For four former Kansas basketball players, this week will go down as one of the biggest of their lives.
It begins today, with regular workouts and possibly a few more inquiries from NBA teams and scouts. And it ends Thursday night, with Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Billy Preston all hoping to be hear their name called during one of the 60 times an NBA official walks to the stage in Brooklyn and announces the next pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
For the past couple of months, everything these guys have done has been with this week in mind.
Workouts, eating right, testing, more testing, traveling and retooling the weak parts of their games, all with the hope of catching the eye of that one scout or one team who will allow them to live out their NBA dreams in the coming years.
The prospects look better for some of these guys than others, but all four appear to be in the mix for at least a second-round selection, which is all anyone can ask for at this point — a chance.
That we know from the dozens of variations of the mock drafts that have been done over the past several weeks. But by far one of the most interesting breakdowns I’ve seen came Monday morning when Seth Davis, of The Fieldhouse at The Athletic, dropped his look at the Top 50 prospects in this year’s draft class through the eyes of a man named Finch.
Finch, as Davis’ story explains, is not one man but a combination of the insights and opinions of five different NBA scouts, who, in this latest draft breakdown, give their honest assessment of these players and how they might or might not fit in the NBA.
This story alone, in my opinion, is worth the subscription cost. So check it out if you’re so inclined. And if you’re not, here’s a quick look at what Finch had to say about two of those four former Jayhawks.
There was no breakdown on Preston (no surprise) and Mykhailiuk, in my opinion, was surprisingly missing from the list, as well. More on that later in the week.
On Devonte’ Graham:
“He’s going to make shots, but I don’t know what else he’ll do. I see him maybe as a third point guard. He knows what it takes to win. Size would be the biggest concern. Is he more of a 2-guard? He only had to play the point for one year because he had Frank Mason with him. He doesn’t have the jet quickness you need at point guard, but he has a strong mind. Big-time character. He’s not dynamic with the ball, he’s not going to get by you, but he can be a backup and make a couple of baskets.”
On Malik Newman:
“Well, he helped himself in the tournament, that’s for sure. I think the kid learned how to play. He thought he was just a natural, and it didn’t work out at first. He’s going to have to come off the bench and score in bunches. I don’t think he’s going to play true point guard. He’s small. He has to be a Lou Williams-type, and I don’t know if he can do that. I don’t know how devoted he is to the defensive end.”
Busy working toward winning a gold medal with the U18 Men’s National Team at the FIBA Americas in Canada, which gets under way on Sunday, Bishop Miege standout forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has continued to keep one eye on his recruitment.
The No. 16-ranked player in the Class of 2019, according to Rivals.com, Robinson-Earl recently told Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans that five programs had stood out to him the most throughout his recruitment thus far, adding that he was still open to adding any other programs who show serious interest into the mix.
Those programs, as things stand today, are: Kansas, to no one’s surprise, North Carolina, which seems to be KU’s biggest competitor here, Arizona, UCLA and Virginia.
Robinson-Earl recently talked about all five programs with Evans, breaking down what he liked about each. Here’s a quick look at what he had to say about KU.
“Obviously, it is one of the best schools in the country, right down the road,” he began. “This (USA Basketball) experience has been good, with just seeing what (KU) coach (Bill) Self has been like in action instead of just seeing him being nice just to be nice, but rather out here coaching us to get better.”
Despite his father’s ties to KU — former McDonald’s All-American Lester Earl played at Kansas from 1997-2000 and went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant, among others, in the 1996 — and the school’s proximity to his high school and hometown, Robinson-Earl said he had been exploring all of his options throughout the past couple of years of his recruitment and continues to do so today.
“There is no pressure to go there,” he told Evans of KU. “When coaches ask about if KU is where I am going to go, I just tell them that I open to anybody and if you’re willing to recruit me, I am open to you.”
As for North Carolina, which many believe will be KU’s biggest threat to landing Robinson-Earl, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward made it clear in his interview with Evans that receiving interest from a coach like Roy Williams was both flattering and intriguing.
As is fairly standard, Robinson-Earl told Evans that he likely would start taking official visits this Fall and could see himself making a decision in the winter or early in 2019.
As for Evans’ read on Robinson-Earl’s recruitment, his take goes down as good news for the Jayhawks.
“Kansas has been and will continue to be the program to beat,” Evans wrote on Friday, “though Virginia, North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona could have a puncher’s chance as well.”
