On Wednesday night, Northwestern University released plans and unveiled renderings of a new $800 million football facility that, when completed, will instantly become the best venue in all of college athletics.
The only word that came to mind upon seeing the plans and reading the press release was, “Wow.”
The only thought that entered my mind after hearing the echoes of that word ring out was equally as simple. “How can anyone keep up with this?”
The answer: I don’t think they can.
At a time when the University of Kansas is doing everything in its power to get its own stadium project off the ground, seeing this out of Northwestern is almost too wild to believe.
Billed as a venue that will be first-class in every way, the new Ryan Field will feature premium seating for every fan, the best sightlines in college football, a design that reduces noise and light pollution and world-class amenities that promise to make the gameday experience for Wildcat fans among the best in all of sports.
The venue will seat 35,000 fans — 12,000 fewer than its current 97-year-old facility — and is being promoted as “a year-round community asset” much in the way KU is trying to jumpstart its stadium makeover with year-round thinking for the 11th and Mississippi project.
The difference between KU’s project and the Northwestern gem is the money. Not only is Northwestern planning a project that is roughly twice as expensive, they’re getting it done without a single dollar of taxpayer money. In fact, plans call for all of the money for Ryan Field to come from private dollars, with the Ryan Family funding a massive amount of it.
KU has dozens and dozens of extremely generous donors. But KU does not have a Ryan Family. Nor does KU currently reside in the Big Ten. And KU Chancellor Douglas Girod recently told the Journal-World that the expectation with KU’s stadium plans was that it would involve Kansas Athletics Inc., taking on some debt.
KU Athletic Director Travis Goff, who came from Northwestern, also said earlier this year that he expected funding for whatever project KU moves forward on to come from a combination of private donations and public financing.
But both KU leaders are fans of tying stadium revitalization plans into year-round, multi-use functionality that would benefit both the university and the city.
The guess here, by the way, is that Goff was privy to certain aspects of the current NU plan while still serving as the Deputy AD at Northwestern, but it seems as if the specific details, the architects involved and the scope of the project likely were developed in large part after his departure in April of 2021.
Goff was involved with more than $400 million in facilities upgrades during his time at Northwestern, though, so it’s not as if he’s unfamiliar with high-dollar projects.
Whatever KU settles on — whenever that happens — will lead to a significant and sorely needed upgrade of the existing venue and also likely not come close to anything that’s happening at Northwestern.
There will be elements of the two plans that will mirror one another and possibly even overlap. A recent survey sent out by KU was designed largely to gauge interest in premium seating options, and the university is trying out many of those options in its newly remodeled Touchdown Club on gamedays this fall.
It also would make some sense for KU to at least consider what a capacity in the 35,000- to 40,000-seat range might look like rather than pushing toward 50,000.
Still, the difference between a project like the one KU is dreaming of and the one Northwestern has announced is massive and figures to be separated by several hundred million dollars.
That’s not a knock on KU, more a tip of the cap to what Northwestern and the Ryan family are doing in Evanston, Illinois.
As the arm’s race continues in college athletics — will it ever actually end? — universities from coast to coast will continue to strive for newer, bigger, better with all of their athletic facilities, particularly those tied to football.
But it’s hard to imagine very many of them — if any — will even come close to being what Northwestern is planning to build for its program in the near future.
Wow. How can anyone keep up with this?
It’s truly amazing what an incredible opportunity this Kansas football team has in front of it after a 4-0 start to the 2022 season.
For years, as Memorial Stadium sat mostly empty on game days, we heard people say, “If you give the fans something to watch, they’ll show up to watch it.”
And the fans did exactly that last weekend for KU’s 35-27 win over Duke.
A sellout crowd of more than 47,000 filled KU’s home stadium on a perfect fall Saturday, and now the Jayhawks get two more home games in a row to try to capitalize on that momentum.
