It's an exercise that could be done and could change every NBA season and never stop being enjoyable and entertaining.
And it hit me last night while I was watching Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Cleveland and Atlanta.
As Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague had his way with the Cavs' smaller guards in the first half, my mind wandered and tried to remember where Teague played his college ball. After a few minutes of thinking, it hit me and the following “conversation” played out in my head. “Wake Forest. That's right. Wake's pretty well represented in the NBA these days with Teague, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan. I wonder who else they have.”
Perhaps spurred on by an earlier conversation at work about which Florida guys Billy Donovan might try to stockpile on the Thunder, I then got serious and started racking my brain and searching the internet for a current NBA starting five from several of the powerhouse college programs.
Kansas, of course, was included in the exercise and I have to admit, for all that talk about Bill Self not having put too many bona fide stars in the league, the KU squad is pretty nice.
Here's a quick look at it and several others that helped me pass the time as the Cavs pulled away and LeBron James moved one game closer to a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Unreal.
KANSAS – If you're trying to put the best KU players in the starting five, the Jayhawks wind up a little small. But I'm not putting Pierce on the bench and I think I'd rather have McLemore out there than Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson or Cole Aldrich.
PG Mario Chalmers
SG Andrew Wiggins
SF Ben McLemore
SF Paul Pierce
PF Markieff Morris
FLORIDA – Beal might not be a true point guard, but I'm sure he could handle the role with this squad of hard-working, defensive-minded Gators.
PG Bradley Beal
SG Corey Brewer
SF David Lee
PF Al Horford
C Joakim Noah
NORTH CAROLINA – I thought the UNC squad was going to be pretty bad but it's better than I thought. Lawson's a stud, Green and Barnes are lights out shooters and Hansbrough is, well, Hansbrough. Not the best on this list but not terrible either.
PG Ty Lawson
SG Danny Green
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Tyler Hansbrough
C Ed Davis
MICHIGAN STATE – Richardson's an actual old man and Harris has barely played (though I think he has a bright future), but those other three are pretty legit.
PG Gary Harris
SG Shannon Brown
SF Jason Richardson
PF Draymond Green
C Zach Randolph
KENTUCKY – There's no doubt that UK was everybody's guess for the best current NBA squad and I think this lineup proves it. A lot of talented former Wildcats didn't make the cut here, which only further speaks to Kentucky's stellar presence in the Association.
PG John Wall
SG Rajon Rondo
SF Eric Bledsoe
PF DeMarcus Cousins
C Anthony Davis
UCLA – I didn't even really want to do a team for UCLA, but Westbrook's too talented to not mention. As it turned out, the team was better than I expected. Even if it is lacking size, it's not lacking scoring or athleticism.
PG Jrue Holiday
SG Russell Westbrook
SF Matt Barnes
PF Trevor Ariza
C Kevin Love
TEXAS – The backcourt leaves more than a little to be desired, but Durant and Aldridge earned UT a spot at the table. Tristan Thompson is starting to come into his own, as well, making this one of the best front courts on the list.
PG Corey Joseph
SG Avery Bradley
SF Kevin Durant
PF Tristan Thompson
C LaMarcus Aldridge
DUKE – Nothing too special here... yet. Once Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow land on an NBA roster next month, all three will probably crack this starting five and help the defending champs' current NBA squad stack up with the rest a little better.
PG Kyrie Irving
SG J.J. Redick
SF Luol Deng
PF Ryan Kelly
C Carlos Boozer
WAKE FOREST – As I mentioned above, this whole thing started with me wondering who else Wake had in the league and I quickly found out that the answer was not much. Still, CP3, Duncan and Teague is a pretty nasty trio.
PG Chris Paul
SG Jeff Teague
SF James Johnson
PF Al-Farouq Aminu
C Tim Duncan
MARQUETTE – I did this one strictly for Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan (a Marquette grad, in case you're somehow unaware of that) and the rapidly-emerging Jimmy Butler. That guy's a stud and this team's better than you think.
PG Darius Johnson-Odom
SG Wesley Matthews
SF Dwyane Wade
SF Jimmy Butler
PF Jae Crowder
SMALLER SCHOOLS – No way I could leave Steph Curry, the reigning NBA MVP off of here, so I went with a “smaller schools” category that clearly features some absolute studs.