By now you all probably know that KU freshman Quentin Grimes made the U18 Men’s National Team and will represent USA Basketball next week at the FIBA Americas in Canada.
In doing so, Grimes will get a chance to play for his future college coach, KU coach Bill Self, who is coaching that U18 team and helped select the 12 players who will represented the United States in its quest for a fifth consecutive gold medal at the event.
It’s worth pointing out here that, while Grimes probably had the best shot of anyone to make the team going into the 33-man tryout, Self was not the only person with a say in who made and didn’t make the team. USA Basketball has a selection committee that helps make the cuts so Grimes, as expected, made it on his own merits as much as his status as a future Jayhawk.
Grimes’ role with Team USA should be fun to watch as it could resemble exactly what he’ll be asked to do during his time at Kansas.
With dynamic point guards Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey on the roster, Grimes will not have to handle the ball as much as he did in high school and can play off the ball, looking to slash and attack and shoot from distance throughout the games.
A similar role could be awaiting Grimes at Kansas, where Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson are entrenched as true point guards who figure to run the show while keeping Grimes off the ball.
That’s all speculation — with both teams — at this point, but it seems like a likely path and should give Grimes an opportunity to absolutely maximize his head start with Self while wearing a USA jersey.
As for the rest of the Team USA roster, here’s a quick look at the other 11 players and where they stand with regard to their recruitment.
Self told me before he went to Colorado Springs — the team’s in Canada prepping for the tournament now — that the opportunity to be around these young guys, most of whom are among the top talents in their high school classes, has been dubbed in the past as a recruiting advantage for the assistant coaches on the team but not necessarily the head coach. The reason? The head coach tells them when to sub in and sub out and has to be the guy that gets on them.
That said, there’s no doubt that Self’s extended time around these guys will give him a great opportunity to give them a glimpse into what playing for him at Kansas might be like.
• Cole Anthony, Briarwood, N.Y., 6-2, 180, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 4 overall per Rivals) – The son of former NBA and UNLV point guard and current college basketball analyst Greg Anthony, this electric point guard who blends incredible skill and speed with a high basketball IQ has been pretty tight-lipped about his recruitment thus far and seems wide open at the moment. One thing that’s certain about his recruitment is this: Whoever lands him will be getting a guy that many believe is the top point guard in the class and an instant high-impact player.
• Armando Bacot, Richmond, Va., 6-10, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 17 overall per Rivals) – Dubbed recently by Corey Evans, of Rivals.com, as the likeliest North Carolina commitment of all the top big men in the 2019 class, Bacot is also being pursued hard by Duke, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Georgia, with many believing the Tar Heels are the current leader.
• Matthew Hurt, Rochester, Minn., 6-9, 200, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 5 overall per Rivals) – Most recruiting analysts believe that Kansas is the team to beat for Hurt, whom the Jayhawks have been recruiting hard for a few years. He has no shortage of options, however, from in-state Minnesota, where his brother plays, to North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke and more. Getting some bonus time with Self can only help the Jayhawks’ chances of landing one of their top targets in the 2019 class but there still is work to be done to reel him in.
• Trayce Jackson-Davis, Greenwood, Ind., 6-9, 210, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 22 overall per Rivals) – Jackson-Davis said last week that his recruitment was still “wide open” while adding that he would like to trim his list to a final five or seven sometime in August. Of those schools pursuing him, Indiana, Michigan State, UCLA, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State, Georgia and Memphis have made the hardest push.
• Josiah James, Charleston, S.C., 6-6, 190, 5-star PG Class of 2019 (No. 15 overall per Rivals) – Among the dozens of programs going after James, Clemson, South Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State currently sit in the best positions, according to a recent James interview from the USA Basketball tryout in Colorado Springs.
• Tyrese Maxey, Dallas, 6-4, 185, 5-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 14 overall per Rivals) – Maxey committed to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on May 9.
• Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bishop Miege, 6-9, 235, 5-star PF Class of 2019 (No. 16 overall per Rivals) – Bishop Miege standout who lives just down the road from Lawrence, Robinson-Earl has attracted interest from all of the major programs but appears to be headed toward a final two of Kansas and North Carolina. Nothing is even close to official on that front yet, but KU has been in a good position for a long time and UNC is the one other program that keeps coming up as a place JRE could see himself playing. This one could very well come down to whether or not he wants to stay close to home or get away for his year or two of college basketball. Arizona, UCLA and Virginia remain alive and Robinson-Earl recently said he was still open to any newcomers.
