In case you weren't following along last week or missed one of the days, here's a look back at all of the outings and adventures that the Kansas men's basketball team enjoyed during its eight-day tour of Italy.
The Jayhawks played four exhibition games against three different Italian clubs and rolled to easy victories in all four games.
That, according to KU coach Bill Self, was merely part of the reason the Jayhawks went overseas. The rest was to experience a new culture, enjoy a fun trip and develop a greater bond and connection between the Jayhawks themselves.
Because the KU roster that traveled to Italy featured six newcomers, the bonding part of the experience was as important as anything. And it was during these outings to sites like the Colosseum, Vatican City, Lake Como and others where the ability to bond, get to know one other and have a little fun under the umbrella of experiencing something new together for the first time was the easiest to achieve and most obvious to see.
To a man, the KU players and coaches all seemed really engaged throughout the trip and were not just going through the motions of this tour or that one but were actively participating in the events and soaking up the history, sights and every other aspect of the experience.
In case you missed any of them, or just want to look back, here are all of our videos of KU's Italy experience in one convenient spot, posted in chronological order so you can relive it right.
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SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC — While flying home from KU’s eight-day exhibition trip to Italy, I've discovered I have a handful of options at my disposal.
Option 1: Try to sleep as much as possible so I won’t be worthless when I get home, more than 17 hours after leaving the hotel in Milan before dawn on Tuesday morning.
Option 2: Clown around with United Airlines’ entertainment options and see how far that’ll get me toward eating up the time during the eight-hour flight from Brussels to Washington D.C. There are a couple of good movies on there and a few television series and games that give me a fighting chance.
Option 3: Work. Even though the games are over, there’s still plenty to write and lots of reason to react to what we learned from the Jayhawks’ four wins in five days in Rome and Milan.
I might get to the others later, but I chose Option 3 to start and that brings us to right here and right now.
Although it would have been cool to see KU play tougher competition in Italy, there still was a lot to be learned from what we did see, from the individual Jayhawks themselves, the newcomers and how the whole thing meshed together.
With that in mind, and now that the chasing these guys around from tour to tour and venue to venue part of the trip is over, I figured I’d spend the next 700 miles or so looking back at the tour in a big picture sort of manner.
Some of it might surprise you. A lot of it won’t. But either way it seems like a good idea to take another look back at the week that was in Kansas basketball and try to shine a little light on what we may have learned about the 2017-18 Jayhawks from their trip abroad.
Most enjoyable game
For my money, it was the finale and it wasn’t just because Malik Newman went nuts. That helped, though, especially in the first half, when Newman was flat-out unconscious and poured in 25 points. Equally entertaining, however, were the strong second halves by Svi Mykhailiuk (26 points) and Lagerald Vick (20 points), who both knocked down jumpers and were relentless in pushing the pace and driving to the rim. The whole game had the feel to me that the Jayhawks were there to put on a show and reaching 118 points before going home certainly qualified as such. After that, I’d rank the games like this: 2. Game 1 – Udoka Azubuike’s dunk fest and assault on the rims was something to see; 3. Game 2 – As I’ve written already, I’m becoming a big fan of Marcus Garrett’s and he was sensational in this game; 4. Game 3 – The hottest night of the week and the second game against the same team.
This one was up in the air until the final game, but then sophomore guard Malik Newman stepped up and grabbed ahold of it. His 32-point outburst in the finale was big time, but he also reached double digits in the three other games and averaged 19.3 points per game for the trip. His ability to step up as a high-volume scorer (a) made Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff look good for telling us this was coming, and (b) allowed senior Devonte’ Graham to play with a free mind and less pressure knowing that he did not have to be the guy who handled the scoring load all by himself. It was a great week for Newman — on and off the floor — and should send him into the season with a ton of confidence.
