The official start of the 2021-22 college basketball season is right around the corner, with the Jayhawks starting practices next week and closing in on a month out from the season opener against Michigan State at the Champions Classic in New York City.
That means it's time to take a closer look at this roster, which, as you surely know by now, features 10 new faces and four returning starters.
We jumped into to our annual "He Will, He Won't, He Might" prediction series a few weeks ago with senior David McCormack but wanted to wait until we got closer to the season to keep it going.
We're there now, with Late Night just one week away and KU slated to host its first full-scale practice next Wednesday.
So here's a look at another senior to get things re-started: veteran guard Ochai Agbaji, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., and is slated to start for the fourth consecutive season.
He Will: Be this team’s unquestioned leader
Anyone who has been around Kansas basketball for the past four years knows that Ochai Agbaji is a born leader.
He showed signs of his take-charge ability during the second semester of his freshman season, just days after he had his redshirt removed. And while that ability to lead and step forward with his voice still needed the bite of production behind it, it did not take Agbaji long to get there.
By his sophomore season (2019-20), he emerged as a quiet leader, one who let the production of All-Americans Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike speak louder but also was not afraid to speak up and stay steady in his play.
And last season, as the face of the program, Agbaji led the team in scoring and was one guy who consistently seemed to be willing to try to take over games, even if the result didn’t always go as he had hoped.
Now, with three seasons of experience under his belt and the fire of coming back to KU for one more run, Agbaji will set the tone for this team.
He’ll have help, of course. And this team will have other leaders in other ways. But none of the returning players have as much invested in terms of on-court time and production as Agbaji. After getting rob of a run in 2019-20 and proving to be overmatched a season ago, Agbaji knows this team is loaded enough to make a real run and he will be in the right place every step of the way to make sure his teammates stay hungry and don’t slip.
On a team with 10 newcomers, that last part will be key.
He Won’t: Be so selfish that he tries to showcase his skills and improvement to the detriment of the team
It’s no secret that Agbaji was close to turning pro this offseason. But his production at the NBA combine — on the court more than during testing — and his desire to come back for one more run paved the way for him to return.
Now armed with firsthand knowledge of what NBA scouts are looking for, Agbaji has the tools required to have a monster season in 2021-22. But don’t think for a second that his biggest goals (playing in the NBA) will impact his immediate goals (going out with a bang and trying to win a national title at Kansas).
Agbaji is simply not wired that way. From the minute he first stepped on the floor as a once-redshirting freshman to the day he announced he was coming back for his senior season, Agbaji has shown that he’s a team-first guy all the way. He’s willing to play whatever role is necessary for the team to be successful. And while that role this season will no doubt include leadership and him asserting himself offensively at times, he won’t do either off script.
With Agbaji, it’s all about executing the game plan, doing what the coaches ask you to do and being both steady and reliable — for his coaches and teammates — every step of the way.
He Might: Shoot 40% from 3-point range
Agbaji’s 3-point percentage and 3-point makes have gone up during each of his first three seasons of college basketball, setting the stage for a monster senior season.
That’s the sign of a player who has become more comfortable in the offense and worked his butt off on his shot.
From 23 makes and 30.7% in 22 games as a freshman to 46 makes and 33.8% as a full-time starter in 2019-20 and 78 triples on 37.7% shooting last season, Agbaji has become one of the top 3-point shooters in the Big 12 Conference.
As a sophomore, he benefited from getting a ton of open looks thanks to the presence of Azubuike down low and the drive-and-kick ability of Dotson. Last season, he needed to be the team’s top shooter and scorer. This season, he’ll get to be whatever he wants to be, and that could drive opponents crazy.
With Remy Martin in the mix to run the point — and drawing comparisons to Dotson from Agbaji himself — Agbaji and several other Jayhawks should get plenty of wide open looks this season. If Agbaji gets them, 40% from 3-point range on 100 or so attempts should be within reach, no matter where he is on the floor.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2021
Kansas basketball boot camp 2021 is now a thing of the past.
