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Jalen Wilson's addition all about versatility — past, present and future

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It’s been a wild ride for Kansas basketball fans who have been tracking the Jayhawks’ efforts in the 2019 recruiting class.

From the days of banking on 5-star prospects like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Matt Hurt coming to town to the whiffs and near-misses that surrounded both, it’s been a tough spring for fans of Kansas recruiting.

But Wednesday’s commitment from Jalen Wilson, a 4-star prospect ranked No. 47 nationally by Rivals.com, changed all of that and set off a pretty wild party.

No, the Wilson signature does not change the fact that this is Bill Self’s first class at Kansas without a Top 40 player. And, no, you shouldn’t believe your buddy who tells you Wilson is a better player than all of those other guys anyway and Kansas is better off with him than they would’ve been with JRE, Hurt, R.J. Hampton or a handful of others.

But that’s the thing that’s so much fun about following recruiting — if you have the stomach for it.

One day, a player ranked No. 47 in the nation could barely be worth tracking. I mean, after all, guys in the 30s and 40s are typically only 4-star prospects.

But then the next, be it because of hype, circumstance or a wicked combination of both, that same prospect could be viewed as the guy, an absolutely steal and a big time pick-up for your favorite college basketball team.

Jalen Wilson can play. There’s no denying that, and it’s not just his highlight videos or extreme confidence that will tell you that.

At 6-foot-8 with room to grow and a physical frame that’s already built for a quick adjustment to the college game, Wilson will step into the Kansas locker room and be ready to fight for a spot in the rotation right away. The guess here is that he’ll probably earn significant minutes and will give Self and company the kind of flexibility they want in terms of who to play and how to play this year and also as they try to stockpile assets for the years ahead.

Last season, it looked like Ochai Agbaji would redshirt only to have injuries change his path. This season, it’s now almost certain that a couple of players will redshirt, with freshmen Christian Braun and Tristan Enaruna and senior Mitch Lightfoot leading my list of potential redshirt candidates.

Things can change. We saw that last year. And all three of those guys — along with the nine other scholarship players on the KU roster — are more than capable of playing big roles right away.

But there are only so many minutes to go around, and if a guy can save a year and play a bigger role on a future KU team, why would he want to fight his butt off to play 4 or 5 minutes a game on a team that’s stacked?

Enough about that. Let’s get back to Wilson. The biggest reason he’s not on my list of possible redshirt candidates is because of that versatility we talked about earlier.

He doesn’t have the same raw talent of a player like Josh Jackson and he’s nowhere near the type of shooter that Svi Mykahiliuk was/is, but in terms of his body type, he can fill that role. If the Jayhawks want to play small and use Wilson as a 4 man who plays on the perimeter, his presence allows them to do it.

If Self and company want to play big and decided to use Wilson as a 3 with two other bigs in there with him, Wilson’s presence allows them to do that, too.

Imagine a lineup that includes Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Jalen Wilson, Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike. That’s a big bunch, but it still has three players — 3 and a half if you count Silvio — who are incredibly comfortable playing on the perimeter.

That lineup won’t be out there much. For one, it’s going to be awfully hard to take Devon Dotson off the floor. For two, teams throughout college basketball are going smaller and smaller each year and that often forces a coach’s hand in terms of match-ups, even when that coach wants to play big.

But the point is, with Wilson in the mix now, that lineup — and so many others — is entirely possible. And that alone should be excited for Kansas fans.

For what it’s worth, Enaruna brings a lot of the same things to the table as Wilson does. So KU may have been able to go this route even if Wilson picked North Carolina or Michigan. But he didn’t. And now KU can bring Enaruna along slowly and at a more comfortable pace and watch him blossom into a big time player in his own right, both because of the coaching and development tools he’ll receive and as a result of having to compete with a player like Wilson every day.

It’s worth noting here that the timing of Wilson’s commitment has a lot to do with the hype surrounding his addition to the roster. Had he been the first player in the class to pick KU, his commitment, at No. 47 overall, might not have wowed anybody. But with it coming today — in June, by God — after KU missed on those other players in whom KU fans had invested so much time following and longing for, adding a player like Wilson must seem like a dream come true.

A similar thing happened last season with Romeo Langford, who wound up picking Indiana and is now preparing for next week’s NBA Draft. Langford would have been a nice pick up for Kansas and might have had a monster season. But because he was the last major player to make his decision, it magnified just how bright his star shined.

