Whether you prefer to follow Chad Ford, Jeff Goodman, DraftExpress.com or any number of other NBA writers who cover the league and have done their best to predict what will happen in tonight’s draft, there’s no question that, when it comes to the rumor-mill world of the NBA Draft, there’s no shortage of entertaining and informative options out there.
But which ones will wind up being closest to right when it all goes down inside Barclays Center later tonight?
That’s impossible to predict — perhaps even tougher than predicting the picks themselves — and overall rather irrelevant since so many wild things can happen both leading up to and during the draft on one of the wildest days and nights on the NBA calendar year after year.
Personally, the NBA Draft is one of my favorite days of the sports year. Always has been. Ever since I was young and my favorite Kansas player at the time, point guard Kevin Pritchard, was drafted by Golden State on my birthday in 1989, I’ve been obsessed with the NBA Draft.
And not just the big names and popular picks either. All 60 of them. Every year.
So you can imagine my excitement when, in 2010, I actually got to cover a draft for the first time in my career. Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry were the KU picks that year and the experience was awesome. That draft started a streak of five straight NBA Drafts for me, and during that time I covered the draft night jubilation of eight lottery picks, including three Top 5 selections, twin brothers and a No. 1 overall pick in 2014.
Each experience was unique and being their for the biggest nights in all of those guys’ lives was memorable for a number of different reasons.
I haven’t been back since Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid went No. 1 and No. 3 in the 2014 draft — largely because Kansas hasn’t had another lottery pick since then — but I’m definitely wishing today that I was in the Big Apple with Josh Jackson, who was as much fun to cover and be around as any KU player I’ve worked with during my time with the paper.
Ben McLemore was by far the kindest and most accommodating of the former KU stars who I covered at the draft — Aldrich was a close second — and I think Jackson easily would’ve given him a run for his money.
But the schedule did not allow for it to happen this year, so we’ll cover it from here and try our best to keep up with all of the goings on that take place throughout the hours leading up to the 6 p.m. draft.
With that in mind, here are a few things I’m expecting to see and/or hear tonight and a quick prediction for where Jackson and Frank Mason III will wind up.
• I’m no NBA genius or insider, but I can’t see the top two picks going any other way than Markelle Fultz to Phily and Lonzo Ball to the Lakers. Recent moves by both teams seem to have cemented those picks and even though I would love to see Magic Johnson bring Jackson to L.A., I can’t see it happening. With that in mind, the draft really begins at pick No. 3 with the Boston Celtics.
• Speaking of the Celtics, I, like many people, think there’s a decent chance that the Celtics draft Josh Jackson. But the guess here is that Jackson never winds up playing for the Celtics even if they do.
• That brings me to my prediction for where Jackson will be selected and I’m going to say No. 4 to Phoenix. Because the Suns finished with one of the worst records in the league last season, I know that does not excite too many KU fans (especially those hoping Jackson somehow winds up playing with Embiid in Phily). But I think it should. Jackson would be a terrific spot for Jackson, who could flourish playing alongside guards Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, who could be to Jackson in the NBA what Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham were to him in college. Beyond that, Jackson would be a clear-cut, Day 1 starter and not face much pressure during his first year or two, which would allow him to develop his game and make the NBA adjustment while the Suns get better around him. I like it. Boston or L.A. would be more exciting, but Phoenix isn’t a disaster like falling one more spot to Sacramento would be.
• The latest mock draft put out by DraftExpress.com (3:20 p.m. Wednesday) has six Big 12 players being drafted, with four of those six going in the second round. Six out of 60 isn’t bad, but it sure seems like the league had better talent than that. DraftExpress’ latest version did not include Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, which, in my mind, is nuts. I think Morris will be a great pro and bring serious value to some team’s bench. So I’ll go with seven Big 12 players as the total number taken tonight.
• After a stellar senior season and some impressive pre-draft workouts, Frank Mason will certainly be one of them and that’s pretty darn cool considering he was nowhere to be found on these mock drafts when the 2016-17 season began. Mason’s story is as good as there has been during my time covering Kansas and that’s what makes it so easy to feel so good for him as he sits on the brink of watching his lifelong dream come true. Getting drafted is part of it. But making a roster and having an impact is part of it, too. And Mason is well aware of that. Simply getting drafted will not be good enough for him. Nor will he let the euphoria of being selected cloud his vision and allow him to become complacent. If anything, Mason will start working even harder after he’s drafted, merely as a thank you to the team that picks him and to show them that they made a good decision. With the NBA Draft, or really any draft for that manner, it’s often all about minimizing risk. There’s a lot at stake and a ton of money is invested in these extremely young players. Sometimes, their talent is so loud and impressive that you have to take on some risk. But other times, like in the second round where Mason will likely be selected, the risk taking is less prominent and teams are looking for proven commodities. There are few guys in this draft who minimize that risk like Mason and that’s why I think you’ll see him go early in the second round. Teams know what they’re getting with Mason. They know his character, his work ethic, his team-first mentality, his willingness and preference to avoid drama and, above all, his desire to win. There’s not a team in the league that would not like to add those things to its roster.
• As for my guess on which team will be the one that makes Mason their guy, I’m going to say Philadelphia at either pick No. 36 or 39. In addition to having the No. 1 overall pick, which they’ll no doubt use on Fultz, the Sixers have four other picks, which puts them in a great position to fill out some of their bench to lend support to the potentially stellar trio of Embiid, Fultz, Ben Simmons. Mason, for all of the reasons mentioned above (and then some) would be a great fit on that kind of roster, where he could use his drive, mentality and maturity in a leadership role sooner rather than later.
