One round. Five measly questions.
That was all it took for “Rock Chalk Sports Talk” host Nick Schwerdt to completely change his opinion about which competitors had the best shot to win the recently wrapped, 64-person trivia bracket that played out on Schwerdt’s show on KLWN during the past six weeks.
And 20-year-old KU student Isaac Henderson was the man responsible for the change of heart.
“You can go back and listen to the audio,” Schwerdt said. “My only thought going in was that the older contestants were going to do better just because they had more knowledge of the pre-Bill Self era. But he stood out from the very beginning and there was no disadvantage to him being one of the younger guys in the field.”
Born and raised in Atchison, Henderson, the first official champion of RCST Trivia, had no real feel for how he would stack up in the trivia bracket. But competing sounded like fun, it helped take the edge off the absence of sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic and he was confident that he knew his stuff.
“When I signed up, it was just with the mindset of let’s have a little bit of fun with it,” Henderson said. “I just wanted to win one. I didn’t want to go out in the first round.”
It almost happened. It took Henderson five questions to advance to Round 2, a battle that Schwerdt said was one of the longest of the entire tournament.
“I would’ve put myself up against anyone going in,” Henderson said. “But I felt a lot more confident after that.”
The format for the RCST Trivia tourney was simple: Two competitors, live on the air and both on phone lines, squared off against each other in a sudden-death setting.
In all, Schwerdt said he and RCST co-host Derek Johnson came up with between 500 and 600 questions, ranging in difficulty from the easier, Level 1 challenges all the way to Level 5 status.
Most of the questions were KU basketball related, and all of them fell under the college basketball and Big 12 Conference umbrella.
“It was a lot of sifting through old KU media guides and a lot of time on basketballreference.com,” Schwerdt said. “Derek did the lion’s share of the work in coming up with the questions, and I give him a ton of credit for that because that was the least fun part.”
Game day was the most fun. And like all good competitions, the RCST Trivia throw-down had a little bit of everything, from matchups that came down to the wire to forfeits, fictional betting odds and bracket breakdowns.
“There were cheating accusations, people complaining that their questions were harder than others; we had it all,” Schwerdt said.
And Henderson had all the answers.
After correctly answering all five of his questions in his opening-round win, the KU junior missed just one the rest of the way.
That hiccup came in the Sweet 16, when Schwerdt asked which former KU player, with a minimum of one attempt, led the Jayhawks in 3-point shooting during the 2015-16 season?
Contestants were given 10 seconds to answer and, with the clock winding down and the wording of the question throwing him off, Henderson guessed Devonte’ Graham.
The answer was Brannen Greene.
“I was disappointed, too,” Henderson said. “Because he was one of my favorite players. I loved how he shot it and how he was also a little cocky and confident.”
The miss set the stage for the eventual champ’s elimination, and Henderson said he thought he was done when he heard the next question.
Who led Kansas in rebounding during the 2015-16 season?
“I knew it was Landen Lucas,” Henderson said. “So I figured I was going home. But he answered Perry Ellis and I stayed alive.”
As for the hardest questions he faced, Henderson said those were the ones that had answers he had only come across once or twice in his life.
In Round 1, he was asked which former Oklahoma basketball player joined Paul Pierce as the only other two-time MVP of the Big 12 Tournament. The answer was point guard Hollis Price.
And in the Sweet 16, he was asked to name the player who transferred to Kansas from William & Mary but never actually played a game. That was Jack Whitman in 2017.
“Being able to pull those two out was huge,” Henderson said.
The final round, where Henderson defeated Tate Vobach who had yet to miss a question, went just two rounds and Henderson walked away with bragging rights, a brand-new 65-inch television and some gift cards from tournament sponsors.
A graduate of Maur Hill-Mount Academy prep school, Henderson played basketball, golf and baseball growing up, and had plenty of support during his trivia chase.
His dad set up a Facebook page for his friends and family to follow his charge to the title. And he said his phone “was blowing up” with texts and calls for more than an hour after his final-round victory.
“It was definitely the most important thing going on in my life the last month and a half,” Henderson joked. “It was a fun ride.”
So, too, has been his life as a Jayhawk.
Henderson began going to KU football games with his family at age 5 and lists Jon Cornish, Justin Thornton and Prinz Kande, along with Kerry Meier, as his favorite players.
His favorite former KU basketball player is Frank Mason III and his favorite KU team is the 2008 national title team, even though he is willing to admit that, as a second grader, he fell asleep during the title game against Memphis.
His Twitter profile, which now features the nickname “The Wunderkind,” given to him by Schwerdt during his pursuit of the RCST Trivia crown, also includes a picture of him and Bud Stallworth.
“There are a heck of a lot more people out there who know a ton about KU and college basketball than I realized,” Schwerdt said.
And that was only part of the fun, Schwerdt said. The biggest thrill came from seeing the popularity of the event grow each week and watching it turn into a real-life sports drama during a time when actual sports had ground to a halt.
“We came up with this on a whim because we had to,” Schwerdt said. “But it really was a silver lining to this whole deal. It gave us competition, it was fun, unique, interesting, and I think the interaction we got with the listeners was exactly what you want in sports radio.
“Bringing them on the air and giving them an opportunity to be a part of the show instead of just observing the show was just awesome.”
