The benefits of his three-week stint with USA Basketball last month were many and seemed to cover just about every aspect of the coaching profession.
From getting a head start on working with a player he will coach at Kansas in Quentin Grimes and spending extended time around a few key recruits in next year’s class to dabbling with different styles of play and the personal pride of representing your country, KU coach Bill Self got a lot out of leading Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas tournament in Canada in June.
But figuring out a way to keep a crop of ultra-talented, elite-level players happy with the minutes they were getting for an extended period of time might go down as Self’s biggest advantage from the experience.
It worked. Obviously. The USA squad won gold and Self, and Grimes for that matter, came away from the experience with glowing reviews about how it felt to represent the United States and, more to the point, how impressed they were with how quickly the newly-formed team bonded and came together.
And now Self gets to do it for real, at Kansas, with the professional stakes much higher. And the success he had with Team USA indicates it is certainly possible for him to figure out how to handle this suddenly deep and loaded Kansas roster during the 2018-19 season. This, after playing a serious game of depth roulette for the past couple of seasons.
With KU’s stellar 2018 recruiting class and the addition of three red-shirt transfers who sat out a season ago, things certainly were deep enough for KU before last week’s Lagerald Vick announcement. Now, with Vick and his 94 career games and 41 career starts returning to the roster, it’s downright silly how deep and talented Kansas appears to be on paper. Now, all of those cliche’ comments about KU’s second five being able to finish in the Top 3 of the Big 12 actually seem true for a change.
Stick with me for a moment while I state the obvious: Self is not John Calipari. So he is not going to platoon lineups during the upcoming season in an attempt to keep everyone happy. But he could.
That might not mean five-in and five-out at all times, but it’s not hard to envision 10 players playing 20 minutes a game. And even at that, there are still more bodies Self could use.
Regardless of whether you agree with the breakdown or not, here’s a look at a potential first and second five for the 2018 season.
PG: Devon Dotson — Charlie Moore
SG: Quentin Grimes — Lagerald Vick
3G: Marcus Garrett — K.J. Lawson
PF: Dedric Lawson — Silvio De Sousa
C: Udoka Azubuike — David McCormack
So that’s 10 legit players, all of whom either have started or almost certainly will start college basketball games at some point in their careers.
Missing from that group are junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, junior guard Sam Cunliffe and freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, all big time players who not only would be in the rotation for every other Big 12 program but would probably start for a lot of them.
So, obviously, something is going to have to give. A couple of guys are going to have to red-shirt, a couple of guys are going to have to be OK with playing fewer minutes than they might during a more normal season and every one of those players is going to have to sacrifice and surrender his individual focus for the good of the team.
Sound familiar? It should. That’s exactly what a coach has to get out of his players in a USA Basketball setting and, again, Self succeeded big time with that challenge last month.
Fielding the cream of the crop in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes — a group of 12 players chosen from a tryout that included 33 Team USA hopefuls — Self found a way for all 12 players to average double-digit minutes per game.
What’s more, eight players averaged 16 minutes or more per game and just four averaged better than 21 minutes per game, with nobody topping Grimes’ 23.2 minutes-per-game average. Self also managed to trot out three different starting lineups during the six-game tournament, with Cole Anthony, Quentin Grimes, Tyrese Maxey, Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl starting together during four of the six games.
For clarification, while the sample size of six games might be a little small, these were 40-minute games like Kansas will play, which no doubt helped Self get a feel for juggling so much talent and keeping everybody locked in and ready to contribute. It’s not that Self has never done this, just that it has been a while and the past two seasons have been almost the polar opposite, depth-wise, of what he’ll be dealing with this year.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Kansas fans, even those who like to question and cuss Self when the team does not play well, it’s that they generally trust KU’s head coach to figure it out no matter what obstacles he is facing. So it’s not as if people were even the least bit worried about whether Self would be able to handle a roster with so much talent and quality depth. But given how things have played out during the past couple of seasons, playing with a stacked deck will be different and challenging and, I’m sure, a whole lot of fun.
Before Self went to Colorado Springs for the Team USA tryout, he told me one of his big personal goals for the entire experience was to step out of his comfort zone in the way he operates, learn elements of a new system or two and be able to incorporate those new skills into his already-wildly-successful coaching chops.
