Posts tagged with 2019-20 Season

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.

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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’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 6 comments from 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 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?

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KU walk-on Chris Teahan taking upperclassman role seriously

Kansas forward David McCormack drives to the bucket against Kansas guard Chris Teahan during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack drives to the bucket against Kansas guard Chris Teahan during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Former walk-on Tyler Self played just 95 minutes in 45 games during his five-year Kansas career and, outside of a memorable 3-point shot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, very few of them produced any kind of lasting memories.

But after paying his dues and staying out of the way as a freshman and then slowly but surely building his body and his maturity during the next couple of seasons, Self emerged as an actual leader during his senior season.

Ten Jayhawks played more, did more and drew more attention that season. But in the few instances we were able to grab a behind-the-scenes look at that team, it was Tyler Self who constantly pushed his teammates and made sure things ran smoothly, refusing to settle for half-hearted efforts and anything less than the best from his teammates and the program.

That’s what happens when players mature, and Chris Teahan is experiencing a similar transformation today.

“I started to realize that more toward the end of the season,” said Teahan, when asked if he felt any movement toward a position of leadership on last year’s young and inexperienced team. “Me going up to them and telling them something to do, most of the guys are younger than me so I can sit there and have a good conversation with them and they’ll learn something from me, where I didn’t feel comfortable doing that with Devonte’ (Graham) and Svi (Mykhailiuk) for obvious reasons.”

Among those reasons were the fact that Teahan was just a freshman when that dynamic duo played for Kansas. And as a freshman, and a walk-on, he figured it best to fall in line, do what was asked and follow the yes-sir, no-sir approach to playing basketball.

But as he found his footing and started to feel more comfortable with his place on the team and how things were run, Teahan slowly started looking for opportunities to make an impact, however big or small it might have been.

That alone made Year 2 more fun than Year 1. And now that he’s set to enter his junior season, Teahan is ready for more. Whether that comes in the form of increased minutes or added respect and credibility as a leader, Teahan will take it.

“That’s still driving me for sure. That’s my ultimate goal,” he said of finding a way to up his minutes. “If I can get on the court next season, that’s what I want to do. I’m going to work hard this offseason to do it, and if it doesn’t happen I’m going to work even harder the next offseason.”

No matter what happens with his playing time, that attitude figures to benefit Kansas in several ways. It could help in the leadership department, where Teahan, like Self before him, will help set the tone and the baseline for what kind of work needs to be done on a daily basis. It could help push KU’s rotation players to be their best day in and day out. Or it could wind up leading to the time on the court that Teahan covets.

“I’ve done a lot of shooting, just making sure my shot’s consistent and been working on all facets of my game,” he said.

Asked what one thing might be most crucial in his quest for minutes, Teahan smiled sheepishly before answering.

“Make sure I can play defense,” he said. “Defense is probably the place I struggle the most so I’ve just got to make sure I get a little bit faster and a little bit quicker. You’ve just got to make sure you’re smarter than everybody else on the court.”

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Kansas freshman Jalen Wilson enjoying adjustment to becoming a Jayhawk

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson throws a pass beyond Kansas forward David McCormack and Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson throws a pass beyond Kansas forward David McCormack and Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s been a little more than six weeks since Jalen Wilson first stepped foot on KU’s campus with the knowledge that he would be wearing crimson and blue next season.

And in that short time, Wilson has immersed himself in all things Kansas basketball tradition.

Talking about his adjustment to KU and Lawrence in a short video put out by the KU Basketball Twitter account on Thursday, Wilson zeroed in on some of the KU traditions that have wowed him since he arrived.

“Having so many people up there, you know, Paul Pierce is someone I really loved and the great Wilt Chamberlain... Being here where he played is crazy to me,” Wilson began while looking up at the retired jerseys in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters. “Just how much history (is here) and how many great Hall of Famers have been through this gym, being in the next class to be a part of that is still not even real to me yet.”

A late addition to the 2019 class, Wilson has yet to experience several of the traditions, large and small, that Kansas basketball has become known for throughout the years. But those days are coming. And Wilson has heard things. Through his official and unofficial visits to campus in the past, he’s also seen things from an outsider’s perspective.

