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Tale of the Tait

Max Falkenstien celebration of life set for Saturday

Longtime Kansas University basketball radio broadcaster Max Falkenstein enjoys a laugh in the media room prior to the start of Wednesday night's game against Yale at Allen Fieldhouse.

Longtime Kansas University basketball radio broadcaster Max Falkenstein enjoys a laugh in the media room prior to the start of Wednesday night's game against Yale at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

When former radio broadcaster Max Falkenstien died in late July at the age of 95, Jayhawks everywhere jumped at the chance to share their best stories of the man who called KU games for 60 years.

On Saturday, the party will continue at the Lied Center on KU’s campus.

In conjunction with Kansas Athletics, Falkenstien’s family is hosting a celebration of life for the late KU broadcaster at 2 p.m. The event will feature several notable speakers and will be emceed by Falkenstien’s longtime friend and broadcast partner, Bob Davis, who no doubt will share a few of his own best Max stories with the crowd.

The event is open to the public and free of charge and is not expected to last more than an hour.

It is hard to predict just how many former and current KU players, coaches and administrators are expected to attend, but the celebration figures to attract Jayhawks from several decades and across multiple generations.

“He was Mr. Jayhawk,” said former KU football coach Glen Mason shortly after Falkenstien’s passing.

Added former KU men’s basketball coach Larry Brown: “When you talk about those great (KU) people, and everyone connected with all that tradition, Max is one of the first people you think about.”

Because he was around him just a short time, current KU Athletic Director Jeff Long is eager to hear as many Falkenstien tales as time allows.

“I, of course, knew of Max for many years as the iconic Voice of the Jayhawks,” Long said. “I am so happy that I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him this year. He was everything everyone had told me about him – engaging, funny – and he made me feel right at home.”

Reply 1 comment from Len Shaffer

KU point guard Devon Dotson drops short workout video that shows off strength, improvement

Kansas guard Devon Dotson cruises in for a layup during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson cruises in for a layup during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Sure, the opportunity was greater than what most get, and, yeah, the numbers were good not great.

But there’s no disputing that Kansas point guard Devon Dotson, now on the brink of his second season with the program, had a solid freshman season for the Jayhawks in 2018-19.

Earlier this summer, I took at look at just how much of a workhorse season Dotson had as a freshman and it sure seems like the experiences he gained then will help him immensely during the 2019-20 season, as well.

That knowledge accompanied by some serious offseason work has Dotson poised for an all-Big 12 season and a major jump from what we saw during his freshman year.

We already know he has talent. Speed, toughness, the ability to finish and ball handling are all among his biggest strengths.

But a short video that Dotson recently Tweeted out shows we might not have seen anything yet.

I know it’s a 1-minute video and it’s designed to highlight his best moments of recent workouts, but it’s pretty darn impressive nonetheless.

The thing that jumps out to me here is just how strong he looks. Strong physically. Strong with the ball. Strong and explosive at the rim.

Check it out for yourself (if you find foul language in rap lyrics offensive, watch it with the sound turned down) and see what stands out to you.

Whether it’s the same as what I see or something different, I think we can agree on the fact that Dotson is in for a monster year.

None by Devon Dotson⚡️

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Kansas commitment Dajuan Harris jumps in latest Rivals rankings

Class of 2019 commitment Dajuan Harris, who announced his decision to attend Kansas on July 16, 2019.

Class of 2019 commitment Dajuan Harris, who announced his decision to attend Kansas on July 16, 2019. by Darryl Woods/810 Varsity

Class of 2020 point guard Dajuan Harris recently received an Ochai-Agbaji-like bump in the updated Rivals.com rankings.

Harris, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound point guard from Columbia, Mo., who committed to KU in July and continues to work toward completing the necessary academic requirements to get to campus in time for the 2019-20 school year, went from unranked to No. 83 and from a three-star rating to four.

The jump was inevitable in the eyes of many recruiting analysts, who were predicting a spot in the Top 100 at the time Harris committed to KU.

