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Tale of the Tait

KU freshman Jalen Wilson recovering nicely from broken ankle

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) hangs up his arm after putting up a three over Fort Hays State guard Calvin Harrington (23) during the first half, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) hangs up his arm after putting up a three over Fort Hays State guard Calvin Harrington (23) during the first half, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s been nearly five weeks since Kansas freshman Jalen Wilson broke his left ankle during his first official appearance in a game at Allen Fieldhouse.

But there already is talk about Wilson returning to practice in the next few weeks.

The original time table for a full recovery of three months remains most likely, but after wearing a boot and using a walking scooter to stay off the injured ankle during the past month, Wilson may soon be back on his feet.

“Jalen’s doing fine,” Self said Thursday. “He’s still in his boot, but he’s on the bike, he’s doing different things and I think the boot should be coming off here relatively soon. … I really think we’ll have him on the court in some capacity the first week or two of January. So he’s doing well.”

“In some capacity” are the key words in that statement, and it remains unknown whether Wilson could recover enough to return to action in time to impact this season.

Wilson injured the ankle during his first 27 seconds on the floor in KU’s home-opening victory against UNC Greensboro.

After checking in midway through the first half and running down to the offensive end of the floor, Wilson took himself out of the play and walked toward midcourt after hearing a “pop” while pushing off with his left leg.

Self dubbed the injury “a bad one” after the victory, and Wilson had surgery the following week.

Despite being unable to work out or play with his teammates, the 6-foot-8 forward from Denton, Texas, has remained upbeat throughout his recovery and been on the end of the bench on game nights whenever possible.

He did not travel to Maui with the Jayhawks, but he has been at KU’s home games and attending classes.

Without Wilson, the Jayhawks’ rotation has been trimmed down to the nine available scholarship players.

Wilson’s injury, plans for scholarship players Mitch Lightfoot and Dajuan Harris to redshirt the 2019-20 season and the fact that KU already had an open scholarship after Issac McBride decided to transfer before the season began — he announced this week that he’s headed to Vanderbilt, by the way — took the Jayhawks’ lineup from 13 down to nine.

The second-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) will be in action at 4 p.m. Saturday, when they face Kansas City (formerly UMKC) at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

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Jayhawks willing to embrace No. 1 ranking - if it comes

during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Not surprisingly, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s first thought after learning of Texas Tech’s upset of No. 1 Louisville on Tuesday night was about the Red Raiders and the Big 12.

“It’s a great win for Tech,” Self said. “Great for our league.”

From there, the topic quickly shifted to what Tech’s victory meant for Kansas, which entered the week at No. 2 in the polls and could be poised to move into the top spot with a win this weekend over Kansas City at Sprint Center.

“We’ve still got to take care of business Saturday,” Self noted of the 4 p.m. matchup with the lowest-ranked Division I team on KU’s schedule this season per KenPom.com. “But we’ll be in the discussion if we take care of business. But I think this early season it really doesn’t matter much.”

That’s certainly the party line and the safe and smart thing to say. KU sophomore Ochai Agbaji noted the same though in his postgame comments Tuesday night and history is full of soundbites from Kansas players saying the rankings at this time of the year simply do not matter.

But while most coaches have shown a tendency to shy away from taking about being No. 1, Self had no problem embracing the idea.

“I would certainly welcome it with our program,” he said. “I think any time you can do that (it’s a good thing). Of course, later in the season is far better than now. You know, if you do it in January or February it’s far better than now, or even March would be the ideal time to do it.”

But if the voters put the Jayhawks at the top of the polls in December, Self will take it. And, more to the point, he’ll likely use it to his advantage.

A master motivator in just about every way, the shiny No. 1 ranking, if it comes, merely would give Self another tool to use to keep his players locked in on what they’re supposed to be doing.

Picture this: Monday afternoon, after KU ascends to the top spot in the polls, the Jayhawks are at practice beginning preparations for their Dec. 21 game at Villanova. Midway through the session, things get sloppy and a drill features more mistakes than moments of flawless execution.

“No. 1, huh,” Self might ask. “You sure don’t look like you deserve to be ranked No. 1 right now.”

Minor stuff, to be sure. But for a Hall of Fame coach who has made a living out of getting the most out of his players by pushing the right buttons at the right times, Self has proven that he can and will use everything at his disposal to keep his club sharp.

