On pages 42 and 43 of the 2009-10 Kansas basketball media guide sit a couple of small glimpses into the academic career of former KU point guard Sherron Collins.
On page 42, under the section called “The Collins File,” it lists Collins’ favorite subject as English.
On page 43, under the section titled “Off the Court,” it lists the major of Sherron Marlon Collins as African and African American Studies.
Collins’ previous work in both academic disciplines led to one of the biggest days in Collins’ life on Wednesday, when the former KU All-American officially became a college graduate.
Collecting a degree in liberal arts and sciences, Collins finally completed what he began more than 12 years after he first stepped foot on the KU campus as an official student.
“One of KU’s all-time greats and one of my players I’m most proud of just graduated,” KU coach Bill Self tweeted around 1 p.m. on Wednesday. “Congrats Sherron Collins, you’ve made many happy and proud. Rock Chalk.”
To commemorate the big day, Collins posed for a photo with Self, KU assistant Kurtis Townsend and KU staff members and former Collins teammates Jeremy Case and Brennan Bechard in front of the newly remodeled entrance to the men’s basketball offices.
After leaving KU following the 2009-10 season, Collins received limited interest from a couple of NBA teams and bounced around the international basketball scene before returning to the United States and settling back home in his native Chicago.
Last year, Collins, who has not retired his high-tops for good just yet, relocated to Lawrence, where he has remained close with the program, easily visible at home games and regularly talking with KU’s guards to help them understand how to play for Self and what it takes to play at Kansas.
Recent KU grad Devonte’ Graham often praised his time with Collins — they both wore No. 4 at Kansas — for helping him develop into the kind of A-plus leader and first-team All-American player that he became. And current KU point guard Charlie Moore, who, like Collins, also hails from Chicago, said Collins had already made it a point to coach Moore up, as well.
“I was with Sherron for a weekend earlier this summer and we just bonded and talked a lot about the season,” Moore said before his summer trip to Italy. “He (told) me about his stories and stuff like that. That’s my guy. Sherron’s great. And what he did for this program is nothing short of fantastic.”
Collins, who finished his four-year career with 1,888 points, is the fifth-ranked scorer in the history of the KU men’s basketball program and also ranks 10th on KU’s all-time assists list with 552 assists from 2007-10.
It’s Border War time in Kansas City again and Jayhawks and Tigers everywhere have people on both sides of the storied rivalry to thank.
At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Mo., nearly 20 former KU and MU players will get together for what’s being dubbed “Rivalry Renewed,” a game between alums that will be for both bragging rights and charity.
The game came about when Steve Gardner, a 1991 KU graduate and die-hard Kansas fan, was contacted by former Missouri standout Kareem Rush about putting the game together.
The two have a mutual friend who lives in Los Angeles and after Rush mentioned the idea to him a couple of years ago, the friend told Rush he should get in touch with Gardner. Rush did and, a year and a half later, the two are on the brink of the first of what Gardner hopes will be many summers of Rivalry Renewed type games.
“This is something that has been on the radar and talked about and we’ve gone back and forth on for a while,” Gardner said in a Friday interview with the Journal-World. “And now it’s here. We’re thrilled and we’re ready to go.”
KU and MU, of course, have not met in an official college basketball game since KU's epic comeback victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 25, 2012, when the Jayhawks stormed back from 19 down in the second half to win in overtime.
Last September, the two teams got together for an exhibition game at Sprint Center — also won by KU — to raise money for hurricane relief. At least for now, after Missouri's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, it's exhibitions and games like Saturday's that will have to satisfy the Border War cravings of KU and MU fans.
Gardner, who has more than 20 years of experience in the sports agency world, putting on events that feature pro athlete speakers, said there was some uncertainty early on about whether the game would actually happen this summer or if they would have to put it off until a year from now. But once Intercom came on board and helped promote and market the game, a couple of sponsors followed and things went fast and furious from there.
Gardner said they already have sold more than 2,500 tickets for the event and the majority of the money raised — after expenses — will go to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City, the This Too Shall Pass charity and Rush’s Rush Forward Foundation.
General Admission tickets are $38 apiece and VIP tickets, which include admission to the game and a VIP event at Harrah’s Casino from 7-10 p.m. on Friday night are $129 apiece.
The goal, Gardner said, was to raise $20,000 for the charities and between the game and the VIP event, which also will feature a silent auction hosted by former KU great Calvin Thompson. Gardner said he believes they are well on their way to reaching that goal.