Henderson agreed and said the press conference before the final match, which featured real questions from a handful of KU beat writers, made the tournament seem like a real sporting event.
“It definitely kind of filled that void a little bit and was a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m looking forward to trying to win it again next year.”
The Kansas men’s basketball program made the first cut for class of 2021 small forward Kendall Brown over the weekend.
Brown, a senior-to-be at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, is a five-star prospect and the No. 14-ranked player in the 2021 class, according to Rivals.com.
He’s also a teammate of recent KU commitment Zach Clemence, a 6-foot-10, 205-pound forward who announced Kansas as his college of choice last week.
Brown’s list features a wide range of options, from KU as the lone blue blood program on the list, all the way to Minnesota, which has the advantage of being located in Brown’s home state.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing who transferred to Sunrise last summer originally hails from East Ridge High in Woodbury, Minn., southeast of the Twin Cities.
The other eight programs that made his top 10 are: Arizona, Arkansas, Baylor, Illinois, Maryland, Marquette, Ohio State and Virginia.
Brown picked up a scholarship offer from the Jayhawks shortly after announcing his decision to transfer to Sunrise for his junior season. He averaged 17 points per game for nationally ranked Sunrise this season and has had an eye on Kansas for much longer than the past year.
“I like the gym and the school,” he told Jacob Polacheck, of Zagsblog.com, shortly after picking up his KU offer last summer. “I went there for a tournament back in elementary school and just fell in love with it ever since.”
Known as an elite two-way player with great athleticism and bounce, Brown has showcased his rapid development throughout his high school career. And the KU coaching staff clearly likes what it has seen.
“They say that I’m a very versatile player, with my size and ball handling skills, and that I can be an elite defender with my length,” Brown told Polacheck of the feedback he received from the Kansas coaches. “They’ve said that they really like my defense and I can make a living off of it.”
I’ve only watched a few highlight videos, but there are shades of Brandon Rush in his game and, more recently, he also reminds me of a cross between Quentin Grimes and Ochai Agbaji.
It is not yet known how many scholarships the Kansas coaching staff will have to use on players in the 2021 class. But the number figures to be at least three. Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa will all be seniors on the 2020-21 Kansas roster.
And the number of available scholarships could grow if any of KU’s underclassmen deliver seasons that inspire them to turn pro early.
Brown is rated by Rivals as the No. 50 overall player in the country, regardless of class, and is also a top-20 prospect among the 2021 talent according to both ESPN (19) and 247Sports (17).
247Sports recruiting expert Jerry Meyer calls Brown “a finesse slasher type player” who has the ability to finish tough shots.
Meyer said Brown is not known for his long-range shooting ability at this point in his career, but he has good handles and vision and is solid as a secondary ball handler.
Extension of college basketball’s dead period would add even more challenges to odd time for recruiting
Tuesday afternoon, the National Association of Basketball Coaches announced its recommendation that the current recruiting dead period for college basketball be extended through July 31.
With the recruiting scene already scheduled to remain quiet through May 31, extending it two more months would certainly change the landscape of what a normal summer recruiting schedule would look like for both college coaches and high school players.
A dead period means no in-person recruiting activities, including college campus visits, in-home visits or live evaluations.
Prospects are allowed to reach out to coaches as much as they like and phone calls, text messages, emails, Zoom calls and even virtual visits are all allowed.
But many of the bonds that lead to prospects signing on the dotted line are developed in living rooms, at workouts and simply by a head coach showing up to show some love to the players he’s recruiting.
Sunrise Christian Academy basketball coach Luke Barnwell is as qualified as anyone out there to talk to about the current state of college recruiting.
In addition to being able to offer up some quality insight on new Kansas commitment Zach Clemence, Barnwell has two other players on his 2020-21 SCA roster who Kansas is recruiting and a good feel for how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way college coaches pursue players.
“It’s a lot of calls,” Barnwell told the Journal-World on Monday. “But in a good way.”
Several seniors-to-be on Barnwell’s roster — including Clemence — are being pursued at the highest level and with coaches not able to watch them compete this summer, the role of someone like Barnwell takes on even greater importance in the recruiting process.
“We have a really good 2021 class,” Barnwell said. “So the volume of phone calls over the last couple of weeks has gone way up because there’s no in-person communication and there’s no in-person watching.”
Five-star small forward Kendall Brown (6-foot-7, 200 pounds) is the highest-rated senior-to-be on Barnwell’s current roster. Ranked No. 14 overall by Rivals.com in the 2021 class, the smooth and explosive wing is attracting interest from all over, including Kansas.
And while college coaches have seen Brown perform plenty of times in the past, finding out how he is progressing as he moves into his senior season is as much about keeping in touch with Barnwell as it is the kid and his family.
“They’re going to have to take everybody’s word more than normal,” Barnwell said. “Not only mine, but I think all AAU programs and other coaches. And then they’re going to have to watch a lot of film and be better at watching film.”
Class of 2022 prospect Gradey Dick is another Kansas target on Barnwell’s current roster.
A 6-6, 185-pound wing ranked No. 30 overall in his class, Dick recently announced his decision to transfer to Sunrise from Wichita Collegiate.
His presence, along with that of Brown and Clemence, figures to keep open the lines of communication between the coaches at Sunrise and KU.