This honor goes to Craig Jonas, the man at Basketball Travelers Inc. and Global University Sports Properties (as well as a former Colorado State assistant coach) who put the whole trip together and then orchestrated everything to perfection for the last eight days. When the final game was over and Kansas had completed its 118-74 pasting of Dream Team Italy, Jonas let out a huge sigh of relief and sat back as a calm washed over his body. Having watched it happen, I talked to Jonas about the moment and he said there are so many moving parts and so many things you can’t control with a trip of this magnitude — weather, transportation issues, unexpected needs of players and donors, etc. — that you’re kind of holding your breath the whole way until everything is in the books. Since it was at that moment, Jonas, like everyone, was able to relax and enjoy the cruise of Lake Como the following day, his 18th trip out to the fabulous lake. Jonas, who now lives in Denver, earned his Ph.D from KU in 2002 so being around a bunch of Jayhawks wasn’t exactly a new experience for him and seemed to bring him a great deal of joy all week. It paled in comparison to the joy he brought all of those Jayhawks.
Most Consistent Jayhawk
It’s hard to argue with a player who reached double digits in scoring all four nights, but I’m giving Devonte’ Graham the most consistent award. And not necessarily for his play — although he was pretty solid and the team’s clear leader night in and night out — but more for his approach. Graham knows he can score when he needs to and there will be times where that is needed this season. Probably a bunch of times. But the past week in Italy was not one of those times and so Graham laid low and focused on all of that other stuff that he needed to do to help the team. He was a great passer, he ran the show well, he helped the young guys gain some confidence and, perhaps most consistently, he hit shots early in each game that took the pressure off and allowed his teammates to play loose and free. Graham’s line for the trip: 10.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes. He also added 14 steals, including seven in the finale. Nothing spectacular there, but so, so solid.
Although he dropped off after leaving Rome, the strong play of freshman Marcus Garrett in the first two games of the trip still lands him the nod here. Garrett was great in both wins in Rome, stealing the show in Game 2, after which KU coach Bill Self called him the best player in the game. One thing that people need to remember about Garrett was that he nearly averaged a triple-double for the season during his final year of high school. So being multi-dimensional is nothing new to the 6-foot-5, 180-pound freshman, who looks and plays a lot bigger and tougher, without giving up speed and quickness, than those numbers suggest. Quick hands, a good feel and a genuine desire to be a defensive menace, Garrett seems to already have figured out the best way to get on the floor during his first season in Lawrence.
There’s no doubt that it was the illness that cost Udoka Azubuike the final two games of the trip and the knee tweak that encouraged Billy Preston to sit out the finale. It would’ve been great to see if Azubuike could do more than just dunk the daylights out of the ball in the final two games and watching Preston already has become a wildly entertaining adventure. Some moments he looks unstoppable and so strong. Others, he’s jogging down the floor on D or taking an inexplicable shot on offense. Both are still young players and both will be fairly key to just how good the Jayhawks will be this season. So seeing them play a combined five of eight games was at least mildly disappointing but certainly nobody’s fault. Just bad luck.
Biggest area of need
It sure seems like it’s rebounding. Obviously the Jayhawks need to stay healthy, but so does every team in America. So you can’t use that for one team like it doesn’t matter for all of the others. There were good moments and bad in the rebounding department during this trip, particularly from the KU big men. Self seems to think they’ll be fine and he’s probably right. Azubuike alone could be all the rebounding the team needs and Mitch Lightfoot’s a warrior down low. But whether it’s Azubuike, Lightfoot, Preston or even Garrett, it’s imperative that the Jayhawks handle their business on the boards so those guards can get out and go. When they do, this because an awfully difficult team to guard.