After initially committing to Missouri State as a member of the Class of 2019, Harris changed gears and reclassified into the 2020 class with plans to attend prep school for the 2019-20 season. But after receiving a release from Missouri State and committing to KU, Harris began work to get back into the 2019 class.

Harris has not yet officially signed with the Jayhawks and does not appear on KU’s current roster. If he’s able to complete his academic work in time to join the roster this month, he will fill the 13th and final scholarship the KU men’s basketball program has available.

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Navyhawk Rockchalk1990

He Will, He Won’t, He Might 2019: Udoka Azubuike

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike comes in for a dunk past former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor and current forward Tristan Enaruna during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike comes in for a dunk past former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor and current forward Tristan Enaruna during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Earlier this week, we took a look at a few “He Will, He Won’t, He Might” predictions for the player who figures to make the Kansas basketball offense go this season — point guard Devon Dotson.

Now, let’s shift gears — and uniform sizes — to the player on KU’s 2019-20 roster that figures to anchor everything the Jayhawks want to do this season.

From his spot on the block as a force who draws double and triple teams most nights and dominates players and teams who dare guard him straight up, to clogging the paint and protecting the rim on defense, Udoka Azubuike arguably is as important to his team as any player in the country.

After missing most of the 2018-19 season with yet another fluke injury, the 7-footer is back at Kansas for a senior season that no one expected him to be around for and determined to make the most of it.

The goal is obvious and it has as much to do with being on the court with a chance to contribute as it does points, rebounds, blocks or dunks.

He Will: Play a full season for the first time in his KU career

Even during the 2017-18 season, when he played a huge role in leading the Jayhawks to the Final Four, Azubuike missed time because of injury.

His MCL sprain just before the start of the Big 12 tournament in 2018 forced him to miss three games there and nearly all of a fourth in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and similar wrist injuries during his freshman and junior seasons caused him to miss all but a handful of games those years.

Enough is enough, right? I know there’s no science behind the claim that Azubuike will play a full season for the first time in his Kansas career, but it sure seems like he’s due to catch a good break in the injury department, so we’ll go with it.

Mark it down. No missed games. No major injuries. Nothing but Azubuike in the starting lineup from start to finish for the 2019-20 season, however long that may last.

He Won’t: Average more than 25 minutes per game

Partly to keep his conditioning issues in check and also because of KU’s depth behind him, I foresee a season in which Azubuike goes as hard as he can while he’s out there and gets the necessary rest on a per-game basis to keep that kind of production consistent.

In years past, KU coach Bill Self has talked about Azubuike’s presence on the court being a huge component of KU’s chances to not only win games but also control them. So the temptation to keep him out there as much as possible certainly could be there.

But Azubuike is a different player when saddled with foul trouble. And even though his foul issues might not hurt Kansas as much this season as they did in the past, they are still likely to cut into his individual production.

Playing Azubuike around 25 minutes a game (which, by the way, would be better than his career mark of 21 mpg and better still than his best season at KU when he averaged 23.6 mpg in 2017-18) limits the impact that any of his five fouls can have and also would help him stay fresh and hungry for the minutes he is on the floor.

He Might: Shoot 50 percent or better from the FT line

All of the injuries, his new physique and the excitement surrounding his return have taken a little of the focus off of Azubuike’s issues at the free throw line.

That’s what not shooting (and missing) free throws in front of thousands of people can do for a guy.

But make no mistake about it, we still have to wonder if Azubuike can improve enough at the free throw line to stay on the floor late in games if Self and company need him out there. The guess here is he just might.

Remember, heading into last season Self said he thought Azubuike could reach as high as 60-65% from the line because of the time he had put into fixing his free throw form and working on different routines that made him more comfortable at the line.

Because of the injury, he never got a chance to show whether Self was right or wrong, although the early returns weren’t good. In the nine games he played in last season, Azubuike made just 11 of 32 from the free throw line, good for a 34.4% clip.

That brought his career mark below 40% (39.4) and certainly did nothing to suggest he was heading in the right direction.

So the theory here is simple: There’s really nowhere to go but up. And with this likely being Azubuike’s last run at KU and him knowing that he actually has some big man help on the bench this season, that could be the right recipe for a more-relaxed, better-free-throw-shooting Azubuike during the 2019-20 season.

