“They will be sorry,” and “You won’t regret it.”
Two very different sounding phrases uttered by former Kansas basketball stars who on Thursday night were drafted into the NBA, Josh Jackson as the No. 4 overall pick and Frank Mason III as the fourth pick of the second round.
Provided Wayne Selden Jr., sticks with the Grizzlies and recently rehabbed point guard Mario Chalmers gets back into the league with someone, the addition of Jackson and Mason to NBA rosters brings the current total of Jayhawks in the NBA to 18.
I’ve been around all but a few of those players and it’s hard for me to imagine any of those who came before them being quite as driven and focused to make their presence felt as Jackson and Mason.
That presence may come in very different ways and at distinctly different times — hence the two different sounding phrases that kick-started this blog — but there’s no doubt that both players are well positioned to use their best skills — toughness, tenacity, work ethic, effort — to prove to their teams and others that they will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
A quick glimpse into the crystal ball has that vision looking a little different for the two Jayhawks.
For Jackson, the sky is the limit. The versatile wing, with a ridiculously talented all-around game and unending desire to polish all aspects of it, has the potential to be a 10-year NBA starter and play in at least a couple of All-Star Games.
He had that potential heading into his lone season at Kansas. He had that potential before the first pick was even made on Thursday night. And after waiting a full 31 minutes for his name to be called at No. 4 to Phoenix, that potential now has a little motivation behind it.
Jackson proved that after he was drafted by calmly proclaiming at his post-draft presser that those teams that did not draft him — all three of them — one day would be sorry.
I don’t doubt it. Because I know Jackson a little bit and I know that he’s not going to pull back one bit in his pursuit of that goal. It’s not in his DNA to ease up, and now that he has a reason, real or perceived, to go even harder than he already has, you’re talking about an exciting situation for the Phoenix franchise.
As for Mason, who took to Twitter after he was picked to thank the Kings for drafting him and promise them that they would not regret it, the idea of him becoming a force in the NBA looks a little different.
But before we examine exactly what that means, let’s remember that nine months ago this was a player who was not on anybody’s NBA radar and the young man damn near cracked the first round.
Impressive. Incredible. In every way, exactly the kind of thing that Frank Mason has done throughout his entire basketball playing life.
So for Mason, that whole force to be reckoned with talk looks a little less All-Starish and a little more like a veteran point guard who enjoys a long career and becomes one of the more respected and well-liked players on whatever roster he’s on. Think Paul Pierce meets Nick Collison.
After Thursday’s draft, KU coach Bill Self talked glowingly about the situations inherited by both of his former players. He loves the fit for Mason, who will be able to both play and help rebuild the culture with the Kings. And he thinks Jackson, no matter who he’s playing for, is ready to make a significant impact on the NBA immediately.
Regardless of how long it takes for either player to reach his full potential, there’s no doubt in my mind that few Jayhawks before them have been as ready, and at the same time as motivated, to transition to the pro game full-speed ahead.
It should be fun to watch and both Phoenix and Sacramento should benefit a great deal from that mindset and determination.
Current Jayhawks in the NBA
Cole Aldrich – Minnesota Timberwolves
Darrell Arthur – Denver Nuggets
Tarik Black – Los Angeles Lakers
Mario Chalmers – TBD
Nick Collison – Oklahoma City Thunder
Cheick Diallo – New Orleans Pelicans
Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Josh Jackson – Phoenix Suns
Frank Mason III – Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore – Sacramento Kings
Marcus Morris – Detroit Pistons
Markieff Morris – Washington Wizards
Kelly Oubre Jr. – Washington Wizards
Thomas Robinson – Los Angeles Lakers
Brandon Rush – Minnesota Timberwolves
Wayne Selden Jr. – Memphis Grizzlies
Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves
Jeff Withey – Utah Jazz
Whether you prefer to follow Chad Ford, Jeff Goodman, DraftExpress.com or any number of other NBA writers who cover the league and have done their best to predict what will happen in tonight’s draft, there’s no question that, when it comes to the rumor-mill world of the NBA Draft, there’s no shortage of entertaining and informative options out there.
But which ones will wind up being closest to right when it all goes down inside Barclays Center later tonight?
That’s impossible to predict — perhaps even tougher than predicting the picks themselves — and overall rather irrelevant since so many wild things can happen both leading up to and during the draft on one of the wildest days and nights on the NBA calendar year after year.
Personally, the NBA Draft is one of my favorite days of the sports year. Always has been. Ever since I was young and my favorite Kansas player at the time, point guard Kevin Pritchard, was drafted by Golden State on my birthday in 1989, I’ve been obsessed with the NBA Draft.
And not just the big names and popular picks either. All 60 of them. Every year.
