Nijem, you surely have read by now, comes to Kansas after three years as the head strength and conditioning coach with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, and his resume, from what he's done and what he's learned, is loaded.
In the days, months and years ahead, you'll surely get to know Nijem better, be it through interviews with us, seeing him around the program and watching his interactions with the Jayhawks' players.
But for now, while we await his arrival in town, here's a terrific, hour-plus-long podcast with Nijem that explains everything you could possibly want to know about this guy and his path leading up to being hired by Kansas.
• How he, now at age 28, became the youngest strength coach in the NBA
• His thoughts on his phD, which very much impressed Self
• What he views as the priorities for young NBA players, which will resonate with Kansas fans given the high-caliber recruits Self and company bring into the KU program
• His thoughts on training during the season, recovery methods and weight lifting
• And much, much more...
If nothing else, this video just gives you an extended look at his cool, calm and collected demeanor and it's easy to see how the Jayhawks new 28-year-old strength coach should be able to connect with the players walking in the door and in a major way.
There won’t be any sneaking up on anybody this season for Kansas sophomore Ochai Agbaji.
Whether you’re talking about in the minds of his own team — and head coach — or Big 12 opponents, Agbaji’s talent and potential are now well known throughout Big 12 country and many are expecting a big jump for the 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas City, Mo.
The reasoning behind that expectation is sound and supported by a lot of logic.
For one, Agbaji has seen it. He knows what it takes to play and compete at this level and that should make him even more confident, prepared and ready to take on Year 2.
For two, most players — especially key, rotation guys — make a pretty significant jump from their freshman to sophomore seasons.
And beyond that, Agbaji entered last season expecting to redshirt and wound up playing. Imagine what he can do with an entire offseason of getting his mind ready not only to play but likely to start and have a key role on a Top 5 team.
The possibilities are endless and you know Agbaji has put in the work and will not cheat the game for one second during his second year as a Jayhawk. It should be fun to watch.
Here’s a closer look at why.
He Will: Be the best on-court leader on the roster
Nothing stood out to me about Agbaji’s strong freshman season more than his ability to step right in — to a tough situation — and function as one of the team’s top on-court leaders.
Even as a true freshman who had been underrated and planned to redshirt in Year 1, Agbaji found his voice on the floor and did not care who he was talking to or why. If he saw something was off, he’d say something. If he didn’t like the way a teammate did (or didn’t do) something, he’d go tell him and get in his face if he had to.
All of this, of course, came with great respect, as Agbaji never overstepped and always treated his teammates, coaches, opponents and the game the way he expects to be treated.
That’s natural leadership. Either you have it or you don’t. And Agbaji has it in bunches. I expect it to shine through even brighter this season and to serve this new-look Kansas team even better than it did a season ago.
He knows he’s a key piece of this team and that, in many ways, this is his team as much as anyone else’s. That knowledge, when possessed by a natural leader like Agbaji, can do wonders for a team, the individual players and the season as a whole.
He Won’t: Make all-Big 12 first team — this season
This isn’t so much a comment about Agbaji as it is embracing reality. As long as everyone stays healthy, I fully expect Jayhawks Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson to be first team all-Big 12 performers and to both be in the mix for Big 12 player of the year.
It’s awfully hard to put a third Jayhawk on that five-man team, no matter what type of year Agbaji has.
Don’t get me wrong, if he averages 20 a game and is among the conference leaders in rebounds and 3-point shooting, he’ll almost certainly be a first-team guy. But doing that on this team will be tough. And I think it goes without saying that Azubuike and Dotson have a leg up on Agbaji (and others) in their pursuit of that first-team designation, simply because so much of what KU does this year will run through them.
In the 23-year history of the Big 12, KU has had 119 players earn all-conference honors. Agbaji no doubt will do his part in adding to that number this year, it’s just more likely that he’ll finish as a second-team pick than among the league’s first five.
He Might: Lead the Jayhawks in 3-point shooting
The opportunity is there for the taking and it’s doubtful that any player on the roster put in more time working on his jumper this offseason.
From retooling his technique to watching film, tweaking his fundamentals and seeking the advice of a couple of different coaches, Agbaji did everything he could possibly do to become an even better 3-point shooter for the Jayhawks.