He Will, He Won't, He Might 2019:

• Devon Dotson

Reply 5 comments from Brian Conrad Dirk Medema Pius Waldman Brjam

He Will, He Won’t, He Might 2019: Devon Dotson

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) drives against Vermont guard Stef Smith (0) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) drives against Vermont guard Stef Smith (0) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Now that we’re deep into August and the start of the 2019-20 school year is just a week away, it’s time to kick off another round of “He Will, He Won’t, He Might,” here at Kusports.com.

If you’re not familiar with this feature, here’s a quick explanation:

Over the next few weeks, I’ll take a look at every scholarship player on the Kansas men’s basketball roster and predict three things — something each player will do during the upcoming season, something each player won’t do during the upcoming season and something that each player might do or not do during the upcoming season.

There is, of course, more to this feature than just listing those predictions. I’ll examine why I make each prediction and also look into the future as well as back at whatever historical context might exist to support the claims.

Some of them are kind of obvious, but I try to take chances with most of them, as much for a chance to pull something out of nowhere as entertainment value.

Over the years, I’ve had a pretty good track record here. I’m not exactly sure how many predictions have come true. Certainly not all of them. But definitely more than half.

Let’s see how this year goes, shall we? And let’s start off with the guy who gets it all started for the Jayhawks — Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson.

He Will: Be Playing His Last Season at Kansas

I don’t think this is that much of a reach nor is it anything that will surprise anyone. Dotson was close to leaving KU after his freshman season and if he has a year that’s anywhere close to what he did a season ago, he should be able to make the jump to the NBA and enter the draft after two strong seasons as a Jayhawk.

I don’t think Dotson leaving is a guarantee by any means, though. If anything, I think it’ll come down to the draft process again and where scouts and NBA executives are telling him he fits in.

The common belief here is that Dotson was close to cracking the Top 40 last season and may have come out if he had a Top 40 guarantee. So it would make sense that another offseason of work and season to show his expanded game and improvement in certain areas could easily move him into that range a year from now.

Some of the early 2020 mock drafts had Dotson on their list with one of the last two or three picks of the first round. If those projections turn out to be factual, he’s gone. But if the draft class blows up and there are 40-45 players who scouts view as more of a sure thing than Dotson, he could entertain the idea of another year at KU.

I wouldn’t bet on that, though. For one, I think the improvement he will show this season will be more than enough to earn him a first-round grade from most franchises. For two, I think Dotson is every bit as talented as some of these recent point guards who have entered the draft and a lot of them did it after just one year of college. Dotson getting two years under Self, and at Kansas, should more than prepare him for the jump.

He Won’t: Slow Down

There was an interesting exchange on Twitter the other day between Dotson and KU football star Pooka Williams after a Twitter account posed the poll question, “Which one of these two players would win in a race?”

Dotson immediately jumped in and said they might have to put it to the test and Pooka, without hesitation, said Dotson would win. He didn’t back down from that stance when pressed either and I’m not sure I blame him.

Dotson is as fast as they come with a basketball in his hands and he has only gotten stronger and possibly even faster during the offseason.

While that speed goes a long way toward helping the KU offense put pressure on opposing defenses — in transition, off of misses and even after makes — it has at times led to Dotson finding himself a little out of control and in trouble.

Still, the KU coaching staff isn’t about to tell him to slow down and KU fans shouldn’t want that either.

Dotson will continue to attack with relentless force and his speed should remain his biggest weapon. Where he might see improvement is on the mental side of things, with his speed and his mind operating more closely on the same page now that he has a year of college basketball under his belt.

He Might: Be Named Big 12 Player of the Year

I’m bullish about this one and think it could really happen. There are some tough players in this league and there’s a guy on Dotson’s team, in Udoka Azubuike, who many consider to be the frontrunner for this award.

But I’m saying don’t count Dotson out.