The Jayhawks wrapped up this year’s grueling conditioning session on Wednesday morning, a day or two earlier than its expected ending.
In the past, when boot camp has finished early, that has been an indication that the coaching staff was pleased with the work the players put in from start to finish and wanted to call it early as a reward of sorts.
As has become tradition, the team announced the end of boot camp on social media with a locker room photo of the group after the final session.
In it, you get a glimpse of who looks bigger than last season and which players like to flex their muscles and pose with the tough guy look rather than a smile or relaxed approach. There’s a good mixture of both styles in this year’s photo, which also offers the latest look at the 10 newcomers on this year’s roster.
Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu (far left) has caught most of the attention on social media for his ripped physique. But returners Jalen Wilson, David McCormack and Christian Braun all have garnered mention, as well.
And then, of course, there’s super-senior Mitch Lightfoot, who went viral for his biceps flex a couple of years ago after the team’s boot camp. This was the sixth boot camp of Lightfoot’s KU career, and he wrapped it up with his own thoughts on social media Wednesday morning.
“Sources can confirm I have completed my last boot camp of all time,” Lightfoot wrote on Twitter. “Will not be taking any questions at this time. Thank you for your understanding. #6”
Later, after the team photo was posted, Lightfoot responded with a quote tweet that simply read, “Not flexing.”
The Jayhawks will continue to run through preseason practices in preparation for the official start of the 2021-22, which will be celebrated on Oct. 1 with the annual Late Night in the Phog event. But the days of the 5 a.m. wake-up calls are now behind them.
KU’s season opener is slated for Nov. 9 against Michigan State at the Champions Classic in New York City. KU will host Emporia State on Nov. 3 in its lone exhibition game of the 2021-22 season.
There was no upset or feel-good story that played out at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but the Kansas-Baylor game still had meaning.
Highly touted, Class of 2022 basketball center Adem Bona was in attendance at Saturday’s game, and the lopsided loss by the home team did nothing to dampen his spirits about the visit.
“I had a great visit to Kansas,” Bona told Shay Wildeboor of JayhawkSlant.com. “It was my first ever visit to a college and it was awesome.”
There was, of course, much more to Bona’s visit than the football game. The 6-foot-10, 210-pound center from Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., toured campus, saw KU’s facilities and met with the coaches and current players.
“I had the chance to meet the whole coaching staff and the culture at Kansas is like one-of-a-kind,” Bona told Wildeboor. “I also had the chance to see and feel the history at Kansas, and the family atmosphere they have built at Kansas is really great. In general, I had a great visit.”
Bona trimmed his list of finalists to eight in late August, and his recruitment involves the cream of the crop in college basketball. KU, Baylor, Kentucky and UCLA are all listed in his final eight, with Arizona State, USC and Miami (Fla.) in the hunt, as well. It has been reported that Bona also is considering jumping straight to Australia’s National Basketball League the way R.J. Hampton did a couple of years ago.
Regardless of which programs stay in the hunt, it’s hard to view KU being his first visit — ever — as anything other than a good sign. It may not mean that the sixth-ranked center in the 2022 class (No. 33 overall) ultimately signs with KU, but no other program will get the opportunity to host him for the first college visit of his life. Because of that, you can bet KU’s staff did it up big and made him feel like the best player on the planet.
Whether he is or not, remains to be seen. Both 247 Sports and ESPN have Bona rated as a five-star prospect, with the latter ranking him 17th overall in the class.
According to Rivals.com’s Jamie Shaw, Bona’s strength is his defense and desire to go hard all the time.
“Bona is a big and strong prospect, who plays with a relentless motor,” Shaw wrote recently. “While his offensive game is raw, he has great timing on defense, both in the passing lanes and in blocking shots, and he is a very aggressive rebounder.”
