorraine Joe Ross Koolkeithfreeze

The Day After: Total domination at TCU

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) delivers on a lob jam against TCU during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) delivers on a lob jam against TCU during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

The three-game road losing streak is over, the Kansas Jayhawks are back on track and they have roughly a day or two — maybe little more than the length of today’s Super Bowl — to actually enjoy it.

Because if anyone on this team thinks that the efforts they put forth against K-State or TCU during their sweep of the purple people last week will be enough during the coming week against West Virginia (Tuesday at home) and Oklahoma (Saturday in Norman), they might soon be in for a rude awakening.

That said, the TCU game was a solid outing for Kansas for a number of reasons. No. 1: The way KU had played on the road lately, even a game against a team like TCU was no guarantee, especially if the Frogs came out with energy and enthusiasm looking to shock the world the way K-State did against Oklahoma in Manhattan on Saturday.

That didn’t happen. And KU (19-4 overall, 7-3 Big 12) had more than a little to do with that. The Jayhawks imposed their will on the Frogs (10-13, 1-9) early and never trailed. In fact, the game was only tied for 16 seconds. Other than that, KU led for 39 minutes and 44 seconds, marking the first time in Big 12 play this season that a KU opponent never led.

Quick takeaway

Kansas needed this win in the worst way. Sure, the Jayhawks knocked off K-State and Kentucky in their past two outings, but those games were at home and the K-State game was ugly. This one was on the road, where KU had looked terrible in its last three outings and, more importantly, was against a team that KU had no business letting hang around. Had KU struggled in this one or, worse yet, lost at TCU, things would’ve have been very ugly around Lawrence for the next week or so and you would have had to wonder about KU’s confidence heading into its two biggest games of the year. But none of that matters now. KU rolled, looked pretty good in doing so and now heads home for a showdown with first-place West Virginia (8-2 in Big 12) with an opportunity to seize control of the league race in the next six days.

Three reasons to smile

1 – The Jayhawks took care of business exactly where they should’ve in this one, dominating the Horned Frogs inside and improving upon two key numbers from the last meeting between these two, a seven-point KU win in Lawrence. In that one, KU out-rebounded TCU 44-37 and outscored TCU 30-16 in the paint. In this one, KU dominated both areas, out-rebounding the Frogs 46-25 (the largest edge enjoyed by KU this season) and outscoring TCU a whopping 46-14 in the paint. One of the most notable individual efforts in this one was the job KU did on Vlad Brodziansky. In the first meeting, Brodziansky finished with a dozen rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. On Saturday, the 6-10 sophomore was held without a rebound in 21 minutes.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) bangs inside for a bucket against TCU forward JD Miller (15) and forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) bangs inside for a bucket against TCU forward JD Miller (15) and forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

2 – Tip of the cap to Perry Ellis, not just for another night leading the Jayhawks in scoring. That’s pretty much expected and hardly a surprise these days. The tip of the cap goes to Ellis for showing a little nastiness in each of the past two games. Two games ago, against K-State, Ellis flushed a couple of dunks with a little extra authority and he did the same thing on Saturday against TCU. Call it senior urgency, call it extra focus, call it Ellis wanting to send a message that he and this KU team are tougher than people believe. Whatever it is, it’s a good look for both Ellis and the Jayhawks.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dishes a pass around TCU guard Brandon Parrish during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dishes a pass around TCU guard Brandon Parrish during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

3 – Jamari Traylor (a) showed, once again, why Bill Self has stuck with him all of these years and (b) showed once again how comfortable he is with his new, limited role. In years past, Traylor might have been bothered by the limited minutes he’s getting. But not senior Jamari. This guy is making the most of every second he can and, in the past couple of games, has brought great energy to the floor for the Jayhawks to set the tone for the game. Traylor finished with six points, seven rebounds (5 offensive) and five fouls in 15 minutes on Saturday.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – Generally speaking, I think KU fans are often way too critical of Bill Self and his coaching decisions/philosophies, especially during any rough stretches that the Jayhawks might encounter. But I have to agree with those KU fans scratching their heads over why Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg played just 10 minutes apiece in this one. As mentioned above, KU never trailed and was up by 15-20 points for most of the second half. That seems to be a perfect recipe for Bragg and Diallo to play double-digit minutes just in the second half. Instead, the two played just seven (Diallo) and six (Bragg) minutes in the second half while a couple of KU starters continued to log heavy minutes. Self did get Selden and Graham a little rest, but Mason (39) and Ellis (34) still played more than they probably needed to.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) looks to pass as he is defended by TCU forward Karviar Shepherd (32) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) looks to pass as he is defended by TCU forward Karviar Shepherd (32) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

2 – At some point, it’s going to catch up to them. Junior guard Frank Mason just can’t keep taking the kind of beating that he takes night in night out and play at the top of his game down the stretch. Saturday represented an outstanding opportunity to give Mason a little rest, especially in the second half and especially with sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham on top of his game, yet Mason played 39 minutes and took a few more hard falls and crushing collisions. Give the young man credit for handling it to this point, but you have to wonder how much more he can take and if it’s all of these beatings that is affecting his shooting.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) turns backward for a ball after stripping it from TCU guard Chauncey Collins (1) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) turns backward for a ball after stripping it from TCU guard Chauncey Collins (1) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

3 – The KU players struggled to keep themselves from fouling in this one, sending TCU to the free throw line 33 times (to just 13 for Kansas) and out-fouling the Frogs 26-18. TCU missed 10 of those trips to the free throw line and KU hit all but two of its charity shots. And the Jayhawks were much better defensively in the first half than the second. Had KU been able to keep its hands off just a little better, TCU may have struggled to even reach 40 points.

One for the road

KU’s comfortable road win over TCU...

• Made Kansas 19-4, 7-3 in Big 12 play.

• Gave KU its eighth-straight win against TCU, making the series 12-1 in favor of the Jayhawks.

• KU KU 6-4 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse this season, including 3-3 in true road contests.

• Made Bill Self 371-78 while at Kansas, 578-187 all-time and 16-4 versus TCU (9-1 while at Kansas).

• Makes KU 2,172-835 all-time.

Next up

With the latest road test out of the way, the Jayhawks will jump into what figures to be their toughest week of the 2015-16 season. KU will play host to West Virginia at 6 p.m. Tuesday night and then will travel to Oklahoma for a 1:30 p.m. tip-off next Saturday in Norman. Both teams entered Saturday ahead of KU in the Big 12 standings and both games will go a long way toward determining whether KU can keep its streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles alive. It was announced Saturday that next weekend’s KU-Oklahoma game will be the host site for ESPN’s College Gameday.

— See what people were saying about Kansas at TCU during KUsports.com’s live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas at TCU




By the Numbers: Kansas 75, TCU 56

By the Numbers: Kansas 75, TCU 56

Reply 11 comments from Glen Armen Kurdian Pius Waldman Michael Lorraine Humpy Helsel Robert  Brock Adam Gerval A. J.  Daggett Jayhawkmarshall

Did Bill Self overreact to Brannen Greene’s dunk vs. K-State?