Before anyone gets too far ahead of themselves, though, it’s important to remember that two things still have to happen for Kansas to be ranked No. 1 for the first time since late December of last season, when the Jayhawks ran out to a 10-0 start before losing to Arizona State on the road.

First, KU has to beat Kansas City on Saturday. After that, the Jayhawks actually have to be ranked No. 1 by the AP voters.

“I’m not sure we would be because, obviously, (No. 3) Ohio State’s got an impressive resume and they’re undefeated,” Self noted. “But I don’t think being No. 1 is exactly where anybody really wants to be, because they haven’t stayed there very long.”

Four teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 already have fallen this season, with preseason No. 1 Michigan State losing its season opener to Kentucky, the Wildcats falling to Evansville at home shortly thereafter, Duke losing to Stephen F. Austin at home a couple of weeks after that and Louisville losing to Texas Tech on Tuesday night.

For what it’s worth, Kansas edged Ohio State for the No. 2 spot in this week’s poll by just 22 points, 1,486-1,464. Beyond that, it was the Buckeyes, with five, who actually received more first-place votes than Kansas, which earned four in this week’s AP poll.

So simply sliding into the top spot is not automatic, particularly if Ohio State (9-0) wins at Minnesota on Sunday.

So far this season, Ohio State’s best wins have come against then-No. 10 Villanova, 76-51 at home, and then-No. 7 North Carolina, 74-49 in Chapel Hill.

The Buckeyes are currently ranked in the No. 1 spot in the KenPom.com rankings, four spots ahead of the Jayhawks.

No. 1 or not, this Kansas team continues to put it’s focus on getting better, becoming a team and setting the stage to accomplish big things down the road.

“We see it as No. 1, but the bigger picture is we have other goals this season,” Agbaji said Tuesday. “And early on the rankings don’t matter. Our goal right now is to win conference and start dominating that again. So, I’m ready for that and I don’t think rankings really matter.”

After Saturday’s game with Kansas City, the Jayhawks have just two more non-conference games remaining — at Villanova on Dec. 21 and at Stanford on Dec. 29 — before the start of Big 12 play, which opens Jan. 4 at Allen Fieldhouse against West Virginia.

Reply 2 comments from Creg Bohrer Tony Bandle Njjayhawk

A Heisman Trophy vote 30 years in the making

Young Tait, shown here in 1989, posing with the official Heisman Trophy eventually won by Houston QB Andre Ware.

Young Tait, shown here in 1989, posing with the official Heisman Trophy eventually won by Houston QB Andre Ware. by Matt Tait

I would’ve voted for Charles Woodson in 1997. I’ve always loved the idea of defensive players winning the Heisman.

I would’ve put Todd Reesing in my Top 3 in 2007. He might not have deserved to win the award, but he was every bit the factor as those who made it to New York City for the presentation.

And, as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I probably would’ve been caught up in the Heisman fever surrounding guys like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and others.

Now I get the chance.

After former Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan left our paper for a job in Boston a little over a year ago, a spot came open in the Heisman voting in Kansas and I was invited to fill it.

I submitted my first Heisman ballot on Sunday — after Saturday’s conference championship games but well before the Monday evening deadline — and, per Heisman rules, I will have to keep my votes confidential until the winner is revealed on Saturday.

Monday night, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young were announced as this year’s finalists and all four will be at this year’s announcement ceremony in New York this weekend.

I’ll be sure to follow-up here with a short blog about who I voted for and why after the results are announced (Benton Smith had a vote, too), but the mere fact that I was able to cast a vote was a cool, full-circle moment for me.

See, my grandfather’s company, Herff Jones, a yearbook and class ring company based in Indianapolis, always manufactured the Heisman, and back in the summer of 1989, on a family trip to Disney World, my grandpa and I made a stop at the Herff Jones plant in Gettysburg, Pa., to see the award.

With me being barely 11 years old at the time, he didn’t quite trust me to be able to securely hold up the 45-pound trophy like the winners do, but he was happy to get it out and put it on a table for me to stand behind and pose for a picture.

I can still visualize walking back into the area where they kept the award — along with a few others.

At the time, I probably still thought my future would include winning the award as opposed to writing about it, but I’m sure that didn’t last too much longer.

The name plate was blank that day and, if I recall correctly, my grandpa folded a piece of stationary in half and wrote “Matt Tait” on it for one of the photos. Too cool.