While filling the stadium again — and then again — no doubt will be the goal for the upcoming Big 12 battles with Iowa State and TCU, we’ve reached the point — already! — where it’s almost expected.
This fan base is so into this football program right now and the buzz seems to be growing by the day.
Everyone had fun last week, so there’s no reason to think that DBKMS won’t be sold out this weekend, when the Jayhawks take on Iowa State at 2:30 p.m.
But let’s say for a second that KU actually loses to the Cyclones. Normally, that might trigger the end of the ride and cause people to jump off the bandwagon as quickly as they hopped onto it. But I don’t get that sense today.
If KU were to lose on Saturday, I think the fans would feel an obligation and an excitement about showing up the following week to help make sure that the Jayhawks beat TCU and get back on track.
That, my friends, is full-on culture change. And I don’t care how invested you are in it or how much you think it’s here for good, do not take it for granted.
We’ve seen what happens when that occurs.
Besides, the support of the home fans means the world to these guys and it fuels their confidence and performance, as well.
Just listen to what a few of the Jayhawks had to say about last Saturday’s packed house after the win over Duke.
“It makes the day go great and awesome because we see the love in the stadium and we all see that everybody appreciates what coach Leipold’s doing,” Lonnie Phelps Jr. said. “It was most definitely a difference.”
“You ain’t never really seen that,” Daniel Hishaw Jr. said of the crowd after the win. “Just looking around it’s like, ‘Dang, we’re really here.’ It’s good.”
“It was surprising to see that (before kickoff), but when I saw it, I just locked back in,” defensive back Mello Dotson said of his first look at the crowd after taking the field. “I was happy everybody came out like that, though.”
And quarterback Jalon Daniels could not contain his smile when he talked about being 4-0 and feeling the love from the fans in the stands.
“We love it,” Daniels said. “We love it.”
All of this — from improved play and coaching to execution on the field and support in the stands — has played a key role in KU’s fast start.
And it goes beyond what’s happening on Saturdays.
“The fans show so much love,” Phelps said. “Even when we hit 3-0, there was a lot of (excitement) on campus and the football players here can actually feel good about walking to class and getting dapped up by people who say good job.”
Just because that’s here now, though, does not mean the Jayhawks plan on getting complacent or changing a thing about how they prepare and play.
“No,” Dotson said. “One week at a time. 1-0 every week.”
The Big 12 Conference on Monday announced the start times for the Oct. 2 conference slate, and Kansas’ home game against TCU is scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. on FS1.
The first words out of almost any Kansas fan’s mouth when they see yet another 11 a.m. kickoff announced is that the program is being punished with another early start.
I get it. 11 a.m. doesn’t sound really sexy. But sometimes it is.
You can’t just look at the 11 a.m. kickoff time for Kansas and say that’s a game nobody wants to watch or will see. I’d much rather be penciled into the 11 a.m. slot every weekend than a 9 or 10 p.m. kickoff like many of the Pac-12 teams and others out west have to endure year after year.
Think about it. 11 a.m. in Kansas is noon on the east coast and 10 a.m. in the Mountain time zone. That’s wake up, flip on the TV and watch some football. As the day goes on, activities pop up, obligations arise and sometimes people would rather just be out and about in the evenings and at night rather than wearing their sweats and watching football.
So, if it’s a lack of eyeballs on your product thing that irks you, I’m not sure that holds up here.
If it’s a missed opportunity to have a killer tailgate, I’m a little more sympathetic to that. But I don’t think the 11 a.m. starts need to have the negative association they currently do.
Now, back to the reason. It’s also important to note that deciding whether than 11 a.m. slot is actually disrespectful or not actually depends a lot on what the rest of the day’s slate looks like.
Sometimes, conference officials, university ADs and head football coaches actually prefer the 11 a.m. slot because they’d rather be the better game on a list that lacks excitement than go head to head with the college football powerhouses in the later slots.
Here’s how it looks for Oct. 8, when KU will play host to TCU at 11 a.m.
