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Tale of the Tait

Is today the day for De Sousa or Preston news?

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

While waiting oh so patiently — or the complete opposite — for news about freshmen forwards Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston, Kansas basketball fans have been put through the wringer with a variety of potential timelines, key dates and big moments.

Today could be another one.

When asked Friday morning before practice if there was any news in the status of De Sousa and/or Preston, KU coach Bill Self said simply, "I think it's going to be a great Friday. TGIF. We've been waiting for Friday all week. Check with me at 5 o'clock. Who knows?"

What that means — or if it actually means anything — remains to be seen, but you can bet KUsports.com will be checking back at 5 p.m.

My gut feeling is that if Self's comments do, in fact, mean that there is news coming, it is highly likely that the news will be about one or the other but not necessarily both. If that read is right, the smart money is on the news — again, if it comes — being about De Sousa.

Now that we've passed into the afternoon portion of our day here in the Midwest, the 5 p.m. timeline is just a few hours away.

So stay in touch without KUsports.com throughout the day and certainly at 5 p.m. and after for any and all updates we can provide on this ongoing situation.

While you wait, be sure to take our latest quiz, which tests your knowledge about De Sousa and Preston and be eligible to enter to win a $25 VISA gift card.

Hey, at least the waiting could be worth something this time!

Reply 60 comments from Jayhawkohio Mbrooksher Faustusku Doug Roberts J.L.  Forge Carsonc30 Rockchalk1990 Len Shaffer Barry Weiss Robert  Brock and 26 others

KU coach Bill Self still deciding whether to start Malik Newman or Marcus Garrett vs. K-State

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) floats in for a bucket during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. Pictured are Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) and Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1).

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) floats in for a bucket during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. Pictured are Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) and Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1). by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said before Friday's practice that he was not sure who would start at KU's fourth guard spot during Saturday's 11 a.m. Sunflower Showdown clash with Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.

Recent progress shown by sophomore Malik Newman has put him back in the mix along with freshman Marcus Garrett.

“I told the team, when Malik plays well, he starts,” Self said, noting that he planned to talk to his team before making a decision. “He's a guy who can get us 14 or 15 a game. So when he plays well, he starts. The biggest thing for him to play well is confidence, so hopefully the (27 points in the) Iowa State game will trigger that.”

Regardless of whether Newman makes it back into the starting lineup or not — after starting the 11 of KU's first 12 games and coming off the bench for four consecutive Big 12 games, Newman started Tuesday's second half against Iowa State — the experiment with putting Garrett in his place appears to have worked. On a lot of levels.

“To me, and of course it's coach speak, but it's not who starts, it's who finishes,” Self said. “And you could look at our team and really say there's advantages to either one of them starting. It's nice to get some points off the bench and Malik provides us that opportunity.”

From Newman's perspective, filling the role as first man off the bench changed the way he looked at the game and his responsibilities.

“It opened up my eyes,” Newman said. “Let me know that there were some things that I wasn't doing that I should have been doing.”

As for how he handled the benching, Newman said he thought he took it well and focused in on remaining committed to the overall goal of whatever's best for the team.

“It's life, it's basketball. That's something that you can't pout about and make it change the way you play,” he said. “And I think I did a great job handling it.”

Self agreed.

“I think his attitude's been really good,” he said. “Now, would he say a week ago that he was happy about that? The answer would be no. But Malik's a pretty realistic guy.”

Despite not starting the team's first four Big 12 Conference game, Newman's minutes have not suffered much. In his 11 starts this season, Newman is averaging right at 30 minutes per game. In the five games he has not started, that number dips to 25, bringing his average for the season to 28.3 minutes per game.

Both Self and Newman said they thought this thin team's need to have Newman on the floor helped him handle the two different roles he has played thus far.

“You'd have to ask him,” Self said when asked if he thought Newman had ever been coached as hard as he has been this season. “My personal opinion is I don't think I'm coaching him that hard. He's playing 30 minutes a game. There's a lot of people who would sell out for that. To me, coaching hard is, hey, you're not doing exactly what I want you to do, come sit by me.”