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) comes down from a breakaway dunk with seconds remaining in the the Jayhawks' 77-59 win over Kansas State, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas head coach Bill Self later apologized for Kansas State for the play.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) comes down from a breakaway dunk with seconds remaining in the the Jayhawks' 77-59 win over Kansas State, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas head coach Bill Self later apologized for Kansas State for the play. by Nick Krug

Did Bill Self overreact to Brannen Greene’s meaningless and unnecessary dunk in the final seconds of Wednesday’s blowout victory over Kansas State?

The thought had not even crossed my mind until I was flipping channels Thursday morning looking for a little Super Bowl coverage to kick-start my day.

There, on FOX Sports 1, was radio personality Colin Cowherd talking live from San Francisco about, what I assumed would be, Super Bowl 50. And it was. For the most part. But tossed in between his discussion of the Broncos and Panthers was a mini-rant about college basketball coaches operating as dictators and then a more specific rant about Bill Self’s reaction to Greene’s dunk on Wednesday night.

None by Herd w/Colin Cowherd

Self, as you surely know by now, called it a punk move — although he used slightly different terminology — and said it was totally classless and apologized to K-State.

To me, it seemed like the right thing for Self to do and, judging by the reaction on Twitter, it looked as if most KU fans agreed.

But then Cowherd started going off on Self and I began to question it a little. Was Cowherd right? Was Self using this as an opportunity to make himself look good because Greene made HIM look bad, as Cowherd suggests? Was it really a completely meaningless act in a college basketball game that no one should get too worked up about because it had nothing to do with the outcome and didn’t hurt a soul?

Maybe.

And I get where Cowherd is coming from. But here’s the thing Cowherd doesn’t get. And, worse, what he probably did not take the time to try to get.

This is not the first time Brannen Greene has pulled some type of shenanigans during his career at Kansas. He leads the team in suspensions, has been a thorn in Self’s side just about every year he’s been here and has proven on far too many occasions that he believes he, in whatever small way, is bigger or at least more important than the Kansas program and college basketball in general. And it's too bad too because Greene is a heck of a talent and has always been one of my favorite KU basketball players to interview because he always seems genuine and real.

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts to a stretch filled with turnovers by the Jayhawks before Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts to a stretch filled with turnovers by the Jayhawks before Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

I posted this on Twitter Wednesday night and I think it’s probably the most important thing to remember in the Great Greene Dunk Controversy of 2016: If this had been any other player, if Wayne Selden or Jamari Traylor or literally any other player on the KU roster had pulled what Greene pulled, I don’t think it would’ve been as big of a deal to Self.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think he would’ve liked it and I’m sure he would’ve said something about it. But I’m not sure his scolding would’ve come as publicly as his comments about Greene did. And that’s on Greene. He earned that by pushing Self’s buttons too many times before.

Heck, if this had been a freshman who simply did not know better, that would’ve been one thing. But you can’t tell me for one second that Greene did not know that Self would hate the dunk the minute he threw it down. Now, maybe he didn’t think about it while he was doing. (Let’s hope that’s the case). But you know he’s been around long enough to know better.

And that brings me back to Cowherd. On the surface, sure, this was a silly play that could very, very, very easily have been overlooked. But to those people familiar with Kansas basketball — the fans, the media, KU employees and even those who are a part of this KU team — this was not just a silly play. This was stupid, a dumb move by a player who has proven time and again that he’s not afraid to make these types of mistakes.

Because of that, Self was absolutely justified in calling Greene out. Who cares if Self did so because it made him look bad. It made Kansas look bad. Maybe not to people in all four corners of the world and certainly not to people outside of college athletics. But in the realm in which the KU program matters most, college sports and college basketball, this move was a very un-Kansas like thing to do, and as the leader of the program it is Self’s job — an absolute requirement behind all of that fame, notoriety and money he makes — to make sure that his players represent the school, the state and college basketball in a way that paints KU in a positive light.

He won’t be able to bat 1.000 in that department. But when he reacts to such stupidity the way he did last night, it sure increases his chances of getting close.

I won't argue with the people who say Self overreacted, but, at least in my opinion, Cowherd did, as well.

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Breaking Down the 2016 KU Football Recruiting Class

Here's a look at what KU recruits saw in their rooms on their official visits.

Here's a look at what KU recruits saw in their rooms on their official visits. by Matt Tait

Breaking down the 2016 class

Total signees: 17
High school players: 14
Junior college players: 3
From Texas: 10
From Kansas: 2
From Oklahoma: 2
From Florida, Louisiana, California: 1 each
Defensive backs: 6
Offensive linemen: 4
Wide receivers: 1
Defensive linemen: 3
Running backs: 1
Quarterbacks: 1
Linebackers: 1

Depending on where you look, this KU football class of 2016 is ranked somewhere between 80-100 nationally.

Now before you throw your papers and spit out your coffee, you should remember that the class only has 17 signees in it and that hurts KU in these rankings. Even adding eight more two-star players would probably help KU jump 20-25 spots, so keep that in mind as you digest the class.

Regardless of where they are and/or would be, I realize that KU’s current standing in the recruiting world is not a lot to brag about. And that only further hammers home the point that, given the state of Kansas football, getting this thing turned around is not going to be about the rankings and star ratings, it's going to be about coaching and development of the athletes KU is able to land.

A couple of months ago, before well over half of this class had even been secured, KU coach David Beaty told me he felt good about the direction they were headed in with recruiting because the players they were in on were Big 12-caliber athletes.

Now, KU didn't get them all and that does not mean that the ones they did get had other Big 12 schools on their lists (some did, some didn't). But I trust that Beaty and this staff know what Big 12 athletes look like and his words, based on that, sounded at least a little encouraging.

Again, though, if these coaches don't develop the athletes they do get and coach effort and maximization of their potential, none of it will matter and KU will continue to occupy the Big 12 basement.

That's why you've got to give them time, though.

With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of the 2016 class.

New KU linebacker Maciah Long.

New KU linebacker Maciah Long. by Matt Tait

Top-rated prospect:

• Houston’s North Shore High linebacker Maciah Long. Long not only had the most big time programs after him, but he also is one of the best athletes in the class. Despite standing 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, the future KU linebacker led North Shore to a state title as the team’s quarterback. That speaks to his athleticism and ability to move and when you add that to his size and fearless nature, you’re looking at a guy who could have a very bright future in the KU program. The odds are good that he’ll get playing time right away and even better that he could be on his way to becoming a three-year starter in the middle of that Kansas defense.

Juco addition expected to make biggest impact:

• DB Stephan Robinson — The coaching staff was very excited to get Robinson back in December, mostly because they see his D-I potential on the defensive side of the ball. An accomplished receiver throughout his high school and juco career, Robinson has the raw tools needed to play defensive back and already has some experience on defense. Given KU’s need for talent and depth at corner, Robinson will get a chance to play right away if he can pick up KU’s system and bring maximum effort. His arrival in time for spring football only increases his chances of making a splash.