• One quick parting shot, before I go hop on Twitter and track what madness unfolds, if I had my choice, I’d love to see either Mason or Jackson end up with the New York Knicks. If it’s Jackson, he becomes a huge part of their rebuild and he would be willing and able to shoulder all that comes with being a star in the Big Apple. If it’s Mason, how cool would it be for him to play 41 professional games a year in the arena where he hit the biggest shot of his college career? But whether it’s one of these guys to Boston, New York or L.A., can we all just cross our fingers and hope that those three franchises make the right moves to climb back to relevance? Boston clearly is already there. And that’s exciting. But the league’s just not the same with the Knicks and Lakers stinking the way they have in recent years.
Enjoy draft day everybody, and stay in touch with KUsports.com, right here on the site, via Twitter or both, for any happenings that might involve your Jayhawks.
In the summer of 2008, a long, athletic guard from Hoboken, N.J., arrived on KU’s campus ready to take on the world.
His name was Tyshawn Taylor, he was on the heels of winning a prep national championship with St. Anthony’s after a 32-0 senior season and he was one of six players in KU’s recruiting class that offseason, a group that would become the foundation for a few wildly successful teams in the coming years.
That summer, of course, KU was just a couple of months removed from winning the 2008 national title and Taylor, along with the likes of Travis Releford, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and others were stepping into some huge shoes.
Gone to the NBA draft were six rotation players from the 2008 title team — including all five starters — and Taylor’s crew, along with title-team returners Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, would be asked to lead the Jayhawks into the future.
While not all of them are headed to the NBA, the current Jayhawks also are losing six players — three full-time starters — from last season’s opening-day roster, a fact that, at least in Taylor’s eyes, puts the upcoming team on par with his first Kansas team.
“I came in with a class kind of like this,” Taylor said of KU’s transfer-heavy 2017 recruiting class that features two freshmen and six high-profile transfers. “All the guys from the national championship team left and then like seven or eight new guys came in. So I know how it feels to kind of be the new guy in a big group. And it’s cool, man. You just gotta embrace it and enjoy it. I’m sure everybody’s showing them love and welcoming them so I’m sure they’re enjoying it.”
That much was obvious during the past couple of weeks, when old names and new faces got together for a couple of camp scrimmages and some good, old-fashioned pick-up basketball.
Only five of the eight new players on the 2017-18 KU roster will be eligible for the upcoming season, which creates a slightly different situation than the one Taylor walked into. But with senior point guard Devonte’ Graham playing the Sherron Collins/Frank Mason III role, Taylor said the current team was poised for big things in the immediate future.
“Devonte’ is a proven guy at this point now,” Taylor said. “So I know what to expect from him. And I just loved how hard they played. They came to compete against us old guys. They really wanted to win that game and they did. I’m looking forward to watching them once Coach Self gets his hands on ’em, you know.”
That time is now. With the Jayhawks allowed to practice in small doses this summer and planning to utilize their 10 practices ahead of the August trip to Italy to go full-speed twice a week for five straight weeks, the versions of the KU team will saw earlier this month and the one that hits the floor in Italy and ultimately at Allen Fieldhouse on Halloween night will differ dramatically.
Here’s what we know already about the new faces:
• Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who finally will be eligible when October rolls around, has shined, testing himself against Taylor, Mario Chalmers and others.
• Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson flashed the kind of potential that should — and, no doubt, will — make fans eager to see the 2018-19 team, as well. In time, of course.
• Former Cal point guard Charlie Moore proved in short bursts that he could be worthy heir to the point guard throne held first by Mason and this season by Graham.
• And Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe and William & Mary grad transfer Jack Whitman, both of whom will be playing by January (Whitman immediately and Cunliffe at the start of the second semester), showed elite-level athleticism that surely will fit into whatever the rest of the guys on the roster will do as the Jayhawks pursue a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and make another run at the big prize.
One of the biggest reasons it all works, of course, is the existence of Bill Self and his coaching staff and the consistency they bring to the table year after year in terms of expectations, approach, pace and principles. Self and company have proven time after time that it's what you do in the practice gym in front of them and not on the recruiting rankings before you arrive that determines who plays and Taylor said that's a lesson that is both hammered home and easy to accept from Day 1.
Many people, including some close to the program, have joked this month about needing a roster with faces and numbers to identify the dramatically different looking Kansas team on the court and in practices.
But different does not always mean bad. As was the case with Taylor’s class in 2008, this new group of currently unfamiliar Jayhawks soon figures to be wowing Kansas fans across the country and creating headaches for the rest of the Big 12 Conference. Just like Taylor and his crew did.
Kansas sophomore Malik Newman got the opportunity on Wednesday to show off his point guard skills for a portion of the annual camp scrimmage, won, 82-75, by the current team over a star-studded cast of former Jayhawks.
And it came against some of the best point guards of the Bill Self era.
Sure, there may be an age gap. And, whether because of age or injury or both, it’s hard to imagine that any of them were in as good of shape as Newman. But still, these were big time players. Names like Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins, along with others, all took a turn at guarding and going at Newman.
The Mississippi State transfer finished with 18 points and seemed both completely comfortable and wildly excited about the opportunity to face some of these former Kansas greats, many of whom walked away impressed.
