We're back for more with our new feature, "He Will, He Won't, He Might," which aims to identify something each Kansas basketball player definitely will do during the 2016-17 season, something the same player almost certainly won’t do and, of course, the wildcard, something each player actually might wind up surprising people with during the upcoming season.
All of the entries, of course, are pure speculation designed to dissect some of the more important players and aspects of the 2016-17 team.
If you missed the first in the series, be sure to check out these thoughts on senior guard Frank Mason III.
Today, we'll dive into the dynamic surrounding junior guard Devonte' Graham, Mason's running mate who is entering his third season playing for KU coach Bill Self.
After a solid but unspectacular freshman season, Graham enjoyed a monster year as a sophomore in 2015-16 and appears to be headed for more during the coming season.
Gifted with good size, great skill and an intense desire to compete and play with passion, Graham has become one of the main keys of this Kansas team and followed in the footsteps of some of the better versatile guards that Self has coached at KU.
Without further ado, let's dive in...
Whether it’s three-googles after a big shot, eyes and mouth wide open after a huge play or some sort of gesture or laugh to the bench or the crowd, Graham is, without a doubt, the player who brings the most personality to this team. And given the way KU coach Bill Self has praised him for that in the past, you can expect it to remain that way and potentially increase. The older and more comfortable Graham becomes, the more confident he’ll be in his game. And the more confident he is in his game, the more emotional he’ll be on the floor. That kind of emotion, when used properly, can bring great energy to a team and become contagious in a hurry. That’s not to say that everybody in a Kansas uniform is going to start poses and gesturing just because Graham does, but there’s no denying that the more these guys feel themselves out there, the better they’ll play. And Graham will continue to be the catalyst for it all.
It’s just not that easy to do. Think about this: A season ago, the junior from Raleigh, North Carolina, attempted 170 three-pointers and made a whopping 75. Miss a couple, make a couple; miss one, make the next two; miss two, make the next one. On and on it went, including some games when it seemed as if Graham was not going to miss at all. Maintaining that kind of clip, no matter how good of a shooter you are, is difficult to do and is dependent on a lot of things going right. All signs point to this year’s KU squad continuing to be the kind of team that moves the ball well, makes the extra pass and regularly finds open shots for its best shooters. And Graham most definitely is one of those. But you can bet that opposing defenses are going to key on Graham a little more — especially from the outside — and you can also bet that freshman Josh Jackson’s ability to attack the paint will take away a few opportunities for Graham to let it fly. I wouldn’t expect a big drop-off. After all, Graham shot .425 from behind the arc during his freshman season. But I’d expect his percentage to finish closer to the high 30s than 44.
Frank Mason is a terrifically tough and talented player, but even he has a few limitations. And, from the sound of things, Josh Jackson is as talented as all get-out and can pretty much do anything he wants to do on either end of the floor. But he also has yet to do it at the major college level. Graham has. A lot. And, as shown by his huge jump from his freshman to sophomore season, the guy is only getting better. Graham is a terrific shooter, a great athlete, a good passer and an outstanding leader. He also can defend at a high level and plays with all-out effort night in and night out. Put all of those traits into the same package and bring that to the court on a consistent basis, and you’re looking at the best player on any team, no matter what the level or what his name is. Even on a team that features Fearless Frank Mason and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, a strong case could be made that the 6-2, 185-pound Graham is the best all-around player and his 2016-17 statistics might wind up validating that.
Welcome to a new feature here at KUsports.com, where we take a little closer look at the potential for every player on the Kansas men’s basketball roster, one at a time, leading up to the start of the season next month.
Dubbed, “He will, he won’t, he might,” this feature aims to identify exactly that — something we believe each Jayhawk definitely will do during the 2016-17 season, something the same player almost certainly won’t do and, of course, the wildcard, something each player actually might wind up surprising people with during the upcoming season.
All of the entries, of course, are pure speculation designed to dissect some of the more important aspects of the 2016-17 team.
First up, let’s start with senior point guard Frank Mason III.