The game, which will be broadcast live on 610 Sports Radio, will feature regular college rules, 20-minute halves, referees, ball boys and “even people to wipe up the sweat on the floor.”
“They’re going to get after it,” Gardner said. “But we may give the guys just a touch longer during timeouts to catch their breath.”
Former KU guard Sherron Collins, who recently was a special guest at Frank Mason's camp in Lawrence, was hoping to play, but, as of Friday, Gardner was not sure whether Collins would suit up.
“I’ll probably play," Collins told reporters at the Mason camp. "Too much of a competitor to sit out, especially a Mizzou game.”
If the game were featuring anyone other than Missouri as the opponent, Collins probably would pass.
"There isn’t another way to put it, I just hate those guys," he said. "I hate everything about Mizzou. There is a kid from Chicago that is going to Mizzou, I know him real well. I just told him I can’t support him. I just hate them, I hate everything about them. I hate going there, I hate them coming here. I feel like K-State was a rivalry, but it was more of a respected rivalry. I just don’t like (Mizzou).”
Regardless of what Collins elects to do, the rest of the KU squad will feature Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson, Travis Releford, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Jeff Hawkins, Jeff Graves, Nick Bradford as a player/coach and maybe one or two more.
The MU group will include: Kareem Rush, Keyon Dooling, Rickey Paulding, Leo Lyons, Johnnie Parker, Jevon Crudup, Stefhon Hannah and more.
“When we first started planning this, we were thinking if we could sell 1,500 tickets, that would be great,” Gardner said. “So we’re well past that goal and really looking forward to having some fun. Being a KU guy, and even with Kareem being my business partner, I certainly think we’re going to beat them pretty good.”
Out in Southern California last weekend for yet another AAU event, Class of 2019 power forward Chandler Lawson, the younger brother of current Kansas players Dedric and K.J. Lawson, took a break from the action to discuss his game and his recruitment with a handful of reporters.
KUsports.com recruiting insider Matt Scott got ahold of that interview and received a little more insight into where the 6-foot-8, 200-pound prospect’s mind is heading into the final week of July.
“My recruiting’s going very well,” Lawson told a group of reporters, noting that Kansas, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Florida, Illinois and “a lot of SEC schools” had made the most contact with him thus far.
Lawson said his interactions with the KU coaching staff thus far had been as much about his siblings as his own status.
“They’re just telling me a lot about my brothers and to just keep on playing hard and keep on working hard,” said Lawson, who not only looks a lot like the two Jayhawks, but also sounds nearly identical to Dedric Lawson during interviews.
The younger Lawson, who labeled his versatility as his biggest strength, said he had been working on his guard skills and his back-to-the-basket game a lot this summer.
As for his plans for how the rest of his recruitment would play out, the four-star prospect, ranked No. 86 in the Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, admitted to being pretty go with the flow about the whole thing.
“I don’t really know,” he said when asked if he had a time frame or process in mind. “I’m just going to pick.”
Regardless of when or how that happens, it’s clear that Kansas will have a shot to be in the mix.
“Coach (Bill) Self, he’s a Hall of Famer. I like him. He’s hard-nosed,” Lawson said. “It’s a big thing having my (brothers) there, because they can teach me a lot about the game and tell me how college is going to be when I get there."
Chandler Lawson, recently announced on Twitter that he will play his senior season at famed Oak Hill Academy, the same school that produced recent KU big men Billy Preston and David McCormack.
The most noteworthy aspect of the move to Oak Hill, however, is why it happened in the first place.
After playing for former NBA and Memphis State star Penny Hardaway for three seasons at Memphis’ East High — yes, Memphis was actually known as Memphis State when Penny played there — Hardaway left the school to become the new head coach at Memphis.
While that move clearly figures to make Memphis an attractive option for Chandler when it comes time to pick a college, the move out of Memphis will give him a year to experience life out of his hometown.
If he likes it and wants to join a blue blood program where he could possibly play with one or both of his older brothers, KU would certainly seem like the perfect option.
If he misses it and realizes that home is where the heart is, Hardaway could be in position to land Chandler as his big splash recruit — Chandler is in the Top 100 right now and could easily continue to rise — and begin to repair some of the wounds that inspired talented players like Dedric and K.J. to leave Memphis to begin with.
The belief around the city of Memphis is that Hardaway is exactly what the program needs to get back on track. Adding a player like Chandler — which could only help in Memphis’ pursuit of the youngest Lawson brother, Jonathan, a Class of 2021 forward — no doubt would generate some serious buzz within the Memphis basketball scene.
