Kansas commitment Silvio De Sousa made his pledge to join the Jayhawks official on Wednesday morning during a signing ceremony at IMG Academy on the first day of the early signing period.
De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward who was the first in the 2018 class to commit to Kansas, and he signed Wednesday morning in a no-frills manner, wearing a blue Under Armour T-Shirt in front of several IMG classmates from multiples sports, faculty and family members.
De Sousa, a native of Angola, officially committed to Kansas in late August while traveling back home to compete for his country in FIBA Afrobasket 2017.
Ranked No. 18 by Rivals.com, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who also does a lot of international scouting, told the Journal-World back then that De Sousa was one of the Top 10 players entering college in the 2018 class in his eyes.
The explosive, athletic and powerful forward has drawn comparisons to former Kansas standout Thomas Robinson as well as former Kentucky star Julius Randle.
De Sousa is the first of three 2018 commitments expected to sign national letters of intent with Kansas this week.
The early signing period began Wednesday and runs through next Wednesday. After that, any unsigned or future commitments will have to wait until the regular signing period next Spring to make things official.
With this trio already in the fold, KU’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked No. 2 overall by most national recruiting sites.
There’s a chance that soon could go up, as all four of Rivals.com’s national recruiting analysts recently predicted that five-star guard Quentin Grimes also would pick Kansas.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-57 victory over Fort Hays State on Tuesday night in the exhibition finale at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas was sluggish and sloppy in the first half and turned the ball over almost as many times as the Jayhawks recorded an assist. That led to just a 38-33 lead at the break. In the second half, however, thanks to some red hot shooting by Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 8 assists), Kansas was much more efficient and effective on offense, which allowed the Jayhawks to open up a big lead and cruise to victory.
Even when Fort Hays State missed, they found a way to get open looks. Beyond that, KU gave up far too many open jumpers and struggled to use its superior size and athleticism to suffocate the overmatched Tigers. The intensity was much better in the second half, but the guess here is that Bill Self will remember more what his defense looked like in the first half. The second half showing is what he expects.
Udoka Azbuike and Billy Preston both had some great moments and both showed a willingness and understanding that hanging out down low is where they need to be. That led to a combined line of 26 points and 12 rebounds, both numbers that probably should’ve been a tick higher considering Fort Hays State’s lack of size.
Graham and Vick were pretty good from start to finish. Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk struggled for most of the night. Marcus Garrett’s workman-like effort was the tiebreaker and led to this grade landing as a low A instead of a high B.
Preston and Garrett both earned second-half starts, which shows both the fact that Self was pleased with their play and disappointed in the play of Mykahiliuk and Newman. Mitch Lightfoot logged limited playing time and had just 3 rebounds to show for it, but Garrett and Preston did enough to give KU’s bench a solid grade.
One week ago, during the Kansas basketball program’s second of three exhibition games this season, the Jayhawks rode out the final few minutes of their 100-54 blowout victory over Pittsburg State with regular rotation players Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot on the floor.
Don’t be surprised if you see that or something awfully similar again the rest of the season.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Monday said he was not actively seeking any additional walk-ons to join Clay Young and Chris Teahan on the 2017-18 roster. But Self added that he would be open to bringing another player on board if everything fell into place.
“The only way we would take somebody else is if he was big and could defend better than what Teahan or Clay could,” Self said, referring mostly to a potential player’s practice role. “You’d rather have some big bodies in practice. There’s no question about that. But I’m not going to take a guy just to take a guy. But if there’s somebody that falls in our lap, whether it be from the walk-on tryouts that we just had or if somebody were to get hurt, we’ve got guys that we could call. But I’m not interested in doing that.”
One reason he isn't is because the bodies are there for practice. They just can't play in the games. Transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore all represent quality options for KU's scout team in practices so adding more players for that reason is not on the table. And, if you think about it, each season includes a lot more time practicing than it does closing out games.
Even still, for a team that features precious little depth in the front court and is working with just eight scholarship players in all during the first semester of the 2017-18 season, it was a little strange to see such prominent players on the floor so late in a lopsided game.
Normally, moments such as those, both during exhibition play and the regular season, are the time for walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship to shine. And, throughout the years, most KU squads have had no shortage of walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship players.