A few months later, Houston Cougars quarterback Andre Ware won that very same trophy that I got to hold. I always joked that I had more claim to it than Ware did, but now that I know better, I realize that his numbers that season were pretty incredible and he was certainly deserving.

Ware beat out Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson, West Virginia QB Major Harris (pre-Big 12) and Notre Dame’s Tony Rice to win the ’89 Heisman.

Ware’s lack of a professional career worth noting probably knocked a little of the shine off of his Heisman campaign — how many guys have we said that about? — but he did throw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns that season.

For context, Baker Mayfield’s Heisman season included 4,627 passing yards and 43 touchdowns and Kyler Murray’s last season included 4,361 yards through the air and 42 TDs.

So, yeah, Ware was worthy.

And now, 30 years after having my photo taken with the trophy and after all of these years of following the Heisman races and thinking about who should or would win it, I get to have some small say in determining this year’s winner.

Life’s pretty cool sometimes.

Reply 13 comments from Kall3742 Matt Tait Dane Pratt Keithii Len Shaffer Kenneth Johnson Chandleraccipiter Dale Rogers

The Athletic’s NBA coaching carousel blog the latest to tie KU coach Bill Self’s future to San Antonio

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) by Associated Press

Mark down Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 as the most recent day when speculation surfaced about the future of Kansas basketball Bill Self being tied to the San Antonio Spurs.

For years, fans, media members and dreamers alike have linked Self and his coaching future to San Antonio because of his close relationship with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford. Self and Buford were tight in college at Oklahoma State and the two worked together at Kansas under Larry Brown.

The latest round seems to be more of the same.

In their latest NBA Coaching Carousel Preview, Sam Amick and John Hollinger, of The Athletic, wrote an entry about San Antonio that mentioned Self.

The Spurs, who are still coached by NBA legend Gregg Popovich and likely will be until Pop decides he’s done — not the other way around — are off to a 9-14 start to the 2019-20 season, following a 2018-19 season that saw the Spurs slip to the No. 7 seed and bow out of the playoffs in the first round.

While a 48-34 record and playoff appearance a year ago might not be reason to panic in most NBA circles, it’s certainly a departure from the norm for the Spurs, who have been perennial contenders and one of the toughest outs in the NBA throughout Popovich’s time there.

The entire premise of the Monday entry in The Athletic, which also includes coaching chatter out of New Orleans, New York, Chicago and Houston, is based around not how long the Spurs will let Popovich continue this trend, but rather how long he will want to.

The report wrote: “Whenever he steps away, whether it’s after he coaches Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics this summer or sometime thereafter, there’s one name that continues to come up from league sources as a possible replacement: Bill Self.”

Self has said repeatedly during recent years that he plans to be the coach at Kansas for a long time.

But, as The Athletic article points out, Self’s future is a little more in question these days with KU facing allegations and potentially severe penalties from the recent NCAA and FBI investigation into improper recruiting practices.

Because of that, Amick and Hollinger wrote, “It’s fair to wonder if now might be the perfect time for him to take on a new challenge. Again, of course, that’s all depending on Pop and what he wants to do.”

In addition to saying he plans to be at Kansas well into the future, Self has adamantly stated that he “won’t cut and run” from the NCAA sanctions facing the program.

What’s more, The Athletic’s report points out that the decision about who replaces Popovich, whenever that may be, will come down to a lot more than longtime friendships between noteworthy parties.

“A source with knowledge of the Spurs’ thinking is quick to make it clear that this monumental choice will be, first and foremost, about what’s best for the organization and not based solely on personal relationships,” the story reads. “Still, it’s worth monitoring and chronicling the deep ties here.”

Reply 6 comments from Pius Waldman Navyhawk Njjayhawk Dane Pratt Brett McCabe Forever2008 Ryan Mullen

Jayhawks remain No. 2 in latest AP Top 25

Kansas' Udoka Azubuike gets past Colorado's Dallas Walton to shoot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas' Udoka Azubuike gets past Colorado's Dallas Walton to shoot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) by Associated Press

The top two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 men’s college basketball poll remained the same this week, but there was plenty of movement behind No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Kansas.

The Jayhawks, who knocked off No. 20 Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night to pick up their seventh consecutive victory after losing to Duke in the season opener, stayed in the No. 2 spot for the second week in a row.

