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Ranking KU basketball's one-and-dones

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Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr., left, and forward Cliff Alexander celebrate a three by teammate Wayne Selden Jr. during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr., left, and forward Cliff Alexander celebrate a three by teammate Wayne Selden Jr. during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

With Cliff Alexander officially announcing his decision to leave school after one season on Tuesday, we can finish the chapter of Kansas University's one-and-done players, at least for another year.

Alexander and teammate Kelly Oubre, who announced his decision to turn pro a week earlier, become the sixth and seventh KU players to go the one-and-done route and, as many of you surely know, the results of those one-year runs by some incredibly talented players have been fairly mixed.

Despite the high rankings, McDonald's All-American tags and enormous hype and hope surrounding all seven of these players, very few of them actually lived up to what you expect from these types of players or, in some ways, what you see from one-and-done ballers at other schools.

There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is simply bad luck, but it's definitely not necessarily a KU problem.

Take Alexander, for instance. He would've been welcomed onto the roster of pretty much any program in the country, and, although he might have performed better at different places, his overall adjustment to the college game seemed like a struggle. It's safe to say then that Alexander may just have ended up being a bust no matter where he went to school. Then again, maybe not.

Such is life when covering, coaching and predicting one-and-done players. And it will be that way until something drastic changes, which may never happen.

With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the one-and-dones KU has welcomed into the fold throughout the past several seasons along with my ranking of how they performed while at Kansas.

• JOEL EMBIID • Injury limited the 7-footer from Cameroon to just 28 games during his lone season at Kansas, but boy was he impressive during those 28 games. After a relatively slow start in which he came off the bench for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season, Embiid finished with 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Modest numbers, to be sure, but when you project those out over 40 minutes (19.4, 14.0, 4.5) or 100 possessions (28.2, 20.5, 6.5) it clearly demonstrates the impact that Embiid had on the game. Of course, you did not need numbers to see that for yourself. It was very obvious that KU was a completely different team with Embiid and without him and his absence in the NCAA Tournament played a huge role in the Jayhawks going home early. As good and as important to that team as Andrew Wiggins was, one could make the case that had he been the one who was injured and Embiid stayed healthy, KU would've advanced to the second weekend. Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2014 draft by Philadelphia.

Kansas center Joel Embiid smiles along side head basketball coach Bill Self as he talks with media members during a news conference on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. Embiid announced his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. (AP PHOTO/Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

Kansas center Joel Embiid smiles along side head basketball coach Bill Self as he talks with media members during a news conference on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. Embiid announced his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. (AP PHOTO/Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World) by Nick Krug

• BEN MCLEMORE • McLemore was on a darn good team during the one season he was eligible to play at Kansas, but his all-around game was a huge reason for that. The smooth shooting St. Louis native averaged 15.9 points per game and made 42 percent of his three-point shots. There were times during the middle of the 2012-13 season when McLemore was in such a zone that it seemed like 15 points per night was automatic. He also rebounded well for his position (5.2 per game) and worked defensively. Sure, he fit well into the veteran team around him, but McLemore rarely passed up shots he needed to take and was an absolute highlight machine in transition. Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2013 draft by Sacramento.

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks about coaching Ben McLemore and his decision to leave during a news conference in which McLemore declared his intention to enter the 2013 NBA Draft. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks about coaching Ben McLemore and his decision to leave during a news conference in which McLemore declared his intention to enter the 2013 NBA Draft. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

• ANDREW WIGGINS • As was the case throughout his time at KU, Wiggins probably fell to third on this list because it was impossible for him to live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded him when he arrived in Lawrence. I was never one who thought Wiggins was anything other than fantastic as a Jayhawk, I just think those two guys above him had better seasons. Wiggins' importance to his team was undeniable. He led KU in scoring, free throw shooting, played lock-down defense and ripped down six rebounds a game, many of them coming on the offensive end on his own misses. The truth of the matter is Wiggins and McLemore finished their KU careers with incredibly similar single-season statistics, but because McLemore's came without much hype and Wiggins' numbers were “disappointing” given that most of the free world believed he would average 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 dunks per game. Unfair? You bet. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Wiggins' one season in Lawrence was anything other than extremely solid. The early tournament exit and his no-show in his final game in a KU uniform certainly hurt people's memory of his time here. Drafted: No. 1 overall by Cleveland.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins laughs with his brother Mitchell Wiggins Jr., left, mother Marita Wiggins and father Mitchell Wiggins after declaring his intention to enter the NBA Draft during a news conference on Monday, March 31, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins laughs with his brother Mitchell Wiggins Jr., left, mother Marita Wiggins and father Mitchell Wiggins after declaring his intention to enter the NBA Draft during a news conference on Monday, March 31, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

• XAVIER HENRY • On a team loaded with veterans, Henry was actually pretty solid. He finished with 13.4 points-per-game average and also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists per game, all while drilling 42 percent of his three-point shots. The thing is, on a different team or even in a different time, Henry could have — and likely would have — been a guy that a coach built an entire offense around. He was a great spot-up shooter, had the frame needed to drive to the rim, hit 78 percent of his free throws and was athletic and quick in transition. He could've been an amazing player who put up huge numbers and delivered highlights night in and night out. But because he was such a good dude, such a solid team player and, let's face it, still such a kid, he happily deferred to guys like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. Henry left KU with tears. Based on the way his pro career has played out, it might not have been a bad idea for him to come back for his sophomore season and fine-tune those alpha dog skills. Drafted: No. 12 overall by Memphis.