PG Steph Curry
SG Damian Lillard
SF Kawhi Leonard
PF Kenneth Faried
C Andrew Bogut
NO COLLEGE – And, finally, I rounded the whole thing out with the guys who never went to college at all. No surprise here that this team is absolutely loaded. Even with Kobe and KG getting up theere in years, it's still the best of the bunch.
PG Monta Ellis
SG Kobe Bryant
SF LeBron James
PF Kevin Garnett
C Dwight Howard
Did I miss anyone that belonged on these teams or forget to include a college that should've been on here, as well? I probably could've done a dozen or so more but had to cut it off somewhere.
Sure the NFL season remains several months down the road and, yeah, most of the pro football news of late has been about the recent NFL Draft or Tom Brady and Deflategate, but it's not every day that a former Kansas University football player gets tapped as the fourth best player in all of football so we might as well talk about it.
That day came Tuesday, when Pro Football Focus, one of the top resources for NFL analytics, dubbed former Jayhawk Chris Harris as the No. 4 ranked player in the Pro Football Focus 101 of 2014.
Harris, a native of Bixby, Oklahoma, who is about to enter his fifth season with the Denver Broncos, was one of the top cornerbacks in the league last season.
If the season Darrelle Revis had in 2009 was the single best year we have seen from a cornerback in the PFF era – and it was – then Harris in 2014 got as close to it as anybody has come, and did it despite tearing his ACL in the playoffs the previous year. He came into this year just eight months removed from that injury and yet finished the season with a monster coverage grade and statistics that rivaled anybody.
Here are some of those statistics:
Harris was thrown at 89 times and did not allow a single touchdown.
• Harris allowed 46 receptions (51.7 percent) but gave up an average of just 7.7 yards per catch.
• Harris was not beaten for a pass longer than 22 yards all season.
• Harris finished with 3 interceptions and 10 passes defended.
• When opposing QBs threw Harris' way, they finished with a 47.8 passer rating.
According to PFF, those raw coverage numbers rank pretty close to Seattle stud Richard Sherman (the other cornerback in the Top 10) and are made all the more impressive given that Harris lines up all over the field, left side, right side, slot, nickel.
Although his numbers and the praise he receives from players, coaches and analysts throughout the league certainly put Harris in the elite players at his position, Pro Football Focus believes that Harris' old school mentality, which favors hard work over flash, may be keeping him from being thought of in the same regard as Sherman, Revis or others like him in the past.
Harris has never been used as creatively as Rex Ryan or Bill Belichick used Revis, and he isn’t the masterful self-promoter that Sherman is. He sticks to the old attitude of letting his play do the talking. Unfortunately, in today’s NFL, that doesn’t necessarily get you ahead, and Harris’ understated excellence hasn’t been enough to get him the recognition he deserves. Last season he was truly excellent. Better than Darrelle Revis. Better than Richard Sherman. Better than Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson or any other cornerback that has been in the conversation for best in the league.
Knowing Harris like I do, these are the things that drive him. He likes knowing that people still doubt him and loves going out there and proving everybody wrong. More than that, though, he just wants to win. He gladly would give up all of the stats and recognition for a ring and now that he has that hefty new contract and some financial security for his family's future, the only thing on his mind from here on out will be delivering a championship back to Denver.
Seasons like 2014, as hard as they might be to duplicate, certainly help and you can bet Harris will be looking to top those numbers when things get crackin' this fall.
Between recruiting, returning to Texas to see his family and touring the state to drum up interest for his new program, Kansas University football coach David Beaty has spent a lot of time on the road since being named KU's newest football coach.
This week, in some of KU's most important recruiting territories, Beaty will be entering a few more miles into his travel log.
Beginning Tuesday in Houston, Beaty will make a few stops to share with KU fans his vision for the program and a state of the program as it stands today.
Beaty will be joined by fellow Jayhawks, members of the KU Alumni Association, KU administration and assistant football coaches for a happy hour to talk about what's next for Kansas Football. Food will be provided with a cash bar. The events are free to the public.
Here's a quick look at the schedule for the week:
• Tuesday — Houston, Texas — 7-9 p.m. at Christian's Tailgate Heights, 2820 White Oak.
• Wednesday — Dallas, Texas — 7-9 p.m. at Henderson Tap House, 2323 N. Henderson Ave.