Kansas (7-1) received four of the 64 first-place votes in this week’s poll, while Louisville (9-0) picked up 55 and Ohio State (9-0), which moved up from No. 6 to No. 3, earned five.

Maryland (10-0) and Michigan (8-1) round out this week’s Top 5.

Baylor, which picked up a convincing win over then-No. 12 Arizona over the weekend, moved up seven spots to No. 11 and was the only other Big 12 Conference representative in this week’s Top 25. Texas and West Virginia both received votes for this week’s poll.

Colorado, meanwhile, dropped four spots to 24th after falling to Kansas, 72-58, on Saturday.

RISING The biggest climb this week belonged to Baylor, which jumped seven spots to No. 11 after edging then-No. 12 Arizona 63-58 to run its record to 7-1. The Bears have emerged as perhaps the biggest challenger to Kansas in the Big 12. Sixth-ranked Gonzaga, No. 7 Duke and No. 10 Oregon each climbed three spots. Dayton continued its move up the rankings after its run to the Maui Invitational title game, moving up five spots to No. 14. Butler rose six spots to No. 18 after the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss and Florida.

FALLING Arizona dropped three spots to No. 15, Florida State fell four spots to No. 21 and Seton Hall tumbled six spots to No. 22 after a loss to Iowa State. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the Pirates, they also lost key contributor Sandro Mamukelashvili to a broken right wrist against the Cyclones.

MOVING IN Xavier moved into the poll at No. 22 after wins over Green Bay and Cincinnati, and San Diego State made its debut at No. 25 after edging San Jose State to improve to 10-0 on the season.

MOVING OUT Utah State was the first team out of the Top 25 after needing overtime to beat Fresno State last week. Washington also fell from No. 22 out of the poll after a loss to Gonzaga.

THIS WEEK Many schools have a light week because of final exams, but some big games are on the docket. Butler visits Baylor on Tuesday night, while Oregon travels to Michigan, Memphis visits Tennessee and Gonzaga heads to Arizona on Saturday.

This week's complete AP Top 25

1 – Louisville, 9-0, 1,591 (55)

2 – Kansas, 7-1, 1,486 (4)

3 – Ohio State, 9-0, 1,464 (5)

4 – Maryland, 10-0, 1,428

5 – Michigan, 8-1, 1,286

6 – Gonzaga, 10-1, 1,235

7 – Duke, 9-1, 1,232

8 – Kentucky, 7-1, 1,170

9 – Virginia, 8-1, 1,060

10 – Oregon, 7-2, 905

11 – Baylor, 7-1, 872

12 – Auburn, 8-0, 836

13 – Memphis, 8-1, 756

14 – Dayton, 7-1, 672

15 – Arizona, 9-1, 654

16 – Michigan State, 6-3, 637

17 – North Carolina, 6-3, 615

18 – Butler, 9-0, 529

19 – Tennessee, 7-1, 455

20 – Villanova, 7-2, 285

21 – Florida State, 8-2, 253

22 – Seton Hall, 6-3, 250

23 – Xavier, 9-1, 216

24 – Colorado, 7-1, 210

25 – San Diego State, 10-0, 197

Others receiving votes: Utah State 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary's 8, Texas 6, Penn State 5, Florida 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, DePaul 1, Duquesne 1, VCU 1

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Saturday setback the latest ‘blessing’ in the long road back for Colorado forward Evan Battey

Kansas' Devon Dotson (1) shoots over Colorado's Evan Battey (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas' Devon Dotson (1) shoots over Colorado's Evan Battey (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) by Associated Press

He finished 5-of-8 from the floor, scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 27 minutes during his team’s 72-58 loss to No. 2 Kansas on Saturday evening at Allen Fieldhouse.

By most accounts, Colorado forward Evan Battey was the Buffs’ best player against the Jayhawks.

But Battey’s numbers were purely secondary to the opportunity for the third-year sophomore to merely play in Allen Fieldhouse, let alone play basketball at all.

Two years ago, while playing pick-up ball with some friends, Battey suffered a stroke and a series of seizures that nearly took his life.

According to an account of Battey’s road to recovery by Pat Graham of The Denver Post, it took nearly a full year for Battey to entirely regain his feeling, movement and speech after the scary experience.

So, to him, every day since has been a gift.

“This is just the icing on the cake for me,” Battey said of the opportunity to play a game in historic Allen Fieldhouse. “I wake up every day thankful for life first and then basketball and school come second. To play in this place and in this atmosphere is just a blessing.”