It’s far too early to tell if this is a Memphis vs. Kansas, Hardaway vs. Self type of recruiting battle. But if it is, each coach and program has its own built-in advantages.
It’s more of the same in college basketball when it comes to awarding the sport’s signature event to a host city.
Long gone are the days when a venue like Kansas City’s Kemper Arena — I still marvel at this every time I drive by it — and in to stay are massive buildings, many of them football stadiums, that, for one weekend in early April love to slap a college basketball court in the middle of the madness to crown a national champion.
Fresh off of a return to San Antonio, where the Kansas men’s basketball team joined Villanova, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago at this year’s Final Four, the city best known for the Alamo and Gregg Popovich can start making plans to host the event again in eight years.
The NCAA on Monday afternoon released the Final Four sites for the next set of four years, with San Antonio, which by nearly all accounts has been universally praised as a wonderful host city for the Final Four, earning its way back into the coveted rotation for the fifth time since 1998.
Those cities who got good news on Monday — at least in terms of revenue, tax dollars and visitors galore — were:
2023 – Houston (site of the 2016 Final Four)
2024 – Phoenix (site of the 2017 Final Four)
2025 – San Antonio (site of the 2018 Final Four)
Are you sensing a pattern here?
2026 – Indianapolis (site of the 2015 and 2021 Final Four and the 2018-19 season’s Champions Classic clash)
Add those sites to the following host cities, which were already in place and you’re looking at at least another eight years — and probably much longer — of Final Fours in enormous venues.
2019 – Minneapolis (last Final Four here was in 2001)
2020 – Atlanta (site of 2013 Final Four)
2021 – Indianapolis (see above)
2022 – New Orleans (site of the 2012 Final Four and one of three cities, in my opinion, that should be involved in a fixed, three-year revolving door system to host the event. (Indianapolis and San Antonio are the other two I like)
While the move to massive domes had been met with some negativity, the NCAA has done well during the past couple of years to make the make the venues as fan-friendly as possible while still maintaining their financial edge.
And while there were preliminary discussions as recently as 2012 about returning the Final Four to true basketball arenas, those talks appear to have been squashed altogether for the next decade or so, with the strength of the dollar winning out over the intimate feel of playing the game in a venue built for it.
The last time a true basketball arena hosted the Final Four came in 1996, when previously named Meadowlands Arena became Continental Airlines Arena and used its 20,000-seat capacity to host a Final Four that included Kentucky beating Syracuse in the 1996 national title game.
From 1997 to 2013, the NCAA required that all Final Fours take place in venues with a minimum seating capacity of 40,000 people. In 2009, the minimum capacity was bumped up to 70,000, which severely limits where the Final Four can be held, which is why you see the same cities over and over, and maximizes the NCAA’s earning potential off of the world class event.
OK, now that some of the players expected to play in the game are starting to promote it, the showdown between Kansas and Missouri looks like it’s actually going to take place.
Former KU shooting guard Tyrel Reed last weekend promoted the game on his Facebook page, saying, “Make sure to come check out the best rivalry in CBB being played this summer in KC,” and he even included a fancy graphic, which may or may not feature some of the players playing in the game along with him.
So that means it’s time for Kansas fans to dust off that old anti-Mizzou poster and get ready to watch a handful of former KU greats go toe-to-toe with their Missouri counterparts in a scrimmage for charity later this month.
Thanks to the wild popularity and success of last year’s Border War revival that helped provide financial relief for hurricane victims, another KU-MU reunion is in the works for 2018.
This one, dubbed “Rivalry Renewed,” is slated for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff on July 28 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Mo., a 5,800-seat multi-purpose venue that is also home to the Kansas City Mavericks hockey team.
“Rivalry Renewed is keeping the rivalry alive after the players have moved on from college,” the website boasts.
Event organizer Steve Gardner offered a little more insight into the reason for the game, via email Monday night. And it's clear that the whole idea is as much about helping young people as it is about renewing the rivalry.
"We are donating 10 percent of the GA ticket sales to charity, 20 percent of the VIP tickets to charity and also doing a 50/50 raffle to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of KC during the game," Gardner explained. "Additionally, we have a silent auction going at the VIP event. We are hoping to raise an additional chunk for the charities (The Rush Forward Foundation, KC Boys & Girls Clubs, This Too Shall Pass)."
The whole goal, other than to rekindle the now-defunct rivalry, is to raise $20,000-$25,000 for those three charities and more.
