Breaking down the future of KU's basketball roster
Well, here we are. It’s the first Monday following the end of another Kansas basketball season and, predictably, the skies are gray and cloudy around Lawrence, Kansas, and there’s a slight breeze and still a chill in the air.
Not to worry, KU fans. The forecast for the rest of the week — at least locally — looks much better, with sunshine returning and temperatures soaring into the 70s.
It’s funny, but in some ways, that very well could be a metaphor for the Kansas men’s basketball roster, which enters the offseason fraught with uncertainty and half of a dozen players loaded with options.
Sure this team lost 10 games and bowed out in the second round. And, yeah, the season as a whole was a rocky ride full of frustration, disappointment and confusion.
But the lessons learned during those days will no doubt benefit this program in the not-too-distant future and several key members of this year’s squad will be back with some serious motivation next season.
A handful won’t, of course; that’s the case every year. And that’s at least a part of why those post-NCAA Tournament-loss locker rooms are filled with tears and emotion. No matter how one season ends, the next will almost certainly feature a new cast of characters, new roles, new challenges and the patience required to put it all together.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at KU’s roster heading into the offseason. We’ll dive deeper into all of these situations and scenarios in the months and weeks ahead. But enough people are curious today about so many of these players’ futures that it’s worth addressing it quickly right away.
Remember, the information below is based on what I know, think and/or have heard as of March 25, 2019. Things certainly can change — and often do — and we’ll be there every step of the way tracking any decisions and movement that any of these players make.
First, The Starting Five:
• Devon Dotson – I can’t recall anyone taking losses at Kansas quite as hard as Dotson did all season. From the first loss of the year at Arizona State (I’m still convinced that up until that point Dotson thought he would win every game he played at KU) to the tearful ending last Saturday, Dotson’s emotions often came pouring out following KU’s losses, which perfectly fits the way he plays with passion and intensity on the floor. Dotson will be back for the Jayhawks next season and he’ll have an even bigger role than he did this season. In addition to becoming a stronger leader, I look for the point guard from Charlotte to become a better scorer and to get even stronger. First-team all-Big 12 is well within reach for the sophomore-to-be, who will no doubt be a pro someday. The hope among KU fans is that someday is still two or three years down the road, but Dotson is well on his way after a fabulous first year.
• Ochai Agbaji – As much fun as Ochai’s season was, it ended on a bit of a sour note. After exploding onto the scene midway through the season, Agbaji hit a bit of a wall down the stretch and never fully got his mojo back. He’ll find it this offseason — in a big way — and he, along with Dotson, will enter the 2019-20 season as the unquestioned leaders and face of this KU program. There was some talk about Agbaji finding his way onto the NBA radar following his hot start. And, yeah, they know about the kid now. But he still has work to do in college and he both knows that and wants to do it, so there’s no reason to expect anything but a strong return from one of KU’s most exciting players.
• Quentin Grimes – There’s no denying that Grimes’ first season as a Jayhawk left a little to be desired. The fans will tell you that, Grimes will tell you that, pretty much anyone you ask will tell you that. But give the guy credit for being a consistent and reliable starter who played big minutes night in and night out and gave it his best shot. There were times when Grimes showed flashes of the player many expected him to be. There were other times where he looked lost, overwhelmed or in his own head. That’s all part of being a freshman college basketball player and, back in the day, used to be completely OK. These days, though, with everyone expecting these highly ranked players to explode, it can leave people scratching their heads and criticizing the kid. There’s no doubt in my mind that Grimes’ size, skill set, age and upside still make him an incredibly attractive option in the eyes of NBA scouts. We’re not talking lottery pick like people projected when he came to KU, but he’s still very draftable. Things definitely could change, but I’m moving forward with the idea that Grimes will seriously explore making the jump to the NBA and, if the feedback he gets is good, will not be back at KU next season.