“They’re gonna be great,” said Chalmers after the scrimmage of Newman and senior-to-be Devonte’ Graham. “I have high expectations for both of them, especially Malik Newman. They’ve got to pick up the slack from Frank (Mason) and they’re two good guards we need up top.”
Asked specifically if he thought Newman could play the point, Chalmers, the eight-year NBA veteran who, after a year and a half off to recover from a variety of injuries, is eagerly looking forward to his own return, was not willing to make any concrete statements either way.
“This was the first time I’ve seen Malik play,” he said. “So, just from this game, it’d be hard to tell just because this is an all-star game and everybody wants to shoot and go at it. But coach Self will make sure that he has a point guard, I’m not worried about that.”
Newman himself said playing on the ball was something he worked on a great deal during his transfer year, both to grow his own game and also for the good of the team.
“With the sit-out year, that’s something that I worked on a lot because I know Devonte’ isn’t gonna be able to bring the ball up the whole game by himself,” he said.
Regardless of who has the ball in his hands the most — all signs point to Graham running the point the majority of the time, but Newman and even Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and freshman Marcus Garrett also may take a turn next season — the reality of Newman’s growth in that area is that the Jayhawks, as head coach Bill Self likes, now figure to feature a versatile and balanced backcourt.
As for Self’s take on Newman, he’s not all that interested in labels.
“I think Malik’s just a guard,” Self told the Journal-World earlier this spring. “He can play with the ball in his hands, but he’s probably better off the ball. He and Devonte’ could obviously be a nice combination.”
In scoring 46 points against some of KU’s biggest names of the recent past, the duo showed exactly that on Wednesday.
And from the sound of things, they’re just getting started.
“It was good,” Newman said of his pseudo first game in a Kansas uniform. “That’s why I came here, to play with an awesome group of guys and in front of a great crowd. And I think we did good for our first time together.”
• Recorded Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Tuesday afternoon, inside Horejsi Family Athletic Center, a few hundred Bill Self Basketball campers and small handful of media members and various members of the KU support staff were treated to a first true look at the 2017-18 Kansas men’s basketball team.
Sure, there were a couple of faces missing. Senior-to-be Svi Mykhailiuk is still in Ukraine playing with his national team and freshman Marcus Garrett did not arrive on campus until Tuesday night after graduating from Dallas’ Skyline High on Monday.
But, for the most part, this was a legitimate look at the Jayhawks that will be. Many of them — transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore — will not be eligible to play for the Jayhawks in a real game until the 2018-19 season. When they do, all three will have big time roles.
Others, like graduate transfer Jack Whitman, freshman Billy Preston and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe (second semester) will be available to help out this season, and both should do just that.
That left the familiar faces, of which there were not quite as many as in recent years. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman showed terrific chemistry, with Lagerald Vick right there with them. And Udoka Azubuike was back from his wrist injury with Mitch Lightfoot there next to him.
These might be new Jayhawks and this definitely will be a different team. But after a quick look at what KU will roll onto the floor during the upcoming season, one thing is clear — there is plenty of talent in place for Kansas to be as competitive as ever.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few other things that caught my eye at the opening practice, which included a little four-on-four, full-court action at the very end.
• Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way first. Did William & Mary transfer Jack Whitman come sporting the mustache? You bet he did. It actually was more of a goatee look, but the ’stache most definitely was there. Whitman told me after he committed to KU this spring that he was not sure if he would keep the mustache throughout his time at Kansas or not, but he appears to be well on his way to making that happen. As for his game, there’s no doubt that he’s an explosive player around the rim — he’ll surprise more than a few opponents in that way this season — and willing to give great effort on every play, but, at least right now, he still seems to be thinking a lot about what he’s doing out there instead of just feeling it and playing free. That’s to be expected with a player learning a new system and culture and it will be worth monitoring as the summer goes along.
• While we’re talking appearances, it’s worth noting that Lagerald Vick was rocking a new look at Tuesday’s practice, opting for tiny braids instead of the blown-out, Devonte’ Graham/Josh Jackson look he favored last year. The new haircut likely did not have any impact on Vick’s game, but it did make him look even faster than we already knew he was, with the hair flopping around like mad each time he pushed the ball in transition and attacked the rim.
• We won’t see much of it this season past the summer camps and Late Night, but you can absolutely tell that Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson has massive potential. He has terrific size (6-9, 236), good footwork and an air of toughness to his game. His numbers last season at Memphis (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) certainly proved what he’s capable of doing, but getting another year of working on his body and his game at Kansas should bring some pretty high expectations for his 2018-19 season.
• Freshman forward Billy Preston has a long way to go — Self said as much following Tuesday’s session — but there’s no question that the foundation is there. And I’m not just talking physically either. Preston looks physically mature beyond his years but he also appears to be a sponge, willing to soak up every instruction sent his way (from teammates and coaches) and he’s also pretty hard on himself, expecting to make every shot he takes and do every drill to perfection. What I really liked about Preston in that regard was the fact that when he did not know exactly what he was doing, he had no problem asking. A definite good start.
• I wrote last week about Mitch Lightfoot’s offseason workout routine and how he already seemed to be pushing himself to the limits in an effort to take full advantage of the opportunity to bump up his minutes during his sophomore season. More performances like the one he gave on Tuesday will go a long way toward making that happen. Lightfoot gave max effort on absolutely every rep and seemed to really embrace the role of leading by example. He also was vocal — something he had no problem with last season — and willing to help the newcomers with whatever instructions he could. I’ve said it before and every time I see him or have a discussion about him, I come away thinking more and more that Lightfoot is going to have an impressive second season in KU crimson and blue.