• Thursday — Denver, Colorado — 7-9 p.m. at Stoney's Bar & Grill, 1111 Lincoln St.
After that, it'll be back to Lawrence to get the team's summer conditioning program and summer camp schedule under way.
While Beaty's away, the Jayhawks themselves will be focusing on this week's final exams.
Good luck to our players and all KU students this week on their finals! Finish strong!! #EarnIt— David Beaty (@beaty_david) May 11, 2015
Before we check out, here's a quick look at the new KU football poster for the upcoming season.
The NFL Draft has come and gone, and, by now, you've surely heard all about the 11 different Kansas University players who either were drafted or picked up by pro teams via free agency in the hours following the draft.
But rather than just knowing that this guy landed here or that guy landed there, it seems like a legitimate look at each guy's chances of making an impact — and a roster — might be in order.
As has been proven in the past by both draft picks and undrafted players, just because a guy was or was not selected does not seal his fate.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at KU's latest crop of NFL hopefuls.
• LB BEN HEENEY --- 5th round pick, Oakland Raiders (140 overall)
Heeney has all the makings of an immediate impact player on all of Oakland's special teams. However, given that the Raiders recently cut an experienced middle linebacker, he might be in line for some immediate playing time on defense and figures to be a guy who sticks around the NFL for a long time.
• CB JACOREY SHEPHERD --- 6th round pick, Philadelphia Eagles (191 overall)
Shepherd could very well go down as a guy who several teams regret passing on because of his injured hamstring. He was one of the top corners in the pass-heavy Big 12 during the past two seasons and has the physical and mental make-up to become a stud. He's probably not physical enough (yet) to follow in Chris Harris' footsteps, but his cover skills and athletic ability could earn him some big money someday.
• CB DEXTER MCDONALD --- 7th round pick, Oakland Raiders (242 overall)
McDonald was not a lock to get drafted but the fact that he did certainly increases his odds of making a roster. Some say it's better not to get drafted in the seventh round because then you can pick your team to tryout with based on the factors that best suit you. That's probably not the case with McDonald, who drew interest from Oakland before the draft and clearly stuck in their plans. Big, physical and gifted athletically, he'll definitely get every shot to make the Raiders' 53-man roster.
• WR NICK HARWELL --- FA pick-up, Dallas Cowboys
Good athlete, great hands and a knack for getting open, the native Texan could easily be one of those guys who opens eyes with his volume of work. The Cowboys already have Cole Beasley on the roster, but if there's room for a Beasley back-up, Harwell could be the guy. It won't be easy for him to make the roster and a lot of it will come down to whether the plays are called for him during camp and the preseason. Even the most talented guys get lost and cut when they don't get work.
• WR NIGEL KING --- FA pick-up, Miami Dolphins
I remember the Dolphins' scout sticking around KU's pro day to talk to King after the event. So it's likely he's been on their radar since at least then. Big, physical with strong hands and good measureables, King has all the physical tools to make a roster and has always approached the game with a business-like attitude. To me, he's one of the more likely KU free agents to stick.
• TE JIMMAY MUNDINE --- FA pick-up, Cleveland Browns
The biggest thing Mundine has going for him is his versatility. His pro day numbers were more impressive than many expected and he has the ability to stay in and block, run routes down the field or perhaps even play some fullback or H back in the right offense. That kind of versatility certainly increases his chances.
• P TREVOR PARDULA --- FA pick-up, Kansas City Chiefs
It sure seems like the Chiefs are set at punter with veteran Dustin Colquitt, but he is in his 10th season and, while that's still young by punter standards, it's not impossible to see a club going with a younger, cheaper option if one emerges. The biggest question for Pardula won't be the leg. It'll be his consistency.
• RB/WR TONY PIERSON --- FA pick-up, Chicago Bears
Straight-line style and injury history make Pierson a long shot to make a roster. But his insane speed earned him the opportunity. He'll make the most of it, and he's very deserving of the chance. Had injuries not slowed him down, I think there would've been a place for him somewhere.
• DE MICHAEL REYNOLDS --- FA pick-up, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Where Reynolds projects at the pro level is a question mark. He's a bit undersized as a D-End and maybe not quite fluid enough to play linebacker. Like most free agents, he'll have to make a roster as a special teams contributor, where fit doesn't matter as much as effort, heart and a willingness to sacrifice everything to make the play.