Poised to start for Kansas coach Bill Self for the third consecutive season, Mason finished the 2015-16 season as the team’s third leading scorer (12.9 ppg), top assists man (4.6 per game) and most used Jayhawks, playing 1,272 minutes (33.5 per game), nearly a full game more than second-place Devonte’ Graham, who played 1,238 minutes.
Known for his toughness and attacking style, Mason worked on his body in the offseason and appears to be more fit, athletic and explosive than ever before. Here’s a look at what that could mean for his 2016-17 campaign.
Mason, more than any player on this roster, exhibits the kind of toughness and determination that KU coach Bill Self has made staples of his programs dating back to his days at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois. Although the total number of games played during each of his first three years as a Jayhawk has differed, Mason has remained remarkably consistent. Many of his sophomore and junior numbers were nearly identical and Mason, during both seasons, became the type of what-you-see-is-what-you-get player that Self could rely on. That will continue — and possibly even grow — during his final season in Lawrence.
Whether you’re talking about the emergence of backcourt mate Devonte’ Graham’s game, the presence of freshman phenom Josh Jackson, the opportunity that awaits likely sixth man Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk or the intrigue that surrounds the kind of minutes sophomore Lagerald Vick might be able to provide, the Jayhawks will have opportunities to give Mason more rest in games they don’t absolutely need him to play 40 minutes. It’s been proven that Self has a hard time taking Mason off the floor, especially when things are tight, but this year’s deep and experienced group of talented perimeter players should make that a little easier. Mason will still challenge for the team lead in minutes played, but getting him more rest from time to time will benefit both Mason and the Jayahwks.
It’s going to be tough, though. With at least two other players on his own team likely to compete for first-team all-Big 12 honors (Jackson and Graham) the opportunity could be limited. It also could be tough if Mason decides to be more of a distributor and less of a scorer now that he has more scoring punch around him. Having said that, the coaches who vote for this honor know good basketball when they see it and will not hesitate to put Mason on the first team if he’s one of the Big 12’s best players. After starting all 74 games during the past two years, Mason wound up on the all-Big 12 second team after both his sophomore and junior seasons. Could this be the year he breaks through?
Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas were living proof, and the two Kansas big men confirmed that everyone else on the team survived, as well.
Early Monday, Jayhawks old and young ran through the first day of Bill Self's annual Boot Camp, a two-week conditioning adventure that tests the mind as much as the body and often is particularly difficult for newcomers.
According to Lucas, a fifth-year senior who has been through several of these, Day 1 was a success on a lot of levels, but the KU forward believes that better days are ahead the rest of the week now that the anticipation is behind them.
“As far as getting through the conditioning, they did a good job," said Lucas when asked about how the freshmen and other newcomers performed during their first stab at the annual event. "They handled that well. We’ve gotta pick up the drills a little faster. I know it’s early in the morning, but, other than that, I think we’ll be OK, especially tomorrow once everybody gets back out there and isn’t so worried about what’s to come.”
Lucas, who now is considered one of the old men on this team, said he couldn't help but be amused by the fact that he was on the other side of the coin this year and added that he remembered his first encounters with Boot Camp very well.
“It’s funny seeing it from a different perspective because you were once thinking the same things I’m sure they were thinking," he said. "But hopefully they understand that this is an important time of the year and this is a step in a bigger picture and just kind of look at it that way. It’ll go by pretty easy if you do that.”
If you’ve followed Kansas football for any length of time — 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years — you’ve seen, or perhaps even been a part of, a fan base that has suffered through all kinds of frustration, dashed hopes and disappointment.
Few stretches have been as rough as the past seven seasons, though. Kansas has won just 13 games during the dreadful run from 2010-2016 and, every year it seems as if the fan base has had to endure a handful of games — sometimes two or three, sometimes six or seven — that factor into the conversation about the lowest points in recent memory.
One such game popped up last weekend, when the Jayhawks were rocked, 43-7, by Memphis and played a big part in helping the Tigers kick tail.
I’ve covered all but two games during this stretch and, therefore, have seen and heard it all from the fan base that somehow keeps coming back with hope and optimism each season, though in dwindling droves each year.
