Last weekend marked the end of college basketball's latest open evaluation period. And it might have marked the end of an era.
If passed next week, a series of proposed rule changes could change the recruiting scene as we know it for both college coaches and the prospects they're watching.
But who will the rule changes benefit? And why?
In my latest weekly segment with Rock Chalk Sports Talk host Nick Schwerdt, we dive into that and look into how that might impact Kansas recruiting as well as talented and under-the-radar prospects all across the country.
Included in this week's spot is talk about KU freshman Quentin Grimes and whether or not the claims from a few college coaches on the recruiting trail this summer that Grimes could be the best all-around player in all of college basketball next season hold any water.
Listen to the full segment below.
By now, you've all read a dozen different places, and probably at least that many times, about how talented KU's incoming recruiting class really is.
From five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson to beast big man David McCormack and under-the-radar potential steal Ochai Agbaji, Bill Self and company put together a deep and complete group that will go a long way toward softening the blow of having to replace three starters and all kinds of production from the 2017-18 Final Four team in KU’s quest to push its Big 12 title streak to 15 and get back into the national title picture in 2018-19.
But just what does that all mean?
Well, that remains to be seen and won't truly show up until game nights next season, when Grimes, Dotson, McCormack and Agbaji, along with the returning Jayhawks, are out there doing their thing and showing what they can do.
And while we got a brief glimpse this summer into how these guys look in crimson and blue, there are a handful of people out there who have seen them play much more often than those of us who cover the team or follow the Jayhawks in Lawrence or elsewhere.
One such person is Paul Biancardi, a former college coach and current National Director of Recruiting for the ESPN 100 rankings.
Over the next three days, we’ll bring you Biancardi’s thoughts from years of scouting each of KU’s Top 40 freshmen at AAU events and all-star games — No. 8 Quentin Grimes, No. 20 Devon Dotson and No. 35 David McCormack.
First up: PG Devon Dotson.
This spring, when the prep all-star scene was moving fast and furious, Biancardi listed Dotson as one of the four of five best dime droppers in the 2018 recruiting class. But, as it turns out, Biancardi believes Dotson actually belongs on a few lists.
“There’s three things I think Dotson does real well,” Biancardi told the Journal-World. “He can drop a dime, he can drive it and he defends.”
If that doesn’t sound like a player who was meant to team up with Bill Self, I don’t know what does. And Biancardi believes that Self will love just about everything about Dotson, which, if the freshman from Charlotte winds up functioning as the Jayhawks’ primary point guard, will be huge for the 2018-19 team’s chances of contending for a national title.
“It’s everything for every program,” Biancardi said of having a point guard a coach can trust. “The point guard is the leader of the team whether he likes to be or not. And he’s the communicator of the team. He gives the team what it needs and he does what the coach wants. That’s a tough role.”
Time has proven that it’s tougher for a Self pupil than just about anybody because the Kansas coach demands so much from his point guards and yet, at the same time, puts so much trust in them to run the show on instincts and effort rather than always looking to the bench for someone to show him the way.
If Dotson, who turned 19 today, shows early that he can do that, it will become extremely difficult to keep the hard-charging, ultra-confident and extremely competitive point guard off the floor.
“That’s the biggest position on the court in terms of the learning curve,” Biancardi said. “But I’m close to him here. We’re both in Charlotte so I know him fairly well. He played for an outstanding coach at Providence Day and I think that has a lot to do with his growth. He’s very well coached, not just in the game but also in communication and leadership.”
Now that Sam Cunliffe is gone and the Kansas basketball roster appears to be set for the 2018-19 season, we can take a deeper look at what’s ahead for the upcoming season, the rotation and each individual player.
The Jayhawks recently wrapped up the second of two summer school sessions and will go their separate ways for the next few weeks before reporting back to campus before the start of the fall semester on Aug. 20.
It’s been years since Bill Self has opened a fall semester with a team this deep, and that, as you surely have read plenty of times by now, should give Self plenty of options for how to handle playing time and distribute the minutes.
I recently conducted a few Twitter polls to find out who KU fans think should — not will but should — start at each position.
After taking a bit of a beating for even asking who should start at Center — Udoka Azubuike was the obvious answer and is the right choice, but the question had to be asked to complete the exercise — I finally got the polls finished and discovered some interesting information among the not-so-surprising results.