• DB CASSIUS SENDISH --- FA pick-up, Cleveland Browns
Like his fellow former-KU-now-Cleveland teammate, Jimmay Mundine, Sendish's versatility could prove huge. Nobody worked harder than this guy from the time the season ended until draft day — he kind of reminded me of Chris Harris in that way — and his ability to play corner, safety and nickel, along with any number of special teams, could make him a tough guy to cast aside.
• DB/LB VICTOR SIMMONS --- FA pick-up, Seattle Seahawks
Such a naturally gifted athlete, Simmons should be able to fit into to whatever role the Seahawks want him to play. He's undersized to be an NFL linebacker, but not in terms of strength. Safety might be his best bet and Seattle might be a great fit given that the organization has proven it has no issue whatsoever with how a guy looks, only how he plays.
• NOTEWORTHY: It's also worth pointing out that former KU quarterback Jake Heaps, who finished his playing career with the Miami Hurricanes, received a camp invitation from the New York Jets. Heaps, the former 5-star QB who started the 2013 season at Kansas after transferring from BYU, was en route to New Jersey Thursday morning. In related news, former KU safety Keeston Terry, who left KU after the arrival of former coach Charlie Weis and played out his college career at nearby Pitt State, received a rookie mini-camp invite from his hometown Kansas City Chiefs. Terry's father, Doug, played DB for Kansas City from 1992-95. One more former Jayhawk who joined the ranks of the NFL was wide receiver Andrew Turzilli, who played his final year of college football at Rutgers and signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans following this year's draft.
There aren't a whole lot of details out there about this event, which is slated to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday on the lawn of Watson Library on KU's campus, but the KU video department put this video together and its intent is clear.
First-year KU football coach David Beaty is ready and willing to take on all comers in an oversized game cornhole, the popular tailgate game also known as bags.
The event is merely the latest way that Beaty is taking to the streets to engage with KU students and fans in an attempt to spark interest in and drum up support for a program that has struggled through six consecutive losing seasons under three different head coaches.
From the look of it, all you have to do is show up to participate in what's being dubbed "Coach Beaty's Campus Challenge." Be forewarned, though. As you can see in the video, the KU coach feels pretty good about his skills.
Friday's spring practice for the KU football team — No. 11 of 15 — kicked off with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson sending his guys back to the goal line after a lackluster breakdown that followed their warm-up.
“We're about to scrimmage, fellas,” Jackson and other coaches yelled. “Have some enthusiasm.”
Seconds later, the breakdown was much more spirited and the Jayhawks had that fire the coaches were looking for.
This, of course, is nothing new. Coaches do this all the time and it has happened at KU plenty. But regardless of whether it encourages you to roll your eyes or pump your fist, it definitely shows the kind of commitment to the small details that this coaching staff and these players are working toward.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the scrimmage but there were a few other things that caught my eye while we were out there. Here's a look:
• Probably the most interesting aspect of Friday came in the 7-on-7 period that happened just before we were asked to leave. Four different quarterbacks got four reps each and I timed how long it took each to get the ball out of his hands after receiving the snap. Here are the results: Michael Cummings – 2 seconds, 2.5 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds; Montell Cozart – 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds, 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds; Frank Seurer Jr. – 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 2.5 seconds; Brock Gilmore – 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 4.5 seconds. Now, just because those back-ups held the ball a little longer does not mean the passes were incomplete or the plays were a bust. But if it's tempo they're looking for (and it is) it's crystal clear that Cummings and Cozart are a full step ahead in terms of reading and reacting.
• One special teams drill I hadn't seen yet was the onside kick recovery drill, which featured roughly 30 different guys running through the drill. One at a time, the guys would practice fielding the bouncing kick and then going down to the ground to secure it. Mixed results, as expected, but it was a fun drill to watch. About that attention to detail, special teams coach Gary Hyman got all over his kickers during the drill for not going rapid-fire enough. “This is their drill, not yours,” Hyman barked. “Get the kicks off faster.”
• Watched the O-Line again for a while and saw Zach Yenser calling out protections and then hovering over his guys while instructing them what to do. Most of them knew what to do to begin with, but he was creating stress and forcing them to focus while under fire. Bryan Peters was working at left tackle with the ones and twos and I can't help but think he's going to wind up being one of those Gavin Howard type guys this fall. He may not be the most impressive guy they have, physically, but he's reliable, can play multiple positions and has a good head.