Battey is far from the only one who feels that way.

There are a whole bunch of people back in California, along with friends and supporters around the country, who get extra emotional every time they see him take the court.

Former Kansas center Eric Chenowith is one of them. And Chenowith, who, like Battey, attended Villa Park (Calif.) High and played for the same high school coach, received a dozen or so text messages during Saturday’s game from the Villa Park family asking him if he was watching Battey play in his old college gym.

“My high school program’s really like a family,” Chenowith told the Journal-World via telephone on Sunday. “Old guys come back and work out young guys and we have barbecues together and really just all pull for each other at all times. I texted with Evan after the game and it was really cool, almost full-circle for me, to see him play at Allen Fieldhouse.”

The reason goes well beyond the health scare, though.

Chenowith, who temporarily coached at Villa Park about eight years ago, before Battey came through the program, recalled three different occasions when Battey was kept out of action.

The first time came during his senior season at Villa Park, when the California governing body for high school athletics ruled he had exhausted his eight semesters of eligibility. Despite not playing a single minute that year, Battey earned the Orange County Athletic Directors Association’s Athlete of Character Award for his support of his team and ability to smile through the situation.

Next, after signing with CU as the 122nd-ranked prospect in the country per Rivals.com, he was ruled academically ineligible for his freshman season in 2017-18. It was during that season when he suffered the stroke, and the recovery cost him a good chunk of the 2018-19 offseason and preseason.

He finally made his Colorado debut and return to basketball on Nov. 13, 2018, playing 20 minutes in a CU win over Drake.

Battey averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 21 minutes per game over 36 appearances and 11 starts last season. So far this season, Battey is averaging 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in eight starts for the 7-1, 20th-ranked Buffaloes.

And every one of them has made Chenowith and a whole bunch of Battey supporters smile from ear to ear.

“That was three major setbacks for someone who all he wanted to do was go out and play,” Chenowith said. “To see him persevere and pull through and finally be able to play and be successful is just incredible. Any time Evan’s on the court, it’s a good thing.”

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5-star Class of 2022 KU commitment Tre White reopens recruitment, remains interested in Kansas

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Class of 2022 point guard Tre White, of Cornerstone Christian in San Antonio, announced Friday that he has reopened his recruitment.

White, a 5-star prospect who just started his sophomore season of high school basketball, orally committed to KU last summer and has long been a huge fan of the Kansas program and coaching staff.

According to his recent Tweet, White is opening up his recruitment so he can experience the entire process, from beginning to end, in an effort to find “the college that best fits my academic and basketball needs” and “all the goals I have set in my life.”

Reached via text by the Journal-World on Friday evening, White said he “for sure” would keep Kansas in the mix as he moves through the various stages of his recruitment.

“I love Kansas,” White told the Journal-World this fall. “It’s a dream. My relationship with the coaches is crazy. It really is a family.”

Originally from Little Elm, Texas, White committed to KU without visiting, largely on the strength of his relationship with KU coach Bill Self and assistant coach Jerrance Howard.

Shortly after jumping into the Top 10 in the 247 Sports rankings for the Class of 2022, White visited KU for Late Night in the Phog.

A 6-foot-6, 200-pound point guard with a wide variety of skills, White initially chose KU over offers from Illinois, Texas Tech, Auburn and a dozen other schools showing serious interest.

Despite Friday’s development, his is a name that remains worth tracking both for the KU coaching staff and Kansas fans who follow recruiting.

Reply 14 comments from Daddioku Joe Ross Dane Pratt Ashwingrao Bryce Landon Robert  Brock Dale Rogers Len Shaffer Freddie Garza Brett McCabe

KU signee Tyon Grant-Foster officially the top juco recruit in the country

New Kansas commitment Tyon Grant-Foster on his official visit to KU

New Kansas commitment Tyon Grant-Foster on his official visit to KU by Matt Tait

The Kansas men’s basketball program’s 2020 recruiting class now officially features the No. 1 juco recruit in the country.

Tyon Grant-Foster, a 6-foot-7, 187-pound guard from Indian Hills C.C. in Ottumwa, Iowa, has jumped into the top spot in the national junior college prospect ratings, according to JucoRecruiting.com.

Grant-Foster, a native of Kansas City, Kan., who committed to Kansas in mid-October and signed with the Jayhawks during the early signing period in November, has been on fire so far this season.