True freshman expected to make biggest impact:

• It’s probably a coin flip between LB Maciah Long and CB Kyle Mayberry, with WR Evan Fairs right there. Because of the demands of playing linebacker against Big 12 offenses, I’d lean toward Mayberry or Fairs, with Mayberry having the slight edge simply because he plays at a position with far less depth. All three are talented players and I expect each of them to make an immediate impact while also upgrading the talent level at their positions over what KU was playing in 2015.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry. by Matt Tait

Five who could play right away:

1. CB Kyle Mayberry – Extremely confident and very mature for his age, Mayberry also has the skills to back it up and should be a fixture at the corner position for years to come.

2. WR Evan Fairs – His frame alone (6-3, 182) will open your eyes and when you see him run, it won’t take you long to visualize him making big plays for the KU offense.

3. LB Maciah Long – With his combination of size, speed and tenacity, it’s going to be hard to keep this guy off the field, especially since he plays a position that already is pretty thin.

4. DB Stephan Robinson – At the very least figures to give KU quality depth at the corner spot. But given that he’s here in time for spring practices, working his way into a starting role is not out of the equation.

5. DT Isi Holani – Juco transfer from Riverside Community College arrived in time for spring practices and steps into a situation where KU needs bodies. The physical and explosive D-tackle is not only likely to play right away, but he also very easily could wind up starting.

Three with the greatest long-term potential:

1. DE Isaiah Bean – Undersized for now, Bean has the look of a player who, with 25-35 added pounds, could become a beast in a couple of years. He was KU’s answer to losing Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe and even though he’s not physically ready to contribute the way Bledsoe would’ve been, he’s probably a better athlete overall and, like many players in this class, will be driven by the underrated/overlooked card.

2. OL Chris Hughes – The No. 2 rated player in this class, according to 247Sports, Hughes has a great pedigree, comes from a family of big time athletes and already at 6-4, 260, has the kind of frame that could add weight easily without impacting his athleticism. Ranked as the 68th best offensive tackle nationally, Hughes just missed cracking the Texas 100.

3. DB Ian Peterson – The 5-11, 175-pound cornerback ranked as the 152nd best player in Texas might not be ready right away, but his blend of top-end speed and extreme physicality make him a name to stash away in the back of your mind. If given a year to red-shirt and adjust to the college game while working in the weight room to add to his already impressive build, Peterson could emerge as a quality option at safety in the years to come.

A look at the view new KU DB Ian Peterson had on his official visit.

A look at the view new KU DB Ian Peterson had on his official visit. by Matt Tait

Best nickname:

• All O.J. jokes aside, Florida running back Khalil “Juice” Herbert has to get the nod here. I’ve also heard to him referred to as “Juicy” but either one has a nice ring to it, especially for a running back who will have the ball in his hands and

Pronunciation guide:

• Maciah = Ma-kye-uh
• Isi = Ee-See
• Antione = An-twon
• Khalil = Ka-lil
• Torneden = Tore-Nay-Den
• Dagan Haehn = Day-gun Hawn
• Shola Ayinde = Show-la Eye-In-Day

Greatest need addressed:

• I think KU did a fantastic job in the secondary, bringing in a handful of defensive backs who seem to be poised to play right away, with Mayberry and Robinson leading the charge. In terms of the future, KU did a nice job up front on the offensive line, adding three or four quality players who should be given the opportunity to red-shirt and develop, the way offensive linemen are supposed to.

Greatest need still present:

After years of being stacked at the running back position, KU is all of a sudden pretty thin in the backfield. Ke’aun Kinner is back and he performed well when he was healthy in 2015. Behind him, however, is a host of unproven players, including sophomores Taylor Martin and Ryan Schadler, who was used primarily as a kick returner last season. KU added Heritage High tailback Khalil Herbert in the class and he looks like a decent player, who certainly could develop, but KU remains thin at the position and could’ve used another back. The low number of available scholarships likely cost them the opportunity to add another alongside Herbert.

New KU QB Tyriek Starks.

New KU QB Tyriek Starks. by Matt Tait

Biggest steal:

• I’m going with New Orleans quarterback Tyriek Starks, who has good size (6-2, 188), is a great athlete and seems to be pretty underrated, with only Tulane and Georgia Southern going hard after him. KU got in on Starks late — when they were in the area recruiting some players from nearby powerhouse Neville High — but once they saw him, they went after him with the full-court press. David Beaty was one of the first to go down to see him and, just a few days later, Starks picked Kansas. He told me the other day that the system they ran at Warren Easton High in New Orleans was very similar to what KU runs under Beaty and OC Rob Likens and he absolutely looks the part of the type of QB KU is looking for. The funny thing about Starks that makes him fit this category even better was that KU was not even looking for a quarterback in this class, but simply could not pass him up when they found him. The extra benefit here is that, if for some reason Starks does not pan out at QB, he’s got the size and athleticism to be tried at a number of other positions and he said he would be willing to play wherever if it wasn’t working out at quarterback. But he’s a QB first and wants to give it all he’s got there before moving.

Best walk-on:

• It’s early, and you can bet more are coming, but I’ll go with another QB here, Lake Dallas, Texas, prospect Dagan Haehn. If not for an injury the summer before his senior season, Haehn likely would’ve landed a scholarship offer to a Power 5 program. The injury cost him some exposure, but he was still able to turn in some solid stats during the second half of his senior season. He moves well, has a strong arm and is well versed in the type of offense KU wants to run. If he comes all the way back from that injury without losing speed and athleticism, he becomes a very intriguing prospect for down the road.

Overall grade:

I’ll give the KU coaching staff a C+ for this class and mostly because it only includes 17 players. Part of that was this staff’s fault, for counting eight players forward last year, but part of that was because they were trying to make up for the numbers crisis they stepped into. Numbers aside, Beaty and company addressed several needs with the group, added a bunch of versatile athletes with the potential to play multiple positions and also somehow found the room to take a couple of high-upside athletes such as Starks and Lawrence prospect Bryce Torneden, whom I’m absolutely convinced will be on KU’s two-deep depth chart by his red-shirt sophomore season at the latest. The three mid-year transfers all filled serious needs and the class includes a good mix of ready-made players and future projects, many of who should be given the necessary time to red-shirt, develop and contribute down the road in Year 2 or 3.

Reply 19 comments from Matt Tait Jaylark Dirk Medema Michael Lorraine Jerry Tompkins Texashawk10_2 Kevin Long Ryan Woods Jeff Coffman Michael Bennett and 6 others

Rise & Sign: KU Football set to usher in 2016 recruiting class

It's national signing day for KU football.

It's national signing day for KU football. by Matt Tait

11:26 a.m. Update:

I didn't want to copy and paste this here because it would've made this blog one that you could scroll down on forever. But I wanted to make sure you all caught my breakdown of the 2016 class that I posted in another blog.

It includes some of the top players to watch, the biggest need addressed, the steal of the class and an overall grade.

So be sure to check out my complete breakdown of the 2016 KU Football recruiting class and stay tuned in to this blog for any breaking news and/or further feedback I get from the players in the class.

KU coach David Beaty will have a press conference at 2 p.m. to talk about the class and we'll have the presser available to watch right here.

From everything I've been told, there are no expected surprises ahead, so I'm gonna grab some lunch and get prepped for the press conference.