Newman has yet to experience that role for a prolonged period. And more games like the one he put in against Iowa State on Tuesday night, when he produced by playing hard and with confidence, likely will keep it that way.

Reply 9 comments from Marius7782 Tom Keegan Jeff Coffman Roknrc Art Jefferson Dirk Medema Yolanda Gay Robert  Brock Tony Bandle

Impact of UT point guard Andrew Jones’ leukemia diagnosis felt throughout the Big 12

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) gets off a shot as he is defended by Texas guard Andrew Jones (1) during the first half on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) gets off a shot as he is defended by Texas guard Andrew Jones (1) during the first half on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

In the middle of what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and cut-throat seasons of Big 12 Conference basketball, news out of Austin, Texas, served as a reminder that these teams, players and coaches all really like each other.

Just before Texas' upset victory over No. 16 TCU on Wednesday night, the Longhorns revealed that sophomore point guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia and was facing a health battle far more difficult than any conference basketball game ever could be.

“We had a meeting (Tuesday) night over in the dorm, and at that point we told our guys what the diagnosis was,” Smart told the Austin American Statesman after UT's 99-98 emotional double-OT win over TCU. “Leaving that meeting, we had guys that weren’t just in tears, they were wailing."

Jones, UT's second leading scorer who already missed a couple of games this season because of injury, may not be on the floor the rest of the way, but it's clear that he still will have an impact on the UT team and the rest of the conference.

“Yesterday, I know, was devastating for the University of Texas,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday morning. “But it was also for everyone else in our league. We wish Andrew a very speedy recovery so he can get back on the court as soon as possible.”

Several coaches in the conference have at least some idea of what Jones, Shaka Smart and the UT family are facing from their own past experiences with tough situations.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his program went through something similar during the not-too-distant past when the wife of former WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn went through her own fight with cancer and leukemia that had a profound impact on the Mountaineer program.

“It's terrible,” Huggins said. “We all need to do more to try to rid the world of this terrible disease. You feel so bad for the person inflicted, but you feel almost equally bad for the families. It's just a hard, hard thing to go through.”

Baylor's Scott Drew and his team had to deal with big man Isaiah Austin having basketball taken from him because of an eye condition. And that memory, along with firsthand knowledge of the kind of person Jones is, made the whole situation weigh heavy on Drew's heart.

“We recruited Andrew, his sister played here, love his family, love him and I know we were all devastated and taken back by the announcement,” Drew said. “Andrew's a fighter, always has been, and his family fights and he's going to beat this thing. He'll be in our thoughts and prayers and I text Shaka yesterday to let him know we'd be thinking of them because I can only imagine how difficult that would be to go through.

“It is a game, it's only a game, and sometimes we take it too serious when we're all blessed to have health and life.”

Reply 2 comments from Bryson  Stricker Kackley

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 83, Iowa State 78

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) rejects a shot from Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) rejects a shot from Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 83-78 victory over Iowa State Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B+

Eighty-three points and 14 3-pointers will get you an A grade on most nights. But the fact that the Jayhawks fell in love with the 3-point shot in this one brings this one down to the B range. Part of the heavy reliance on 3-point shooting is not the fault of the guards. Udoka Azubuike has to do a better job of getting position and being ready to catch and go to work. He’s still not there. And when that breaks down the Jayhawks have to find another way. Tonight it was via the 3-point shot. In the future it can be a better mix of 3-pointers and trips to the free throw line. KU made just 5-of-13 from the line in this one, with Azubuike finishing 1-of-4 by himself.

Defense: C-

Iowa State does not shoot it well and is not a great rebounding team, but did both very well against the Jayhawks. ISU’s 40.7 clip from 3-point range was its best in eight games and the Cyclones out-rebounded their opponent (44-34) for just the fifth time in their last nine games.