His numbers could be crazy good and his importance to this program cannot be understated. I’m not sure he’ll reach the numbers put up by recent KU point guards and Big 12 POYs Frank Mason III (20.9 ppg, 4.6 apg and 4.3 rpg) and Devonte’ Graham (17.3 ppg, 7.2 apg and 4.0 rpg), but I don’t think it’s crazy to think he could get close.

Dotson, who tallied 12.3 ppg, 3.5 apg and 3.7 rpg a season ago as a true freshman, may be able to bump those numbers up to 15 ppg, 6 apg and 4 rpg.

I don’t know if that’ll be Big 12 POY worthy, but it’ll definitely earn him a spot on the first team and put him in the conversation.

Clearly, the biggest jump there is from 3.5 assists per game to 6. But that kind of improvement is something NBA scouts want to see from Dotson, so don’t be surprised if he makes setting up others one of his top priorities and delivers.

Reply 3 comments from Chad Smith Pius Waldman Dirk Medema

2020 point guard Caleb Love sets Kansas visit, four others

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

With the start of another school year right around the corner, things are beginning to heat up in the 2020 college basketball recruiting class.

And that usually means official visits, trimmed-down lists and fall commitments are forthcoming, as well.

Caleb Love, a 4-star point guard from St. Louis, recently released official visit dates for five of his six finalists and Kansas made the cut.

Love, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 173 pounds, will visit KU the weekend of Oct. 12, according to Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans.

The other four schools who will get official visits from the No. 32-ranked player in the Rivals.com rankings for 2020 include: Missouri (Sept. 7), Indiana (Sept. 12), North Carolina (Sept. 20) and Louisville (Sept. 27).

Arizona is the sixth school on Love’s list of finalists and Evans wrote that the talented point guard is trying to work out a way to make an unofficial visit to Arizona sometime in the next couple of months, as well.

Evans wrote that Love has made unofficial visits to KU, Indiana, Missouri and Louisville in recent months and speculated that, with all of his official visits coming before November, Love could be on track to commit and sign in the early signing period, which arrives Nov. 13 and runs through Nov. 20.

Evans added: “If that is the case, one school will head into the college season with one of the very best talents that the nation has to provide in the backcourt and (Love) is the type that should immediately impact a program for the better upon his enrollment.”

Evans also indicated that Love has become one of the most sought-after players in the 2020 class because of “his toughness and desire to compete at the point of attack.”

Reply 2 comments from Barry Weiss Dirk Medema

Relax; Not all is lost with Andrea Hudy leaving Kansas basketball

Andrea Hudy turns over her shoulder to laugh with players Thomas Robinson, Niko Roberts and assistant strength and conditioning coach Glenn Cain during a workout session. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Andrea Hudy turns over her shoulder to laugh with players Thomas Robinson, Niko Roberts and assistant strength and conditioning coach Glenn Cain during a workout session. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

Let’s take a rational look at the news that strength coach extraordinaire Andrea Hudy is leaving the Kansas basketball program, shall we?

OK. I get it. A lot of you are out-of-your-minds upset — both angry and emotional — about the news of Hudy’s departure, which first surfaced late Thursday night and leaves the Jayhawks looking for someone to take over their strength program less than three months shy of the start of the 2019-20 season.

Tough news, to be sure. Especially when you consider that she’s going to Big 12 rival Texas. But, really, can you blame her there? Austin is an amazing town and UT has as much money, both to pay its coaches and to spend on facilities and programs, as any school in America.

If ever you’re going to make the tough decision to move on from a powerhouse program like KU, heading to a place with twice the annual athletic department budget seems like a good way to do it.

While Hudy’s departure may sting today, it’s not as if this is some sort of catastrophic blow from which the program will never recover.

Hudy is as good as it gets in her industry. And her talents, both as a strength coach and an ambassador for the program, likely will be missed by everyone associated with Kansas basketball.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And this certainly feels like one of those moments for KU, the athletic department and the men’s basketball program.

There’s no debating the fact that Hudy’s contributions to Bill Self’s program during the past 15 years have been huge and played a key role in helping the Jayhawks achieve the nearly unprecedented success that they have achieved. But there’s also little doubt that Self and the powers that be at KU will bring in a quality replacement more than capable of filling Hudy’s shoes.