PG – Charlie Moore (45%) — Devon Dotson (37%)
SG – Quentin Grimes (87%) — Devon Dotson (7%)
SF – Lagerald Vick (62%) — Quentin Grimes (18%)
PF – Dedric Lawson (81%) — Silvio De Sousa (13%)
C – Udoka Azubuike (94%) — 3 tied at 2%
The fact that Azubuike was not unanimous was a bit of a surprise. Nearly 200 of the almost 3,000 people who voted in the polls picked Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack or Dedric Lawson to start at Center instead of ’Dok.
Quentin Grimes at the 2 was almost as overwhelming a pick as Azubuike at the 5. And Vick and Dedric Lawson, somewhat predictably, also ran away with their polls, as well.
The point guard poll was by far the most interesting and Grimes even managed to earn 11 percent of the 1,500 votes counted there.
The thing about Grimes that’s most interesting is he could legitimately play any of the three spots for which he received votes. He has the talent and the skill set to play all three positions and, in Self’s system, those parts are so often interchangeable that he might actually get a chance to run at each spot.
Still, for my money, Grimes is best suited at the 2, where he can play with the ball in his hands and off the ball and count on someone else being a primary ball handler.
My vote for the starting five has not changed in the past several weeks: Dotson, Grimes, Garrett, D. Lawson, Azubuike.
Whether that’s what it ends up being or not, it seems fairly safe to say that those five will be on the floor together plenty during the 2018-19 season.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look — as of July 30, 2018 — at how things might break down for each player and his role with the 2018-19 Jayhawks.
There has been plenty of talk among the fan base about inevitable redshirts, and one or two guys still could find himself on that path during the upcoming season. But if you made me guess today, I’d say that it will be a max of one player redshirting, with junior forward Mitch Lightfoot as your leading candidate.
More on that in a minute. Let’s start in the back court and go in alphabetical order.
• Ochai Agbaji – Everything I’ve heard about the freshman from Kansas City thus far points to immediate playing time. Initially viewed as an automatic redshirt candidate, Agbaji has been better this summer than many people expected and could enter the fall semester with a real opportunity to carve out a role on this team. I won’t be shocked if he redshirts and it might wind up being the best thing for him in the long run. But it’s far from a given. The kid can play and he’ll get a real chance to earn a spot in the rotation.
• Devon Dotson – The reason I like Dotson as my starting point guard is because he’s one of the only guys on this roster who can get by his defender and attack the rim off the dribble. Moore is lightning quick and can get by guys, but finishing at the rim isn’t his strong suit. Vick, who showed improvement in that department last year, still is more of a slasher and gets to the rim that way rather than beating guys off the dribble. And Grimes and Garrett both have the ability to put the ball down, but neither is as explosive as Dotson when he gets to the rim and absorbs contact.
• Marcus Garrett – I love everything that Marcus Garrett stands for and have him in my starting lineup because of all of the little things he does for a team. He has a chance to be KU’s best defender, regardless of position, and he learned a ton from being thrown into the fire as a true freshman. Add to that the fact that he no doubt will be an improved product in every imaginable way and you’re looking at a player with great size and good athleticism, who is ready to take the next step.
• Quentin Grimes – National college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein recently Tweeted that “many college coaches” have told him that Grimes could wind up as the nation’s best overall player during the 2018-19 season. That’s a high bar, but one that the versatile and crazy-talented Grimes seems capable of reaching. Even more impressive is the fact he also seems more than prepared to handle the pressure and spotlight that could come with such a role.
• Charlie Moore – Despite his size — Moore is listed at 5-foot-11, but seems, to me, to be an inch or two shorter — Moore has more all-around game than that of just a point guard. Throughout his life, both during his freshman season at Cal, where he ranked second on the team at 12.2 points per game and shot 35 percent from 3-point range, and as a high school star in Chicago, Moore has been known as someone who can put the ball in the basket. That foundation gives him an opportunity to find playing time in a bunch of different spots at Kansas, regardless of who’s playing point and who isn’t. Moore’s 3-point shot was the most consistent of the bunch during the open summer scrimmages back in June. And his confidence, from being in his third year in college and having played with and learned from Devonte’ Graham, is at an all-time high.