Duke’s pickup of five-star center Dereck Lively on Monday evening likely means Kentucky will go even harder after Bona now.
John Calipari’s program had been in the final running for Lively, who is ranked as the No. 1 center in the Class of 2022, and has been in the Bona race for a long time, as well.
Bona has given no indication of when he might commit, and he still has at least three visits currently on his schedule for the upcoming weeks — Baylor this weekend, Kentucky on Oct. 15 and UCLA the following week.
It’s no secret that the Kansas basketball program has had a successful run of solid point guard play during the past decade or so.
And, according to at least one current Jayhawk, that will continue during the 2021-22 season.
Talking with the media midway through the first week of Kansas basketball boot camp, KU senior Ochai Agbaji recently was asked for his thoughts on new KU point guard Remy Martin.
Agbaji immediately drew a comparison to a former teammate.
“Kind of reminds me a little bit of Devon (Dotson),” Agbaji said. “The way he can switch speeds and get downhill, particularly from different spots on the floor. His quickness I think matches Devon’s.”
Martin has yet to be made available to the local media since arriving on campus this summer, but those who have been around him have said that the Arizona State transfer already has shown that he’s willing to put in whatever work it takes to improve and fit in.
Perhaps more importantly, Martin has shown a willingness to operate as more of a true point guard, which is a slight depar-ture from his role as a high-scoring, volume-shooting lead guard with the Sun Devils.
“He’s been a great teammate,” senior transfer Cam Martin said of the new KU point guard. “He’s been a great facilitator. He’s playing like a true point guard, just getting everybody shots, getting downhill. (He has) a very quick first step (and is a) great passer.”
Remy Martin comes to Kansas on the heels of back-to-back 19-points-per-game seasons at ASU. He tested his NBA draft stock this summer and elected to make the move to Kansas for one more crack at showcasing his skills for the folks in the NBA.
Beyond that, though, the new KU PG came to Kansas to win.
Despite his status as a new player on a team that returns four starters, Remy Martin’s skill, experience and personality make him the type of player who should be expected to make a ma-jor and immediate impact for the Jayhawks this season.
KU coach Bill Self said in August that Remy Martin was “thinking right” during the early preseason workouts. And Self noted that the new KU point guard’s speed, fire and passion would add a lot to the roster.
National college basketball insider Andy Katz, of NCAA.com, recently ranked Remy Martin as the 12th best returning player in all of college basketball from last season.
According to Katz, Remy Martin “could be the missing piece for the Jayhawks this year.”
The Jayhawks are expected to wrap up their annual boot camp conditioning session later this week and the first official practice of the 2021-22 season is slated for next week.
KU fans are scheduled to get their first look at Remy Martin in crimson and blue on Oct. 1 at Late Night in the Phog.
Kansas basketball fans got an early present in their stockings on Wednesday, when the Big 12 Conference released the full schedules for the 2021-22 season.
For many Jayhawk fans, that meant plans to attend games — home or away — finally could be finalized.
For some, that means nailing down the dates for that one road trip a year with friends. For others, it means splitting up season-ticket packages and seeing if the games match up with their schedules.
It may seem a little strange to compare schedule release day to the holidays, but you’d be surprised how many times I get asked about the schedule each year. From mid-June on, people reach out to me weekly, sometimes daily, to see if I know anything or have heard anything about when a certain game might be or when the schedule might come out.
Now that it’s here, and all of those people and countless others are feverishly lining up their plans, let’s take a quick look at a few things that stood out about this year’s schedule.
We already knew the dates and games for the nonconference slate. So, as enticing as it is to rehash how great two trips to New York, the renewal of the series with Missouri, a trip to Colorado and a Thanksgiving week tournament in Orlando will be, the focus today will be solely on what jumped out at me about KU’s Big 12 schedule, which officially opens Jan. 1 at home against TCU.