• As a final act for the hundreds of campers who ooh’d and ahh’d about every dunk and big time shot the Jayhawks made during their individual drill work, Self broke the Jayhawks into two units and coached ’em hard during a little four-on-four, full-court scrimmage. The match-ups for the short session included Devonte’ Graham vs. Charlie Moore, Lagerald Vick vs. Sam Cunliffe; Billy Preston vs. Mitch Lightfoot; and Malik Newman vs. K.J. Lawson. All eight players had their moments, but Newman and Moore were the two that stood out most to me.
• Speaking of Newman, it’s very clear why the coaching staff, including Self, has spoken so highly of him and his potential impact on the 2017-18 season throughout the past several months. The guy is a player. The thing that impressed me most about Newman on Tuesday was his poise. He plays hard, attacks often and is an aggressive competitor on both ends of the floor, but it never looks hard for him. He’s smooth, plays under control and displays a great deal of confidence no matter what the situation. He’s going to be a bear for opposing teams to handle.
• Sticking with the guards, I was really, really impressed by what I saw from Cal transfer Charlie Moore. The kid is fearless and, like Newman, has an aggressive mentality and a ton of confidence. He’s little, as you’ve seen and heard, but he doesn’t play that way. I think KU got an absolute steal in getting him and he’ll be more than ready to slide into that lead guard spot when the 2018-19 season rolls around.
That’s all for now. It was a great first look at the new version of your Jayhawks and two players who figure to factor into the rotation during the 2017-18 season weren’t even there.
More to come throughout the week from camp, including a Wednesday camp scrimmage of notable alums vs. the current squad, so stay logged on to KUsports.com for more videos, stories, reaction and analysis. Self said video coordinator Jeremy Case told him 13 former players were expected back for Wednesday's alumni scrimmage.
One of the coolest parts about the couple of weeks of Bill Self Basketball Camps that take place each summer at KU is the ability of young people to meet, interact and goof around with some of their favorite players.
At times, that means taking a shooting tip from their favorite Jayhawk or getting a pat on the back for a job well done from a current or former player.
At others, as was the case on Monday at Horejsi Family Athletics Center, a handful of lucky campers get the opportunity to ask of their favorite Jayhawks absolutely anything they want.
You should see the way these young hoopers get pumped up by just being called on to ask their question. And then, if the question is a particular hit and the gym goes nuts, the pride on their faces as they sit back down is sensational.
Monday afternoon, senior-to-be Devonte’ Graham addressed this year’s campers, first telling a little bit about his story, how he got to Kansas, why he came back for his senior season and things of the like.
After that, Graham opened it up for a 5-10 minute Q&A session with the hundreds of young Jayhawk fans who packed the bleachers.
Obviously, Graham was not able to call on everyone who put his or her hand up. But he got to as many as he could and, in doing so, gave an even greater glimpse into just who the man who wears No. 4 for the Jayhawks really is.
Here’s a quick sampling of some of the things Graham was asked, along with his answers...
Q – Do you think you can play in the NBA?
A – “Yes. I hope I do. I hope I can.”
Q – If you do make it to the NBA, is there one team you hope you’ll get drafted by?
A - “If I’m lucky enough to get drafted, I’d like to get picked by the Miami Heat or somebody like that.”
Q – Lebron James or Steph Curry?
A – “Lebron.” [crowd roars with approval]
Q – Where do you think will Josh Jackson get drafted?
A – “I’m saying Top 3. I think he might actually go to Boston (which has the No. 1 pick).”
Q – Are you better than (former UCLA star) Lonzo Ball?
A – “I’ll let him answer that. [points to kid wearing a Graham jersey sitting nearby] Kid responds with a simple, “Yeah.” [crowd applauds loudly]
Q – Can you do a back flip?
A – “No. Frank (Mason III) can, though.”
Q – How do you think Frank Mason will do in the NBA?
A – “I think he’s gonna have a good career. He’s definitely gonna get drafted and he’s gonna be good.”
Q – What size shoe do you wear?
A – “I wear size 13.”
Q – What’s been your favorite game during your time at KU so far?
A – “I’m gonna have to say the Oklahoma game here when we won in three overtimes and the West Virginia game here last year when we came back.”
Q – Can you dunk?
A – “Can I dunk? Yeah.”
Q – What do you call your hair style? (asked by J.J. Howard, son of Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard)
A – “I call it the J.J.”
Q – Did you ever think you’d end up playing at KU when you were younger?
A – “Honestly, I did not. I grew up a UNC fan, being from North Carolina, and that was my dream school before I came here.”
Q – Why do you wear No. 4?
A – “That’s when I started playing basketball, when I was 4 years old.”
Q – Who are your roommates?
A – “Svi (Mykhailiuk) and the Lawson brothers (Dedric and K.J.) from Memphis. Do you guys know them yet?”
Q – How did you guard (former Oklahoma star) Buddy Hield?
A – “How did I guard him? I just locked him up.”
And, with that, Graham was off the hot seat.
There were a couple of repeat questions mixed in there and Graham made sure to point that out, giving props to those nearby who could answer because they had been paying attention.
Before the Q&A got going, Graham asked the packed house, by a show of hands, how many there wanted to play college basketball one day? Almost every hand went up.