• Lagerald Vick – Call me crazy, but I still don’t think Vick will start. I do, however, think he’ll play plenty of minutes and be a nasty weapon off the bench, but I think there are more steady options who Self can start, which will fit in nicely with Vick moving into a new role and becoming a different player. Energy and effort will be most important for Vick, and, kind of like with a line change in hockey, coming in off the bench will give Vick the opportunity to go out there and unleash all of that energy and athleticism on the opponent without worrying about having to play 35 minutes a night. Having said all that, if Vick is clearly one of the best three guards in the preseason, I’m sure he’ll get a long look at starting. I’m just betting it’ll play out differently and Vick will be one of those ridiculous, only-at-Kansas type of luxuries on the bench.
Now let’s move to the front court...
• Udoka Azubuike – As mentioned above, it’s crystal clear that Azubuike has the easiest path to a starting spot of maybe anybody on the team. And he will be the Jayhawks starting 5 when KU lines up against Michigan State on Nov. 6 at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Beyond that, the rest is up to Azubuike. If the big fella who tested the NBA waters and wanted to leave this offseason dedicates himself, mentally and physically, to taking his game to a new level, he’ll be hard to keep off the floor. If he’s the same player who we’ve seen during his first two seasons at KU, however, Self now has options behind him and could elect to use Azubuike in chunks while rotating others into the lineup to go smaller, play faster or give Azubuike some rest.
• Silvio De Sousa – All signs as of now point to De Sousa being available for the 2018-19 season. After all, the season opener is now just 99 days away and the FBI investigation in which De Sousa’s recruitment is a popular topic, remains ongoing. Assuming he plays, you can expect to see De Sousa pick up where he left off during his first semester as a Jayhawk. By the time the tournament rolled around, De Sousa was a huge part of the Final Four-bound Jayhawks, giving KU another big body inside and allowing Azubuike to rest and sit with foul trouble. De Sousa’s dedication to getting better this summer has matched the speed at which he figured out how to play the college game. So as long as he’s out there, you should see a player capable of putting up big stats in a limited number of minutes simply because he’s so well-rounded, so hungry and will enter his sophomore season with a much better understanding of what it takes to play at KU and succeed in college.
• Dedric Lawson – He may never wow you with high-flying, explosive plays, but a quick glance at his stats after each game surely will. Lawson has the ability to fill up a stat sheet even when it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much, and his perimeter game combined with his size and length will make him a handful for opponents all year long. Lawson seems like a lock to start at the 4 and he’ll be a guy that KU runs a lot of its offense through. The big question for just how much he’ll play comes on the other end, where he’ll have to be turned up and engaged defensively if he wants to top 30 minutes a game. Remember, Self has options on that bench of his now. And he won’t be afraid to use them.
• K.J. Lawson – He considers himself a guard, but his body might play a little more like a forward. Beyond that, this Lawson was the Jayhawks’ leading rebounder last summer in Italy. His shot looks good and has gotten better. He looks more comfortable than ever. And his length and quickness also can lead to mismatches all over the floor. It’s hard to know how many minutes he’ll play per night — he started 31 of 32 games and played 34 minutes per night while averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds per game during his last season at Memphis — but no one’s wondering whether Lawson will play.
• Mitch Lightfoot – Arguably the best leader at any position on this roster, Lightfoot certainly seems like an easy candidate to redshirt. But on a team where leadership is so important given the amount of newcomers and first-year guys out there, it would not surprise me one bit if Lightfoot actually plays his junior year. In terms of what’s best for him, the easy choice would be to redshirt and stick around for two more seasons after this one. But Lightfoot has never been about what’s best for him. It’s all about the team with this guy, and if Self says he wants him out there for a few minutes a game so he can keep him engaged as a key piece and crucial leader, then Lightfoot will do what coach asks. It’s been said, across all sports, that it’s tough to be a leader if you’re not actually playing. So if the leadership piece is a key part of Lightfoot’s role, it would not be a surprise to see him play limited minutes at the 3 or 4 as part of KU’s monster rotation.