Leading the team — whether by makes or percentage — will be one heck of an achievement.
Grad transfer Isaiah Moss is expected to be this team’s best 3-point threat by percentage and he might just play enough to lead the team in makes, too. Beyond that, newcomers, Mackey McBride, Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun all can shoot it and then there’s sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, who knows that his path to the NBA will be much more direct if he can become a better shooter. As a result, Dotson put the time in, as well.
The question all offseason has been whether this team has enough shooting. If Agbaji, who shot .307 from distance a season ago (23-of-75 in 22 games) can push that percentage closer to 40 than 30 and double his makes, that will go a long way toward answering that question.
Either way, it definitely would go a long way toward positioning Agbaji as one of the Jayhawks' best shooters, a title he has worked for this offseason.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2019:
Thursday night, Class of 2020 KU target Bryce Thompson released his first official list of finalists and the Jayhawks made the cut as one of his seven programs still standing.
Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound shooting guard from Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, Okla., is ranked 18th nationally by Rivals.com and is a five-star prospect who absolutely blew up this summer.
Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff have long treated Thompson as one of their top priorities in the 2020 class. But after another stellar summer in which he showed off his versatility, smooth scoring ability and ever-expanding athleticism, Thompson both jumped in the Rivals rankings and began to draw interest from more of the top programs in college basketball.
Those programs still in the running for Thompson are: in-state schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, perennial powers North Carolina and Michigan State and far-but-not-too-far programs Arkansas and Texas.
According to Rivals.com’s Corey Evans, Texas Tech may still be in the mix, as well. But the graphic that Thompson Tweeted out on Thursday night only featured those previous six and Kansas.
Although a date for Thompson’s final decision remains in the distance, the dynamic scorer has started to sort out his official visits and will get things started this weekend in Austin, Texas.
After that, Thompson will head to UNC the weekend of Sept. 6 — according to Evans, he’ll be the Tar Heels’ only official visitor at that time — and follow that up with a visit to Kansas on Oct. 4 (in time for Late Night) and a trip to Michigan State on Oct. 25, when the Spartans host their own version of Late Night.
Those dates, as long as they hold, would leave Thompson with the option of taking one more official visit to either OU, OSU or Arkansas.
Evans reported that Thompson and his family would like to have all of the official visits wrapped up by November and while that certainly suggests that a decision could be coming in time for the early signing period, which opens Nov. 13 and runs through Nov. 20, no one in Thompson’s camp has publicly said that he will sign early.
The Golden State Warriors on Thursday officially announced a move that many already knew was coming.
Former Kansas point guard Aaron Miles, a member of Bill Self’s coaching staff for one year during the 2015-16 season, officially has been promoted to the role of full-time assistant coach on Steve Kerr’s staff.
Miles will serve as one of four Player Development Coaches on the Warriors’ staff.
It’s hardly a new environment for the 36-year-old Miles, who has been the head coach of the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State’s G League affiliate) for the past two seasons and also spent time with Kerr’s staff during the playoffs.
During the 2018-19 season, Miles led Santa Cruz to the G League’s Western Conference Finals after posting a 34-16 record, the second best in franchise history. He finished his stint in Santa Cruz with an overall record of 57-43 and helped five players earn call-ups to the NBA.
This summer, Miles served as the head coach of Golden State’s Summer League squad.
His connection to the organization goes back beyond his time in Santa Cruz. In 2005, after capping off one of the most successful point guard careers in Big 12 history (his 954 career assists still rank as the most all-time among Big 12 players) Miles joined the Warriors organization as a training camp invitee following the 2005 NBA Draft.
He appeared in 19 games for Golden State during the 2005-06 season and spent the next nine seasons playing professionally overseas.
In 2015-16 he broke into coaching with Self’s staff and then spent the 2016-17 season as a full-time assistant on Joe Dooley’s staff at Florida Gulf Coast.
During the 2017-18 season, Miles’ first in Santa Cruz, the organization was named the NBA G League Franchise of the Year.
Now that Miles is on an NBA bench full time, don’t be surprised if the promotions keep coming in the years ahead.