• No matter how the first half of the conference race goes, this thing is going to come down to what happens in February. Kansas plays both Baylor and Texas TWICE between Feb. 5 and March 5. And those two programs, which are both projected as top-10 preseason teams and contenders in the conference, also play each other twice in a 16-day span in February. Getting off to a good start in the conference race is crucial any season if you want to be in the hunt at the end. But it may be less important than ever this season because of that back-loaded schedule.
• Nastiest stretch? Let’s go with the five-game run between Jan. 24 and Feb. 7 that starts with a home game against the always-tough Texas Tech defense and ends with a road game at Texas, two days after hosting Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. In between Tech and UT, KU also will play Kentucky at home in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The only game in that stretch that figures to be against an unranked opponent comes Feb. 1 at Iowa State. Who would’ve thought five years ago that a game at Hilton Coliseum would qualify as relief during a murderer’s row section of a future schedule.
• Easiest stretch? There are no real prolonged runs without some kind of tough challenge. Such is life in the Big 12 Conference these days. But it’s not the hardest start for Kansas in 2021-22. Home against TCU should be a layup and another home game against Iowa State in Game 4 should be, as well. Sandwiched between that are road games at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, though, and no one has ever called those two venues easy to play in. There’s pretty good balance to this schedule, both in terms of tough challenges and easier matchups and the home/road layout.
• I always like looking at the gap between playing teams and there’s a pretty big one this season. After opening with TCU at home on New Year’s Day, the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs don’t meet again for two months, March 1 in Fort Worth, Texas. That’s the second-to-last game of the regular season and could be critical in the Big 12 race. Rather than leaning on what they just saw a few weeks earlier, KU may have to restart the scouting process from the beginning with the Frogs heading into Round 2.
• The Big Monday balance is pretty good, too — two at home and two on the road. The first is Jan. 17 at Oklahoma, where the Jayhawks will get their first taste of new OU coach Porter Moser. After that, it’s home for Texas Tech on Big Monday the following week (Jan. 24), at Texas two weeks later (Feb. 7) and home against Oklahoma State on Feb. 14. There have been times in the past when the schedule has featured KU four times on Big Monday but only given the Jayhawks one of those at home. It makes sense for ratings and to inspire teams that don’t consistently sell out their venues. But the 2-2 split seems much more fair.
• The conference did KU no favors in early February, when by far the toughest back-to-back of the season takes place. After squaring off with Baylor at home on Saturday, Feb. 5, the Jayhawks will head to Austin, Texas, for a Big Monday battle with Texas. That’s basically one day to get ready for the Longhorns after an emotional showdown with the defending national champs.
• Both Sunflower Showdown games take place on the 22nd of the month they’re played in — KU at K-State on Jan. 22 and KSU vs. KU in Lawrence on Feb. 22. I’ll have to look up those dates, as well as the 22nd in general, to see if it holds any significance in the rivalry.
2021-22 KU men's basketball schedule
Nov. 3 vs. Emporia State (exhibition)
Nov. 9 vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic, New York City)
Nov. 12 vs. Tarleton State
Nov. 18 vs. Stony Brook
Nov. 25 vs. North Texas (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Nov. 26 vs. Dayton OR Miami (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Nov. 28 vs. Alabama, Belmont, Drake or Iona (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Dec. 3 at St. John's
Dec. 7 vs. UTEP (Kansas City, Mo.)
Dec. 11 vs. Missouri
Dec. 18 vs. Stephen F. Austin
Dec. 21 at Colorado
Dec. 29 vs. Harvard
Jan. 1 vs. TCU
Jan. 4 at Oklahoma State
Jan. 8 at Texas Tech
Jan. 11 vs. Iowa State
Jan. 15 vs. West Virginia
Jan. 17 at Oklahoma
Jan. 22 at Kansas State
Jan. 24 vs. Texas Tech
Jan. 29 vs. Kentucky
Feb. 1 at Iowa State
Feb. 5 vs. Baylor
Feb. 7 at Texas
Feb. 12 vs. Oklahoma
Feb. 14 vs. Oklahoma State
Feb. 19 at West Virginia
Feb. 22 vs. Kansas State
Feb. 26 at Baylor
March 1 at TCU
March 5 vs. Texas
Aidan Shaw, a 6-foot-8 small forward from nearby Blue Valley High has announced Friday as the day he will reveal his college choice.