• David McCormack – If you’ve seen or read anything about McCormack this summer, you know this guy is going to play. Whether it’s a few minutes here and there or legit rotation-type minutes as one of the primary back-ups to KU’s big men, McCormack’s combination of size, strength and extreme focus make him the perfect player to bring off the bench. Just when the opponents get worn out by having to deal with Azubuike and Lawson, boom!!!, you bring this guy in and instead of smiling about a potential break against the second-stringer, opposing big men will cringe when they see what’s walking toward them. Think about it. If Dedric Lawson and Azubuike start up front, as expected, the Jayhawks will have De Sousa and McCormack as their backups. That’s a duo that most teams in the country would love to start. And that depth up front is a big part of the reason Kansas is viewed as absolutely loaded entering the 2018-19 season. It’s hard to know right now what expectations to put on McCormack in terms of stats. But I know that his expectation for himself will be to give 100 percent every time he’s out there and do everything he can to help the team win and push his teammates to get better.
As you can see by that breakdown, it’s not going to be easy to redshirt any of these guys, partly because all of them can play and partly because all of them have in their sights a clear role that they could fill.
At the same time, it’s not going to be easy to play all 12 of them either. We all know that Self prefers to play an eight- or nine-man rotation. But we also all know that Self used to prefer to play two bigs all of the time and he went away from that during the past two seasons because of his personnel.
So maybe he’ll adjust again — albeit differently — to his personnel this time around and find a way to get all of these guys on the floor while keeping the minutes down and the bodies fresh throughout the season.
How it all plays out remains to be seen and certainly will be fun to watch. But there’s no doubt today that having a roster that is legitimately 12 deep is one of those good problems for which coaches would give almost anything to have.
One of the big factors in former KU guard Sam Cunliffe's decision to leave Kansas was the desire to get closer to home.
Eight days after announcing his departure from Lawrence, Cunliffe is closing in on making that happen.
According to a source familiar with Cunliffe’s plans, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound guard from Seattle, who made a stop at Arizona State before coming to Kansas, is eyeing a return to the Pac-12 for the final three years of his college career.
The source said Cunliffe has identified the University of Washington as his top choice and added that he is in the process of trying to make the move happen.
Cunliffe, who will sit out the 2018-19 season and have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2019-20, also has considered Pepperdine and a couple of other programs in the Northwest.
The Huskies had just two seniors on the 2017-18 team that beat KU at Sprint Center last December, but saw those two and four other players leave the program since the end of the 2017-18 season. Three of the four nonseniors left to transfer and four of the six departures were guards.
Washington coach Mike Hopkins was prepared for the departures, lining up a five-man haul in the Class of 2018 that ranked No. 32 in the nation according to Rivals.com to fill the spots. But only one of UW’s five incoming freshmen is a guard and none of the newcomers play Cunliffe’s position.
Therefore, adding Cunliffe, in terms of position and the open scholarship, would make sense, provided the Huskies coaching staff believes he would fit with their program.
According to the Rivals.com database, Washington was one of eight programs to offer Cunliffe a scholarship out of high school, back when he was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2016, ranked No. 36 nationally.
That offer came with former UW coach Lorenzo Romar (now at Pepperdine) leading the Huskies. Romar assistant coach Will Conroy stayed on with Hopkins and remains on the current UW coaching staff.
Let the speculation begin.
At 3 p.m. Monday afternoon on everyone’s favorite social media recruiting site, Class of 2019 forward D.J. Jeffries Tweeted that he was de-committing from Kentucky and planned to reopen his recruitment.
“After careful consideration prayer and countless hours of consulting with my family I decided to reopen recruitment,” Jeffries wrote. “It was a hard decision but I am confident that taking my time to choose the right school for me, to better myself educationally and athletically, is the right choice.”
Jeffries, who committed to John Calipari’s Kentucky program in mid-March, is the cousin of KU forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson.
Some speculated at the time of the Lawson Brothers’ announcement that they were transferring to Kansas that the move could open the door for Jeffries and the two younger Lawson brothers, Chandler and Jonathan, to follow them to KU.
Whether that’s what’s happening here remains to be seen, but it’s worth pointing out that Jeffries once played for Team Penny, as in current Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, on Nike’s EYBL circuit, and it’s just as likely that Jeffries’ decision could be clearing the way for a move to Memphis as it is a move for Kansas.
Jeffries currently plays for Bluff City, which features 7-foot center James Wiseman, a Memphis native ranked No. 3 by Rivals in the Class of 2019, who many believe is on his way to a recruiting showdown between Kentucky and Memphis.
