Confident, comfortable David McCormack makes strong season debut at Late Night

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) and Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) battle for a ball during Late Night in the Phog on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) and Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) battle for a ball during Late Night in the Phog on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Fans who have heard all offseason about Kansas sophomore David McCormack’s expanded range got to see it firsthand during the Jayhawks’ 12-minute scrimmage at Late Night in the Phog on Friday night.

After his first outside jumper, a 3-pointer midway through, McCormack raced back down the floor with three fingers in the air and a little extra pep in his step.

After his second, an 18-footer late in the Crimson team’s 2-point victory, McCormack repeatedly shouted, “Come on, come on, come on,” as he ran back on defense.

“You know, that’s the worst thing that could happen, is a 6-10 guy make a 3 in front of people so now that’s all he’s going to want to do,” KU coach Bill Self said after the scrimmage.

McCormack, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, did not totally forget his role or where his 6-foot-10, 265-pound frame is best utilized.

He twice scored on dunks — one off a nice drive and dish from freshman Jalen Wilson and the other on an alley-oop pass from junior Marcus Garrett — and also spent plenty of time in the paint on defense.

And that’s where Self and company hope he spends most of his time during the upcoming season.

“He hasn’t shot a 3 in practice one time (in a scrimmage situation),” Self said. “But Dave has expanded his game and he can shoot the ball and score a little bit better than he has in the past. … We practice them and hope like heck they never shoot them. But David’s a good 15- to 17-foot shooter. He can make that shot. I don’t know about from 3 consistently, but it did look good tonight when it went in.”

Last season, when the speed of the game had his head spinning for months, McCormack slowly found comfort. From single-digit minutes or less early on to a starting nod in KU’s final 13 games, McCormack benefited from KU’s lack of depth in the front court a season ago and was thrown into the lineup more often as a result.

This season, a lack of depth up front is no longer an issue. With Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot all back, McCormack’s big, bruising presence is merely another body in a big rotation rather than one of the only enforcers.

That fact could allow McCormack to float out to the perimeter and help space the floor a little more, and his efforts to improve his all-around game this offseason have been done with that in mind.

“I think we’re just going to be a better front court,” McCormack said this summer. “I just had to slow down my game and that has opened up so much for me. Now that that’s become easy, there’s other things I can focus on.”

His newfound comfort on the court, which showed up loud and clear through both his words and body language during Friday’s scrimmage, should put McCormack way ahead of where he began his rookie season.

“I’ve said all along that he’s our most improved player,” Self said. “He and Ochai (Agbaji). Ochai’s had a great fall, so I really think those two guys are our most improved players. And I think David’s got a chance to have a really nice year because he can do some things better than he did last year and he won’t lose what he did well last year. Pretty excited for him.”