Key trio of returning Jayhawks far better than any group Kansas could've landed
For months, if not years, fans of the Kansas men’s basketball program dreamed of a future roster that included players like Matthew Hurt, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Cassius Stanley, standouts in the 2019 recruiting class that all seriously considered Kansas.
But then two signing periods came and went with those prospects picking other programs and KU fans were left to wonder what the heck happened.
In a word that’s safe for work, “stuff” happened. And “stuff” happens all the time when it comes to recruiting 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.
But in the case of the 2019 Kansas recruiting class, which currently includes three 4-star prospects — Christian Braun, Issac McBride and Tristan Enaruna — and three open spots, that stuff left the door open for KU coach Bill Self and his staff to land three players far better than any of the prospects in the 2019 class could possibly be during the 2019-20 season.
Their names: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson and Silvio De Sousa.
“We couldn’t recruit anybody as good as those three, regardless of who we were trying to recruit," Self said on Andy Katz's "March Madness 365" podcast Tuesday morning. "I think all three of those guys are going to be NBA players.”
And, for my money, having those three players back in a Kansas uniform is a far bigger win for the Jayhawks than if they had landed Hurt, JRE and Stanley to begin with.
That’s not a knock on those incoming freshmen. All three are incredibly talented players and would have been great additions to the KU roster. They no doubt will have solid college careers at Duke (Hurt and Stanley) and Villanova (JRE).
But all three are still freshmen. And most freshmen, no matter how talented, need time to adjust to the college game and get their feet under them before they can make major impacts right away.
That will not be the case for Azubuike, Dotson and De Sousa. There is absolutely no adjustment time needed for those three players, who not only have been there and done that — playing in a combined 112 games for Kansas during their careers — but also have performed and produced at an incredibly high level.
Azubuike, injury history and all, remains arguably the toughest one-on-one matchup in all of college basketball and impacts the game, especially on the offensive end, like few players in recent KU history.
Dotson, in starting all 36 games as a true freshman and gaining valuable NBA feedback during the past six weeks, is poised to make a monster step from an already-damn-good player to a great one, with his leadership and drive bringing big things to the Kansas roster.
And De Sousa, who no doubt is determined to make up for lost time, was, as a true freshman, a crucial piece of the Jayhawks’ Final Four puzzle in 2018 and showed then what he could do when comfortable and given the opportunity.
There’s simply no replicating what those guys have done in Kansas uniforms and on college basketball’s biggest stage unless you’ve done it yourself, which no one in the entire 2019 class has.
Don’t get me wrong. Had KU been able to land Hurt or Robinson-Earl or Stanley or all three, the roster would be even stronger than it already is, KU would be an easy top 3 team in the preseason polls and, perhaps most importantly, the coaching staff would not be still spending time on recruiting the 2019 class, for which KU still has three scholarships available and a limited player pool to choose from.
But if you’re looking at things simply through the lens of what KU got and what it didn’t get, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in college basketball who would rather have Hurt, JRE and Stanley over Azubuike, Dotson and De Sousa. Especially when you consider the fact that all six players could be down to their final seasons of college basketball.
If this were the old days and adding talented young freshmen meant having them around for three or four years, the argument for that younger trio would be much stronger.
But because so many freshmen — ready or not — make the jump to the NBA or professional basketball after one year of college, counting on getting a full career out of them is no longer the norm.
Obviously, coaches across the country continue to go after those types of players and take what they can get. As well they should. But getting a serious dose of driven experience sure seems like a pretty good outcome for Bill Self and the Jayhawks.