Wrote Rivals analyst Eric Bossi of Jeffries following the Peach Jam earlier this summer: “He's playing harder than ever, has improved by leaps and bounds as a jump shooter and most importantly he's finding ways to make winning plays.”
Listed by Rivals.com as a 6-foot-7, 200-pound power forward, Jeffries currently is ranked No. 46 nationally on the Rivals 150. But his solid spring/summer AAU session may have him on the rise.
According to the Rivals data base, KU was one of 16 programs to offer Jeffries a scholarship before he chose Kentucky.
Now, with his recruitment back open, it’ll be interesting to see if that list grows or if Jeffries picks from the 15 other programs who were on him the first time around.
Scenes that, 10 years ago, would have made people on both sides of the Border War cringe, instead produced a whole lot of smiles on Saturday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Mo.
And before you cringe just reading that sentence, let's take a minute to consider exactly what went down.
Heading into the Rivalry Renewed MU/KU alumni charity basketball game, which KU won, 109-101, the expectations from yours truly were low. Not only was I certain that this game was not going to come close to touching the spirit of the old Border War days, I also was not expecting it to even be in the same ballpark as the KU-MU exhibition for hurricane relief last fall at Sprint Center.
And in terms of action on the court, it wasn’t.
Brandon Rush was sensational. Mario Chalmers brought his swagger and splash. And Travis Releford looked like the youngest, most in shape player on either side that he was.
But this game was not about who was in the best shape, who looked the toughest or who could defend the best and score most efficiently. This game was about memories.
Most were good. Some were bad. And I’d be lying to you if I said that players on both sides were not whining about the officials or complaining about that one call or play from all those years ago.
But there was no venom attached to either.
The momentary intensity was almost immediately broken by laughter. Even during the action. And, as much as these guys all wanted to win to give their respective fan bases a small, microscopic, free throw in the first five minutes dose of bragging rights, they all knew the reason for participating in the game in the first place was to get together for a good cause and have some fun doing it.
And there was a lot of fun to be had. Saturday night’s Rivalry Renewed game turned out to be a pretty impressive event. Former Tiger Kareem Rush, Rivalry Renewed point man Steve Gardner and the rest of the organizers and sponsors put a lot of time and effort into making it a first-class event. And it was. The venue was great. Things ran smoothly. The whole thing was as much about entertainment as it was basketball.
The players enjoyed themselves immensely and the fans — even those who entered as skeptics — walked away thinking the night was even better than they had imagined.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re always going to have the die-hards who refuse to budge. And there were a few of those in attendance at the game. They made themselves known by throwing their arms up at an official’s call or a play by their hated rivals. But, truth be told, this game would not have felt right without them.
Even though the game had a class reunion feel for the players, it still meant a lot to the people who paid attention to it, as well.
On Twitter and various message boards after the game, KU fans puffed out their proverbial chests and boasted about how order had been restored and KU proved, yet again, that it was the superior school.
Had the Tigers won, the victory, no doubt, would have done enough in the eyes of Mizzou fans to erase what happened at Allen Fieldhouse in 2012 or last fall at Sprint Center.
Who cares if either side was right? All that matters is that they do it again and grow it into something even better. Consider this: Former KU great Frank Mason III, who never got to play in the rivalry, showed up on Saturday night just to watch so he could experience it for himself on some level.
Now that the first one is out of the way, it’s not hard to envision more players wanting to become involved in the future and more fans filling the stands, as well.
Someday, Gardner said, they hope to sell out Silverstein Arena, which might force them to move to Sprint Center. Hey, why not dream big? After all, the bigger this thing gets, the closer it might bring us to that real Border War feel.
The KU-MU battles that we all once knew and loved may never return. But even if they do, having Mizzou in the SEC and KU in the Big 12 forever will make it hard to create anything like we used to know.
But this rivalry and its rich and unparalleled history is too important to just let it fade away. Games like Saturday night’s play a small part in keeping it alive, and that’s a good thing, hatred and all.
It’s Border War time in Kansas City again and Jayhawks and Tigers everywhere have people on both sides of the storied rivalry to thank.
At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Mo., nearly 20 former KU and MU players will get together for what’s being dubbed “Rivalry Renewed,” a game between alums that will be for both bragging rights and charity.
The game came about when Steve Gardner, a 1991 KU graduate and die-hard Kansas fan, was contacted by former Missouri standout Kareem Rush about putting the game together.