So you can imagine my excitement when, in 2010, I actually got to cover a draft for the first time in my career. Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry were the KU picks that year and the experience was awesome. That draft started a streak of five straight NBA Drafts for me, and during that time I covered the draft night jubilation of eight lottery picks, including three Top 5 selections, twin brothers and a No. 1 overall pick in 2014.
Each experience was unique and being their for the biggest nights in all of those guys’ lives was memorable for a number of different reasons.
I haven’t been back since Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid went No. 1 and No. 3 in the 2014 draft — largely because Kansas hasn’t had another lottery pick since then — but I’m definitely wishing today that I was in the Big Apple with Josh Jackson, who was as much fun to cover and be around as any KU player I’ve worked with during my time with the paper.
Ben McLemore was by far the kindest and most accommodating of the former KU stars who I covered at the draft — Aldrich was a close second — and I think Jackson easily would’ve given him a run for his money.
But the schedule did not allow for it to happen this year, so we’ll cover it from here and try our best to keep up with all of the goings on that take place throughout the hours leading up to the 6 p.m. draft.
With that in mind, here are a few things I’m expecting to see and/or hear tonight and a quick prediction for where Jackson and Frank Mason III will wind up.
• I’m no NBA genius or insider, but I can’t see the top two picks going any other way than Markelle Fultz to Phily and Lonzo Ball to the Lakers. Recent moves by both teams seem to have cemented those picks and even though I would love to see Magic Johnson bring Jackson to L.A., I can’t see it happening. With that in mind, the draft really begins at pick No. 3 with the Boston Celtics.
• Speaking of the Celtics, I, like many people, think there’s a decent chance that the Celtics draft Josh Jackson. But the guess here is that Jackson never winds up playing for the Celtics even if they do.
• That brings me to my prediction for where Jackson will be selected and I’m going to say No. 4 to Phoenix. Because the Suns finished with one of the worst records in the league last season, I know that does not excite too many KU fans (especially those hoping Jackson somehow winds up playing with Embiid in Phily). But I think it should. Jackson would be a terrific spot for Jackson, who could flourish playing alongside guards Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, who could be to Jackson in the NBA what Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham were to him in college. Beyond that, Jackson would be a clear-cut, Day 1 starter and not face much pressure during his first year or two, which would allow him to develop his game and make the NBA adjustment while the Suns get better around him. I like it. Boston or L.A. would be more exciting, but Phoenix isn’t a disaster like falling one more spot to Sacramento would be.
• The latest mock draft put out by DraftExpress.com (3:20 p.m. Wednesday) has six Big 12 players being drafted, with four of those six going in the second round. Six out of 60 isn’t bad, but it sure seems like the league had better talent than that. DraftExpress’ latest version did not include Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, which, in my mind, is nuts. I think Morris will be a great pro and bring serious value to some team’s bench. So I’ll go with seven Big 12 players as the total number taken tonight.
• After a stellar senior season and some impressive pre-draft workouts, Frank Mason will certainly be one of them and that’s pretty darn cool considering he was nowhere to be found on these mock drafts when the 2016-17 season began. Mason’s story is as good as there has been during my time covering Kansas and that’s what makes it so easy to feel so good for him as he sits on the brink of watching his lifelong dream come true. Getting drafted is part of it. But making a roster and having an impact is part of it, too. And Mason is well aware of that. Simply getting drafted will not be good enough for him. Nor will he let the euphoria of being selected cloud his vision and allow him to become complacent. If anything, Mason will start working even harder after he’s drafted, merely as a thank you to the team that picks him and to show them that they made a good decision. With the NBA Draft, or really any draft for that manner, it’s often all about minimizing risk. There’s a lot at stake and a ton of money is invested in these extremely young players. Sometimes, their talent is so loud and impressive that you have to take on some risk. But other times, like in the second round where Mason will likely be selected, the risk taking is less prominent and teams are looking for proven commodities. There are few guys in this draft who minimize that risk like Mason and that’s why I think you’ll see him go early in the second round. Teams know what they’re getting with Mason. They know his character, his work ethic, his team-first mentality, his willingness and preference to avoid drama and, above all, his desire to win. There’s not a team in the league that would not like to add those things to its roster.
• As for my guess on which team will be the one that makes Mason their guy, I’m going to say Philadelphia at either pick No. 36 or 39. In addition to having the No. 1 overall pick, which they’ll no doubt use on Fultz, the Sixers have four other picks, which puts them in a great position to fill out some of their bench to lend support to the potentially stellar trio of Embiid, Fultz, Ben Simmons. Mason, for all of the reasons mentioned above (and then some) would be a great fit on that kind of roster, where he could use his drive, mentality and maturity in a leadership role sooner rather than later.
