There were dozens of Kansas football players who embodied everything former KU coach Mark Mangino was about as a football coach.
But few of them did it with the likable blend of character, class, passion and dogged pursuit of safety Darrell Stuckey.
On Thursday, KU announced that Stuckey would be added to the school’s Ring of Honor at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium during a ceremony on Oct. 26, when the Jayhawks welcome Texas Tech to town for homecoming.
In two career games against the Red Raiders, Stuckey racked up 12 tackles, including one for loss and a sack. Too bad he won’t be playing.
There’s no doubt that he still could, but Stuckey’s adult life always has been rich with things beyond football.
That’s not by chance, but by design, and it is the foundation of the life Stuckey has built for himself with the help of friends, family, teammates, coaches and so many others.
You see, Stuckey’s is the type of personality you just want to be around. And it doesn’t matter where. Sporting events? Fine. Church? You bet. Dinner? Absolutely. The next pump over at the gas station? I bet you’d remember the moment.
Let me share with you a little glimpse into the Renaissance world of Darrell Stuckey.
The last time I saw him, Stuckey and I talked architecture over lunch. And by “talked architecture” I’m not talking about a discussion of our favorite buildings, stadiums, museums or monuments.
Instead, Stuckey, the former San Diego Chargers pro bowler who recently retired from the NFL, had pictures on his phone of blueprints and designs for the home he was building and shared all of them with the excitement and enthusiasm you might expect after a big hit or victory.
A one-time NFL Man of the Year nominee who received numerous college honors (including 2010 Big 12 Conference Sportsperson of the Year), spent five seasons as the Chargers’ special teams captain and was a fan favorite in San Diego – the city and the franchise — Stuckey’s life has always been about building up others and empowering them to be their best – particularly children.
Don’t get me wrong, he did his share of taking guys down on the football field. Never was there a better example of this than during the 2008 season, when Stuckey raced the length of the field to catch a Louisiana Tech player from behind to preserve a shutout in a game the Jayhawks won 29-0.
During his Kansas career, the local prospect from nearby Washington High in Kansas City, Kan., started 42 of 45 games, finished second among KU defensive backs in career tackles, with 295, and 10th on KU’s all-time interception list with eight.
As a pro, the fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft racked up 94 tackles, forced four fumbles, recovered four more and scored one touchdown while earning one trip to the Pro Bowl (2014) and playing in two playoff games.
He has hosted dozens of free football camps and clinics for young athletes in the area, runs a website — Living4One.com — designed to both interact with his fans and fellow humans and inspire the kind of positive acts that benefit all corners of society.
If the Ring of Honor were solely about character, Stuckey would have been up there the minute he graduated. Heck, his teammates probably would have sprinted up the stadium steps to write his name up there themselves.
In the news release announcing his inclusion, the former Jayhawk who continues to make himself visible and available to the program and the university said he was “humbled to be honored alongside those who came before me and those who are yet to be honored.”
That’s a nice sentiment and needed to be said. But it’s KU football that should be humbled and honored to call Stuckey one of its own and so clearly is.
In addition to his former teammates, Chris Harris Jr., Todd Reesing and Aqib Talib, who all went up on the Ring of Honor before him, Stuckey will be joining Gilbert Brown, Larry Brown, Anthony Collins, Nolan Cromwell, Bobby Douglass, Ray Evans, John Hadl, David Jaynes, Bruce Kallmeyer, Curtis McClinton, Mike McCormack, George Mrkonic, Willie Pless, Gil Reich, Gale Sayers, Otto Schnellbacher, Oliver Spencer, John Riggins and John Zook in the Kansas football Ring of Honor.
With the KU men’s basketball schedule now complete, here’s a quick rundown of what’s to come for the 2018-19 Jayhawks.
In addition to entering the season with high hopes and big expectations, Kansas will be looking to avenge last season’s third-place finish in the Big 12 Conference race that ended a streak of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles.
There’s no question that Bill Self’s squad has the talent, depth and experience to make a run — and likely will be considered the Big 12 favorite in the eyes of most pundits — but the conference is not without legitimate challengers again this season.
Whether you’re talking about a new-look and reloaded Texas Tech squad fresh off its first Final Four appearance under head coach Chris Beard, a tough Baylor team that has been ranked in most of those too-early Top 25 polls or the always challenging foes like Iowa State, West Virginia and even Kansas State, KU’s final 19 games of the regular season are sure to be full of challenges, twists and turns.