Getting a refresher course on how to run a loaded roster and succeeding with it in a short amount of time, no doubt delivered on Self’s personal goals. Not only did it lead Team USA to gold, but it also figures to benefit Self and the Jayhawks quite a bit during the 2018-19 season.
After his two-plus weeks with Kansas coach Bill Self and the U18 USA Basketball team earlier this month delayed his arrival in Lawrence, KU freshman Quentin Grimes finally has been able to get a taste of life as a Jayhawk.
Grimes, who earned MVP honors while helping lead Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas earlier this month in Canada, has been in Lawrence for a little over a week and is just now starting to feel settled.
Despite the five-star combo guard’s willingness and desire to jump right in on Day 1, KU coach Bill Self recommended — or is it required? — that Grimes take some time off before diving in to KU’s summer workout program.
“He wanted me to take off a full week,” Grimes said on Tuesday during a break at Washburn basketball camp. “But I only took off three of four days. I feel like I’ll be pretty recharged and then we have a couple days off for July 4th, so I’ll be good for sure.”
While jumping in with the Jayhawks has been something Grimes has thought about and looked forward to since signing last November, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard, who looks bigger than both of those measurements in person, said he enjoyed the chance to get his feet under him during the past week.
“My room’s all good now and I’m getting adjusted to my classes,” he said. “Things are going pretty good. It’s been good to just work out with the guys.”
Those workouts have been mixed into several nights in the gym working on his shot and even a couple of team pick-up games.
While Grimes said he expected things to reach an even higher level when KU coach Bill Self and his staff can work with the Jayhawks on a full-time basis, the freshman from The Woodlands, Texas, said the talent and depth of KU’s entire roster has stood out big time during his first week on campus.
“Just the intensity that we have,” he said. “Every day we have to go super hard. Nothing but 110 percent every day we’re out there on the court and in the weight room.”
Monday marked Grimes’ first time playing with fellow-freshman Devon Dotson, a 6-1 point guard from Charlotte, who arrived at KU in early June, and the Team USA MVP said the two newcomers had clear chemistry right away.
“I played with him at McDonald’s (All-American Game), but (Monday was) the first time here at Kansas,” Grimes said. “I think it’s good because we can both play on the ball and off the ball. So once coach kind of starts to figure us out he’ll put us in really good positions on the court.”
At this point, positioning himself to be the best weapon he can be for Self and the Jayhawks this winter is all Grimes is concerned about.
A major emphasis for Grimes right now is getting used to workouts and the routine at Kansas and becoming a more consistent shooter.
“I’ve worked on that a lot,” he said, noting that KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend already has offered a few tips on his release. “My thumb was in the way of the ball a little bit, but they feel like my mechanics and everything (are) good, I just have to get my thumb out of the way of the ball.
“It’ll probably take a couple weeks or something, but as long as you get the reps in you’ll be fine.”
Because of his Team USA commitment, Grimes, who has his gold medal in his room at McCarthy Hall, may have some catching up to do at KU. But he also got a head start that his new teammates did not, learning from and bonding with Self in a competitive setting.
Grimes said a lot of what he learned and did in Colorado Springs and Canada would carry over to Kansas and added that the opportunity to be around Self morning, noon and night was invaluable.
“I feel like we’ve been bonding this whole time,” Grimes said. “At USA you see him the whole day, traveling with him and seeing him throughout the day is really fun because of the little things you get to know about him. (And here), it’s actually pretty similar, the kind of shooting drills that we did, 5-on-5, understanding how to play within his style.”
There’s a lot of that still ahead and Grimes believes he will become more and more comfortable as the days pass. Getting there as soon as possible will be important so Grimes can get the most out of his first year at KU.
After all, if the mock drafts that currently have Grimes listed as a Top 10 pick in 2019 are correct, the 2018-19 season could be his only one with the program.
Not that Grimes himself is worried about life beyond Kansas at this point.
“Yeah, I see that,” he said. “But you try not to pay too much attention to any of that because you could fall at any time. You really have to keep on improving every day.”
Given that the game took place just two days earlier, in the very same venue in which he was speaking on Tuesday, no less, it made sense that the brief renewal of the Kansas-Missouri Border War rivalry was a hot topic during Big 12 media day at Sprint Center this week.