• Mark Watts Jr., Detroit, 6-3, 180, 4-star SG Class of 2019 (No. 67 overall per Rivals) – Nicknamed “Rocket” for his fast and furious style of play, Watts is one of the fastest-rising prospects on the board in the Class of 2019 and UConn, Ole Miss, Marquette, Michigan State, Michigan and Mississippi State appear to be the programs making the strongest push for Watts’ services. Michigan, Michigan State and Marquette seem to have put in the most time recruiting Watts, but he recently told Rivals that he also wants to get out west to visit USC and UNLV.
Like Grimes, there are three other players on the U18 roster who will be freshmen during the 2018-19 college basketball season.
• Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago, 6-4, 185, PG, Illinois
• Kamaka Hepa, Portland, Ore., 6-8, 210, PF, Texas
• Coby White, Goldsboro, N.C., 6-3, 170, SG, North Carolina
A photograph taken by USA Basketball photographer Bart Young and released on Wednesday, one day after the organization announced the identity of the 12 players who made the 2018 U18 Men’s National Team, got me thinking a little bit about KU’s presence within the history of USA Basketball.
As you all surely know, there were no Jayhawks on the original Dream Team, which featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and a dozen other NBA all-time greats back in 1992, but before that and in the years since, the Kansas basketball program has put its stamp on Team USA in a bunch of different ways.
The most recent example of this, of course, surfaced this week, when current KU freshman Quentin Grimes, made the 12-man U18 team that is coached by current KU head coach Bill Self, former KU star and assistant coach Danny Manning and features trainer Bill Cowgill and video man Jeremy Case in support roles.
Those five were in the photo that Young shared and all five will be making the trip north to Canada on Thursday to prepare for play in the FIBA Americas tournament next week.
So, too, will Class of 2019 KU targets Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
KU assistant coach Norm Roberts was in Colorado earlier this week and he said it was clear that Self was soaking up the experience.
“He’s doing great," Roberts said. "I was out there a couple of days ago and I think he’s really enjoying it. It’s quite a bit of work now. They’re going two-a-days and meetings at night and that stuff. And I think USA Basketball really wants this team to be good and do well and I think he’s enjoying it. I think he’s having fun.”
As for Grimes being with Team USA instead of the rest of his Kansas teammates in Lawrence for summer workouts, Roberts said the scenario was a win-win for the KU freshman.
“We’d love to have him here, but that environment will be great for him, a great experience," Roberts said. "I know coach is enjoying working with him and everything.”
While these names are the newest with KU ties to be linked to USA Basketball, the Kansas connection, like so many things in the game of basketball, dates back to 1936, when legendary KU coach Phog Allen played an instrumental role in getting basketball into the Olympic Games.
From there, as his coaching legacy continued to grow, Allen later helped coach a group of seven Jayhawks to a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics.
That group, which included Charlie Hoag, Bill Hougland, John Keller, Dean Kelley, Robert Kenney, Bill Lienhard and Clyde Lovellette, later was joined by the following Olympic medalists who called KU home at one time or another: Allen Kelley, Arthur Lonborg and Dean Nesmith (gold, 1960); Jo Jo White (gold, 1968); Danny Manning (bronze, 1988); along with Roy Williams and Larry Brown, who served as coaches on Team USA’s bronze medal bunch in 2004.
Hougland also won gold in 1956 and former Jayhawk Darnell Valentine competed with a USA Basketball team in the Gold Medal Series, a stretch of games against NBA All-Star teams in various cities in the United States.
As evident by Grimes, Self and company participating with the U18 team this summer, USA Basketball’s exploits exist well beyond the Summer Olympics and several former Jayhawks have participated in those events as well.
Here’s a look:
• World Championships — B.H. Born and Allen Kelley (gold, 1954); Mark Randall (bronze, 1990) and Kirk Hinrich (bronze, 2006).
• Pan American Games — Melvin Kelley and Robert Kenney (gold, 1955); Jo Jo White (gold, 1967); Norm Cook (gold, 1975); Danny Manning (bronze, 1987); Keith Langford (bronze, 2015).
• U18 National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 1998; Travis Releford was a silver medalist in 2008 while Grimes is going for gold next week.
