— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
One of the most popular comments from the Kansas basketball crowd that was not in favor of renewing the Border War with Sunday’s Showdown for Relief scrimmage at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., was the declaration that they would write a check to hurricane relief for 10 times the amount of a ticket to keep the game from happening.
Well, the game is happening and, as you surely know by now, is already sold out. So finding fans to gobble up those tickets clearly was not that tough of a task.
But I don’t think those folks who said they’d rather donate their money another way were all that crazy. In fact, they might have been on to something.
Instead of breaking down and bringing the Border War back for a day, KU and Mizzou easily could have waged a fund-raising war against one other, with coaches and even players (if the NCAA would allow it) urging their fan base to donate to a specific charity in support of hurricane relief.
It could’ve been a weeklong endeavor or a month or even a year and both athletic departments could have updated fans on a regular basis about where they stood in an effort to (a) drive the competition and (b) keep people informed about how much money had been raised to date.
It might not have brought the same excitement as Devonte’ Graham and Udoka Azubuike against Michael Porter Jr. and new MU coach Cuonzo Martin, but it definitely would have worked toward achieving the end goal of raising money for hurricane relief.
As it stands, they’ll play a game instead and donate a bunch of money to hurricane relief while, at the same time, giving fans from both sides — and, yes, there are KU fans out there who are more than fired up about Sunday’s showdown — a nice memory in the storied Border War rivalry and yet another reason to get excited about the upcoming season.
But don’t give up on that idea of a head-to-head, fan base vs. fan base fund-raising campaign on the side.
One of our commenters here at KUsports.com — David Robinett — was part of a group that put together exactly the type of challenge we’re talking about. And it could not be easier to execute.
All you have to do is dial #250 from your cell phone and then follow the prompts that ask you for a “key word” — in this case, “Kansas” or “Missouri.”
From there, you will receive a text message with a link to a Red Cross account that is designed to collect money for hurricane relief from either Kansas or Missouri fans.
Robinett, a member of the KU Class of 1983, said they will track the results, i.e. who donates more, KU or MU fans, and we’ll definitely get an update from him sometime next week.
No need to worry about this being any kind of a scam. I tried it myself and the text came with a link that takes you to a redcross.org page where you can donate.
Following the link that is sent to you via text is important, though, because that’s how they’ll track things.
The work is not done in the 2018 recruiting class for the Kansas men’s basketball program, which, after landing three big time commitments in the past couple of months, currently boasts the No. 2-ranked class to date per Rivals.com, just three points behind Michigan State, which has five 2018 players committed.
Among the 2018 class thus far, Bill Self and company are tied for tops in the nation, with Arizona and Duke, with two five-star commitments and also sit tied with Arizona with a 4.67 average-per-playing star rating.
Point guard Devon Dotson, who committed to Kansas last week, and Oak Hill big man David McCormack, are both five-star prospects. And IMG forward Silvio De Sousa, who was the first in the class to commit to Kansas, is a listed as a four-star prospect with the potential to move up.
Needless to say, that trio alone would leave Kansas in pretty good shape, both in terms of reloading its roster and in the team rankings when the ink on all of the signings is dry.
But the fact that KU is still heavily involved with some of the top players in the class, including powerhouse forward Zion Williamson, leaves the potential for KU’s 2018 recruiting class to be the best in school history, no small feat.
The Jayhawks remain in the hunt for Williamson, and also are pursuing guards Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford. It’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which all three decide to become Jayhawks and it seems likely that at least one of them will.
KU has been rumored for weeks to be a strong possibility for Langford and the addition of Dotson only strengthens KU’s chances at landing Williamson because the 6-7, 230-pound, do-everything forward who visited KU for Late Night absolutely loves playing with Dotson.
Add to that the fact that Dotson is now in hot pursuit of any and all potential Kansas teammates and it’s easy to see that the Jayhawks are far from done in what is already shaping up to be a stellar class.
“Of course I’m gonna be going hard after some other players in my class trying to get them to join me,” Dotson wrote in his USA Today blog after his commitment. “I’m gonna be talking to Zion. I feel like me and Quentin Grimes would play well together and Romeo Langford too. Those are the players I’m focusing on for now.”