When talking about Miles following his promotion to head coach in Santa Cruz back in 2017, the Warriors’ front office had nothing but flattering things to say about the young-and-rising coach.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to introduce Aaron Miles as the new head coach of the Santa Cruz Warriors,” Golden State general manager Kent Lacob said in a release. “Aaron has stood out as a leader at every stop in his playing career and as a collegiate assistant coach. We are confident that he will be a tremendous fit for our team and our organization...”
Warriors President Chris Murphy echoed similar sentiments: “Aaron has tremendous experience and basketball knowledge to share with our players and fans. I believe he will be a terrific ambassador for the Santa Cruz Warriors organization and an exemplary member of the Santa Cruz community.”
After committing to KU in mid-July and working tirelessly on his academics since then, Dajuan Harris got some good news this week.
The freshman point guard from Columbia, Mo., has completed the necessary classes for admission into KU and is expected to arrive on campus today.
A source with knowledge of Harris' summer class load said the work he did this summer to clear the way for the move to KU was as demanding as anything he'll face during any of his college semesters.
Harris, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound pass-first point who made a name for himself this summer with MOKAN Elite, told the Journal-World in a text message that he was heading to KU today so he could start classes Friday.
The plan for Harris, who had previously committed to Missouri State before receiving a release to reopen his recruitment in May, is to redshirt the 2019-20 season and have four years of eligibility remaining starting next year.
“We are very excited to have Dajuan,” KU coach Bill Self said in a Thursday afternoon news release announcing Harris' addition. "He’s going to be in a limited capacity and this will give him the opportunities to focus on books, focus on getting stronger and put himself in the position to be a contributor right off the bat next year.”
With many expecting current KU point guard Devon Dotson to turn pro after his sophomore season, the timing of that plan could work out perfectly for both KU and Harris.
“Dajuan is a true point guard,” Self said. “His understanding and feel for the game would rival some of the better point guards we’ve had since we’ve been here.”
This is not the first time something like this has happened at KU. Back in 2011-12, when Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor were freshmen, both were declared partial qualifiers before the start of the season and therefore were ineligible to play until the 2012-13 season.
Harris' road has been a lot clearer from the time he committed through today, but the beginning of his KU career will follow a similar path as the one McLemore and Traylor walked.
Harris, who recently became a four-star prospect ranked No. 83 overall in the 2020 class by Rivals.com, told the Journal-World he will wear No. 3 with the Jayhawks.
Harris is the fifth freshman to join KU’s 2019 recruiting class (where he fit in naturally before exploring the idea of reclassifying into 2020 to attend prep school before receiving the KU offer) and the sixth newcomer to join the Jayhawks this offseason. He joins senior graduate transfer Isaiah Moss (Iowa) and a freshman class that includes Christian Braun, Issac McBride, Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson.
Once Harris arrives in Lawrence, all 13 scholarship players on the 2019-20 roster will be in town working on preseason conditioning in preparation for the start of KU's annual boot camp, which is scheduled to start Sept. 9.
Let the onslaught of fall visits officially begin.
This weekend, the Kansas men’s basketball program will host four-star Class of 2020 center Mady Sissoko for an official visit during the opening weekend of the college football season.
In years past, KU coach Bill Self often has talked about the importance of a quality football program and how having David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium full when visitors were in town could only help the Jayhawks’ recruiting efforts.
It remains to be seen just how full KU’s football venue will be when Indiana State comes to town for Saturday’s 11 a.m. season opener. But Sissoko’s plate will be full one way or the other.
“I’m really interested to see the player improvement at Kansas, the academics, the style of play and some other things,” the 6-foot-8, 225-pound big man told Shay Wildeboor of JayhawkSlant.com earlier this week. I just want to see and learn about as much as the Kansas program that I can during my visit.”
Sissoko currently attends Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, the same program that produced current Kansas freshman Tristan Enaruna.
He told Wildeboor he was excited to catch up with his old friend and added that the pairing of seeing Enaruna at KU only made things sweeter.
“Kansas is a great program,” said Sissoko, who originally hails from Mali. “They send a lot of players to the NBA and I want to go somewhere that can help me get to the next level. When I got to the United States, Kansas was my top dream school, but that does not mean that I want to go to my dream school. I want to go somewhere that I can fit in the program and I want to go somewhere that wants me the most.”