All three Kansas players — Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman — were asked about beating the Tigers and building from the early-season test. And Kansas coach Bill Self also was asked about the exhibition game for charity, both in the context of whether he would consider playing the Tigers again in the future and how much good had come from the event that raised nearly $2 million dollars for hurricane relief.
No strong or surprising stances emerged on either topic, with the four Jayhawks continuing to say that they enjoyed the test, loved the atmosphere and were thrilled to be able to use their platform to raise so much money for such a good cause.
But there were still a couple of interesting nuggets and tidbits that came on Tuesday that sort of put a bow on the whole experience.
Here’s a look.
• The last time Graham played in Sprint Center prior to Sunday’s 93-87 victory over Mizzou came during KU’s heartbreaking Elite Eight loss to Oregon in last season’s NCAA Tournament. In that game, Graham struggled mightily, finishing with an uncharacteristic line and a lot of questions.
In 38 minutes on the floor against Oregon, Graham was 0-of-7 from the floor, 0-of-6 from 3-point range and finished with just three points and little else.
Sunday, against Mizzou, the KU senior flipped the script completely, leading all scorers with 25 points and knocking in 6-of-13 3-pointers and adding 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals to his line.
Asked Tuesday if his disappointing night vs. the Ducks back in March provided any added motivation for Sunday’s monster game against MU, Graham said the Oregon dud was not on his mind at all.
“It honestly wasn’t until the next day, when somebody said it,” Graham said Tuesday. “They were like, ‘I’m glad you got to have a good game in there after the last one,’ and I hadn’t thought about that. It was crazy because I played terrible then and I came out and played a good game (Sunday). I wasn’t thinking about it, though. … I just wanted to win.”
• Although it was addressed briefly on Sunday after the game, Self was asked again on Tuesday if he would play Missouri again in the future for a similar event.
Before answering, he reminded that the two schools needed a waiver to get the game approved in the first place and added that he was unsure whether something like this would be easier to accomplish in the future.
“It goes against their bylaws to say, ‘Hey, go play another game,’” Self said of the NCAA. “There has to be a reason and the reason was good.”
As for whether he would be in favor of another charity game, be it for the benefit of victims of a natural disaster or something as simple as a way to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club or a similar organization, Self did not hesitate with that stance.
“Yeah, if there was something that would warrant doing something that was good for others,” he said. “I think what some people misinterpret about this is, if it would have been Creighton that would’ve brought in the most money, we would’ve played Creighton. If it would’ve been Washburn that could bring in the most money, we would’ve played Washburn. The reason we played Missouri was because it brought in the most money. … I think there’s a lot of things that need to be thought through on it, like where the money would go, but I would be all for doing something. Absolutely.”
But instead of just thinking about one game or a handful of games like it around the country, Self is thinking bigger for the next round. And he has been for a long time.
"I certainly think we missed an opportunity after (Hurricane) Katrina to do something like this," he said on Tuesday. "I would like to see it be a lot bigger than this. The way we're doing it now, you've gotta understand it's on two weeks notice. So it's hard for people to pull it off. But what about if every school was allowed to play one and every Div. II and every Div. III and every NAIA and every juco and every high school in the country could just do one thing to give money, you're talking 50-100 million dollars. Then you're talking about real money. That, to me, would be the dream."
• Because he and his coaching staff immediately hit the road to recruit following Sunday’s victory, KU coach Bill Self said Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet watched the full game film from KU’s win over the Tigers.
But based on feel alone, Self said he thought his team probably played about 15 good minutes during the 40-minute exhibition scrimmage.
“I actually thought we did some good things and I thought we did some things really poorly,” Self said.
After an afternoon practice on Tuesday, following their obligations at Sprint Center, Self and the Jayhawks watched the Missouri film in its entirety for the first time.
Next up: KU's exhibition opener at Allen Fieldhouse, Tuesday vs. Pittsburg State.
Well, that was fun. And I have to admit, I was more than a little surprised by how well Missouri played during the first half in not only hanging with Kansas but also building a four-point halftime lead and more than a little momentum.
It was the Tigers, or so I thought, who looked like the team that had played together longer and Kansas who struggled to get in sync for most of the first half.
That all changed — and changed quickly — when KU found its flow early in the second half and raced out to an insurmountable lead to cruise to a 93-87 victory in the Border War revival that raised nearly $2 million for hurricane relief.