Instead of featuring the current KU and MU rosters like last year’s game at Sprint Center, which raised more than $2 million, the plan is to bring some big-time alums back for a Border War alumni game that will benefit young people across Kansas City through the Rush Forward Foundation (former Missouri great Kareem Rush is president) and the Boys & Girls Club.
The names on the list, for both sides, should help draw a crowd. The following players are the names Gardner has confirmed for the game.
For Kansas: Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Nick Bradford, Jeff Hawkins, Drew Gooden, Travis Releford, Brady Morningstar, Cole Aldrich, Tyrel Reed, Darrell Arthur. Gardner said he was still waiting on a decision from Sherron Collins, as well.
For Mizzou: Keyon Dooling, Johnnie Parker, Thomas Gardner, Ricky Paulding, Clarence Gilbert, Jarrett Sutton, Micheal Dixon Jr., Leo Lyons. Gardner is also awaiting word from Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Arthur Johnson and Josh Kroenke.
The exact details of the game are a little light as of now. Various media reports indicate that brothers Kareem and former Jayhawk legend Brandon Rush, were helping put the event together by both organizing the action and getting former KU and MU players to participate.
Tickets are on sale now at RivalryRenewed.com for $38 per ticket. Doors open at 6 p.m.
There also is a VIP ticket option available on the site for $129, which includes 1 premium seat to watch the game, 1 invitation to the VIP player party at Harrah’s North Kansas City on July 27 and 1 Rivalry Renewed T-shirt.
With the start of summer school and team workouts and NBA Draft talk dominating the month, June tends to fly by in the world of Kansas basketball.
But each year and pretty much for each player on the team, June also is about working camps and interacting with young fans.
From back-to-back weeks of Bill Self camp early in the month to camps held by some of the smaller colleges in the area, the Jayhawks use part of the busy summer month to get out and promote the program by hanging out and having fun with some of their smallest and youngest fans.
Last week marked the end of Washburn basketball camp in Topeka, and, with Ichabods head coach Brett Ballard being a former KU player himself, it’s even easier for current Jayhawks to make the trek down I-70 to spend some time at camp. Getting those players around young athletes who might not otherwise be able to see them is one of Ballard’s favorite parts of the summer.
“A lot of these kids just don’t get to see these guys in person so just to interact with these guys, face to face, is really cool for them,” said Ballard, who last weekend, after his first season with the school, was named the KBCA Men's 4-year college coach of the year after leading Washburn to a 22-10 record and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. “I appreciate those guys taking their time out of their busy schedules to come over and hang out with the campers. I think that part of it’s cool.”
Nearly every current Kansas player made his way over to the Washburn camp at some point during the past few weeks, often making the trip in pairs or small groups, which merely increased the amount of joy they brought to the gym.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ballard said the biggest draw for his hundreds of campers without question was KU big man Udoka Azubuike, who announced late last month that he would return to Kansas for his junior season.
Azubuike had a monster season as a sophomore, earning and all-Big 12 nod and leading the country in field goal percentage while dunking anything and everything he possibly could.
“The kids like Dok because they have seen him probably more than most of the other guys,” Ballard said. “And also because he’s a giant. They love being around Dok and seeing him. Some of these kids are huge KU fans and these guys are like their heroes. They absolutely adore these players.”
Having Azubuike in the gym was not just big for the young people, it also served as a bit of a reunion for Ballard, who spent a couple of years recruiting Azubuike out of high school when Ballard worked on Danny Manning’s staff at Wake Forest.
Ballard also recruited current KU freshman Devon Dotson, “pretty hard,” and enjoyed the chance to catch up with him, as well.
“That was pretty cool to get to be around those guys again,” said Ballard, who was a KU walk-on for two seasons from 2000-02 and also spent time on Bill Self’s coaching staff after graduation. “But just in general, I’ll always be a KU guy, I love getting to spend time around these guys and I appreciate them coming over to do it.”
There is, of course, incentive for the KU players to make the trip to any camp they work and Ballard said the ability to compensate them for their time, efforts and the smiles and memories they help create was another aspect of the camps that he enjoyed immensely.
“It’s a great way for me to give back to the program a little bit, too, because we can legally pay these guys to work camp,” Ballard said. “I like that part of it. It’s a legal summer job they can have and they deserve to have and it works out great from that standpoint.”
Thursday is obviously one of the biggest days in the lives of the four former KU basketball players hoping to hear their names called in the NBA Draft and finally find out in what city their professional careers will begin.