11 a.m. games of note:
• Texas vs. No. 18 Oklahoma
• No. 8 Tennessee at LSU
• No. 20 Arkansas at Mississippi State
• No. 4 Michigan at Indiana
2:30/3 p.m. games of note:
• No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan State
• Virginia Tech at No. 24 Pitt
• Auburn at No. 1 Georgia
• Texas Tech at No. 9 Oklahoma State
6:30/7 p.m. games of note:
• No. 17 Texas A&M at No. 2 Alabama
• South Carolina at No. 7 Kentucky
• No. 25 Kansas State at Iowa State
• No. 19 BYU at Notre Dame
The night slot has some serious firepower, with two SEC showdowns and a ranked BYU team taking on the Notre Dame brand. You could argue that KU belongs in that slot instead of the KSU-ISU game, but I think the expectation there is that Wildcats-Cyclones will be a better game. And, at least right now, one of those two teams is ranked, while neither KU nor TCU are.
The afternoon slot is also pretty massive, with both No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Ohio State in there, along with a key Big 12 game featuring a top-10 OSU program.
In the morning slot, you’re going up against OU-Texas, but no one outside of Michigan fans is going to want to watch the Wolverines pummel Indiana and the two SEC games at 11 are not nearly as big time as the nighttime or afternoon SEC matchups.
So, if it’s me, and I’m looking for eyeballs and exposure, I’d rather be the 11 a.m. game that week.
If it’s fighting off a Friday night hangover or getting squeezed on some fun tailgating time, I understand that and I feel for ya.
But that has nothing to do with KU getting or not getting respect. That’s all about you managing your party schedule. And the way this thing’s going, whatever you miss out on Friday night or Saturday morning, you might very well be able to make up for in celebration on Saturday night.
Here’s the thing about the 4-0 Kansas football team not being ranked in either the coaches poll or the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.
It doesn’t mean the polls are worthless or broken.
It doesn’t mean this Kansas team is not any good nor does it indicate that KU’s resume is devoid of quality wins.
It doesn’t mean that the teams ranked ahead of Kansas are definitely better than the Jayhawks — or more deserving —and it doesn’t mean that the teams ranked below the Jayhawks are worse or less deserving.
It just means that there’s more work to be done.
And the guess here is that the KU players and coaches are 100% OK with that.
This is not a team that has reached this point by chasing glory.
Let’s face it; if that were the case, the daunting task of jump-starting the rebuilding process at Kansas might have seemed a little too overwhelming or unrealistic at the outset. Human nature’s a powerful thing.
Instead of trying to jump from the bottom to the top overnight, this group has gone about its climb by focusing on all of the right things. The opinion of pollsters, analyst’s predictions and the Las Vegas odds have nothing to do with the way they go about their business.
Sure, these guys are hungry for respect. But they know that the best and quickest way to be respected is to take care of business on Saturdays and show that they are worthy.
It’s never been about individual accolades or being in favor with the media. It’s always been about the work.
We know that because we’ve talked to the Kansas players and coaches about the past 16 months under Lance Leipold, and they’ve been open in sharing what they have prioritized.
That list includes: Hard work, a team-first mentality, locking in on the mantra of trying to improve by 1% each day and not worrying about what it says on the scoreboard or in the headlines.
It’s easy to say those things when you’re undefeated and one of the early feel-good stories of the college football season. But these guys were doing that stuff long before now. If they hadn’t been, now would never have arrived.
In Year 1 under Leipold, KU did its best to lay the foundation. And it was all about playing hard and trying to execute no matter what. Sometimes that was difficult and the overmatched Jayhawks simply could not find success. Still, they kept coming — quietly, consistently and methodically.
Other times, like in the late-season win at Texas or the two close-call losses that followed it, the Jayhawks discovered that their approach could work.
So they stuck with it. All offseason, as they added new faces and quietly targeted this type of success, they remained focused on the process that showed them that better days were ahead.