This team is going to play small a ton this year and won’t mind doing it one bit. Self is big on playing guys he trusts and eliminating questions and putting Graham, Newman, Mykhailiuk and Vick out there together as much as possible accomplishes both things. All four are veterans — in one way or another — and each has talent, toughness and can either shoot the heck out of it, create for others or both. It would not surprise me one bit if that quartet, along with Azubuike, winds up being the starting five for the Jayhawks. Going that route accomplishes two things: 1. It gets the best players on the floor, and, 2. It helps create some big man depth that might not be there otherwise, just as playing Josh Jackson at the 4 did last season. There’s still, of course, a long way to go before we know the answer to that. And a lot can change between now and then. Frankly, if the switch comes on for Preston, he’s going to be hard to keep out of the lineup. But if it doesn’t, Self and company have a pretty sweet alternative. KU might give up a little defensively with that small lineup, but I think what they’d gain offensively by going that way would more than make up for it.
KU’s third game of its four-game Italian tour brought a little bit of adversity, but the Jayhawks handled it with ease, rolling to a 28-point victory over the same Players Group team they beat by 31 just two nights earlier.
With big man Udoka Azubuike back at the hotel dealing with an illness, the Jayhawks used a guard-heavy attack to sprint past the Italians.
Here’s a quick look at how each player looked in Azubuike’s absence.
• Lagerald Vick – In the first two games of KU’s tour of Italy, it was Devonte’ Graham who set the tone. Saturday night it was Vick, who drove hard to the rim, ran fast in transition and looked borderline unstoppable at times. After a couple of quiet nights, Vick broke out in a big way.
• Sam Cunliffe – His best game in Italy by far. He looked much better moving the ball and feeling comfortable and in a rhythm and seems to be figuring out how to play Kansas basketball. It’s still early but he’s already shown a knack for beating sleeping defenses down the court for easy buckets in transition.
• Billy Preston – Was an animal early for the second time over here. He’s still not converting everything, but that’ll come. The effort’s what they want to see and it continues to be up and down. You can see why the coaches say it all comes down to the mental part of the game with him because he so often looks physically superior to whoever he’s matched up with on the floor.
• Clay Young – The walk-on hustled down a missed FT early in the game and four straight times you heard “Yeah, Clay,” from the bench. It was almost like the “Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh, ahhhh” part in the Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout. Also added a bucket in the fourth that made the pro-KU crowd very happy.
• Charlie Moore - He's shown this trip that he has good handles but it always as if he's looking pass-first, though, as he demonstrated with his gem bullet to K.J. Lawson around the 3:30 mark of the 2nd quarter.
• K.J. Lawson – Lawson looked pretty good on both ends of the floor in this one... Much more in rhythm and comfortable, and he also finished better, was decisive and crashed glass.
• Mitch Lightfoot – The sophomore forward who started for Udoka Azubuike didn’t have a ton to show for it, but he went to the glass hard damn near every time a shot went up... That kind of effort will be rewarded if he sustains it throughout the season. And he knows that. He worked hard on his outside jumper this summer and hasn’t seen the success he’d like over here in Italy.
• Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham – It’s obvious already that these two guys are really comfortable playing together. They’ve quickly become peas in a pod and more than anything they really seem to get and understand each other. Beyond that, they have fun bringing out the best in each other and trying to outdo one another yet still in a team-first manner.
• Chris Teahan – Got a huge roar from the KU fans in the stands when he knocked down an open jumper in transition early in the fourth quarter. He hit another one a few moments later and the roar was just as loud. As I’ve mentioned, Teahan is always ready to shoot and it looks good, in terms of form, when he does. Most of the make-or-miss aspect just depends on his feet and if he rushes it.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – Another game another smooth outing for the senior from Ukraine. Svi has a poise and polish to his game right now that is only befitting of a senior. Maybe it’s because he’s in Europe, maybe it’s because the games don’t mean as much or maybe it’s because the sharp-shooter is ready for his best year yet. Either way, he appears to be in a very good place entering his senior season.
• Marcus Garrett – Garrett didn’t play much (just four minutes) — KU coach Bill Self said that was by design — and therefore did not do much on the stat sheet. Because he got just four minutes, it’s hard to call the outing a step back. But it was disappointing to see his monster trip hit pause.
There have been a ton of thunderous dunks from Udoka Azubuike, several sweet jumpers from Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk and the surprisingly solid play from true freshman Marcus Garrett.