• The Jayhawks will take the weekend off and return to the practice fields on Tuesday for practice No. 12.
I'm not sure why but I've kind of overlooked the defensive line this spring — at least in terms of how often I've watched them work at practice.
Maybe it's because we've heard so much about how the D-Line is one of the strengths of the team and so many of those guys who play up front are familiar names — Ben Goodman, T.J. Semke, Andrew Bolton, Kapil Fletcher and others.
With that said, I made sure to go stand down there on Thursday at spring practice No. 10 and I'm definitely glad I did.
Not only was I impressed by what I saw — these guys really look to have good footwork, great get-off and solid work ethic — but I also was entertained.
Calvin Thibodeaux was a solid player on a few really good Oklahoma teams. From the look of things, he's also well on his way to becoming a solid coach and maybe even a comedian.
During one drill, in which the D-Linemen were working on lateral movement, a couple of guys stumbled over the bags on the ground. Thibodeaux let 'em have it.
“Don't whoop 'em, bags,” he kept yelling. “Oh man these bags are tough, aren't they? Glad we don't play the bags on Saturday.”
Ribbings like those were seemingly endless, but they all were done with a purpose — to motivate the guys to prove Thibodeaux wrong. Like I said, they've got great work ethic and I can't help but think that's where some of it comes from.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye on Thursday:
• During Wednesday's meeting with the media as I was talking with offensive coordinator Rob Likens, special teams coach Gary Hyman came over and pointed something out to me that I had never noticed. “Greatest hair in all of NC-2A right there,” Hyman said as he messed with Likens' 'do and walked away with a laugh. In the interest of being thorough, I decided to take a closer look at Thursday's practice, but was foiled. See, Likens most often wears a hat out there at practice, so he wasn't letting anybody see the locks. Guess we'll just have to trust Hyman on that one.
• Speaking of assistant coaches, co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry donned a little something extra to get his point across to his defensive players at Thursday's practice. Instead of just yelling things to help leverage like, “Bend your knees,” and “You're too high, you're too high,” and “Stay low, get down,” Perry wore a long sleeve T-Shirt with those instructions plastered across the front. Bend. Your. Knees. It's one thing to bark orders, but it's another to remind guys constantly even when they just look at you.
• One more note about Hyman, whom you've already heard has an incredible amount of energy. During a kickoff return drill, one kick returner caught the ball, rolled up the right side and then cut it back to daylight on the left side and broke free. Now in a game that might not be frowned upon. But at Thursday's practice, that wasn't the case. Hyman lit him up for cutting it back because the drill they were doing was designed to work on blocking assignments with a right return. Cutting it back does not allow the guys in the drill to see whether what they had done actually worked or not and Hyman made sure the returner and everyone within ear shot knew it.
• During the 11-on-11 live offense period, Montell Cozart was the first QB out there with the first team. That could mean something, but it also might not. Likens said the other day that he makes a conscious effort to ensure that both Cozart and Michael Cummings work equal reps with the first-team offensive line and the second-team offensive line so he can see how each guy reacts to the adversity and advantages that come with both. It might have just been how the rotation fell today so I wouldn't read too much into Cozart being out there first just yet.
• Speaking of QBs, one thing I noticed that was new to me was hand signals from the quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage. Now, we're not talking Peyton Manning stuff here, but I did see these guys signaling to receivers and possibly even linemen with their hands after taking the calls from the sideline. All in the name of tempo, I'm sure.
If you're looking for signs of optimism regarding the progress of the Kansas University football team this spring, here's a nugget that might interest you.
On Tuesday, at the ninth practice of the spring, the Jayhawks jumped right into a special teams period following the stretching and warm-up session as they normally do.
For the second time in the past few practices, kickoff return was the focal point of the period and it jumped out at me how much the Jayhawks had improved in such a short time in this department.
Things that were merely being taught at a practice last week now looked like things these guys had been doing for years. And the overall energy and intensity of the drill looked much sharper, crisper and efficient.
It's one drill. And this does not mean that all is well and that this coaching staff has a magic wand that can turn frogs into princes.
