VICE Sports recently caught up with former Jayhawk Billy Preston to talk about what could have been and what never was
When he arrived in Lawrence last summer, the idea for then-Kansas freshman Billy Preston was to be entering the best time of his lone season at KU right about now.
Preston, a five-star prospect and projected one-and-done forward from Oak Hill Academy, was supposed to be the next big thing for the Jayhawks, a player with such impressive physical tools and an NBA-ready frame, that he would make a monster splash with Kansas during the 2017-18 season.
But it never materialized. After playing in two games with the team during its summer exhibition tour in Italy, Preston suited up for real just one time as a Jayhawk. And even that did not count.
During the Border War showdown for hurricane relief against Missouri at Sprint Center last October, the 6-foot-10 forward scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes during a KU victory.
No one knew it at the time, but that unofficial scrimmage marked the official end of Preston's KU career.
After playing 31 minutes in KU's two regularly scheduled exhibition games, Preston missed the season opener for a violation of team rules and then missed the next 17 games while KU, and later the NCAA, sought a clearer financial picture of a car Preston was driving during a one-car, non-injury accident.
KU coach Bill Self held Preston out of competition until some sort of re-instatement ruling came down, but it never came.
And on Jan. 20, Preston left Kansas to start his professional career overseas as a way to prepare for this summer's NBA Draft without ever recording a single official statistic. Even his stint in Bosnia was short-lived.
There's no doubt that adding Preston to this KU roster would have made for interesting basketball. But it's hard to argue that the Jayhawks would have been that much better off with him, at least in terms of the big picture.
After all, KU still won the Big 12, still won the Big 12 tournament, earned yet another No. 1 seed and finds itself back in the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row and 10th time in Self's 15 years at Kansas.
Would Preston have made all of those achievements easier? Perhaps. Would his presence, after almost an entire season of playing and learning under Self, have made the Jayhawks an even bigger threat to reach the Final Four and contend for the 2018 national title? Probably.
But there are no guarantees about anything and the only thing we know for sure about Preston during his time with the Jayhawks is that adding him into the rotation would have changed the look of this team, for better or worse.
Regardless of what the Jayhawks do the rest of the season, the Billy Preston saga is one that will go into the history books under the section titled, “What could have been.”
No one will ever know for sure how KU would have fared or what Preston's draft status would have been had he been able to play at Kansas for a year or two under Self. For what it's worth, Preston has not appeared on any of the mainstream mock drafts — either in round 1 or 2 — for months.
This year's NBA Draft combine certainly could put him back on the NBA radar. And it's hard to picture NBA GMs having forgotten about him completely. But like most of his time at KU, Preston's immediate future remains totally up in the air.
VICE Sports recently caught up with Preston overseas and published this quick look back at the whole ordeal, complete with some interesting and fresh thoughts from Preston about his wild ride.
The video is both short and interesting and worth a watch for KU fans.