9:49 a.m. Update:

Kyle "Money" Mayberry promised me the other day when I talked to him that he had a fresh look lined up for signing day. He just sent me this photo of his signing this morning and I think the bowtie got the job done.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry signing his letter of intent Wednesday morning.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry signing his letter of intent Wednesday morning. by Matt Tait

9:33 a.m. Update:

Just took another glance at the updated 247Sports recruiting rankings for 2016. KU is still listed 82nd (a big reason for that is the 17-man class being 8 players shy of most other classes) with Kansas State, in 68th, as the next closest Big 12 team.

You have to go all the way down to Baylor at No. 15 before you bump into a Big 12 program, but there are four in the Top 24 — Baylor at 15, Texas at 17, TCU at 18 and OU at 24.

Some notable programs that KU is actually listed ahead of are: San Diego State (87), Purdue (94), Louisiana Tech (96) and Air Force (108). Not exactly a list to brag about there, which only further hammers home the point that, given the current state of Kansas football, it's not going to be about the rankings and star ratings, it's going to be about coaching and development of the athletes KU is able to land.

A couple of months ago, before well over half of this class had even been secured, Beaty told me he felt good about the direction they were headed in with recruiting because the guys they were in on were Big 12-caliber athletes. Now, they didn't get them all and that does not mean that the ones they did get had other Big 12 schools on their lists (some did, some didn't), but I trust that Beaty and this staff know what Big 12 athletes look like and his words, based on that, sounded at least a little encouraging.

Again, though, if these coaches don't develop these guys and coach effort and maximization of their potential, none of it will matter and KU will continue to occupy the Big 12 basement.

That's why you've got to give them time, though.

Much more to come today...

9:16 a.m. Update:

While this blog recaps all of the scholarship players signing with Kansas in the 2016 class, it's important to remember that KU also has landed a number of impressive walk-ons who, eventually, could play an important role in the program.

The development of a quality walk-on program was one of KU coach David Beaty's first and biggest priorities upon arriving at Kansas and, although he has barely had a full year to get it off the ground, the early returns are good and KU keeps adding to it and trying to entice quality athletes to join the football program via the walk-on route.

For some, the idea behind joining up is that it gives them a chance to keep playing the game they love. Those guys are happy with practice reps, running scout team and doing their part to make the other guys better.

For others (and this is the majority of KU's current walk-ons) the idea behind signing up for the walk-on role is to take advantage of the opportunity to prove yourself, with the hope that what you do during your first year or two in the program will lead to a scholarship offer down the road.

Those walk-on-to-scholarship guys are far from a guarantee, but Beaty already has shown that he is not afraid to reward guys who work hard, especially if he believes they can help the program.

Having said that, the 2016 also includes a few walk-ons who are worth noting and Beaty himself did a nice job of making them feel like a part of the program this morning, as well.

The walk-on thing can be pretty fluid, so it's best to wait until after spring football to come up with an actual list of all of the names added to the roster via walk-ons. But the players listed above are a few future Jayhawks who you can count on to stick it out and possibly contribute down the road.

Still working on that superlatives list about this year's class. Stay tuned...

8:17 a.m. Update:

Just got this photo of new KU offensive lineman Hunter Harris, who was one of the first to sign this morning and then got cleaned up and decked out in his KU blue.

New KU offensive lineman Hunter Harris proudly rockin' his KU blue.

New KU offensive lineman Hunter Harris proudly rockin' his KU blue. by Matt Tait

Here's a look at Harris' highlight film...

8:11 a.m. Update:

Offensive lineman Antione Frazier Tweeted out "It's official now," at 7:58 a.m., making it exactly 57 minutes from the time KU opened for business until the time it received its last letter of intent.

This class, regardless of what it does on the field, will always go down as one of the favorites of the KU coaching staff for making what can be one heck of a stressful day an absolute breeze.

I'll have a lot more reaction and will continue to track these guys throughout the morning, so be sure to keep it right here for updates. Then, at 2 p.m. today KU coach David Beaty will host a signing day press conference where he'll get to talk about these cats and answer questions about a light but solid KU football class.

Here's a quick look at some highlights from the last man to hit send, Mr. Frazier...

OL Antione Frazier – 6-5, 250, 2 stars, Hargrave High, Huffman, Texas

Don't forget, the 12 athletes who sent their letters today join the three mid-year transfers (DT DeeIsaac Davis, DT Isi Holani and DB Stephan Robinson) and two former 2015 commitments who were delayed a year (OL Cam Durley and DB Shola Ayinde) to make up a 17-man class for KU football.

More to come, so keep it right here...

8:01 a.m. Update:

For those interested in tracking some of the fun yourself throughout the day, here's a list of 15 of the 17 Twitter handles for the newest Jayhawks in the class of 2016. The only ones I could not find were O-Lineman Chris Hughes and DB Shola Ayinde.

Tyriek Starks — @saucytj9

Ian Peterson – @Dash_Era

Hunter Harris – @bearcats75

Antione Frazier – @antionekfrazier

DeeIsaac Davis – @DeeIsaac99

Isi Holani – @TheIsiHolani

Julian Chandler – @The_RealNumber1

Bryce Torneden – @_nado

Evan Fairs – @_EvoOcho

Kyle Mayberry – @moneymayberry

Maciah Long – @Godss__giftt

Isaiah Bean – @IsaiahBean_8

Khalil Herbert – @JuiceHerbert

Stephan Robinson – @Stephanrob11

Cam Durley – @CamDurley31

Still waiting on official word from Frazier...

7:55 a.m. Update:

Less than an hour after lines officially opened for national letters of intent to be sent in, KU football is almost finished announcing its 2016 class.

That's not to say a couple of surprises could not come up in the coming hours and/or days, but of the guys who were committed, KU has landed just about all of them and it's not even 8:00 a.m.

Regardless of what you think about their ability or the overall strength of this class, that has to be considered a good sign, (a) because these kids were so fired up to sign with Kansas that they wasted no time in doing so, and (b) because so many of these guys fill immediate needs for the Jayhawks.

That does not mean that they're all going to step right in and play like all-Big 12 caliber studs. Most of them are going to need (and get) time to develop. But there are a few guys you can expect to see contribute right away and when all of the letters are officially in, we'll get into that and much more on this, an incredibly smooth national signing day for KU football

Updated commitment list:

RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long
DB Bryce Torneden
QB Tyriek Starks
DE Isaiah Bean

The only known commitment not accounted for yet is O-Lineman Antione Frazier and I don't think there's anything to worry about with him.

More to come...

7:47 a.m. Update:

Remember all that energy, passion and enthusiasm second-year KU coach David Beaty is known for? Yeah, it's showing up hardcore today as he announces this class on Twitter. Here's a taste of some of Beaty's best intros...

He's been Tweeting like this for every letter that has come in this morning.

7:44 a.m. Update:

For those of you gunning for a little perspective on all these names we're throwing at you, here's a nice look at how this class stacks up according to the composite rankings from the guys at 247 Sports.

7:39 a.m. Update:

A few more highlight reels of KU's newest commitments while we wait for pictures and instant feedback...

Here's the updated list, which, already, is nearly complete...

RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long
DB Bryce Torneden

S Bryce Torneden – 5-10, 185, 2 stars, Free State High, Lawrence, Kansas —

OL Chris Hughes – 6-5, 260, 3 stars, Harker Heights (Texas) High —

DB Julian Chandler – 6-0, 170, 3 stars, Hightower (Texas) High –

7:33 a.m. Update:

Add Kyle "Money" Mayberry to the list of letters that have arrived.

Mayberry, one of the most confident recruits I have ever talked to, is all about KU and wants to do whatever he can to help rebuild this program. He played a huge role in coordinating the bond between this incoming class and figures to get as good of a shot as any of the newcomers at playing right away, given (a) KU's need at the CB position and (b) his advanced skills.

Here's a look at a few highlights from the man they call "Money," a nickname given to him way back in eighth grade because the confidence he carried himself with reminded so many around him of the boxer, Floyd "Money" Mayweather.

That's no small compliment.

Updated commitment list:

RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long

7:27 a.m. Update:

The list of letters that have reached Lawrence continues to grow quickly....

RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs

Of this group, Fairs might be the one that KU fans should be most excited about. At 6-3, 182 pounds, he's already got the size and skills needed to play on the outside. He told me the other day that he prides himself on being a red zone threat but also is not afraid or unwilling to play inside and make tough catches over the middle.

He lists guys like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson as WRs he likes to try to emulate and said he liked the idea of KU having two coaches for the WR position, returning coach Klint Kubiak and newly hired outside receivers coach Jason Phillips.

“I feel like it's an advantage," Fairs said. "Coach Phillips is the outside guy and it's good because we can work more in detail and get down to the nitty gritty.”

Here's a few highlights of this guy whose name you'll learn very quickly.

7:18 a.m. Update:

Starting to get some confirmations. Here's a list of the letters I know have been sent:

RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson

Peterson sent me this photo of his early-morning John Hancock.

New KU DB Ian Peterson signing his letter early Wednesday morning.

New KU DB Ian Peterson signing his letter early Wednesday morning. by Matt Tait

And also a few Peterson highlights...

7:07 a.m. Update:

Now that we're in the 7 o'clock hour, the signings should be rolling in fast and furious.

Most are sent digitally these days, which makes the fax machine even more obsolete, but there are still some delays and small glitches that keep these things from being automatic.

That said, we know Herbert's letter has arrived and we're waiting word on the others.

6:53 a.m. Update:

While we wait for Herbert's letter to be confirmed, let's jump ahead a couple of minutes to Maciah Long (pronounced Ma-Kye-Uh) who, at least according to Twitter, seems to be the most jacked up of all to get that letter signed and sent.

Long, a 3-star LB from North Shore High in Houston, who also played quarterback and led his team to a state title, is one of the more confident recruits I can ever remember talking to. He believes he can step in right away and not only contribute but also provide leadership for his new squad.

KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux played a huge role in landing Long and, just recently, the 6-2, 240-pound athlete said he developed a great bond with new KU linebackers coach Todd Bradford.

"My first take on him was nice guy, nice coach, knows a lot about football," Long said. "He's been in the industry for a long time. It all changed this past weekend and now my take on him is, 'That's my coach,' and I'm ready to work with him. I like his vibe and we spent a lot of time bonding throughout the whole weekend." 

Here's a quick look at some of Long's highlights, including a QB clip that shows how good his feet are.

6:46 a.m. Update:

According to 247 Sports' composite recruiting rankings (which has KU's class listed 82nd in the nation), Herbert is a three-star prospect with a score of .7986. He's listed as the 143rd best player at his position and 308th best player in his home state.

For a point of reference, Houston LB Maciah Long, who 247 Sports lists as KU's top prospect in this class, has a score of .8610.

6:36 a.m. Update:

Talked with Herbert the other day and he said he never in a million years would've believed he would wind up in Kansas for college.

"I thought maybe the ACC," the Fort Lauderdale-area prospect said. "But I'm just grateful for the opportunity."

Herbert, who spent a good chunk of his prep career training with former KU standout Tony Sands, said he met Sands after breaking his wrist his sophomore year when his dad sought out a trainer and found Sands. He knew nothing about Sands' playing career or former single-game rushing record and said he was shocked when he saw Sands' name on the list a couple of years ago (after Melvin Gordon and Samaje Perine set the new records) because Sands never had mentioned it.

Asked what his relationship was like with Sands, Herbert said it was simple: He doesn't talk a whole lot, he just keeps me focused on doing what I need to do.

As for how things went when he tolds Sands he was headed to KU: "He was excited," Herbert said. "He told me to go break all his records."

Here's a look at some Herbert highlights....

RB Khalil Herbert – 5-10, 190, 2 stars, Heritage High, Plantation, Florida —

6:06 a.m. Update:

Here's a quick look at RB Khalil Herbert (pronounced Ka-Lil) from his official visit while we await confirmation of his letter being sent to Lawrence.

Original Post, 5:39 a.m.

If everything goes according to plan, Plantation, Florida, running back Khalil Herbert will become the first member of KU’s 2016 football recruiting class to make his commitment official on national signing day.

The reason? Herbert lives in the Eastern time zone and that gives him the one-hour head start on the rest of this KU class that is eager to make things official at the first possible moment.

Having said that, Herbert, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound, two-star running back from the Fort Lauderdale area, will have to make sure his ducks are in a row if he wants the distinction of being the first player to get his letter in today.

That’s because there are a whole bunch of Midwesterners and Texas prospects who are dying to hit send on their signatures.

Eight of the 11 other commitments I spoke with during the past few days told me they planned to send their letters in at 7:01 a.m. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never heard of so many recruits using the exact time of 7:01 as the answer for when they’d be sending in their letters. Sure, some have been as eager as these athletes and have listed the first possible minute allowed by the NCAA as the time they would send their letter to KU. But many often said, “around 7,” or “first thing in the morning,” or other more general time frames.

The fact that so many guys mentioned 7:01 a.m. makes me think this is going to be a stress-free signing day for the KU coaching staff. These fellas are ready to sign and make their commitments official.

With that in mind, here’s our Class of 2016 recruiting page with the bios of the prospects in the class and links to the back story of how, when and why each athlete committed to KU.

And here are the specifics of the entire class, three of whom signed in December and two more who initially were members of the 2015 class but were delayed and bumped back to the Class of 2016.

You’ll note that there are only 17 names listed here and if you’re up this early and reading this blog, I’m guessing you already know why. But in case you don’t, here’s a quick recap.

Because KU coach David Beaty was in search of as much immediate help as he could find last season, eight players who arrived on campus prior to the start of the 2015 season wound up counting forward to the 2016 class. That trimmed the number of initial counters in the current class from the 25 maximum allowed annually by NCAA rules to 17.

Beaty and company, of course, remain dedicated to being as creative as possible in enticing talent to come to Lawrence via the walk-on route or other arrangements. And, from the sound of things, the walk-on program continues to attract talented athletes.