Frontcourt: C-

Udoka Azubuike attempted just five shots and only one was anything other than an easy dunk. Not the kind of night KU needs from its lone big man. On top of that, he added six rebounds and a much-improved block total of four to give KU just enough inside. He still must play better on both ends for this team to take another step forward.

Backcourt: A

Devonte’ Graham’s 11 points, nine assist and four steals in 37 minutes brought me back to his early-season efforts, when scoring was not as important as getting others going. He was terrific in that area. And Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to hit 11 of 22 3-point attempts on a night when Kansas needed every one of them.

Bench: A

Any time one player scores 27 points and adds eight rebounds in 34 productive and aggressive minutes, the bench grade is going to be pretty good. Even if Malik Newman did start the second half — Self said that was based more on Marcus Garrett’s struggles to plug in during the first half as opposed to anything Newman did — he still counts as bench points in this one because he did not start the game. And he gave the Jayhawks all they needed and then some. Mitch Lightfoot’s lone bright spot also proved important, as he picked up another well-time, off-the-ball block.

Reply 3 comments from Carsonc30 Zabudda Brad Avery

KU’s Bill Self OK with Lavar Ball’s Junior Basketball Association as long as academics is addressed

The father of American basketball players LiAngelo and LaMelo, LaVar Ball attends during the training session at the BC Prienai-Birstonas Vytautas arena in Prienai, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have signed a one-year contract to play for Lithuanian professional basketball club Prienai - Birstonas Vytautas, in the southern Lithuania town of Prienai, some 110 km (68 miles) from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

The father of American basketball players LiAngelo and LaMelo, LaVar Ball attends during the training session at the BC Prienai-Birstonas Vytautas arena in Prienai, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have signed a one-year contract to play for Lithuanian professional basketball club Prienai - Birstonas Vytautas, in the southern Lithuania town of Prienai, some 110 km (68 miles) from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis) by Matt Tait

Lavar Ball continues to stay in the public eye with his publicity stunt for his two sons in Lithuania, his Big Baller Brand shoe and apparel line and recent comments about Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton.

But if the pie-in-the-sky dreamer’s proposed Junior Basketball Association is going to get off the ground as an NBA alternative for prep stars wanting to skip college, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self would like to see one rule be an important part of the league.

“If they do that, that’s fine, Lavar, do it,” Self recently told the Journal-World when asked about the potential impact of the JBA on college recruiting. “But make sure (the players) meet NCAA academic requirements or whatever before they can go so at least that way they have options.”

The reason Self believes some kind of academic element — be it a qualifying test score, specific grades or meeting NCAA requirements — is important for the grass roots league is because of the potential dangers of the league, or any other like it, operating without one.

Self said he did not believe the JBA, which is slated to open play this summer, would create issues with college recruiting.

“Could it have an impact? I guess it could,” he said. “But it’s not going to have more of an impact than what the NBA will.”

Right now, with college basketball — and eventually the NBA — being the ultimate goal of young ball players, most of them understand that if they do not take care of their academics throughout junior high and high school, reaching those levels is going to be harder to achieve.

If Ball’s JBA, which would pay as much as $10,000 a month to the top players and a minimum of $3,000 to the rest, operates without any academic guidelines, Self believes young players who otherwise would have been interested in college and the NBA could quickly be blinded by dollar signs and put academics on the back burner for good.

“I’m disappointed in anything that would inspire a 15- and 16-year-old to say, ‘You know what? Man, school’s hard, I know I can just go play pro ball and make money,” Self said. “If you tell a 9th and 10th grader that academics aren’t important and not to worry about Algebra II or Geometry or making grades or meeting NCAA requirements, they’re done before they ever get a chance to change their minds. They could be making academic decisions (that impact) the rest of their lives at age 15 and 16 if they feel like there’s a safety net of, ‘Well, if I don’t make it in the NBA I can go here and make a lot of money.’ That’s not right.”

The JBA logo, featuring Lavar Ball's son, Lonzo Ball, who stars at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The JBA logo, featuring Lavar Ball's son, Lonzo Ball, who stars at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. by Matt Tait

Self said he was not against the idea of the league itself. He just would much prefer that young athletes still value some level of education before developing tunnel vision on playing basketball for money.