Just think back to the 2014-15 season, when Self could toss this group onto the floor at the end of games — Christian Garrett, Josh Pollard, Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Hunter Mickelson. Or, the year before, when Niko Roberts, Justin Wesley and a young Landen Lucas could be added to that group. Even last year’s team had Tucker Vang, Tyler Self, Clay Young, Dwight Coleby and a freshman Lightfoot to play at the end of games.
The point was, Self didn’t have to worry much about any of those guys playing in garbage time because they weren’t critical parts of KU’s lineup during the rest of the game and could usher in the early celebration of another victory with some fun moments and memorable highlights.
But last Tuesday, Self had no choice but to play three of his rotation guys. And it figures to be that way at least for the near future.
The KU coach said he kept Azubuike on the floor for conditioning purposes. And it may play out that way again early in the season. But no matter how it goes, he’s going to have to pick three of his top eight players to join Young and Teahan in the game’s final moments.
It’s safe to assume that it won’t often be Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick or Azubuike. Those four, in some order, would probably get the most votes for most valuable players on this team.
That leaves Garrett, Lightfoot, Svi Mykhailiuk and Billy Preston as the most likely players to join KU’s walk-on duo in closing out games. All four of those players would compete for starting spots at most schools and could find themselves starting for Kansas a time or two this season.
When the first semester ends and transfer guard Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible, he figures to be a prime candidate to join Young and Teahan as regulars in the late-game lineup, but even that will force the Jayhawks to use two rotation regulars along with them.
But Self seems content to do that before crowding his bench by adding another walk-on.
“We’ve taken some guys in the past out of the student body and it’s worked out well for us and we’ve taken some guys in the past that it hasn’t worked out well for us,” Self said. “But we don’t need another guard. He’d have to be another big guy.”
The Kansas basketball team’s recent exhibition victories over Missouri at Sprint Center and Pittsburg State at Allen Fieldhouse carried with them a bunch of good signs and exposed a few areas of concern for the 2017-18 team.
While many of those were of the big picture, team variety, there were more than a few individual efforts that left people encouraged about the upcoming season.
Senior point guard Devonté Graham went off and showed that he’s ready for the bigger role he’ll have this season. 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike showed promise on both ends of the floor and gave Kansas that inside scoring presence it has lacked in recent years. And freshman forward Billy Preston demonstrated, in limited minutes both times, that he was both able and willing to hang next to the basket and do some of the dirty work inside for a team that needs to develop its frontcourt depth as quickly as possible.
However, one of the more overlooked aspects of KU’s first two exhibition games — the Jayhawks will play their final exhibition game of the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Fort Hays State at Allen Fieldhouse — came from sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
The most experienced forward on KU’s roster in terms of college games played, Lightfoot spent the summer working on all aspects of his game in an attempt to make a bigger impact during his second year as a Jayhawk. As is the case with most athletes, getting bigger, stronger and faster were major focuses for Lightfoot, but so, too, was the ability to expand his offensive game.
Lightfoot spent countless hours in various gyms working on his outside shot, hoping to become a smoother shooter with better range to give KU coach Bill Self the option of putting his size out there while still operating with a small ball mentality.
Although he no doubt became a better shooter during those months, it has not yet translated to game-type situations.
He struggled to shoot the ball from the outside during the team’s four-game trip to Italy in August and did not really show much in that department during KU’s summer camp scrimmages, or at Late Night, either.
So where’s the good news? Easy. Lightfoot barely even thought about attempting an outside shot during KU’s wins over the Tigers or Gorillas, pulling the trigger from the outside just once in the two games combined.
And, as we approach the start of the regular season — now just four days away — Lightfoot seems to know that the easiest way for him to log meaningful minutes is to be a scrapper, hit the glass, play tough defense and score on easy opportunities inside, off of assists from teammates and put-backs near the rim.
“I’m a pretty confident person,” Lightfoot said Monday. “But when you’ve got, like, Svi (Mykhailiuk) out there, I’m pretty sure he’s a better shooter than me, so I’m gonna get him a shot. If that means an extra pass (or a screen) then so be it.”
This whole scenario reminds me a lot of Landen Lucas last season. After a strong junior year in which he became known for his defense and rebounding, Lucas spent the summer before his senior year working tirelessly to expand his offensive game.