• One quick parting shot, before I go hop on Twitter and track what madness unfolds, if I had my choice, I’d love to see either Mason or Jackson end up with the New York Knicks. If it’s Jackson, he becomes a huge part of their rebuild and he would be willing and able to shoulder all that comes with being a star in the Big Apple. If it’s Mason, how cool would it be for him to play 41 professional games a year in the arena where he hit the biggest shot of his college career? But whether it’s one of these guys to Boston, New York or L.A., can we all just cross our fingers and hope that those three franchises make the right moves to climb back to relevance? Boston clearly is already there. And that’s exciting. But the league’s just not the same with the Knicks and Lakers stinking the way they have in recent years.
Enjoy draft day everybody, and stay in touch with KUsports.com, right here on the site, via Twitter or both, for any happenings that might involve your Jayhawks.
11:31 a.m. Update:
According a late-morning Tweet from Luke Winn of SI.com, Moore did not make the first cut at this week's tryout in Colorado Springs.
Despite falling short, which is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about given the talent and depth of those players vying for the spots, everything that was written below earlier today still applies to the opportunity Moore received.
If anything, not making the USA roster might add even more fuel to Moore's fire and inpsire him to take even better advantage of the upcoming year than he already planned to.
Time will tell, but it's important to remember two things when thinking about Moore:
1 - He's still just a freshman and seems to be very much on par with where Devonte' Graham was after his freshman season at Kansas. That's not to say Moore will become Graham, but Graham wasn't exactly the player we know him to be today back then either.
2 - Moore does have that one valuable year of experience at Cal under his belt, which should help him approach his current opportunity and what's ahead with more maturity than your average newcomer.
Twenty-eight current college players were invited to the tryout and 12 will make the final roster to compete for Team USA at the U19 FIBA World Cup July 1-9 Cairo.
Consider this the first important step in Moore’s potentially huge transfer year.
While practicing with and playing against current Jayhawks like Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman will no doubt be big for Moore’s development, these opportunities stand to be even bigger.
Unlike KU’s practices, where Moore can play with little pressure and without the usual make-or-break urgency, this week’s environment is a high-intensity, put-your-best-foot-forward-or-go-home experience that will force the former Cal point guard to be sharp and locked in at all times.
Whether he makes the team or not, that’s a good foundation for Moore to develop as he heads into the rest of the summer with the Jayhawks and, ultimately, the 2017-18 season, where he’ll hang in the shadows but be an important part of KU’s practice puzzle.
“He’s had some good moments,” Self told the Journal-World Tuesday morning when asked about Moore’s tryout thus far. “But he probably needed to have a really good day today to put himself in position to make that team.”
Newman, who came to KU after a year at Mississippi State, talked recently about the huge advantages of his transfer year and how he was able to spend an entire year working on the parts of his game that he thought needed the most help. Doing so under the watchful eye and tutelage of coaches like Bill Self, Kurtis Townsend, Andrea Hudy and many others certainly pushed Newman to a new level and left him saying and feeling that his confidence heading into the summer was at an all-time high.
Now it’s Moore’s turn to do the same. And what better way is there to do that than by competing against some of the best young players in college basketball while trying out for a team coached, and therefore selected, by Kentucky’s John Calipari.
Former Kansas players Tad Boyle (Colorado) and Danny Manning (Wake Forest) are assistants on Calipari’s Team USA staff, so the opportunity for Moore to pick their brains — especially Manning’s — about Kansas basketball and playing for Self only adds to the enormous gains that Moore can get out of the tryout.
Every little bit helps and it has to be viewed as a great sign that KU’s newest guard — and the potential heir to the Jayhawks’ point guard throne — is jumping into life as a Jayhawk with both feet and reckless abandon.
I liked what little I saw from Moore during the recent camp scrimmages. He looks quick, poised and more than competent and should improve his all-around game a great deal during his transfer season, much in the way Newman did.
It’s hard to imagine him being talked about at this time next year the way KU’s coaches have talked about Newman, but it’s not hard to envision Moore becoming an important part of KU’s team for the next couple of years. Opportunities to both test and prove himself like the one he’s getting this week in Colorado Springs can only help.
As for Self, he has spent time in Colorado Springs this week with an eye on recruiting some of KU’s most important targets in future recruiting classes, and on Wednesday he’ll head to New York City for the NBA Draft to join Josh Jackson and watch what fate awaits his most recent one-and-done player along with Frank Mason III.
I love the month leading up to the NBA Draft, largely because of two things: 1. It gives us plenty of stories to track and follow during the dog days of summer. And 2. I enjoy keeping tabs on all draft rumors and trade talks that surfac up and down the draft board because the NBA, unlike any other professional sport, is a game that can be impacted by the addition of a single player.
Add the right guy, at a position of need, and a team that missed the playoffs a year earlier could jump into the mix right away.