Shaw, who played AAU ball this summer for MOKAN Elite, is down to a final five of Kansas, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa and Oklahoma State.
He recently told recruiting analyst Joe Tipton, of On3.com, that KU’s family environment stood out to him on his visit back in June.
He said that his introduction to KU strength coach Ramsey Nijem was one of the highlights of his trip and added that he enjoyed watching KU’s playing style during practice.
“You kind of just go,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Shaw told various recruiting analysts on the AAU circuit that he was looking for a school that could both develop his game and provide him with an atmosphere of elite team chemistry among the players and coaches.
Ranked No. 57 overall in the 2022 class by Rivals.com, Shaw is a four-star prospect who spent time during his junior season ranked in the Top 50.
The Kansas men’s basketball program’s famed boot camp began bright and early Monday morning, with the 18 players on this year’s roster running through the first day of two weeks worth of conditioning drills.
Senior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who has been through five of these before, announced the arrival of the end of an era on social media by posting, “Beginning of the end! Boot camp year 6! Let’s get it.”
Former Jayhawk Jamari Traylor, who went through his own round of demanding boot camps during his playing days, responded to the message with a little humor.
“The feeling of that LAST spring gonna be UNMATCHED,” wrote Traylor.
Before the whole thing got going, KU staff member Fred Quartlebaum hopped on social media, under the cover of darkness, to drop a little information on what the team tries to get accomplished during the 10-12 grueling, early-morning workout sessions that never feature a basketball and always feature players dripping with sweat and bent over in exhaustion.
“Time for some chemistry building, some culture building, some connection building, some caring building,” Quartlebaum said in his social media video.
While building those traits is the goal each year and with every team, it appears to be particularly important this year, with the Kansas roster featuring 10 new faces — eight new scholarship players and two new walk-ons.
Their first taste of boot camp will demonstrate that KU’s work in the preseason is as much about the mental side of the game as it is proper dribbling, shooting and defensive technique.
The Jayhawks are expected to host boot camp through late next week. After that, Late Night in the Phog arrives on Oct. 1, ushering in the countdown to the official start of the 2021-22 season.
KU’s lone exhibition game is slated for Nov. 3 against Emporia State at Allen Fieldhouse. The regular season opener will tipoff on Nov. 9 against Michigan State at the Champions Classic in New York City.
After creating the kind of defensive havoc during the NBA’s Summer League that he did for four years at Kansas, former KU guard Marcus Garrett received his first reward this week.
According to a tweet from NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, Garrett has signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat.
Wojnarowski got the info from Garrett’s new agent, Mike George of One Legacy Sports, which also represents NBA star Jamal Murray along with former Big 12 players Naz Mitrou-Long and Tariq Owens.
After going undrafted in July, Garrett quickly signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Miami Heat. The contract, which guaranteed very little, simply gave Garrett an opportunity. He did the rest.
From the opening game of the NBA’s Summer League on, Garrett showcased the kind of defense he became known for during his days as a Jayhawk.
He hounded ball handlers and picked their pockets clean. He also played the passing lanes and picked up easy baskets off of his defensive anticipation.
That led to pretty good offensive numbers, as well.
Garrett appeared in four Summer League games with the Heat, averaging 11 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 1.5 assists per game.
He also carried a +9.3 plus/minus number and shot 65.4% (17-of-26) from the floor and 43% (3-of-7) from 3-point range while helping the Heat record a 4-0 record.
The former Naismith Award national defensive player of the year scored in double figures in each of the four games and recorded 10 steals in two contests at the California Classic in Sacramento.