Things might look different. And the process likely will not be the same. But there’s no reason to think that the results will not be.

Remember, this is Self’s program. And everything that goes into it, from strength training to recruiting to travel plans to what’s on the table for team meals, is dictated by Self. And that’s how it should be.

One of the things that makes KU’s Hall of Fame coach so good at his job is his ability and willingness to empower others to be themselves to get the most out of KU’s players.

He did that with Hudy. He does that with his assistants. And he’ll do that with the new strength coach, whoever he or she may be.

As explained when KU shifted to a new health care structure for its student-athletes known as Kansas Team Health three months ago, all hirings and firings involving any sports medicine employees will now be a joint effort made by both the head coach and athletic department and the medical professionals who now oversee KU’s strength and conditioning in all sports.

KU Athletic Director Jeff Long called that "a shared responsibility," and added: “(The) coach is still involved in the hiring but there’s others involved, as well, to make sure that that strength coach or that trainer has the proper credentials and understands our model and can operate and work in our new model.”

That could make things a little more interesting as the Jayhawks seek to replace Hudy. But that’s more from the perspective of the people who might be interested in the job and less from the standpoint of how much say Self will have in who gets it.

I can't imagine a hire being made without Self fully endorsing it. And as long as that remains the case, there’s no reason to question whether the new Hudy will be worthy of the role. They will be. And they’ll be experienced and talented and qualified and ready to step into a big time job. It’s as simple as that.

Beyond that, the vast majority of the key players on KU’s current roster have spent at least a year or two working with Hudy. Given the timing of this news, it’s likely that they’ll take it upon themselves to keep the train rolling along in the weight room and conditioning department as if she never left.

If you squint hard enough, you might even be able to see a potential benefit there. The players taking ownership in the weight room and even bonding over losing their training leader could pay dividends on the court with team chemistry, as well.

Besides, the change that will inevitably come figures to be more of a gradual one that takes place over time. With as many as six players on this year’s roster potentially leaving at the end of the 2019-20 season, things will happen naturally in terms of transitioning from the Hudy way of doing things to the new way.

In relatively quick fashion, it will reach the point where the bulk of the players on the KU roster will never have worked with Hudy at all and the new strength coach, whoever it is, will be able to roll with his or her game plan as if that’s the way it’s always been.

Self and his family are currently on vacation and this news no doubt threw a wrench into his ability to fully get away. But there’s also no doubt that he already has started brainstorming what direction to go and what calls to make.

Because of the involvement of Kansas Team Health, this hire might take a little longer to complete than it would have in years past. But I wouldn’t expect it to take forever to complete even with that in play.

The line to replace Hudy will be a mile long and it will be full of quality candidates who are over-the-moon excited about the opportunity and ready to prove themselves on college basketball’s biggest stage.

That and the fact that the replacement will be working for Self is all the program needs to sustain the excellence we’ve seen for the past few decades.

Reply 15 comments from Chris Condren Matt Tait David Robinett Brad Avery Brian Conrad Pius Waldman Ryan Mullen Dirk Medema Matt Stone Dale Rogers and 2 others

One of the top prep football players in Alabama eyeing Kansas for basketball, too

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Conner Teahan tried it, Mario Kinsey did it before that, Clint Normore won a national championship by doing it back in 1988 and James Sosinski is the most recent name you might recognize who pulled off the feat.

Today, there’s an interesting prospect out there who appears to be eyeing the idea of playing both basketball and football at KU in the distant future.

Ga’Quincy McKinstry, a Rivals.com 4-star football athlete in the Class of 2021 reported on Twitter Wednesday night that he had received a scholarship offer from the Kansas men’s basketball program.

In the Tweet, McKinstry hit the caps lock button before typing, “I WILL HAVE THE CHANCE TO PLAY BOTH SPORTS #RockChalk” into the message.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound McKinstry does not show up on the Rivals150 list for basketball players in the Class of 2021, but he is the No. 1 ranked football player in Alabama per Rivals and also comes in at No. 30 overall in Rivals’ national rankings.

