With visits to Kansas and the University of New Orleans officially out of the way, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported earlier this week that 7-foot McDonald's All-American Mitchell Robinson soon would make a decision between KU and UNO.
But close followers of Twitter who have been observing Robinson's behavior of late are aware that there might be a third school in the picture. And, no, it's not LSU, which Robinson also visited before trips to Kansas and New Orleans.
Instead, it's Western Kentucky. That's right... the same Western Kentucky program that Robinson initially had committed to but, in July, from which he asked for a release.
There's nothing official out there saying that WKU is back in the mix. But @BarstoolWestern, a Twitter account with 6,000 followers that tracks Western Kentucky sports, Tweeted this week that it had sources that confirmed that Robinson was "seriously considering returning to WKU."
Big deal, right? Fan site hopes for the best and tries to create a little buzz and/or hope that the return of the Top 10 prospect and potential future NBA lottery pick is a real option for the Hilltoppers.
That would be the logical conclusion. But add to that the fact that Robinson himself (@kodakmitch23) ReTweeted that claim and one that urged WKU fans with the following: "Hearing a lot of different thoughts from Tops fans about this. If you want to see him play for WKU, give him a shout"
Robinson also ReTweeted a Twitter poll put up by @100MilesofHate (sweet name, smh) that asked: "If you're @WKUBasketball & Coach Stansbury, do you welcome back Mitchell Robinson if he wishes to return?"
As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, with 1,092 votes counted, "Absolutely" was leading "Nope" 64-36. And that's far closer than I thought it would've been.
Robinson also ReTweeted at least three or four other Tweets referencing his possible return to WKU, including one person who took the ultimate leap and said Robinson going back to Western Kentucky "would be like Lebron coming back to Cleveland."
Robinson, as you surely know by now, is from Chalmette, La., so him going to UNO would be a lot more like him returning to Cleveland than him electing to stick with his initial commitment to WKU.
There's no telling just how serious this chatter about the 7-footer changing his mind (again?) and staying with Western Kentucky for the 2017-18 season really is. But it's at least worth tracking, even if Twitter is not the most official and scientific place to do such things.
Either way, if that Times Picayune report was accurate and Robinson is planning to decided soon, we'll know one way or another in the fairly near future and can move on from Robinson Watch 2017 regardless of the outcome.
According to a Wednesday night report from The New Orleans Times-Picayune, 7-foot McDonald’s All-American Mitchell Robinson did in fact visit the University of New Orleans on Wednesday and the big man appears to be headed toward making a decision sometime soon between Kansas and UNO.
The Top 10 prospect in the Class of 2017, who recently was granted a release from Western Kentucky after spending part of the summer at WKU, is from Chalmette, La., which sits just 10 miles east of New Orleans.
The location of his hometown further explains why both UNO and LSU were among the schools Robinson considered after leaving Western Kentucky, but Kansas still appears to be very much in the running to land Robinson.
While few people, if any, know exactly when a final decision will be made, it sounds like by the end of the week is certainly possible and it’s also starting to sound more and more like there is a legitimate chance that Robinson could be eligible to play during the 2017-18 season. In order to do so, Robinson would need to receive a waiver from the NCAA granting him immediate eligibility.
Landing Robinson, waiver in hand, would no doubt be huge news for the KU program. It would erase any concerns about front-court depth and talent and would turn KU’s big man status into a legitimate strength.
Remember, Robinson is a projected lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and pairing him, a true 7-footer, with another 7-footer in sophomore Udoka Azubuike would give KU some serious options and advantages to work with during the upcoming season.
With that in mind, let’s jump ahead just a bit and look at a few possible lineups that assume Robinson joins the Jayhawks and is eligible to play this season.
Option 1: Twin towers
PG – Devonte’ Graham
SG – Malik Newman
SG – Lagerald Vick
PF – Mitchell Robinson
C – Udoka Azubuike
• This would seem to be KU’s most formidable lineup. Twin 7-footers clogging the middle and 3 lightning-quick, fantastic-shooting guards playing around them. Beyond that, it would give KU incredible depth at all positions, with senior Svi Mykhailiuk and promising freshman Marcus Garrett poised to back-up the three guards and five-star freshman Billy Preston and sophomore grinder Mitch Lightfoot in place to rotate with the two big men. Just the mere thought of Robinson and Azubuike on the court at the same time is enough to get KU fans excited.