But the moment of the Kansas basketball team’s trip to Italy thus far might have come Thursday night after the Jayhawks’ 92-61 victory over Players Group. And it was not even delivered by a KU player.
One of the unexpected and more pleasant bonuses of traveling over here to cover KU’s four-game exhibition tour of Italy — other than the obvious fact of merely coming to Italy in and of itself — has been my seat for the first two games.
Situated at a makeshift table and seated in a plastic lawn chair — both objects were absolute dreams considering the set up when I first walked into the gym on Wednesday — I have posted up about five feet from second-year voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni, who has been calling the games both on radio back home and for the FloHoops.com live stream of KU’s games.
I’ve known and liked Hanni for a long time and it’s so cool to see someone enjoy and appreciate their job and do it with such passion the way he does and always has.
But what he did Thursday night was a new high, at least in my eyes, and it went a long way toward bringing B-Hanni a little more street cred than he might’ve already had.
First, let me set the scene for you.
Riding back to the team hotel on one of the four KU buses, Hanni plopped down toward the back and began the process of detoxing from his latest call.
While that might sound dramatic, it’s not. Hanni puts a ton of work and effort and energy into each broadcast — a feat that was magnified significantly by having to do these games from across the Atlantic — and taking a few minutes to just breathe and relax and get away from the game can be both beneficial and necessary.
From my observations, Hanni’s chosen method of detox, at least on a team bus setting, is Twitter, as he scrolls through dozens of messages, some about the game, some about him, some about the outside world, while sliding into postgame mode.
On this particular night, though, the meditation after the madness was made at least a little more difficult by an impromptu rap battle unfolding in the final couple of rows of the bus behind Hanni between some of the teenage children of KU staff members.
After scrolling and listening, reading and somehow not reacting for a good 20-25 minutes, the bus was approaching the hotel and Hanni decided to act.
Leaning across the aisle, seemingly just to say hey, Hanni went into full Emimen mode from 8 Mile and began to do something that nobody saw coming.
Kicked back in his seat, spitting rhymes over his shoulder, Hanni unleashed a couple of lyrics that ended the battle and delivered a new king of the back of the bus.
I don’t have the recording — rumor has it Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are trying to get their hands on it — but this, to the best of my recollection, was the freestyle rhyme that Hanni hit them with.
“Hey, man, your game is kinda lame and your rhymes are kinda weak... A record deal for you? That’s lookin’ pretty bleak.”
There was more. And I wish I would've known it was coming in time to record it. But that was the hook and the line that allowed Hanni to drop the mic.
Immediately, the back of the bus exploded. Even the young rappers who were the target of Hanni’s unexpected moment absolutely loved it.
As they did, the entire first 15 rows of the bus turned around and tried to find out what had just happened. The Italian tour guide who was sitting in the front of the bus facing back even thought something was wrong and asked if the bus had hit a tree.
But it was her that was wrong and Hanni who was oh so right.
Don’t expect to hear him drop any lyrics during his upcoming KU broadcasts. But while you’re listening, just know that he can.
Because two games is a bigger sample size than one, why don’t we do tonight’s player-by-player breakdown of the Kansas men’s basketball team by comparing the efforts in Game 2 in Italy to what we witnessed in Game 1.
It’s not rocket science and I’m not planning to make any wild leaps or concrete claims about this player or that one. It just seems interesting, especially at this stage of a season that features so many new faces, to take a look at my initial thoughts and see how they held up during my second look.
You get the point. And if you don’t, you’ll have it figured out by the time you’re done reading, hopefully sooner.
• Devonte’ Graham – I might have been more curious about the status of Graham’s game had I not been able to talk to him after KU’s 92-61 win on Thursday night. See, for all of those people out there who have been expecting Graham to jump right in and try to be this year’s Frank Mason, his pass-first mentality over here in Italy might be a bit confusing. But Graham explained it perfectly in saying that he’s not over here “hunting shots.” If he wanted to score 20 a game and be in Italy what Wayne Selden Jr., was in South Korea, he probably could do that with no problem. What you’re seeing, though, is better for the team in the long run. Graham is doing what he has to do now to make sure his teammates are ready and comfortable to help him later. Brilliant plan. I’d expect it to continue in Milan.