The Jayhawks’ second-half spurt, which turned a 50-44 deficit into an 83-66 lead — that’s a 39-16 run for those of you not interested in doing the math — featured superior play by the Jayhawks all over the floor.
The guards pressured on the defensive end and turned up the tempo, making it a fast-paced game and getting a bunch of easy buckets because of it. And when they were unable to score off the sprint, the Jayhawks pounded the ball inside to Udoka Azubuike, who, as KU coach Bill Self pointed out in the postgame presser, played with a purpose and was much more efficient and effective in the game’s final 20 minutes.
All eight Jayhawks who played in this one made at least a couple of memorable contributions. And, even though Devonte’ Graham and Azubuike carried a lot of the load, neither player was perfect, which made for an interesting, albeit somewhat expected, first look at the 2017-18 Jayhawks against legit competition.
With that in mind, here are a few quick-hitter thoughts about all eight Jayhawks who played, some good, some bad, all important for the weeks and months that lie ahead.
• Devonte’ Graham – What can you say about a player who led Kansas in points (25), assists (5) and rebounds (10) in a big time, bragging-rights atmosphere? Easy. And former Graham running mate, Frank Mason III, came through via Twitter while watching from afar instead of standing next to him. “3tae Graham,” Mason wrote after the KU victory, playing off of Graham’s popular nickname of “D-tae.” A stat line like the one Graham turned in on Sunday brought two things to mind: (1) It’s too bad this was an exhibition game because those are numbers he would like to count. (2) Maybe Graham following in Mason’s footsteps isn’t such a stretch. Hell of a game.
• Malik Newman – After his impressive showing in Italy, I was surprised to see Newman look a little tentative early on during Sunday’s game. That changed in the second half, when the Mississippi State transfer became much more aggressive and started attacking the rim off the dribble, which opened up scoring and passing lanes. Self pointed out that Newman did not have his best night, but he did have good moments and you could visibly see when Newman felt good. He looked confident, cocky even, and carried an attacking personality with him no matter where he stood on the court, with or without the ball. Newman added six rebounds and five assists during what turned out to be a pretty productive night.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – Overall, a pretty disappointing night for the senior sharp-shooter who neither shot the ball that well from the outside (1-for-4 from the floor on the night) nor showed off much of his attack-the-rim game that pro scouts want to see more of. Outside of KU’s first bucket of the second half — a nifty and explosive drive to the rim and finish — Mykhailiuk was next to non-existent out there despite playing 27 minutes. Two points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists. KU didn’t need Svi to do much more than that to handle the Tigers. But that won’t be the case all that often this season.
• Lagerald Vick – I thought Vick settled for jumpers way too often in the early going. He made just 4-of-11 shots on the night — 1-of-5 from 3-point range — and didn’t factor into this one all that much in any other category but scoring. Two rebounds, one block, one steal, one turnover, all in a team-high 36 minutes. Playing less stiff competition during the coming weeks will help Vick better understand (and execute) his role and send his confidence sky high, which should position him to deliver exactly what KU needs by the time Big 12 play rolls around at the end of December. Not a bad night by any stretch of the imagination. But there is definitely much more in Vick’s tank than he showed on Sunday.
• Udoka Azubuike – If they gave an award for comeback player of the game, Azubuike would easily win it. The 7-footer delivered a strong second half after a forgettable first half in helping lead Kansas to victory. Playing against legit size and talent all night, Azubuike showed in the first half that he still struggles to score down low when he takes too long to make a move to the basket. And it’s not a pretty sight when that’s the case. But when the big man works fast and appears decisive, he’s a nightmare for just about anyone. Still so much room to improve and yet such an impressive line anyway. Azubuike’s development and week-by-week improvement should be one of the more enjoyable things for KU fans to track this season.
• Billy Preston – For my money, Preston was the biggest surprise in this one. He looked strong and confident, played hard and smart and did everything that was asked of him, some of it good, some of it bad. In short, he did more for KU inside in a single exhibition game than Carlton Bragg Jr., did all of last season. And that was big news because there’s no denying that the Jayhawks are going to need his size, athleticism and strength inside often. Played just 15 minutes, but hit 4-of-5 field goals, all four of his free throw attempts and gave consistently good effort during most of his minutes. If this is the starting point, and things only go up from here, Preston’s in for a very nice freshman season.