But it’s not just Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhahiliuk, Malik Newman and Billy Preston who will be locked in during Thursday’s draft, hanging on every word from the NBA commissioner and sweating out every pick that’s read at the podium.
“We’ll definitely be watching on Thursday,” KU sophomore K.J. Lawson said during a break at Brett Ballard’s Washburn Basketball camp in Topeka on Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Those guys worked very hard to be in the opportunity they’re in and one day you’ll want guys to cheer you on who were on the team with you. And I hope all of those guys’ dreams come true and I know it will happen.”
Sam Cunliffe, who also spent some time at Washburn on Tuesday, said watching guys he became close with go through the process of preparing for the NBA Draft has been a wild reminder of why he came to Kansas and continues to put in all of the hours and work to become the best player he can be.
“It’s just so humbling because, you know, I was just practicing with Devonte’ and Svi and all those guys and they’re there now,” Cunliffe said. “And it really makes you realize you want to get there, too.
“The thing about it is those are your friends. You were with them every day and you just know them for who they are. But it’s like, ‘These guys are getting ready to go change their life.’ And then you look at it selfishly and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m that close. All I have to do is play well, play the right way, have a good season and this could be a reality for me.”
There’s still a long way to go and a lot of games and days ahead before Cunliffe or anyone else on the 2018-19 Kansas roster can step into the shoes those four former Jayhawks have walked in during the past couple of months. And it’s anybody’s guess at this point how this year’s draft will play out and who from the 2018-19 roster will wind up drafted and in the NBA when their time comes, as well.
But, for now, given their first-hand knowledge of these four players and their strengths and weaknesses, it only seemed right to ask Lawson and Cunliffe what order they would select the four Jayhawks in if they were wearing an NBA GM hat this week and making the picks in New York.
“It’s hard to pick, man,” Lawson said with a sideways smile. “It just depends on what I’m looking for. If I’m looking for the all-around leader that’s going to speak up, I’m going with Devonte’. If you’re looking for an assassin, knock-down shooter, I’m going to go with Svi and if you’re looking for a guy that’s going to score the ball from all three levels, I’m going to go get Malik Newman.”
Cunliffe was willing to step a little farther out on the limb and actually provided an order.
“The thing about Svi is he can shoot,” Cunliffe said. “And I think when you can shoot you can play anywhere. And he’s tall and he’s a good athlete. People kind of sleep on that because he is such a great shooter. So I think I’d go Svi first and then Devonte’s just a great leader and he can fit in anywhere, and then Malik obviously can knock down shots and score. And I haven’t seen Billy. I obviously know he can play and is talented, but we’re waiting to see Billy play a lot of minutes and a whole season.”
— For what it’s worth, Svi is also at the top of my list. I just think his combination of size, elite skill in his shooting ability and his versatility and age make him a candidate to become the perfect role player on a good team — maybe a 7th or 8th man someday — and he clearly has the time and focus to develop into that and not be a boom-or-bust guy right away. —
Regardless of what order these current Jayhawks would select the foursome or what order they really wind up going in tomorrow night’s draft, Lawson said one thing was certain.
“We know they’re all going to play hard because they come from Kansas so it’s just instilled in them,” he said.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media on Tuesday afternoon and touched on a number of different topics of interest surrounding the 2018-19 Kansas basketball program.
During Tuesday's regular appearance on Rock Chalk Sports Talk on KLWN, we got into the Lagerald Vick situation and what might happen with that in the coming weeks.
We also discussed Self's serious praise for freshman guard Quentin Grimes and how Grimes will fit into the 2018-19 roster.
Check out the latest segment below to hear my thoughts those topics and plenty more surrounding KU basketball.
Whether it was during the Western Conference Finals, earlier in the playoffs or at some point during Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, you might have caught a glimpse of a familiar face near the Golden State Warriors bench that you just couldn’t place.
Try this and see if it helps — add a headband, a splash of crimson and blue and a No. 11 jersey.
Yep. It’s Aaron Miles, the Big 12 Conference’s assist king and one of the best pure point guards to come through the Kansas basketball program.
So what’s he doing so close to the action for Golden State?
Miles, you might remember, is the head coach of the Warriors’ G League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors and, as a part of his new job, which wrapped up in March after a 23-27 season, Miles has been able to spend the past couple of months with the big league franchise working as an official member of Steve Kerr’s Golden State staff.
“Nothing set in stone right now in terms of anything particular,” Miles told the Journal-World during a recent interivew. “I just kind of float around and help where needed and assist where I can.”