While the dream of NBA fame and riches already drives many young players today, nearly all of them know and understand from an early age that performing well in the classroom is a required part of getting there.

“They could still have that future with the important of academics in their minds,” Self said of playing in the JBA. “If you just prepare yourself for it academically and then, at the end of the preparation, you decide, ‘This is best for me,’ I’m fine with that.”

Beyond that, Self said skipping college to go play in a grass roots league to make some quick money could prove detrimental in terms of missing out on valuable life experiences that college provides.

“When they say, ‘This kid doesn’t want to go to college.’ Well, I think there’s a lot of parents of kids who aren’t athletes that make their kids go to college,” Self said. “And then, by the time they’re in college, they say, ‘Hey, I can see why this is important, I can see the future, I can see the positives that come from education.’ And I think it would be the same thing with athletes. “How many players have we coached at Kansas that if they’d have had the opportunity or somebody had told them that a league like this was out there then their commitment to academics would have been altered? More importantly, how many have graduated that, when they got here were thinking, ‘Man, I hate school.’ And then they got here and they realized, ‘Nah, school’s OK. This is fun.’ The social part is a big part of the education, not just taking classes, so...

“The thing that I just despise is for anybody to put something out there that is unproven that doesn’t take the academic interests of a youngster into play. I understand that there are financial difficulties and these sorts of things. But, hey, high school diploma, being able to qualify and go to a university and maybe being the first family member to graduate, all the positive things that come from education; to plant the seeds that those things aren’t meaningful doesn’t sit well with me.”

One thing Self believed could help ensure the JBA is a success on all levels if the NBA’s involvement.

“There’s going to be some changes, I believe, with one-and-dones and how all this ties in from the NBA to the collegiate (game) to the grass roots (leagues),” he said. “And I think the NBA will be on board to help with all this and want to understand what all the problems are with collegiate basketball and grass roots basketball.”

Reply 10 comments from Austin Bergstrom Matt Tait Forever2008 Robert  Brock Carsonc30 Jayhawkmarshall Ronfranklin Alan Walker Tom Ballew Phil Leister

Latest in De Sousa, Preston situations pinpoints Monday afternoon as key time

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Reached via text message on Sunday night in Lawrence, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self told the Journal-World, not so surprisingly, that there was no new news on the status of withheld freshmen Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.

Self did, however, provide the most specific and clear timeline to date for that to change.

“We should know a lot more tomorrow afternoon on both,” Self told the Journal-World.

If the Kansas basketball program does, in fact, learn of some kind of resolution on the future status of De Sousa and/or Preston sometime Monday afternoon — good news or bad — it would mark the end of a long and drawn-out waiting period that dates back weeks and has left the players, KU’s coaching staff and, of course, the KU fan base experiencing varying levels of frustration.

Preston’s situation dates back to the night of KU’s second game of the season, when he learned, just a few hours before tip-off against Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago, that he would be held out of the game while the university looked into details of a vehicle he was driving during a single-car, non-injury accident a few days earlier.

Self said that night after the win over the Wildcats that KU officials had “spent all day trying to figure out if there was a way we could get it done where he could play” against Kentucky, adding, “I am confident it'll get cleared up. But I don't know the time frame and they haven't clued me in.”

That obviously did not happen and Preston has not played in any of KU’s 13 games in the nearly eight weeks since.

Almost no one could have foreseen that type of delay when the issue first surfaced.

As for De Sousa, his case actually has been in limbo a few days longer, though many of the steps needed to reach the point of awaiting NCAA approval were up to him.

After graduating from IMG Academy and receiving a qualifying score on his final ACT attempt, De Sousa was cleared to join the Jayhawks in time for the second semester in late December.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Angola native now is simply waiting for the NCAA to certify his amateur status, something Self said has taken a little more time because De Sousa is from a foreign country.

Even still, waiting for that issue to be addressed is now nearing the end of its second full week of waiting.