Because of the number crunch, I’m not expecting too many surprises today, if any. However, having said that, if Beaty were to come across an uncommitted athlete whom he thought could (a) upgrade the talent on the roster at a given position or (b) start for the Jayhawks as soon as 2016, you can bet he’d find a way to get him into the program, most likely the same way he brought those eight other guys to Lawrence last season.

Continuing to count players forward is not exactly the fastest way to dig out of the numbers jam KU football is in, but talent talks.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the class. Now, sit back, get comfortable and keep it right here as we track the letters coming in and the happenings of yet another national signing day.

KU Football’s Class of 2016:

DB Shola Ayinde – 6-0, 168, 2 stars, George Ranch High, Richmond, Texas – Originally a member of KU's 2015 class, Ayinde did not make it to campus last year and, instead, will add depth to the secondary in 2016. Known for range and speed, Ayinde once had committed to Tulsa but followed former TU assistant coach Calvin Thibodeaux to Kansas.

DE Isaiah Bean – 6-4, 210, 2 stars, Summer Creek High, Houston, Texas – Explosive prospect who has experience on both sides of the ball became KU's top choice at the position after local talent Amani Bledsoe chose Oklahoma. Picked KU over Tulsa and Fresno State.

DB Julian Chandler – 6-0, 170, 3 stars, Hightower (Texas) High – Had committed to Louisiana Tech but de-committed late in the game and picked KU over offers from Nevada, New Mexico and North Texas.

DT DeeIsaac Davis – 6-3, 290, 2 stars, Highland C.C. – A Wichita native, Davis played his first year of college football at Eastern Arizona and recorded 76 tackles before moving on to Highland C.C. and registering 76 tackles and five sacks. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.

OL Cam Durley – 6-6, 275, 2 stars, Houston Chrisitian High, Houston, Texas – Originally a late addition to the 2015 class, the big, athletic, rangy tackle was delayed a year and is now in KU's 2016 class. Chose KU over McNeese State, San Diego State, TCU and Temple along with interest from Texas Tech.

WR Evan Fairs – 6-3, 182, 2 stars, Foster High, Richmond, Texas — A finalist for the Houston Touchdown Club offensive player of the year award in 2015, Fairs picked Kansas over Illinois after initially committing to Maryland and re-opening his recruitment when the coaching staff was fired.

OL Antione Frazier – 6-5, 250, 2 stars, Hargrave High, Huffman, Texas — A two-star offensive tackle, Frazier played both ways for Hargrave and committed to KU offensive line coach Zach Yenser in February of 2015, before his senior high school season. Picked KU over early interest from Houston, Iowa and Texas A&M.

OL Hunter Harris — 6-2, 257, 2 stars, Aledo (Texas) High, — A two-star offensive lineman from Aledo, Texas, Harris had offers from Cal, Princeton and Tulsa, as well, before committing to Kansas.

RB Khalil Herbert – 5-10, 190, 2 stars, Heritage High, Plantation, Florida — Herbert trained with former KU standout Tony Sands during his prep career. He committed to KU on his fifth and final official visit in January and picked the Jayhawks over offers Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Fordham, Georgia State and Mississippi State.

DT Isi Holani – 6-3, 300, 3 stars Riverside (California) C.C. – Kansas filled a need by adding the three-star juco defensive tackle shortly after the 2015 season ended. Holani also had offers from Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Boise State and others. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.

OL Chris Hughes – 6-5, 260, 3 stars, Harker Heights (Texas) High — After spending a recruiting weekend in Lawrence in October of his senior year, Hughes cited the impressions David Beaty and Zach Yenser made on him as reason for committing to KU. Picked the Jayhawks over Cal, Houston, Texas Tech and Utah State, among others.

LB Maciah Long – 6-2, 240, 3 stars, North Shore High, Houston, Texas — Long is one of the top talents in the class and his size, speed and athleticism translate well on both sides of the ball. Brings great confidence and leadership to a thin position and picked KU over offers from Arizona State, Houston, Missouri, Ohio State, SMU, Texas Tech and UCLA.

CB Kyle Mayberry – 5-11, 163, 3 stars, Booker T. Washington High, Tulsa, Oklahoma — One of the top defensive backs in Oklahoma, Mayberry consulted former KU star Chris Harris before deciding to join Kansas football instead of pursuing offers from the likes of Kansas State, Houston, Washington State and others.

DB Ian Peterson – 5-11, 180, 2 stars, Cedar Ridge High, Round Rock, Texas — KU defensive backs coach Kenny Perry’s reputation helped land the versatile corner. Peterson committed to Kansas without making a visit and chose the Jayhawks over offers from Colorado, Wisconsin, SMU and others.

DB Stephan Robinson – 5-11, 173, 2 stars, Northeast Oklahoma A&M J.C. – Former wide receiver figures to have a future on KU’s defense. He’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining as a Jayhawk after considering Virginia Tech, Iowa State and other programs. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.

QB Tyriek Starks – 6-2, 188, 2 stars, Warren Easton High, New Orleans — Dual-threat QB who threw for 4,000+ yards and rushed for 1,000 more while leading his team to the state semis picked KU over Georgia Southern and Tulane.

S Bryce Torneden – 5-10, 185, 2 stars, Free State High, Lawrence, Kansas — Former North Dakota State commitment was one of the Sunflower League's most dynamic players during the past couple of seasons and a key component to the recent success enjoyed by the Firebirds. He said getting a chance to play in the Big 12 under another Lawrence native in KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was too appealing to pass up.

Reply 8 comments from Greg Ledom Matt Tait David Robinett Deb Fitch Michael Bennett Armen Kurdian

Addition of Kansas athletes a nice lift for KU football

Free State seniors Bryce Torneden (1) and Sam Skwarlo (5) celebrate a touchdown run by Skwarlo during their game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS.

Free State seniors Bryce Torneden (1) and Sam Skwarlo (5) celebrate a touchdown run by Skwarlo during their game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS. by John Young

It may have taken a little while, but, late in the recruiting process for the Class of 2016, the Kansas University football coaching staff began to make good on its stated goal of adding more in-state players to the KU roster.

Here's the thing about that quest that KU fans may have forgotten: It's not entirely up to the KU coaches.

There's no doubt that David Beaty, Clint Bowen and the rest of the KU coaching staff can make — and have made — recruiting in-state athletes a greater priority, but those athletes still have to pick Kansas in order for the number of Sunflower State studs on KU's roster to increase.

Given the fact that so many standout Kansans have offers elsewhere — and the fact that the state produces very few D-I prospects on an annual basis — that's not always an easy task. Add to that the fact that KU is churning its way through the worst stretch in school history and it's not at all surprising to hear stories about local kids wanting to go somewhere else, no matter how great of a pitch or offer the KU coaches throw at them.

Fortunately for Beaty and company, that pitch proved to be enough recently for a pair of Free State High standouts, who chose KU over other opportunities. The first came last week, when Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden — who projects as a safety at KU — accepted a late scholarship offer from Kansas and, in turn, said no thanks to North Dakota State, where he had been committed for months.

Torneden's change of heart opened the door for teammate and fellow-Firebird Sam Skwarlo to have a change-of-heart of his own and, instead of walking on at K-State, as was his plan for most of the past few weeks, Skwarlo on Monday decided to take an offer to walk-on at Kansas.

