What caught my eye during Tuesday's KU basketball camp workout
Tuesday afternoon, inside Horejsi Family Athletic Center, a few hundred Bill Self Basketball campers and small handful of media members and various members of the KU support staff were treated to a first true look at the 2017-18 Kansas men’s basketball team.
Sure, there were a couple of faces missing. Senior-to-be Svi Mykhailiuk is still in Ukraine playing with his national team and freshman Marcus Garrett did not arrive on campus until Tuesday night after graduating from Dallas’ Skyline High on Monday.
But, for the most part, this was a legitimate look at the Jayhawks that will be. Many of them — transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore — will not be eligible to play for the Jayhawks in a real game until the 2018-19 season. When they do, all three will have big time roles.
Others, like graduate transfer Jack Whitman, freshman Billy Preston and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe (second semester) will be available to help out this season, and both should do just that.
That left the familiar faces, of which there were not quite as many as in recent years. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman showed terrific chemistry, with Lagerald Vick right there with them. And Udoka Azubuike was back from his wrist injury with Mitch Lightfoot there next to him.
These might be new Jayhawks and this definitely will be a different team. But after a quick look at what KU will roll onto the floor during the upcoming season, one thing is clear — there is plenty of talent in place for Kansas to be as competitive as ever.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few other things that caught my eye at the opening practice, which included a little four-on-four, full-court action at the very end.
• Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way first. Did William & Mary transfer Jack Whitman come sporting the mustache? You bet he did. It actually was more of a goatee look, but the ’stache most definitely was there. Whitman told me after he committed to KU this spring that he was not sure if he would keep the mustache throughout his time at Kansas or not, but he appears to be well on his way to making that happen. As for his game, there’s no doubt that he’s an explosive player around the rim — he’ll surprise more than a few opponents in that way this season — and willing to give great effort on every play, but, at least right now, he still seems to be thinking a lot about what he’s doing out there instead of just feeling it and playing free. That’s to be expected with a player learning a new system and culture and it will be worth monitoring as the summer goes along.
• While we’re talking appearances, it’s worth noting that Lagerald Vick was rocking a new look at Tuesday’s practice, opting for tiny braids instead of the blown-out, Devonte’ Graham/Josh Jackson look he favored last year. The new haircut likely did not have any impact on Vick’s game, but it did make him look even faster than we already knew he was, with the hair flopping around like mad each time he pushed the ball in transition and attacked the rim.
• We won’t see much of it this season past the summer camps and Late Night, but you can absolutely tell that Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson has massive potential. He has terrific size (6-9, 236), good footwork and an air of toughness to his game. His numbers last season at Memphis (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) certainly proved what he’s capable of doing, but getting another year of working on his body and his game at Kansas should bring some pretty high expectations for his 2018-19 season.
• Freshman forward Billy Preston has a long way to go — Self said as much following Tuesday’s session — but there’s no question that the foundation is there. And I’m not just talking physically either. Preston looks physically mature beyond his years but he also appears to be a sponge, willing to soak up every instruction sent his way (from teammates and coaches) and he’s also pretty hard on himself, expecting to make every shot he takes and do every drill to perfection. What I really liked about Preston in that regard was the fact that when he did not know exactly what he was doing, he had no problem asking. A definite good start.
• I wrote last week about Mitch Lightfoot’s offseason workout routine and how he already seemed to be pushing himself to the limits in an effort to take full advantage of the opportunity to bump up his minutes during his sophomore season. More performances like the one he gave on Tuesday will go a long way toward making that happen. Lightfoot gave max effort on absolutely every rep and seemed to really embrace the role of leading by example. He also was vocal — something he had no problem with last season — and willing to help the newcomers with whatever instructions he could. I’ve said it before and every time I see him or have a discussion about him, I come away thinking more and more that Lightfoot is going to have an impressive second season in KU crimson and blue.
• As a final act for the hundreds of campers who ooh’d and ahh’d about every dunk and big time shot the Jayhawks made during their individual drill work, Self broke the Jayhawks into two units and coached ’em hard during a little four-on-four, full-court scrimmage. The match-ups for the short session included Devonte’ Graham vs. Charlie Moore, Lagerald Vick vs. Sam Cunliffe; Billy Preston vs. Mitch Lightfoot; and Malik Newman vs. K.J. Lawson. All eight players had their moments, but Newman and Moore were the two that stood out most to me.
• Speaking of Newman, it’s very clear why the coaching staff, including Self, has spoken so highly of him and his potential impact on the 2017-18 season throughout the past several months. The guy is a player. The thing that impressed me most about Newman on Tuesday was his poise. He plays hard, attacks often and is an aggressive competitor on both ends of the floor, but it never looks hard for him. He’s smooth, plays under control and displays a great deal of confidence no matter what the situation. He’s going to be a bear for opposing teams to handle.
• Sticking with the guards, I was really, really impressed by what I saw from Cal transfer Charlie Moore. The kid is fearless and, like Newman, has an aggressive mentality and a ton of confidence. He’s little, as you’ve seen and heard, but he doesn’t play that way. I think KU got an absolute steal in getting him and he’ll be more than ready to slide into that lead guard spot when the 2018-19 season rolls around.
That’s all for now. It was a great first look at the new version of your Jayhawks and two players who figure to factor into the rotation during the 2017-18 season weren’t even there.
More to come throughout the week from camp, including a Wednesday camp scrimmage of notable alums vs. the current squad, so stay logged on to KUsports.com for more videos, stories, reaction and analysis. Self said video coordinator Jeremy Case told him 13 former players were expected back for Wednesday's alumni scrimmage.