Next, he asked a follow-up about how many of the campers wanted to play in the NBA some day. Most of the hands stayed up.
Graham then got to the heart of the matter and asked how many of them knew what it took to play in the NBA. A few hands dropped but several stayed up.
“Can you guys tell me?”
More camp fun is slated for later today, with the first session running through the end of the week and the second session starting next week.
Stay tuned to KUsports.com for much more from camp.
The Kansas men's basketball team on Thursday released the non-conference portion of its 2017-18 schedule, complete with interesting home match-ups and a few noteworthy road games.
Included in the news release announcing the Jayhawks' non-con schedule was a game-by-game breakdown of the 15-game slate that includes exhibition games against Pitt State and Fort Hays State to get things started.
Below is a quick look at the breakdown, organized by putting the most intriguing games at the top and the least intriguing games at the bottom.
While many fans and analysts already have opined that the schedule does not have the usual bite that many of KU's past schedules have had, there are at least a couple of big time games and interesting match-ups. And there will, of course, no doubt be many, many more during the Big 12 portion of the schedule, which will be released later this summer.
Here's a look at what we know for now, from most exciting to least, at least in my opinion.
Kentucky, Champions Classic (Nov. 14, Chicago)
These two blue bloods are meeting for the fourth-consecutive season. Under Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, Kentucky is coming off a 32-6 season where it won the SEC title with a 16-2 record. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA South Regional final falling to eventual national champion North Carolina, 75-73. The Champions Classic will mark the ninth meeting between the two schools in the Kansas head coach Bill Self era at KU. The Jayhawks hold a 5-3 advantage in that span and has won the last two matchups. Kentucky leads the overall series with Kansas, 22-8. Last season, with ESPN College Gameday originating from Lexington, Kentucky, No. 2 Kansas defeated No. 4 Kentucky, 79-73, at Rupp Arena on Jan. 28 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. My take: I mean, was there any doubt?
Syracuse, Hoophall Miami Invitational (Dec. 2, Miami)
The third annual Hoophall Miami Invitational will have two Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coaches square off in Kansas’ Bill Self, a 2017 inductee, and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim who was part of the 2005 class. Last season the Orange went 19-15 and tied for seventh in the ACC with a 10-8 league record. Syracuse lost to Ole Miss, 85-80, in the second round of the postseason NIT. Boeheim is 903-354 in 41 seasons at Syracuse, his alma mater. Syracuse holds a 3-2 series advantage over Kansas, has won the last two meetings and three of the last four matchups. In the last battle the Orange defeated the Jayhawks, 89-81 in overtime on Nov. 25, 2008, in the title game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The previous was an 81-78 win in the 2003 NCAA national championship game in New Orleans. My take: Syracuse and Jim Boeheim bring big names to the table, but the reason this is second on the list is the location in which it will be played. Welcome to Miami.
Arizona State (Dec. 10, Lawrence)
KU will face its second of three Pac-12 Conference opponents when it plays host to Arizona State. The game will the first of a home-and-home series as KU will play at ASU on Dec. 22, 2018. Arizona State went 15-18 in 2016-17 and placed eighth in the Pac-12 with a 7-11 record. The Sun Devils are coached by former Duke standout Bobby Hurley who is 30-35 in two seasons at ASU and 72-55 in four seasons for his career. Kansas has a 5-4 series edge against Arizona State. The Jayhawks have won two straight and five of the last six meetings. KU last faced ASU on March 22, 2003, a 108-76 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City. KU would go on to play for the 2003 NCAA title in New Orleans. My take: If he's allowed to travel, this will be our first look at former Jayhawk Carlton Bragg Jr., who could be sitting in street clothes at Allen Fieldhouse again with his new team. New Jayhawk Sam Cunliffe will be doing the same against his old team. Even if Bragg's not there, you gotta think he'll come up once or twice.
Texas A&M, Big 12/SEC Challenge (Jan. 27, Lawrence)
These two teams were members of the Big 12 from 1996-97 until Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) following the 2011-12 season. Head coach Billy Kennedy will enter his seventh year at Texas A&M. In 2016-17, the Aggies went 16-15 overall and finished tied for ninth in the SEC with an 8-10 league record. Kansas is 20-1 all-time against Texas A&M, including a 9-1 record in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are 3-1 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, having split with Florida in 2013-14 and 2014-15, as both teams claimed home victories, and Kansas sweeping Kentucky in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Dating back to 2007 against the Pac-12, Kansas has compiled a 5-2 record in the conference challenges. My take: It might not be Kentucky or Florida, but that whole challenge thing will inject a little life into this one, not to mention the return of former Big 12 foe A&M.
Pittsburg State (Oct. 31, Lawrence, exhibition)
Head coach Kim Anderson enters his first season at Pittsburg State. Before his three-year stint at Missouri, Anderson guided Central Missouri State to the NCAA Division II national championship in 2014. The Gorillas were 5-22 in 2016-17 and tied for 13th in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Association (MIAA) with a 3-16 record last year. Kansas is 10-0 all-time against Pittsburg State in a series that started in 1944. The Jayhawks are 6-0 against versus the Gorillas in exhibition play. My take: It's just an exhibition game but it'll be our first in-game look at the new-look Jayhawks.