No one could have known that those better days would come this soon or be quite this good, but when you operate with your eyes fixed on improving for personal pride and the sake of those around you, that’s when special things can happen.
So, yeah, KU’s not ranked this week and there are a whole bunch of people out there who believe that’s some sort of outrageous injustice.
But I promise you these guys are not in that group.
They don’t concern themselves with things like that. Their focus today is the same as it was when the season started at 0-0 or when they took a 1-8 record and little hope into Austin, Texas, last season and won.
If it wasn’t, they never would have gotten here.
And for them it’s all about doing the work, believing in the process and letting the rest take care of itself.
So what if they’re 26th instead of 25th? And who cares if Iowa State opened as a 3.5-point favorite this week?
That had no bearing on Sunday’s practice plan or what the Jayhawks will do Monday through Friday.
Saturday is when it all will count, but even then their minds will be on perfect execution on the next snap or series and little else.
Kansas Athletics announces gameday tweaks geared to make Saturday smoother with large crowd expected for KU football game
Before we get too far into this, let’s get one thing out there up front.
With a sellout or near-capacity crowd expected at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Saturday for KU’s 11 a.m. kickoff against Duke, there are going to be delays and things are going to take a little longer than most fans are used to.
That includes getting into the stadium, parking, concessions and more. If you don’t wrap your mind around this now or plan accordingly to manage it, you’re likely going to spend part of Saturday frustrated instead of celebrating your football team that’s off to an amazing start and has a chance to do more.
OK. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s take a quick look at some of the things KU has planned to try to make the delays and headaches as small as possible.
The following plan was sent out by KU earlier this week:
• All available gates and metal detectors at Memorial Stadium will be open beginning 90 minutes prior to kickoff (that’s 9:30 a.m.) to help ensure smooth entry into the game for fans with every ticket scanner also in use. Fans are encouraged to download their tickets prior to arriving at the stadium to expedite the entry process.
• For fans coming from out of town, particularly from the east, it’s worth remembering that portions of K-10 and 23rd Street are undergoing construction and you might want to leave a little earlier than normal or find an alternate route.
• There will also be a bus service available both from lot 54 on Irving Hill Road and from Downtown Lawrence, with two stops near downtown parking garages at 6th & New Hampshire and 7th & Vermont. The fare is $1 per person roundtrip. Parking fees in the downtown garages are waived on gamedays.
• Once inside the stadium, fans will notice extra concessions on hand with products stocked to satisfy fan needs. In addition, there will be a concessions Happy Hour from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. This will include discounts on select food and beverage items, including beer at concession stands that are adjacent to sections 4 and 6 on the west side and 21 and 23 on the east side, on the lower levels only. Concession stands that are serving the happy-hour pricing will be properly designated with signage.
• Re-entry will once again be available at designated gates. Fans must have their ticket “scanned-out” when exiting and must have their ticket scanned and pass through the security screening process to regain entry. Re-entry scanning takes place at Gates 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 18, 28 and 33 and starts with five minutes left in the second quarter and concludes with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Those plans were put in place to accommodate the larger crowd and they will accompany the normal run of gameday events and festivities including the Hawk Walk at 8:45 a.m., where fans can greet the team at the south end of Memorial Stadium as they walk to the locker room; the Family Fun Zone near the practice fields; and the regular lot of tents, entertainment, merchandise and more available on Campanile hill.
Asked again about the Nebraska opening, Lance Leipold shows strong commitment to Kansas; now how does KU make sure it stays that way
As the Kansas football team has captured national attention for its 3-0 start, head coach Lance Leipold’s name continues to be one that’s talked about for the open coaching position at Nebraska.
Oddsmakers recently moved Leipold into the position of second favorite to land the Cornhuskers gig, just a shade behind Iowa State coach Matt Campbell as the favorite and four spots up from his position in the No. 6 slot, where he sat when the job first came open.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman tweeted Tuesday that sources have told him that Leipold, Campbell and former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien (now the OC at Alabama) are “high on the Huskers’ list as NU’s process begins to unfold.”