Stay tuned to KUsports.com throughout the day Monday for updates on both situations.

Reply 39 comments from Bill Pitcher Austin Bergstrom Titus Canby Realisthawk Plasticjhawk Pius Waldman Bill Corrigan Tony Bandle Tim Orel Jayhawkohio and 19 others

Self still searching for ways to give Graham a break; but KU’s schedule makes it tough

Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after the Jayhawks' 88-84 win, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after the Jayhawks' 88-84 win, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is facing a dilemma. But it’s one for which there actually is an easy answer, even if it’s not an answer he likes.

The question of how much to play senior point guard Devonte’ Graham — and how much to rest him — has hovered over this Kansas team throughout the season. But as much as Self would love to give his leader a few more minutes of rest each night, the 10th-ranked Jayhawks’ current reality does not allow for it.

“We can’t play without him right now,” said Self following a 38-minute, 28-point performance by Graham during Saturday’s 88-84 road win at TCU. “We need Malik (Newman) to be able to play that (backup point guard) position for us or somebody to play that position for us. It may not be. This may be the hand we’re dealt and the hand he’s dealt all year long.”

Graham, who leads the Jayhawks (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12) in just about every meaningful offensive category, has played 38 or more minutes eight times this season and all 40 on three separate occasions. That includes a current stretch of three consecutive 38-plus-minute outings.

A deeper look at those numbers reveals a trend that produces visions of Graham playing more big-minute games in the future not fewer. Six of Graham’s eight games of 38 minutes or more came against current Top 50 teams in the KenPom rankings. The two that weren’t? A one-point win at Nebraska and KU’s first loss of the season against Washington.

Twelve of KU’s final 16 regular season games come against teams currently ranked in the KenPom Top 50, including six in a row after Tuesday’s 8 p.m. home clash with Iowa State, which ranks 103rd.

It's not as if the extended playing time is exactly hurting Graham's bottom line. His past two games — 27 points in 40 minutes vs. Texas Tech and 28 points in 38 minutes against TCU — have produced his third and fourth best point totals of the season and he has now scored 23 points or more in three consecutive games.

Regardless, the difficulty of what lies ahead, along with the already-high usage and the nasty spill Graham took late in the win over TCU, appears to have Self even more dialed in on trying to figure out a way to lighten Graham's load.

“We may have to play zone or something to, I hate to say this, rest on defense,” Self said. “Or run a different offense where maybe he can rest on offense some because he’s worn out.”

Graham’s not the only one.

“Svi (Mykhailiuk) told me (Friday), ‘Coach, I’ll play better if I play 27,’ because he’s playing too many. And he knows it,” said Self of his senior sharp shooter, who joined Graham in topping 20 points and 38 minutes in Saturday’s win. “Here he is, he has to play 38 because no way you can take him out.”

Self has tried throughout the season to find an answer for back-up point guard but no one has emerged with any kind of consistency that would lead Self to believe he is reliable.

Newman has been given the most chances to run the show, both with Graham in the game and on the bench, but the Mississippi State transfer has not shown Self what he needs to see to entrust him with the backup job on a full-time basis and has slipped into a mid-season funk during recent weeks. And junior Lagerald Vick, who, at times, has been KU’s best player off the dribble, is not a natural point guard by any means.

“Let’s just call it (what it is),” Self said. “Malik is struggling. And Lagerald’s had a bad week. So, if we can get those guys going (that would help). I don’t think we can get much more out of Devonte’ and Svi. We’ve got to get more out of those (other) guys.”

Reply 13 comments from Koolkeithfreeze Matt Tait Robert  Brock Joe Ross Layne Pierce Jaylark Len Shaffer Texashawk10_2 Karen Mansfield-Stewart Dale Rogers and 1 others

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 88, TCU 84

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) directs his teammates during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) directs his teammates during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 88-84 victory over No. 16 TCU on Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas.