Option 2: Run and gun
PG – Devonte’ Graham
SG – Malik Newman
SG – Svi Mykhailiuk
SG – Lagerald Vick
C – Mitchell Robinson OR Udoka Azubuike
• In this scenario, KU coach Bill Self would be putting his most experienced lineup on the floor and capitalizing on what he saw in Italy that he really liked — fast guards, running wild and shooting open shots from all spots on the floor. Because Self has always favored playing inside-out, this option seems like a long shot with Robinson in the fold, but the four-guard approach worked so well last year and Self easily could elect to start this way and yet still find 25+ minutes apiece for Robinson and Azubuike. Going this route would potentially bring out the best in the two 7-footers, as well as Preston, who all would be competing for playing time up front.
Option 3: The traditional look
PG – Devonte’ Graham
SG – Malik Newman
SG – Lagerald Vick
PF – Billy Preston
C – Udoka Azubuike
• This, to me, seems like the most unlikely of the three, but, if it came to fruition, it would be pretty tough to beat. The idea of Preston in the starting lineup means that things would have clicked sooner rather than later for the player Self has called the best looking freshman power forward to report to campus during his 15 seasons at Kansas. But there’s still a long way to go, mentally, for Preston, so it’s hard to imagine this one happening early on at least. If it did, Kansas would have an incredibly talented player in Robinson ready to spell either Preston or Azubuike at any time and also would have the same guard depth — Mykhailiuk and Garrett — as in the first lineup. While Preston in place of Robinson would take a little size away, it likely would allow the Jayhawks to play a touch faster.
Regardless of which one of those lineups you like best, or even if you have your own variation or prefer the senior version of Svi to start over Vick, one thing is abundantly clear from doing this exercise — adding Robinson, as long as he’s eligible, would not merely be a ho-hum case of blue blood program adds another McDonald’s All-American.
Instead, it would be an absolute game-changer for the Jayhawks and, potentially, for college basketball, giving KU some serious depth up front and giving Self plenty of options in how he plays and who he puts on the floor.
Stay in touch with KUsports.com for the latest on Robinson, who could make a decision/announcement at any time.
With his players free to head home from the time they landed in Newark, New Jersey, after their flight home from Italy on Aug. 8 through Sunday night, when the Jayhawks are expected to report back to campus for the start of another school year, Kansas coach Bill Self expected things to be quiet around Lawrence for those two weeks.
But that was hardly the case, as Self explained Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN radio with former coach and current college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg.
Although there still are expectations when they players head home to be with friends and family — from how and when they workout to what they eat and how they act — the main point that Self emphasized following the team’s trip to Italy was simple, “Just make sure you get back by Sunday evening (Aug. 20),” Self told Greenberg.
That was no problem for senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who returned to Lawrence about a week earlier than required.
“Devonte’ went home for like four days and said I’ve had enough, I’ve gotta get back, just so he could get back in the gym to work,” Self said Wednesday. “He is thirsty right now. He and Malik (Newman) spend about as much time in the gym shooting the ball as anyone we’ve ever had here.”
The reason for that is simple and falls in line with exactly the kind of thing Self likes to see from veteran leaders such as Graham, who carry such a tremendous responsibility of being able to set the tone for an entire team and season with their behavior before things get going.
“I haven’t talked to him about undue pressure,” Self said when asked by Greenberg if he thought the Raleigh, N.C., native was dying to become Frank Mason III 2.0. “But he has said that he’s gonna do everything he can to have a big senior year like Frank did.”
Moving into his senior season with the clear title of team leader, Graham, for the first time since he’s been at Kansas, will have the opportunity to dictate how the Jayhawks go on a day to day basis.
As a freshman, he played in 29 games but averaged just 17.8 minutes per game while averaging 5.7 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting.
In Year 2, with Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden as the team’s clear leaders, Graham jumped into the starting lineup but remained in a supporting role, averaging 11.3 points in 33 minutes per game.
A year ago, as a bona fide running mate with Mason, the 6-foot-2 guard inherited a clear role as one of the most important players on the team, but often still deferred to Mason, who was carving out a national-player-of-the-year campaign, and freshman phenom, Josh Jackson, who, like Mason, proved to be equally unstoppable at times.
In starting all 36 games and seeing his minutes per game average go up by three, Graham poured in 13.4 points per game but pushed his assist total to 4.1 per game.
It’s fair to predict that both numbers will go up again during Graham’s senior season, but, as he showed in Italy, by nearly averaging as many assists per game (7.5) as shots (8.3), Graham will remain fixed on doing whatever needs to be done to help Kansas win.