• Malik Newman – After a nice game in the opener and an early jumper in Game 2, I thought we were going to see Newman go for 20-plus. He didn’t. Instead, he made just 6-of-15 shots and finished with a nice line of 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Those are good numbers by almost any standards and I think we’ll find out in time that Newman is who he is and he’s not going to deviate much from that at all. He’s athletic, quick, competitive and can score in bunches if he gets hot.
• Lagerald Vick – After a quiet night in the opener Vick scored eight points in a hurry in the first half and looked to be on his way to a big game. Instead, he finished with those eight points and little else in 23 minutes. Vick might be the one who will require the most time to find out how to play with all of these new faces. Not to worry. It’ll happen. He’s too talented and athletically gifted for it not to.
• Billy Preston – I’ve heard the coaches talk a lot about effort and making sure they’re there to give Preston a kick in the behind to make sure he brings it possession after possession. Two games in, we’ve seen some of that already. That’s not a knock, just reality. And it’s the reason the coaches have said that he’s not quite there yet. Something will happen that will make it all click for Preston. The only question is when?
• Udoka Azubuike – For a guy who seemingly has had a couple of monster games, he sure has been getting his named hollered out a lot by Self and the coaches. That’s because the bulk of what Azubuike has done over here is dunk. And, yeah, that’s great and looks good and gets everybody worked up into a frenzy — what’s the old line about chicks digging the long ball? It’s sort of the same thing with basketball fans and dunks — but it does not mask the fact that Azubuike still has a lot of room to grow and will need to if KU is going to compete at KU’s regular standards this season.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – ‘Svi for three’ was a popular call on Thursday night as the Ukrainian hit three in a row at one point in the first half and just missed a fourth. But we all knew Svi could shoot. So that’s not news. What is news is the way he has carried himself over here. Even though he’s still young — he pointed out Wednesday that he’s almost the same age Preston — he definitely seems like a veteran and carries a been-there-done-that attitude onto the court with him. I like it. And I think it’s going to bode well for the Jayhawks this season.
• Mitch Lightfoot - Bad breaks, literally and figuratively, seem to just keep popping up for Lightfoot, who tweaked his knee briefly (but stayed in and was fine) in Game 2 and also came up short on a couple of deep jumpers. Add to that the pain of the broken nose and frustration of the mask he’s been wearing and you’re looking at a guy who might be more than a little down. Except he isn’t. Lightfoot has kept an upbeat attitude through it all and keeps plowing ahead with a smile/cocky laugh on his face. That kind of approach will assure that he’s ready when the breaks start going his way.
• Marcus Garrett – A couple of years back, I nominated and elected myself as president of the Naadir Tharpe fan club. And while I enjoyed my term and still think Tharpe did some good things along the way, I’m afraid I might be itching to do it again. There’s absolutely nothing I don’t like about Garrett’s game and I think he’s only going to get more comfortable — and therefore dangerous — as he gets more games under his belt. A second solid night sets up Garrett to be one of the real stories of the trip to Italy, provided he can do in Milan what he’s done in Rome.
• Sam Cunliffe – Another quiet night but Cunliffe improved by realizing it and limiting his number of shots. Only played eight minutes and may play even fewer in one of the next two games as Self strives to play his first-semester guys the bulk of one of the next games, but Cunliffe is still in search of what kind of role he’ll play on this team and may be well into the season.
• K.J. Lawson – Knocked down both shots he took — including a good-looking 3-pointer — and snagged seven rebounds, second only to Marcus Garrett on the night. It’s kind of a waste to analyze him game to game since the real analysis with Lawson will come in terms of season to season after his red-shirt year, but it was good to see him look a little more comfortable at there. How about a year of that working to his advantage?
