'Positionless players' a staple of Bill Self basketball


The Kansas bench erupts after a basket by Clay Young in an exhibition game against Pittsburg State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Kansas bench erupts after a basket by Clay Young in an exhibition game against Pittsburg State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

As Kansas basketball coach Bill Self continues to visit basketball gyms and living rooms across the country in search of more future Jayhawks, it’s important to remember exactly what Self is out there looking for.

With physical big men Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack already committed in the 2018 recruiting class and at least two more all but guaranteed to be returning to Kansas for the 2018-19 season — Mitch Lightfoot will be a junior and Dedric Lawson will again be eligible — the Jayhawks appear to be set up front.

And although that will be a welcome relief from the thin days of the past couple of seasons — including the 2017-18 campaign, which officially tips off Friday, Nov. 10 against Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse — the focus will shift, and already has shifted, to replenishing the backcourt, which figures to look drastically different a year from now.

Top 20 prospect Devon Dotson, a five-star guard from Charlotte, N.C., already has committed to be KU’s point guard of the future and, together, Dotson, De Sousa and McCormack, along with Self and his staff, are in the process of trying to entice more guards and wings to join them.

At the top of KU’s current wish list in the 2018 class are names you’ve already heard dozens of times. Romeo Langford, Quentin Grimes and Zion Williamson are all currently undecided and are still considering Kansas, and landing any one of them, or perhaps some combination of the three of them, would merely add gold stars to KU’s already stellar 2018 recruiting class.

Some of the usual suspects remain the Jayhawks’ top competition for all three perimeter players (Kentucky, Texas, Duke, etc.), but perhaps more important than convincing these young men that Kansas can offer them more than those other schools is Self’s ability to sell these players, and countless other future versions of them, that coming to Kansas to play in the backcourt means coming to a system that features freedom, flexibility and multiple paths to playing time.

In so many words, and not talking about any players specifically, Self explained this recently during a radio appearance on 1320 KLWN.

“I tell all our recruits, and I mean it, I want to recruit positionless players,” Self said. “Guys you can put out there and everybody can play with them.”

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The current KU team is full of examples of that, with Devonté Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Marcus Garrett all capable of playing multiple positions and in different lineups.

The 2016-17 team had a similar makeup, with Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson also adding versatility to the roster.

Although the past two KU teams have featured an abundance of these such players, the whole concept is far from new for Self.

Dating all the way back to his days at Illinois, with Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head, as well as to some of his earliest KU teams, including the 2008 national champions, with Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, Self has favored versatility in his backcourts.

“I never believed in kind of pigeon-holing a guy, saying he’s a one, a two, a three, a four or a five,” Self said. “I like to have guys where who you do the same thing for multiple guys on your team. Once you get into half-court offense, we ball screen for the three man, ball screen for the two man, we can ball screen for the four man like we did last year with Josh. I like that. I do think we’re a little versatile.”

Versatility means options. Options create uncomfortable afternoons for opponents. And uncomfortable afternoons for opponents often lead to Kansas victories. A lot of them.

“I think we’re going to be a little light at the point guard position,” Self said. “We’re gonna be counting on Devonté. But I am excited. I think this has a chance to be a very fun team.”

After closing out the exhibition season on Tuesday night at Fort Hays State, KU will get going for real when it welcomes Tennessee State to Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 10 before traveling to Chicago for the Champions-Classic clash with Kentucky on Nov. 14.


Dirk Medema 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Is there a reason for continuing to omit KJ from the discussion of future front court players?

It would also seem worthwhile to mention Charlie Moore in the back court. I'm recalling that he was the primary ball handler at Cal, but also put up solid ppg. Sort of Frank-ish, and also fitting well into the scheme. After 2 years in college, and 1 of practicing with/against these guys, Charlie might be tougher to step in front of than some expect. Either way, can't have too many ball handlers in D1.

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