Finally a bit of news on the recruitment of 7-foot McDonald's All-American Mitchell Robinson, but it might not be the type of news that Kansas fans want to hear.
Jon Rothstein is reporting that Robinson will visit New Orleans today.
After checking out LSU and watching the Tigers fall off of his list of options, the big man made a visit to Kansas last weekend and indicated immediately that he liked what he saw by simply Tweeting, "Kansas is nice," on the night of his arrival.
Nothing more has come out of Robinson's visit to KU and Rothstein's report about today's visit to New Orleans is the first real news of any kind surrounding the consensus Top 10 prospect in the Class of 2017 since his visit to KU.
While the Jayhawks remain in the running for the former Western Kentucky signee, who still would need to receive a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play during the 2017-18 season, the fact that he's looking at New Orleans, just a couple of weeks after seriously considering LSU, might be an indication that the Chalmette, La., native is looking to move closer to home for what likely will be one year of college ball before jumping to the NBA.
Chalmette sits just 10 miles east of New Orleans.
Either way, until there's news otherwise, KU remains in play for the talented big man, who, best-case scenario, would become eligible for the upcoming season and provide the Jayhawks with another much-needed body up front, and, worst-case scenario, would come to KU as another important practice body who could help 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike develop on a daily basis.
Either option would likely be a worthy reason for Kansas to use its final scholarship.
Well, it took less than 12 hours for Jonathan Givony, formerly of DraftExpress and currently at ESPN.com to slot Marvin Bagley III into his latest mock draft after the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2018 announced Monday night that he was going to Duke and would attempt to reclassify into the 2017 class.
If successful — and this remains a big if, in my opinion — Bagley will be eligible to play this season and would give Duke a significant lift while speeding up his own path to the NBA.
Kansas cracked the Top 6 for the 6-foot-11, 220-pound forward but could not get any closer than that. While his addition would have helped the KU roster immensely and immediately, Bagley is a sure-fire one-and-done prospect who will be on a college campus for the absolute minimum time required by the NBA's age limit rule.
With that in mind, here's a look at where Bagley lands in Givony's latest Mock Draft for the 2018 NBA Draft, along with a couple of other notable names who cracked his Top 60.
One thing that jumped out at me big time when scrolling down the list was the number of KU targets on it. Six of the Top 17 players in this mock draft seriously considered Kansas during the recruiting process, a sign that Bill Self and company continue to be in on the top talent in the country year in and year out.
• No. 2 - Marvin Bagley III, Boston
Quick take: How about that for good fortune? As if the Celtics have not been on enough of an upswing of late, they now get to add a player like Bagley to their roster. Big things happening in Beantown. For what it's worth, if Bagley winds up going No. 1 overall, Givony's consolation prize is Michael Porter Jr. Either way, Boston's in great shape.
Givony says: Bagley is a fluid athlete with a natural feel for scoring, rebounding and blocking shots, which helps him post elite numbers at the high school and AAU level. He's a terror in the open court and very difficult for opposing big men to stay in front of in one-on-one situations, getting him to the free throw line at an excellent rate. NBA teams will want to see how easily he'll be able to make the transition to the intensity level of the college game and get a better gauge for his defense and outside shooting potential.
• No. 14 - Mitchell Robinson, Portland
Quick take: This is the name Jayhawk fans are dying for news about and there remains a better than good chance that the 7-footer will be in a Kansas uniform this fall. Whether he'll be eligible to play in games remains the biggest question, but his ranking in this mock draft tells us two things: 1. He's a heck of a talent who, if eligible, could make a major difference for the Jayhawks right away. And 2. He's going to be in college (if he goes) for one year at the most. Still, he's worth the effort and KU, no doubt, will do everything it can to get him to town and have him eligible for the 2017-18 season.
Givony says: Robinson is a freakishly athletic 7-footer with a big wingspan and an impressive frame who plays quick off his feet with solid hands and touch. However, his on-court awareness and feel for the game are very underdeveloped. He left Western Kentucky after a handful of practices, and now his situation is in flux. Did NBA scouts see enough on the all-star circuit to draft him in the top 20?
• No. 33 - Svi Mykhailiuk, Atlanta
Quick take: The last time I looked (which was just a couple of days ago), DraftExpress had Svi as a late first-rounder, pencilled into the No. 29 spot. For all intents and purposes, when it comes to mock drafts, this is basically the same spot and it tells you that, with a strong season, Svi can solidify his standing as a first-round pick in next June's draft. Anything less than that and it's likely a second-round selection for the still-young Ukrainian.