Simply put: This connection is not going away. At this point, it’s all about managing it and addressing it — both for Leipold and for the Kansas athletic department.
Asked last week about his reaction to his name landing on various lists of potential Scott Frost replacements at Nebraska, Leipold said he was focused on the Kansas football program and getting ready for the game with Houston, which the Jayhawks won.
Asked again this week by former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf for his Straight Line podcast, Leipold’s commitment to the Kansas program was a little stronger.
“I think you have to stay in the moment, be where your feet are at,” Leipold told Leaf, who visited Lawrence and spoke to the Kansas players before the season began. “My wife, Kelly, and I, we came to Lawrence, Kansas, not to move. At this stage of our career, it’s flattering. …But our focus is (on) trying to build the Kansas Jayhawks into a winner and a consistent winner for the long haul.”
His comment last week and his recent reply to Leaf were no doubt sincere. Leipold’s a genuine guy and he’s not afraid to say how he feels, good, bad or otherwise.
He’s made it clear that he likes Kansas — and Lawrence — and is proud of what he’s doing with the long-suffering program. It’s also clear that his family likes it here, as well.
As the program continues to grow and with whatever success that’s still to come, interest in Leipold from other programs is likely to continue to come, as well.
How he chooses to answer whatever questions come his way is up to him. Finding a way to make sure he’s not interested in leaving is up to Kansas.
There’s only so much AD Travis Goff and the program can do there, but you can be certain that they’re exploring all of their options and darn sure will try to make sure Leipold is happy in Lawrence.
A raise is a given at this point. In fact, if Leipold wins Saturday against Duke and picks up a win against Iowa State or TCU in the two home games that follow, a case could be made for Goff and company to just tear up Leipold’s current contract and start over.
Add years to it. Increase the salary. Increase the buyout and make it clear to the Leipolds that this is where they should want to be.
4-0 or 5-1 at Kansas? In Year 2? That’s a different man than the man they hired to do this job. That’s freakin’ Superman.
Nebraska — and others — are likely always going to be able (and willing) to pay more. For one, there’s Big Ten money in play there. For two, Kansas still has Bill Self’s salary that it needs to keep in mind. And no matter how good Leipold is, he’s not going to be making more than Self any time soon.
So Kansas, if it’s interested in a new contract for Leipold, does not need to worry about matching whatever they think the Huskers might offer.
KU just needs to draw up the best contract it can and stand behind that and the connection and momentum Leipold already has created here.
There are, of course, tricks to how a new contract could be written. Even the fans are getting in on the act. Late Tuesday night, I saw a GoFundMe account started by Aden Bloom that was simply titled: “Keep Lance Leipold at Kansas!!!” As of late Tuesday night, it had $5 in it, but it’s the message more than the money that makes that idea of interest.
As for what KU could do, it could incorporate a rolling contract that always has five years on it so neither Leipold nor the university would ever again have to worry about when they need to extend him.
KU decision makeres could give Leipold a significant say in the stadium renovations and allow him to reshape the bones of the program in his own image the way he has reshaped the product on the field to mirror what he’s about. I don’t think Leipold would abuse that and I know he would have some thoughts and ideas.
They could make an even stronger commitment to supporting the Lance and Kelly Leipold Graduate Assistant Fund and make sure that KU football’s name, image and likeness initiatives are as strong as any in the country so Leipold and his staff would never have to worry about losing players or recruits because of NIL.
The fans have a role in this, too. And their job is simple. Pack the stadium. Support the program. And be loud and proud about it.
The list goes on and on.
It’s important to note that they could do all of this, and then some, and Leipold could still take another job if offered. You just never know how these things are going to play out and even though the words he has said today sound an awful lot like a commitment for the long haul, things change, feelings change and situations become drastically different when they’re real and right in front of you rather than some sort of speculation.