• U19 Junior World Championships — Kerry Boagni won a gold medal in 1983; Larry Brown (head coach) and Kevin Pritchard teamed to lead the U.S. team to silver in 1987; Nick Collison won silver in 1999; and Tyshawn Taylor was on a gold medal team in 2009.
• U22 National Team — Steve Woodberry and Roy Williams (head coach) led Team USA to silver in 1993. (Williams also was the head coach of the U.S. Olympics Development Team in 1992).
• U.S. Men’s Senior National Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2003.
• USA Men’s World Championship Team — Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz were on the 2002 team that took 6th a the FIBA World Cup.
• USA World Championships for Young Men Team & Qualifying Team — Nick Collison won gold in 2001 and Collison and Drew Gooden won silver while qualifying a year earlier.
• USA Men’s Select Team — Nick Collison, in 2000, and Marcus Morris, in 2010, participated with this team.
• U.S. Olympic Festival Competition — Greg Dreiling (1981-82); Kerry Boagni (1983); Danny Manning (1985); Kevin Pritchard and Mark Randall (1986); Lincoln Minor (1987); Richard Scott (1991); Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard and Jerod Haase (1993); Raef LaFrentz (1994); Billy Thomas (1995). Boagni, who later transferred to Cal-State Fullerton, and Vaughn were named to their respective all-festival teams.
• Nike Hoop Summit — Ryan Robertson (1995); Eric Chenowith (1997); Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich (1999); Brandon Rush and Julian Wright (2005); Xavier Henry (2009); Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre (2014); Josh Jackson (2016); and Quentin Grimes and David McCormack (2018).
That list does not even count KU representing the United States in the World University Games a few years back or the handful of future Jayhawks who played in the USA Basketball program before getting to KU.
In addition, current Jayhawk Udoka Azubuike (Nigeria), along with former KU standouts Sasha Kaun (Russia), Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and Andrew Wiggins (Canada) also have international experience playing for their respective countries throughout the years.
We got our first extended look at the 2018-19 Kansas basketball team on Tuesday afternoon during the first of two camp scrimmages expected to take place during the next couple of weeks.
Although the scrimmage, won by the seven-man red team over the six-man blue squad, was hardly complete without possible starting guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes in attendance, it did offer a great look at a few of the newcomers and several returning Jayhawks as well.
By far the thing that stood out most to me was just how competitive everybody was. I realize that being competitive is what these guys do. You don’t get to a program like Kansas without registering off the charts in that department. But it’s one thing to play that way throughout your high school and AAU life, and it's something completely different to do it during a meaningless summer scrimmage in early June.
Still, as Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson so perfectly pointed out after scoring 20 points in the blue team’s loss, “This is just how we play.”
“There was a play the other day in practice, Sam (Cunliffe) went up for a dunk and Mitch (Lightfoot) went up with him and he fell hard. That’s just how coach has us playing, with that competitiveness.”
That was on full display throughout Tuesday’s scrimmage, with bodies flying and players trying to assert themselves on both ends of the floor.
When KU coach Bill Self gets the report about how the scrimmage went — Self is in Colorado Springs, Colo., working with USA Basketball and would not have been able to watch Tuesday’s game anyway because of NCAA rules — he, no doubt, will be encouraged by what he hears.
After all, shortly before leaving for Colorado Springs, Self in a conversation with the Journal-World outlined one of the things he was most eager to discover about the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks, and it had a lot to do with that competitive fire.
“I'm really anxious to see the commitment level of Charlie (Moore) and K.J. and Dedric (Lawson), after sitting out a year to see how much they'll be turned up compared to this past year,” Self said. “And I thought they all three had really good years last year.”
Tuesday’s scrimmage may have been just one day in a long stretch of important ones that lie ahead. But that trio, along with the rest of the KU roster, showed a willingness to compete and get after it that KU’s coaching staff would surely love to have seen.