Givony says: Nothing. They did not give commentary for the second round picks.
• No. 36 - Devonte' Graham, Orlando
Quick take: Graham is slotted in the same boat as Svi, just a couple of picks apart and in the position of knowing that a strong senior season could vault him comfortably into the first round. For both guys, it's not necessarily just about the numbers, it's about showing the NBA scouts what they want to see. Graham and Svi both gained valuable information this spring about their NBA stock and there's no doubt that each player has spent a good chunk of the summer and will spend much of the season trying to work on their areas of weakness and showcasing improvement. Neither player will do so at the expense of the team goals at Kansas, though, which should make KU fans happy and could go a long way toward helping these two showcase their skills without appearing to force it.
Givony says: Nothing. They did not give commentary for the second round picks.
The news that most people following college basketball recruiting expected became official on Monday night.
That's when Class of 2018 prospect Marvin Bagley III announced on ESPN's SportsCenter that he would reclassify into the 2017 class and attend Duke University during the 2017-18 school year.
Bagley, a 6-foot-11, 220-pound forward from California, chose Duke over finalists UCLA and USC, which made up his final three after that trio, along with Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona, had cracked his Top 6.
Bagley never visited KU and said on SportsCenter that he chose Duke because of the feeling he had while on campus.
"The brotherhood there, man," Bagley said live on the popular highlight show. "That's what Coach K preached to me and my family and I had a good feeling when I was there."
The addition of Bagley instantly moves Duke's 2017 recruiting class to the top of the rankings and also positions the Blue Devils as the preseason favorite heading into the 2017-18 season.
Kansas, meanwhile, continues to focus its efforts on 7-foot McDonald's All-American Mitchell Robinson, who visited campus over the weekend but has been pretty quiet about how his visit went since Tweeting last Friday night, "Kansas is nice."
The Jayhawks have one scholarship available to give for the 2017-18 season, and even if it winds up going to Robinson, the standout center still would need to be cleared by the NCAA to play immediately since he spent the summer on the campus of Western Kentucky, where he initially signed but asked out of his commitment after his godfather left the WKU coaching staff in July.
Class of 2018 star Marvin Bagley III will announce his college decision Monday night on the 10 p.m. SportsCenter, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman.
And there figures to be more than a little attention paid to the announcement.
For one, anybody who follows college basketball with any regularity will be interested in learning the preferred destination of the 6-foot-10, 220-pound force from Chatsworth, Calif. Beyond that, most of the intrigue surrounds whether Bagley will be headed to his chosen school in time for the upcoming 2017-18 season or if he’ll be staying in the Class of 2018, where he is ranked by most recruiting services as the No. 1 prospect in his class.
For weeks, news of Bagley’s potential attempt to reclassify into the Class of 2017 has dominated recruiting talk. And in that time Bagley reportedly visited Duke, UCLA and USC. It was believed that Bagley also would visit Kansas, but with the Jayhawks in Italy during the first week of August and five-star big man Mitchell Robinson in to visit this weekend, there have been no reports of Bagley actually making a visit to KU despite the Kansas coaching staff’s strong efforts to go after him.
That makes KU a long shot to land the versatile forward, who many believe is headed to Duke. That said, 247 Sports recruiting guru Jerry Meyer pointed out on Twitter on Sunday night that, while Duke remains the favorite to land Bagley in 247’s Crystal Ball predicitions, USC’s national championship odds recently became less of a long shot in Las Vegas.
According to a source familiar with Bagley’s recruitment, his attempt to reclassify also could be considered a long shot, but Bagley and has family have been solely focused on that goal for the past couple of months, with the idea being to get him to school this year and into the NBA by this time next year.
Regardless of what plays out, Monday night’s announcement will go down as one of the bigger moments, if not the biggest, in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
With temperatures in the 80s and only a handful of Kansas men’s basketball players in town, 7-foot center Mitchell Robinson might not be getting a complete look at Lawrence in August when he visits the KU campus this weekend in search of his next school.
But when it comes to showing recruits around the facilities and teaching them about the illustrious tradition of Kansas basketball, there is no down time or off day and the KU coaches should be able to give Robinson as complete a look as needed to help him make his decision.
In search of a new school to attend after leaving Western Kentucky because of the departure of his godfather from the WKU coaching staff, Robinson’s situation is as interesting as they come.
For starters, it’s rare for a consensus Top 10 prospect and former McDonald’s All-American to still be on the board this late in the recruiting game, but Robinson’s unique circumstances created that reality.