“Really just like the history here,” Wilson said. “You know, the crowd. This is the best crowd you’re going to find in the whole nation in basketball and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Wilson, who initially was headed to Michigan but got a second chance at Kansas when former Wolverines coach John Beilein left for the NBA, will have to wait a few more months to actually experience that crowd for himself.

But the way he sees it, the small delay, which will bring with it the start of the fall semester, will give him time to reach the end of his adjustment period.

After arriving on campus on the heels of a whirlwind second stint of recruiting, Wilson’s head was spinning. He turned right when he should have gone left, couldn’t get into the KU locker room on his own for a few days and still had to unpack his belongings — and his thoughts — in a place he never expected to be.

But that’s all gone now. And in its place is a singular focus of a player who is thrilled to be a Jayhawk.

“I really just feel at home here,” he said. “Everything they told me, the future they see for me, what my role could be is everything I wanted, so I feel like this will be the best place for me to come and make an impact and win a national championship.”

In many ways, Wilson is the perfect personification of KU’s popular phrase, “Faces change, expectations don’t.”

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound small forward from Denton, Texas, who can play big or small, is driven by his desire to be the best and is comforted by playing for a coach and in a program that expect the same.

“Winning is the best thing about college,” he said. “When you win, everybody looks good and everybody feels good. It’s not about this and that. It’s just about winning. So I want to win a national championship and I would love to make a mark on the Big 12 and just play my game.”

None by Kansas Basketball

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KU freshman Tristan Enaruna a big part of home country’s offense at FIBA U18 European Championship

Tristan Enaruna in Dutch national team gear (photo courtesy of @TristanEnaruna)

Tristan Enaruna in Dutch national team gear (photo courtesy of @TristanEnaruna) by Matt Tait

This blog was updated at 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Still overseas in Greece, playing with the Netherlands national team in the U18 FIBA European Championship, Kansas freshman Tristan Enaruna's summer run with his countrymen came to an end on Wednesday.

Enaruna, who helped the Dutch advance to the Round of 16 by averaging 19.3 points in 33 minutes per game during Group play, has been a key part of his team’s offense and not been afraid to shoot the ball.

And that continued on Wednesday. In a 79-72 loss to Slovenia, Enaruna played 40 minutes and led the Netherlands with 21 points on 9-of-22 shooting. He also added 13 rebounds and 2 blocks while hitting 3 of 6 from 3-point range in a losing effort.

The loss knocks the Dutch out of the tournament and frees up the rest of Enaruna's summer. He'll report to Lawrence in a few weeks for the start of preseason conditioning and his freshman year at KU. Classes begin on Aug. 26.

Here’s a quick breakdown of Enaruna’s four games in Greece.

Game 1: Spain 98, Netherlands 65

• Enaruna played 33 minutes and scored 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the floor. He was 1-of-4 from 3-point range and added 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and an assist.

Game 2: Netherlands 98, Croatia 63

• In 32 minutes of the blowout victory, Enaruna exploded for 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the floor. He easily could have topped 30 points but shot just 1-of-6 from 3-point range despite being red hot everywhere else. He added 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 2 assists in the easy victory.

Game 3: Finland 59, Netherlands 53

• In 35 minutes on Monday, Enaruna could not find his offense in a six-point loss to Finland that cost the Dutch in terms of seeding in the Round of 16. He finished 4-of-16 from the floor and 0-of-3 from 3-point range in the loss. Doing his best to make up for the off shooting night, Enaruna ripped down 13 rebounds and dished 3 assists while swiping 2 steals.

Game 4: Slovenia 79, Netherlands 72 (Round of 16)

• Although it came in a losing effort, Enaruna saved his best for last, both from a complete-game standpoint and in terms of his time on the court and his 3-point shooting. After making just 2 of 13 from 3-point range in the tournament's first three games, Enaruna knocked in three of six shots from behind the arc on Wednesday, giving him an overall clip of 5-of-19 (26.3%) from 3-point distance for the tournament. Back to back games of 13 rebounds is certainly a high note to go out on, even if Netherlands finished with just one victory in four tries. One alarming note from Wednesday came from the fact that the KU freshman finished 0-of-4 at the free throw line, giving him a 10-of-26 mark (38.5%) at the line for the tournament.