While Dotson turns up the heat on some of the top remaining talent in the 2018 class, the KU coaches continue to try to close the deal on a couple more 2018 prospects while also exploring possibilities for 2019 and beyond.
Self and company got some good news on that front earlier this week, when Vernon Carey, the No. 1 overall player in the 2019 class, per Rivals.com, revealed his Top 8, with Kansas firmly in the mix.
Carey, a 6-9, 230-pound forward from University High in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, listed Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, UCLA and UNC as his finalists, telling Corey Evans of Rivals.com: “I just feel like I have good relationship with all their coaching staffs. I am probably talking to Duke, Michigan State and Miami the most.”
KU has some work to do to crack Carey’s final list, but the Jayhawks also have time. Carey told Evans that he planned to trim his list one final time next summer before making a decision.
That gives the KU coaches time to continue to make their pitch to the versatile lefty while also continuing efforts to add to the already-stacked 2018 class that just keeps getting better and has taken a lot of the stress of the class out of the equation by landing so many quality early commitments.
Remember, KU had just one early commitment in the 2017 class — four-star guard Marcus Garrett — and only wound up with two players in the entire class, leaving KU with one unused scholarship heading into the 2017-18 season.
• Entire segment is about the upcoming KU-Mizzou exhibition game at Sprint Center.
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
One day after learning that Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham had been named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list, Graham’s running mate, Malik Newman, landed on the Jerry West list.
Newman, a transfer from Mississippi State, who sat out last season and is eligible to play this year, is one of 20 shooting guards from throughout the country to land on the Jerry West preseason list.
Named after Hall of Famer and 1959 NCAA Final Four Most Valuable Player Jerry West, the annual honor, in its fourth year, recognizes the top shooting guard in Division I men's college basketball.
A national committee comprised of top college basketball personnel determined the watch list of 20 candidates, which can be altered at any point during the 2017-18 season.
The list will be trimmed to 10 in February, five in March and a winner will be announced in April during the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles.
Newman, the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, led the Jayhawks in scoring during their four-game exhibition trip to Italy this summer. Before that, he averaged 11.3 points per game while starting 22 of 29 games during his freshman year at Mississippi State.
2018 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award Candidates
Allonzo Trier - Arizona
Mustapha Heron - Auburn
Jerome Robinson - Boston College
TJ Haws - BYU
Marcus Foster - Creighton
Grayson Allen - Duke
KeVaughn Allen - Florida
Rob Gray – Houston
Malik Newman - Kansas
Hamidou Diallo - Kentucky
Bruce Brown Jr. - Miami
Lonnie Walker - Miami
Quinndary Weatherspoon - Mississippi St.
E.C. Matthews - Rhode Island
Khadeen Carrington - Seton Hall
Shamorie Ponds - St. John's
Tyus Battle - Syracuse
Andrew Jones - Texas
De'Anthony Melton - USC
Daxter Miles Jr. - West Virginia
With rumors of a possible scrimmage, for charity, between the Kansas and Missouri men's basketball teams later this month dominating sports talk in the area late Thursday afternoon, one natural question came to mind.
Are Kansas fans excited or upset about the idea of renewing the Border War with the Tigers, even if only for a day?
A quick Twitter poll that was open for just 15 hours drew more than 1,700 votes and revealed that people appear be split down the middle, with 52 percent of voters saying they were against the idea and the other 48 percent saying they couldn't wait for it.
While there still has been no official word about whether the scrimmage will actually happen, it's worth noting that this is far from a slam dunk, at least from the Kansas side of things.
Sure, the idea behind the game is a good one — old rivals come together to raise money for hurricane relief. How can anyone argue with a good cause like that?
But it seems as if there are more than a few KU fans who still believe the Jayhawks and Tigers should never play again because, in their minds, it was Mizzou who ended the rivalry and the Jayhawks don't own them anything.
That debate will rage on for a while. Possibly even decades. And the particulars have been well documented throughout the past few years.
What will be interesting is to see how the attendance breaks down at Sprint Center, if this scrimmage is in fact played. The guess here is that the crowd advantage would got to the Tigers, with the advantage on the court clearly going to Kansas.