Assist. Appropriate choice of words for a guy who dished 954 of them during his four-year KU career and still sits as the all-time leader in Big 12 Conference history, 161 assists ahead of Doug Gottlieb who ranks second on the list.
While Miles might not be game-planning ways to stop LeBron James and certainly is not making the decisions about who checks in when, he is around to both offer input and soak up as much of the experience as he can, which, he believes, will only help him as his coaching career moves forward.
One of the biggest roles Miles has played has been to work with the Warriors’ G League alums to help make sure those young guys are as locked in as possible and prepared to execute whatever it is that Kerr and company ask of them.
Four players who spent time in Santa Cruz are on the Warriors’ Finals roster, with all but one of them having played significant minutes.
Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney have both played key roles in each playoff series this season and guard Quinn Cook also has played spot minutes in the playoffs after starting 18 games for Golden State during the regular season while earning all-G League first team honors as well. Only Damian Jones has yet to see time since May 6.
“I knew I was going to be a part of the organization,” Miles said of his expanded role. “But I didn’t know exactly how much I’d be involved, and this has been more than I even thought so it’s been great. It’s been a great opportunity, I’m learning a ton and I can’t wait to bring it back to Santa Cruz.”
Early last month, Miles, who spent a year on Bill Self's staff at Kansas in 2015-16 and followed that up by working as an assistant coach to Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast for the 2016-17 season, received a bit of a feather in his cap when he learned that Santa Cruz had been named the NBA G League Franchise of the Year.
Before we put the whole Udoka Azubuike testing the NBA waters issue to bed, let’s be clear on one thing: Azubuike did not miss out on a chance to leave school early because of his lack of a jump shot.
The sooner people understand that popular take on why the NBA was not ready to draft him, the sooner people will be able to put out of their minds the visions — some might call them fears — of Azubuike pulling mid-range jumpers throughout the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
That’s not going to happen. No one wants it to and no one needs it to.
Despite the recent changes in the NBA — from a game dominated by the biggest of men to one that favors smaller, quicker, more skilled scorers — a path still exists that takes Azubuike to the NBA after his time at Kansas is finished.
And all he has to do to get on it is become more dominant at the things which his massive size puts him in a terrific position to do. Believe it or not, that has a lot more to do with his defense than any improvements Azubuike needs to make on the offensive end.
Wednesday night, not long after Azubuike decided to return to Kansas for his junior season, I caught up with an assistant coach from an NBA team in the Eastern Conference and he had some interesting thoughts on where Azubuike stands heading into his junior season at Kansas.
In addition to stating some of the more obvious areas of Azubuike’s game that need work — i.e. improved free throw shooting — the assistant focused almost exclusively on Azubuike’s defensive potential.
“As you watch the playoffs, and the upcoming Finals, you don’t see a lot of guys with his body type playing,” the coach said. “The league has gone to so much switching defensively that there could be concerns as to whether he can defend smaller, quicker players at all. I do like him and I think he definitely has a spot at this level. But how big of a role he’ll have I think will hinge on his ability to become more versatile defensively.”
For comparison’s sake, and to illustrate his point, the coach brought up Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, a 6-10, 240-pound athlete who, during the Rockets’ series with Golden State routinely found himself switching onto Steph Curry and Kevin Durant as much as he guarded big men Draymond Green and Jordan Bell.
“The league is trending toward more versatile bigs that can pass, dribble and shoot,” the coach said, noting that none of those three are particular strengths of Azubuike’s. “But there is still a place for a guy that can set screens, roll hard to the rim and finish above the rim or in traffic. Capela is an example, but he has the ability to switch onto guards defensively and can make them miss. Can Udoka do that? Or can he be a rim protector like DeAndre Jordan? Those are things people are going to want to see.”
And those are the things Azubuike should focus on during the 2018-19 season at Kansas.
Forget developing a jump shot. I’m not sure a scenario exists, in college or the NBA, where a coach ever would want Azubuike taking jumpers. And forget trying to become something that better fits into the small-ball world the NBA is quickly becoming.
Instead, Azubuike should continue to focus on improving what he does best, dominating whenever and wherever possible — we’re talking a goal of a 10 rebounds per game and pushing his blocked shots total from 60 to 100 — and punishing the rim and whoever tries to get in his way every time he gets the ball down low.
“His ability to catch lobs and finish above the rim are definite positives,” the coach said.
Doing both of those, while focusing his improvement efforts on defense and the glass, will help both Azubuike and the 2018-19 Kansas Jayhawks.