• Charlie Moore – The more I watch him play, the more I like what I see. Moore is a capable — and willing — scorer, but I don’t really get the sense that he’s always looking to score. I think he will if it’s there and he’ll run the team and set up other guys if it’s not. That’s a great combo for a point guard and when you add Moore’s toughness and a year of killer practices and work with Andrea Hudy, it’s easy to see why this young man is set up to succeed.
• Clay Young – Not a lot to talk about here. All zeros except for one rebound. But it’s not the stats that matter with a guy like Young. I really like the fact that he has embraced his role as an upperclassman is and willing to step up to show others the way even knowing that it won’t result in increased playing time. Every team needs a guy like that.
• Chris Teahan – Another guy who looked more comfortable in Game 2 versus Game 1, Teahan is definitely that guy who will send the bench into a frenzy by knocking down a jumper in garbage time this season. The thing about it with Teahan is, one knock-down late could easily turn into two or three, which means more euphoria on the Kansas bench.
KU’s on Friday but we won’t be. Check back with KUsports.com throughout the day as we head up to Milan to check in with the team when they get there while also spending some time looking back on three days in Rome.
Instead of a report card for tonight’s KU basketball exhibition opening victory over Stella Azzurra / HSC Roma in Rome, I thought I’d give you my quick, gut-reaction, initial thoughts on each player in their first real action of the 2017-18 season.
Let’s face it, a report card would just be weird. After all, this wasn’t much of a game, they weren’t playing a Div. I caliber opponent and the Jayhawks themselves weren’t even really running much, just out there kind of playing and trying to look good while doing it.
So the report cards can wait. But the reports can’t.
I’ll start with the starters — for obvious reasons — and then go down the line from there and we’ll see where the rest of the week takes us after that.
For what it’s worth, I am expecting Thursday’s game to be much more competitive, but it was pretty cool to see the Jayhawks back in action, especially some of these new guys that I’ve written and you’ve heard a lot about during the past few months.
• Devonte’ Graham - I’m starting to think that Graham is going to quietly go down as one of the better 3-point shooters in KU history. He’s knocking on the door of the record books to back that claim up and he just looks so smooth and solid with his shot every time he takes it. KU didn’t need to set much of a tone to win this one with ease. But those three 3-pointers Graham hit early certainly helped everybody else play loose and have some fun. Fourteen points, nine assists and four rebounds.... Sounds almost Frank Mason-like.
• Malik Newman - The thing I was most impressed by with Newman’s night was that he let the game come to him. He didn’t try to go crazy right away just because he was so excited to finally be back out there. And I’m not sure anyone would’ve blamed him if he did. But he didn’t. He took good shots, was in rhythm when he shot them and showed that he definitely can be that high-volume scorer Bill Self has talked about. Quick side note: I met Malik’s father, Horatio aka “Pops” and his Godfather tonight and it’s easy to see where the new KU guard got his outgoing and fun personality from. They told me Malik’s expecting an even better performance tomorrow. Better than 6-of-7 shooting and 16 points in 18 minutes? I’m sure KU will take that.
• Lagerald Vick – Sort of a quiet night for Vick, but I did notice that the junior guard appears much more cool, calm and collected this year and is really comfortable with both his role and his ability. It’s too early to make too much of it, but I thought Vick looked like a much improved passer tonight.
• Billy Preston – Really liked what I saw from the freshman in the game’s first 10 minutes. He was confident, he asserted himself and he did it all under control and with purpose. There’s a lot to like about Preston’s game and if he can pick up the mental side of adjusting to college basketball quickly he can make a real difference for this team even early on. The big challenge will be finding new ways to challenge Preston and I’m guessing that his rebounding will be a big part of those challenges from the coaching staff. Tonight, early on, he was aggressive on the glass and showed he can do it.