• Dedric Lawson – If ever there were a player who you thought might be willing to come back for his senior year just because of his vibe and personality, Lawson is it. But the reality of his situation makes it hard to see the junior forward returning. For starters, he averaged a double-double this season and was a unanimous pick for first-team all-Big 12 honors. If he were to return, he would have to at least do that again or risk hurting his stock in the eyes of the NBA. That’s pretty risky considering so few players have ever even come close to putting up the kind of numbers Lawson did under Self. Beyond that, Lawson has now put off his NBA dream for four seasons of college — two at Memphis, a transfer year and this season at KU. That’s a long time to wait for a player who once was a Top 10 prospect. And even though there are no guarantees that he’ll be drafted — my guess at this point is he’d be a second round pick — I think Lawson is ready to roll the dice and get his pro career started.
• David McCormack – His strong end to the season should fuel him for a big jump this offseason. And that is, without question, one of the brightest silver linings to come from the disappointing 2018-19 season. McCormack’s a monster. He has great size, an even better motor and skills that, when he harnesses them, will make him a load to handle for any team. Beyond that, the guy doesn’t know anything other than hard work. He’s bright part of KU’s future — both in the immediate and long-term looks — and he’ll come back ready for a much bigger role in 2019-20. By the way, I’m still really struggling to transition to putting the year 2020 into my writing. Unreal!
• Marcus Garrett – As close to a sixth starter as the Jayhawks have, Garrett’s value is insane. A lockdown defender and fearless competitor with the type of demeanor that makes him ready for anything and everything the coaching staff could ask him to do. There are a lot of moving parts and pieces with this team and program, so it’s hard to know whether Garrett will be in the mix as a starting option or stay in his incredibly valuable role as a reliable sub off the bench. Either way, he’ll be a veteran next season and that will be very good news for Kansas.
• Mitch Lightfoot – Speaking of veterans, here’s your guy. Senior Mitch will be back and better than ever next season, ready to give everything he’s got to his final hurrah with his beloved Jayhawks. It’s far too soon to know exactly what that will mean in terms of the role he’ll play, but this much we know, for three seasons Lightfoot has been a guy that people thought would not have a huge role and for three seasons he’s found a way to be a key part of KU’s rotation. No reason to doubt him now. That urgency he’ll feel from it being his last season — both when it arrives and in the offseason leading up to it — should push Lightfoot to not only bring the best out of himself but to demand it from others, too.
• K.J. Lawson – His is one of the most interesting situations on this entire roster. On pace to graduate this semester — he’s also getting married in July — the older of the Lawson brothers easily could move on before the start of next season. But there’s something about it that leads me to believe he’ll be back. I asked him in the locker room on Saturday if he and Dedric could do different things and go different ways and he said, “definitely.” That doesn’t mean either has made up his mind yet on what the future holds, but it does mean that even if Dedric goes pro, K.J. could return to KU for another year. He loves it here and he found a nice role during the second half of the season. Like I said, interesting.
• Charlie Moore – Moore had a rough year with the Jayhawks. He played, but often struggled when he was out there and did not look like the 13-points-per-game-at-Cal-as-a-freshman player that he was. Beyond that, the biggest area where KU was hoping to get help from Moore — 3-point shooting — yielded just 26.7 percent shooting for the season from downtown and very little consistency. It’s hard to see Moore having any bigger role a year from now and because of that it’s not hard to see him exploring the idea of moving on. I’m sure he wants to play. And I’m not sure the minutes will be there for him at KU. Beyond that, as a junior next season, the clock is ticking on his college career. If he’s back, he’s a deep bench player at best. But don’t be shocked if he looks around and finds a better fit.
• Udoka Azubuike – After suffering his third significant injury in three seasons, the 7-foot center missed all but nine games of KU’s 2018-19 season and his absence significantly impacted the Jayhawks’ chances at a big run. So what’s next for the big fella? That’s anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t bank on him returning to KU. Azubuike wanted to leave after his sophomore season and took his decision to return all the way down to the end of the deadline to pull his name out of draft consideration following the NBA’s pre-draft combine. There’s little doubt that his desire to leave between then and now has changed all that much and, the reality of it is, Azubuike may be looking at his injury situation as a risk and something that he does not want to derail any hopes of a pro basketball future. His situation is right up there with K.J. Lawson’s in terms of the most interesting to me. There’s no doubt that he could be back, but, again, I wouldn’t say anybody should count on that as things stand today.