The two-way contract keeps Garrett’s rights with Miami and the Heat G League franchise in Sioux Falls, S.D., for the 2021-22 season.
He’ll be able to freely jump up and down between the two levels as the front office and coaching staff see fit, and he will not count against Miami’s 15-man roster limit.
In the games he plays with the Heat, Garrett will make NBA money and in the games he plays with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, he’ll make G League money.
That typically amounts to a salary of roughly $125,000 per year for standard players on two-way contracts.
Garrett’s goal now, of course, will be to make an NBA roster full-time. But, for an undrafted player, the opportunity to show what you can do on a two-way contract in Year 1 is about as good as you can ask for.
Kansas basketball commitment Gradey Dick added a gold medal to his collection of basketball hardware over the weekend.
Dick, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2022 who orally committed to KU in March, teamed with Duke commitment Kyle Filipowski and Baylor commitment Keyonte George and IMG Academy's Eric Dailey Jr., in leading Team USA to gold at the Under-18 3-on-3 World Cup in Hungary.
The event has been going for the past decade but the United States did not send a team until 2019. That year, the Americans won gold. And, after a cancelation in 2020 because of the pandemic, Dick and company put the U.S. team back on top again, making it two-for-two for the Americans.
Dick, who also has USA Basketball experience from minicamps he attended in 2019, was a highlight machine throughout the event.
He showed off both his outside touch and his ability to attack the basket in helping lead his squad to a 6-0 record and the gold medal.
Team USA knocked off Estonia, 21-14, in the gold medal game on Sunday, keeping alive its streak of not allowing a single opponent to top 14 points in the games played to 21.
Dick, a Wichita native, will now return home to begin his senior season at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire. After a standout career at Wichita Collegiate to open his prep playing days, Dick played his junior season at Sunrise, filling a reserve role on a team loaded with Division I commitments.
This year, he is expected to have a much bigger role for coach Luke Barnwell’s team, which consistently plays a tough national schedule and generates all kinds of exposure for its players.
Five months after it happened, evidence surfaced of a unique style of celebration by students at Kansas State University, who clearly took great joy in USC’s convincing NCAA Tournament victory over Kansas that eliminated the 2020-21 Jayhawks from the postseason.
So much so, in fact, that student government leaders at KSU went as far as to extend an official written commendation to the Trojans for the win.
The document itself — yeah, there was a real document — addressed the details of the game, how it was one of the largest defeats in KU history and the Wildcats’ longstanding rivalry with KU.
It also noted that “a hearty Go Trojans” should be uttered by student senate members and anyone else in attendance at the recent meeting.
And there was even video evidence that the rallying cry was used at the meeting.
The document was then sent to USC’s president, athletic director, head basketball coach and student body president, and it wound up in the hands of USC big man Isaiah Mobley, who posed with the piece of paper during a recent USC practice.
The document notes that the resolution was approved unanimously on April 8, 2021. And it was signed on April 19. For whatever reason, the details just hit social media channels this week.
The document, the video and the photo of Mobley holding the piece of paper was posted by the Twitter account for USC Men's Basketball on Aug. 24. So that must have been the first time the Trojans players actually saw the document themselves.
This kind of behavior in rivalries in college sports is nothing new, of course. However, I can’t say that I can recall hearing about anything as formal as this being done. I’m sure it has. But it’s certainly a first in this rivalry. Usually people just make T-Shirts of DVDs to celebrate these types of things.
I can remember Missouri fans buying and wearing Bucknell T-Shirts after KU’s first-round loss to the Bison several years ago. But taking student senate time, all these months later, to do something like this certainly trumps that.
On the outside looking in, the whole thing is easy to laugh off. But you can bet that most K-State fans think it’s absolutely awesome and most KU fans are rolling their eyes about it.
Ahhh, rivalries. There’s nothing quite like ’em.