Here’s a quick look back at a few other things that stood out to me during Tuesday’s action:
• Charlie Moore can play. We knew that already, of course, given his solid freshman season at Cal and his Chicago pedigree. But he looks like he’s ready to step into the role vacated by Devonte’ Graham (and before that Frank Mason III), and he should get a chance to do just that. Whether he wins the starting point guard job, shares it with Dotson or plays in a rotation role off the bench, Moore will help this team a ton. He’s lightning quick, good with the ball and fearless. He also shot it pretty well from distance on Tuesday, something the Jayhawks are going to need him to do well this season to help make their offense complete. Moore’s size is the only concern about his game, but it does not appear to be something that bothers him even a little bit. I was really impressed by the way he played and carried himself as a leader during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
• Tom Keegan broke it down even deeper in his column from the scrimmage, but it’s worth noting here, as well: Freshman center David McCormack is a beast, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to keep off the floor. Does that mean he’s going to play 30 minutes a game? Doubtful. But with all of those big men at his disposal, Self may very well have the luxury of asking each of those guys to play as hard as they can for as long as they’re on the floor while rotating them all in for 15-20 minutes a game in order to keep them fresh. If that’s how it plays out, McCormack will make an immediate impact. He’s got tremendous size, great power and good hands and feet. Beyond that, he doesn’t have a timid bone in his body.
• Speaking of players who aren’t shy, sophomore Silvio De Sousa on Tuesday looked a lot more aggressive than almost at any point during his recent half season with the Jayhawks. His transition from IMG to KU was well documented last winter, and the reasons for his slow growth all made plenty of sense then. It’s just not easy flipping that switch and trying to join a big-time college program on the fly. But, as was the expectation at the end of last season, that little taste De Sousa got is really going to benefit him for his sophomore season, and it looks like it already has. He has so much more to his game than he was able to show last season. And so much of that peeked through during Tuesday’s scrimmage. He can shoot it, he’s got post moves, he’s strong and physical and he plays best when he’s in attack mode. Questions about De Sousa’s eligibility will linger for a while, perhaps even throughout the first few months of the 2018-19 season. But all indications right now are that the program is moving forward with the expectation that he will be on the roster and fully available for the 2018-19 season. If that’s the case, he, too, will have a huge role for the 2018-19 Jayhawks. Self’s ability to bring De Sousa and McCormack in off the bench is the kind of luxury that other teams and coaches would kill to have.
• Let’s finish this off with a couple of quick hitters. Marcus Garrett’s shot looked better. It didn’t go in a lot, and he still hesitated to pull the trigger at times, but it did look better. His hands appear to be in better position and the ball had better flight. Remember, he’s only been working on the shot overhaul for about a month. Give it time. He’ll get there.
• Sam Cunliffe looked by far as comfortable as I have seen him at Kansas. Maybe it was the environment, or maybe it was because he feels like he belongs now and is comfortable with his place on the team. What that is and how many minutes it will bring him remains to be seen. But he shot the ball with confidence and played loose throughout the scrimmage. If he’s maturing, that will only help his chances of getting on the floor.
• Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji is a player you all are going to absolutely love in time. Having drawn comparisons to former Jayhawk Travis Releford, it was pretty funny to see the two out there running around on the same court. Releford was the only KU alum who played in Tuesday’s scrimmage, and he said afterward that he was impressed by the young Kansas City native’s game.
“I like that guy. He’s good,” Releford said. “I think he’s going to have a bright future.”
• Udoka Azubuike did not play in Tuesday’s scrimmage because of a summer cold. But he was in the gym, and it was crystal clear that he has the opportunity to be the unquestioned face of the program this season. He received by far the biggest ovation from the few hundred campers when assistant coach Kurtis Townsend introduced the team before the scrimmage. And the kids spent a few minutes chanting “We want Dok, we want Dok,” while the scrimmage was being played. Azubuike, if he wants to let it shine through, definitely has the personality to handle this role and the game to back it up, and it should be interesting to see how quickly he embraces it in the coming months.
Here’s the thing about Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot, now a junior in his third year in the program, that makes it impossible not to like him.
He gets it.
And it’s not like, ‘Oh, he finally gets it now that he’s a junior and has grown up and figured it out.’ No. The guy has always got it.
From Day 1 of his freshman season throughout his sophomore year that featured everything from 1 or 2-minute outings to hearing his name called in the starting lineup in the NCAA Tournament, Lightfoot has known his role, played it well and not had any pretenses about deserving or expecting more.
That clarity and understanding was on full display again on Sunday afternoon, when Lightfoot spoke to a handful of media members about returning to campus for the start of summer workouts and the unofficial beginning of his third season as a Jayhawk.
By the time you reach your junior year, it’s only natural for your expectations to go up about your role, minutes and importance. And there’s no doubt that Lightfoot, as the most experienced Kansas basketball player in terms of games played (64), believes that he has what it takes to help Kansas win.
But he also understands that the most important part of the whole equation is that Kansas does win. Who makes that happen and how much they play is merely secondary.