Add the right face to a struggling franchise and an entire city and fan base could suddenly be energized.
Whether this year’s draft — 6 p.m. Thursday night in Brooklyn, N.Y. — has those types of players or not remains to be seen. Markelle Fultz could be one. And it sure seems like Philadelphia is counting on that. Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson could join him.
And then, of course, there’s always the possibility that there’s a Manu Ginobli or Draymond Green waiting in the second round, which is another part of the annual draft experience that makes for compelling stories.
For most KU fans, the stories worth reading only go as far as the Kansas prospects in each draft. Luckily, Bill Self has done a masterful job of putting KU players in the pros of late, delivering lottery talent in seven of the past 10 years, including a five-year streak from 2010-14.
The Jayhawks have been shut out of the lottery in each of the past two drafts — No. 15 overall pick Kelly Oubre came oh-so-close in 2015, missing lottery status by one spot — but KU will climb back in this year, making it eight of the last 11 years, when Josh Jackson is drafted, perhaps as high as second or third.
Frank Mason III also figures to be drafted this week, but it’s Jackson that we’re here to talk about today because one of my all-time favorite Jayhawks to cover recently delivered one of my favorite all-time draft moments and I’m not sure everybody picked up on it.
Pegged as a likely Top 3 pick for months, Jackson skipped the pre-draft combine in Chicago in May and limited the teams with which he worked out individually to just a couple because it’s hard to imagine him falling out of the Top 5.
One of those teams in the Top 5 is the Los Angeles Lakers, who are currently run by former Michigan State & Lakers star Magic Johnson.
Magic loves Jackson. He loved him in high school, did everything in his power to convince him to go to Michigan State and has had nothing but good things to say about the Detroit native every time he’s been asked.
I know there’ll be a ton of pressure on the Lakers to pick Ball at No. 2, but there are plenty of people out there who think Jackson will end up in L.A.
I don’t blame them. Here’s why:
A couple of weeks ago, when Jackson showed up to his workout with the Lakers, he did so wearing a Kansas T-Shirt.
Big deal, right? I’m sure he’s got a hundred KU shirts, if not more, and it would make sense for him to slap one on to represent the program that helped put him in the position of being a Top 5 draft pick.
But there was something about this particular shirt that caught my eye. Rather than simply saying Kansas basketball or Rock Chalk or any other combination of the most common words you see splattered on KU gear around here, Jackson chose one that said, “NCAA Men’s Sweet 16” and featured the year and a small Jayhawk at the bottom.
Again, big deal, right?
Actually, it was. As you’ll recall, it was Johnson’s Michigan State team that Jackson and the Jayhawks defeated to reach the Sweet 16. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Jackson chose it on purpose.
That’s just the kind of cut-throat competitor he is. Rather than being in awe of Johnson and bowing at his feet, thanking him for the mere opportunity to even show him his basketball abilities, Jackson showed up with some swagger and an edge, the kind that a guy like Johnson would probably love to have on his team.
As subtle as the gesture was, I would bet good money that Magic picked up on it.
If he did, and if the Lakers were at all actually considering taking Jackson at No. 2, a moment like that certainly could go a long way toward making the decision final.
That’s a bold move and a simple declaration from Jackson to Johnson that says, “I’m a bad man and you want me on your team.”
Time will tell if that happens.
In the summer of 2008, a long, athletic guard from Hoboken, N.J., arrived on KU’s campus ready to take on the world.
His name was Tyshawn Taylor, he was on the heels of winning a prep national championship with St. Anthony’s after a 32-0 senior season and he was one of six players in KU’s recruiting class that offseason, a group that would become the foundation for a few wildly successful teams in the coming years.
That summer, of course, KU was just a couple of months removed from winning the 2008 national title and Taylor, along with the likes of Travis Releford, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and others were stepping into some huge shoes.
Gone to the NBA draft were six rotation players from the 2008 title team — including all five starters — and Taylor’s crew, along with title-team returners Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, would be asked to lead the Jayhawks into the future.
While not all of them are headed to the NBA, the current Jayhawks also are losing six players — three full-time starters — from last season’s opening-day roster, a fact that, at least in Taylor’s eyes, puts the upcoming team on par with his first Kansas team.
“I came in with a class kind of like this,” Taylor said of KU’s transfer-heavy 2017 recruiting class that features two freshmen and six high-profile transfers. “All the guys from the national championship team left and then like seven or eight new guys came in. So I know how it feels to kind of be the new guy in a big group. And it’s cool, man. You just gotta embrace it and enjoy it. I’m sure everybody’s showing them love and welcoming them so I’m sure they’re enjoying it.”
That much was obvious during the past couple of weeks, when old names and new faces got together for a couple of camp scrimmages and some good, old-fashioned pick-up basketball.