The two have a mutual friend who lives in Los Angeles and after Rush mentioned the idea to him a couple of years ago, the friend told Rush he should get in touch with Gardner. Rush did and, a year and a half later, the two are on the brink of the first of what Gardner hopes will be many summers of Rivalry Renewed type games.
“This is something that has been on the radar and talked about and we’ve gone back and forth on for a while,” Gardner said in a Friday interview with the Journal-World. “And now it’s here. We’re thrilled and we’re ready to go.”
KU and MU, of course, have not met in an official college basketball game since KU's epic comeback victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 25, 2012, when the Jayhawks stormed back from 19 down in the second half to win in overtime.
Last September, the two teams got together for an exhibition game at Sprint Center — also won by KU — to raise money for hurricane relief. At least for now, after Missouri's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, it's exhibitions and games like Saturday's that will have to satisfy the Border War cravings of KU and MU fans.
Gardner, who has more than 20 years of experience in the sports agency world, putting on events that feature pro athlete speakers, said there was some uncertainty early on about whether the game would actually happen this summer or if they would have to put it off until a year from now. But once Intercom came on board and helped promote and market the game, a couple of sponsors followed and things went fast and furious from there.
Gardner said they already have sold more than 2,500 tickets for the event and the majority of the money raised — after expenses — will go to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City, the This Too Shall Pass charity and Rush’s Rush Forward Foundation.
General Admission tickets are $38 apiece and VIP tickets, which include admission to the game and a VIP event at Harrah’s Casino from 7-10 p.m. on Friday night are $129 apiece.
The goal, Gardner said, was to raise $20,000 for the charities and between the game and the VIP event, which also will feature a silent auction hosted by former KU great Calvin Thompson. Gardner said he believes they are well on their way to reaching that goal.
The game, which will be broadcast live on 610 Sports Radio, will feature regular college rules, 20-minute halves, referees, ball boys and “even people to wipe up the sweat on the floor.”
“They’re going to get after it,” Gardner said. “But we may give the guys just a touch longer during timeouts to catch their breath.”
Former KU guard Sherron Collins, who recently was a special guest at Frank Mason's camp in Lawrence, was hoping to play, but, as of Friday, Gardner was not sure whether Collins would suit up.
“I’ll probably play," Collins told reporters at the Mason camp. "Too much of a competitor to sit out, especially a Mizzou game.”
If the game were featuring anyone other than Missouri as the opponent, Collins probably would pass.
"There isn’t another way to put it, I just hate those guys," he said. "I hate everything about Mizzou. There is a kid from Chicago that is going to Mizzou, I know him real well. I just told him I can’t support him. I just hate them, I hate everything about them. I hate going there, I hate them coming here. I feel like K-State was a rivalry, but it was more of a respected rivalry. I just don’t like (Mizzou).”
Regardless of what Collins elects to do, the rest of the KU squad will feature Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson, Travis Releford, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Jeff Hawkins, Jeff Graves, Nick Bradford as a player/coach and maybe one or two more.
The MU group will include: Kareem Rush, Keyon Dooling, Rickey Paulding, Leo Lyons, Johnnie Parker, Jevon Crudup, Stefhon Hannah and more.
“When we first started planning this, we were thinking if we could sell 1,500 tickets, that would be great,” Gardner said. “So we’re well past that goal and really looking forward to having some fun. Being a KU guy, and even with Kareem being my business partner, I certainly think we’re going to beat them pretty good.”
Out in Southern California last weekend for yet another AAU event, Class of 2019 power forward Chandler Lawson, the younger brother of current Kansas players Dedric and K.J. Lawson, took a break from the action to discuss his game and his recruitment with a handful of reporters.
KUsports.com recruiting insider Matt Scott got ahold of that interview and received a little more insight into where the 6-foot-8, 200-pound prospect’s mind is heading into the final week of July.
“My recruiting’s going very well,” Lawson told a group of reporters, noting that Kansas, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Florida, Illinois and “a lot of SEC schools” had made the most contact with him thus far.
Lawson said his interactions with the KU coaching staff thus far had been as much about his siblings as his own status.
“They’re just telling me a lot about my brothers and to just keep on playing hard and keep on working hard,” said Lawson, who not only looks a lot like the two Jayhawks, but also sounds nearly identical to Dedric Lawson during interviews.