What it does mean, though, is that these players are continuing to put in the work and what they're being taught is starting to take hold.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice:
• There has been some message board chatter about the health of left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith and I even wrote last week that he wasn't working in every drill. But he was out there today and seemed to be fine. Good news for an offensive line that's still coming together.
• I thought it was interesting to watch the tight ends working drills with some of the wide receivers on Tuesday. Ben Johnson, who every day looks like he's poised to step into a big time role, and Kent Taylor were working on routes with Tre' Parmalee, Rodriguez Coleman and Tyler Patrick. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but it speaks to the potential interchangeable nature of these positions in an offense that may use as many as 8-10 pass catchers per game.
• Speaking of interchangeable, I noticed that former Free State High standout Joe Dineen was working with the safeties at Tuesday's practice. Dineen, who started as a safety and then moved to running back and finally linebacker, is listed on the roster as a linebacker. He's been held out of most contact drills throughout the spring while recovering from an injury so maybe him working with the safeties was just a way to get him some more mental reps and keep things sharp in case he's needed back there, as well.
• We continue to hear nothing but good things about the way Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings are battling for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback. So I took an extended look at both on Tuesday. Forget arm strength, footwork and those types of things. I'm not fully qualified to critique that, nor do I get to hear what they're asked to do with each rep. One thing that jumped out at me while watching though was how both guys constantly looked for time to get some work in between reps. If Cozart wasn't throwing live, he was working on his arm placement or drop back. And if Cummings wasn't up in the drill, he was doing the same, while also clearly working through some mental reps. We've heard a lot over the years about the importances of these extra reps and it's cool to see both guys taking it seriously.
• Speaking of the two QBs, I believe we'll get to talk to them and maybe a few other players sometime this week. So it should be fun to hear how the battle's progressing and how they're liking the Rob Likens/David Beaty offense.
Through his first three seasons as a Jayhawk, we've seen KU forward Perry Ellis do just about everything.
He's been good in the post and hit from the outside. He's shown the ability to put the ball on the deck and create for himself and score by hitting the offensive glass. His mid-range jumper (particularly from the baseline) is as smooth as butter and he's a career 74 percent free throw shooter.
When he started his four-year journey back in 2012 we knew that Ellis had all of the raw tools to develop into that kind of player. But they did not all show up at once. Little bit little — game to game, week to week and even year to year — Ellis unveiled new parts of his game that almost always took him to another level.
Remember the 2013 Big 12 tournament, where he helped carry the Jayhawks to the title and landed a spot on the all-tourney team? That was the first time Ellis showed consistent willingness and ability to be a force around the rim. And he never took a step back from there, even if asserting himself and his personality remained a work in progress.
Remember the end of the 2013-14 season and start of the 2014-15 season, when Ellis showed that he was both able and willing to shoot more three-pointers? He took 46 and made 18 (39 percent) over the course of his junior season and never looked anything but comfortable doing it. Those numbers doubled his career totals from his first two seasons.
Remember Ellis' insanely productive stretch during the 2014-15 season before he got hurt, when he improved his point total in six straight games and topped 18 points in five of them? That included a 28-point, 13-rebound explosion in a home win over Texas and seemed to indicate that Ellis finally understood that he could dominate games. He got hurt in the very next contest and he was not quite the same the rest of the season.
That stretch, perhaps as much as anything, may have been what led Ellis to decide to return for his senior season at Kansas.
It's not necessarily that he had anywhere to go nor was he deemed a lock to succeed in the NBA. Far from it. Instead, it seems logical that the most productive stretch of his career reminded Ellis just how much more he could improve and served as all the feedback he needed to believe that, with a return to KU, he could hone certain skills and better showcase his abilities in hopes of landing a spot in the NBA in 2016.
Time will tell how likely a prospect that last part is. But both Ellis and KU coach Bill Self believe it can happen and that will be a crucial driving force this offseason.
Talking after Monday's team banquet, Ellis pointed to things like better ball handling, improving on the perimeter and becoming even quicker, particularly defensively. Those specifics point to a guy who realizes that his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame is not power forward material in the NBA and his only path to achieving that dream is likely as a small forward.
While it's logical to think that Ellis, with his skills, work ethic and determination, can get there, it's also important to point out who some of the top small forwards in the NBA game are today — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jeff Green, Josh Smith, Draymond Green and Luol Deng.