• Udoka Azubuike - Forget the dunks for a minute (if you can)... And focus on Azubuike’s aggressive attitude. He’s not going to get all of those dunks every night during the upcoming season. But if he plays with that kind of determination and tenacity, he can have monster season even without dunking once. The key will be developing the rest of his game and him continuing to work on understanding when to go and when to kick it back out and reset. He’s much improved in that area but still flashed moments where things developed too slowly. All in all, though, he a really great night in his return to action from the wrist injury that stole most of last season from him.
• Svi Mykhailiuk - I loved how Svi just jumped back into things, fresh off of an entire summer playing with Team Ukraine and looked like it wasn’t a big deal at all. He’s a veteran and he’s talented. And he looked like both things tonight.
• Mitch Lightfoot - He had a handful of good moments and played damn hard, but he also appeared to be pressing a little too much at times, like he maybe was putting too much pressure on himself. Maybe it’s the mask, maybe it’s the environment, maybe it’s the opponent and format of the game. Either way, it’s only a problem if it goes that way for four straight games over here and I can’t see that happening.
• Marcus Garrett – Only made one shot, but I loved how active he was and how poised he played. He looks like a veteran and he looks like a guy who’s going to get minutes. The rest will come.
• Sam Cunliffe – Didn’t see a ton from Cunliffe, who still has a tendency to hold the ball too long and made just 2 of 8 shots. One of them was a nice transition dunk he got by hustling down the floor to beat the defense and the other was a breakaway dunk that wasn’t contested. He’ll have to do more than that to crack the deep and talented guard rotation this year, though.
• K.J. Lawson – Not really enough of a sample size to make any kind of definitive calls, but the guy is athletic and he’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up, as evidenced by his four rebounds. Shot 0-of-3 from 3-point range, which left me asking the question, should he be the guy pulling the trigger like that? In this game it was harmless. Moving forward, it might not be.
• Charlie Moore – Point guard had a pretty solid game running the second unit. Got sped up at times and coughed it up a couple of times. But he scored seven points, showed good quickness and handled a team-high 21 minutes with poise and confidence. He has a bright future.
• Clay Young – It was cool to see the guy who usually gets in at the end of blowouts check into a game earlier than that. One of the hardest workers on the team and an all-around good dude, Young was rewarded with 11 minutes and will probably get close to that each game.
• Chris Teahan – Conner’s younger brother also received early minutes and missed both shots he attempted. Looked like he had fun, though, and I’m guessing the missed shots were the product of nerves. He’s a good shooter and has near-perfect form. He’ll knock a couple down before the week’s over.
The Kansas men’s basketball team is en route to Italy and the Jayhawks’ summer exhibition tour is officially under way.
While a good chunk of the excitement surrounding this year’s foreign trip is on the cultural experience the Jayhawks will get in visiting the Colosseum, Vatican City and other interesting and historic parts of Rome and Milan, there also is plenty of reason to pay attention to the basketball that will be played.
I’ll be there every step of the way chronicling the Jayhawks’ journey and bringing you results and analysis of all four games, sights, sounds and reaction to their cultural outings and whatever other interesting tidbits and unforeseen gems pop up during the next eight days.
Our coverage this week is brought to you by KU Bookstore — go check out their latest KU gear and follow them on Twitter at @KUBookstore — and you’ll want to check back with the site often throughout the next eight days for videos, blogs, photos and updates from the Jayhawks’ journey on Italian soil.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at a few things I’m looking forward to learning while away. Don’t get me wrong, checking out the Colosseum and the Vatican and all of the other amazing sights, smells and scenes Italy has to offer will be an absolute joy. But it is still a work trip and basketball is still the focus, so I’m determined to make it as enjoyable for you as it is for me.
Here’s my quick list of things I’m interested in learning about heading into the trip:
1. Devonte’ Graham in a leading role — We already know a great deal about Graham the player. He’s a great shooter, a heck of a competitor and can handle the rock and play D the way Bill Self demands. But we haven’t seen much of Graham as a leader just yet. Natural leadership seems to be a trait that Graham has an abundance of and the guess here is that he’s just been waiting for his time to break it out. That time is now and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of it on this trip. How that will impact his play — and not whether or not he can do it — will be the most interesting thing to watch here. But I’ll be shocked if Graham comes back to the United States with anything other than an A for his leadership grade during the trip.