That’s why Lightfoot said again on Sunday that the most important thing to him was doing whatever KU coach Bill Self wanted him to do to help the team have success.
Would he like to play 20 minutes a game? You bet. And after averaging 3.9 minutes per outing as a freshman and 14 minutes per game as a sophomore, a jump into the 20s during his junior season would not be that unreasonable of an expectation for most players.
But Lightfoot is not most players and Kansas is not most places.
The Jayhawks are absolutely loaded in the front court this season and because of that, it’s more likely that Lightfoot’s minutes will go down this year, compared to last, rather than go up.
He’s smart enough to understand that and tough enough to accept it.
While he was not asked about red-shirting this season during his Sunday meeting with the media, it does not sound like Lightfoot has discussed the idea with any of the KU coaches at this point.
If that’s the case, there are likely a couple of reasons why.
No. 1 — The 2018-19 season has not actually started yet and it would make perfect sense for Self to allow Lightfoot, a junior who has paid his dues and been a team player through and through, to at least have the opportunity to compete and show where he’s at throughout the summer and early fall. After all, while some of these KU newcomers sure seem to have higher ceilings, Lightfoot has the experience edge and might just surprise people.
No. 2 – If the Jayhawks really are going to play two bigs on the floor for the majority of the 2018-19 season, as their personnel would suggest they will, Lightfoot easily could be a factor in the rotation. Even if projected starters Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson wind up being backed up by freshman David McCormack and sophomore Silvio De Sousa, Lightfoot still could have an important role as a player capable of backing up both spots, which would be incredibly valuable in the case of extreme foul trouble or injury.
So while the talk out there about Lightfoot possibly red-shirting certainly makes sense — and, for what it’s worth, I do think that if he were asked to do it, he’d do so in a second — it also makes sense for Self and company to let the young man compete and show them what he’s got.
After all, Lightfoot has a real shot of being this team’s best leader and it’s much easier to lead when you’re actually playing.
Time and common sense will sort all of that out. But if there’s one concrete thing we know about the situation today it’s this: Mitch Lightfoot will do whatever is asked of him and whatever gives Kansas the best chance to win. That’s just how he’s wired.
Whether it was during the Western Conference Finals, earlier in the playoffs or at some point during Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, you might have caught a glimpse of a familiar face near the Golden State Warriors bench that you just couldn’t place.
Try this and see if it helps — add a headband, a splash of crimson and blue and a No. 11 jersey.
Yep. It’s Aaron Miles, the Big 12 Conference’s assist king and one of the best pure point guards to come through the Kansas basketball program.
So what’s he doing so close to the action for Golden State?
Miles, you might remember, is the head coach of the Warriors’ G League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors and, as a part of his new job, which wrapped up in March after a 23-27 season, Miles has been able to spend the past couple of months with the big league franchise working as an official member of Steve Kerr’s Golden State staff.
“Nothing set in stone right now in terms of anything particular,” Miles told the Journal-World during a recent interivew. “I just kind of float around and help where needed and assist where I can.”
Assist. Appropriate choice of words for a guy who dished 954 of them during his four-year KU career and still sits as the all-time leader in Big 12 Conference history, 161 assists ahead of Doug Gottlieb who ranks second on the list.
While Miles might not be game-planning ways to stop LeBron James and certainly is not making the decisions about who checks in when, he is around to both offer input and soak up as much of the experience as he can, which, he believes, will only help him as his coaching career moves forward.
One of the biggest roles Miles has played has been to work with the Warriors’ G League alums to help make sure those young guys are as locked in as possible and prepared to execute whatever it is that Kerr and company ask of them.
Four players who spent time in Santa Cruz are on the Warriors’ Finals roster, with all but one of them having played significant minutes.
Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney have both played key roles in each playoff series this season and guard Quinn Cook also has played spot minutes in the playoffs after starting 18 games for Golden State during the regular season while earning all-G League first team honors as well. Only Damian Jones has yet to see time since May 6.
“I knew I was going to be a part of the organization,” Miles said of his expanded role. “But I didn’t know exactly how much I’d be involved, and this has been more than I even thought so it’s been great. It’s been a great opportunity, I’m learning a ton and I can’t wait to bring it back to Santa Cruz.”
Early last month, Miles, who spent a year on Bill Self's staff at Kansas in 2015-16 and followed that up by working as an assistant coach to Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast for the 2016-17 season, received a bit of a feather in his cap when he learned that Santa Cruz had been named the NBA G League Franchise of the Year.