Time will tell if either of those guesses are true or if the game even happens. But, at least based on a little feedback from Twitter, it's clear that not everyone is giddy about the potential game.
The most popular theory circulating among fans of the Kansas men’s basketball program says that point guard Devonte’ Graham returned to KU for his senior season to take the reins from Frank Mason III and make his own run at national player of the year honors.
At least one publication believes that scenario is entirely possible.
Attempting to pinpoint the preseason picks for national player of the year during the upcoming 2017-18 college basketball season, Chris Johnson, of SI.com, recently tossed Graham into his first tier, labeled “The Favorites.”
Graham was joined by Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Duke’s Grayson Allen.
“Last season Graham played second fiddle to the senior guard who swept the national player of the year awards, Frank Mason,” Johnson wrote. “Mason’s departure, as well as that of lottery-bound freshman forward Josh Jackson, should enable Graham to spread his wings as a featured scorer and lead playmaker while piloting a team that’s heavily favored to take home at least a share of its 14th consecutive Big 12 championship.”
Johnson projects Graham’s senior stats to look something like this — 15.8 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game and 4.3 assists per game.
While those numbers are a notch below what Mason was able to produce last season — 20.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.2 apg — they speak to a similar impact, with Graham both scoring and setting up teammates to do the same while chipping in on the glass and on defense.
Beyond that, Johnson’s projections and lofty praise are based on the fact that Graham’s minutes and points per game increased during each of his first three seasons at KU.
“Our model likes Graham to continue his positive year-over-year trend in scoring efficiency, and he’s a good bet to shoulder one of the heaviest minutes loads in the conference,” Johnson wrote. “The biggest cause for hesitation with Graham involves one of his teammates: The more times Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman calls his own number, the fewer shots there will be for Graham to take.”
While those four were listed as the favorites, Johnson’s list featured six other names broken into two more tiers.
The “Challengers” included Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), and Joel Berry II (North Carolina). The “Don’t Overlook These Guys” tier included Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) and Jock Landale (Saint Mary’s).
It’s not in any way Billy Preston’s fault.
The Kansas freshman was not the man who labeled himself a five-star player. He did not place himself in the Top 10 of most recruiting rankings. And he did not award himself a spot on the McDonald’s All-American or Jordan Brand All-Star rosters.
All he did was grow to be 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, with a freakish frame, incredible athleticism and skills that few men his size possess.
So, yeah, when the college basketball world sees a player like Preston, the hype and expectations are going to be through the roof for what he can do or should be.
People, whether they want to admit it or not, already are expecting and hoping for Preston to be KU’s next great one-and-done player. And he might end up being just that.
But as of today, he’s just another player on a good team that’s trying to put it all together in time for the start of the 2017-18 season, which is now just three weeks away.
Remembering that will go a long way toward allowing fans to enjoy the Billy Preston experience at Kansas and here’s a quick look at what to expect, whether the upcoming season is Preston’s lone season at KU or not.
He Will: Frustrate the Kansas coaches for most, if not all, of the 2017-18 season.
This isn’t a knock — far from it. It’s just that when someone is gifted with a frame and the kind of physical tools that Preston possesses, they’re going to encounter situations where their coaches have high expectations and always want to see them play up to their ceilings.
That’s tough for any player to do consistently. But it’s even tougher to ask that of a true freshman getting his first taste of big time college basketball.
I don’t think the KU coaches will ask too much of Preston. But I do think they’ll expect him to at least be a factor inside and also will constantly be waiting for that moment when it all clicks and the five-star forward transitions from understudy to monster.
If such a moment happens for Preston, it will go a long way toward making the Jayhawks one of the top NCAA title contenders in the country. Who knows whether it will. But you can count on their being some frustrating games and practices while we wait to find out the answer.
He Won’t: Stop working to try and improve.
We haven’t seen a ton of Preston yet, but what we have seen has looked an awful lot like a young man who wants to learn as much as possible while he’s in college.
What Preston lacks in terms of giving all-out effort and intensity when he’s on the floor, he makes up for behind the scenes, where he constantly seems to be working to understand and utilize the lessons being thrown at him by the Kansas coaching staff and KU’s upperclassmen.