Nebraska (Dec. 16, Shelter Insurance Showcase, Lincoln, Nebraska)
These two former conference foes are meeting for the second time since Nebraska left the Big 12 following the 2010-11 season. Husker head coach Tim Miles enters his sixth season and the Huskers are coming off a 12-19 season where they finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten Conference with a 6-12 record. Kansas leads the overall series with Nebraska, 171-71, and has won the last 18 meetings, from March 5, 1999, to Feb. 5, 2011, and 27 of the last 28 matchups dating back to the 1998-99 season. Last year Kansas defeated Nebraska 89-72 on Dec. 10, 2016, in Allen Fieldhouse. My take: Nebraska improved a great deal after coming to Lawrence last season and Tim Miles will have his team (and his Tweets) ready for the rematch.
Stanford (Dec. 21, Sacramento, California)
Stanford second-year head coach Jerod Haase will face his alma mater for the second-straight season. Haase’s 1,264 points rank 33rd on the KU all-time scoring list and he also ranks on the Kansas career lists in 3-point field goals made (13th at 156), 3-pointers attempted (seventh at 461), assists (19th at 343) and steals (11th at 174). Last year the Cardinal went 14-17 overall and finished tied for ninth in the Pac-12 with a 6-12 record. Kansas leads the series with Stanford, 9-3, including last season’s 89-74 win on Dec. 3, 2016, in Allen Fieldhouse, ending a Cardinal two-game winning streak against KU. This series dates back to 1932. My take: Won't be quite as cool as Haase coming back to Lawrence was this season, but being away from home will make it interesting nonetheless.
South Dakota State (Nov. 17, Lawrence)
South Dakota State won the Summit League tournament titles in 2016-17 going 18-17 and 8-8 in conference play, which tied for fourth. The Jackrabbits lost to eventual NCAA Runner-up Gonzaga, 66-46, in the opening round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. SDSU is coached by T.J. Otzelberger who took the Jackrabbits to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. Otzelberger is a former Iowa State assistant coach. Kansas won the only meeting with South Dakota State, 85-72, on Dec. 4, 1984, in Allen Fieldhouse. My take: This could be a much tougher game than the name of the opponent might suggest and, especially with it coming so early in the season, could be a real test for the Jayhawks.
Washington, Jayhawk Shootout (Dec. 6, Kansas City, Missouri)
Washington is coming off a 9-22 season where it placed 11th in the Pac-12 Conference with a 2-16 record. Mike Hopkins took over the head coaching duties on March 19, 2017, after spending 22 seasons as an assistant coach at Syracuse. Kansas is 8-1 against Washington and has won the last four meetings. The Jayhawks last defeated the Huskies, 73-54, on Nov. 24, 2008, in the semifinals of the CBE Hal of Fame Classic in Sprint Center. My take: Markelle Fultz will be playing for somebody in the NBA and Michael Porter Jr. won't be there either. Add to that the fact that it's at sometimes-sterile Sprint Center and you've got your lowest-rated game against a big-name foe.
Texas Southern, Hoophall Miami Invitational campus round (Nov. 21, Lawrence)
Located in Houston, Texas Southern won the SWAC regular season and conference tournament in 2016-17 going 23-12 and 16-2 in league action. The Tigers lost to eventual NCAA champion, North Carolina, 103-64, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. TSU is coached by Mike Davis who is 98-68 in five seasons at TSU and 335-219 in 17 seasons overall with stints at Indiana and UAB before taking over at TSU. The Tigers have won at least one SWAC title, either regular-season or tournament, in every season Davis has been at Texas Southern. Kansas is 3-0 all-time against Texas Southern with the last meeting on Jan. 3, 1985, a KU 78-74 win in Allen Fieldhouse. My take: Another 2017 NCAA Tournament team coming to Lawrence. I love these games because both teams stand to get a great deal from them.
Tennessee State (Nov. 10, Lawrence)
Tennessee State finished tied for fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) East Division going 17-13 overall and 8-8 in 2016-17. The Tigers are coached by Dana Ford who was the 2016 OVC Coach of the Year and has guided TSU to 37 wins in the last two seasons. Kansas won the only meeting with Tennessee State, 89-54, on Nov. 21, 2006, in a campus-round game of the Las Vegas Invitational, an event KU went on to win. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and KU graduate John McClendon coached at Tennessee A&I, now Tennessee State, from 1955-59. My take: The true season opener has to be worth something and that helps move the game up on this list. This is when things get going for real.
Oakland, Hoophall Miami Invitational campus round (Nov. 24, Lawrence)
Oakland went 25-9 last season and tied Valparaiso for the Horizon League title with a 14-4 conference record. The Grizzlies defeated Clemson in the opening round of the postseason NIT before falling at Richmond in the second round. Oakland is coached by Greg Kampe who has coached 33 seasons at Oakland with a 583-424 record. His 33 seasons at Oakland are the third-most seasons with a current school behind Jim Boeheim of Syracuse (41 seasons) and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (37 seasons). Kansas won the only meeting with Oakland, 89-59, on Nov. 25, 2009, in Allen Fieldhouse. The game was a campus round contest which was part of the Hall of Fame Showcase. My take: Quietly, this Oakland team has become one of the tougher mid-major programs in the country, thanks mostly to the consistency delivered by Kampe.
Toledo, Hoophall Miami Invitational campus round (Nov. 28, Lawrence)
Toledo is coming off a 17-17 season where it finished third in the Mid-American Conference West Division with a 9-9 record and competed in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) postseason losing at George Washington in the first round. The Rockets are coached by Tod Kowalczyk who will be entering his eighth season at Toledo with a 119-110 record. Kansas has won both meetings with Toledo with the last being a 93-83 win on Dec. 30, 2013, in Allen Fieldhouse. The other was a 68-58 KU win on Dec. 9, 2006, in KU’s final game in Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. My take: Unless this game is better than I'm expecting, I'll still think Kerry Meier and Kansas football first when I think Toledo.