That’s why it qualified as notable, at least to me, when I watched, saw and heard the reaction to this latest dud. Whether you’re talking about losses to K-State, whippings by Oklahoma and Baylor or no-shows against Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State or a handful of non-conference foes, the anger and frustration coming from the fan base on Saturday was as bad as I can remember.
It’s not so much that the fans can’t handle losing. If anything, they’ve become experts on how to do that. And, for the most part, I don’t think any of them are expecting a reversal of fortunes immediately. What they are expecting, however, is progress. And, whether it’s there during the offseason and practice or not, it’s not showing up on Saturdays and that is creating quite a problem when it comes to support.
I’ve heard countless times from some of the most die-hard fans that losing is something they can handle as long as the losing comes with great effort, sound coaching and solid play. The Jayhawks are there in the effort department. Trust me. These guys — at least the great majority of them — are working and playing their butts off. But too often they’re beating themselves, imploding at the worst times and making life way, way, way too easy for their opponents.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to gauge the mindset of the fan base on Twitter a few hours after KU’s latest loss. As I expected, I received responses that included a lot of anger and frustration and even saw more than a few fans who were already willing to write off the season.
Not the “Don’t worry guys, it’s almost basketball season,” crew. They never go away. I’m talking about true blue KU football fans who seem to be incredibly frustrated about everything from the plays that are called and decisions that are made to the outcome of games and the apparent lack of growth and development.
Here’s a sampling of the variety of the opinions I encountered over the weekend, moving from the I’m done crowd to the I’m still with them folks. I realize Twitter is not the end-all, be-all platform for true sports fans, but it is the easiest place to tap into a wide variety of people and opinions. Beyond these posts, I saw similar frustration surface on message boards, Facebook and even heard quite a bit in person.
As you’ll see, it’s feelings like these that put second-year head coach David Beaty and the entire program in very dangerous and unsettled waters.
My favorite part about the ongoing Big 12 expansion saga is how often it compels people to state the obvious.
The most recent and notable example of that came earlier this week when Oklahoma president David Boren, speaking after the Oklahoma board of regents meeting Wednesday night, so eloquently declared that Big 12 expansion was not a given.
Terrific. Glad we got that cleared up.
Of course it’s not a given. If it were, it would’ve been done long before now.
There’s even a decent argument to be made that it SHOULD have been done long before now. If that were the case, KU might be opening its Big 12 football slate at Louisville in a couple of weeks or looking ahead to a January basketball match-up between Rick Pitino and Bill Self. Instead, the Cardinals and all-world quarterback Lamar Jackson are doing their thing in the ACC and the Big 12 is sifting through a pool of less-than-desirable expansion candidates.
I’ll give Boren this: For a man who has never been shy about opening his mouth and stoking the fires of one of the hottest topics ever to hit college athletics, his recent comments show a certain level of progress back toward reality and indicate he may have learned something from his past mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with Boren stating the obvious if the obvious is true. And, in this case, it most certainly is.
The next meeting of the Big 12 board of directors is now just a month out and, although commissioner Bob Bowlsby has gone on record saying he would like for there to be a vote of some kind regarding expansion at that meeting, this conference hardly seems like it’s ready to move ahead with that four weeks from now.
Reports have indicated that the vote may not even happen and that all 10 members of the conference at least have some concerns about where the expansion process currently stands.
That won’t keep the speculation or politicking from running wild, though. What’s the fun in that?
Fans, coaches and administrators from those schools still deemed to be “in the running” continue to try to put their best foot forward in an effort to impress and inspire the Big 12 to bring them into the conference. Can’t blame them for that.
But the impassioned pleas of those schools desiring a spot, Boren admitted, may go for naught.
“I’m also listening to fans, not just to our coaches and AD and other people,” he said. “How do they feel about it? Are they excited about the expansion pool.... I’ve sometimes described the league moving at glacial speed in the past, but I think the main thing is for us to be thoughtful.”