• Marcus Garrett – As advertised, Garrett did a little bit of everything in Sunday’s win, scoring on a sweet put-back, defending Michael Porter Jr., and even helping run the point a time or two during those rare moments when Graham was out. Four points, four rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes seems like a solid representation of what Garrett can and likely will do during his rookie season. There will be times he does more and times he does less, but as long as he’s hitting close to this baseline production, the minutes will be there. Shot just 1-of-3 from the floor and 2-of-4 from the free throw line, but we’ll chalk that up to the juice and possibly even a few nerves from playing in such an electric and enormous atmosphere during his first game as a Jayhawk on American soil.
• Mitch Lightfoot – I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Lightfoot’s night, as he did absolutely everything you could want him to do on a nightly basis this season and did not attempt to do more than he’s capable of. The result was pure gold as the scrappy sophomore forward finished with four points, a couple of boards and three blocks to help deliver the win. He can and should do better on the glass and keeping his turnovers down will be crucial, as well. But his energy was terrific, his effort was just as good and was rewarded for both with a nice line and a dozen minutes.
• BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
• KU-MIZZOU TRIVIA: How much do you know about the history of KU's biggest rivalry? Take this quiz to find out and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Missouri
- Border Winner: Azubuike sparks Jayhawks in exhibition win over Mizzou
- Tom Keegan: Devonte Graham shows smarts, aggressiveness against Missouri
- Bill Self on playing Mizzou: ‘I don’t think there’s been any change in our position’
- Self: Jayhawks did ‘decent’ job guarding ‘terrific, terrific’ Michael Porter Jr.
- Rivalry renewed: Jayhawks prevail vs. Mizzou in charity exhibition
There’s a very obvious pecking order that outlines exactly who Sunday’s Border War scrimmage for hurricane relief is actually for.
First in line are the victims of the tragic hurricanes, who, according to KU coach Bill Self, stand to receive “well north of a million (dollars)” from proceeds from the game. That number easily could go up, if not double, now that the schools have created a pay-per-view option for fans to watch the game from home.
Second is the fans, both at home and in attendance, who figure to show up hours early and scream until their voices give out, rooting against the players and fans from their most bitter rivals.
And third is the players and coaches in both programs.
In actuality, it’s that last group that stands to benefit the most in terms of immediate gains from the exhibition game that was thrown together in a little over a week and has the entire area buzzing.
But in terms of lasting memories and long-term impact, it’s those first two groups that will be talking about this contest long after the 2017-18 Jayhawks and Tigers have moved on to their respective seasons.
Self knows that better than anyone, and on Thursday he explained why.
“I’d be shocked if (the players) feel like fans do,” Self said. “There’s not one player on Missouri’s team that’s connected to Kansas and there’s not one player on our team connected to Missouri. Whenever we used to play, everybody in both programs was totally connected because we’d been playing each other. So the connection (today) is through the fans, it’s not through the individuals.”
With that said, even when the rivalry was at its hottest, it was still the fans who made the rivalry as intense as it was.
Yeah, there were some serious villains, epic games and intense memories — good and bad on both sides — but, for the players and coaches themselves, those games, though huge in the moment, merely represented one or two parts of a season-long quest to win a conference championship, reach the Final Four and challenge for a national title.
More often than not, and probably more often than fans would care to admit or even realize, the war waged between the players was about the basketball first and foremost, with the bitterness and nasty part of the rivalry being most prominent with fans, before, during and after the games were played.
“Even when we used to play,” Self began. “You can talk about the great games we’ve had at Missouri and the hatred and the rivalry. But, hey, go interview (former Mizzou guard) Kim English and ask him if he hated the Kansas players. His first response will be, ‘No, I loved competing against them.’ Go interview Thomas Robinson and see if he hated Missouri. He’d say, ‘No, I didn’t hate (them). Those guys were cool. I just loved playing against them.’ It didn’t have anything to do with the individuals and it didn’t have anything to do with the coaches either. It wasn’t a bigger game for me because we were going against Frank (Haith) or Mike (Anderson). Or for them because they were going against me. It was a bigger game because it meant so much to the fan base.”
