Who stood out, and why, at last week's Kansas Basketball Late Night scrimmage
The stats and style of play were a far cry from what you can expect from the Kansas men’s basketball team during the upcoming 2021-22 season.
But last weekend’s scrimmage at Late Night in the Phog still offered a first glance at how some of the pieces currently look and fit together.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few of the more notable things that stood out to me while watching the 20-minute scrimmage won by the Crimson team, which was led by nine points and six rebounds from senior forward David McCormack.
• Since we just mentioned McCormack, let’s start there. Although he will be needed inside a lot this season, McCormack looked more comfortable than ever with his jumper on the perimeter. While that may still be a weapon KU can use this season, don’t expect that to be a place where McCormack spends much time. This offense may very well still run through him, and, if it does, that will be with him camped out in or near the paint. All in all, McCormack looked active and aggressive, tallying his nine points and six boards in just 11 minutes on the court.
• Senior guard Ochai Agbaji led all scorers with 12 points and he got them in typical Agbaji fashion — by taking what was there and fitting into a team-first approach. Having said that, the returning starter who tested his NBA draft stock this summer did appear to assert himself more throughout the scrimmage. He shot when he was open, drove as often as possible and looked comfortable as a player who had things run through him on the perimeter. Agbaji will have much more help this season than he did a year ago. And the burden of being this team’s leading scorer will not be nearly as heavy. But it was still good to see that he has opened the season with an aggressive edge, something that should benefit both his numbers and those of his teammates.
• Remy Martin didn’t do much in the way of stats on Friday night, but he didn’t need that to help him show off his quickness. Remy is a lightning bolt and his first step is as fast as any I can remember seeing. He still tends to get a little wild and may favor the fancy play (he tried a behind-the-back bounce pass in the paint that became a turnover), but even on a night when he did not attempt a single shot, Martin made it clear just what his speed and quickness will mean for this team. That’s particularly true in the half-court, as KU now has a guy who is comfortable with the ball and can attack the paint on any possession. But it also showed up in transition, where Martin will be one of a handful of Kansas players who can really make teams pay by pushing the pace. Beyond all of that, it was clear that Remy is a willing passer.
• Jalen Wilson shot just 1-of-5 from 3-point range and finally got on the board with a couple of coast-to-coast drives to the rim that resembled a freight train that no one wanted to step in front of. Part of the reason for that is his improved physical frame. Wilson’s lower body looks drastically different than it did a year ago, and it’s clear the third-year sophomore put a lot of work in during the offseason. A stronger base should help Wilson be even more of a beast on the boards than he was a season ago. And it did not appear to do anything to slow down his athleticism. If anything, he now looks stronger attacking the basket.
• Super-senior transfer Cam Martin’s size will be just fine at the high-major level. He’s a big body who has good strength and should be able to hang with most anyone down low. And we all know that Martin is known for his ability to shoot the ball from the outside, even if that did not show up in the scrimmage. Not only did he miss the three 3-point attempts he took, but Martin also did a few too many pump fakes and put the ball down on the deck for my liking. I don’t think KU’s coaches will want or ask him to do much of that this season. And he’ll quickly learn that if the shot is not immediately there, he needs to get rid of the ball and keep the offense moving.
• Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu is going to be terrific at Kansas. Not only is he a heck of an athlete with hops and serious strength, but he’s also lightning-fast. That’s particularly true in transition. Kansas opponents will be able to form a support group for players who are victimized by not getting back fast enough when Yesufu gets the ball on a rebound or a run-out. Beyond that, though, he appears to have great instincts and feel for the game. Moving the ball to the right spot every time and making quick decisive passes is not something you see much of during scrimmages like this. But Yesufu flashed those skills plenty on Friday night.
• There’s been a lot of talk about Dajuan Harris Jr., during the past couple of weeks, and now we see why. Just as he promised he would be, back in June during an interview at Washburn Basketball camp, Harris looked much more aggressive offensively and actually looks like a veteran out there. He’s crafty with the ball, has great vision and still loves to set up his teammates, and he also now appears to be a willing jump shooter. With all of that talent around him out there, Harris may see his share of wide-open looks this season. And Kansas is going to continually want him to take them. Fearless was the word that kept coming to mind as I watched Harris play last Friday. Fearless all over the floor.
• There was a lot to like about what Christian Braun did during the scrimmage, but his physicality and versatility were at the top of the list. The junior wing consistently attacked the rim, finishing with a dunk in traffic on three occasions. He also threw a nice lob to McCormack for a hammer slam. Both instances were an indication of this team’s willingness to play above the rim as much as possible, which was on full display on both sides during the scrimmage. Braun missed the four 3-pointers he attempted, but a couple of them were from way deeper than he’d probably ever think about shooting during a real game. His range is not a problem, though. I’ve thought all offseason that a breakout year for Bruan was coming, and Friday did nothing to change my mind.
• As I watched him play for the 15 minutes he was out there, I kept trying to think of someone who Jalen Coleman-Lands reminded me of. We know he’s an elite shooter. And his 0-for-5 performance from deep in the scrimmage did nothing to change that. What you might not know, though, is that he’s also a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He’s comfortable mixing it up for rebounds down low. He can run the break as a ball handler or filling lanes on the wings. And he plays hard. I’m picturing someone, — a former KU player from the super baggy uniform days — but I just can’t make out who it is. Regardless, I continue to believe that JCL is going to play meaningful minutes for this team.
• Freshman forward KJ Adams was one who surprised me a little on Friday night. We already knew that he was physically more mature than most freshmen, but he also appears to know how to use that size and strength. He found himself around the ball a lot when it was near the basket and he finished with six points and a couple of rebounds in just under nine minutes. It’s hard to know exactly how much playing time will be available for Adams this season. My gut tells me either he or Zach Clemence will get decent minutes and the other may not. But his physicality appears to be something that could help in a pinch, whether that’s because of an injury or foul trouble. And, from talking with him, he seems like an absolute sponge who will continue to get better every single day with all of that veteran leadership to latch on to.
• Speaking of Clemence, I love his game, and I think he’s going to have a terrific career. He was the one guy who I thought looked a little wide-eyed out there. That’s no knock. What a big-time moment, to be playing out there on that floor in that environment for the first time in your life. It was clear he was loving it. But it also seemed a little overwhelming for him at times, and I think as he gets more experience he’ll get calmer and more comfortable and be able to show off more of what he can do. Make no mistake about it: He’s a high-energy player who will be a matchup problem when he gains some experience.
• Just when you think the deck is stacked against Mitch Lightfoot for playing time, you see him go out there and deliver and you come away wondering if he may be able to have a consistent role on this team after all. I know I did anyway. All the things that have been true about Mitch throughout his career remain true today — he’s reliable, tough as hell, willing to compete with anybody and smart enough to impact things in a positive way when he’s on the floor. What that translates to in terms of playing time remains to be seen. But how cool was it to see him get some serious love — and the loudest ovation — from the Allen Fieldhouse fans as the last player introduced during the smoke and lasers portion of the night?
• Finally, I thought freshman guard Bobby Pettiford looked pretty damn quick for a player who spent a lot of the offseason rehabbing an injury. Self said KU was thrilled — and maybe even a little lucky — to get him, and it doesn’t take more than a first glimpse to see why. He’s a dog. He competes. And he’s got good handles and great change of direction. Time will tell if that will mean much for this season. But there’s no doubt that his future as a Jayhawk looks pretty good right now.