Those last two games, minus the high volume of shots, seem like the best representation of where and how Enaruna can make an immediate impact on the 2019-20 Kansas basketball team, provided he cracks the rotation.

I’d be willing to bet that the 6-foot-8 freshman from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, won’t take 16 or more shots in a single game during his first two seasons at KU. But he took at least 16 in all four games in Europe.

While that no doubt has been good for his confidence as an offensive weapon — although the 41.6% shooting, 26.3% from 3-point range likely left something to be desired — Enaruna’s biggest impact with the Jayhawks in Year 1 figures to come around the rim, with the long, athletic freshman stealing extra possessions and points on the offensive glass and cleaning things up on defense.

He probably won’t grab 13 boards in a single game at Kansas anytime soon, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying. And based on what we saw from Enaruna during a pair of camp scrimmages and pickup games this summer, staying around the rim appears to be a big part of Enaruna’s plan at Kansas.

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2019 Rock Chalk Roundball Classic raises $185,000

Eleven-year-old Sergio Gomez, a member of the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic "Starting Five" greets the players before tipoff on Thursday, June 20, 2019 at Eudora High School.

Eleven-year-old Sergio Gomez, a member of the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic "Starting Five" greets the players before tipoff on Thursday, June 20, 2019 at Eudora High School. by Nick Krug

The final numbers are in and this year’s event was another record breaker for Brian Hanni’s Rock Chalk Roundball Classic.

After raising roughly half a million dollars during the first 10 years of the event, the 11th annual charity basketball game which took place back in June and featured more than 50 former KU basketball players and included a VIP celebrity dinner and weekend golf tournament over three consecutive days, raised $185,000 this year alone.

Hanni’s event which is put on by a team of volunteers and benefits five local families fighting pediatric cancer roared past the six-figure mark for the second year in a row and now has raised well above $600,000 in 11 years for more than 25 families in need.

“We are extremely grateful for your contribution to assist our beneficiaries and their families as they confront the challenges posed by pediatric cancer,” wrote Hanni in an email announcing the record-breaking number. “Due to your kindness, together we have raised life-changing amounts for our Roundball “Starting Five” families and many other kids in need in our community.”

According to Hanni, the proceeds raised from this year’s three-day event all go to help children in and around the Lawrence community who are battling pediatric cancer through the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic and Baby Jay's Legacy of Hope.

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Summer practice battles highly prevalent for Kansas basketball

Kansas guard Devon Dotson looks to make a move against Kansas guard Isaac McBride during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson looks to make a move against Kansas guard Isaac McBride during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Loaded with a deep and talented roster full of new faces and returning veterans, summer workouts for the Kansas men’s basketball team have been intense.

From players trying to prove themselves and earn their spots to individual battles and constant pushing for the sake of team improvement, the past couple of months have featured a hungry team fighting every day for the chance to get back on track.

“Our summer’s been way different, especially from last year,” said sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji. “It’s just a different vibe. A lot of guys, we’re going after each other every day to make each other better and I think that’s something that’s going to make us better later on in the season.”

The final day of the second session of summer classes is Friday and, from there, the Jayhawks will get three weeks off before returning to campus in August in time for the start of the fall semester on Aug. 26.

All of them, of course, will continue to workout and fine-tune their games on their own. But this new-look group will get a break from the daily grind of working out, lifting weights and playing pickup at all hours of the day.

“Yeah, yeah it does,” said Agbaji when asked if the deep roster has inspired more intense competition this summer. “Some practices we’ll get into it and some guys will get after it, but that’s how brothers are and that’s how we help each other get better and grow.”

Junior forward Silvio De Sousa, practicing with the knowledge that he’ll be eligible to actually play for the first time in 16 months, credited KU’s freshman class for a lot of that.