The younger Lawson, who labeled his versatility as his biggest strength, said he had been working on his guard skills and his back-to-the-basket game a lot this summer.
As for his plans for how the rest of his recruitment would play out, the four-star prospect, ranked No. 86 in the Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, admitted to being pretty go with the flow about the whole thing.
“I don’t really know,” he said when asked if he had a time frame or process in mind. “I’m just going to pick.”
Regardless of when or how that happens, it’s clear that Kansas will have a shot to be in the mix.
“Coach (Bill) Self, he’s a Hall of Famer. I like him. He’s hard-nosed,” Lawson said. “It’s a big thing having my (brothers) there, because they can teach me a lot about the game and tell me how college is going to be when I get there."
Chandler Lawson, recently announced on Twitter that he will play his senior season at famed Oak Hill Academy, the same school that produced recent KU big men Billy Preston and David McCormack.
The most noteworthy aspect of the move to Oak Hill, however, is why it happened in the first place.
After playing for former NBA and Memphis State star Penny Hardaway for three seasons at Memphis’ East High — yes, Memphis was actually known as Memphis State when Penny played there — Hardaway left the school to become the new head coach at Memphis.
While that move clearly figures to make Memphis an attractive option for Chandler when it comes time to pick a college, the move out of Memphis will give him a year to experience life out of his hometown.
If he likes it and wants to join a blue blood program where he could possibly play with one or both of his older brothers, KU would certainly seem like the perfect option.
If he misses it and realizes that home is where the heart is, Hardaway could be in position to land Chandler as his big splash recruit — Chandler is in the Top 100 right now and could easily continue to rise — and begin to repair some of the wounds that inspired talented players like Dedric and K.J. to leave Memphis to begin with.
The belief around the city of Memphis is that Hardaway is exactly what the program needs to get back on track. Adding a player like Chandler — which could only help in Memphis’ pursuit of the youngest Lawson brother, Jonathan, a Class of 2021 forward — no doubt would generate some serious buzz within the Memphis basketball scene.
It’s far too early to tell if this is a Memphis vs. Kansas, Hardaway vs. Self type of recruiting battle. But if it is, each coach and program has its own built-in advantages.
Former Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe, who announced on Monday that he would transfer before the start of the 2018-19 season, left the program in about as clean and classy a manner as imaginable.
And he did it with a genuine touch.
So often when these types of situations arise, the player leaving will team with a media relations staff member to cobble together some kind of quote that makes both him and the university look good but sounds an awful lot like so many farewell quotes that came before it.
You can spot them a mile away. They sound sterile, rehearsed and not at all like language anyone would actually use to convey such a decision.
And they don’t include phrases like “cool with” and “bad blood.”
But there’s a reason Cunliffe’s did. They came straight from the horse’s mouth and it was important to the Seattle native who now is in search of a new home to express himself in a way that captured exactly how he felt.
Cunliffe was leaving and choosing to do so on his own. And there’s little doubting that it was absolutely the right decision for him and his basketball future. But none of that made it an easy move.
Cunliffe loved it here. He loved the program. He loved the coaches. He loved the fans. He loved the uniform, the practice gear, the smell of the gym and even all of the aches and pains — physical and mental — that came with playing at KU.
Monday afternoon, shortly after his news became public, Cunliffe explained all of that — and more — with gleaming clarity during a phone call with the Journal-World.
When asked what KU memory jumps out as his favorite, Cunliffe could not narrow the experience down to one.
“Just being here and all the love and care I got from each and every one of the coaches and the faculty members,” he said. “With everyone around me, I just felt like I was being taken care of and that really meant a lot to me. That side of the bargain stood all the way.”
The basketball side of things worked out pretty well, too, even though Cunliffe, in a little less than two years on campus, played in just 15 games and barely registered as more than a blip on the KU basketball radar screen.
“Every time I stepped on the practice court, I really felt they were always trying to make me better even though I wasn’t even playing that much,” he explained. “Just learning how to play the game, doing everything and understanding how to look at things during the game from a different perspective was big. Coach Self brings so much knowledge and I just learned so much from him.”
So much, in fact, that Cunliffe, in a strange way, feels like leaving Kansas is what it will take to allow him to prove that he had what it took to play at Kansas.