Only five of the eight new players on the 2017-18 KU roster will be eligible for the upcoming season, which creates a slightly different situation than the one Taylor walked into. But with senior point guard Devonte’ Graham playing the Sherron Collins/Frank Mason III role, Taylor said the current team was poised for big things in the immediate future.
“Devonte’ is a proven guy at this point now,” Taylor said. “So I know what to expect from him. And I just loved how hard they played. They came to compete against us old guys. They really wanted to win that game and they did. I’m looking forward to watching them once Coach Self gets his hands on ’em, you know.”
That time is now. With the Jayhawks allowed to practice in small doses this summer and planning to utilize their 10 practices ahead of the August trip to Italy to go full-speed twice a week for five straight weeks, the versions of the KU team will saw earlier this month and the one that hits the floor in Italy and ultimately at Allen Fieldhouse on Halloween night will differ dramatically.
Here’s what we know already about the new faces:
• Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who finally will be eligible when October rolls around, has shined, testing himself against Taylor, Mario Chalmers and others.
• Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson flashed the kind of potential that should — and, no doubt, will — make fans eager to see the 2018-19 team, as well. In time, of course.
• Former Cal point guard Charlie Moore proved in short bursts that he could be worthy heir to the point guard throne held first by Mason and this season by Graham.
• And Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe and William & Mary grad transfer Jack Whitman, both of whom will be playing by January (Whitman immediately and Cunliffe at the start of the second semester), showed elite-level athleticism that surely will fit into whatever the rest of the guys on the roster will do as the Jayhawks pursue a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and make another run at the big prize.
One of the biggest reasons it all works, of course, is the existence of Bill Self and his coaching staff and the consistency they bring to the table year after year in terms of expectations, approach, pace and principles. Self and company have proven time after time that it's what you do in the practice gym in front of them and not on the recruiting rankings before you arrive that determines who plays and Taylor said that's a lesson that is both hammered home and easy to accept from Day 1.
Many people, including some close to the program, have joked this month about needing a roster with faces and numbers to identify the dramatically different looking Kansas team on the court and in practices.
But different does not always mean bad. As was the case with Taylor’s class in 2008, this new group of currently unfamiliar Jayhawks soon figures to be wowing Kansas fans across the country and creating headaches for the rest of the Big 12 Conference. Just like Taylor and his crew did.
The last time Kansas basketball coach Bill Self saw his son, Tyler, hit a 3-pointer as a Jayhawk, the KU coach smiled slyly but did his best to maintain his composure.
Self knew then, of course — during the Jayhawks’ 100-62 victory over UC-Davis in Round 1 of last season’s NCAA Tournament — that the cameras were rolling and, because of that, sportsmanship was a high priority.
Thursday night, at his son’s old stomping grounds of Free State High, Self again watched Tyler knock in a 3-pointer during the ninth annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, won 104-101 by the Crimson team over the Blue. This time, however, Self sat in the stands, and, as a proud parent, leapt to both feet and threw both arms and fists in the air after the former KU walk-on knocked down the open jumper.
Many in attendance at the sold-out event caught Self’s reaction — partially genuine and partially over the top — and appropriately roared with laughter.
That was merely one of the dozen or so light-hearted moments that made this year’s Roundball Classic, like all of the others before it, such a memorable and enjoyable evening for so many former Kansas players and their adoring fans.
Here are a few others:
• At halftime, when one lucky fan received an opportunity to shoot a half-court shot for a new car and six young fans were plucked from the crowd to play a quick game of knock-out, KU director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard was called to the court to advise the half-court heaver. Bechard, of course, is the reigning half-court shot champion, having knocked in half-courters in back-to-back years at Late Night for tuition money for one lucky KU student. Bechard’s advice to the man was simple: Don’t leave it short. He didn’t, but it was off to the left and missed the rim by a foot or two.
• More from the younger Self. Although he didn’t play a ton of minutes, he did make the most of his opportunity to entertain, first knocking down that open jumper and twice later overreacting in dramatic fashion to fouls called against him. The first came when he fouled Sherron Collins on a 3-point attempt. And the other came when he bear-hugged Cole Aldrich in the paint. Each time Tyler Self threw both arms high into the air in the direction of the officials to protest the calls. Not long after, a smile of pure joy quickly filled Tyler’s face. One thing that really hit me during these exchanges was how much fun it must’ve been for him to participate in this game. Sure there were a couple of guys out there, like Wayne Selden or Perry Ellis, who Tyler was teammates with. But the good majority of them, especially those from that 2008 team, were better known as guys he once looked up to and, perhaps more importantly, the crew that finally delivered his dad a national title. Cool stuff.