Offense: A

Red hot early and clutch from 3-point range all night, the Jayhawks shot 50.9 percent from the floor for the game, 55 percent from 3-point range (11-of-20) and put up 88 points on a team that was giving up just 74 per game, at their place. The offense had purpose and poise and also included a season-high 33 trips to the free throw line.

Defense: C+

KU was killed on the boards (42-28) and gave up another eye-popping number (19) on the offensive glass. So right there, the best you’re going to do is the B range. But the fact that the Jayhawks got crucial stops late and recorded seven blocked shots — six from sophomore Mitch Lightfoot — pulled this grade to the brink of a B. Fifty points by TCU in the second half and still too many layups at the rim kept it from getting there.

Frontcourt: C

Udoka Azubuike was effective early but troubled by foul trouble for most of the night. What looked like might be a monster game turned into a rather average 14 points and very disappointing one-rebound night. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Mitch Lightfoot was ready to step up and did so in a big way, delivering by far his best game as a Jayhawk at a crucial time. While Lightfoot's numbers were sensational, individually, they still didn't bring enough to the table to offset Azubuike's up-and-down night in the grading system. When your two big men combine for eight rebounds in 39 minutes, that's not quite good enough, even if it didn't cost Kansas in this one.

Backcourt: A

Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were terrific, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick weren’t. It was as simple as that in this one, with Marcus Garrett leaning closer to the Team Graham/Mykhailiuk than the other way. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, though, Graham and Mykhailiuk both played 38 minutes, which not only kept them on the floor but also kept the others on the bench, allowing KU to grind out the victory.

Bench: C+

Lightfoot was spectacular and basically was the Kansas bench. Sam Cunliffe had a couple of decent moments, as well, and continues to look more and more playable — at least in spurts — with each passing game. It’s tough to know exactly what it will take to get Newman out of the funk he’s in but it definitely appears to be getting worse each game instead of better.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. TCU


By the Numbers: Kansas 88, TCU 84

By the Numbers: Kansas 88, TCU 84

Reply 2 comments from Dirk Medema Doug Clark

Free throw shooting is up but Jayhawks still can do better

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

For a team that has struggled to get to the free throw line for most of the 2017-18 season, seeing a single player get to the stripe 13 times in one game certainly qualifies as noteworthy.

The fact that Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham made all 13 of his trips to the free throw line was an added bonus. But KU coach Bill Self is not fully convinced that the Jayhawks’ team free throw woes are fixed because of Graham’s high-volume game.

“He did great,” Self said at his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The things that Devonte' did really good are things he needs to do the entire game. To me, it's too much pressure on him to be the only one to do it, though.”

Self then pointed out how Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett both could do much more in that department and how Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, could as well, even though those two are known more as shooters than guys who drive the ball to the rim.

Regardless of who’s doing it and who’s not, what Self would like to see most is those free throw attempts come from his team’s offensive sets, not just from a senior trying to make a play to bring his team back from a big deficit.

“Somebody asked a question the other day, 'Were you happy getting to the line 23 times?' The answer is, ‘Yes, we're happier doing that,’” Self said. “But it wasn't real. It was in a comeback effort where you just drive it, put your head down and drive it. You're not running good offense. I'd like to see us be able to do that in the first half as well as the second half.”

Through the first 14 games of the season, Graham leads the team with 57 trips to the free throw line. That’s as many as the second and third-place free throw shooters on the roster combined. So, clearly, Graham needs help.

And one of the better candidates to do more in the way of getting to the free throw line is 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, who ranks second on the team with 33 free throw attempts thus far. Lagerald Vick is third with 24.

One of the biggest issues with Azubuike and the free throw line is his percentage. The sophomore big man is shooting just .424 from the line this season and has missed the front end of several one-and-one attempts that not only cost the Jayhawks an extra shot but also points.

That exact scenario unfolded early in Tuesday’s loss to Texas Tech and Self explained Thursday how Azubuike’s issues at the line impacted the team after a perfectly executed half-court set that got him the ball down low and put him on the line.