So let’s get to some of the more notable aspects of the 2019-20 schedule.
As big as some of those Big 12 rivalries are, and as exciting as that potential meeting with Michigan State in the title game of the Maui Invitational would be, it’s hard to look past the season opener for this one.
Kansas vs. Duke, 6 p.m. on ESPN at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.
Whether you’re talking about the will to win or the stage it’s played on, kicking off the season in style with a showdown against another blue blood program is one heck of a way to get things started.
The Blue Devils might not have Zion Williamson on the roster any longer, but they’re still loaded with talent and even have a couple of almost-Jayhawks in five-star forward Matt Hurt and talented guard Cassius Stanley.
This one will be fun.
Best road trip
Easy call, right? Like clockwork, the Jayhawks will be making their every-four-years appearance at the Maui Invitational in late November, and this year’s field is loaded.
KU gets host school Chaminade in the opener, but then could face UCLA and Michigan State during the next two nights.
Kansas played UCLA in Maui the last time they were there (in 2015) and that win propelled them to the Maui title.
Not only is this a great event for the Jayhawks, who will spend Thanksgiving on the islands, but it’s also a great event for their fans, who always pack Lahaina Civic Center and use KU’s schedule as a good excuse to take a trip to paradise.
The Big 12 schedule is pretty balanced, with KU not having to venture too far from home for too long in January and February.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and take a look at the six-game run from Dec. 21 through Jan. 18. It opens with an 11 a.m. game at Villanova in Philly and also features the always-tough, post-Christmas contest on Dec. 29, when the Jayhawks play at Stanford. After that, it’s right into the Big 12 grind, with Bob Huggins and West Virginia up first, a road game at Hilton Coliseum up second and Baylor coming to Lawrence on Jan. 11 for Game 3 of the Big 12 grind.
KU follows that up with road games at Oklahoma and at Texas before returning home to host Kansas State.
Those might not all be the toughest opponents, but there’s no gimme game in there and their play during that stretch will likely determine how rocky (or not) the road through the Big 12 will be this season.
Big team, small conference
While Monmouth, Chaminade, Kansas City and UW Milwaukee aren’t likely to pose much of a threat to the Jayhawks, there are a couple of teams with small names that could be big challenges during the upcoming season.
The first is UNC Greensboro. Three nights after KU’s clash with Duke, the Jayhawks will be back home for their Allen Fieldhouse opener against a team coming off of its best season in school history.
Head coach Wes Miller led the Spartans to a 29-7 record last season and UNCG was in the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. As a result, they earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT and finished the year ranked No. 87 in the KenPom ratings.
Eleven days later, on Nov. 19, East Tennessee State comes calling. Head coach Steve Forbes led the Buccaneers to 24 wins and a No. 80 rating in the final KenPom rankings a season ago. And that was with a schedule that feature road games at Creighton and Illinois and two close losses to NCAA Tournament darling (and 2018-19 KU foe) Wofford.
KU will be favored in both of these games. And they should be. But just because those teams play in smaller conferences does not mean that they could not show up and give KU a run for its money.
Don’t overlook this one
No, it’s not a conference game any longer, but the Colorado Buffaloes’ return to Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 7 is a game that should be taken seriously.
CU coach Tad Boyle, a former KU player, will be bringing a talented team to his old stomping grounds, and the Buffs are also ranked in a lot of those too-early Top 25 polls.
Wrote ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello, who had CU ranked 24th in his latest updated preseason poll in August: “Colorado isn't getting the attention of Arizona or Washington or even Oregon, but the Buffaloes are going to be a factor in the conference title race. All five starters are back from a team that won 12 of its final 15 games... The Buffaloes can make a statement in early December with a trip to top-five Kansas.”
Biggest attention grabber
I’ll go with the regular season finale, which takes Kansas to Lubbock, Texas, for a showdown with Texas Tech.
I’m a big believer that KU will roll to a comfortable Big 12 title this season — winning the conference by two or three games would be my guess — but if it’s tight and if the Jayhawks need to play well down the stretch to hoist the hardware, you can’t help but think that this one could be an absolute monster of a game.
Not only is Texas Tech one of KU’s toughest challengers this season — and likely all seasons for the foreseeable future — but Lubbock also has turned into a pretty tough place to play, with the home fans creating a rocking environment and KU not having fared too well there during recent years, even when emerging victorious.