Omaha (Dec. 18, Lawrence)
Omaha is coming off an 18-14 season in which it placed third in the Summit League with a 9-7 league record. The Mavericks lost to South Dakota State, 79-77, in the title game of the Summit League Tournament. Omaha head coach Derrin Hansen is 197-166 in 12 seasons with the Mavericks. KU and Omaha will be meeting for the first time in men’s basketball. My take: Crazy to think the Jayhawks will be in Lincoln, Neb., on Dec. 16 and home against Omaha two days later.
Fort Hays State (Nov. 7, Lawrence, exhibition)
Last season, the Tigers tied for fourth in the MIAA going 18-11 overall and 11-8 in conference play. Head coach Mark Johnson has a 322-149 record in 16 seasons at FHSU. Kansas is 9-0 all-time against Fort Hays State, including 6-0 in exhibition play. My take: The second exhibition game is only interesting if the Jayhawks are terrible in the first one. Otherwise, it's just let's get on with the season.
The calendar may still read 2017, but, with all of its scholarships now officially spoken for, the Kansas basketball team can and has moved forward, full speed ahead in its recruitment of the Class of 2018.
Because the Jayhawks are in on almost all of the elite talent in the 2018 class (what’s new, right?), many of the names are ones which you probably already have heard.
And while there still may be a long way to go before anything is closed to finalized with any of those players, the Jayhawks are off to a good start in their pursuit of the next crop of Kansas basketball players.
Here’s a quick look at some recent news from a couple of KU’s key targets in the class:
• Immanuel Quickley – 5-star point guard, ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound lead guard from John Carroll High in Bel Air, Md., recently made news by narrowing his list down to a final four. Along with Kentucky, Maryland and Miami (Fla.), the Jayhawks made that cut and appear to be in as good of shape as anybody in the pursuit of Quickley, who actually already has made an unofficial visit to Lawrence.
"I think those four schools fit me the most as a person and as a player," Quickley recently told Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. "I think off and on the court those schools fit me the best."
As for his specific stance on the Jayhawks, Quickley had this to say: "Coach Bill Self is great on and off the floor. I really liked the feel of Allen Fieldhiuse when I visited. The feel there was cool to see."
Quickley told Daniels that he was now in the process of scheduling official visits to his final four and that he would like to make a decision before he begins his senior year of high school.
• Marvin Bagley Jr. — 5-star forward, ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com
The 6-foot-10 big man from Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, Calif., has narrowed his list to a final six full of some of college basketball’s biggest power players.
Kansas is on that list, along with Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and USC.
Through the first few sessions of the Nike EYBL tournament, Bagley has backed up his Rivals ranking, averaging 25 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in 30 minutes per game.
There has been some talk of whether Bagley might want to reclassify and join the 2017 class, but the athletic big man told Zagsblog over the weekend that he was not worried about reclassifying and would let his future play out however it was supposed to.
As for his specific thoughts on each of his finalists, Bagley delivered similar thoughts on each of them while talking to Zagsblog.
“They’re all great schools,” he said. “I could say the same thing about each of the schools. They’re all great. They speak for themselves. They’re in the tournament. They play in big time tournaments and games every year on ESPN.... I’m looking for somewhere I could go and get better. That’s my main focus. That’s what I tell everybody. It’s not about the name. It’s not about all the news and the hype. It’s about where I can go and get better. Wherever that place may be out of my list is where I’ll go.”
• Quentin Grimes, 5-star combo guard, ranked No. 12 by Rivals
Andrew Slater, of 247 Sports, recently caught up with the 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard from College Park High in The Woodlands, Texas, for an update on the current status of his list.
Grimes is the rare top tier prospect to not have at least two of the three or four top college programs on his offer list. That’s not to say he’s being ignored. Far from it. But, according to the Rivals data base, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina all are absent from his offer list, leaving Kansas as the biggest blue blood program pursuing him, with Arizona, Florida and five other Big 12 schools also in pursuit.
Grimes recently told Slater that he was in the process of narrowing his list down to eight and then would like to get it down to a final five in the next couple of weeks.
In his lengthy interview with Grimes, Slater points out that Duke has made contact during recent weeks but it’s clear that Arizona and KU have stood out as much as anyone.
“Coach Self called and said I'm a top priority and that he plays a lot of guards and sees me bringing in something different than the other guards because of my size,” Grimes told Slater. “He said they’re known now for their guards, but that I would be unique because of being able to play point guard at that size.”
Grimes said he views himself as a scoring point guard and is looking forward to surrounding himself with lots of talent in college so he can showcase both his scoring and passing skills.
By now, you all know the story of former Kansas standout Frank Mason III.
From how his rough upbringing to his failed government class to that showcase in Vegas where assistant coach Kurtis Townsend first saw him and, of course, through his incredible KU career that left him in the Top 10 on KU's all-time scoring list and was capped by the point guard doing something no other Jayhawk in history had done — sweeping the national player of the year honors during the 2016-17 season.
Although stoic by nature, Mason has more personality than most realize and, throughout his sensational senior season, was able to show more and more of that as the weeks went on.