Barnwell likes that and says he tries to help all of the college coaches who scout his players.
“I don’t feel like we oversell our guys,” he said. “We try to be honest and try to help them as much as we can. They’re all trying to do what they need to do. Figuring out a way to continue the process of building a program, this can’t stop that. They’ve got to figure out how to do it.”
As college basketball’s veteran coaches continue to get up there in years, people are always on the look out for the next group of coaching talent that one day will take their place.
Not necessarily by replacing them at any particular school, but by moving into their 50s, 60s and 70s and holding down the titles of college basketball’s elder statesmen, with wisdom, experience, and most importantly, accomplishments coming out of their ears.
ESPN.com recently took a look at the 40 best college coaches under age 40 and the list included a Jayhawk.
KU assistant coach Jerrance Howard, 39, was ranked No. 21 on ESPN.com’s list.
Wrote ESPN’s Jeff Borzello: “Howard has had a reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters dating back to his time at Illinois (from) 2008-11. The Peoria, Ill., native is well-connected in Chicago and the Midwest but also had success at SMU under Larry Brown. Bill Self, who coached Howard as a player at Illinois, hired him in 2013, and Howard has continued his recruiting prowess in Lawrence.”
The list, which also featured 15 “just missed” candidates, included 26 current assistants and 29 current head coaches. That Howard was among them is hardly a surprise.
Despite not yet hitting 40, Howard, who ranked as the seventh best assistant coach on the list, already has worked at some high-level programs and with some of the best coaches in the game.
In a separate ESPN piece, in which the authors of the list debate the order and their process, Myron Medcalf said he thought Howard needed to be ranked higher.
"I think Kansas' Jerrance Howard is one of the best assistant coaches in the country for one of the premier programs in America, so he's too low, in my opinion," Medcalf wrote. "He has found success during stints with both Bruce Weber and Bill Self, and has formed special bonds with the players on the Kansas roster, while evolving into an important voice on the bench and sustaining the talent pipeline as one of the top recruiters in the country."
Set to enter his eighth season on the bench at Kansas, Howard’s youthful exuberance and positive attitude routinely have made him a favorite of the KU players. He often has been able to help the rest of the Kansas coaching staff relate to what the Jayhawks’ young guns are going through and how they see the world.
KU head coach Bill Self, who turns 58 in December, is also strong in that department, but there are a couple of areas that Self is happy to let Howard handle, with music, culture, shoes and social media being chief among them.
Howard, who comes across as a solid blend of old school and modern, is happy to jump into all of those aspects of relating to the KU players, and his ability to do that at a high level, while still commanding respect and flashing his knowledge of the game, is one thing he has in common with a lot of the other 40-and-under coaches on ESPN.com’s list.
The Howard File:
Born - May 29, 1980 in Peoria, Ill.
High School - Peoria High
Playing Career - University of Illinois, 2000-04
Coaching Career - Texas A&M, Kentucky, Illinois, SMU and Kansas
It is unlikely to impact the Kansas men’s basketball program, but the NCAA on Wednesday announced it was pushing back the date for college basketball players to withdraw from the NBA draft and still return to school.
The deadline for underclassmen who retained their college eligibility to pull their names from the NBA draft pool was scheduled for June 3.
A new deadline has not yet been set.
“Out of respect to the NBA’s process, the decision on a new withdrawal date will be made once the league has determined a timeline for the 2020 pre-draft process,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said in a statement.
Of the three Jayhawks departing from the 2019-20 Kansas roster, only sophomore point guard Devon Dotson could be impacted by this change. But ever since he announced his plans to turn pro in April, Dotson and his family have given every indication that the consensus second-team All-American plans to stay in the draft no matter what.
Seniors Udoka Azubuike and Isaiah Moss are out of eligibility, and all 13 of KU’s available scholarships for the 2020-21 season are spoken for heading into the offseason.
Gavitt said the decision to move the withdrawal date was made in response to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA’s recent announcement to postpone the NBA Draft Combine also factored in, Gavitt said.
It is the NCAA’s stated goal to “ensure that any change supports a player’s decision-making process related to professional opportunities while also protecting their academic pursuits and the opportunity to play college basketball.”
Dotson recently has received some high praise from draft analysts.
John Hollinger, who previously worked in the Memphis Grizzlies front office, wrote a piece for The Athletic in which he listed 20 players he would be willing to bet on to make a successful jump from college to the NBA.
Dotson was No. 15 on Hollinger’s list.
“I’m higher on Dotson than the consensus,” Hollinger wrote. “The ability to blast off past defenders without a screen is hugely important for a guard, and Dotson has it. He’ll be able to get to the rim in NBA space. The questions are about the rest of the package. Will he ever be good enough to be a starter, or is he just a change of pace guy?”
Several mock drafts have Dotson slated to be picked in the late first round or early second. And one Eastern Conference scout recently confirmed that range to the Journal-World, saying he expected Dotson to be picked between picks 25 and 35 in this summer’s two-round, 60-pick draft.
The 2020 NBA draft is currently scheduled for June 25 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Kansas men’s basketball program’s nonconference schedule was released Wednesday and, as usual, it was packed with notable names and high-profile games.