Unfortunately for both Robinson and all of the teams pursuing him, that reality also means it’s possible that he will not be eligible during the 2017-18 season because he was previously enrolled in summer school classes at WKU and spent some time with the program this summer. Reports have indicated that Robinson is exploring the possibility of getting some kind of waiver from the NCAA to make him immediately eligible. And if KU is the pick there’s no doubt that the KU coaches and the Kansas athletic department as a whole would do whatever it could to help make that happen. Remember, the school spent thousands of dollars to help get Cheick Diallo cleared for competition, though that was a different situation altogether and did not involve Diallo having enrolled with a different college program prior to coming to Kansas.
Still, KU has proven it will go above and beyond what most are willing to do to help players with their eligibility issues and there’s no doubt that they would make similar efforts to help Robinson if he were to pick the Jayhawks.
A quick search of the rules regarding a transfer like Robinson’s revealed that the NCAA rule book states that a student-athlete’s eligibility clock begins when that athlete enrolls “as a full-time student at any college.” Furthermore, full-time is defined as being enrolled in a minimum of 12 hours, which Robinson was not at WKU.
Later in those same eligibility rules, however, is a section about a transfer trigger clause, which may be of greater importance to Robinson’s situation.
It states that a transfer student is a student who transfers from a collegiate institution after having triggered any of the conditions:
• Enrolled full-time during any term and attended class or in Division I if you are enrolled full time and are on campus on the opening day of classes. — This does not apply to Robinson.
• Reported for a regular squad practice. — Because the season has not started, it would seem this does not apply either.
• Practiced or competed while enrolled less than full-time. — This one is unclear, as the NCAA now allows a few practices in the summer and reports have indicated that Robinson did, in fact, practice with the team in some capacity this summer.
• Received institutional financial aid while attending summer school. — And this one seems likely, given that Robinson was on campus, enrolled and living in a WKU dorm.
Clearly, there’s a lot of uncertainty here and a big part of this whole process figures to be whether KU wants to spend time trying to help Robinson make his case should he decide he wants to come to Kansas.
One thing that’s important to point out about that: It is up to the university to file a waiver. An athlete cannot request one for himself. But it’s the conference or the NCAA that administers the waiver from that point.
According to Bill Embody, of 247 Sports site Tiger Blitz, who confirmed a report by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, the powers that be at LSU deemed it not worth their time and are no longer recruiting Robinson.
Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, Embody writes that Robinson “has a slim chance of playing college basketball next season, (which was) part of the reason LSU stopped recruiting the New Orleans native.”
So just who is Mitchell Robinson? Other than one of the hottest names on the minds of KU fans right now, he’s also a legitimate pro prospect with great size, good athleticism and the ability to make a difference for whichever program signs him.
That’s if he plays college ball at all. One of the big concerns out there seems to be that if he is forced to sit out the 2017-18 season after transferring that he might just jump to the NBA Draft after that and forego his college eligibility altogether.
While there’s no doubt that Kansas will vet that situation thoroughly, it will remain a risk down the road no matter what is said or agreed to today.
Measured at 7 feet tall without shoes and 7-1 with shoes by USA Basketball, the 233-pound, athletic big man has a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan and a 9-foot-3-inch standing reach.
According to DraftExpress.com, those numbers put Robinson in some rare company, with only Class of 2018 big man Bol Bol (7-3 in shoes, 7-8 wingspan, 220 pounds) standing in his class.
“He's continued to grow into his late teens, adding 18 pounds to his frame since the USA Basketball U18 Training Camp last June,” wrote DraftExpress. “(Robinson) has a unique combination of reach, length and frame that is very similar to that of a young Serge Ibaka from a physical standpoint.”
Robinson committed to Texas A&M in October of 2015 — almost two full years ago now — and then backed out of that commitment in April of 2016 after A&M assistant Rick Stansbury left to take the job at Western Kentucky.
That opened the door for Robinson to join his godfather, former North Carolina guard Shammond Williams at WKU, where Williams joined Stansbury as an assistant coach prior to the 2016-17 season.
The relationship between his former A&M recruiter and his godfather quickly led to Robinson committing to Western Kentucky in June of 2016, and, on Nov. 9 of last year, he signed his national letter of intent to join the Hilltoppers.
He remained committed to WKU until Williams decided to leave the school in July and was given his official release on Aug. 1.
That brings us to today and the impending arrival of Robinson on KU’s campus on Saturday for an unofficial weekend visit.
Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but the Jayhawks appear to be in good shape to land Robinson if they decide they want him and if he likes what he sees this weekend.
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.