• Silvio De Sousa – As far as we know, KU is still waiting for a ruling on the appeal of De Sousa’s two-year suspension, but I do think there’s some optimism around the program that the penalty will become less harsh. Whether that means he gets the entire 2019-20 season back or maybe just has to sit an additional 5-10 games, I think the prospects are good that De Sousa could play at some point next year. If that’s the case, he’ll be back for sure. Even if it’s not, though, I think De Sousa still could stay. For one, he lives like a king here and is loved by the entire KU basketball community. For two, this place and the people here have become like family to him and, remember, Angola is a long way away. Beyond that, he continues to get the best training, coaching and nutrition possible, all while working toward his degree at the same time. It wouldn’t shock me if he left if the appeal is denied, but I think De Sousa loves KU too much to just run away quickly.
• Christian Braun – The guard from nearby Blue Valley Northwest had another monster year while leading the Huskies to a state title. He’s tough, can shoot it, is fearless and works as hard as anyone out there. The idea of him playing some kind of role right away is not in any way, shape or form a long shot. With his size and athletic ability, he definitely can be in the mix, especially if Grimes, Moore or K.J. Lawson leave.
• Issac McBride – Like Braun, I think this true point guard from Little Rock, Ark., also has a chance to come in and gain immediate playing time. The kid’s a scorer. And KU needs people who can score. It’s not just that he can shoot it or can finish — and he can do both very well — but McBride can create his own shot and scoring opportunities pretty much anytime and anywhere. He’ll have a golden opportunity to be the primary back-up to Dotson next season and if he’s able to handle it, his presence will help Dotson a ton, too.
The 2019 Targets:
• Matt Hurt – Top 10 prospect in the Class of 2019 is still at the very top of KU’s recruiting wish list and there’s no reason to think that the Jayhawks can’t land him. They’ve been on him the longest, they’ve put in the time and resources necessary to sell Hurt and his family on the KU program and experience. And there figures to be immediate playing time and a big role for Hurt in the lineup regardless of who stays and who goes. Duke has made some noise in its pursuit of Hurt in recent weeks and those two are probably his top options at the moment. If KU can land him, he’ll turn the 2019 class into a big deal.
• Cassius Stanley – Top 35 shooting guard who is a freak athlete out in California at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds. Stanley has liked KU for a long time and is merely waiting a few more weeks to announce his college choice between KU, Oregon and UCLA on April 17, the first day of the spring signing period. Stanley choosing KU would go a long way toward upgrading the athleticism on the roster and would be huge news for the 2019 class.
• Precious Achiuwa – The 6-9, 215-pound power forward from Montverde Academy has been on KU’s radar for a while and just recently took an official visit to campus. His physical style and good size would be a big get for the Jayhawks who could be looking to replace a lot of rebounds if Dedric Lawson turns pro.
• Tristan Enaruna – A 6-7, 205-pound small forward from Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Enaruna has landed more heavily on the KU radar in recent weeks because of his good size, athleticism and long-term potential. Ranked No. 105 by Rivals.com in the current class — one spot behind McBride — Enaruna is also considering Creighton, Georgia Tech, Illinois and others.
As you can see, there’s a lot up in the air with this roster moving forward, from recruiting pieces to stay-or-go decisions. And depending on how things play out, there could even be a few other names that surface as possible additions, be them late bloomers on the recruiting scene or grad transfers who help fill out the roster.
What you’ve read here is merely a best guess as of today about what could happen, and we’ll stay on top of it in the weeks and months ahead to bring you as many updates as possible on all of these players, and others, who might shape the 2019-20 Kansas basketball roster and be a part of what KU hopes is another deep run a year from now.