• At the point in the night when the members of the 2008 national title team were asked to come to mid-court for a group photo, Roundball Classic leading scorer Ben McLemore (32 points), who played just the 2012-13 season at Kansas before turning pro, jokingly jumped out there to try to get into the picture. “Yeah, you seen me try to go out there,” McLemore said after the game. “I wish I could’ve won a championship. But it was great playing here for the University of Kansas and it’s always a great feeling to come back here.”
• During one timeout in the second half, when event organizer Brian Hanni was introducing a young boy named Cade, who last year was an honorary coach at the game and this year is on pace to complete his cancer treatment with a prognosis of a victorious battle on his side, Hanni learned that Thursday also was Cade’s birthday. With the teams mingling more and strategizing less, Collins grabbed the mic and led the Free State gym in a singing of “Happy Birthday.” He was no John Legend, but Collins definitely pulled off the role of lead singer with a passing grade.
• A couple of funny quick-hitters from the game itself: At one point, after Mario Little blocked a driving shot attempt by Tyshawn Taylor, Mario Chalmers waived the Dikembe Mutombo finger Taylor’s way; Late in the game, with both sides competing harder in an attempt to snag the victory, Collins asked the scorer’s table how many fouls Taylor had. The scoreboard operator was not keeping track, but Collins was sure that Taylor had six fouls and should no longer be on the floor; During one timeout midway through the second half, Collins, on the Crimson team, looked over to the Blue bench and told J.J. Howard, son of Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard, that he was with the wrong team and that he should, “Come over to the good side.” J.J. stayed put; During a two-on-none late in the first half, as Wayne Selden and Drew Gooden raced toward the unprotected rim, an easy opportunity to throw an alley-oop presented itself. Instead of tossing it to Gooden, however, Selden fired it off the glass to himself and finished the play with one of the more impressive jams of the night. Rather than call him out for not giving up the rock, Gooden simply ran back on D with a huge smile and a look on his face that suggested he might be thinking, “Yeah. Good idea.”
• Finally, on a night designed to celebrate several former Jayhawks and honor the brave fights of a handful of young cancer warriors and their families, it’s worth noting that several members of the current Kansas basketball team showed up to enjoy the event. Those spotted in the crowd on Thursday were: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett, Dedric Lason, Charlie Moore and the entire KU coaching staff. Several former players mentioned in throughout the postgame festivities, but this truly was a family affair.
Kansas sophomore Malik Newman got the opportunity on Wednesday to show off his point guard skills for a portion of the annual camp scrimmage, won, 82-75, by the current team over a star-studded cast of former Jayhawks.
And it came against some of the best point guards of the Bill Self era.
Sure, there may be an age gap. And, whether because of age or injury or both, it’s hard to imagine that any of them were in as good of shape as Newman. But still, these were big time players. Names like Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins, along with others, all took a turn at guarding and going at Newman.
The Mississippi State transfer finished with 18 points and seemed both completely comfortable and wildly excited about the opportunity to face some of these former Kansas greats, many of whom walked away impressed.
“They’re gonna be great,” said Chalmers after the scrimmage of Newman and senior-to-be Devonte’ Graham. “I have high expectations for both of them, especially Malik Newman. They’ve got to pick up the slack from Frank (Mason) and they’re two good guards we need up top.”
Asked specifically if he thought Newman could play the point, Chalmers, the eight-year NBA veteran who, after a year and a half off to recover from a variety of injuries, is eagerly looking forward to his own return, was not willing to make any concrete statements either way.
“This was the first time I’ve seen Malik play,” he said. “So, just from this game, it’d be hard to tell just because this is an all-star game and everybody wants to shoot and go at it. But coach Self will make sure that he has a point guard, I’m not worried about that.”
Newman himself said playing on the ball was something he worked on a great deal during his transfer year, both to grow his own game and also for the good of the team.
“With the sit-out year, that’s something that I worked on a lot because I know Devonte’ isn’t gonna be able to bring the ball up the whole game by himself,” he said.
Regardless of who has the ball in his hands the most — all signs point to Graham running the point the majority of the time, but Newman and even Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and freshman Marcus Garrett also may take a turn next season — the reality of Newman’s growth in that area is that the Jayhawks, as head coach Bill Self likes, now figure to feature a versatile and balanced backcourt.
As for Self’s take on Newman, he’s not all that interested in labels.
“I think Malik’s just a guard,” Self told the Journal-World earlier this spring. “He can play with the ball in his hands, but he’s probably better off the ball. He and Devonte’ could obviously be a nice combination.”
In scoring 46 points against some of KU’s biggest names of the recent past, the duo showed exactly that on Wednesday.
And from the sound of things, they’re just getting started.
“It was good,” Newman said of his pseudo first game in a Kansas uniform. “That’s why I came here, to play with an awesome group of guys and in front of a great crowd. And I think we did good for our first time together.”