After finishing with averages of 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 32 games last season, Grant-Foster is averaging 18.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 26 minutes per outing through the first 10 games of the 2019-20 season.

Those averages include three games of 24 or more points, including a 35-point explosion against State Fair Community College in early November.

Kansas coach Bill Self has been very complimentary of Grant-Foster’s game since the versatile wing signed with the Jayhawks, and many around the Kansas program believe they landed a steal of a player who will be ready to make an immediate impact on the program next season as a junior.

“Tyon is very long and extremely skilled,” Self said at the time of Grant-Foster’s signing. “He can play basically anywhere on the floor, 1 through 4. He’s good with the ball, has great vision and is a terrific athlete. His motor is always running. Playing for a great Indian Hills program will make Tyon’s transition to Kansas seamless. (KU assistant) Jerrance (Howard) did a great job recruiting Tyon and his family. One of the things that attracted us most to Tyon is his personality. He has a zest for the game and you could tell his teammates enjoy playing with him. He will have a big impact for us next year. We’re also excited to have his family close by.”

According to the web site, the JucoRecruiting.com rankings will be updated four more times before next summer — Jan. 15, Feb. 15, April 1 and June 1.

Grant-Foster’s team plays back-to-back games tonight and Saturday and will have three more games Dec. 10-14 before winter break.

Reply 1 comment from Len Shaffer

Year In Review: The pessimist’s take on the 2019 Kansas football season

Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon watches a replay on the video board during the third quarter on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon watches a replay on the video board during the third quarter on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Editor's Note: Before the 2019 Kansas football season began, I took a stab at a couple of different viewpoints on what was to come.

The first belonged to the optimist and was a look ahead at KU’s first season under Les Miles from the perspective of those who believed there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful. The second belonged to the pessimist and was just the opposite.

Now that the run is over and Miles and the Jayhawks have put the finishing touches on their 3-9 season, it’s time to do the same by looking back at the season that was and all that came with it.

After examining the optimist’s view first, we’re looking at the year in review from the eyes of the pessimist today.

__

If the ho-hum, same-old 3-9 record wasn’t enough to leave you pessimistic about the state of the Kansas football program, there were plenty of specific moments during the 2019 season that likely did the trick.

And, no, I’m not just talking about last Saturday’s 61-6 beatdown by Baylor in the season finale.

The 38-10 loss to Kansas State, the 31-13 loss at Oklahoma State and, yes, everyone’s favorite, that 12-7 home loss to Coastal Carolina in Week 2, all factored into how this season would be remembered.

But whether you focus on the win total, the moments of offensive ineptitude or the opportunities to win that just weren’t captured, the most difficult part about the latest Kansas football campaign in the eyes of the pessimists is that it left them with the same two-word question that they’ve had for the past decade — now what?

Was enough of a foundation put in place in Year 1 of the Les Miles era to make people think better days are ahead? Who will play quarterback for the Jayhawks next season? And can Kansas score enough points on a consistent basis to compete in the Big 12 Conference or win on the road?

All of those have been common questions during the past nine years and they all still exist today. Anyone who thought they wouldn’t was probably five slices deep into a little pie in the sky. But the fact that they remain heading into the 2020 season is not exactly encouraging.

There were plenty of reasons and plenty of players to get excited about during the past few months. But there never were quite enough.

What’s more, just about every time the Jayhawks did something to get the fan base fired up and ready to see what came next, they fell flat the following week and snatched away the enthusiasm as quickly as it arrived.

In short, no matter what they thought was going to happen, Kansas fans sat by scratching their heads while watching the opposite unfold — both good and bad.

No one saw the Boston College win coming after the Week 2 effort against Coastal Carolina. But after it did, everyone thought West Virginia was there for the taking one week later. The result? A Mountaineers team that finished 5-7 walked into Lawrence and won an uninspired game by both teams.

Later, after nearly upsetting Texas in Austin (again, no one saw that coming) and beating Texas Tech at home, Jayhawk fans were fired up to finally see a competitive Sunflower Showdown. So much so that they sold out KU’s home stadium for the first time in a decade. The result? Well, it looked an awful lot like so many other KU-KSU clashes in recent years, with the Wildcats winning easily in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 38-10 final score indicated.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. And there was a genuine sense around the program that it was worth tuning in each week because at least you were going to get a team that was capable of competing. They didn’t always do that. But this season’s struggles were as much about not finishing as anything else.