2. The return of Udoka Azubuike — The big man is back and better than ever, according to teammates. Several Jayhawks have marveled recently at Azubuike’s improved footwork, solid conditioning and general presence on both ends of the floor. Even if he only plays 20 or so minutes a game in Italy — which seems to be Self’s goal for just about everyone on the roster — I think we’ll see plenty of shining examples of all the things we’ve only heard about up to this point. Last season we saw glimpses of the force that Azubuike could become. This week, we’ll get to see just how far along he is in that department.
3. The birth of Billy Preston — Self talked a lot about Preston on Sunday, one day before the Jayhawks hopped on the plane to head over the pond, and although he admitted that the freak freshman was not “ready” to make a major impact just yet, Self said Preston’s play this week could go a long way toward proving he’s getting there. So how can he get that done? Easy. Effort. Preston is an extremely gifted basketball player, both in terms of skills and physical abilities, and he has the potential to be a difference maker for the Jayhawks as soon as this season. The best way for him to get there is to let it go, play loose and with incredible effort every minute he’s on the floor. If Preston can forget about style points and worrying about what he’s doing, he could show coaches that he’s ready for the next step. Until then, the talented freshman will continue to be a work in progress, albeit one that any coach in America would love to be working on.
4. Transfer city — A month ago, this category looked a lot more comprehensive, with as many as six transfer expected to get their first real action as Jayhawks. That number is down to four now, thanks to Jack Whitman's departure and Dedric Lawson’s suspension, but that doesn’t mean it will be boring to track the transfers. For one, guards Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe (second semester) will be eligible to play for the Jayhawks during the 2017-18 season. Both likely will have meaningful roles, with Newman potentially being one of the more important scorers on the roster. After that, though, we’ll get a rare glimpse at the future, as well, with K.J. Lawson and former Cal point guard Charlie Moore also making their KU debuts. Newman and Cunliffe figure to get more minutes than the other two, but seeing what skills each has along with how the whole group works together will be as noteworthy as anything both for today and the future.
5. Any surprises? — Each time one of these trips or long-distance tournaments happens, there are players who step up and show a little more than many people expected. This team has three prime candidates to earn that label when the trip is over — sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, junior guard Lagerald Vick and freshman guard Marcus Garrett. Here’s how: With the departure of Whitman and the Jayhawks down to three eligible big men, Lightfoot’s role becomes even more important than it already would have been. That’s good news for Kansas because such a role and reality is exactly what Lightfoot likes. Self has said throughout the summer that Lightfoot has been one of the hardest working, better looking players on the roster and he has a chance in Italy to show that his improvement translates from practice and drill settings to games. Vick probably has the longest way to go to qualify as a true surprise, but there is room. He was solid in a supporting role last season but the opportunity to take another step is there this year. Vick is confident and ever-improving, he wowed a handful of NBA scouts at an Under Armor camp this summer and has a chance to be a lot more like Josh Jackson than anybody believed was possible heading into last season. It will take some work. And the biggest jump he’ll have to make is defensively. But Vick’s a competitor and he’s hungry. That’s a good combination for a big trip. Finally, let’s look at Garrett, who has drawn great reviews from veteran guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman and also has impressed the heck out of his new head coach. Few thought Garrett would arrive on campus and play 20 meaningful minutes a game as a true freshman and he still might not. But he probably will this week and that will give Self and the KU fan base a good look at whether he can handle that type of role.
Stay in touch with KUsports.com for all kinds of coverage of KU’s overseas adventure in Italy throughout the week and, if you’re not already, give Matt Tait ( @mctait ) and our Twitter account (@KUsports) a follow to make sure you don’t miss a minute of the action.
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