Mark it down: 1 p.m., March 7, 2020 on ESPN. Even if it’s not a game that’s for the league title, it could have seeding implications and also could be primed to send Kansas into the postseason on a high note with a strong showing.
No matter how good you feel about the hire of Ramsey Nijem as KU’s next strength and conditioning coach, (you should feel great, by the way) you’re likely going to keep an eye on how things are going with old weight room boss Andrea Hudy down in Austin, at least for the next year or two.
With that in mind, you might as well circle a couple of dates that will feature Hudy reunions as subplots to the action on the court.
The first comes Jan. 18, when KU travels to the Erwin Center on a Saturday afternoon to take on Hudy, Shaka and the Longhorns.
The next, Hudy’s homecoming, is set for Feb. 3, when UT comes to town for a Big Monday battle just two weeks later.
Looking way ahead
You may already know that the Final Four this year is in Atlanta. But do you know what KU’s road might look like before that?
Here’s a best guess, based on the fact that I think KU will be a 1 or 2 seed and won’t be sent out to a place like Salt Lake City for the opening rounds like last March.
Omaha and St. Louis are the closest first- and second-round sites, but I’ll predict Omaha as of today. There’s something about that city and Kansas’ ties to it in the tournament.
After that, it’s down to Indianapolis and Houston as the next potential stops. Given that Indy is hosting the Midwest Regional and Houston the South (where Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina reside), we’ll go with the Omaha-Indianapolis path for Kansas to reach Atlanta.
That’s not quite Tulsa and Kansas City or Wichita and Omaha, but it’s close. And both destinations would be easy options for KU fans to flock to.
I’m not going to lie, Jayhawk fans. I think this is actually the year.
After hearing chatter about KU forward Mitch Lightfoot possibly redshirting during each of the past two seasons, the KU men’s basketball roster finally looks stacked in Lightfoot’s favor — or against him, depending on how you look at things — to sit the season out.
Because of that, it’s a little difficult to do a full “He Will, He Won’t, He Might” with Lightfoot, but we’ll go with it anyway, with dual answers at each spot — one in case he does redshirt and one in case he doesn’t.
Nothing is by any means official yet, and it might not be for a long time. Remember, there is no drop-dead date for a player to redshirt. KU fans know that well from the recent experience of Ochai Agbaji planning to redshirt last season and then being called into action midway through after injuries opened up an opportunity.
Agbaji made the most of it. And Lightfoot, whether he plays or doesn’t, will, too. He’s the ultimate team player, he’s a guy KU coach Bill Self can trust in just about any situation and he’s experienced enough to know what it takes to prepare right and stay ready for anything.
He also loves Kansas as much as anybody and would gladly do what’s best for the team. If that means he sticks around another season and possibly sees his potential for playing time go up, I can’t see him hating that one bit.
But who knows what will happen. For now, let’s get to it and take a quick look at two answers for each scenario with KU forward Mitch Lightfoot.
He Will (redshirt): Be the best insurance policy in the Big 12
If Lightfoot does in fact plan to redshirt, the only thing that likely would pull him out of that plan would be an injury — or perhaps two — to the KU big men ahead of him in the rotation.
Given the recent history of KU’s front court and how quickly apparent depth has turned thin, it’s certainly possible that Lightfoot still could find a role in this year’s rotation. But it would seem like a clear picture of how he could get at least 10-12 minutes per game would be needed for him to use his final season of eligibility.
He Will: (non-redshirt): Win a game or two for the Jayhawks almost single-handedly
Remember that TCU game in Fort Worth when Lightfoot had like 9,378 blocks? Or how about last year’s must-win K-State game at Allen Fieldhouse when Lightfoot’s energy and ferocious roar all but won that game for Kansas by itself?
Yeah. He has that in him. And if he plays this year, he’ll have another night or two like those. The guy cares too much, scraps too hard and competes with too much tenacity not to find his way into a couple of those types of nights.
He Won’t (redshirt): Let his status impact his ability to be a quality leader
Whether you’re talking on the court, off the court, on the bench or in practice, Lightfoot’s presence as an upperclassman who has been there and done that can fill an important role on this team even if he’s not playing.
His willingness to call guys out, hold teammates accountable and bark instructions during practices can go a long way — especially for the newcomers — and his experiences from seasons past can help even the most savvy Jayhawks, as well.