“I’m just real impressed with the newcomers,” De Sousa said. “We’re not even supposed to go this hard during the summer and during practices. I’ve just been watching the newcomers go against the older guys and it’s just a great thing. I see that we have a lot of dogs on this team and they want it bad.”

Added freshman Christian Braun, who seemed to embody the mindset of all of KU’s fresh faces: “It went really well. We’re almost done. Everybody’s doing a really good job of working hard and improving their individual games. We had a really good summer.”

With that in mind, here’s a quick look at four summer battles that could pay dividends for both the players and the team as a whole during the upcoming season.

Devon Dotson vs. Issac McBride

It’s freshman vs. sophomore here and there’s no doubt that the two are striving to learn from and push each other. But the simple fact that they play the same position creates a constant opportunity for the two to guard each other in practices. There are few players in the college game with Dotson’s blend of speed, quickness and tenacity. And trying to keep up with that no doubt has been good for McBride. Beyond that, having a player of McBride’s caliber, who is quick in his own right and unafraid of any challenge has to have been good for Dotson’s development, too. McBride will back up Dotson when the season rolls around and battling with him all summer will make him more prepared to do so.

Silvio De Sousa vs. David McCormack

Earlier this summer, KU coach Bill Self called McCormack by far the most improved player on the Kansas roster. His ability to extend his offensive game and continue to put in the kind of work that thoroughly transformed his body into Division I material led to Self’s comments. But at the same time, there may not be a player in America who is more hungry than De Sousa. After missing an entire year because of an NCAA suspension, De Sousa is back and looking to make up for lost time. Because these two play the same position, there’s no doubt that they collide with one another at the rim and above it, in pursuit of loose balls and near the walls on a daily basis. Only one of them will start. But this kind of summer conditioning will absolutely make both of them better.

Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji & Christian Braun

Two of the three (Braun and Garrett) can play multiple positions, making their battle as much about which player fits where as anything else. With Dotson entrenched at the point and Udoka Azubuike at the 5, that leaves some flexibility for KU at the 2, 3 and 4 positions. And all three of these players figure to factor prominently into each of those roles at different points this season. For Agbaji, the offseason has been all about taking that next big step forward. His attention to detail has been off the charts and he has reshaped his shot, his body and focused on adding to his ability as a leader. For Braun, it’s all about finding your footing. But teammates continue to marvel at not only how talented the freshman is but also how competitive and tough. And for Garrett, a legit upperclassman on this team, healing his injured ankle has been important but not as important as taking more ownership in the team than ever before.

Tristan Enaruna vs. Jalen Wilson

It remains to be seen how the minutes are handed out to the bottom half of KU’s rotation this season. And it seems as if there’s a pretty high likelihood that at least one or two Jayhawks will redshirt during the 2019-20 season. Because Enaruna and Wilson bring similar things to the table in terms of size, athleticism, skill and experience, their summer production and performance in practices during the first several weeks of the school year could be crucial for their hopes of getting on the floor during the 2019-20 season. Enaruna arrived first but also has been back home in Netherlands preparing for the 2019 FIBA Europe Championship so some of that early advantage might have been negated a little. Self likes Wilson’s toughness as much as nearly any freshman he’s had and both are active in transition on defense and around the glass. There’s no doubt that both could play. And both have big time futures at KU. But if it winds up being one or the other for the coming season, this one could come down to whichever player shoots it better.

Reply 4 comments from Barry Weiss Matt Tait Djp822 Koolkeithfreeze

KU freshman Tristan Enaruna preparing for FIBA Europe U18 Championship with Netherlands national team

Kansas freshman Tristan Enaruna pushes the ball up the court as fellow freshman Isaac McBride defends during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas freshman Tristan Enaruna pushes the ball up the court as fellow freshman Isaac McBride defends during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

With his new teammates eyeing the end of summer workouts and a three-week break from the grind before the start of school, Kansas freshman Tristan Enaruna is preparing for competition.

Playing with the Netherlands national team at the FIBA Europe Under 18 Championship in Greece, Enaruna for the past couple of weeks has been back in his home country playing in tune-up events and practicing with his countrymen in preparation for the FIBA event that runs July 27 through Aug. 4.