So everything that’s done should be done with that in mind. But it’s clear that KU has found its guy to lead this football program into the future.
Now they just have to make sure they do everything in their power to keep him. If they do that and he still decides to leave someday — be it now or in the future — then at least they can say they tried hard and use that to sell his replacement on why Kansas is suddenly considered to be a good job instead of one of the hardest in college athletics.
Here's the full Ryan Leaf interview with Lance Leipold from yesterday on The Straight Line with Ryan Leaf. Leipold's part starts at the 24:56 mark.
Kansas QB Jalon Daniels’ drastically different reactions to wins over West Virginia and Houston illustrate KU’s elevated confidence
Momentum and confidence are massive things to have on your side in the world of sports, and it’s safe to say that after its 3-0 start the Kansas football team has a firm grip on both.
Not only have the Jayhawks jumped out in a way that very few saw coming, but they also have done it with two wins on the road and one of those coming in conference play.
The KU players believed something like this was possible. After all, they were the ones who put in all of that work in the offseason and built up the kind of chemistry and belief that said the corner could be turned.
But even they have to be a little shell-shocked by things going so well so early for the 2022 Jayhawks.
That showed loud and clear in a postgame video featuring quarterback Jalon Daniels that surfaced after the win at West Virginia.
Daniels, who has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season, was seen yelling into the camera, “We here! We here! New era! You heard it. New era!”
The words were dripping with passion and even featured a little bit of anger, that good type that helps you pull off a big win like that on the road and shows the rest of the world you’re serious about being relevant.
Fast forward one week to the scene on the field after KU’s 48-30 victory over Houston on Saturday and you find a very different vibe from Daniels.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there was still a whole lot of yelling and screaming, but the video that KU captured and released after that win showed a much calmer quarterback, one who seemed comfortable in the moment and far less surprised that it happened.
This time, Daniels said simply, “3-0. 3-0, let’s keep going.”
Just like that, in a matter of seven days, you saw KU’s leader transform his reaction from euphoric, unbridled joy to cool, calm and collected. It's a dramatic change in a short period of time and it says a lot about where this program is and where it's headed.
That’s a player who believed the Jayhawks were going to win that game at Houston and then went out and made it happen.
Now that that’s the case, there’s no telling what’s possible from here.
Next up, KU plays host to unbeaten Duke (3-0) at 11 a.m. next Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
SUNDAY UPDATE, 11:15 a.m.: Gameday is not coming to Kansas this week. The ESPN showcase announced Sunday morning that it is headed to Tennessee for the Tennessee-Florida game next weekend.
So now that the Kansas football program has done the unthinkable and ripped off three straight wins to the start the 2022 season, it’s only natural to wonder what’s next.
From the fan perspective, wondering what’s next is tied directly to next week’s game against 3-0 Duke and questions about whether ESPN’s College Gameday might come to Lawrence to host its Saturday showcase and highlight the clash between basketball powers.
It’s one thing for fans to hope for that. After all, that’s what fans do. Get fired up, go overboard and spend a few seconds firing off a tweet tagging College Gameday.
They weren’t the only ones, though.
Within minutes of Saturday’s 48-30 win going final, KU assistant Rob Ianello was already on Twitter encouraging Gameday to come to Lawrence. That merely followed up a tweet from the official KU football account featuring longtime Gameday host Lee Corso putting on a Jayhawk head.
Those weren't the only one notable tweets.
About an hour after the game, KU Athletic Director Travis Goff penned his own tweet inviting the Gameday crew to town, tagging Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Rece Davis, Pat McAfee, David Pollack and Chris Fallica individually, along with the entire College Gameday entity.
“Lawrence, KS,” Goff began. “It will be magical next weekend.”