He Won’t (non-redshirt): Be quite as sore night in and night out
Because Lightfoot often has found himself as one of the few healthy big men on the KU roster, he often has had to battle with dudes much bigger than him. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Lightfoot has never once backed down from a challenge — not even that bruiser in Italy who tried desperately to get Lightfoot to fight — and has always been ready and willing to do whatever the coaches needed him to do.
This year, if he plays, he might have the luxury of getting a bit of a rest on the defensive end. That’s not to say that he won’t be required to hit the glass and protect the paint, but he might do so without the other team’s biggest players leaning on him all game.
Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack are all much better equipped to handle that kind of a beating. And even if one of them were to go down, therein forcing Lightfoot into action, KU still would likely have a player or two who could keep Lightfoot’s body in better shape than it has been in past years.
He Might (redshirt): Add to his cult hero persona even without playing
One of our photographer, Nick Krug’s, favorite things to do in recent years was to quickly pan over to the bench after a big time play on the floor just so he could get a shot of Lightfoot’s reaction.
It became so common that even Lightfoot seemed to know it was coming and often had something new waiting for Krug when his camera reached the bench.
That attitude, along with his newfound Prison Mitch persona, has created a cult hero of sorts and Lightfoot has exactly the right personality to embrace it. Even if he’s not playing, you can bet the KU senior will find a way to get noticed, whether on the bench or somewhere on social media.
He Might (non-redshirt): Shoot more 3-pointers than ever
KU coach Bill Self is never going to draw up a play to get Lightfoot a 3-point shot. But he might not be afraid of letting him shoot a few more this season.
The senior forward’s shooting stroke has improved each year he’s been here and his confidence has gone up with it.
Beyond that, he often looks good stepping into rhythm 3-pointers and has the basketball IQ and discipline to know the difference between a good attempt and a bad one.
A career 33.3% 3-point shooter at Kansas (10-of-30), Lightfoot has never attempted more than 17 in a single season at KU.
If he plays this year, I could see that number going up just a smidge. Maybe not to 25 or 30, but definitely to 20, especially if he were able to hit 10 of them.
Just how good were KU and West Virginia’s wins over ACC teams last week and what does that mean for Week 4?
Quick question for the group: Did Kansas and West Virginia figure things out in time to turn around their seasons last week or is the ACC simply down?
The answer to that is not yet known, nor will it be for several weeks.
After all, Clemson is still in the ACC, so it’s kind of hard to trash the entire conference, and 3-0 Virginia is also currently ranked in the AP Top 25.
Beyond that, though, there’s not much to write home about on the Atlantic coast. At least not yet. Traditional powers Miami, Fla., and Florida State, which each entered the season with high hopes, are off to 1-2 starts, with their lone wins coming over Bethune-Cookman and Louisiana Monroe.
After that, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State appear to be the toughest challengers in Clemson’s division, and two of those three (BC and NC State) were rocked by Kansas and West Virginia last week.
And Virginia Tech, which lost to BC in Week 1, along with Duke and North Carolina, appear to be among the tougher teams in Virginia’s division. So, yeah.
Don’t take this blog to be the end-all-be-all of a Big 12 vs. the ACC breakdown because comparing the two is not exactly clean and easy. Not only does the ACC have four more teams but it also already has had a few schools play conference games this season while the Big 12 opens its conference slate this week.
Just for fun, though, let’s take the top 10 teams in the ACC and all 10 teams in the Big 12 and compare their standing in the latest Sagarin Ratings.
The Big 12, which is led by OU, Texas, Okie State, K-State and TCU all sitting in Sagarin’s Top 25, comes in with a total of 348 or an average ranking of 34.8. That’s even with KU sitting in 95th.
The ACC’s top 10, which includes just Clemson and Miami, Fla., in Sagarin’s Top 25, has a total of 365 and an average ranking for the entire 14-team conference of 49.4, with Boston College setting the low bar for both leagues at No. 96.
Per RealTimeRPI.com, the Big 12, through three weeks, ranks third nationally, with an overall record of 22-5 while the ACC ranks fifth with a 26-16 mark.
To be fair, the ACC’s strength of schedule as a whole ranks No. 1 in the nation right now while the Big 12’s ranks sixth. What’s more, four of those five Big 12 losses came to Power 5 foes, with the only one not residing in the Power 5 being KU’s home loss to Coastal Carolina.