Kansas guard Xavier Henry has an emotional moment alongside his brother C.J. Henry, left, during a press conference in which Xavier declared his intention to enter the NBA draft, Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Xavier Henry has an emotional moment alongside his brother C.J. Henry, left, during a press conference in which Xavier declared his intention to enter the NBA draft, Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

• KELLY OUBRE • It took Oubre a while to get going, but once he did, he had plenty of nights where he looked like the Jayhawks' most valuable player. For the first 10 or so games of the season, Oubre could barely get off the bench. But after cracking the starting lineup mid-way through the season, Oubre started every Big 12 game except one (Senior night) and started every game of the postseason. When he was on, he was on, whether that meant getting to the free throw line or raining from three-point range. And, defensively, he used his length and drive to frustrate opponents and help on the boards. But he never truly developed into a highly skilled offensive player and struggled to use his off hand throughout the season. Those skills are the type that can be honed in the NBA, where working on his game will be his full-time job, and Oubre's time as KU likely will be remembered by most as solid but not spectacular. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.

• CLIFF ALEXANDER • Alexander avoided the cellar on this list because of his solid production out of the gate and the way he impacted games when he was able to play double-digit minutes or greater. His double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse was critical and his early-season strategy of go-get-the-rebound-and-dunk-it helped him break out quickly. But as the demands from the coaching staff grew, Alexander struggled to stay caught up and that left him watching from the bench more often than not. Add to that his eligibility mess that kept him out of the final eight games of the season and it's hard to call Alexander's lone season as a Jayhawk anything other than a disappointment. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.

• JOSH SELBY • The No. 1 ranked player in his recruiting class sure knew how to make an entrance. But after his hot-shooting, 21-point game against USC in his first game as a Jayhawk (after a nine-game suspension due to eligibility concerns) Selby pretty much disappeared for the rest of the 2010-11 season. A lingering foot injury contributed to some of his lack of production, but the Baltimore native never appeared to fully buy in or get into the flow during his one year of college ball. He averaged 7.9 points per game and made 36 percent of his three-point attempts but played just 20.4 minutes per game and shot just 38 percent from the field overall. Drafted: No. 49 overall by Memphis in second round of 2011 NBA Draft.

Kansas freshman guard Josh Selby talks with media members along side head coach Bill Self during a news conference announcing that Selby will be released to play following a nine-game suspension.

Kansas freshman guard Josh Selby talks with media members along side head coach Bill Self during a news conference announcing that Selby will be released to play following a nine-game suspension. by Nick Krug

Comments

Andy Tweedy 4 years, 7 months ago

Matt, I'm really struggling to understand how you can rank Jo Jo ahead of Wiggins. Great player, and he was obviously missed when hurt, but I'm guessing we'd have missed Wiggins quite a bit had he been out, too. To me, you'd have to do some crazy voodoo to get the numbers to argue anybody other than Wiggins number 1! And as for McLemore, love the guy, I think it's a reach to consider him a one-and-done, since he had an entire season in the program before playing.

Matt Tait 4 years, 7 months ago

Fair points, but McLemore only PLAYED one season. I don't know what else you can consider him. Especially when you take into account the fact that he was not allowed to practice during the first semester he was in town.

As for Embiid vs. Wiggins, as I stated at the end of the Embiid blurb, I think KU would've advanced farther in the tournament if it were Wiggins who was injured and out and not Embiid. That's enough for me.

But these are just my rankings and they're meant to spark discussion. Thanks for taking a look!

Andy Tweedy 4 years, 7 months ago

Yep! The best part about these pieces is they spark friendly debate...unlike any piece posted after a loss!

Joe Joseph 4 years, 7 months ago

Valid points. You give Wiggins a year to get to know his teammates, and a full semester (plus another summer) to practice with the squad and I guarantee you he's a much better player in his only year of college ball.

With that said, many of their stats are near identical. McLemore shot a better percentage from the floor, but Wiggins got to the foul line much more often. Both were solid rebounders and both were solid defenders. Ben took better care of the ball, but he also didn't have the ball in his hands as often (or for as long) as Andrew.

It's close. Tough to say Ben's extra year didn't help him immensely. We'll obviously never know if he would have been a true OAD. I do think it's fair, however, to say Wiggins would have been much better had he had as much time as McLemore to continue his development. Just look at what he's done over the course of the NBA season.