The funny part about that statement is this: The fans, coaches and even ADs have next to no say in all of this. Heck, even Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is having a difficult time in this mess and he’s the one who was hired to lead it. Instead of being an open process which equally values the input of those who run the schools and those who know the most about college athletics, the current expansion talk is being driven and decided in the offices of Big 12 presidents and chancellors, good news for some schools and awful news for others.
So again we wait. What exactly we’re waiting for certainly is open to interpretation and remains to be seen.
Some believe we’re waiting on the Big 12 to pick the schools with which it wants to move forward, be that two new members or four. Others believe we’re waiting on some kind of Hail Mary that magically presents more attractive expansion candidates. And still others believe we’re waiting for the Big 12 to do nothing.
Regardless of which of those reads is right — or, perhaps more fittingly, if they all are — the man who has been the least prudent in all of this, at least in the public eye, suddenly is banging the drum for the Big 12 to be more thoughtful.
The problem is, if you have to give too much thought to which schools you want or even whether the conference should expand at all, doesn’t that kind of answer the question for you?
When the ball bounced off of LaQuvionte Gonzalez’s shoulder pads late the second quarter of last week’s loss to Ohio, the sneaking suspicion I had at the time was that the muffed punt came because Gonzalez was dying to take another kick back to the house.
Just one kick earlier — that time on a kickoff — the Texas A&M transfer sparked the struggling Jayhawks with a 99-yard kickoff return that put Kansas on the board and back in the game.
So there he was, with those heroics fresh in his mind, ready to receive a punt and hoping to do something similar after a stop by the Kansas defense on the next Ohio possession.
It never happened, though. Gonzalez either took his eyes off the ball, did not get in proper position to field the kick, or possibly even both, and the Jayhawks paid dearly for it.
KU coach David Beaty confirmed the suspicion that I and many others had about that muff on Tuesday, when looking back at Quiv’s miscue.
“I think the thing is he wants to make a play every time the ball is in the air and I think that's what happened to him,” Beaty said.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that mentality. Kansas wants and needs more players with that mindset. But only if those players can have that mindset while still playing smart football.
Gonzalez messed that up not once but twice and by doing so completely negated any advantage that killer instinct might have provided.
Gonzalez will get his opportunity to redeem himself. Heck, he’ll probably get plenty of opportunities to do so. Both Beaty and special teams coach Joe DeForest said they were not worried about his ability move on from the mistakes he made against Ohio.
“I talked earlier about not having Quiv do too much,” Beaty said. “And that's where we have to be very careful about making sure that we don't put too much on him, and really, talking to him about, ‘Hey, man, listen, you don't have to win the game for us. All you've got to do is exactly what we tell you to do.’”
Added DeForest: “We believe in Quiv, we believe in his ability.... You gotta be fearless as a punt returner and I think Quiv is. He just made a technique error and it’s our job, as coaches, to clean it up and get him ready for the next one.”
Prior to last weekend’s loss, Gonzalez elected not to speak to the media for the rest of the season. So it’s up to the coaches and his teammates to speak on his behalf. Although it would be better to hear thoughts directly from the horse’s mouth, those guys who spoke about Gonzalez following Saturday’s loss and again on Tuesday did a nice job of examining the reality of the whole situation.
“I don't think he's scared of anything to be honest with you,” Beaty said of Gonzalez. “He’s not. There are some really good punters in Division I, and the majority of the kicks are going to be fair catches. You've got to wait for them to make a mistake and, when they make a mistake, you've got to capitalize on it. But when you start being selfish and you do things off-schedule, that's where dangerous things happen. We saw it happen to our opponent (Week 1), and it happened to us (last) week.”
What happens from here will tell us a lot both about Gonzalez and Beaty and his coaching staff.
The Kansas men’s basketball team, as one might expect, received plenty of love Sunday night at the annual Rock Chalk Choice Awards at the Lied Center.
In addition to celebrating the academic and athletic achievements of the past year, along with highlighting some of the top individual plays and team moments — the volleyball team’s victory over USC in the Elite Eight in San Diego won “Moment of the Year” — several athletes received a variety of honors as well.