He worked on post moves, drilled with both hands, tried to extend his range a little and emphasized a different mentality that would paint him as a player who could catch the ball in the post and get a bucket for his team.
But those improved skills and Lucas’ expanded mindset too rarely showed up in games, and Lucas, partly because of his offensive struggles and partly because of a nagging foot injury, often appeared frustrated during the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season.
You might remember that Lucas’ progress was almost a daily story line and questions about his “funk” were asked constantly. In time, Lucas climbed out of that funk and turned in an equally strong senior season.
The biggest reason? He got back to doing what he did best and being himself. He ditched the offensive mindset and went back to work on the boards and defense, allowing his points to come off of the hard work he was putting in and positioning himself in the right place at the right time on the offensive end.
Lightfoot seems to be on that same path. And if the 6-foot-8 sophomore, who is regarded as an overall better athlete than Lucas, already has reached that point mentally, it’s definitely a sign of more good things to come.
“I’m just embracing that role of being the energy guy and helping the guards get good shots ... because we have great guards,” said Lightfoot, entertaining comparisons to former Jayhawks such as Kevin Young and Jamari Traylor. “Being a big guy, I can know the big man position, the 4 and the 5, but I also have some quickness to me so I can rebound better, bring some energy, maybe defend smaller players and stuff like that.”
Added Self, who seemed to like the sound of Lightfoot’s understanding of his role this season: “He’s going to play as a big guy; he’s not going to play another spot on the floor. He’s going to play as a 4 man 80 percent of the time when he’s out there, and he may have to play as a 5 man some. But he’s never going to play as a 3 man, at least this year, I wouldn’t think. We’ve got too many other guards.”
As Kansas basketball coach Bill Self continues to visit basketball gyms and living rooms across the country in search of more future Jayhawks, it’s important to remember exactly what Self is out there looking for.
With physical big men Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack already committed in the 2018 recruiting class and at least two more all but guaranteed to be returning to Kansas for the 2018-19 season — Mitch Lightfoot will be a junior and Dedric Lawson will again be eligible — the Jayhawks appear to be set up front.
And although that will be a welcome relief from the thin days of the past couple of seasons — including the 2017-18 campaign, which officially tips off Friday, Nov. 10 against Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse — the focus will shift, and already has shifted, to replenishing the backcourt, which figures to look drastically different a year from now.
Top 20 prospect Devon Dotson, a five-star guard from Charlotte, N.C., already has committed to be KU’s point guard of the future and, together, Dotson, De Sousa and McCormack, along with Self and his staff, are in the process of trying to entice more guards and wings to join them.
At the top of KU’s current wish list in the 2018 class are names you’ve already heard dozens of times. Romeo Langford, Quentin Grimes and Zion Williamson are all currently undecided and are still considering Kansas, and landing any one of them, or perhaps some combination of the three of them, would merely add gold stars to KU’s already stellar 2018 recruiting class.
Some of the usual suspects remain the Jayhawks’ top competition for all three perimeter players (Kentucky, Texas, Duke, etc.), but perhaps more important than convincing these young men that Kansas can offer them more than those other schools is Self’s ability to sell these players, and countless other future versions of them, that coming to Kansas to play in the backcourt means coming to a system that features freedom, flexibility and multiple paths to playing time.
In so many words, and not talking about any players specifically, Self explained this recently during a radio appearance on 1320 KLWN.
“I tell all our recruits, and I mean it, I want to recruit positionless players,” Self said. “Guys you can put out there and everybody can play with them.”
• KUSPORTS.COM QUIZ: Test your knowledge of the history of Allen Fieldhouse and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
The current KU team is full of examples of that, with Devonté Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Marcus Garrett all capable of playing multiple positions and in different lineups.
The 2016-17 team had a similar makeup, with Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson also adding versatility to the roster.
Although the past two KU teams have featured an abundance of these such players, the whole concept is far from new for Self.
Dating all the way back to his days at Illinois, with Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head, as well as to some of his earliest KU teams, including the 2008 national champions, with Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, Self has favored versatility in his backcourts.
“I never believed in kind of pigeon-holing a guy, saying he’s a one, a two, a three, a four or a five,” Self said. “I like to have guys where who you do the same thing for multiple guys on your team. Once you get into half-court offense, we ball screen for the three man, ball screen for the two man, we can ball screen for the four man like we did last year with Josh. I like that. I do think we’re a little versatile.”
