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Self believes 2018-19 Jayhawks could have 2 Big 12 Player of the Year candidates

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Kansas head coach Bill Self gives a pat on the chest to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) at the conclusion of the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gives a pat on the chest to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) at the conclusion of the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan. by Nick Krug

As the Kansas men's basketball program closes in on one week remaining until players report back to campus for the start of summer school and summer workouts — and their leader prepares to leave campus for his stint with USA Basketball — KU coach Bill Self said his team was enjoying a quiet time of sorts in the wild and always-on modern world of college athletics.

A guest on Andy Katz's March Madness 365 podcast this week, Self said the past couple of months have been about as calm of a stretch as any he can remember.

“There have been less balls in the air this spring than there have been a lot of years,” Self said.

One of the reasons for that is the fact that Self and company nearly completed their recruiting in the 2018 class during the early period. Sure, the Jayhawks stayed in pursuit of Romeo Langford through the spring and do still have one scholarship still to give, but that was much easier to manage than it could have been, especially given the fact that the Jayhawks had five scholarships to dish out in the 2018 class.

“We signed one youngster late, but he had committed to us in January, so that wasn't really a surprise,” Self explained. “We were pretty much settled in early with our recruiting class, we signed a few early and then the one that committed to us in January. There weren't a lot of decisions to be made because four of my (2017-18 starters), two of them walked in and said they wanted to go to the combine and sign with an agent and two of them were seniors and so that left just one kid, Udoka Azubuike, to determine what he wanted to do.”

Azubuike, of course, spent last week at the NBA combine in Chicago and has until next Wednesday to decide whether to remain in the draft or pull his name out and return to Kansas for his junior season.

If he elects to do the latter, the 7-foot center will bring quite a bit to the Kansas lineup that will be looking to replace those four starters Self talked about.

“First of all, Udoka's so much better than even where he was four months ago, three months ago,” Self said. “We had to have a good spring with three or four of our guys and I think that happened.”

Asked to share names of those players, Self did not hesitate to mention a handful of newcomers and one returning player poised to make a big jump.

“Dedric Lawson's a really good player. He's taken his body and (improved it) and everything,” Self said of the Memphis transfer who sat out the 2017-18 season and is a likely starter at the 4 spot during the 2018-19 season. “And his brother, K.J. Lawson, has been really solid for us. Then the two kids who have been really impressive are a freshman we had, Marcus Garrett, most kids make the biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore year, and then we had a freshman sit out this past year that started at Cal last year, Charlie Moore.”

Although three of those four will be new to game action at KU next season, Self said the Jayhawks, though young in many ways, figure to have the luxury of still feeling like a veteran club because of the presence of that trio of transfers and Garrett.

“You look at it,” Self began. “We could lose all five starters, we will lose at least four, and what do they have coming back? The reality is we've got quite a bit coming back because we had those three sitting out last year.

“The big thing with us is we've been really fortunate that when we lose a bunch of guys we've had some guys waiting in the wings who have been role players that turned out to be primary guys for us.”

Two of those players, provided Azubuike returns, which most who have tracked his NBA testing expect to happen, can give Kansas the same type of elite player they have had during the past couple of years, albeit at a different position.

Asked if he thought he had a player who could follow in the footsteps of Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham, who earned back-to-back Big 12 player of the year and All-American honors, Self said simply, “I actually think we do.”

“I actually think that, depending on what Udoka does, Dedric Lawson is a guy that could compete for conference player of the year honors in addition to Udoka,” he said. “And the freshmen we have coming in, Devon Dotson and David McCormack were McDonald's All-Americans and all of that, but we have one freshman coming in, Quentin Grimes, that may be a guy that could be mentioned as one of the premiere freshmen in our league, as well. So I think we've got a nice blend of guys but we're just going to be a lot younger and more inexperienced.”

Comments

Gary McCullough 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Self rolled the dice last year with three transfers sitting on the bench. But he was able to make the 4-out offense work well enough to get to the Final Four. There were many times during the conference race I thought the streak would end at 13. So getting to the Final Four was a surprise. Now Self gets to play with house money because he's already paid for this talent. The greatest threat I see is putting too many expectations on this team before we see how they play together.

Harlan Hobbs 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Your caution is well stated, Gary. On paper, KU could be loaded. On the other hand, if Udoka doesn't return and Silvio is declared ineligible, then KU's inside game likely won't be much stronger, if any, than this past year's. Then, with a much less experienced back court, I wouldn't be surprised to see them struggle a little early depending upon the competition.

Craig Carson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

honestly, even is Azibuike decides to not come back, a front court of Lawson and McCormack is still better than what is has been these last 2 years...Self would be able to play 2 bigs..but I agree, even with Azibuike I wouldnt be shocked to see them struggle early on..the inside game is gonna have to be as strong as the outside game has been the last few years since we dont figure to hit lots of 3's

Brian Leslie 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Craig, I think it would be the Lawson brothers starting and McCormack as the first big off the bench. K.J. is 6'8", has long arms, is noted for his defense, and finished 3rd in the AAC in rebounding (playing as a 4 the whole year). The Lawsons are both good passers as well, so you are getting some of that Morris twin synergy with them.