• Recorded Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Tuesday afternoon, inside Horejsi Family Athletic Center, a few hundred Bill Self Basketball campers and small handful of media members and various members of the KU support staff were treated to a first true look at the 2017-18 Kansas men’s basketball team.
Sure, there were a couple of faces missing. Senior-to-be Svi Mykhailiuk is still in Ukraine playing with his national team and freshman Marcus Garrett did not arrive on campus until Tuesday night after graduating from Dallas’ Skyline High on Monday.
But, for the most part, this was a legitimate look at the Jayhawks that will be. Many of them — transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore — will not be eligible to play for the Jayhawks in a real game until the 2018-19 season. When they do, all three will have big time roles.
Others, like graduate transfer Jack Whitman, freshman Billy Preston and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe (second semester) will be available to help out this season, and both should do just that.
That left the familiar faces, of which there were not quite as many as in recent years. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman showed terrific chemistry, with Lagerald Vick right there with them. And Udoka Azubuike was back from his wrist injury with Mitch Lightfoot there next to him.
These might be new Jayhawks and this definitely will be a different team. But after a quick look at what KU will roll onto the floor during the upcoming season, one thing is clear — there is plenty of talent in place for Kansas to be as competitive as ever.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few other things that caught my eye at the opening practice, which included a little four-on-four, full-court action at the very end.
• Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way first. Did William & Mary transfer Jack Whitman come sporting the mustache? You bet he did. It actually was more of a goatee look, but the ’stache most definitely was there. Whitman told me after he committed to KU this spring that he was not sure if he would keep the mustache throughout his time at Kansas or not, but he appears to be well on his way to making that happen. As for his game, there’s no doubt that he’s an explosive player around the rim — he’ll surprise more than a few opponents in that way this season — and willing to give great effort on every play, but, at least right now, he still seems to be thinking a lot about what he’s doing out there instead of just feeling it and playing free. That’s to be expected with a player learning a new system and culture and it will be worth monitoring as the summer goes along.
• While we’re talking appearances, it’s worth noting that Lagerald Vick was rocking a new look at Tuesday’s practice, opting for tiny braids instead of the blown-out, Devonte’ Graham/Josh Jackson look he favored last year. The new haircut likely did not have any impact on Vick’s game, but it did make him look even faster than we already knew he was, with the hair flopping around like mad each time he pushed the ball in transition and attacked the rim.
• We won’t see much of it this season past the summer camps and Late Night, but you can absolutely tell that Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson has massive potential. He has terrific size (6-9, 236), good footwork and an air of toughness to his game. His numbers last season at Memphis (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) certainly proved what he’s capable of doing, but getting another year of working on his body and his game at Kansas should bring some pretty high expectations for his 2018-19 season.
• Freshman forward Billy Preston has a long way to go — Self said as much following Tuesday’s session — but there’s no question that the foundation is there. And I’m not just talking physically either. Preston looks physically mature beyond his years but he also appears to be a sponge, willing to soak up every instruction sent his way (from teammates and coaches) and he’s also pretty hard on himself, expecting to make every shot he takes and do every drill to perfection. What I really liked about Preston in that regard was the fact that when he did not know exactly what he was doing, he had no problem asking. A definite good start.
• I wrote last week about Mitch Lightfoot’s offseason workout routine and how he already seemed to be pushing himself to the limits in an effort to take full advantage of the opportunity to bump up his minutes during his sophomore season. More performances like the one he gave on Tuesday will go a long way toward making that happen. Lightfoot gave max effort on absolutely every rep and seemed to really embrace the role of leading by example. He also was vocal — something he had no problem with last season — and willing to help the newcomers with whatever instructions he could. I’ve said it before and every time I see him or have a discussion about him, I come away thinking more and more that Lightfoot is going to have an impressive second season in KU crimson and blue.
• As a final act for the hundreds of campers who ooh’d and ahh’d about every dunk and big time shot the Jayhawks made during their individual drill work, Self broke the Jayhawks into two units and coached ’em hard during a little four-on-four, full-court scrimmage. The match-ups for the short session included Devonte’ Graham vs. Charlie Moore, Lagerald Vick vs. Sam Cunliffe; Billy Preston vs. Mitch Lightfoot; and Malik Newman vs. K.J. Lawson. All eight players had their moments, but Newman and Moore were the two that stood out most to me.
• Speaking of Newman, it’s very clear why the coaching staff, including Self, has spoken so highly of him and his potential impact on the 2017-18 season throughout the past several months. The guy is a player. The thing that impressed me most about Newman on Tuesday was his poise. He plays hard, attacks often and is an aggressive competitor on both ends of the floor, but it never looks hard for him. He’s smooth, plays under control and displays a great deal of confidence no matter what the situation. He’s going to be a bear for opposing teams to handle.