This year's celebration featured a "So We Think We Can Dance" theme and mixed highlights, moments of comedy, performances from the Rock Chalk Dancers and other memorable moments into the presentation of various awards.
Two of the individual awards came from the men’s basketball team. Here’s a look:
• Guard Devonte’ Graham picked up the first award of the night, The Jayhawker Award, given annually to honor the pioneers who held true to their values throughout hardship while founding the state of Kansas.
• Perry Ellis, a model student-athlete on and off the court, won Male Athlete of the Year honors and current KU guard Tyler Self accepted the award on Ellis’ behalf. Ellis, who led the Jayhawks in scoring and also helped lead the team to its 12th consecutive Big 12 title, was one of five male athletes nominated for the honor.
The event has been billed an Academy Awards-esque celebration of the seasons that were in Kansas Athletics and the evening inspires several athletes to come dressed to the nines as if they truly were hitting the red carpet in Hollywood.
Of all of the sophomores in all of college basketball, Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn believes the one guy ready to make the biggest leap might reside in Lawrence, Kansas.
In the eighth edition of Winn's Sophomore Breakout Formula, KU's Carlton Bragg landed at the top of the list of players who could be in for a monster season.
Here's the way Winn comes up with the list:
— The Sophomore Breakout Formula identifies scoring potential in players who didn’t put up significant points as freshmen, yet had promising advanced-statistical profiles. The formula strives to avoid too-obvious selections, and therefore its 2016–17 picks are restricted to players that averaged single-digit points last season and played not much more than 20 minutes per game. —
The happy-go-lucky Bragg's averages of 3.8 points in 8.9 minutes a season ago put him right in the wheelhouse of the kinds of players Winn is looking for with this formula.
The list is short and aims to identify only those players who truly stand to make a meaningful jump from what they did as freshmen.
There's no doubt that Bragg is aware of the opportunity that awaits. The Cleveland native has been working as hard as anybody on his game this offseason and has added serious bulk to his lanky frame, a move that should help him be more productive — if not dangerous — all over the floor during the upcoming season.
Winn is far from the only person who expects big things from Bragg this season. The expectation in and around Lawrence is that Bragg will both start and star in his new role with the Jayhawks and his prep coach, Babe Kwasniak, said after a visit with his former player earlier this summer that Bragg was in for "a monster season."
Here's what Winn had to say about Bragg, heading into his second season as a Jayhawk:
There’s opportunity galore in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, as departed big men Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Cheick Diallo and Hunter Mickelson combined for 59.1 minutes per game last season. Bragg is the obvious heir to Ellis’s face-up four role, and in short stints as a freshman, Bragg took a higher percentage of Kansas’s shots than everyone other than Ellis and guard Wayne Selden Jr., who’s also off to the pros.
The Jayhawks’ go-to-guys are likely to be on the perimeter—veteran point guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and possible No. 1 NBA draft pick Josh Jackson can all score—but coach Bill Self’s offense isn’t going to abandon the post. Bragg should get plenty of touches, and his small-sample efficiency thus far in the post (he had a team-high 1.41 points per possession there last season) and as a spot-up shooter has been encouraging. He added 26 pounds of muscle this off-season to better handle the physicality of the Big 12, and it’s easy to envision his scoring average increasing from 3.8 as a freshman to double-digits as a sophomore.
The Kansas men’s basketball team missed out on one of their top targets on Tuesday, when 7-foot center DeAndre Ayton, the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2017, opted for Arizona over Kansas and Kentucky.
Ayton’s decision, though not crippling, certainly served as a blow to KU’s recruitment of a big man for the future.
Freshman big man Udoka Azubuike should be around for at least the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. So, too, will Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby (6-9, 240) and Liberty transfer Evan Maxwell (6-10, 235).
That trio gives KU coach Bill Self and his staff time to transition into Plan B in the pursuit of KU’s next standout big man, a plan that could involve a number of still-undecided prospects in the 2017 class or skip ahead to the 2018 crew, which features forward Bol Bol, a 6-11, 180-pound five-star prospect from nearby Bishop Miege High ranked 14th overall by Rivals.com in the 2018 class.