Going as far as to call him a sponge might be a step too far, but it’s clear that he has that insatiable desire to learn and improve his game.
The big question for Preston will be if he can improve to the point where his effort and intensity are consistent enough to match his desire to be great.
Doing so will require him to ditch his old habits, get out of his comfort zone and play with the kind of tenacity that Josh Jackson showed throughout his lone season as a Jayhawk. That's not to say Preston should try to be — or even could try to be — Jackson, but he absolutely could play with the same kind of fire that Jackson brought to the floor for every possession on both ends of the court. He just needs to change his mindset, listen to his coaches and convince himself that substance matters more than style.
He Might: Figure it all out by Big 12 play and be the X Factor for this KU team.
No matter who they are or what their status, freshmen typically need time to adjust to the college game. And Preston will be no different.
Even though KU’s non-conference schedule features a lot of home games against low-profile teams from smaller conferences, many of those teams feature veterans who have played a lot of college basketball and have matured, both mentally and physically, to the point of being able to hang with even the most talented freshmen in the college game.
So while one might think that a player of Preston’s pedigree should dominate teams like Tennessee State and Toledo and Texas Southern, that’s not always the way it goes. In fact, it rarely happens that way.
Those games do, however, provide a good opportunity for freshmen like Preston to learn and grown, make mistakes and get better, all with the goal being to have things figured out well enough by January to jump into Big 12 Conference play with a better understanding of what it takes to compete at this level and play at Kansas.
The biggest key here is consistency and progress. If Preston can get a little bit better each day and each week and avoid taking steps backwards or hitting major roadblocks, the coaching he gets and teammates he’s playing with will get him to the point where he can be a factor for this team when conference play begins (Dec. 29 at Texas) and the Jayhawks fire up their run for a record 14th consecutive Big 12 title.
Few teams Kansas faces will have a player who can match up with Preston's combination of size, skill and athleticism. And if he reaches the point where he is able and willing to exploit that by playing on the perimeter when it's warranted and doing work inside when it's needed, the freshman could play a huge role in just how far this team can go this season.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman
Part V: • Udoka Azubuike
While college programs across the country continue to pursue them at a fevered rate, some of the best high school players in the country will get a break from the recruiting rumbling this weekend for an opportunity with USA Basketball.
Saturday and Sunday in Colorado Springs, 54 elite prep prospects will participate in a USA Basketball minicamp, with the goal of giving the athletes continued exposure to the international game while also advancing and developing their overall skills in a fun and ferocious setting.
“This minicamp will be extremely competitive as we are bringing the top seniors in the country along with the top U17 players together,” said USA Basketball’s Don Showalter, who has guided USA Basketball to nine-straight gold medals as head coach of the USA Men’s U16 and U17 National Teams since 2009. “These players will be competing against the best, so the scrimmages will be intense. They are all familiar with the FIBA rules and understand international competition to a degree, and most will come in with some knowledge of the USA Basketball culture, having been to a training camp previously.”
Eighteen of the 54 invitees are from the prep class of 2018, including Kansas targets Zion Williamson, Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford.
The remaining 36 spots will be filled by players in the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021, including R.J. Hampton, Jalen Suggs, James Wiseman and many other players on KU’s radar.
The 2018 graduates are eligible for the 2018 USA Junior National Select Team that will compete in the 21st annual Nike Hoop Summit next April. The underclassmen will be eligible for the 2018 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Cup Team, which will compete in Argentina next summer.
Thirty-nine of the invited minicamp participants own prior USA Basketball experience, including 15 gold medalists. They will be coached by Showalter and a group of assistants that includes former NBA star Penny Hardaway.
The two-day minicamp will feature morning and afternoon sessions each day, with scrimmages and skill sessions accounting for the majority of their time in Colorado.
He’s arguably the most important and easily the biggest player on the 2017-18 Kansas basketball roster and he enters the upcoming season with the potential to go a number of different directions.
His name, of course, is Udoka Azubuike, and he’s KU’s 7-foot sophomore who played just 11 games last season and missed out on an outstanding opportunity to ease into college basketball with a veteran team so he would be ready for a much bigger role during the 2017-18 season.