Speaking of past comparisons, take a look at these familiar Jayhawks, who all were ranked by Rivals.com within 10 spots of Wilson in their respective classes.

Marcus Garrett was ranked No. 41. Enaruna was ranked No. 44. Markieff Morris was ranked No. 49. Andrew White III was ranked No. 51. And Darnell Jackson was ranked No. 54.

While the book is still being written for Garrett and Enaruna, those other former Jayhawks all enjoyed pretty stellar college careers, with two of them winding up as NBA draft picks.

If Wilson can follow in their footsteps, regardless of how long he’s at KU, he’ll be remembered as a wild success and no one will care where he was ranked or when he signed. What’s funny about that is, Wilson’s game, if you look at it from all angles, is pretty much a combination of what those five players brought to the table.

Versatility wins. And the 2019-20 Jayhawks now have a ton of it.

Comments

Michael Sillman 1 week, 5 days ago

Very exciting to have this kid provide another option in the ongoing matchup wars. I like the fact that all of this year’s class look likely to be multiple year players.

Now we can stop worrying about recruiting for a bit and turn our angst to the scary rumblings that just came out from the NCAA enforcement folks.

Greg Bowles 1 week, 5 days ago

This is going to be an exciting team next year. They have all the pieces in place to mop up the floor in the Big 12, and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Can hardly wait for next year!

Mallory Briggans 1 week, 5 days ago

Texas Tech and K-State I believe you have something that belongs in Lawrence .....The Big 12 trophy .......so enjoy it because in the words of Judy Garland aka Dorothy
THERES NO PLACE LIKE HOME ..........THERES NO PLACE LIKE HOME So when Toto pulls back the curtain of the Wizard.... the trophy will headed back to Lawrence

Rock Chalk

Art Jefferson 1 week, 5 days ago

Just out of curiosity, can he dunk? Would like to have seen him dunk at least once. He said he enjoyed watching the Morris twins, but they didn't care to dunk much either. No worries though; he'll surely have lots of inspiration and encouragement from his new team mates. I'm sure we'll see plenty of dunks out of the 2019-20 Jayhawks. Rock Away, Chalk Away, Dunk Away Hawks!

Michael Terry 1 week, 5 days ago

I really like this team because the minutes will be earned by whoever is playing the best, or gives us the best chance to win. When you have one and done talents, it seems they get a lot more court time than they deserve, especially when they struggle. Just look at Grimes. He was plain awful for long stretches and it almost felt like Self felt obliged to play him due to him being a Top 10 recruit. Nobody was concerned when Self signed Mason or Graham, neither of whom were close to being top tier recruits coming out of high school. Yet, they both made themselves into first team All-Americans. None of other top tier recruits in recent years has come close. Going back to 2014, look at all the top flight talent that turned out to be busts, or didn't come close to living up to expectations. Starting in 2014, Cliff Alexander the No. 3 recruit, 2015: Chieck Diallo (7) and Carlton Bragg (21), 2017: Billy Preston (18) and now in 2018: Quentin Grimes (8). Now it that time we did hit on Kelly Oubre (11), Josh Jackson (2) and Doke (22) and then Dotson (22) and hopefully McCormack (27). I think what this tells you is recruiting is a crap shoot. The 2019-20 Jayhawks will feature no recruit ranked higher than 22 coming out out high school and we'll still be a top 3 team in the country. That's the real story. We don't need to rely on landing three of the top 10 players in a given class to be challenging to a national title. If Doke doesn't get injured last year, no doubt we win the big 12 and make a deep run in the tournament. Some time luck just isn't on your side., hopefully that will change for the better this upcoming season.

Rae Bricil 1 week, 5 days ago

Why do you see Tristan Enaruna redshirting? I thought redshirts would be beneficial if he were planning on staying a fifth year. Do you see him staying that long or are there other benefits?

Matt Tait 1 week, 5 days ago

There are people I've talked to who think Enaruna's potential is off the charts and that, if he puts it all together, he could be a 2 or 3 year guy and be one of the top pro prospects on the roster.

So you bring up a good point about the redshirting thing.

My view comes from two places... No. 1 - Enaruna and Wilson play the same style and position and it could be hard this season to get both of them quality minutes at that spot. No. 2 - Enaruna, physically, could use the year off to get bigger and work on his body, which would only help him down the road.

I haven't heard any talk of any of them redshirting yet. But I think a couple of guys probably will and those I mentioned, at least to me, are the most likely candidates.

Time will tell on that, though and you never know what can happen. Right, Ochai?!?

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