KU's Bill Self says Jayhawks need more athleticism to become national contender
Still smarting from his team’s 85-51, season-ending loss to sixth-seeded USC on Monday night in Indianapolis, Kansas coach Bill Self talked about the Trojans the way dozens of past KU opponents had always talked about the Jayhawks.
Too big. Too long. Too athletic. Too talented.
It didn’t help that KU’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse was the product of a perfect storm for a 34-point rout, with USC playing one of its best games of the season and Kansas one of its worst.
But even on the Jayhawks’ best night, with this Kansas roster, USC’s may have been too big — literally and figuratively — for Self’s team to overcome.
That fact was not lost on Self, who said he hurt for his players that on the biggest stage and in the most important game of the season they were never really in the game.
Another bad start by KU, in a season marked by them, cemented that. And USC became stronger, looser and more confident as the game progressed. The Jayhawks never appeared to lay down. But the Trojans never gave them a reason to think they could play on their level either.
Self, who is now 0-4 against Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament during his time at Kansas — with two of those losses coming in the past four NCAA Tournaments — discussed that after Monday’s loss. And he did it in the context of what it would take for Kansas to get there again in the years to come.
“You can address it through recruiting. You can address it through player development,” he said. “For us to be a team that really has a chance to be a national contender, we need to get a little bit more athletic. We need to get a little longer and bigger, those sorts of things.”
At this point in the game, the player development part of that equation might be Self’s best bet for immediate improvement.
For one, the NCAA’s infractions case against Kansas remains unresolved. And Self has made it clear that the lingering cloud’s impact on the program has had a negative impact on recruiting in recent years.
For two, KU figures to return nearly everyone from this season’s roster and will be adding Class of 2021 signees K.J. Adams and Zach Clemence, two four-star prospects ranked in the Top 75 by Rivals.com who will bring a fair amount of athleticism and versatility to the 2021-22 squad.
Logan Community College big man Sydney Curry, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., who stands 6-foot-8, 265 pounds, will help the Jayhawks bulk up, as well.
But given the fact that those players have already been lined up for the 2021 class and most of KU’s 13 scholarships already will be spoken for, KU’s efforts to enhance the program’s athleticism via a major overhaul may still be a recruiting class or two out.
You never know what can happen in an offseason at any college program.
Sometimes players decide to transfer out. Others decide to leave school early. And with the transfer portal becoming as popular as Blockbuster Video on a Friday night in the 1990s — and the expected passage of the one-time free transfer rule on the horizon — there could be more movement than ever this offseason.
Things have certainly been trending that way in recent years.
It’s still too early to know if either of those paths will affect KU’s roster in the coming months, but if Self stands pat with what he has and what he already has signed in the incoming class, there just is not a lot of room to add immediate help.
That’s why the player development part of KU’s future is so crucial.
It’s hard to imagine Monday’s 34-point massacre not being a factor in that. Anyone who played a role on this year’s team who returns next season likely will be motivated and driven by that final score and the awful feeling the Jayhawks had inside Hinkle Fieldhouse on Monday night.
So they’ll work to push past it and avoid that feeling again in the future. And what this group did in 2021 is any indication of its potential in the future, there’s plenty of reason to believe everyone who returns can and will get better heading into the 2021-22 season.
“I think our guys maximized their individual abilities pretty well," Self said. "But our margin of error was small. I think that there was less margin for error on this team probably than any team we’ve had since I’ve coached here."
Stay in touch with KUsports.com throughout the weeks ahead for a breakdown of KU’s returners as well as coverage of KU’s efforts on the recruiting trail.