That season is here now — practices officially began earlier this week — and, ready or not, Azubuike’s role is as crucial as any on this team.
Not only will he be asked to rebound and protect the paint on the defensive end, but KU coach Bill Self keeps talking about the big fella developing enough of a true post game to be a force on offense, as well.
If that happens, regardless of how many minutes he can play, the sky’s the limit for Azubuike, both during his sophomore season and beyond.
If not, it will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks’ thin front court and deep crop of guards works around whatever shortcomings Azubuike has.
Throughout the offseason, Self has been pleased with the effort and work Azubuike has put in to improving his body, his stamina and his game. But with the season now right around the corner, the time has come for Azubuike to take an even bigger step and prove that he can be everything this team needs him to be.
Whether that’s the case or not will play a big part in just how big the upcoming season can be.
He Will: Break a rim this season
During the two games he played in Italy, Azubuike nearly ended the Rome portion of KU’s exhibition tour by breaking/bringing down the baskets they used in the small gymnasium the Jayhawks played in.
Granted, those goals were not the same kind of goals that you see in college basketball arenas across the United States, but that was hardly the point.
Every time he gets near the rim, Azubuike tries to bring the thing down. It’s just his mindset and his desired approach and he’s very, very good at it.
Azubuike’s penchant for punishing rims showed up at Late Night last week and that was against his own teammates. When he gets into game mode, against an opponent, there will be a night — maybe one of his six- or seven-dunk nights — where the rim gets a little weak and Azubuike brings it down.
I’m not saying he’ll shatter the glass or rip the whole unit to the floor, but I am saying there will be a night when the big man’s assault on the rim does enough damage to cause some kind of delay. For my sake, I’m hoping it doesn’t happen during one of KU’s later tip-offs. And for the sake of my friends and the good people in the KU facilities department, I’m hoping it doesn’t happen at Allen Fieldhouse.
He Won’t: Be in the conversation for all-Big 12 honors unless he develops better post moves
There’s no doubt that Azubuike will be a major focal point for every team KU plays this year. And the reality of it all is that there are very few teams out there who have a player who can match up well with the KU sophomore’s size and strength inside.
That’s good news for KU and, obviously, is the reason many believe, and even expect, that Azubuike could be a double-double machine this season.
Now the bad news: He has yet to show that he can consistently make the kind of post moves needed to be a guy the Jayhawks can throw the ball to when they need a bucket from the paint.
Don’t get me wrong, Azubuike will score plenty in the paint. But the guess here is that most of it will come from penetration by KU’s guards, who, after forcing the defense to collapse, will simply throw it up and let the big guy go get it. He does that very well and should get at least a few dunks and easy buckets a game on that alone.
He also figures to get fouled a lot simply because his size in close will be too much for most to handle. So if he has improved as a free throw shooter, he should be able to get points there, too.
But the combination of foul trouble (more on that in a minute) and his inconsistency as a back-to-the-basket scorer (at least as of today) lead me to believe that he won’t quite match what his enormous size advantage says he should.
An all-Big 12 second-team or honorable mention nod seems more likely than a first-team spot.
He Might: Be known as much for constant foul trouble as his monster dunks
OK. So back to that foul trouble thing.
KU coach Bill Self has talked a lot about Azubuike needing to learn how to play better defense in order to avoid foul trouble.
Self’s suggestions include, Azubuike using better footwork to guard his man; Azubuike doing more work early in the defensive possession to keep his man from getting good position; And Azubuike playing smarter when he does go to block a shot, which the Jayhawks will want him to do as often as humanly possible.
All three areas will take time. Remember, this is still a very young player we’re talking about. He turned 18 just a couple of weeks ago and, as mentioned above, only experienced this level of college basketball for 11 games a season ago.
During those 11 games, Azubuike averaged 8.7 fouls per 40 minutes, which proved to be the first red flag to announce that there might be an issue here.
Natural maturity and a better understanding of his role on the team and college basketball as a whole should be enough to get that number down. And, obviously, Azubuike is not going to play 40 minutes per game. But he can play 30, as long as he plays smart enough to stay on the floor.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
Part IV: • Malik Newman