Ellis has a long way to go before he's on the same level as any of those guys, but you don't have to squint too hard to see it happening, at least in terms of him being able to compete at their position. Draymond Green was a power player for the Michigan State Spartans during his college career and he's now another one of those perimeter weapons for the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was among the conference leaders in rebounding during his days at San Diego State but now looks like one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game.
Ellis will never be as good as Leonard or Green. But the one delivered by Green, who stands 6-7, 229 pounds, is the perfect type of transformation for Ellis to aspire to have. Think Poor Man's Draymond Green on the end of some NBA bench. Sound a little underwhelming? I bet Ellis would take it in a second.
If Self and the Jayhawks can land a couple of big men in this recruiting class — say Cheick Diallo, Mike Thorne Jr., and/or Stephen Zimmerman — that will give Ellis more freedom to hone those small forward skills, much in the same way Marcus Morris was able to do it during his time as a Jayhawk.
If not, well, what's Ellis have to lose by returning to school and passing on a draft that might not have had a spot for him anyway?
No need to be alarmed, but Friday's eighth practice of the spring session for the Kansas University football program may have been the first in which special teams coach Gary Hyman did not sport his signature look of a turtleneck and pants.
According to one KU official, who also noticed the fashion trend, Hyman was mic'd up for Friday's practice, an episode of KU's web-only, behind-the-scenes look at practice that surely will go down as a must-watch.
Hyman usually looks something like he does in the photo below:
All joking aside, I continue to be amazed by Hyman's energy. It's as if the guy just never has a bad day — or at least as if he's immune to showing it. When he's on the practice field, his entire focus is on giving every ounce he's got to teaching the Jayhawks in front of him whatever drill or skill they're working on that day.
It's not just Hyman who operates this way, but he's definitely one of the loudest and most entertaining of the bunch.
With Friday marking the first practice of the second half of the spring, I tried to spend a little more time looking at depth chart situation, knowing darn well that what's out there today could change a dozen times before the first game. Still, it's at least an indicator of which guys have performed well through the first part of spring ball.
Here's a look at what else caught my eye at Friday's practice:
• I got my first look at some kickoff return drills and it's safe to say that there's still quite a battle going on back there for which guys will get first team reps with that unit this fall. On Friday, Rodriguez Coleman, Derrick Neal, Ke'aun Kinner, Corey Avery, De'Andre Mann and walk-on Ryan Schadler (a red-shirt freshman from Hesston, Kansas, who ran track at Wichita State and continues to catch my eye with his blazing speed and all-out effort) all took turns with the first team. There's a long way to go before that gets sorted out, but it's definitely fair to say that's one area where KU is not hurting for options, provided they can afford to use front line guys in that role.
• Speaking of that drill, LBs coach Kevin Kane and WRs coach Klint Kubiak (I guess it was a K-name thing) ran the drill and their emphasis was not on the return guys but rather on the first three blockers in front of them. Not only did they emphasize steps and direction and spacing, but they also made it a point to hammer home to those guys that it's extremely critical for them to yell to the wall in front of them that the ball has been caught and they're coming. “Caught it, caught it, caught,” barked Kubiak, demonstrating the proper style and volume. “Yell and be loud out there, fellas. Make sure they hear ya,” Kane added.
• Quick update on the first- and second-string O-Line units. It seems as if regular first-team left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith might be dealing with some kind of a nagging injury so on Friday the ones lined up like this: LT Joe Bloomfield, LG Bryan Peters, C Keyon Haughton, RG Junior Visinia, RT Larry Mazyck. The twos looked like this: LT Devon Williams, LG Kyle Pullia, C Jacob Bragg, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Jayson Rhodes.
• I spent the last part of the practice we were allowed to watch observing the wide receivers and both Rodriguez Coleman and Tre' Parmalee jumped out at me throughout the drills. Coleman just looks so effortless in everything he does. If you're not into that sort of thing, you might mistake it for a guy with a lack of a motor, but I don't think that's the case. He just moves so well and has some pretty good experience, that this is all old hat for him. As for Parmalee, his hands (which never were an issue) look stronger and better than ever and he's another one of those guys who you can tell has played a little bit. Both guys are going to have to really step up for this young and inexperience receiving corps this fall, but it seems like they're doing a solid job of leading by example and helping bring the young guys along.
• The Jayhawks will have the weekend “off” and will return to the practice field on Tuesday for spring session No. 9.