The 5 most intriguing aspects of Lagerald Vick's return to Kansas
Now that we know Kansas guard Lagerald Vick is returning to the program for his senior season, a move that was made official on Friday night, let’s dive a little deeper into exactly what that means and how and why it could benefit Vick and the Jayhawks.
Vick’s return, though surprising in many ways given the time of year and the circumstances surrounding his initial decision to leave KU early to start his professional career, figures to have ripple effects that will impact several aspects and players on the 2018-19 roster.
Here’s a quick overview at how those things might play out in the coming months through the prism of the five biggest advantages of Vick’s return.
5 – Experience
On Friday morning, KU’s backcourt, though talented and bursting with potential and promise, was missing legit experience. Outside of transfer point guard Charlie Moore, who started 30-plus games at Cal (but has not done so at Kansas), the Jayhawks had just a handful of spot starts sprinkled between Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe and K.J. Lawson in their backcourt. Beyond that was a trio of true freshmen.
Now, with Vick and his 94 career games, 41 career starts, including 35 during last season’s run to the Final Four, backcourt experience can no longer be viewed as a potential weakness for the Jayhawks.
Many fans are content to plug Vick into the starting lineup right away, but I’m not so sure that’s a given. If he earns the spot through his hard work and good attitude, it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup. But I do not get the sense that Vick’s experience and veteran status alone will be enough to compel KU coach Bill Self to make him a starter automatically. Again, he’s going to have to win the job and part of him doing so will be tied directly to his attitude and commitment in practice along with how he handles himself away from basketball.
Self always says that fans and the media make too much out of who starts anyway, so, with this kind of depth and talent, you can be sure he’ll be singing that song again soon. But the bottom line is this: In getting Vick back, Self has a guy he knows better than any other player on his roster — for better or worse — who has been through the fire and helped Kansas win a lot of games during the past three seasons.
Even if that advantage comes in more of a role player setting, with Vick playing 15-20 minutes a game off the bench, few teams in the country, if any, can say they have that type of luxury.
4 – Vick gets his degree
After completing the second session of summer school later this summer, Vick will be just 12 hours shy of earning his degree. That means he’ll take a relatively light load during the first semester and could have an extremely small class commitment during the second semester, when the bulk and most important part of the KU season unfolds.
That limited class commitment should allow Vick, on his own time, to spend as much time as just about any player in the country working on his game and trying to fine-tune his skills for another run at the NBA next summer.
While his academic progress will not win KU any games or do much for the fan base, it was a factor in him coming back. It might not seem like that big of a deal to everybody, but it is a huge deal for Vick and his family. Given his background, upbringing and the path taken by most of his community, the Memphis native’s ability to collect a college degree is potentially life-changing and I think that played a big role in Self’s willingness to take him back.
3 – Opens the door for others to redshirt
According to a couple of people I talked close to the program, Vick’s return was met with open arms by every coach and player on the roster. That’s an important first step in this whole thing working out and proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the 2018-19 crew is made up of a bunch of players who value winning above everything else.
Whether he starts or not, Vick is going to play and he likely will have an opportunity to play big minutes. The days of KU’s guards having to go the distance are likely over for now and a big night might now be 25-30 minutes.
It’s hard to know exactly how the rotation will shake out at this point, but Self told the Journal-World on Friday that he figured the playing time would work itself out once practices begin and the Jayhawks start competing with one another for spots. With the kind of depth and talent KU has at every position, Self has the luxury of being able to operate in more of a carefree manner, using minutes on the floor as the carrot to inspire hard work, focus and commitment to the team.
Having said that, it seems all but inevitable that at least one or two guys will be red-shirting the 2018-19 season. Junior forward Mitch Lightfoot was one of the more popular predictions on that front this spring. And he still could go that direction, but he’s a front court player so Vick’s addition does not impact him as much as it does the guards.
Freshman Ochai Agbaji is a prime candidate to redshirt and he said recently at Washburn basketball camp that he would be open to it.
“I’d be fine with it,” Agbaji told reporters. “Anything I can do to better the program and better myself.”
Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe could be another option, although Cunilffe, a 6-foot-6 junior, already sat out a year after transferring to Kansas two winters ago.
K.J. Lawson, Marcus Garrett and even five-star freshman Quentin Grimes, all could see their minutes affected by Vick’s return. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing. As long as all of those guys can accept, embrace and execute their roles, keeping bodies fresh on game nights and throughout the season could provide another major advantage for Kansas.
2 – KU now has a legit 3-point shooter on a team that really needed one
During his first three years in the program, Vick’s outside shot improved each season. He made just eight 3-pointers — in limited minutes — as a freshman, 34 as a sophomore and 59 triples in 158 attempts for a 2017-18 mark of .373 and a career clip of .378.
The athletic wing from Memphis has taken and made plenty of big time 3-pointers during his days as a Jayhawk and should benefit from the lack of pure shooters on this roster.
With Vick, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman all appearing to leave the program earlier this spring, KU was facing the idea of replacing 94.4 percent of its 3-point shooting from a year ago. With Vick back, that number dips to a more manageable 79.5 percent and Vick projects as a player who easily could make a run at 150 attempts (if not more) again this season.
Self said Friday that the added 3-point shooting was far from the main reason Vick was allowed to rejoin the team, but conceded that Vick, if he’s performing at peak level, could make a major impact on KU’s offense with his 3-point shot.
1 – Vick is a stone-cold competitor who doesn’t back down from anyone or anything
This much we have seen throughout his time with the Jayhawks and while it might not always have been necessary in seasons past, it could provide KU with a huge advantage during the 2018-19 season, giving the Jayhawks that edge of a champion that is not to be messed with.
Vick likes to talk trash, he’s wired to compete to the point where he doesn’t just beat opponents but strives to take their souls and often finishes first in timed drills during practices.
Seeing that kind of example every day in the practice gym, weight room and around McCarthy Hall, and having that kind of competitor in crimson and blue, can only help this team in its quest for a national title.
Not only will it give the team the swagger of a veteran who has been there and done that, it also will be good for KU’s young players and newcomers because Vick will not go easy on any of them in practices.
It’s sort of like that Joel Embiid video that’s floating around right now, where he posts up NBA rookie and former Texas star Mo Bamba, dunks on him and then yells, “Welcome to the f** league.”
By Friday night, Vick had been added back onto KU’s official roster online but was listed without a jersey number.
Self said Friday that Vick would not get his old No. 2 back because the Jayhawks, while moving forward with the assumption that Vick was gone, had given it to Moore and were not about to ask Moore, who wore No. 2 in high school, to cough it back up.
That seems about as fitting as possible for this whole situation.
Yes, Lagerald Vick is back with Kansas, but Kansas is not exactly getting the Vick who wore No. 2 for the past three years. They’re getting a different Vick, who will have a slightly different role and will be focused on slightly different things.
They want him to shoot, defend, compete and be a valuable, veteran resource for the younger players.
Contrary to popular opinion, leadership will not necessarily be part of the equation. Vick is not a natural leader and KU is not interested in asking him to do things out of his comfort zone. The Jayhawks merely need him to fit in.