Bryce Torneden hands the ball off to Sam Skwarlo as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20.

Bryce Torneden hands the ball off to Sam Skwarlo as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20. by Kevin Anderson/Special to the Journal-World

Now, who knows if either player will ever make much of an impact on the KU program. Both are a bit undersized for Big 12 football and both have a long road ahead of them to climb into relevance on the KU depth chart.

But a case could be made that by simply choosing Kansas in the first place Torneden and Skwarlo already have made an impact.

See, these, and others like them, are the types of players that K-State coach Bill Snyder has built his program on during the past few decades. Snyder, of course, also has added all kinds of elite athletes and even a few big time recruits, but for the most part, he's made K-State into a powerhouse with overlooked, underrated, hard-nosed kids who fit his system, many of them coming from within the borders of Kansas.

I don't know the specific numbers off the top of my head, but every year when I prepared to cover the Sunflower Showdown, the number of Kansans on each roster blew my mind. It was always something like 45-17 in favor of K-State.

Adding Torneden and Skwarlo in Lawrence not only sets KU on the Bill Snyder path, with the hope that more soon will follow, but it also takes a couple of in-state prospects away from the Wildcats, making this a double victory for the Jayhawks.

Reply 7 comments from Michael Bennett Sam Walters Matt Tait Michael Lorraine Kackley

The Day After: Quieting Kentucky

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a wide smile as the Jayhawks begin to close the gap during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a wide smile as the Jayhawks begin to close the gap during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Although neither team played a perfect game, the Saturday showdown between Kansas and Kentucky as part of the Big 12-SEC challenge did not disappoint.

Big time players came up with big time plays and the Jayhawks and Wildcats went to overtime in a wild building, where Kansas outlasted UK, 90-84, behind the strength of Wayne Selden's 33-point night.

Selden wasn't just good in this one. He was great. And if he hadn't been, Kansas might have lost by double digits. With Perry Ellis on the bench and struggling to find any rhythm offensively, KU leaned heavily on Selden's hot shooting and the junior guard delivered time after time.

You know those moments when you can just see a player work his way into a zone. Saturday's game had two of those, with Selden staying red hot when it mattered most and Kentucky's Tyler Ulis doing everything he could to prove he was the best player on the floor in this one. And in the first half, he certainly was.

Foul trouble for Kentucky and some clutch hustle plays by Kansas ultimately played a big role in this one, but there's little doubt that this game, the latest version of How Much Can Your Eardrums Take at Allen Fieldhouse, will be remembered for the way Selden stepped up like a junior who has played a ton of basketball is supposed to.

Quick takeaway

There's no doubting that there's something about seeing Kentucky on the uniform of the man guarding you, and if that's what it took for Wayne Selden to return to the beast-mode style he displayed earlier this season, then so be it. The biggest question now is, can Selden sustain that against every opponent the rest of the way. Nobody expects the junior guard to go for 33 points and carry the team night in and night out, but people — including his coaches and teammates — should expect for him to be able to play with the kind of aggression and intensity he showed against the Wildcats that not only won the game but also got KU's season back on track.

Three reasons to smile

1 – Why not just keep the Wayne Selden love rolling? The KU junior was terrific in this one and he showcased just about every aspect of his game. He shot from distance with deadly accuracy, drove and attacked the rim at just the right time and played with poise and looked cool, calm and collected when Kansas needed it most. Sure, the numbers say this was a career night for Selden, but if you watched it, you realized that even his terrific stats did not fully indicate just how well he played.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) gets up to dunk against Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (1) in overtime, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) gets up to dunk against Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (1) in overtime, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

2 – Give Jamari Traylor a little love for this one, too. The senior forward had not topped the 15-minute mark since Dec. 22, yet he played 25 big ones on Saturday night. Traylor was not without his oh-no-why-did-you-do-that moments against UK, but he did a ton of little things that helped KU pick up the victory, few bigger than his knock-away from Ulis late in the game that landed right in the hands of Frank Mason, who calmly buried the three to make Traylor's hustle play worth it. Four offensive boards, two assists, a couple of dunks and a blocked shot made Traylor's night productive. And his effort in KU's triangle-and-two defense that changed the game made his night fantastic.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) defends against a shot by Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) defends against a shot by Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

3 – Speaking of that triangle-and-two, a tip of the cap to Bill Self for practicing it and then not being afraid to turn to it when it was clear his team needed to change something. I doubt this means we'll see KU go to zone as its primary form of defense from here on out, but the way this one worked, Self has to at least be confident knowing that his team can switch to it on the fly and get the desired result. What's more, there's no doubt that if they continue to use it, they'll only get better at it.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – Free throws, free throws, free throws. Just as KU would've lost by double digits had Wayne Selden not played the role of Superman, Selden would not have had to be the hero had Kansas knocked down its free throws. Even if KU had made just half of the 17 charity shots it missed, the Jayhawks would've cruised to an easy victory in regulation. Chalk it up to one of those games, but don't let anyone call you crazy if you think this is worth more than a little concern.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets inside for a shot against Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets inside for a shot against Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

2 – It continues to be clear — and bafflingly so — that KU is in trouble against ultra-athletic teams. Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene and even Perry Ellis and KU's back court are not the same type of premier athletes that a lot of other teams have and KU has had in the past. That's not to say they're not good players, rather a strong reminder that in order to take down those more athletic groups, KU has to play strong team basketball on both ends and out-effort its opponents. The Jayhawks — eventually — did that against Kentucky and should feel great about finding a way to get it done.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts a three over Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts a three over Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

3 – If not for the big shots each guy hit — Mason's three mentioned above and a big one by Graham that cut Kentucky's 48-40 lead to 48-43 early in the first half — the continued shooting woes by KU's starting backcourt, particularly Mason, have definitely reached troubling status. Both guys are playing hard and competing and both guys remain better than KU's next options, so there's no need to panic. But Saturday was another reminder that if Mason (3-of-11) and Graham (3-of-9) ever find their shots again, this team quickly could look deadly again.

Harrison Leiszler, 6, Lawrence, portrays a mini version of basketball's creator James Naismith before the tipoff of the Kansas v. Kentucky game, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Harrison Leiszler, 6, Lawrence, portrays a mini version of basketball's creator James Naismith before the tipoff of the Kansas v. Kentucky game, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

One for the road

KU's overtime victory over Kentucky on a wild Saturday night...

• Ended Kentucky's three-game series winning streak against Kansas and made the series 22-7 in favor of UK.

• Marked KU's 18th-consecutive non-conference win over a member of a Big Six Conference (ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big East) inside Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas' last loss against a Big Six non-conference foe on its home floor was to Arizona (91-74) on Jan. 25, 2003.

• Extended Kansas' winning streak in Allen Fieldhouse to 35 games.

• Made Kansas 11-0 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 739-109 all-time in the venue and 201-9 under Bill Self.

• Made Self 369-78 while at Kansas, 576-187 all-time and 4-4 versus Kentucky, 4-3 while at Kansas.

• Made KU 2,170-835 all-time.