So how — or perhaps why is the better question — would KU hoops coach Bill Self consider using one of his oh-so-valuable scholarships on a player who isn’t ranked in the Top 150 and is probably a better football player than he is a basketball player?

The answer is simple – he might not necessarily have to. According to NCAA Division I rules, a player may only enter into a financial aid agreement with one athletic program at a given university.

So if McKinstry were to join Les Miles’ football program first and both practice and play in games with the Jayhawks on the gridiron, his scholarship, the way I understand it, would technically count as one of the 25 per class available on the football side of things, essentially making him a walk-on on the basketball program.

That’s how it worked a couple of seasons ago, when KU coach Bill Self brought Kansas football tight end James Sosinski onto the roster when the basketball team needed an extra body in its front court.

Sosinski came to KU as a scholarship football player and therefore did not count against the men’s basketball program’s scholarship numbers.

Sosinski played just nine minutes in seven games with the Jayhawks that season, but did get a Final Four ring out of the deal and even scored in KU's Final Four loss to Villanova.

A similar path was followed by Kinsey in the early 2000s. After coming to KU to play quarterback, Kinsey spent part of one season on the men’s basketball team — then coached by Roy Williams — and actually was a contributor in both sports before leaving KU altogether for disciplinary reasons.

In his one season at QB for the Jayhawks, the ultra-athletic Kinsey threw for 1,215 yards, 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

During his lone season with the men’s basketball team (2000-01), Kinsey played in 16 of the 23 games for which he suited up and averaged 1.9 points and 0.6 rebounds in just under 9 minutes per game before being dismissed from the team in February of 2001.

With McKinstry just now entering his junior season of high school, and with him also boasting football offers from powerhouse programs Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame and more, there remains a long way to go before the idea of him even coming to Kansas, let alone playing both sports at KU, becomes a reality.

But at least as of today, the Pinson Valley High prospect from Pinson, Ala., who is best known as one of the top defensive backs in his state, appears to be excited about the opportunity KU is providing him.

Don’t be surprised if the rest follow suit to make sure that they don’t let a Top 30 football talent like McKinstry get away.

McKinstry, who goes by the nickname “Kool-Aid,” already is an accomplished athlete in both sports, having helped Pinson Valley win both football and basketball state titles early on in his prep career. He averaged double-digits for the PVHS team en route to the state title last season and dropped 36 points in an AAU game with the Alabama Celtics earlier this summer.

His first Div. I basketball offer came back in March from Jacksonville State. More followed, including a basketball offer from Auburn in late July.

None by GaQuincy McKinstry™

• Jayhawks offer 4-star PG

Earlier this week, KU offered a scholarship to Class of 2020 point guard Andre Curbelo, according to JayhawkSlant.com. Curbelo, a 4-star prospect per Rivals.com, hails from Long Island Lutheran in New York and is ranked No. 57 overall — No. 11 among point guards — in the 2020 class. In-state program St. John's appears to be one of KU's biggest competitors for Curbelo's services and the 6-foot, 170-pound prospect also has offers from several other east coast programs.

• KU makes cut for KK Robinson

KK Robinson, another 4-star point guard in the Class of 2020, recently trimmed his list of finalists to a Top 7 and left the Jayhawks in the mix. Kansas is joined by Illinois, Iowa State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, TCU and Texas A&M in the point guard's final seven. Robinson, who hails from Little Rock, Ark., is a 6-foot, 170-pound guard who is ranked No. 78 overall by Rivals.com in the Class of 2020.

Reply 9 comments from Dirk Medema Rockchalk1990 Dane Pratt Bee Bee Freddie Garza Brjam Buck Bukaty Steve Corder

Agbaji, Azubuike impress at Nike Skills Academy in California

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) goes hard to the bucket against KU walk-on Michael Jankovic during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) goes hard to the bucket against KU walk-on Michael Jankovic during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

A couple of current Jayhawks recently spent some time in Southern California, showing off their bodies and abilities at the annual Nike Skills Academy.

Dozens of pro scouts were on hand to watch the select group that included KU sophomore Ochai Agbaji and senior Udoka Azubuike run through drills and play organized pick-up games.