I don't know why people are sleeping on K.J., but he might have the 2nd-highest NBA upside to Grimes on next year's team. Dedric will be the better college player, but if K.J. has improved his shooting, the combo of 6'8" / good wingspan / plus-rebounder will definitely get him on the NBA radar. Considering that we have been playing Vick and Svi at the 4, K.J. would definitely be an upgrade on defense and rebounding.

If Doke is back, then sure, he starts with Dedric, but I think you will still see plenty of the Lawsons playing together as the two bigs.

I'm omitting Silvio, just as Self did, because I don't think he plays, and the LJW hasn't given a single hint (and Tom has written the opposite) that SDS will be eligible next season.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I’d like to hear Self comment on Silvio. Not sure he’s willing, but would like to hear his thoughts if he is.

Dave Miller 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I really don't see (or count on) Silvio returning. I realize that I could be surprised and he is able to return, but I'm not betting the condo on it. What are your thoughts and feelings about Silvio be able or not able to return, Matt?

Matt Tait 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I still think there's a good chance, as of today, that Silvio will be with the team for the 2018-19 season and I don't get the sense that anyone at KU, at least right now, thinks otherwise. That could change. And I could be reading it wrong. But that's where I see his status today.

Terrific kid. Incredible talent and potential. If he truly did not know anything about any of that FBI mess from the indictment, I think he deserves to stick around and play.

Time will tell.

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

It certainly doesn't give me much confidence that he's part of Self's plan going forward when he basically mentioned everyone on the team that will make an impact next year and Silvio wasn't mentioned (though he had an impact this year so we know the talent is there to have a big year next year). The only other returning scholarship player not mentioned was Cunliffe. He could be with the team but in street clothes all year waiting for the NCAA to clear him a second time.

Jonathan Allison 6 months, 3 weeks ago

that's what I though, too. Self not mentioning Silvio in this interview... that's a bad sign.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Who knows what Self was thinking. Could just have been an oversight though Self isn't known for verbal gaffes, in fact just the opposite.

If Silvio is cleared, look for him as being the first big off the bench.

Brian Leslie 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Matt, I don't see how that gets resolved in time for next season, and I notice you're choosing your words carefully and not saying "there's a good chance Silvio plays during the 2018-19 seaon." The FBI is not operating on the NCAA's timetable, and it's unclear how much they will make public, but it's pretty clearly not going to be on a "by this November" timetable, and even if that miraculously happened, I don't see how SDS gets eligible.

I agree that it's unfair for Silvio, but if you look at the Condi Rice committee's recommendations, it's not looking good for his ever playing another NCAA game. It's pretty similar to the Bryce Bowen situation (just a different dollar amount), who is likely to go undrafted after never playing a college game. The difference is that Silvio can't declare for the draft because he is not one year removed from his high school senior year, so I can see him practicing with the team for a year while he waits that out.

What a terrible situation for a guy who moved here from Angola and had a guardian appointed for him. The NCAA will essentially be forcing his hand to leave college because he got the wrong guardian through no fault of his own.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Well he does say "I still think there's a good chance, as of today, that Silvio will be with the team for the 2018-19 season".

I don't want to quibble but if he's with the team, he's playing. I'm surprised that he didn't take a chance at the NBA combines but the fact that he didn't says to me that he thinks he will be playing next fall.

Jim Stauffer 6 months, 3 weeks ago

And Silvio is an absolute beast on the boards. Surely hoping to see this kid play at least one full season. He was the greatest surprise we had last year as we moved to the tourney. When Dok was out we did not miss a lick.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I thought it might be leaning the other way. Glad to learn differently.

Robert Brock 6 months, 3 weeks ago

If Azubuike returns, and he learns how to play defense and learns how to rebound - Man, the Hawks would be pretty good.

Jay Scott 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"learns how to play defense"? He's a post defending monster. Can he chase a stretch 4 all over the court? No. Can they guard him? No.

He'll get better as a shot blocker and rim protector.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Looking forward to see how much he improved over the off-season.

Linda Self 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I believe Self has proven that he can adjust his style of coaching to whatever it needs to be.

Barry Weiss 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Sounds like we will be stacked! Sadly, I think Silvio is gone. Damn, he would have been a legit starter, he came on strong and fast those last few games.

Tony Bandle 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I am not so sure Silvio is gone. What might happen is KU loses the scholarship they have not filled yet and Silvio sits out the first semester if it's determined that he is unaware of what was going on. This would essentially catch up Silvio's eligibility since he got in early at the second semester last season. I think the victories and Final Four appearance remain unchanged.

It appears likely that the investigative entity involved feels KU was deceived thus I think we avoid getting hammered.but still get chastised for not having enough "institutional control"

I HOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The problem I see is that the FBI investigation isn't over yet and it won't be over any time soon. The odds of the NCAA making a ruling on a player involved in the FBI investigation before all of that is fleshed out in court and all of the evidence is presented seems slim, especially since we're talking about an institution that seems best at dragging its feet. So if the FBI stuff isn't over for a couple years, where does that leave Silvio? We know Self refuses to play kids if there is any question about their eligibility as we've seen him sit a number of players for that very reason.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I believe they're still investigating the Lindbergh case and are still searching for DB Cooper.

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