While that has become rather common around the program since head coach Bill Self's arrival in Lawrence 17 years ago, it has resulted in KU routinely playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation year in and year out.
Whether all of the 2020-21 nonconference games are played as scheduled remains to be seen, as colleges and universities continue to move through the planning stages of how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward.
But, at least for now, they’re all on the schedule and they're all worth analyzing.
With that in mind, here’s a two-part breakdown of KU’s nonconference slate for the 2020-21 season.
The first list analyzes the non-con slate in terms of which games will be the toughest for Kansas. And the second list breaks things down from a hype perspective and looks at which matchups have the best stories attached to them.
1 – Nov. 26-27 vs. Virginia in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
Even if these weren’t two of the top five teams in many preseason polls, this would be a monster matchup for the Jayhawks.
If it happens.
The guess here is that Virginia and Kansas will each be paired up with Georgetown and UCLA in the opening round of the Wooden event and therefore would both have to win or lose to face each other.
If that’s the way it goes down, we’re talking Bill Self vs. Tony Bennett and two defenses that will be among the best in the country during the 2020-21 season.
In other words, neither team will be able to bring the weak stuff in this one.
2 – Dec. 3 vs. Creighton
The Bluejays were a sleeper pick to make a run to the Final Four in 2020 and return a good chunk of their team from last season.
Creighton finished the season ranked No. 7 in the AP poll at 24-7 overall. But it’s the Bluejays’ style of play and not just its recent success that will make this one a serious challenge.
With veterans all over the floor who can shoot it and get hot from anywhere, it’ll be crucial for Kansas to have its defense in order when Greg McDermott’s team comes rolling into town for its first ever game at Allen Fieldhouse.
3 – Nov. 10 vs. Kentucky in Chicago at the Champions Classic
No matter who’s on the roster or where the game is played, it doesn’t get any bigger than KU-Kentucky.
The Jayhawks have won three of the last four meetings between the two winningest programs in the history of college hoops, but the Wildcats lead the series 22-9 overall and 2-1 at the Champions Classic.
Both sides will have elite players and prospects, and the United Center will be bumping.
4 – Dec. 22 at Colorado
Tad Boyle’s team has been consistently solid for the past few seasons. And like their head coach (a former Jayhawk) during his playing days, the Buffs love to compete for a full 40 minutes against whoever and wherever.
CU showed that last year in a tough loss at Allen Fieldhouse and this one should go down as one of the biggest games in Boulder in a long time, which could turn that arena into a tougher place to play than it was for the Jayhawks when these two were in the same conference.
5 – Jan. 30 vs. TBD in Big 12/SEC Challenge
We don’t yet know who the SEC opponent will be for Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but we do know who it won’t be.
It won’t be Kentucky. It won’t be Missouri. They’re both already on the schedule.
The options that appear most likely at this point — and we still don’t even know where the game will be played — are Tennessee, in Knoxville, Auburn, home or away, and possibly Florida.
Two of those three finished in KenPom.com’s Top 33 last season, and all of them have had some solid moments in recent years.
Add to that the fact that the game may be on the road, considering that KU hosted Tennessee in the challenge last year, and you’re looking at another tough January road game for a team in the middle of its conference grind. That’s tough no matter who it’s against.
6 – Dec. 12 vs. Missouri at Sprint Center
The Tigers showed signs of life down the stretch last season and are led by a coach, in Cuonzo Martin, who knows how to push his players and get the best out of them.
Beyond that, Martin knows what this rivalry is all about — and respects it — even if his only real experience in it came during an exhibition game for hurricane relief.
Kansas will be the better team on paper. But the pressure associated with renewing the rivalry for the first time in eight years brings this game into the top half of KU’s nonconference slate.
7 – Nov. 26-27 vs. UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
These two almost met in Maui last season, but BYU got in the way. So now Mick Cronin will have had a full year under his belt before having to face off with Bill Self and the Jayhawks.
Cronin might not have been UCLA’s first choice, but he has a good track record and typically coaches tough teams who compete.
Considering UCLA’s home gym — Pauley Pavilion — isn’t much of a home-court advantage any more, it’s hard to say playing at a neutral site in Anaheim will benefit the Bruins too much.
Like the Virginia game, there’s no guarantee, as of today, that this game will happen. But if it does, the Bruins may have what it takes to push Kansas, at least for a while.
8 – Dec. 19 vs. USC
The Trojans were 22-9 last season and finished third in the Pac-12 Conference. While those numbers sound like they belong to a team that could give Kansas some trouble, the Jayhawks shouldn’t be worried.
Not only will Kansas be playing USC at home, but it also will have a full week to prepare for Andy Enfield’s team and also will have plenty of time to come down from the emotional blitz that comes from playing Missouri.
Beyond that, four of the Trojans’ top players from the 2019-20 season were seniors.
9 – Nov. 26-27 vs. Georgetown in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
This one would’ve been a couple of notches higher had the schedule come out a week ago.
But now that we know that standout Hoyas guard Mac McClung has entered the transfer portal, Patrick Ewing’s team does not look quite as formidable.
In addition to the blow of losing the athletic and electric guard, the way it all went down adds an element of chaos to Georgetown’s current reality.
Ewing said on a podcast that McClung was coming back to school. McClung said they never finalized that. And now he’s transferring.