Of course, for every KU fan who likes to point out that the Jayhawks were 26 points away from being a 7-5 football team, there’s another one who realizes that they also were 10 points away from being 1-11. So it goes with Kansas football, year after year after year.

And if that type of inconsistent uncertainty doesn’t bring out a little pessimist in everyone, more power to those who can avoid it.

KU’s special teams were anything but special. The defense took a major step backwards, from being one of the top turnover-producing units a year ago to tied for last in that category this season and 122nd (of 130) in total defense. And the offense, as much as people wanted to believe it was, at times, as explosive as any in college football, still had too many quarters, halves and games of nothingness, which put the group 91st in the nation in total offense.

That’s not going to get it done. And while the possibility certainly exists for KU to improve and build from here, a quick look at the key players departing from this year’s roster illustrates that improvement of any kind in Year 2 might be tough to expect.

Now what, you ask? Brace yourselves for more of the same.

Reply 12 comments from Foofan1315 Layne Pierce Brett McCabe Dirk Medema Jayhawkinaustin Titus Canby Kall3742 Steve Corder Dane Pratt Len Shaffer

How Dotson and Azubuike compare to other dynamic duos of the Bill Self era

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way as he and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrate a UNC-Greensboro turnover during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is UNC-Greensboro forward James Dickey (21).

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way as he and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrate a UNC-Greensboro turnover during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is UNC-Greensboro forward James Dickey (21). by Nick Krug

In the moments following KU’s Maui Invitational title game victory over Dayton, Kansas coach Bill Self mentioned that the 1-2 punch of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike may be the best the program has had in a while.

Whether that’s true or not is largely a matter of opinion and also depends on your definition of a 1-2 punch.

For instance, Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason were a heck of a 1-2 punch for Kansas during the 2016-17 season. The same was true for Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk the following season.

But all four of those players were guards.

So if we are to assume that by 1-2 punch, Self was referencing one lead guard and one big man, the case for Dotson and Azubuike becomes a little stronger. Even if it is still in its infant stages.

Remember, these guys have played a total of just 16 games together in their lives. And in those 16 outings Azubuike and Dotson have combined to top 35 points just three times, including last week’s Maui Invitational title game when they went for 60 points — the most by a KU duo since Terry Brown and Alonzo Jamison combined for 65 points in a 1991 win over NC State.

So there’s little doubt that, for that particular game, Dotson and Azubuike were as dynamic a 1-2, big-little punch as the Jayhawks have had in years.

“When he has it going and the attention is on him, that opens it up for other players,” Dotson said of Azubuike. “So it’s just kind of a 1-2 punch. We read the defense, take what’s given to us. We know that if we can get the ball down low, we’re going to go there every time.”

Given their roles, experience and importance on this season’s team, it’s fair to expect that more games like that are on the way.

But they’re not here yet. And because of that, the two current Jayhawks aren’t quite in the upper echelon of Self’s best 1-2 punches just yet.

They’re close, though. And there’s still a lot of time remaining in the 2019-20 season for them to make an even bigger impact.

Here’s a look back at the best guard-big man 1-2 punches of the Self era in terms of their offensive production and usage.

1 – Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson – 2011-12

Surrounded by players who fit their roles and helped this Kansas team make a run all the way to the national title game, there was never any disputing that Taylor and Robinson were the two Jayhawks who stirred the drink.

Both shot over 50% from the floor, and they combined to score 46.7% of this team’s total points by playing the most minutes of any guard-big man 1-2 punch in the Self era at 33%.

2 – Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich – 2008-09

The only two players left with any real experience from the 2008 title team, Collins and Aldrich were very much Batman and Robin during the 2008-09 season.

Like Taylor and Robinson, they were the leading scorers on this team, combining to produce 44.2% of KU’s offense while playing 32.3% of the team’s minutes.

3 – Keith Langford and Wayne Simien – 2003-04

Two juniors on Self’s first KU team combined to score 43.1% of the team’s total points while playing 31.4% of the team’s minutes.

The duo led the Jayhawks in scoring and shot over 50% from the floor while making the adjustment from Roy Williams’ run-and-gun style to Self’s high-low offense.

Their numbers in Year 1 under Self were only slightly better than their numbers as seniors, when they again combined to lead the Jayhawks in scoring, producing 41.4% of the team’s total offense in 28.8% of the available minutes.