You also know the special relationship that exists between KU coach Bill Self and Mason. From player-coach to father-figure and friend, the two developed a unique bond during the past four years that at times moved each to tears and will no doubt last a lifetime.
So there's not a whole lot of new information about the Mason-Self dynamic that can be learned. I'm sure there are stories for days that could be told but probably won't be. At least not publicly. And I'm sure each guy remembers the journey a little differently, mostly thanks to the differing perspectives, one of a college-aged basketball player doing everything in his power to stay on the climb and the other of a wildly successful coach 30 years his senior.
But there's something cool about all of that — the early years, the Kansas years, the wins, the relationship with coach — in this Players' Tribune article penned by Mason and released Thursday.
Some of these are short but Mason goes deep in this one. He takes you all the way back to his youth and the good and the bad of all of it. He talks Kansas and Self and being a father and the NBA, but more than anything his story, in his words, titled, "Goodbye, Kansas," shows, in a short and sweet, 1,500-word manner the maturation process and incredible road Mason has traveled these past few years.
"It didn’t end how I wanted — after the Oregon loss, I tweeted that it felt like my life was over—and, man, it’s still hard to shake that feeling of disappointment. Sitting back in the locker room, where guys were crying and feeling terrible, I had no choice but to focus on the positives and on what’s next. Graduation. The opportunity to give my son a better life than I had growing up. I thought about how far I’d come, from being a guy who couldn’t qualify to play at Towson to the Wooden National Player of the Year at one of the best programs in the country."
While most people I talked to, both in our business and others, eventually came to believe that Kansas junior Svi Mykhailiuk would stay in the NBA Draft and skip his senior season at Kansas, nearly everyone I talked to seemed to think that Svi’s return to Kansas, should it happen, would have been little more than a luxury for the Jayhawks.
Now that we know the verdict, a deeper look shows that the junior guard’s decision to stick around for one more season — Svi announced Wednesday evening that he would return to KU for his senior year — was actually pretty crucial for KU.
Say what you will about Svi’s game, his defense or his mindset on the floor. The guy did enough during the 2016-17 season to inspire KU coach Bill Self to put him in the starting lineup for 25 of the 36 games Kansas played. When taking into account the fact that five of those 11 non-starts were games in which Self elected to start just three guards instead of four, the young Ukrainian actually really started more like 81 percent of KU’s games a season ago.
Given the number of new and young faces that will make up the Kansas roster during the 2017-18 season, bringing a player like that back is absolutely huge.
Had Svi left, Devonte’ Graham’s 36 starts and six apiece for Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike would have represented all of KU’s starting experience on the roster. Now, instead of just 48 starts, the Jayhawks are returning nearly 30 more.
And that’s important whether Svi even stays in the starting lineup or not.
Enough of a possibility exists that has Lagerald Vick taking another monster step and becoming so talented and productive that it’s impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup.
If that happens, Svi’s return becomes even more important because he will represent a legitimate and experienced body on the bench.
Had he decided to leave, Vick would’ve almost certainly slid into the starting lineup, leaving only incoming freshman Marcus Garrett and second-semester transfer Sam Cunliffe as backcourt options for Self off the bench. Both are going to be good, perhaps very good, players at Kansas. And they might each have big roles as soon as next season. But neither could come anywhere close to bringing the same kind of savvy, experience and veteran presence to the team as Svi can.
And let’s face it; when you’re talking about a team coached by Self, that’s worth a lot. There are few things Self likes more than reliable players whom he can trust. And if he trusted Svi enough to start him 25 times last season, you know he’ll trust him enough to play just about whatever role one can imagine as a senior.
Included in that last thought is the potential for Svi and Vick to play on the floor at the same time some next season.
Graham and Newman next year will be what Frank Mason III and Graham were this year. At least in terms of minutes. So they’re gonna play a ton. But that four-guard look, which worked so well for KU last winter, is no doubt something Self will look to use again next season and Svi will play a huge role in making that possible.
He’s no Josh Jackson. Very few are. But he has the necessary size and, more importantly, the experience in that system to make it an option for the Jayhawks, who once again will have limited depth and experience in the front court.
Don’t expect Self to use the four-guard look anywhere close to as often as he did this season, but he already has said this offseason that his team’s personnel in 2017-18 will dictate that he’ll have to use it at least some. Svi’s return makes that a much more comfortable thought.
Could the Jayhawks have fielded a damn good team next season without Svi on the roster, one that would have been well positioned to challenge for all of the accomplishments Kansas basketball fans have become to celebrating for years? You bet.
Newman and Graham are a dynamic one-two punch, Udoka Azubuike stands to be a different maker down low and with Vick poised to take another huge step and five-star freshman Billy Preston in the mix, the Jayhawks, right there, would have had five pieces that most teams would kill for.
But bringing Svi back as a sixth piece gives the Jayhawks the one thing that has helped set them apart from so many others during Self’s first 14 seasons in town — enviable depth.
Beyond that, the Svi the Jayhawks are getting just might be — and probably should and will be — the best version of the young gun that Kansas fans ever have seen.
Armed with the senior urgency that comes with knowing it’s your last shot to win a title (which should inspire him to take more ownership and be more of a leader for the young guys and newcomers), and also with fresh and rock solid feedback from NBA folks about what they want to see more of, Svi is in line to make his biggest jump yet, both of the physical and mental variety.
If he does, Kansas once again will be a tough out from beginning to end and the young Ukrainian who took his decision all the way down to the wire will be glad he did and even more glad he chose to come back.