Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Zach Clemence was speaking Tuesday about how he feels responsible for helping the Kansas men's basketball team's younger players adjust to the rigors of the college game when he was confronted with the irony of his words.
Wasn't Clemence, a sophomore-to-be who averaged 4.8 minutes across 24 games last season, still one of those younger players?
"I mean, we did everything you can for college basketball," Clemence said, referring to the Jayhawks' national championship run. "We've seen it all. I mean, we didn't do as much as the other guys, but like, we watched them and we learned (from) them. The young guys didn't get to do that, so we've got to teach them what we've learned."
If Clemence can apply what it is that he learned from the departed David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot over the past 12 months, the Jayhawks will be much better for it in the fall and beyond.
Among the myriad questions coach Bill Self will need to answer before next season begins is how to replace McCormack and Lightfoot, Kansas' two most recent masters of the middle who have since graduated.
A lanky, 6-foot-10 forward, Clemence isn't the same style of player as his former teammates, but he is the surest thing the Jayhawks have. Cam Martin, a sixth-year senior who redshirted last season after transferring from Missouri Southern, will vie for time in the paint, as will incoming freshmen Ernest Udeh Jr. and Zuby Ejiofor. (KJ Adams, who stepped in when the Jayhawks went small or were in a pinch, should play more naturally farther from the basket.)
And whereas Clemence can provide problems for opponents unaccustomed to defending a player of his size so far from the basket — his shooting range extends to the perimeter, as he was willing to show last season — how he'll handle the physicality of the low post is uncertain.
In anticipation, his goal is to increase his weight from 218 pounds to 235 before the season starts. As of Tuesday, he was at 225.
"Just eat everything and lift," Clemence said, referring to his plan for packing on the pounds. "It's tough, but that's just how it goes."
Clemence, who appeared much more confident and relaxed than he did at any point during his freshman season, stopped himself Tuesday after he referred to that first year as "hard" and settled on "up and down."
He missed nine games with a broken toe, then returned from the toe injury by playing stout defense across nine second-half minutes in a 71-69 home win over Oklahoma on Feb. 12 — a game he punctuated with an eye-opening 3-pointer. He was lauded by Self for a rebound being "the most competitive play ... that anybody even attempted to make" following a 74-64 loss at TCU on March 1 but played only 26 seconds in that game as he was evaluated for a concussion.
"I think we're a more athletic team when he's in the game," Self said after a 76-62 home win over Oklahoma State on Feb. 14. "He may not be strong yet but he's not soft."
All told, Clemence made 15 of 40 shots, including 6 of 22 from 3-point range, and averaged 2.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He played 10 minutes in three of the Jayhawks' six NCAA Tournament games, but nine of those were in the opening-round rout of Texas Southern.
His biggest takeaway from his freshman season?
"Just approaching every day with a good mindset, because if you don't, it's going to be a rough day," Clemence said. "If you're just hoping for the worst, it's going to be bad, but if you're going to go get it done, it's going to be good."
That's why, he said, he's trying to be much more assertive — to make those good days happen. Clemence spent only one week back home once the spring semester ended, preferring instead to remain in Lawrence to work out and train.
What his role will be next season, Clemence said, will depend on "how everyone gets used to each other and how we play together." Regardless, he said, he wants to be able to step into a leadership role and set the tone for his teammates in the absence of Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and the others who have left.
Perhaps, then, that does make him more of a veteran.
"I've always been confident in myself," Clemence said. "I mean, why not? Like, why not be your biggest fan? It's just a mindset. I just go back to that. Like, why have a bad mindset when you can have a good one?"