Versatility means options. Options create uncomfortable afternoons for opponents. And uncomfortable afternoons for opponents often lead to Kansas victories. A lot of them.
“I think we’re going to be a little light at the point guard position,” Self said. “We’re gonna be counting on Devonté. But I am excited. I think this has a chance to be a very fun team.”
After closing out the exhibition season on Tuesday night at Fort Hays State, KU will get going for real when it welcomes Tennessee State to Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 10 before traveling to Chicago for the Champions-Classic clash with Kentucky on Nov. 14.
Now that it worked for Sports Illustrated and the Houston Astros, it seems like everybody is at least considering taking a shot at predicting the future.
The Astros, in case you don’t know, made good on a 2014 SI cover story that proclaimed them the 2017 World Series champs by knocking off the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of this year’s World Series on Wednesday night in L.A.
The win marked the first world championship for the Astros franchise, but, perhaps more notably, sent the rest of the sports world into absolute pandemonium over that 2014 Sports Illustrated cover.
Ebay and other such sites are currently selling that magazine for nearly $300 or more and its legend only figures to grow from here.
So how does this all relate to anything to do with KU Sports?
Well, thanks to Bryce Wood, a Washburn University graduate and Topeka native, we now know. Wood, a talented graphic designer who actually has done some freelance cover work for Sports Illustrated — including designing all four of this year’s NFL preview covers featuring Tom Brady, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt — took to Twitter (@woodymlb4) to release his own mock SI cover featuring none other than the Kansas football team.
Themed exactly like that Astros cover from 2014, with KU quarterback Carter Stanley in the center, it reads, “An unprecedented look at how a dynasty is forming to build the game’s next big thing.... Your 2018 National Champs. P.30”
On the other side of the magazine, below his name and behind Stanley, who has the ball cocked high and ready to throw, reads, “Haha Just Kidding.”
So, obviously, Wood, who considers himself a fan of KU sports, is not actually predicting this accomplishment, nor is he going out on the same kind of limb that Sports Illustrated did three years ago with that Astros prediction.
But it’s pretty funny nonetheless and it shows two things — 1. How some KU fans currently are dealing with the football team’s struggles. And 2. Just how big that SI cover has become.
With KU sitting at 1-7 in David Beaty's third season, it's hard to imagine things turning around so drastically for this cover prediction to become true. Then again, the Astros were coming off of three consecutive seasons with at least 105 losses (in 162 games) and were 36-48 at the time the cover hit newsstands.
Mitch Lightfoot, perhaps as much as any KU recruit in the past 10-15 years, was thrilled to become a Jayhawk and knew that the start of the 2016-17 season was merely the beginning of a long and enjoyable journey that would give him memories for life and make him a better basketball player.
And then the start of the season came and Lightfoot, because of foul trouble to KU’s regulars, found himself on the floor in crucial moments against big time programs like Indiana and Duke in marquee, showcase contests seen from coast to coast.
To say Lightfoot was not ready for those moments would be a bit of an understatement. But you never could tell from watching him out there, and his lack of experience had absolutely zero impact on his willingness to check in and see what he could do.
That was then. Now is different. And the expectations, both from Lightfoot himself and from the coaches of him, are much higher than they were a season ago.
Self has talked a lot since the end of the 2016-17 season about those moments that Lightfoot was throw onto the floor because of the team’s need. He has called them unfair and said Lightfoot never really got a chance to (a) get comfortable and adjust or (b) earn minutes because of KU’s need up front and the fact that Self and company shifted quickly to a four-guard lineup for much of last season.
Self wants the Jayhawks to return to the more common look of having two big men on the floor and Lightfoot will be a big part of that equation and whether Self will achieve his stated goal of playing two bigs “at least 50 percent of the time,” or if he’ll have to abandon the idea and play through his guards again.
Here’s a quick look at how Lightfoot might factor into answering that question.
He Will: Be the leader of the KU big men
Say what you will about Lightfoot’s size, strength, ability or experience. But don’t question his leadership skills.
Even as a freshman, Lightfoot was one of those loud voices who often could be heard screaming in practices or from the bench, trying to encourage teammates to keep fighting or to help through execute a play.