The 6-foot-8, four-star freshman who came to Kansas from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, originally hails from Almere, Netherlands, a city of more than 200,000 citizens in the province of Flevoland.

Such an adventure is certainly nothing new for current or former Jayhawks.

Just a couple of years ago, after committing to KU in August of 2017, current KU junior Silvio De Sousa competed with the Angolan national team at the FIBA AfroBasket event in Senegal and Tunisia. Former KU guard Svi Mykhailiuk also represented his home country of Ukraine in three different FIBA events while with the Jayhawks.

Even Enaruna himself has FIBA experience, having played power forward for his national team in August of 2017, when he averaged 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Netherlands at the FIBA U16 European Championship in Bulgaria.

This time around, Enaruna’s native Netherlands is one of 16 European countries competing at this year’s event, and the Dutch have been placed in Group D, where they will face Finland, Croatia and Spain in pool play games before the 16-team bracket is set.

Bracket play is scheduled to begin July 31, with the quarterfinals taking place Aug. 1, the semis on Aug. 3 and the title game set for Aug. 4.

While Enaruna’s role in this event figures to be different than the one he’ll take on with the Jayhawks, his goals throughout the summer remained the same and focused on one thing.

“For me, what’s really important right now is just having a killer mindset going into every game,” Enaruna said earlier this summer. “Every part of my skill set has a lot of room to become better, shooting, passing and dribbling, but also being a leader, being vocal for the guys.”

While that killer mindset he hopes to develop includes as an aggressive offensive weapon, Enaruna said when he committed to Kansas that he enjoys all aspects of the game and prides himself on passing, defending and rebounding as much as scoring.

“I like to handle the ball and get my teammates involved,” he said in May. “I really like to pass. People think that I’m really looking to score a lot, but I love passing.”

The highest rated of the five freshmen and six newcomers on the 2019-20 Kansas roster, Enaruna believes in the idea that he’ll earn everything that is given to him, from opportunities in practice to minutes on game nights. And his whole focus is not to show flash and shine but rather to be a reliable option for his coaches and teammates.

“Just somebody who really wants to play hard and show what he’s got to everybody that’s watching,” Enaruna said. “I would say (people can expect) a lot of improvement. I think I will be a whole different player last game of the season than first game of the season.”

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Devon Dotson’s decision to stay marks return of one of Bill Self’s true workhorse point guards

Kansas guard Devon Dotson drives to the basket against Tennessee during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Kansas guard Devon Dotson drives to the basket against Tennessee during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger) by Associated Press

It’s been a little more than a month since Kansas freshman Devon Dotson made the big announcement that he was returning to KU for his sophomore season.

And given just how massive that news is for the 2019-20 Kansas basketball program, it’s worth celebrating it the way junior high kids in relationships tend to celebrate their anniversaries — by the week, to the day or even on the hour would all be acceptable.

That’s how important Dotson’s return is for the Jayhawks, and one need look no further than one key stat from his freshman season to see that in crystal clear fashion.

Not counting Dotson — or Aaron Miles, who KU coach Bill Self inherited — there have been eight other players who have consistently played point guard for Self during his time at Kansas. And not one of them, as a freshman, even came close to playing the kind of minutes that Dotson did during the 2018-19 season.

Former KU great Tyshawn Taylor, a true freshman during the 2008-09 season (on a loaded team, no less), came the closest. But even he was 240 minutes shy of matching Dotson’s total of 1,168 minutes a season ago.

Using Dotson’s 2018-19 average of 32.4 minutes per game, that’s a gap of bigger than seven games.

Put in even more mind-blowing terms, Dotson played more minutes at the point during his freshman season than soon-to-be-All-Americans Frank Mason III (565) and Devonte’ Graham (517) played during theirs combined.

Here’s one more: The average number of minutes played by a freshman point guard at Kansas in the Self era is 536, with Taylor (928) and Sherron Collins (847) on the high end and Naadir Tharpe (175) and Elijah Johnson (151) on the low end.

Granted, the makeup of each roster had a lot to do with Dotson’s load and the lighter work handled by his predecessors. And, in Graham’s case, the mere presence of Mason in the class ahead of him, limited his early opportunities.