Before we put the whole Udoka Azubuike testing the NBA waters issue to bed, let’s be clear on one thing: Azubuike did not miss out on a chance to leave school early because of his lack of a jump shot.
The sooner people understand that popular take on why the NBA was not ready to draft him, the sooner people will be able to put out of their minds the visions — some might call them fears — of Azubuike pulling mid-range jumpers throughout the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
That’s not going to happen. No one wants it to and no one needs it to.
Despite the recent changes in the NBA — from a game dominated by the biggest of men to one that favors smaller, quicker, more skilled scorers — a path still exists that takes Azubuike to the NBA after his time at Kansas is finished.
And all he has to do to get on it is become more dominant at the things which his massive size puts him in a terrific position to do. Believe it or not, that has a lot more to do with his defense than any improvements Azubuike needs to make on the offensive end.
Wednesday night, not long after Azubuike decided to return to Kansas for his junior season, I caught up with an assistant coach from an NBA team in the Eastern Conference and he had some interesting thoughts on where Azubuike stands heading into his junior season at Kansas.
In addition to stating some of the more obvious areas of Azubuike’s game that need work — i.e. improved free throw shooting — the assistant focused almost exclusively on Azubuike’s defensive potential.
“As you watch the playoffs, and the upcoming Finals, you don’t see a lot of guys with his body type playing,” the coach said. “The league has gone to so much switching defensively that there could be concerns as to whether he can defend smaller, quicker players at all. I do like him and I think he definitely has a spot at this level. But how big of a role he’ll have I think will hinge on his ability to become more versatile defensively.”
For comparison’s sake, and to illustrate his point, the coach brought up Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, a 6-10, 240-pound athlete who, during the Rockets’ series with Golden State routinely found himself switching onto Steph Curry and Kevin Durant as much as he guarded big men Draymond Green and Jordan Bell.
“The league is trending toward more versatile bigs that can pass, dribble and shoot,” the coach said, noting that none of those three are particular strengths of Azubuike’s. “But there is still a place for a guy that can set screens, roll hard to the rim and finish above the rim or in traffic. Capela is an example, but he has the ability to switch onto guards defensively and can make them miss. Can Udoka do that? Or can he be a rim protector like DeAndre Jordan? Those are things people are going to want to see.”
And those are the things Azubuike should focus on during the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
Forget developing a jump shot. I’m not sure a scenario exists, in college or the NBA, where a coach ever would want Azubuike taking jumpers. And forget trying to become something that better fits into the small-ball world the NBA is quickly becoming.
Instead, Azubuike should continue to focus on improving what he does best, dominating whenever and wherever possible — we’re talking a goal of a 10 rebounds per game and pushing his blocked shots total from 60 to 100 — and punishing the rim and whoever tries to get in his way every time he gets the ball down low.
“His ability to catch lobs and finish above the rim are definite positives,” the coach said.
Doing both of those, while focusing his improvement efforts on defense and the glass, will help both Azubuike and the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks.
The 10th annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic is fast approaching and event organizer and voice of the Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, has found a way to make this year bigger and better than the nine that came before it.
As always, the money raised from the game featuring some of the biggest names from Kansas basketball's past will go to help with medical costs for five families battling pediatric cancer.
Last year, in what was a record-setting summer, Hanni and crew were able to raise more than $57,000 from the annual event. And this year, Hanni believes the number will be even bigger.
“As has been the case every year in our 10 years of doing the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, we've always tried to make it bigger and better than the year before. And this year, being our 10th event, we decided to make it one big weekend.”
The game will still be on Thursday night — June 14 at Free State High, $10 tickets can be purchased at 23rd Street Brewery in Lawrence, at Jersey Mike's on Wanamaker and Kansas Avenue in Topeka and at the KC Soda Company's Legends and City Market locations in Kansas City — but after that Hanni's organization has teamed up with Baby Jay's Legacy of Hope and The Landen Lucas Foundation to create two more days of KU basketball fun, which will include a VIP event and dinner on Friday, June 15 and a celebrity golf tournament on Saturday, June 16. Tables ($1,000 for a table of eight) or individual tickets ($100 per person) are still available for the VIP dinner and there is still room for a handful of teams to sign up for the golf tournament, which will feature a Jayhawk celebrity in every group, carts, greens fees, lunch and beverages for $800 per team.