Because of the insane amount of leadership on last year’s team — namely Landen Lucas, Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson — Lightfoot’s voice often was drowned out or he simply yielded the floor to the upperclassmen.
That won’t be the case this year. Udoka Azubuike just turned 18 and does not have the luxury of being in uniform and available for a full season the way Lightfoot does. And Billy Preston is just a true freshman still trying to figure it all out in hopes of harnessing his enormous potential.
Both are better options in the frontcourt than Lightfoot in just about every way, but both will spend a fair amount of time looking to the sophomore from Gilbert, Arizona, for words of encouragement or the answers to the test, during games, in practices and in the huddle.
Even if his minutes don’t sky rocket and he’s not able to log a lot of court time, Lightfoot will be ready for this role.
He Won’t: Average more than 15 minutes per game
Even with Self interested in playing two big men more this year than he did a season ago, it’s hard to envision Lightfoot averaging more than 15 minutes of court time per game.
That’s because so much of KU’s talent is in its backcourt and Self, no doubt, will want to see guards Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Marcus Garrett log as many minutes as they can, therein giving KU a dangerous offensive lineup and putting serious pressure on opposing defenses to match up.
Because KU still will need to match up with its opponents, though, Lightfoot will play plenty and he’ll know exactly what to do when he’s in there — play hard, set screens, crash the glass and back down to nobody. Those traits all come naturally to the KU forward, who figures to get roughly 10-15 minute of rotation time and almost always will be on the floor at the end of games when the Jayhawks are closing out opponents in easy victories.
He Might: Increase his playing time if he can hit the outside shot
Lightfoot spent a ton of time this summer working on his outside shot and he has shown in exhibition games thus far a willingness to try to get the shot to fall.
That was particularly true in Italy, but, to Lightfoot’s credit, has not been the case during KU’s exhibition wins over Missouri and Pitt State.
Although he absolutely improved his jumper during all those solo hours in the gym, the skill has not translated to game settings just yet and Lightfoot, being the smart player he is, has started to back off of shooting the shots, electing instead to move the ball and get others involved.
If the jumper shows up, he could log a few more minutes as a stretch 4 of sorts for this team plagued by limited depth in the front court. If it doesn’t, the Jayhawks will be content with having Lightfoot execute all of those other subtle skills mentioned above.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman
Part V: • Udoka Azubuike
Part VI: • Billy Preston
Part VII: • Marcus Garrett
It’s unknown whether five-star, Class of 2018 prospect Zion Williamson will sign during the upcoming, early signing period — Nov. 8-15 — or wait until the spring, but the No. 2-ranked player in the class continues to draw plenty of attention from coaches on the recruiting trail.
Adam Zagoria, of zagsblog.com, reported on Tuesday that Williamson was slated to receive visits from coaches at Kentucky and Clemson on Tuesday and would be getting visits from coaches at Kansas and Duke today.
The No. 2-ranked player according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings recently wrapped up official visits to those four schools and North Carolina. The Spartanburg, S.C., prospect also is considering South Carolina, and recent reports have indicated that all of those schools remain very much alive in their hunt for the 6-foot-6, 270-pound monster forward.
Williamson visited KU for Late Night in the Phog a month ago and seemed to enjoy himself most when the students chanted his name right before Lil Yachty took the Allen Fieldhouse floor to entertain the crowd.
Since that time, he has taken visits to both Kentucky and North Carolina and many have speculated that his Kentucky visit was incredible and may have put the Wildcats in the lead.
Here’s a quick look at the recent read on Williamson’s recruiting from three analysts at 247 Sports:
• Jerry Meyer — "If I were a Kansas fan, I wouldn't feel good about landing Zion Williams. Kentucky appears to be in a strong position.”
• Andrew Slater — "Zion Williamson is the most murky of the options. The challenge for Kansas will be distance, which has been an issue for his mother, his closest confidant. As with Romeo (Langford), Kansas presents a tremendous platform to showcase his unique ability, combined with his relationship with Devon Dotson and their Adidas ties, which one would have to be naive to ignore.”