Again, this is not designed to be a head-to-head comparison of teams in the Big 12 and ACC, and none of this will matter even a little bit the rest of the way. Even if the Big 12 and ACC find themselves squaring off in postseason bowl games, the only time people will truly care is if that comes in the College Football Playoff semifinals or title game.
The reason behind this blog was to examine just how good those recent wins by KU and West Virginia really were. Both teams obviously played quality football. There’s no denying that. And both were fairly substantial underdogs going into those games, with NC State favored by a touchdown and BC favored by 21.
Forget covering. Both ACC teams lost. And, mind you, we’re talking about two Big 12 programs picked eighth and 10th in this year’s Big 12 preseason poll pummeling them.
Not only did the Jayhawks and Mountaineers beat BC and NC State, but they beat them by an average of 21 points and combined to score 92 points in the process. This against teams picked to finish third and fourth (of seven) in the Atlantic Division in the preseason polls. One of them (NC State) even received two first-place votes before the season began.
Comparison or no comparison, it is interesting that KU and West Virginia are facing off the very next week after they both picked up big wins over ACC programs. Maybe the result of this week's Big 12 opener will tell us which team had the better win a week ago.
Either way, confidence is likely sky high for both teams and the Jayhawks and Mountaineers no doubt are preparing for this week’s Big 12 clash — 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+ Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — with the idea that this is a winnable game, partly because of who their opponent is on Saturday and partly because of the teams they just beat.
Moving on from the ACC, here’s a quick look at how the Big 12 has fared thus far against other Power 5 programs:
vs. ACC: 2-0 – KU and West Virginia both handed out beat downs against ACC foes in Week 3, with Kansas winning at Boston College last Friday and the Mountaineers knocking off NC State at home.
vs. Big Ten: 1-1 – TCU took care of business with a convincing win at Purdue, but Iowa State dropped a one-point, lightning delayed game to in-state rival Iowa with ESPN’s College Gameday in town.
vs. Pac-12: 2-1 – Oklahoma rolled at UCLA and Oklahoma State knocked off Oregon State on the road. Texas Tech, meanwhile dropped a low-scoring game at Arizona in Week 2.
vs. SEC: 1-2 – K-State knocked off Mississippi State last week in Starkville, but Texas dropped a home game to LSU, 45-38, before that and West Virginia was drubbed at Missouri in Week 2.
OK, Kansas Jayhawks. You have our attention.
For the first time in who knows how long — years if you’re going by the calendar, 1,000 lifetimes if you’re measuring in heartache — the Kansas football team stepped onto the field and thoroughly dominated an opponent to the tune of Friday night’s where-did-THAT-come from 48-24 road win at Boston College.
When is 2-1 a better record than 2-0? When the 2 comes in convincing fashion just six days after the 1 that nearly sent everybody running for the exits.
Maybe it’s appropriate that this is the first year of the no re-entry, beer sales experiment at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Maybe this will be the year that Kansas fans won’t care where the exits are.
That word is important right about now because, through three games of the Les Miles era, we’re not quite sure what to make of this KU football team.
We know they’re imperfect. Miles likes to use that word himself.
We know that they’re tough. You don’t respond to a brutal home loss to Coastal Carolina one week with a stellar effort like Friday night without being tough as hell.
And we know that, against all odds, they’re coming home, with an extra day of rest and preparation, for a chance to move to 3-1 with a home game next Saturday against West Virginia.
If there’s a disappointing part about Friday’s wild win back east it’s what it wasn’t. Had Kansas taken care of business against Coastal Carolina in Week 2, the win over BC would’ve made the Jayhawks 3-0. Heads really would’ve been spinning then.
Then again, had they taken care of business against Coastal Carolina, they may not have had the drive of disappointment, embarrassment and anger to carry them to Friday’s victory.
But alive. And interesting. At least for now.
Big 12 play promises to bring new challenges, tougher opponents and even less room for mistakes and miscues. The Jayhawks know that. Miles certainly knows that. And things are only going to get harder from here.
So let’s hold off on the bowl talk and win predictions for a little while longer. After all, things have not changed enough yet for anyone to know for sure that more days like Friday are ahead for this football team.