Next up

The Jayhawks will be back in Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night a showdown with another heated rival when K-State comes to town for a 7 p.m. tip-off.

— See what people were saying about Kansas vs. Kentucky during KUsports.com’s live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Kentucky




By the Numbers: Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 (OT)

By the Numbers: Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 (OT)

Reply 9 comments from Dirk Medema Jared Reeves Jay Scott Adam Gerval Michael Lorraine Cshjhawk

Latest KU scholarship offer no freebie; Torneden earned it

Free State's Bryce Torneden (1) looks for running room against Wichita Northwest on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at FSHS.

Free State's Bryce Torneden (1) looks for running room against Wichita Northwest on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at FSHS. by Richard Gwin

The reality of the Kansas University football program's current recruiting class is this: Because the numbers are down and the program is rebuilding, there are not a ton of athletes in the 2016 class who, up front, look like players to get fired up about.

That changed a little bit Thursday night, when news broke that Free State High standout Bryce Torneden had switched his commitment from North Dakota State to KU after receiving a full scholarship offer from David Beaty and the Jayhawks.

But not because Torneden is a five-star steal that the Jayhawks pulled out of nowhere. More because he's a hometown guy with pretty good upside who Beaty and company needed to get.

I don't care where you are, any time a hometown kid chooses to stay in his own backyard for school, it adds a little excitement to the program. Because Lawrence is smaller than say, Madison, Wisconsin, or Los Angeles, California, the splash that Torneden staying home made was a little bit bigger.

But at least for my money, that had more to do with this commitment representing Beaty making good on his word to look hard at local prospects than anything Torneden might or might not do on the field during the next four or five years.

Free State junior Bryce Torneden runs against Manhattan on Oct. 24, 2014, at Manhattan.

Free State junior Bryce Torneden runs against Manhattan on Oct. 24, 2014, at Manhattan. by Richard Gwin

Torneden is not a legendary knight riding in on a white stallion ready to save the day. He's a terrific athlete, a little undersized and far from a sure thing, but also the kind of player you easily could see contributing someday if he continues to work his butt off and takes advantage of the opportunity to work with Je'Ney Jackson and the KU strength staff. Which he will.

If that means he becomes the type of player that others kick themselves for missing on and winds up starting at safety for three seasons or merely becomes a guy who KU uses for depth at a couple of different spots, one thing will always remain true — this was not a charity scholarship. Torneden earned it. And he got the offer because, on paper, on film and in terms of being a guy that the coaching staff already had built a relationship with, Torneden was every bit as good of an option as any of the players remaining on KU's board.

Trust me. KU's got a handful of talented athletes coming in for a visit this weekend and most, if not all, of them would love the opportunity to compete and play football in the Big 12. There's no doubt that Beaty easily would have found someone to give Torneden's scholarship to if the 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete had decided he couldn't say no to North Dakota State.

So don't look at this situation as a deal where KU just had an extra scholarship laying around and decided to give it to the local kid to buy some good will. That couldn't be further from the truth and is downright disrespectful to Torneden.

The kid can play. And he's going to get a chance to prove it at Kansas.

Free State senior Bryce Torneden, left, puts a hit on Leavenworth junior running back Wade Jackson during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth.

Free State senior Bryce Torneden, left, puts a hit on Leavenworth junior running back Wade Jackson during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth. by John Young

Maybe he's not Amani Bledsoe. But did anyone think Joe Dineen would become Joe Freakin' Dineen? Same high school. Same college program. Same opportunity.

The only thing left to see now is what Torneden does with it.

For those of us in or from Lawrence, who enjoy seeing local kids do well — anywhere, but especially at KU — that's why Thursday night's news added a little juice to this class.

With Torneden on board — and wide receiver Braylon Royal no longer a part of this class — KU has two scholarships remaining to pass out before next Wednesday's national signing day.

Who knows who they'll end up going to, but, for the reasons listed above, it's hard to imagine them being any more exciting than Kansas landing Torneden.

Reply 8 comments from Richard Duran John Smith Dirk Medema Table_rock_jayhawk Sam Walters Phil Leister Brett McCabe

A closer look at new KU big man Udoka Azubuike

All right. By now, you guys surely know how these highlight videos work.

They're exactly that. Highlights. You don't see the mistakes, the benchings, the rough stretches or the moments of confusion and missed steps. And, frankly, with most of the top high school prospects, guys who dominate the competition because of their superior size, athleticism and skills, there are not a ton of games that produce anything but highlights.

Such seems to be the case with Udoka Azubuike, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound center from Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, who moments ago announced on ESPNU that he would play his college ball at Kansas University.

The five-star Azubuike is the No. 27-ranked player in the Class of 2016 and the top-rated center and he chose KU over UNC as his finalists but also seriously considered North Carolina State and Florida State.

His addition to the KU program not only gives KU an exciting prospect to look forward to in the future, but also someone Jayhawk fans can salivate over right now. That's because, if it were allowed, Azubuike absolutely would be able to suit up and help this program today. He might not be a star, mind you (we've learned our lesson there, right?) but with that frame, he certainly would help.

At 6-11, 260, he's considerably bigger than anything the Jayhawks have down low today, standing an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than the Jayhawks' biggest body (6-10, 240-pound Landen Lucas).

Beyond that, Azubuike plays a style that none of KU's current players seem to be able to play. In short, he likes to dunk and he likes to dunk very, very hard.

Like most of you, I have not actually seen Azubuike play. But I have watched plenty of film on him and have been impressed by how well he moves. Sure, in these highlights, you're mostly treated to an endless buffet of Azubuike dunking the ball with authority and anger — and let's face it, KU could use some of that — but in some of the clips (and even when you're watching him hurt the rim) you can see how well this guy moves on his feet, how well he runs the floor, how good his balance is and how you could see him turning into a handful in the paint with the proper training.

He figures to get that and more at Kansas and his arrival will be one of the more exciting things to look forward to before the 2016-17 season.

Now that you've watched those, I want you to take a look at this gem I found — God bless the Internet — that was taken when Azubuike was just 14 years old.

He stood 6 feet, 10 inches tall and already showed strong affection for the slam dunk.

The thing I want you to pay attention to in the following clip is not his ferocious form or how mind-blowing it is that a 14-year-old can dunk like that, but instead look at his frame.

Watching this clip and then watching the one above shows you just how much Azubuike's body has developed in the past few years. And that's without the help of Andrea Hudy. Imagine what the KU body-shaping guru will do with this guy when he gets here.

Finally, for a little better perspective on Azubuike's actual skills and talent, here are a couple of videos where you can actually see Azubuike go up against players of similar size and skill.

In the next couple of videos, Azubuike is facing off against DeAndre Ayton, the No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2017.

In the first one, Ayton is No. 0 in black and Azubuike is No. 35 in white. In the second clip, Ayton is No. 92 in white and Azubuike is No. 105 in red.

Here's another one, from 2014, of Azubuike going up against Stephen Zimmerman, who last year chose UNLV over Kansas.

Reply 13 comments from Jay Scott Matt Tait Brian Steward Mark Rein Cedric Spire Dirk Medema Clara Westphal Jonathan Briles John Myers Brett McCabe

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