Known by recruiting analysts as an elite shot blocker who can bully his way to baskets around the rim, Sissoko is ranked as the No. 48 overall prospect in the 2020 class by Rivals.com. That Top 50 slot is up 31 spots from his previous ranking and many consider Sissoko to be one of the fastest-rising prospects in the class.
In mid-July, after watching him at an Under Armour event in Georgia, David Sisk of Rivals site CatsIllustrated, which covers Kentucky, wrote the following about the big man’s defensive prowess: “Simply put, he is one of the most dynamic shot blockers I have seen.They are volleyball spikes. Nobody is safe, not in half court or on the fast break. He sent one to another court after an 80-foot sprint. He pinned another one with two hands against the backboard. He runs the entire game and does not take plays off.”
Although Sissoko has not yet formed a list of finalists, he is zeroing in on a handful of programs he either has visited or plans to visit in the near future.
In addition to his upcoming trip to KU, Sissoko told Wildeboor he already has visited BYU, Colorado, Michigan State and UCLA and plans to visit Memphis.
KU assistant Norm Roberts is the lead recruiter for Sissoko, who told CatsIllustrated that Kansas was recruiting him, “very hard.”
In-state hoops prospect Gradey Dick is planning to make an unofficial visit to Kansas for Late Night on Oct. 4, a source told KUsports.com on Monday.
Dick, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound guard in the class of 2022 from Wichita Collegiate, received a scholarship offer from the Jayhawks this summer and made a name for himself in the recruiting world with a solid summer when he showcased his extreme athleticism.
“This kid is a very skilled prospect who plays with a high motor and is ultra-aggressive on the court,” KUsports.com recruiting insider Matt Scott said.
Dick has teamed with fellow class of 2022 prospect Mark Mitchell, of Bishop Miege, on the summer circuit and is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a fast-riser in the class.
While Dick and Mitchell are still years out from their signing ceremonies, KU’s efforts in the class of 2020 have ramped up in recent weeks.
With three seniors on the current roster (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and Isaiah Moss), the Jayhawks figure to have at least three open scholarships to hand out to prospects in the 2020 class during the next several months.
With a few others on this season’s team — Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa — having the potential to leave school early, the number of players KU targets in the class could be higher.
None of that will be known for months. But we do know today who the Jayhawks have been targeting.
Here’s a quick look at a handful of names worth watching as Bill Self and company try to add talent for the future.
• Javonte Brown-Ferguson – 6-11, 220-pound center currently in the 2021 class may be exploring a move into the 2020 class. The Baltimore native ranked No. 45 overall in the 2021 class and received an offer from KU in July.
• Dawson Garcia – 6-10, 200-pound power forward from Savage, Minn., Garcia is a four-star prospect ranked No. 38 overall in his class. Can play inside and out, shoot 3's and handle the ball extremely well for a player his size.
• Jalen Green – No. 3-ranked prospect in Rivals’ 2020 class who spent time in the No. 1 slot during recent months, Green is a 6-5, 170-pound shooting guard from Prolific Prep (former home of Josh Jackson) in California.
• Caleb Love – 4-star point guard from St. Louis plans to visit KU on Oct. 12. The 6-3, 175-pound guard ranked No. 32 overall by Rivals also will take official visits to Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina and Louisville.
• Adam Miller – 6-3, 165-pound shooting guard from Chicago’s Morgan Park, this four-star prospect is ranked No. 30 overall by Rivals.com.
• Moses Moody – 6-5, 185-pound small forward from Montverde Academy. Moody is four-star prospect ranked No. 59 overall by Rivals.com.
• KK Robinson – 6-foot, 170-pound, four-star point guard from Little Rock, Ark., ranked No. 79 overall in the class. Robinson recently trimmed his list of finalists to seven — KU, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa State, Texas A&M, TCU and Vanderbilt.
• Mady Sissoko – 6-8, 225-pound center from Wasatch Academy (former home of Tristan Enaruna) is expected to make an official visit to KU this weekend. 4-star prospect is ranked No. 48 in the 2020 class by Rivals.com.
• Jalen Suggs – One of three Jalens in the Top 16 of the 2020 class, Suggs is a 6-4, 185-pound point guard from Minneapolis who is a five-star prospect ranked No. 16 overall by Rivals.