While Langford’s scoring average dipped a point from Year 1 to Year 2, Simien’s went up by 2.5 points per game, pushing him above the 20-point mark and earning him All-American honors.

4 – Devon Dotson and Dedric Lawson – 2018-19

This might surprise some of you, but it probably shouldn’t. If you think back to last year’s team, Dotson and Lawson were the two players the Jayhawks could not take off the floor.

They both played more than 1,100 minutes — combining for 32.2% of the team’s playing time — and they were responsible for 41.9% of the team’s scoring, finishing 1-2 in points per game during their first seasons as Jayhawks.

Of all of the duos on this list, this (not surprisingly) is the one the Dotson-Azubuike duo most closely resembles. That’s partly because it includes one of the same players and partly because of the offensive sets the Jayhawks currently utilize, with Dotson as the primary ball handler and Lawson as a player who was virtually unstoppable down low.

Through seven games, Azubuike and Dotson have been KU’s top two scorers, scoring 42% of KU’s points in 30.5% of the minutes.

Dotson currently leads the Big 12 at 19.7 points per game. And Azubuike currently leads the nation at 79.7% shooting from the floor.

5 – Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey – 2012-13

Although McLemore was not a point guard and Withey more of a center than a power forward, this duo stepped right in for Taylor and Robinson the following season and put up strong numbers.

In finishing as the Jayhawks’ top two scorers, McLemore and Withey combined to score 39.4% of the Jayhawks’ points while playing 31% of available minutes. Both shot over 50% from the floor and, like Taylor and Robinson, they provided Kansas with weapons on the perimeter and in the paint, which made it tough for opponents to set up their defensive game plans.

6 – Frank Mason III and Perry Ellis – 2015-16

Two seasons before he became the unanimous national player of the year, Mason was a key part of the KU offense, teaming with Ellis to lead the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight and another strong season.

This duo combined to score 36.6% of KU’s points while playing 31.5% of the available minutes.

7 – Devonte’ Graham and Udoka Azubuike – 2017-18

Although this team was known for its deadly 3-point shooting and four-around-one offensive attack, Azubuike’s presence cannot be overlooked.

Although he was injured late in the season, he still played in 36 of KU’s 39 games and averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 77% from the floor.

That kind of production is going to make any point guard look good. And Graham certainly knew what to do with it. Bumping his assists up by more than three per game from his junior season, more than a third of his 282 assists directly set up Azubuike buckets, many of them lobs that energized the KU lineup and demoralized opponents.

Together, these two combined to score 36% of KU’s points in 29.7% of the minutes, numbers that both were slightly lower than they could have been simply because the Jayhawks had weapons like Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick doing plenty of scoring to help KU’s cause.

Had Graham and Azubuike played on last season’s team or this one, they could have pushed for one of the top three spots on this list, which is why Self and others believe Dotson and Azubuike can do the same in time.

8 – Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins – 2009-10

The follow-up to their stellar 2008-09 season was not quite as impressive, simply because the Jayhawks did not need it to be.

With reinforcements named Xavier Henry, Marcus and Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor joining the roster, Collins and Aldrich had more help this season than they did the year before.

Collins still ran the show and was the heartbeat of the team. And Aldrich, who wound up becoming lottery pick, focused more of his efforts in becoming a defensive enforcer instead of producing on the offensive end.

The result was a combined scoring punch of 32.8% in 29.7% of this team’s minutes.

9 – Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid – 2013-14

One might think that the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the NBA draft would have been much higher on this list and a much nastier combination.

But injuries and the fact that both were freshmen playing in their only season of college basketball contributed mightily to what Wiggins and Embiid could do.

Starting together in just 20 of KU’s 35 games, the two combined for 32.9% of KU’s scoring in 25.5% of the minutes available.

10 – Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur – 2007-08

This was the hardest one to decipher because the 2008 title team was so balanced. You easily could look at the production of Brandon Rush and Darnell Jackson as this team’s 1-2 guard-big man punch, but because Arthur and Chalmers were both in the top three in scoring I went with them.

Together they combined for 31.3% of the scoring in 26.8% of the minutes. By comparison, Rush and Jackson combined for 29.6% of the scoring in 26% of the available minutes. So it was close, and that, among other things, is what made the 2008 team so good and so dangerous.

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