That likely will be true whether Gameday makes it to town or not. But if it does, therein adding to the significant buzz that already surrounds the program, you might see football fever in Lawrence like you’ve never seen it before.
The guess here is that the final word will come sometime Sunday.
A couple of people I checked with at KU on Saturday night, did not know yet and weren’t sure when they would.
From the looks of it, games between Florida and Tennessee and Clemson and Wake Forest are likely KU’s biggest competition to host Gameday next week.
But don’t underestimate ESPN latching on to the KU-Duke football/basketball angle and wanting to spend an entire day cheesing it up over that.
Either way, the mere fact that I wrote this and people are wondering is just another sign that Kansas football once again is headed in the right direction under second-year coach Lance Leipold and crew.
Kickoff for next Saturday’s battle of the unbeatens is slated for 11 a.m. on FS1.
And Goff already is asking fans to show up and be loud. Don't be surprised if they listen and don't be shocked if it's a sellout.
With Kansas basketball boot camp in full swing and Late Night in the Phog now less than a month away, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2022-23 college hoops season.
Yes, we can do that while still covering the heck out of the red-hot Kansas football team, as well.
It’s definitely a little different to have both sports matter as much as they do at this time of the year, but that’s obviously been good news for KU.
It’s also still unknown just how long football fever will have a hold on KU fans.
The Jayhawks (2-0) play at Houston this weekend and will return home to play Duke at 11 a.m. on Sept. 24 before diving into conference play the rest of the way.
Regardless of how those games go or how long people’s interest in Lance Leipold’s program remains as high as it is right now, the college basketball season will be here before you know it. And that means it’ll be time for the 2022-23 Jayhawks to open play as the defending national champs in a little over six weeks.
Even though several key parts of the 2022 title team are no longer on campus, there’s still plenty to like about Bill Self’s bunch this season.
The 2022-23 Jayhawks have a good mix of returning players and talented newcomers and there are at least five or six players who have a chance to take a major step forward while filling bigger roles during the upcoming season.
I caught up with Self the other day to talk about the roster while he was down in Florida recruiting and here are the five things that stood out from our conversation.
• Dajuan Harris Jr. is going to be special
If you’ve paid any attention at all, you know that Self has loved Harris from the minute he arrived on campus. But to hear him talk about his point guard now is a whole new thing.
Not only does he still appreciate Harris’ team-first mentality and defensive presence, but you also get the feeling that the point guard has improved his game in every way imaginable and that he will enter the 2022-23 season with high expectations for himself and the team.
He can’t get much better as a defender, but I think there is plenty of room to improve as a scorer and a leader and it sounds like we should expect to see Harris shine in those areas, as well, in the months ahead.
He’s not built from the same mold as Frank Mason III or Devonte’ Graham, but it sure seems like Self is as big a fan of Harris as he was of those two KU greats.
• Both Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh Jr. are going to play
When talking about the two freshmen big men, Self said both Udeh and Ejiofor were “ahead of what we anticipated their schedule to be” and that they both would play minutes immediately. That’s pretty significant news and it’s likely because of their athleticism and approach.
Both seem like players who are willing to do whatever and play wherever to help the team. And they’re both active and strong around the rim and willing to learn and be coached.
Udeh projects as a 5 and Ejiofor is probably more of a 4, but that just means there could be room for both to play meaningful roles. If either (or, again, perhaps both) can bring a dimension of physicality and toughness down low that others can’t, his role will become even more critical.
• For Kevin McCullar, it’s all about knocking down shots
Self knew what McCullar could do on the defensive end when he signed him, and, during our recent conversation, he referred to the former Texas Tech standout “advanced defensively.”
He also knew that, with McCullar’s size, experience and versatility, plugging him into the lineup was not going to be a problem. The guy can play anywhere from 1 through 4 and can blend in with any style and anybody on the floor.
The biggest question about just how good he can be this season is tied to his ability to shoot the ball. If he can knock down open shots consistently, he’s got all-Big 12 potential.