“People know what the game is, they can imagine what the golf tournament will be like, getting to spend five hours on the course with some of your favorite Jayhawks, but the Friday night VIP dinner is a little unique,” Hanni said. “We're going to have a celebrity at every table and then we're going to do a five-person panel on stage telling some untold stories and talking KU hoops. These are some big time names and even bigger personalities.”
The Friday night event will also feature live and silent auctions and attendees who will be playing in the Saturday golf tournament will have a chance to bid on their KU hoops celebrity golfer for the next day.
While the basketball game remains the signature event and helping young people battling cancer the purpose, Hanni believes this year's event, thanks to the partnering with two other great charities, will make Year 10 both the most enjoyable and successful Rock Chalk Roundball Classic to date.
While Hanni is still lining up guests and trying to confirm travel arrangements for a handful of attendees, he did say that first-time participants Walt Wesley and Ron Kellogg would be making their Rock Chalk Roundball Classic debuts next month.
“We've got upwards of 50-plus former players coming back to coach or play, 35-plus confirmed for the VIP dinner at The Jayhawk Club and 20-plus planning to play golf,” Hanni said. “The continued support of so many great Jayhawks is truly overwhelming and it's so great that we get to have a weekend like this all in the name of a great cause.”
For more information on any of the events, check out the event's web site for complete details about the upcoming weekend extravaganza.
While the Kansas men's basketball program still has one scholarship to give in the 2018 recruiting class, Bill Self and the Jayhawks are making some solid progress on the 2019 class, as well.
Never was that more clear than earlier this week, when Class of 2019 point guard Tre Mann, from The Villages, Fla., included Kansas in his trimmed-down list of finalists that also included Florida and Tennessee.
Mann, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound four-star prospect, is ranked No. 37 overall by Rivals.com in the 2019 class.
Busy rehabbing an injured knee and trying to help his AAU team qualify for this summer's Peach Jam event, Mann recently talked to a couple of recruiting analysts about where he stands in his recruitment and had some flattering things to say about Kansas and Self.
“They have great guards that have come through there,” Mann told Russ Wood of Rivals site GatorTerritory.com. “They had guards with size, like tall guards, they have guards that can score from outside then they have another guard that’s also good at getting to the basket. So they were saying that I could be the guard with (incoming Class of 2018 point guard) Devon Dotson to score outside while he’s scoring inside. And really how much they know about developing players for the next level. We haven’t discussed any visits yet, we’ve just been talking and building relationships right now.”
In an interview with Pat Lawless of PrepCircuit.com, Mann added: “They told me that they will help me reach my goal, which is to get to the next level. I’ve seen them do it before with other players that are in the league now so I believe them. I know they are a really good program so why not have them in your top choices.”
Mann, who took two of his five official visits to Florida (May 1) and Tennessee (April 24) still has three visits remaining. Although nothing is on the schedule for a visit to Kansas, it seems like Mann would like to make the trek to Lawrence to take a closer look at the KU program.
Between his own AAU schedule and Self's duties coaching the USA Basketball U18 team during the first couple of weeks of June — Self leaves for training camp in Colorado Springs on Wednesday — the earliest Mann could set an official visit to Kansas would be late June.
But the playmaking point guard who is averaging 16 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists per game so far this AAU season said he was interested in a KU visit.
“It will probably be later on,” he told Lawless. “I don’t have any set dates, but I didn’t have any set dates for Tennessee or Florida. I kind of felt like I wanted to go and I just set it up.”
As for a decision date?
“I don’t have any time in mind right now,” said Mann. “I’m just going with the flow, but I think it could be after AAU season.”
Earlier this month, KU also made the Top 6 for five-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley, a 6-5, 170-pound North Hollywood, Calif., prospect ranked No. 26 in the 2019 class by Rivals.com. Included with Kansas in Stanley's Top 6 — announced on Twitter — were Arizona, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and USC.
It's not yet clear how many scholarships the Jayhawks will have to give in the 2019 class, but the KU coaching staff seems to be operating with the idea that it will have at least three or four scholarships available for 2019 prospects.
Those would come from at least a couple of early departures from a crop that includes Udoka Azubuike, if he elects to return for his junior year — the deadline for Azubuike to decide hits Wednesday — Dedric Lawson, Silvio De Sousa and incoming freshman Quentin Grimes. Self also could still have in his pocket that remaining scholarship in the 2018 class.