10 – Dec. 29 vs. Harvard
I don’t blame you if you think Ivy League and automatically think back-cuts and ball movement.
That’s the style that wins in that league, and few programs have executed it as well as Harvard.
Add to that the fact that the team is coached by Tommy Amaker, of Duke (as a player), Michigan and Seton Hall fame and you know one thing about this matchup — the Crimson will come to Lawrence well prepared and ready for the opportunity.
Harvard finished at No. 110 in last year’s KenPom rankings and also endured a three-game stretch of games against power conference foes Maryland, Texas A&M and USC.
11 – Nov. 13 vs. Southern Utah
Scheduled as the home opener for the 2020-21 season, just three days after playing Kentucky in Chicago, the Jayhawks have been known to fall on both sides of the coin in this game in the past.
For one, there’s the hype and excitement that comes with a real game being back in Allen Fieldhouse.
But coming with that are the expectations from fans and the need from the players to knock off a little of the rust before they get rolling.
Southern Utah finished 161st overall in the 2019 KenPom rankings, but had a defense that ranked in the Top 100.
The Thunderbirds’ strength of schedule ranking of No. 200 makes that a little less impressive, but the uncertainty of it being the home opener makes this the toughest of the four lowest ranked games on this list.
12 – Nov. 20 vs. Stony Brook
Stony Brook won 20 games and finished second to Vermont in the America East Conference a season ago.
That was with a roster that had zero seniors and the Seawolves should be getting their core back for another run in 2020-21.
Last season also marked head coach Geno Ford’s first season in charge, which means things should run even smoother in Year 2.
13 – Dec. 8 vs. Omaha
Although Omaha’s KenPom ranking was No. 219 overall, the list of opponents on the Mavericks’ 2019-20 schedule illustrates their willingness to schedule tough teams.
Wichita State, Arizona, Dayton, Washington State and St. Mary’s were all on the Mavericks’ slate a season ago, and they’re not going to make life any easier on themselves next season by adding KU to the docket.
KU and Omaha played for the first and only time ever in 2017, with Kansas cruising to a 45-point win.
14 – Nov. 16 vs. Eastern Illinois
Ranked No. 238 in Division I last season, with a strength of schedule ranking of 342nd, this one should be the easiest game on KU’s entire schedule.
The Panthers were just barely above .500 for the season last year (17-15) and finished at 9-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Making matters worse is the fact that the team is losing seven seniors from last season’s roster.
Best Storylines/Buzz Factor
1 – Dec. 12 vs. Missouri at Sprint Center
The first KU-MU game in eight years, at Sprint Center a month into the season? That’s enough to earn this game top billing in the buzz factor rankings. But don’t forget that this one will also be a battle of the Braun brothers, as KU sophomore Christian Braun and older brother Parker will battle for family bragging rights. Should be a blast.
2 – Nov. 10 vs. Kentucky in Chicago at the Champions Classic
If you’ve ever been to an event featuring Kansas and Kentucky, you know exactly how this goes. Hall of Fame coaches, rabid fan bases, future NBA stars and the eyes of the entire college basketball world fixed on the matchup. Chicago will be the stage for this round, and these two will also help usher in another season of college hoops in the process.
3 – Nov. 26-27 vs. UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
Come on, right? Kansas potentially playing UCLA in an event named for legendary Bruins coach John Wooden? That alone provides storylines for days. But there are more. KU recently broke UCLA’s record of consecutive conference titles, and KU assistant Kurtis Townsend’s older brother Raymond once played for Wooden. There’s no guarantee that these two will meet up at this event, but it’ll be a shame if they don’t.
4 – Dec. 3 vs. Creighton
Two of the best teams in the Midwest, separated by just four hours in the car, makes for an exciting matchup. But for Eudora High graduate Mitch Ballock, this matchup means way more than that. Ballock, who has enjoyed a solid career at Creighton, nearly committed to Kansas on a number of occasions in high school. And now he’s coming home to play an official game in Allen Fieldhouse during his senior season. How cool is that?
5 – Nov. 26-27 vs. Virginia in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
Like the UCLA matchup, KU and Virginia aren’t guaranteed to play in Anaheim, but if they do it’ll be epic. Self vs. Bennett is a made-for-pay-per-view coaching matchup and when you throw in the fact that Virginia is technically still college basketball’s defending champ, the matchup becomes a battle between the No. 1 team at the end of the 2018-19 season and the No. 1 team at the end of the 2019-20 season.
6 – Dec. 22 at Colorado
Big Eight and Big 12 memories run wild and CU coach Tad Boyle takes another stab at taking down his alma mater and picking up a signature win at Colorado.
7 – Jan. 30 vs. TBD in Big 12/SEC Challenge
If it’s KU-Tennessee, it’s a rematch of last season’s game. And, hey, Peyton Manning might be there again. If it’s KU-Auburn, it’s a rematch of the second-round NCAA Tournament game from two seasons ago that did not go well for the Jayhawks. And if it’s KU versus any other SEC program, there are a few other sweet storylines, as well. KU-South Carolina delivers a reunion with former K-State coach Frank Martin. KU-Arkansas brings current KU Athletic Director Jeff Long back to Fayetteville for a showdown with the Razorbacks. Regardless of which team it faces, KU will look to improve to 6-2 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in late January.