See, guys like English and Robinson, and dozens of others before them, were a part of the rivalry only for a handful of years. They never heard the chants of "Sit Down Norm!" or saw the Antlers in action or knew what it felt like to watch Anthony Peeler or Doug Smith make life miserable for the Jayhawks. They had their time, it was spectacular, but it came and went just like the rest of their careers.
The fans, though, most of them lived every wild and crazy moment. Many can tell you where they were precisely when this shot or that game went down. Most of them can recall what they were wearing and why. So for them, the Border War was not a fun four years of ups and downs, high intensity and horrible heartbreak. It was a way of life. And, even with the rivalry dormant for the past five-plus years, all of those moments and memories have lived on with them and continued to be talked about year after year.
To say every player who ever participated in the rivalry felt the way Self suspects English and Robinson did would be flat-out wrong. There are former players on both sides of the state line who, to this day, still harbor a lot of disdain for the opposing side and can, in a second, get fired up when talking about the past and the Border War rivalry. But the two teams that take the floor on Sunday will not benefit from that added incentive.
Sure, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and the rest of this year’s Jayhawks, along with Michael Porter, Cuonzo Martin and the new-look Tigers will want to represent their schools and bring Border War bragging rights back home with them.
But it won’t be because they hate the other side. It will be because they know their fan bases do and giving the fans something to be proud of is a big part of why these guys compete the way they do.
In a world where hate fills the headlines day after day, sometimes hour after hour, it does not seem necessary for an exhibition game for a good cause to include hatred as part of the hook.
“You can try to sell it that way,” Self said. “But why waste energy trying to sell it that way for an exhibition game? The whole deal is to try to get better. I’ve said this before and I’ll reiterate it; this thing was done to raise money. So everybody in attendance can be proud that they’re doing something for others as opposed to just coming and watching their school play what was once considered, without question, their biggest rival.”
As with most games and nearly every special event, all sides and viewpoints will be represented in this one. Some fans will go just to enjoy the experience and add it to a long list of enjoyable KU basketball outings. Others will go with their intention being to get nasty and stir up trouble. As long as the two can peacefully coexist, to each his own.
But for the players themselves, Sunday’s game will not be about hating Mizzou or wanting to send a message. Instead, it will be about taking advantage of a golden opportunity to test themselves against another talented team before the season even begins and getting better in the process.
That is the main reason they plan to show up and play hard. And honoring the stakes their fans have in the bragging rights game, though important, is secondary motivation.
“It’s big,” sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “It’s another opportunity to play against a team that has legitimate talent and it’s an opportunity for us to see how we stack up and what we need to address heading into the season.”
As for the role the fans will play, Lightfoot said he and his teammates heard from a few hundred women during the program’s recent Ladies Night Out fund-raiser about how important this game was, and, while creating equal parts excitement and laughter, Lightfoot said he understood their message.
“They were just expressing how much they wanted us to win and stuff like that and telling us their memories from the Border War,” he said. “It’s really cool to see their passion about it.”
Added Newman, when asked whether he thought his team would get after it on Sunday: “Of course,” he said. “Why are you gonna go out there in front of all the fans and not play hard like it’s a real game?”
• BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of KU-MU Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
Without so much as scoring an actual basket or helping the Jayhawks snag a victory that counts, freshman guard Marcus Garrett already has made quite an impression on Kansas coach Bill Self.
That’s because Garrett, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Dallas native who has grown bigger, stronger and tougher every day since arriving in Lawrence last summer has carried himself like a veteran from the minute he arrived.
There is no immaturity in Garrett’s game. There’s even less in his demeanor. But he’s also not one of those overly intense athletes about whom the words, “Chill, man” come to mind when watching him operate.
Instead, Garrett is just sort of there, ready, willing and able to fill whatever role the Kansas coaches ask him to fill and having a blast while doing it.
The versatile guard so perfectly has fit into the Kansas basketball culture that Self constantly goes out of his way to mention Garrett when talking with reporters. Sometimes it’s his defense. Other times it’s his versatility. And still other times it’s the potential for him to be the one player best suited to fill the Josh Jackson role from a season ago, albeit not at the level that the future-No. 4 overall pick did.
His teammates like him. He already looks like the kind of player who has been around KU for years. And, the best part about all of it is that it seems incredibly likely that he will be around for at least the next three. That sets him up to have a pretty nice career and the early stages of it will be seen plenty this season.