• Bryce Thompson – 6-4, 180-pound shooting guard from Tulsa, Okla. No. 18-ranked prospect in the 2020 class, this five-star talent is on just about everyone’s radar these days and has been in touch with Kansas for months.
• JT Thor – Formerly in the class of 2021, Thor reclassified into the 2020 class a couple of months ago and is currently ranked No. 53 overall in the class. At 6-9, 185 pounds, this versatile athlete has all kinds of options and potential at the collegiate level.
• Isaiah Todd – 6-10, 210-pound center from Raleigh, N.C. The No. 9-ranked player in the 2020 class per Rivals.com.
• Kyree Walker – A familiar name who had been rumored to be considering reclassifying into the 2019 class, Walker is a strong, physical, 6-5, 205-pound, four-star point guard from Phoenix ranked No. 26 overall in the class.
When former radio broadcaster Max Falkenstien died in late July at the age of 95, Jayhawks everywhere jumped at the chance to share their best stories of the man who called KU games for 60 years.
On Saturday, the party will continue at the Lied Center on KU’s campus.
In conjunction with Kansas Athletics, Falkenstien’s family is hosting a celebration of life for the late KU broadcaster at 2 p.m. The event will feature several notable speakers and will be emceed by Falkenstien’s longtime friend and broadcast partner, Bob Davis, who no doubt will share a few of his own best Max stories with the crowd.
The event is open to the public and free of charge and is not expected to last more than an hour.
It is hard to predict just how many former and current KU players, coaches and administrators are expected to attend, but the celebration figures to attract Jayhawks from several decades and across multiple generations.
“He was Mr. Jayhawk,” said former KU football coach Glen Mason shortly after Falkenstien’s passing.
Added former KU men’s basketball coach Larry Brown: “When you talk about those great (KU) people, and everyone connected with all that tradition, Max is one of the first people you think about.”
Because he was around him just a short time, current KU Athletic Director Jeff Long is eager to hear as many Falkenstien tales as time allows.
“I, of course, knew of Max for many years as the iconic Voice of the Jayhawks,” Long said. “I am so happy that I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him this year. He was everything everyone had told me about him – engaging, funny – and he made me feel right at home.”
Sure, the opportunity was greater than what most get, and, yeah, the numbers were good not great.
But there’s no disputing that Kansas point guard Devon Dotson, now on the brink of his second season with the program, had a solid freshman season for the Jayhawks in 2018-19.
Earlier this summer, I took at look at just how much of a workhorse season Dotson had as a freshman and it sure seems like the experiences he gained then will help him immensely during the 2019-20 season, as well.
That knowledge accompanied by some serious offseason work has Dotson poised for an all-Big 12 season and a major jump from what we saw during his freshman year.
We already know he has talent. Speed, toughness, the ability to finish and ball handling are all among his biggest strengths.
But a short video that Dotson recently Tweeted out shows we might not have seen anything yet.
I know it’s a 1-minute video and it’s designed to highlight his best moments of recent workouts, but it’s pretty darn impressive nonetheless.
The thing that jumps out to me here is just how strong he looks. Strong physically. Strong with the ball. Strong and explosive at the rim.
Check it out for yourself (if you find foul language in rap lyrics offensive, watch it with the sound turned down) and see what stands out to you.
Whether it’s the same as what I see or something different, I think we can agree on the fact that Dotson is in for a monster year.
Class of 2020 point guard Dajuan Harris recently received an Ochai-Agbaji-like bump in the updated Rivals.com rankings.
Harris, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound point guard from Columbia, Mo., who committed to KU in July and continues to work toward completing the necessary academic requirements to get to campus in time for the 2019-20 school year, went from unranked to No. 83 and from a three-star rating to four.
The jump was inevitable in the eyes of many recruiting analysts, who were predicting a spot in the Top 100 at the time Harris committed to KU.
After initially committing to Missouri State as a member of the Class of 2019, Harris changed gears and reclassified into the 2020 class with plans to attend prep school for the 2019-20 season. But after receiving a release from Missouri State and committing to KU, Harris began work to get back into the 2019 class.
Harris has not yet officially signed with the Jayhawks and does not appear on KU’s current roster. If he’s able to complete his academic work in time to join the roster this month, he will fill the 13th and final scholarship the KU men’s basketball program has available.