What caught my eye at Wednesday's KU hoops scrimmage
It was just one scrimmage and there were no coaches involved and not many sets run, but since when has that stopped any of us from sharing some observations about KU basketball?
Wednesday's scrimmage, which mostly boiled down to the returners in blue against the alums and newcomers in red (give or take a couple of exceptions) provided a good first look at a few of the new guys that KU coach Bill Self picked up in the offseason and an opportunity to see what improvements some of the returners made to their games since March.
The Blue squad led start to finish and won by a dozen, which, when you think about it, made perfect sense because most of those guys have played together plenty in the past while many of the red squad, even the alums, hadn't logged as many minutes together.
More than anything, that was what stood out to me on Wednesday. Don't get me wrong, I think Cliff Alexander, Devonte' Graham and Kelly Oubre are going to be big-time players at Kansas and probably will reach that status during the upcoming season, but they're not there yet. Far from it. The raw skills, size and athleticism are easy to see in all three, but they still need to learn to play at this level.
Each guy looked a step slow — both mentally and physically — and flashed inexperience, which was easy to spot out there next to the returning guys and former Jayhawks. As they get into the swing of the season and the coaches can start working them, that will change quickly, especially because all three appear eager to learn.
While their newcomer status jumped out to me on Wednesday, it really was not a knock on them. If anything, it said more about where the veterans are and why last year was a bit of a struggle by Kansas standards. For all that talent on last year's roster, those guys were young and inexperienced. And there's something to be said for knowing how things go at the college level, feeling comfortable in Bill Self's system and understanding what it takes to compete with guys equally as talented.
Even though former KU greats Ben McLemore and Cole Aldrich never played together as Jayhawks, they showed good chemistry during the scrimmage and made it look like they were old teammates. That's experience at work. And even though talent is a wonderful thing to have, there's really no substitute for having been there, which is just one of the reasons KU fans should be looking forward to the 2014-15 season.
Before we cut out, here are a few more quick thoughts from the Wednesday scrimmage at Self's camp:
• Sophomore Brannen Greene appears to be playing with a ton of confidence and looks poised for a breakout year. He shot the ball well in the scrimmage and that led to him being the leading scorer, but we already knew the guy could shoot. What impressed me most was how in rhythm everything looked. Last year, he looked to be thinking a lot and on Wednesday there wasn't too much of that. Instead, it was a lot of catch and go, catch and fire, dig in and defend. Greene said after the scrimmage that he's much more confident now that he's been through a year with the program and it definitely showed on Wednesday.
• By now, you've surely all heard about sophomore Wayne Selden getting his explosiveness back after offseason knee surgery. But it wasn't his bounce that impressed me most on Wednesday, though that was on full display. What caught my eye was Selden's intensity. After deciding to return for a second season a few months ago, Selden cited unfinished business as a big reason for his wanting to come back. Even in a fun and friendly team scrimmage in front of a bunch campers, Selden played with that kind of chip on his shoulder. When he does that and stays aggressive, he looks pretty tough to handle.
• Sophomore guard Frank Mason also had a nice day on Wednesday and a big reason for it was his jump shot. Mason made more than his share of big shots a season ago, but his release was slow at times and he often seemed to want to make sure to gather himself before going up. Not Wednesday. He let go of it much quicker and knocked down a few three-pointers in rhythm and over an extended hand. Don't worry, Mason still showed that bulldog ability to get to the rim, too.
• Junior forward Jamari Traylor has been working on his jump shot a lot this offseason and, although he didn't unleash it a ton during the scrimmage, he did step out to about 14 feet along the baseline and knock one down. If he hits that with any consistency, his whole world could change.
• Sophomore guard Conner Frankamp didn't hit for a great percentage, but he did knock down a couple of deep threes and also looked much more aggressive in looking for his shot than he did throughout most of last season. I also thought Frankamp's upper body looked noticeably bigger.
• Finally, my quick initial read on each of the freshmen in 12 words or fewer.... PF Cliff Alexander – He's a load but some time with Hudy will serve him well; PG Devonte' Graham – Has the look of a guard who likes playing defense; SF Kelly Oubre – Seems to play better when he's a little ticked off.