Asked for his thoughts about Garrett during KU’s recent media day, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham’s face lit up when he started talking about him.
“He’s gonna be good a player here,” Graham said simply. “He’s gonna be really, really, really good.”
While that might be forecasting ahead a bit, let’s take a look at what to expect from Garrett during the 2017-18 season.
He Will: Become a KU fan favorite almost immediately
There’s a chance that this will happen without a lot of people even noticing. After all, this is still a team with Graham and Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick and Billy Preston on it. And those guys, as well as others, figure to catch the attention of Kansas fans much more often than Garrett.
Still, there will be those moments, perhaps even once per game, when just about every KU fan out there finds themselves saying, “Man, I really like this kid,” when Garrett checks out of the game after a productive and no-frills four or five minutes on the floor.
The reason? He’s a hustler. Garrett knows how to play, he knows how to do what the coaches ask and, perhaps most importantly, he’s willing to take on whatever role is necessary to both get him minutes and help the team.
Sometimes that will be locking down an opposing scorer. Other times that will be hitting the glass when KU’s bigs are in foul trouble. And other times it will be for hustling to get back just in the nick of time to save a bucket or diving out of bounds after a loose ball to save a possession.
He Won’t: Play enough minutes to put up big numbers in any category
It’s obvious that Self likes Garrett and plans to use him. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Remember, the four guards in the rotation ahead of Garrett are proven players with a ton of talent and even more experience.
So, whether Self loves him or not, it’s not as if the Kansas coach is going to play Garrett 30 minutes a game by limiting Graham, Malik Newman, Vick or Svi Mykhailiuk in the process. Those guards area all going to play well above 30 minutes a game so the minutes available for Garrett in the backcourt should be limited.
The good thing about it, though, is the Dallas freshman who was a triple-double machine at Skyline High during his senior season, is capable of learning all four positions and therefore can spell any of the four whenever they need a break, be it for a breather or because of foul trouble.
That alone should allow Garrett to play in the 10-12 minute range on most nights. And, if the bigs get into foul trouble and he is asked to emulate Jackson by using his strength, length and size to hold it down at the 4 for a few minutes one night, his minutes will go up from there.
But even if he is on the floor for as many as 20 minutes a game, it’s not as if he’s suddenly going to be a No. 1 option in any area. As is the case with most freshman, Garrett’s numbers will come from him being ready to contribute whenever and wherever his number is called. But that role is not one that often fills up a stat sheet.
He Might: Be this team’s best defender
Quick hands, a good head, long legs and physical strength, Garrett is so gifted athletically that he can match up with just about anybody, 1 through 4, when he’s on the defensive end of the floor.
More than his ability to do it is his willingness, as Garrett has never seen a challenge he didn’t like.
It’s going to take a lot more than the solid defense he showed during the team’s exhibition trip to Italy to prove that Garrett can be a big time defender in the Big 12. But, again, the freshman is up for whatever role he can find that helps the team. And he’s smart enough to know that the fastest way to playing time with Bill Self is to become a tough and trustworthy defender.
Garrett will never have the too-cool-for-school vibe that some players exhibit which prevents them from giving all they have on the defensive end.
And being willing is half of the battle to becoming a good defender. The other half is listening to Self and his assistants, emphasizing team defense as much as individual defense and competing tooth and nail on every possession no matter who the opponent is or what the situation.
Garrett will do those things, he’ll like doing them and it will be easy to see when, night after night, he frustrates older, more experienced players, even if for just a few minutes.
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
Part VI: • Billy Preston
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
The day hundreds of KU fans and nearly every Missouri fan has been waiting years for is now just a few days out, when the Border War returns, for one day only, in the form of a basketball scrimmage Sunday at Sprint Center.
While the reasons for the game have been well documented and are almost entirely focused on raising money for hurricane victims and little else, there’s still plenty to like about the idea of these two bitter, old rivals getting back together for what promises to be an intriguing match-up at the very least.
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing clear up front: Kansas is and should be a heavy favorite in this game, with the fictional point spread hitting somewhere around 10-12 points in KU’s favor.
The experience, the talent, the familiarity within the system and the coaching advantage all favor Kansas. And if both teams were to line up and play a winner-take-all type of game, the Jayhawks would probably win by double digits.