8 – Nov. 26-27 vs. Georgetown in Anaheim, Calif., at the Wooden Legacy Tournament
Whether you're talking about Juwan Howard at Michigan, Penny Hardaway at Memphis or a handful of other still-young coaches leading their alma maters, there's something cool about the idea of a former star on the floor now calling the shots in a suit and tie on the sideline. That's exactly what the Hoyas have with the legendary Patrick Ewing (now in his fourth season) and if the matchups fall right for KU and Georgetown to do battle, the Jayhawks will get an up-close look at how Ewing's teams play.
9 – Dec. 29 vs. Harvard
Some (not many) have referred to KU as “Harvard on the Kaw,” but that doesn’t make for a very mean cheer so don’t expect to hear too much about that leading up to KU’s last game of 2020. Still, there’s something cool about an old school program like Harvard playing in a classic venue like Allen Fieldhouse.
10 – Nov. 13 vs. Southern Utah
It’s the 2020-21 home opener, the final Allen Fieldhouse season debut for seniors Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot and the first ever meeting between these two programs. There’ll be plenty to highlight here.
11 – Dec. 19 vs. USC
Unless you want to reeeeeacch to make the connection between current USC coach Andy Enfield and former KU assistant coach Joe Dooley and their time as coaches at Florida Gulf Coast, there’s not a whole lot here. KU leads the series 11-5 and has won seven in a row, including a 16-point win in the last meeting in 2011.
12 – Dec. 8 vs. Omaha
The Jayhawks host Creighton, which calls Omaha, Neb., home, and then head north for a battle with the other basketball team in Creighton’s hometown five days later. I wonder if the Mavericks and Bluejays will share scouting tips in the interest of helping their city get the upper hand.
13 – Nov. 16 vs. Eastern Illinois
Take a deep breath to follow this one. EIU coach Jay Spoonhour is the son of former Missouri State, Saint Louis and UNLV coach Charlie Spoonhour. Jay grew up in Springfield, Mo., and was a four-year letter winner at Pitt State from 1990-94. He just missed playing a game in Allen Fieldhouse (the Jayhawks and Gorillas played an exhibition game in December of 1995) and now he gets his chance.
14 – Nov. 20 vs. Stony Brook
The Seawolves might have the best name on the schedule, but there aren’t meaningful storylines associated with this matchup. Even the fact that the two programs will be meeting for the first time in history is downplayed by the fact that Stony Brook will be the third of three consecutive teams facing Kansas for the first time in school history.
It remains to be seen if this year’s version of the 2-million-dollar hoops competition known as “The Basketball Tournament” is able to be played. But teams and tourney organizers are making preparations like the games will go on.
For former Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe, that meant recently getting picked up by Philadelphia-based squad Team T.S.E.
Tharpe, who has spent the past several years playing professionally in the G League and overseas, joins a roster that features former players from Temple, LaSalle and the University of Boston.
Last year, Tharpe was a late addition to KU’s “Self Made” squad.
Currently scheduled for late July and early August at eight regional sites throughout the country, the TBT’s 64-team bracket is scheduled to be revealed on June 22.
There is currently no entry for a "Self Made" squad listed on the TBT web site, but the team of KU alums, should they desire to participate, still has more than a month to make a push to be included in this year’s field if the tournament is played.
The application deadline for the 2020 tournament arrives June 15.
Last year, the Self Made squad, which featured Elijah Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor, Travis Releford, Mario Little, Darrell Arthur, Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas, Kevin Young, Jeremy Case and Darnell Jackson, lost in the opening round in Wichita.
Back in March, TBT founder Jon Mugar released a statement expressing hope that the event will be played.
“We look forward to summertime, when we hope to be able to host a collection of teams, all across the country, for competitive, meaningful, championship basketball once again,” Mugar wrote. “Therefore, we opened our online team application process as planned. We hope you find some fun and respite in participating in the process or following along.”
Mugar added that event organizers would take necessary precautions and guidance to determine whether this year’s tournament can take place.
“We at TBT are committed to doing whatever we can to play our part,” Mugar said. “And will continue to pay close attention to CDC recommendations as they evolve.”
While talking with new Kansas basketball commitment Zach Clemence on Monday morning about his decision to pick KU, I asked him if his game compared to any player that Kansas fans might know.
“I don’t think it’s just one person,” he said. “I see it in multiple guys.”
Fair enough. After all, players like Clemence — long, tall, athletic forwards who both can shoot from distance and play down low — are starting to become a more regular part of the game and are popping up on teams around the country at all levels of basketball.
As the game continues to evolve and spacing becomes more important than ever, the idea of creating mismatches by dragging big bodies away from the rim to cover taller players who can shoot has become awfully appealing to coaches.
That includes KU coach Bill Self, who went hard after Duke’s Matt Hurt in the last recruiting cycle and has started to add players with height, length and legit shooting ability as often as possible.
Clemence is the latest and perhaps most obvious Jayhawk in that mold. And he absolutely loves the way the game has changed.
“When I was little, they would just put me in the post because I was always the tallest player,” recalled Clemence, who said he started playing basketball at age 8. “But I’ve always been drawn to playing on the perimeter and shooting the ball.”