It’s possible, of course. However improbable that may be. And the kind of confidence a team can take from handing out a beat down like the one the Jayhawks delivered on Friday can be significant. In many ways, it felt significant while the Jayhawks were running all over the Eagles, like a turning point of sorts or, at the very least, a game and date you might want to circle to come back to if things really do finally turn.
There is, of course, a long way still to go before any real declarations about a turnaround can be made. Years, perhaps. After all, if a team can flip the switch and transform so dramatically in a positive direction like KU did from Coastal Carolina to Boston College, can’t it bounce the other way just as easily?
Time will tell on that. And while we wait for the verdict, Miles and company will continue to work to do the one thing that hasn’t been done in a decade around here: find a way to sustain success.
Friday night provided a glimpse of what’s possible. The question now is: When will we see it again?
If the answer is next Saturday against West Virginia, people may really start to believe things are happening.
Points. Pride. Fight. These were all things the KU football fan base needed to see from their team on Friday night, and KU delivered with its strongest sign of real progress in who knows how long.
The Jayhawks have our attention again. How long can they keep it?
Kansas football head coach Les Miles said all the right things after Saturday’s disheartening, haven’t-we-seen-this-before 12-7 home loss to Coastal Carolina.
From calling the setback painful to making it clear he was “unhappy” and even explaining that the rough result was an obvious sign that he and his program still had serious work to do, everything Miles said was both right and reasonable.
That is, for a coach who had not set the bar too high before he said it.
I sympathize with Miles and the position in which he finds himself. This job isn’t easy. And history has shown that most coaches don’t realize that until they get here and are in the teeth of the beast.
That’s why Miles should have, and easily could have, set the bar much, much lower than he did from the outset instead of letting words like “great” pass his lips far too often.
By lower, we’re talking about the kind of bar that would make the high jump in the Ant Olympics a compelling event.
Here’s how simple it could have been: From that mid-November day when he was introduced as the replacement to David Beaty, through two signing days, spring football in March and April and preseason camp in August, Miles could have uttered the following words and gotten away with it.
“This isn’t a very good football team and we have a lot of work to do. My hope is that we can find a way to improve each day and continue to get a little bit better to the point where we’re competitive more often than not. If we can do that in Year 1, win or lose, we’ll consider it a step in the right direction.”
That approach might not have sold a ton of tickets, but winning does that.
In fact, Miles could’ve said that and only that — or some variation thereof — for the past 10 months and nobody would have blamed him. Would it have been a bore? You bet. But Bill Snyder was always pretty boring over in Manhattan and that never hurt his team’s ability to play football.
The fact that Miles did not do that, and instead talked up how talented his team was and how strong specific position groups looked, is more a product of circumstance than naiveté.
Remember, this was a guy who watched football on television for the past two seasons after being fired by the school where he won a national championship.
Getting back in the game was no small moment in his life and his excitement, enthusiasm and overall joy about being back in charge of a college football team again — hearing it, seeing it, smelling it, tasting it — may have been so great that he lost sight of the reality of the situation.
Why fan the flames of expectation when nobody’s demanding that you do it?
Miles’ brand and the promise of a new direction for the long-suffering KU football program likely would have been enough to reclaim at least a good chunk of the fan interest needed to rebuild things.
I’m not saying Miles should not openly like and praise his players. That’s a great trait for a head coach to have. And I’ve now talked to a dozen or so Jayhawks who absolutely love the way he treats them, coaches them, cares about them and seems to do all of it with a genuine touch. That, too, is a necessary part of a rebuild and can do wonders in the big picture.
But in the here and now, Miles could have done most of that behind closed doors while doing his part to keep expectations in check when the cameras were rolling.
After a 1-1 start that was four minutes away from being 0-2, no one’s expecting much now. And you can’t help but wonder how many people will be around to watch the rest of the season unfold.
Kansas is an 18.5-point underdog at Boston College this week and will see betting lines in that neighborhood or higher most of the rest of the way. It seems like the only place to go is up. But it has seemed like that around here before and, well, you know the rest.
Miles and the Jayhawks still have 10 weeks of football left and should be judged on the total body of work of the season, not just the troubling start.
But the biggest question left now is not how many wins the Jayhawks will end up with this season, but where that bar will rest when the final horn sounds.
Thursday night, after playing a little basketball with some friends, I stumbled onto a pretty cool moment at Five Guys while grabbing a hard-earned burger on my way home.