“ You're struggling,” he said. “Even though it's early, 5-0, you're struggling, you get the ball right where you want it, you come away empty. Is it deflating? Yeah. There's nothing more deflating than when you're making a comeback and you miss a front end. I think you're much better off being there than not being there. …I still think it's a win for the offense. I do. It puts you in the bonus sooner.”

Even though KU's free throw attempts are up seven a game since the start of Big 12 play — from 11.8 per game to 19 — the free throw issue remains just one of the many things with this team right now that is not quite right.

As is the case with several of the other issues, — defense, depth, execution and understanding — it’s not as if things are completely broken. But KU's ability to get to the free throw line both at the rate and how Self would like definitely is not clicking on all cylinders and that is costing Kansas in the areas of consistency, confidence and production.

Reply 4 comments from Surrealku Layne Pierce Carsonc30 Majayhawk

Elite 2018 prospect Zion Williamson sets decision date

None by Zion Williamson

There's no telling where the Kansas men's basketball team will be two weeks from now, either in terms of its record, its standing in the Big 12 Conference or what the roster will look like.

This much we know for sure, though. The Jayhawks will know in two weeks whether they will be adding one of the top players in the country into the mix next season.

Zion Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound monster of a man who ranks as the No. 2 player in the 2018 recruiting class, announced on Twitter that he will make his decision on January 20.

While most people have started leaning toward the highlight machine from Spartanburg, South Carolina, staying close to home for college — Clemson, South Carolina and Kentucky all are in the running — the Jayhawks have not been eliminated yet and Bill Self and company spent just as much time as anybody out there going after this big time player.

Williamson made his official visit to KU during Late Night and was serenaded with chants of his name from the Allen Fieldhouse crowd as he walked onto the court and took his seat. Smiling big, Williamson waved to the crowd and appeared to love every second of it.

That's not to say he did not enjoy his visits elsewhere just as much, but it's worth noting that Williamson clearly enjoyed himself at Kansas. The versatile forward also hosted KU's coaches for an official in-home visit during this process and saw Self and company standing in the crowd for several of his AAU and high school events.

Known for his eye-popping dunks and athleticism and big time ability as both a passer and a rebounder, the one knock on Williamson continues to be his shooting ability, but the pros in his game far outweigh the cons in the eyes of most coaches.

Officially, Williamson is down to Clemson, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. He was only able to make official visits to four of those six schools, but because of his proximity to both Clemson and South Carolina, he is very familiar with the two schools closest to his high school.

247 Sports, which joins Rivals.com in listing Williamson as the No. 2 overall player in the 2018 class, has Clemson and Kentucky as the co-leaders in their Crystal Ball rankings, with each program picking up 41 percent of the predictions. Kansas and North Carolina are next with 6 percent apiece, with Duke and South Carolina considered longshots.

Despite the good time during his trip to Lawrence, people have speculated for weeks that KU is all but out of the running for Williamson, mostly because his family would like to see him stay close to home.

"He has taken official visits to Kansas, UNC, Duke and Kentucky, and any of the four would love to add the talents of Williamson," wrote Rivals recruiting analyst, Corey Evans. "However, the talk lately has centered around the Clemson basketball program. Off to its best start since the hiring of Brad Brownell, the Tigers have sold (Williamson on) the idea of playing for his home state and (Clemson) is also the place where Williamson's stepfather, Lee Anderson, played his college ball from 1981 to 1983."

Nothing will be official until Williamson makes the announcement, which is now a little more than two weeks away.

KU plays at home against Baylor on Jan. 20 and that game is sandwiched between road games at West Virginia (Jan. 15) and Oklahoma (Jan. 23), so, clearly, the Jayhawks will have plenty on their minds on Williamson's decision day.

This merely adds to the list and is worth tracking, even if the Jayhawks appear to be a longshot at this point.

Reply 13 comments from Surrealku Brian Skelly 1stnamemistermiddlenameperiod Plasticjhawk Freddie Garza Harlan Hobbs Robert  Brock Marcus  Balzer Doug Roberts

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