• Sticking with the guards, I was really, really impressed by what I saw from Cal transfer Charlie Moore. The kid is fearless and, like Newman, has an aggressive mentality and a ton of confidence. He’s little, as you’ve seen and heard, but he doesn’t play that way. I think KU got an absolute steal in getting him and he’ll be more than ready to slide into that lead guard spot when the 2018-19 season rolls around.
That’s all for now. It was a great first look at the new version of your Jayhawks and two players who figure to factor into the rotation during the 2017-18 season weren’t even there.
More to come throughout the week from camp, including a Wednesday camp scrimmage of notable alums vs. the current squad, so stay logged on to KUsports.com for more videos, stories, reaction and analysis. Self said video coordinator Jeremy Case told him 13 former players were expected back for Wednesday's alumni scrimmage.
One of the coolest parts about the couple of weeks of Bill Self Basketball Camps that take place each summer at KU is the ability of young people to meet, interact and goof around with some of their favorite players.
At times, that means taking a shooting tip from their favorite Jayhawk or getting a pat on the back for a job well done from a current or former player.
At others, as was the case on Monday at Horejsi Family Athletics Center, a handful of lucky campers get the opportunity to ask of their favorite Jayhawks absolutely anything they want.
You should see the way these young hoopers get pumped up by just being called on to ask their question. And then, if the question is a particular hit and the gym goes nuts, the pride on their faces as they sit back down is sensational.
Monday afternoon, senior-to-be Devonte’ Graham addressed this year’s campers, first telling a little bit about his story, how he got to Kansas, why he came back for his senior season and things of the like.
After that, Graham opened it up for a 5-10 minute Q&A session with the hundreds of young Jayhawk fans who packed the bleachers.
Obviously, Graham was not able to call on everyone who put his or her hand up. But he got to as many as he could and, in doing so, gave an even greater glimpse into just who the man who wears No. 4 for the Jayhawks really is.
Here’s a quick sampling of some of the things Graham was asked, along with his answers...
Q – Do you think you can play in the NBA?
A – “Yes. I hope I do. I hope I can.”
Q – If you do make it to the NBA, is there one team you hope you’ll get drafted by?
A - “If I’m lucky enough to get drafted, I’d like to get picked by the Miami Heat or somebody like that.”
Q – Lebron James or Steph Curry?
A – “Lebron.” [crowd roars with approval]
Q – Where do you think will Josh Jackson get drafted?
A – “I’m saying Top 3. I think he might actually go to Boston (which has the No. 1 pick).”
Q – Are you better than (former UCLA star) Lonzo Ball?
A – “I’ll let him answer that. [points to kid wearing a Graham jersey sitting nearby] Kid responds with a simple, “Yeah.” [crowd applauds loudly]
Q – Can you do a back flip?
A – “No. Frank (Mason III) can, though.”
Q – How do you think Frank Mason will do in the NBA?
A – “I think he’s gonna have a good career. He’s definitely gonna get drafted and he’s gonna be good.”
Q – What size shoe do you wear?
A – “I wear size 13.”
Q – What’s been your favorite game during your time at KU so far?
A – “I’m gonna have to say the Oklahoma game here when we won in three overtimes and the West Virginia game here last year when we came back.”
Q – Can you dunk?
A – “Can I dunk? Yeah.”
Q – What do you call your hair style? (asked by J.J. Howard, son of Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard)
A – “I call it the J.J.”
Q – Did you ever think you’d end up playing at KU when you were younger?
A – “Honestly, I did not. I grew up a UNC fan, being from North Carolina, and that was my dream school before I came here.”
Q – Why do you wear No. 4?
A – “That’s when I started playing basketball, when I was 4 years old.”
Q – Who are your roommates?
A – “Svi (Mykhailiuk) and the Lawson brothers (Dedric and K.J.) from Memphis. Do you guys know them yet?”
Q – How did you guard (former Oklahoma star) Buddy Hield?
A – “How did I guard him? I just locked him up.”
And, with that, Graham was off the hot seat.
There were a couple of repeat questions mixed in there and Graham made sure to point that out, giving props to those nearby who could answer because they had been paying attention.
Before the Q&A got going, Graham asked the packed house, by a show of hands, how many there wanted to play college basketball one day? Almost every hand went up.
Next, he asked a follow-up about how many of the campers wanted to play in the NBA some day. Most of the hands stayed up.
Graham then got to the heart of the matter and asked how many of them knew what it took to play in the NBA. A few hands dropped but several stayed up.
“Can you guys tell me?”
More camp fun is slated for later today, with the first session running through the end of the week and the second session starting next week.
Stay tuned to KUsports.com for much more from camp.