Kevin Garnett he is not. But that’s the idea here.
Even if Clemence won’t say it.
His Sunrise Academy coach, however, doesn’t mind. Luke Barnwell told the Journal-World on Monday that the coaching staff often teases Clemence that he’s the spitting image of Portland big man Zach Collins.
“He has the same name, kind of looks like him and kind of plays like him,” Barnwell said. “We kind of give him a hard time, saying, ‘Hey, that’s your big brother. You play like him a little bit, can shoot it, can handle it, post and are kind of fiery competitive at times, too.’”
There certainly are worse comparisons.
After a solid one-year career at Gonzaga, Collins, a lottery pick, has been a strong contributor for the Trailblazers during the past few seasons, with the 2019-20 season being by far his best. Before the season was put on hold in March, Collins was averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 47% from the floor and a career-best 43% from 3-point range.
Another player whose name came up in the conversation with Barnwell was former KU All-American Dedric Lawson.
Barnwell said Lawson was craftier in the post and a little bigger than Clemence, but that Clemence shoots it better and is more explosive than Lawson.
“He probably saw that that position was a valuable position for what coach Self does offensively,” Barnwell said of Clemence’s thinking.
Whether you’re talking Garnett, Hurt, Collins, Lawson or any other player who belongs on that list, they all are obvious examples of basketball’s latest trend.
“Where the game is going, Zach’s value is high,” Barnwell said. “The game is going positionless and all five spots have to be able to shoot and Zach’s smart enough to know that being a big that has complete versatility is something of great value right now.”
Barnwell said he thought that one of the biggest influences in the changing role of basketball's big man was the rise of highly skilled European players at the NBA level. And he added that there were some Euro tendencies in Clemence’s game, as well.
“Just a utility man,” Barnwell said. “You look at him and he kind of looks a little goofy, but he’s just really good at a lot of things.”
Beyond that, Barnwell said Clemence, who “works his tail off,” will quickly become a player that Kansas enjoy following.
“You always root for kids like that, and KU fans are going to love him,” Barnwell said. “He’s got such a great smile and he’s a joy to be around and a joy to coach.”
The Kansas men’s basketball team is losing two All-Americans this offseason, but ESPN.com’s John Gasaway still believes the Jayhawks will have one of the best players in college basketball next season.
Gone are Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, heading to the NBA to see how and where they fit at the game’s highest level.
In to replace them is senior-to-be Marcus Garrett, a versatile, do-everything guard from Dallas who dominated on both ends during high school and is poised to play the biggest role of his KU career next season.
Gasaway lists Garrett as the fourth-best player in all of college basketball heading into the 2020-21 season, which puts Garrett in some pretty elite company.
Of KU’s most recent first-team All-Americans, only Devonte’ Graham appeared on any preseason All-American teams. And even Graham was voted one of college basketball’s top five players by just three outlets (USA Today, CBS Sports and NBC Sports) heading into the 2017-18 season.
The year before that, it was Josh Jackson, not Frank Mason III, who received preseason All-American votes heading into the 2016-17 season. All Mason did was win unanimous player of the year honors six months later.
And a couple of years earlier, freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins was named to all but one of the major preseason All-American teams, but Wiggins, despite having a better season than he gets credit for, wound up a consensus second-team All-American by season’s end.
Azubuike and Dotson earned that same distinction after KU’s most recent season, and those two were ranked No. 8 (Azubuike) and No. 12 (Dotson) by The Associated Press in the 2019-20 preseason All-American voting.
At the time he wrote it, Gasaway was still waiting to hear whether some of the top players in college basketball would return to school or turn pro.
Nearly all of them have since decided to enter their names into the NBA draft pool for 2020, paving the way for Garrett to enter his senior season as a preseason All-American.
Not surprisingly, Gasaway is basing his ranking on Garrett’s reputation as one of the nation’s best defenders.
“Your national defensive player of the year has a knack for blowing up whatever play the opposing offense thinks it’s about to execute,” Gasaway wrote. “Indeed, you can make a case that Garrett is one of the best collegiate defensive players under 6-foot-6 since Marcus Smart.”
But Gasaway is at least aware that the potential exists for Garrett to be a much better offensive player than he has shown throughout his first three seasons with the Jayhawks.
So much of it will come down to his ability to knock in shots from the outside. But Garrett’s a smart enough player — and always has been — to take what’s there and work to position himself for the scoring opportunities that best fit his game.
“The version of Garrett that showed up to drain six 3-pointers and score 24 points against Oklahoma in February is arguably the best player in the country,” Gasaway noted. “In larger sample sizes, however, (Garrett) is a career 58% shooter at the (free-throw) line who connects 28% of the time from beyond the arc.”
With more of the scoring load on his shoulders and the title of “senior” next to his name, it’s not hard to envision Garrett leading the Jayhawks in scoring next season. However, if he doesn’t, that could be a great sign for the overall health of KU’s offense.
It’s still May and there’s a long way to go and a lot to learn before we know exactly what the 2020-21 Jayhawks will look like.
But here’s my early attempt at ranking KU’s 13 scholarship players, from most talented down, based on what I’ve heard and seen from them thus far.
1 – Marcus Garrett: The most experienced, most versatile and most talented player on the roster, Garrett will continue to fill up the stat sheet and could be poised for a monster season.