But, still. No Self-era point guards played anywhere close to the kind of role that Dotson played a season ago, a fact that merely adds to the excitement surrounding Dotson’s immediate future.

“It helps a lot, me coming in and coach believing in me and sticking with me,” Dotson recently said of the heavy workload he received as a freshman. “It helps a lot going into this year. I know what to expect, I know what it takes to win out there at a high level and I’m ready.”

I initially limited this glance to KU freshmen because that’s exactly what Dotson was a season ago. But as I kept pounding away at the keys, one thought kept creeping into my mind. Forget freshmen PGs, how many point guards period during the Self era at Kansas played those kinds of minutes for the Jayhawks?

The answer? Five players, eight times, including one during each of the previous four seasons, when Frank Mason’s minutes went up from 1,207 to 1,272 to 1,301 during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and Devonte’ Graham played a whopping 1,474 minutes during his stellar senior campaign.

Part of those totals have to do with games played, though. Remember, Mason’s last two seasons ended in the Elite Eight and Graham, in his lone season as KU’s only point guard, reached the Final Four.

If Dotson’s Jayhawks had played even just two more games, his total minutes for his freshman season — factoring in his average minutes per game — would have reached 1,233 and been the fifth most by a Bill Self point guard in the last 16 seasons at Kansas.

Dotson’s case is interesting because of the era in which we live. Fans across all sports constantly want to say this player is the next so and so or that player is on pace to be this guy. And while the comparisons can be fun and often are a good way to track a player’s progress, they’re not always a case of comparing apples to apples.

Take Dotson for instance. If he were to stay at Kansas for four seasons like Graham and Mason did he would be a near lock to wind up on their level. But with the smart money being on Dotson turning pro after the upcoming season, it’s hard to know if Dotson, at Kansas, will ever produce like Mason and Graham did before him. Age, maturity, experience and opportunity all played a huge role in those two becoming All-Americans.

Is Dotson ahead of where those two were as freshmen and sophomores? It sure seems like it. And the numbers certainly back that up. But how much of that is talent and how much of that is opportunity and timing?

First on the team in assists, steals and games played and seven minutes shy of tying for the team lead in minutes played, — as a true freshman, remember — Dotson inherited a monster role from Minute 1 and only saw it gain importance as his freshman season went on.

The same should be true in Year 2, and maybe then it will be easier to start stacking up Dotson against some of KU’s all-time greats.

For now, all that matters is the fact that Dotson is the best point guard on this Kansas roster and one of the best in college basketball, both of which figure to be key factors in what the Jayhawks hope will be a memorable 2019-20 season.

Here’s a quick look at the ranking of minutes played per season by the Jayhawks' primary point guard in each of Bill Self's 16 seasons at Kansas:

1 – Devonte’ Graham, 2017-18 – 1,474 (39 games)

2 – Tyshawn Taylor, 2011-12 – 1,303 (39 games)

3 – Frank Mason III, 2016-17 – 1,301 (36 games)

4 – Frank Mason III, 2015-16 – 1,272 (38 games)

5 – Sherron Collins, 2008-09 – 1,229 (35 games)

6 – Frank Mason III, 2014-15 – 1,207 (36 games)

7 – Sherron Collins, 2009-10 – 1,187 (36 games)

8 – Devon Dotson, 2018-19 – 1,168x (36 games)

9 – Elijah Johnson, 2012-13 – 1,146 (37 games)

10 – Aaron Miles, 2003-04 – 1,117 (32 games)

11 – Russell Robinson, 2007-08 – 1,100 (40 games)

12 – Russell Robinson, 2006-07 – 1,046 (37 games)

13 – Naadir Tharpe, 2013-14 – 1,001 (34 games)

14 – Aaron Miles, 2004-05 – 992 (30 games)

15 – Tyshawn Taylor, 2010-11 – 977 (36 games)

16 – Russell Robinson, 2005-06 – 910 (32 games)

x = freshman

Reply 7 comments from Joseph Bullock Barry Weiss Brian Skelly David Robinett Matt Tait Marius7782 Steve Quatrocky