More than a few media members were there, too. One of them was Rivals.com’s Corey Evans, who wrote a little about what he saw from the two Jayhawks, both of whom are projected starters in the 2019-20 lineup.

First, here’s Evans’ take on Agbaji:

“He didn’t have a tremendous camp but whenever it comes to the immediate eye test, many were stumped at how Agbaji was a potential full-year redshirt candidate at Kansas last year. He still showed that he has more room to grow before he settles into the off-guard spot that could ultimately be his long-term position in the NBA. However, Agbaji is a Herculean figure at 6-foot-5 and just over 210 pounds. He should be Kansas’ primary lock-down defender next season.”

By far the most interesting bit of information from this recap is Evans’ belief that Agbaji not only could be but actually “should be” KU’s primary lock-down defender this season.

Remember, the Jayhawks do still have Marcus Garrett and Garrett has proven himself for two seasons now to be as solid as it gets on the defensive end, guarding bigger players, smaller players and guys his size.

I would take Evans’ read on Agbaji more as a compliment to Ochai than a knock on Garrett. It’s possible that a bit of recency bias is at play here and Evans merely overlooked Garrett while writing his recap. It is still August after all. But if Agbaji really has progressed to the point where anyone believes he will be a better defender than Garrett, we could be looking at an all-time breakout type of season from the sophomore from Kansas City, Mo.

We already know what Agbaji can do on the offensive end. And the expectation — according to many who have been around him this summer — is that he improved his game in a number of facets during the past few months and will be an even better offensive player than we saw in half a season a year ago.

If his defense has elevated to the point where it’s on par with his offensive ability, Agbaji is going to be some kind of handful for KU’s opponents this season.

Now, on to Evans’ take on Azubuike:

“The last time that most of us heard about Azubuike, it was regarding the ligament tear that he suffered in his right hand that ultimately led to the redshirt being taken off of Ochai Agbaji. Back and fully healthy, Azubuike still has a ways to go in the skill department, but when it comes to rim-running, dump-off dunking and rebounding, not many do it better than the Kansas star. This all is enforced further by his 7-foot-8 wingspan. A plus-nine wingspan on a center that weighs more than 275 pounds and competes on each possession is difficult to stop at the college level. Questions continue to circulate about his ultimate fate at the NBA level, but that shouldn’t stop his efficiency numbers from soaring at KU this winter.”

Not a whole lot new here other than an oh-my look at just how big Azubuike really is, from his body and frame to his length and wingspan.

The first thing that came to mind when reading about that plus-nine wingspan was that Azubuike really should be a much better shot blocker than he has been during his first three incomplete seasons at Kansas.

Forget the two seasons when he barely played, let’s just look at the one he did.

In 36 games during the 2017-18 season, Azubuike blocked 60 shots in 23.6 minutes per game. That’s an average of roughly 1.7 blocks per game, which was not even half of what the national leader averaged that season and a far cry from cracking the Top 10, which would’ve taken 2.9 bpg. According to last year’s stats, 1.7 blocks per game would have placed Azubuike 74th nationally.

None of this should come as much of a surprise if you’ve watched Azubuike play. He has not proven to be an explosive jumper, has had a hard time avoiding fouls and generally blocks shots off of his sheer size rather than via precision and timing.

But, still... with a wingspan advantage of plus-nine, it’s not unrealistic or even unfair to expect Azubuike to block more shots and this very well might be the year he does it.

It’s worth noting that his 36-game pace in each of his two seasons cut short by injury was right in line with his 60 blocks in 36 games his sophomore year — 59 in 2016-17 and 56 in 2018-19.

And with greater commitment to his conditioning and another year of maturing under his belt, Azubuike may be in line for his best all-around season yet. A career-high in blocked shots should be a part of that equation.

Reply 7 comments from RJ King Forever2008 Len Shaffer Matt Tait Dirk Medema Brjam Steve Quatrocky

Jayhawks galore on national writer’s preseason all-Big 12 lists

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike comes in for a dunk past former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor and current forward Tristan Enaruna during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike comes in for a dunk past former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor and current forward Tristan Enaruna during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

National college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein has more than a few Kansas Jayhawks on his radar this preseason.