That’s in the future. For now, let’s take a quick look at a few of the bigs still attainable in the 2017 class.
There are, of course, a number of other forwards and centers across the country that could suddenly vault up KU’s wish list, but the following list includes a few of the most likely targets for the Jayhawks.
Once you look over this list, be sure to check out our latest Recruiting Trail podcast, this week with recruiting analyst Matt Scott of TheShiver.com breaking down what comes next for Kansas after missing out on Ayton.
— 6-9, 220, Oak Hill Academy, Virginia – 5 stars, No. 8 overall, according to Rivals.com
Regarded as a point forward, Preston, for the past several weeks, has pretty much zeroed in on Arizona, Kansas, Maryland and USC as his top choices. Given Ayton’s commitment to Arizona, it may be down to a final three for Preston, who has said that the most important factor in his decision will be finding the place that can develop him, both physically and mentally, for a jump to the NBA.
— 6-11, 220, Cathedral Catholic, San Diego — 5 stars, No. 11 overall
Dubbed a true post player, McCoy has an exceptionally long reach which gives him the ability to cause problems in the paint as a rim protector and also plays well with his back to the basket on the other end. He can hit the baby hook over each shoulder and also moves very well for a player his size. McCoy’s Rivals profile indicates he has offers from Arizona, Cal, UConn, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan State, Oregon and San Diego State.
— 6-7, 200, Findlay Prep, Las Vegas — 5 stars, No. 17 overall
Considered a bring-your-lunch-pail-to-work type of player on both ends, Washington is a versatile big man with room to grow and an attitude that’s ready-made for college basketball. His final eight includes Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, NC State, Texas, UNLV and UCLA. And, in early August, Rivals.com predicted that Washington would wind up at Kentucky.
— 6-7, 225, Sierra Canyon, California – 4 stars, No. 34 overall
More of a true power forward, with offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Kansas, Maryland and USC, Riley is the only one on this list who currently has an official visit to KU scheduled.
— 6-9, 210, Blair Academy, New Jersey, 4 stars, No. 91 overall
Rugged power forward trimmed his list to five in early August — Kansas, Duke, Indiana, Miami and Florida — and told JayhawkSlant.com’s Shay Wildeboor earlier this summer that he’s looking for a place he can play immediately and make an early impact.
DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1-ranked player in the 2017 high school basketball recruiting class, announced on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that he will be revealing the identity of his future school on ESPN's SportsCenter at 5 p.m.
Ayton, a 7-foot, 250-pound center from Phoenix's Hillcrest Academy will choose between Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona.
If the Jayhawks land Ayton, it will give KU coach Bill Self and his staff the nation's No.-1-ranked player in three of the past five recruiting classes — Andrew Wiggins (2013), Josh Jackson (2016) and Ayton (2017).
Many recruiting analysts believe Kansas is and has been the leader for Ayton's services all along because Self and his staff were the first ones to go all-in on Ayton during the recruiting process and also because they stuck with him when almost nobody else was on him.
The reasons for the lack of interest in a player that many believe could have a monster impact during the 2017-18 season was (a) eligibility concerns due to his moving around to several different high schools and (b) the fact that many believe he had no plans or desire to attend college.
Ayton cleared that up earlier this year when he claimed in interviews that he had no eligibility concerns and that his mother wanted him to go to school so that's what he was going to do.
“They think I’m not going to college, but I have to go to college. My mom wants me to go to college and that’s what I’m looking for," Ayton told reporters this summer.
Ayton, in a July interview with FloHoops, added: “Kansas has been there since ninth grade. They show me a lot of love, sending me letters and stuff like that. They have been coming to every game since I was in ninth grade, and that's big, man. I want to see the full experience at Kansas. I saw their weight room and stuff like that, but I want to see the whole campus.”
Stay tuned to KUsports.com for updates and reaction to Ayton's decision.
I will be announcing my college decision today on the 6 pm (ET) @SportsCenter. So fortunate to have 3 incredible options: KU, Arizona, UK.— Deandre Ayton (@RealDeandreAy) September 6, 2016