While I waited for my food, KU defensive lineman Codey Cole III walked in and approached the counter to place his order.
Well aware that Cole was a Jayhawk and wildly interested in just how big his order might be — after all, Cole, a senior defensive end from Ypsilanti, Mich., stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 275 pounds and probably can eat a lot — I started paying a little closer attention to what Cole was up to.
I’m glad I did, too. In the moments that followed, Cole was approached by not one but two different people about his status as a member of the KU football team.
The first, an older gentleman in a blue KU polo, asked him if he played for the team, shook his hand and told him what a big fan he had always been.
The second, a young kid who must have been 9 or 10 years old, also walked up to Cole near the beverage machine and started telling him that he played football, too.
Cole ate it up. He asked the kid how he did, what position he played and if his team was any good. It was clear that the moment was a little full circle for Cole, who no doubt grew up looking up to older athletes when he was young.
So there, in a small restaurant on the south side of Lawrence, not two minutes apart, two Kansas fans separated by roughly 50 years in age made it a point to say hello to Cole and wish him well.
It might have been just two fans, but the fact that they were from such different walks of life seemed to be a strong indication of the appetite for successful football in Lawrence. We saw it during the Mark Mangino years, and there’s little doubt that Jayhawk fans are clamoring for it again. With the team off to a 1-0 start and Les Miles bringing new buzz to the program, it’s evident that people are more hopeful about the future of the program today than they have been in recent years.
That includes Cole, but you didn’t have to ask him or even talk to him to understand that. Maybe it’s a product of the new coaching staff or the 1-0 record and the hope for the team’s first better season in a long time. But whatever it is, the second-string defensive lineman who recorded one tackle in KU's season opener carried himself with pride on Thursday night and seemed genuinely proud to claim his status as a KU football player.
On his way out, the older gentleman stopped and talked to Cole one more time.
“Good luck on Saturday,” the man said. “But not just Saturday, the whole season.”
“Thanks,” Cole said with a smile. “Really appreciate the support.”
He meant it.
So did the man.
Maybe this time really can be different — for everyone.
Nijem, you surely have read by now, comes to Kansas after three years as the head strength and conditioning coach with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, and his resume, from what he's done and what he's learned, is loaded.
In the days, months and years ahead, you'll surely get to know Nijem better, be it through interviews with us, seeing him around the program and watching his interactions with the Jayhawks' players.
But for now, while we await his arrival in town, here's a terrific, hour-plus-long podcast with Nijem that explains everything you could possibly want to know about this guy and his path leading up to being hired by Kansas.
• How he, now at age 28, became the youngest strength coach in the NBA
• His thoughts on his phD, which very much impressed Self
• What he views as the priorities for young NBA players, which will resonate with Kansas fans given the high-caliber recruits Self and company bring into the KU program
• His thoughts on training during the season, recovery methods and weight lifting
• And much, much more...
If nothing else, this video just gives you an extended look at his cool, calm and collected demeanor and it's easy to see how the Jayhawks new 28-year-old strength coach should be able to connect with the players walking in the door and in a major way.
There won’t be any sneaking up on anybody this season for Kansas sophomore Ochai Agbaji.
Whether you’re talking about in the minds of his own team — and head coach — or Big 12 opponents, Agbaji’s talent and potential are now well known throughout Big 12 country and many are expecting a big jump for the 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas City, Mo.
The reasoning behind that expectation is sound and supported by a lot of logic.
For one, Agbaji has seen it. He knows what it takes to play and compete at this level and that should make him even more confident, prepared and ready to take on Year 2.
For two, most players — especially key, rotation guys — make a pretty significant jump from their freshman to sophomore seasons.
And beyond that, Agbaji entered last season expecting to redshirt and wound up playing. Imagine what he can do with an entire offseason of getting his mind ready not only to play but likely to start and have a key role on a Top 5 team.
The possibilities are endless and you know Agbaji has put in the work and will not cheat the game for one second during his second year as a Jayhawk. It should be fun to watch.
Here’s a closer look at why.
He Will: Be the best on-court leader on the roster
Nothing stood out to me about Agbaji’s strong freshman season more than his ability to step right in — to a tough situation — and function as one of the team’s top on-court leaders.
Even as a true freshman who had been underrated and planned to redshirt in Year 1, Agbaji found his voice on the floor and did not care who he was talking to or why. If he saw something was off, he’d say something. If he didn’t like the way a teammate did (or didn’t do) something, he’d go tell him and get in his face if he had to.