As part of his tour around the country in which he assesses the preseason teams and names to watch in each conference, Rothstein dug into the Big 12 on Monday, bringing one third of the Jayhawks’ roster into play during his look at the best of the best in the Big 12.

As you might expect, it started at the top.

In addition to labeling the Jayhawks as the preseason favorite in the conference, he also pegged KU senior Udoka Azubuike as his pick for preseason player of the year.

Rothstein is not alone in thinking this way. Back in April, after it was announced that Azubuike would return to KU for one final run, ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla told the Journal-World that, “If he’s healthy, he automatically becomes the leading candidate for player of the year in the Big 12.”

Beyond that, Azubuike appears to be in better physical condition than ever, with recent social media posts of videos and pictures showing his new physique and more agile movement on the court.

There’s little doubt about what Azubuike can bring the Jayhawks in the paint. A big, bad body that’s hard to move and likes to dunk everything as hard as he can is on the top of every college basketball coach’s wish list every offseason. But if he can add to that staple the ability to play more minutes and go longer stretches without getting into foul trouble, it’s easy to see how his size alone could translate into big numbers that could be tough to beat out for the Big 12’s top individual honor next March.

In addition to the POY nod, Azubuike also earned one of the five spots on Rothstein’s preseason all-Big 12 first team. Joining him there was KU point guard Devon Dotson.

This is another no-brainer pick if you ask me. And Dotson could be in line to give his teammate a run for his money in the player of the year voting, as well.

Dotson will no doubt be the player who makes the 2019-20 Jayhawks go. And with his speed, toughness and attack-first mentality causing problems for opposing defenses on just about every possession, Dotson should be poised to put up even better numbers than he did as a freshman.

Joining the two Jayhawks on Rothstein’s all-Big 12 squad were Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti, TCU’s Desmond Bane and Baylor’s Tristan Clark.

No arguments with any of those five here.

After those obvious categories, Rothstein added four more lists, two for freshmen, one for breakout seasons and another for impact transfers.

The Jayhawks had four players on two of those lists and were shutout on the other two.

Junior forward Silvio De Sousa was among Rothstein’s 10 breakout Big 12 players during the 2019-20 season. No explanation was given, but seeing how De Sousa is eligible again and made quite an impact as a one-semester freshman two seasons ago, it’s not hard to see how someone could expect a big season from De Sousa, who could fill any role from fifth starter to first man off the bench.

Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna and the newly committed Dajuan Harris were three of the 10 players on Rothstein’s list of 10 impact freshmen. And that may surprise some of you, given how much was made of KU not signing a player ranked in the Top 40 per Rivals.com in the 2019 recruiting class, it should be a great sign of the potential possessed by this class.

That’s particularly true with Harris, who I continue to hear could wind up being an absolute steal by the time he’s playing and becomes a regular contributor. I wouldn’t bank on that being this season, so Rothstein may be a little off there. But if he wanted to make his list work, he easily could plug in freshman Christian Braun for Harris and not be far off.

Braun had a fantastic summer and his versatility and athleticism cannot be overlooked. I realize that having four Jayhawks on a list of 10 impact freshmen might have been a bit much, but I don’t think it would have been off base at all.

That brings us to the final two categories — Five under the radar freshmen and 10 impact transfers.

Rothstein did not put any Kansas players on either list, but he easily could have. Braun, simply by the fact that he did not crack Rothstein’s list of 10 impact freshmen, certainly could qualify as an under-the-radar freshman. And Isaiah Moss, the grad transfer from Iowa who will report to campus later this month, probably will end up being one of the 10 biggest impact transfers in this conference by season’s end.

Not only does the shooting guard from Chicago have a chance to be among the conference leaders in 3-point percentage, but he also could play a much bigger role on this KU team as a defender and scorer than many people may be projecting.

Time will tell, of course. And you can’t blame Rothstein for not including seven Jayhawks on these lists. That might have seemed like a bit much. But would anyone really have been all that surprised?

Reply 2 comments from Armen Kurdian Dirk Medema

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