The fact that it’s an exhibition game that means nothing and figures to feature every player on both rosters getting at least a few minutes of court time changes things a little because we just don’t know how hard either side will compete — or coach — to win this game.
Sure, it’s important. Neither side wants to lose it. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth wearing down your guys or risking injuries just to win a game that does not count. So you have to factor that into the equation when thinking about just how competitive this one will be.
The guess here is that it will be more fun than ferocious. Remember, none of the players on either side have ever experienced a true Border War game. They might know the history and even know a couple of players who competed in the good old days, but that still keeps them at a bit of a distance from the teeth of the rivalry and one random Sunday exhibition won’t change that.
With that said, here’s a quick look at five things I’m most looking forward to about Sunday’s Border War Showdown for Relief:
1 – The crowd split
This one feels a little like an NCAA Tournament game or neutral site clash in that one of the big questions surrounding it will be which team’s fans show up in greater numbers.
Remember wondering that during the Big 12 tournament for a couple of those KU-Iowa State clashes? Or how about up in Omaha, during the NCAA Tournament, when KU and Wichita State finally faced off? Each university in this scenario was given exactly half of the tickets available for the Border War revival. But does that mean Sprint Center will be 50 percent crimson and blue and 50 percent black and gold? I doubt it.
One side will have more fans there and one side will be louder. Will those two be the same?
2 – Michael Porter Jr.
I won’t lie. I want to see how good this kid is. Every recruiting guru out there has raved about him for the past couple of years and the most recent ESPN.com 2018 NBA mock draft by Jonathan Givony (formerly of draftexpress.com) has him listed as the No. 2 overall pick.
That’s serious praise for some serious talent, something KU fans know a thing or two about. It’ll be interesting to see if it jumps off the court in this one or if Porter, at this stage in the season, looks like just another guy.
3 – Udoka Azubuike vs. real talent
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the KU big man play against real talent. And, no, those camp scrimmages in the summer do not count because nobody is actually trying to stop him because nobody wants to (a) get hurt or (b) hurt him. And this summer, in Italy, where Azubuike played just two games, the Italian teams he faced offered little resistance in the way of size or skill, which led to a dunk fest for two games for the KU big man.
The Tigers’ roster features three players who have the kind of measurements that might allow them to match up with KU’s 7-foot, 280-pound monster. One is Porter’s brother Jontay, a 6-11, 240-pound forward who reclassified to join the team. Another is prized freshman Jeremiah Tilmon, who stands 6-10, 252, and was actually recruited by KU for a little bit. And the other is 6-10, 252-pound sophomore Reed Nikko, who played in 28 games a year ago. None of these three are as big and imposing as Azubuike, but, as a trio, they should be able to challenge him a little.
4 – What lineup will Kansas go with?
I’m not talking about just a starting lineup here — although that will be interesting — I’m talking about the way the Jayhawks play throughout the course of the scrimmage.
Last week, a media day, KU coach Bill Self said he wanted to play with two big men at least 50 percent of the time, down a little from the 70 percent goal he had stated after Late Night. While drawing too many conclusions from what happens in a meaningless exhibition game would be foolish, it would also be foolish to not at least take note of how Self works his rotation and what kinds of lineups he puts on the floor against a real, live, breathing, potentially Top 25 Division I team.
5 – How much money can they raise?
Let’s not forget the whole point of this deal, and, with ticket prices expected to bring it at least a quarter of a million dollars on their own, it will be interesting to see just how much money they can get for this high-profile fundraiser.
Self said last week that the hope was to exceed $1 million and, with concessions and other opportunities to donate all over the arena being prevalent, it certainly seems possible.
KU officials said on Tuesday that they had sold out of their allotment of tickets and Missouri announced the same thing earlier in the week, meaning the secondary ticket market is the only remaining place to purchase tickets for Sunday's 3 p.m. game.
One thing I’ve seen a ton of people complain about is how the game won’t be televised and how they’re missing out on a great opportunity to get even more money from television viewers. But that’s a bad excuse for not donating. If you’re complaining about it because you would’ve donated had the game been on television, bust out your credit card and donate to the American Red Cross now and follow along with our coverage and/or on the radio broadcast on game day.
One KU official told me that KU and MU could have televised the game but elected not to because their priority was to fill the building.