2 – Tyon Grant-Foster: All you need to know about Grant-Foster is that KU coach Bill Self, at one point this season, said the juco transfer would’ve played major minutes for the 2019-20 Jayhawks. Great length, athleticism and a knack for scoring in a variety of ways, he’s well equipped to make an immediate impact.
3 – Ochai Agbaji: Don’t forget, even as inconsistent as Agbaji was as a sophomore, Self rarely took him off the floor. That’s because he trusted him and because Agbaji played and tried so hard at all times. Give him another offseason to expand his offensive game and a more established role as an upperclassman and it’s easy to see a big jump for the local kid.
4 – Christian Braun: Speaking of local kids, Braun’s got my vote (at least right now) for breakout player of the 2020-21 season. Last season he got just enough of a real taste of what playing at Kansas is all about to immediately pick up where he left off next season. Where he left off was as a dangerous and versatile scorer capable of playing many roles and styles who competes as hard as anyone on the floor each time out.
5 – David McCormack: The opportunity is there for McCormack to be a double-double monster. And if he adds some more polish to his game, he’ll have a good shot at making this ranking look ridiculous by season’s end.
6 – Dajuan Harris: This is your next fan favorite, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve no doubt heard plenty about Harris’ potential, but wait until you see him play. Team-first all the way, with smooth skills and a pest’s mentality on defense, KU fans are going to absolutely love this point guard for the next four years.
7 – Mitch Lightfoot: Speaking of team-first, Lightfoot’s return to action is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Remember, this was a guy willing to lay it all on the line on any given night while knowing he still had a couple of years left in his career. Imagine how hard he’ll play when he knows this is it. Add to that the fact that he expanded his offensive game during his redshirt season and steps right in as the team’s best shot blocker, and there’s no reason to be shy about predicting a strong year for the senior forward.
8 – Bryce Thompson: Thompson’s a five-star talent who is getting better by the week and he will play a key role on this team. But he’ll still be a freshman and it could take him a little while to get fully comfortable. If it doesn’t, he’s going to be lights out. But if it does, that’s OK. He projects way more as a two- or three-year player than he does a one-and-done, and that’s good news for Kansas.
9 – Tristan Enaruna: If he could develop more of a killer instinct, I’d toss Enaruna into the top five without hesitation. Many NBA scouts who watched the Jayhawks last season paid close attention to Enaruna while they were in the building and his blend of size, length, skill and athleticism make him a player packed with potential.
10 – Jalen Wilson: Wilson, you’ll remember, was the highest-rated player in KU’s 2019 class. So the potential is certainly there. But it remains to be seen what the injury did to his game and confidence. And it’s also worth watching how far behind he is after being limited and seeing next to no court time as a true freshman.
11 – Silvio De Sousa: After a strong finish to his freshman season, it’s been a rough couple of years for De Sousa. He hasn’t given up, and the coaches haven’t quit on him. But his success during his senior season will be entirely dependent on him finding a role to fill and then going after it with tenacity.
12 – Gethro Muscadin: There’s a lot to like about the freshman big man, but it’s hard to picture him having a huge role right away, particularly if KU plays a lot of four-guard lineups as is expected.
13 – Latrell Jossell: The freshman point guard figures to be a deep reserve next season and may not have a clear path to playing time. But he can shoot it and he’ll contribute in one way or another, most likely as a terrific scout team guard in practice.
KU recruiting target Tamar Bates, a standout senior-to-be at nearby Piper High outside of Kansas City, announced Tuesday that he will play his senior year at IMG Academy, one of the biggest stages in prep basketball.
Bates, who is rated as a four-star prospect in the class of 2021 by Rivals.com, posted the news Tuesday on his Twitter page.
“I would like to announce that I will be attending IMG Academy for my senior year,” Bates wrote. “Huge thanks (to the IMG coaches) for this opportunity.”
Bates, a 6-foot-4, 175-pound, left-handed combo guard, also thanked his friends, family and coaches at Piper for the “unconditional love I’ve received the past three years.”
“I’m very grateful to have been part of such a family environment,” he said.
IMG, which won the 2019 GEICO High School national championship, has produced eight McDonald’s All-Americans since 2017. Nine alumni of IMG have been selected in the NBA draft since 2005.
The most notable IMG alumnus for Kansas fans is senior forward Silvio De Sousa, who attended IMG for his final season of high school ball and left a semester early to join the Jayhawks in December of 2017.
The summer following his first season at Kansas, De Sousa talked about what the move to IMG meant for his career.
“I loved being at IMG,” De Sousa told reporters at Brett Ballard’s Washburn basketball camp in June 2018. “At IMG, I could improve my game, and I spent a lot more time in the gym than I used to at my old high school. IMG just helped me develop my skills and stuff, my shot.”
According to the Rivals database, Bates currently holds offers from Kansas, Alabama, Creighton, Kansas State, Missouri, Missouri State, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, St. Louis and Abilene Christian. Other programs listed to be showing interest include Butler, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Purdue, Stanford and Wake Forest.
Bates currently is ranked No. 94 nationally in the 2021 class — up 33 spots from the previous Rivals rankings — and is listed by Rivals as the 25th-best shooting guard in his class.