• Matt Scott — “To me, Zion is a perfect fit at Kansas. Coach Self only needs to point to Josh Jackson when showing Zion what he can do with a versatile wing. Jackson played the 1-4 position at Kansas. He did that in one game. Zion, in my opinion, can do many of the same things we saw Jackson do. Over the next few months I think rumors will come and go about what school leads. I know Kansas is in the race and has done a terrific job in recruiting Zion to Kansas. It could be a month from now or well into the spring before we know his decision, but if Kansas lands Quentin Grimes to go along with Devon Dotson, chances could improve.”
According to Scott, KU coaches also are expected to check in on shooting guard Romeo Langford on Wednesday.
Langford made his official visit to KU last weekend and is closing in on a decision, with Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt seemingly the leaders at this point.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 100-54 victory over Pittsburg State in the Jayhawks’ exhibition home opener Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
If not for a little lull midway through the first half during which Pitt State delivered a 14-1 run and Kansas showed a batch of bad decision making, this grade probably would be higher. KU played fast, hit the glass, went inside to Udoka Azubuike often and looked like a group that has spent some time playing together.
Thanks largely to their work on the glass, the KU defense put forth exactly the kind of effort you would expect in an exhibition game against an overmatched team. PSU shot just 31 for the game and did not reach double figures on the scoreboard until nearly 11 minutes had gone by.
Udoka Azubuike labored more than he should have (even if his final numbers of 17 points and 14 rebounds doesn't reflect that) but emphasized getting on the glass and Billy Preston (10 points on 5-of-5 shooting) flashed some pretty memorable moments, earning the start in the second half.
Lightning quick and unselfish as all get-out, the KU guards were as good as head coach Bill Self has been saying they are, paving the way for the vicious blowout from the opening tip. Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all reached double digits, while Devonte' Graham added six points, six rebounds and five assists.
Preston, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot all showed a clear understanding of their roles, which can be rare this early in a season and can be incredibly valuable for a team that has as much talent as this Kansas team.
It’s no secret that Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has high expectations for his teams and players in just about every way imaginable.
But Monday, a few minutes ahead of KU’s final practice before returning to Allen Fieldhouse in front of a live studio audience for tonight’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Pitt State, Self acknowledged something about his standards that he doesn’t always concede.
“I think we’re behind,” Self told reporters Monday. “But I told our guys I need to be realistic in what I expect. I don’t think we’re doing poorly, I just think that we’re probably where most young kids probably should be, but that’s just not quite good enough.”
With that, anyone listening and everyone reading got a very real glimpse into the mind of Bill Self, who gave the answer in reply to a question about where the 2017-18 team stood at this point in the season compared to teams from the past.
“I don’t know that we’re really ahead of schedule on anything, to be honest,” he added.
That’s not to say the 2017-18 team is in bad position or that the Jayhawks are going to struggle at times this season. They could. But Self’s statements were more reflective of exactly what this team is being asked to do. Moving on from big, strong, talented leaders like Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas and Josh Jackson will not be easy.
And even though Self paid senior point guard Devonte’ Graham the ultimate compliment on Monday — saying Graham gives KU, “a more natural leader this year than we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever since I’ve been here, as far as by example and verbally,” — that does not mean that the aches and pains that come with putting a new team together will disappear.
They may not show up tonight against Pitt State. Although, they certainly could in some areas. But no matter how much talent this team has, it’s not as if Self can just snap his fingers and, poof!, you’re looking at another 30-win team. It will take time. There will be ups and downs. And even though some important pieces returned to the KU bench, the early going still figures to be full of growing pains.
“I think there are some things that we do from a skill set standpoint that are good,” Self said. “I do think we can be a good 3-point shooting team and I do think we can be a pretty good passing team. But as far as defensive positioning, creating havoc, stealing extra possessions — things that I really think are important — I don’t think we’re very good and we’re behind in those areas.
“Also, to be fair, we’re comparing Frank and Josh and Landen to Udoka (Azubuike), Billy (Preston) and Malik (Newman), which, from a talent standpoint, over time, yeah, that’s OK. But you’re taking veterans: fifth-year guy, four-year guy and then maybe the biggest dog in college basketball as a freshman last year. I mean, he was an assassin. And we’re comparing them to guys that aren’t ready to be that yet.”
Yet is the key word in that last sentence. And like so many teams and players who have come before them, this group figures to benefit a great deal from the coaching it will receive, day in and day out, from Self and his staff, whose high expectations and standards make life tough for the Jayhawks but also make the Jayhawks perennial winners.
Another journey begins tonight.