Alex Wishart 4 years, 7 months ago

Also, your assessment of Xavier's pro career is a little off. He's been completely injury plagued. I watched just about every game he played as a Laker and he was basically the highlight of the season for Laker fans. I know he's struggled to be healthy but that would not have changed with an additional year of school. When you're the 12th pick in the NBA draft you have zero reason to return to school, even if you're a bust (which he is not). Injuries, not a lack of schooling, are the cause of his situation.

Matt Tait 4 years, 7 months ago

I hear what you're saying, but, to be fair, he only got his chance with that Laker team because Kobe was injured and that roster was an absolute mess.

Not saying the chance wouldn't have come somewhere else (though it may not have) but that was a pretty fortunate break for a guy who did very little his first few years in the league.

Aaron Paisley 4 years, 7 months ago

Matt, are you ranking these guys by how valuable they were to KU or by just how good they were during their season in Lawrence because I think those are two different lists?

My personal list for most valuable:

  1. Joel Embiid, KU was a potential national championship team with him, we saw what KU was without him.

  2. Ben McLemore, KU would not have made the Sweet 16 without him.

  3. Kelly Oubre, KU doesn't win the Big 12 this year without Oubre's contributions the last 2 months of the season when he became KU's best player.

  4. Andrew Wiggins, Made a huge impact on KU last season, but KU didn't suffer with him on the bench like they did with Embiid on the bench.

  5. Cliff Alexander, KU was definitely a better team when he was playing well, but he wasn't on frequently enough to make him much more valuable than he could have been.

  6. Xavier Henry, He was on a loaded team that had plenty of upper class depth. Doesn't diminish how good his season was, but you could take him off that team and that's still a 1 seed.

  7. Josh Selby, He was out of the line up so much that it felt more like he messed with the chemistry more than anything.

My list for the best seasons:

  1. Ben McLemore, He was a 2nd team All-American and 1st team all conference and was a huge reason why KU made the Sweet 16.

  2. Andrew Wiggins, He could've won the Big 12 POY and was also a 1st team all conference.

  3. Xavier Henry, His stats were pretty good for a freshman he gets a lot of unnecessary crap because of his brother and dad.

  4. Joel Embiid, I always believed that Joel would've won the national POY had he stayed and played this year.

  5. Kelly Oubre, He kept getting better as the season went on and his confidence grew. He could've been a Big 12 POY next year had he stayed, but I don't blame him for leaving when he's a projected lottery pick.

  6. Cliff Alexander, He showed flashes of what he was capable of this season, but just didn't do it on a consistent basis.

  7. Josh Selby, When healthy he was a very good player. He just wasn't healthy for very long and missed about 30% of the season because of a suspension.

Joe Ross 4 years, 7 months ago

Excellent post. Id do a switcheroo in a case or two, but value vs. how good the season they had is an interesting distinction.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 7 months ago

Nice series of posts. All have reasonable positions.

We'll never know, but if each had stayed for a second year, I suspect that Joel Embiid would have made the most significant contribution to KU's success, provided of course that he could have played. After all, he hasn't played for Philadelphia, so it is likely he wouldn't have been physically fit to play for us either.

In that case, it is probably a slam dunk for Wiggins because, undoubtedly, he would have taken on more of a leadership role in a second year at KU. McLemore wouldn't be far behind however.

Will be interesting to see how recruiting progresses now with four scholarships available. Assuming that Bragg follows through on his verbal commitment, we certainly have some spots to fill. A true big man is probably the highest priority, but there is still a lot of talent out there.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 7 months ago

I still can't forget the layup the Ben missed late against Michigan. We need more guys that own the rim, not just shoot well. Ben made that team better, buy Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen took their team to the title.

Joe Joseph 4 years, 7 months ago

I think the top 3 are the only ones really in debate here.

For my money:

1A. Andrew Wiggins

1B. Ben McLemore (though I'm reluctant to consider him a true OAD)

2 (two). Joel Embiid

All of these guys (the entire list) are great examples of how hype impacts our perceptions of success. Wiggins becomes the leading freshman scorer in KU history, leads his team in scoring, and is considered by many to be a "let down," albeit a small one. Henry, Oubre, and Alexander all fall into this category as well. These are guys who were expected to be great and, ultimately, didn't live up to those expectations (however unfair they may have been).

Embiid and McLemore, on the other hand, were not thought by many to be OAD players when they were recruited out of high school. Expectations for them were considerably lower. Embiid averages 11 points, 8 boards, displays a few "dream shakes" and all of a sudden he's the best freshman to ever play at KU. McLemore's story is similar. He was never expected to dominate from the get-go. He has a great season, but had he been touted as the #1 recruit in the nation and put up those same numbers, aren't we all left desiring a little more?

The hype machine. It helps. It hurts.

Michael Lorraine 4 years, 7 months ago

I would absolutely rate Joel at number one. Too bad he never got to play in the tournament. Oddly enough he was not supposed to be a OAD. Credit the coaches for his progress.

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