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So many bigs: KU's front court could be crowded this season

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Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and forward Perry Ellis (34) smother a shot by Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (0) during the first half on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and forward Perry Ellis (34) smother a shot by Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (0) during the first half on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida. by Nick Krug

When Kansas University junior forward Landen Lucas contemplates the quantity and quality of big men in KU’s basketball program right now, he almost can’t believe it.

The Jayhawks rarely lack in the depth department down low. Now entering his fourth season in Lawrence, Lucas (who red-shirted his first year) has played alongside or practiced with interior contributors such as Tarik Black, Joel Embiid, Kevin Young and Jeff Withey in the past. Still, the 6-foot-10 Lucas said the 2015-16 KU roster is more crowded in the front court than any he has seen.

“It’s weird to say that,” Lucas admitted earlier this summer, “because I feel like the last couple years we’ve had that kind of depth. But this year there will be an insane amount of people who have either started here, started at other schools — Hunter (Mickelson) started at Arkansas — mixed in with (high school) All-Americans.”

Indeed, KU seniors Perry Ellis (71 career starts), Jamari Traylor (19 starts) and Mickelson (25 starts in two seasons at Arkansas), like Lucas (14 starts), know what it’s like to be one of the first five on the court. Even 6-9 junior Dwight Coleby, who will sit out this season after transferring from Ole Miss, has seven career starts.

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Plus, Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff brought in highly touted freshman big men Cheick Diallo (Rivals.com’s No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2015) and Carlton Bragg (ranked No. 21 by Rivals).

If the NCAA Eligibility Center clears Diallo to play, upon completing its review of his academic records from Our Savior New American High, in Centereach, New York, the Jayhawks will have six players available to use at power forward and center.

Lucas said just four big men in a rotation allows for aggressive play in the paint. He thinks the collective assertiveness of the front court should only improve with more options.

“Hopefully it will get people to go out there and play hard,” Lucas said. “If you go out there and you don’t, there’s somebody who’s ready to come in and do that.”

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot in Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory against Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot in Team USA's 78-68 semifinal victory against Russia on Sunday, July 12, 2015, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

Each available big figures to bring something a little different to the floor.

The 6-foot-8 Ellis can score in a variety of ways.

Also 6-8, Traylor is quicker than most big men and has shown the ability to use that to his advantage.

Thus far a backup at KU, 6-10 Mickelson looked like a steady rim protector, as well as an effective scorer and passer as the Jayhawks won gold medals at the World University Games this summer.

And Lucas might be the best defensive rebounder among the veterans.

Without Bragg and Diallo making an immediate impact, though, the Jayhawks will only have a comparable version of last season’s front court. If the two rookies prove game-ready, KU could drive opposing teams mad inside.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg (15) drives to the basket for two of his 9 points in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg (15) drives to the basket for two of his 9 points in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

While playing in South Korea this summer, the 6-9 Bragg showed he can run the floor, play with toughness and knock down open jumpers.

Diallo, meanwhile, might be the exact kind of player KU lacked this past season. The 6-9 big man is expected to play with manic energy on the defensive and offensive glass, protect the rim and compliment Ellis’s scoring inside.

Mickelson said transitioning from the high school ranks to high-major college basketball is different for every player, and although getting acclimated can be difficult, Bragg and Diallo shouldn’t have too much trouble. Freshmen, Mickelson added, usually can pick up drills and plays quickly enough, but KU’s veterans will be sure to remind them about other aspects of the game, such as body language or how to approach different situations.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) makes a hustle play on a loose ball in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) makes a hustle play on a loose ball in a Team USA 96-57 win over Switzerland Thursday, July 9, at the World University Games in South Korea. by Mike Yoder

“There’s just little tweaks and stuff like that that you can point out to help them,” Mickelson said.

In June, before playing in the World University Games, when asked what his weaknesses were, Bragg replied “everything.” The humble freshman’s point: he wanted to improve as much as possible every day. Bragg said KU’s veterans help him stay positive and let him know what to expect.

“They’re getting me ready, mentally,” the young big from Cleveland said. “Going through what they went through their freshmen, sophomore years, how coach was getting on you.”

Traylor already seems convinced Bragg will fit right in at KU, noting Self has said as much in complimenting Bragg’s feel for the game.

“But as far as natural stuff and natural athletic ability and instinct,” Traylor added, “he’s gonna be great for us.”

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) delivers a tomahawk dunk against Team Canada forward Chris McLaughlin (12) during the third quarter of Friday's World University Games exhibition at Sprint Center.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) delivers a tomahawk dunk against Team Canada forward Chris McLaughlin (12) during the third quarter of Friday's World University Games exhibition at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Because KU only has two newcomers inside, Traylor said it will be easy for the veteran Jayhawks to take Bragg and Diallo under their wings. It won’t be like the past couple seasons, when KU had first- and second-year players all over the floor — inside and out.

“We’re pretty much an old team now, so things are pretty much going quick,” Traylor said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

Comments

Jim Stauffer 6 years, 9 months ago

If Diallo is cleared. Seems we are cursed on deals like this. They make him sit out a bunch of games and then he comes around just before we are eliminated from the tourney and then goes pro.

John Randall 6 years, 9 months ago

The University of Kansas suffers the worst treatment from NCAA enforcers for one simple reason: we run the cleanest program of any in the country and in doing so with our success rate, the supposed enforcers are afraid they'll be left with their own fecal matter on their hands.

Diallo and Cliff are just the most recent instances where non-sensical actions let irresponsible "investigations" deprive the Jayhawks of the consideration that should be due to such a program.

Rodney Crain 6 years, 9 months ago

Broaden your perspective John, the NCAA does not single anyone out mercy. They do not care where the recruit is going, they care about where he came from and did he do the work on the transcripts, do you know how this works?

The issue is the delay, it has nothing to do with non-sensical actions, it is not a irresponsible investigation and they as of yet have not deprived of us anything yet this year. The delay is usually the NCAA waiting on information from the school. It has nothing to do with us or any other college it has to do with the school or prep that the student attended. Why no ire towards them? They are the ones who have put in question Diallo and others who attended their school.

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