His confidence, which has never been an issue for the former Top 40 prospect, never wavered during the phone call. He believes he can play. He believes he still has a lot of basketball ahead of him. And he believes that the work he will put in will lead to some amazing things in his life. He also sees that his time at Kansas — the lessons he learned and the ways he evolved while in Lawrence — is to thank for that.
“This whole experience has gotten me so ready to play at any level of college basketball I could possibly want to play at,” Cunliffe said.
More than that, though, it has shaped him into a new person, who respects the game and all of the experiences that come from it far more than ever before.
That, as much as anything, is what Cunliffe was searching for when he decided to leave Arizona State two winters ago. And he found it at Kansas, even if actually playing wasn’t part of the equation.
“I’ve grown here as a person,” he said. “And that means so much more to me than just saying that. Being here, you really feel like you get automatic respect just for wearing the jersey. You represent something so much bigger than basketball here. Kansas basketball is something people across the whole state, and really the whole country, really cherish. I’m very thankful to have been a part of it and I will always have so much love for this place.”
When it comes to following the Kansas men’s basketball program, it’s hard to argue that there is anything more exciting than November through March, that five-month stretch each year when KU makes its latest run at a national title and has a little fun in the Big 12 Conference along the way.
But just because the games end in early April and the on-the-court action remains dormant for the next several months does not mean the action stops.
For years here at The Journal-World and KUsports.com, we’ve done our absolute best to keep you in tune with what’s happening with the program year round. New players arrive, old players move on to new adventures — in and out of basketball — and alums, former coaches and even current and former rivals all bring interesting stories to the offseason.
But today, thanks to the newest addition to our KUsports.com team, the offseason figures to be more exciting and action-packed than ever for our readers.
I’d like to be the first to introduce you all to Matt Scott, our new, in-house recruiting insider here at KUsports.com. Matt, a KU alum, has been covering the KU program for 10 years, with a specific eye on recruiting the entire time.
His connections have allowed him to gain some of the best access and bring some of the most interesting stories in recruiting to the various sites he has worked for throughout the years.
It began with a site Matt started, known as TheShiver.com, which went through various associations with ESPN, 247 Sports and others, and now we’re bringing that coverage to KUsports.com.
Matt’s sole focus with our site, for as long as we can stand to put up with him, will be to follow KU men’s basketball recruiting 365 days a year. He will do this through interviews, attendance at high school and AAU games and tournaments, phone calls and texts and, of course, lots and lots of video and Twitter.
Despite his know-it-all persona, Matt actually has been known to be wrong from time to time. But he always brings you his honest thoughts and the best/most accurate information he can gather on what’s happening with the players KU is targeting and fans are following.
During his time with the 247 Sports network, Matt hit on better than 90 percent of his KU Crystal Ball predictions. He also delivered breaking recruiting news and up-to-date information on visits, reactions and the plans held by some of the biggest names of KU’s most recent past — Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Josh Selby and dozens more.
There was that one time, fairly recently, when Matt was schooled by a recruiting novice in the Silvio De Sousa recruitment (wink, wink), but after we broke that story here on KUsports.com, Matt was the first person I heard from telling me congrats on the scoop. Now that we’re teaming up, it should be fun to push each other and battle for bragging rights in the recruiting game along the way.
Here’s what you need to know about Matt’s coverage as things stand today: It’s going to be provided in addition to what we already do. I’ll still be doing my thing with regard to following KU basketball recruiting, tracking down players when I can, analyzing movement and breaking down what KU coach Bill Self and his staff might be thinking or doing with a particular player or a complete recruiting class. But Matt will be the one bringing you the play-by-play, as it happens, along the way.
We’re confident that his addition to our staff will take our KU basketball coverage to another level and look forward to him getting started, full-speed-ahead, over the next couple of weeks with back-to-back Hardwood Classic recruiting sessions right here in Lawrence the next couple of weekends out at Sports Pavilion Lawrence along with the Jayhawk Summer Finale in Overland Park in late July.
So please join me in welcoming Matt to the KUsports.com community. And if you’re not already following him on Twitter be sure to check him out at @KUTheShiver.
Also be on the lookout for his regular blog entries — “KU Basketball Recruiting Scoop with Matt Scott” — videos, podcasts and prospect updates on our web site, mobile site and our KU Sports app.