All of this, of course, came with great respect, as Agbaji never overstepped and always treated his teammates, coaches, opponents and the game the way he expects to be treated.
That’s natural leadership. Either you have it or you don’t. And Agbaji has it in bunches. I expect it to shine through even brighter this season and to serve this new-look Kansas team even better than it did a season ago.
He knows he’s a key piece of this team and that, in many ways, this is his team as much as anyone else’s. That knowledge, when possessed by a natural leader like Agbaji, can do wonders for a team, the individual players and the season as a whole.
He Won’t: Make all-Big 12 first team — this season
This isn’t so much a comment about Agbaji as it is embracing reality. As long as everyone stays healthy, I fully expect Jayhawks Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson to be first team all-Big 12 performers and to both be in the mix for Big 12 player of the year.
It’s awfully hard to put a third Jayhawk on that five-man team, no matter what type of year Agbaji has.
Don’t get me wrong, if he averages 20 a game and is among the conference leaders in rebounds and 3-point shooting, he’ll almost certainly be a first-team guy. But doing that on this team will be tough. And I think it goes without saying that Azubuike and Dotson have a leg up on Agbaji (and others) in their pursuit of that first-team designation, simply because so much of what KU does this year will run through them.
In the 23-year history of the Big 12, KU has had 119 players earn all-conference honors. Agbaji no doubt will do his part in adding to that number this year, it’s just more likely that he’ll finish as a second-team pick than among the league’s first five.
He Might: Lead the Jayhawks in 3-point shooting
The opportunity is there for the taking and it’s doubtful that any player on the roster put in more time working on his jumper this offseason.
From retooling his technique to watching film, tweaking his fundamentals and seeking the advice of a couple of different coaches, Agbaji did everything he could possibly do to become an even better 3-point shooter for the Jayhawks.
Leading the team — whether by makes or percentage — will be one heck of an achievement.
Grad transfer Isaiah Moss is expected to be this team’s best 3-point threat by percentage and he might just play enough to lead the team in makes, too. Beyond that, newcomers, Mackey McBride, Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun all can shoot it and then there’s sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, who knows that his path to the NBA will be much more direct if he can become a better shooter. As a result, Dotson put the time in, as well.
The question all offseason has been whether this team has enough shooting. If Agbaji, who shot .307 from distance a season ago (23-of-75 in 22 games) can push that percentage closer to 40 than 30 and double his makes, that will go a long way toward answering that question.
Either way, it definitely would go a long way toward positioning Agbaji as one of the Jayhawks' best shooters, a title he has worked for this offseason.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2019:
Thursday night, Class of 2020 KU target Bryce Thompson released his first official list of finalists and the Jayhawks made the cut as one of his seven programs still standing.
Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound shooting guard from Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, Okla., is ranked 18th nationally by Rivals.com and is a five-star prospect who absolutely blew up this summer.
Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff have long treated Thompson as one of their top priorities in the 2020 class. But after another stellar summer in which he showed off his versatility, smooth scoring ability and ever-expanding athleticism, Thompson both jumped in the Rivals rankings and began to draw interest from more of the top programs in college basketball.
Those programs still in the running for Thompson are: in-state schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, perennial powers North Carolina and Michigan State and far-but-not-too-far programs Arkansas and Texas.
According to Rivals.com’s Corey Evans, Texas Tech may still be in the mix, as well. But the graphic that Thompson Tweeted out on Thursday night only featured those previous six and Kansas.
Although a date for Thompson’s final decision remains in the distance, the dynamic scorer has started to sort out his official visits and will get things started this weekend in Austin, Texas.
After that, Thompson will head to UNC the weekend of Sept. 6 — according to Evans, he’ll be the Tar Heels’ only official visitor at that time — and follow that up with a visit to Kansas on Oct. 4 (in time for Late Night) and a trip to Michigan State on Oct. 25, when the Spartans host their own version of Late Night.
Those dates, as long as they hold, would leave Thompson with the option of taking one more official visit to either OU, OSU or Arkansas.
Evans reported that Thompson and his family would like to have all of the official visits wrapped up by November and while that certainly suggests that a decision could be coming in time for the early signing period, which opens Nov. 13 and runs through Nov. 20, no one in Thompson’s camp has publicly said that he will sign early.