• KJ Adams is an absolute luxury
There was a lot of talk in the summer about whether Adams was more of an inside player or a perimeter player. He said then that so much of where he fits was tied to his jump shot and Self said this summer that he envisioned Adams playing more on the perimeter this season than he did last season, when he logged limited minutes and often at the 5.
While the distinction between Adams living inside or on the wing was not made any clearer during my recent conversation with Self, one thing was — Self called Adams positionless and added “how do you keep him off the court?”
For my money, you can’t. And I think Adams will have as good of any opportunity as anybody on the roster to have a true breakout season. And that’s even if he doesn’t start.
• Lead dog role for Jalen Wilson
Last but not least, I talked to Self for a minute about Jalen Wilson, the team’s top returning scorer from the title team, and there’s nothing but good news there.
Self said Wilson was “hungrier than ever” and that his versatility, attitude and approach have been terrific. While this is not exactly a surprise, it’s definitely big news nonetheless.
Remember, most of the guys Wilson came in with and won a title with are gone now, and it would not be crazy for him to need some time to adjust to that. It doesn’t sound like that’s been necessary, though.
From the minute he announced he was returning to school, Wilson fully embraced his role as the top veteran and team leader and it’s clear that he wants to lead this group the way Ochai Agbaji led the Jayhawks last season.
Beyond that, clips from KU’s recent practices have shown Wilson shooting the heck out of the ball, and, as you all know, that was an area he earmarked for improvement this offseason.
Wilson’s staring at a big season in front of him and he seems to be putting in the necessary work to make sure he delivers when things get rolling. He’ll be the perfect player to lead this team and it seems as if Self believes Wilson is ready to take on the responsibility of filling that role.
After taking this weekend off, KU will wrap up its 20th boot camp under Self sometime next week and shortly thereafter will begin the first official practices for the 2022-23 season, which opens with Late Night on Oct. 14 and an exhibition game against Pitt State on Nov. 3.
KU’s season opener is set for Nov. 7 vs. Omaha at Allen Fieldhouse and the Jayhawks also will face North Dakota State at home on Nov. 10 before heading to Indianapolis for the Champions Classic clash with Duke on Nov. 15.
The conference schedule is still not out yet, but that should be released soon, likely before the end of the month.
When programs are rebuilding, people constantly are on the lookout for signs of progress and concrete proof that things are getting better.
For the Kansas football team, the 2-0 start to the 2022 season is certainly one of those indicators, but an even bigger one showed up this week during the Jayhawks’ regularly schedule press conferences.
On back-to-back days, three separate Jayhawks, including head coach Lance Leipold, talked glowingly about a couple of plays made by wide receiver Lawrence Arnold in last week’s win at West Virginia.
Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and fellow wideout Quentin Skinner were the others involved, and all three of them recounted the plays in nearly the exact same manner and for the exact same reason.
“There were a couple third down catches by Lawrence Arnold and he caught the ball, stuck his foot in the ground, got up field and got the first down,” Leipold said on Tuesday, when asked about the play of KU’s receivers thus far. “A year ago, we would’ve tried to outrun it to the corner and who knows if we get the first down. But they’ve taken the things that we’ve been driving home to them and that’s the part that I’m really proud of with that group.”
While those plays did not go down as game winners like Quentin Skinner’s touchdown catch in OT or Cobee Bryant’s pick-six that sealed the deal, they were indicative of a key part of KU’s rebuilding process.
Even Skinner praised Arnold for his plays, proving that this team’s understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it goes beyond each player simply trying to handle what’s asked of him.
“You saw Lawrence Arnold make a lot of great plays on third down, putting his foot forward, putting his head down and shoulders and covering up that football,” Skinner said when discussing KU’s recent success on third downs and without being asked specifically about Arnold or those plays.
Kotelnicki said Wednesday that the offense starts every meeting by discussing how one play or one moment in a game can be the play that makes the difference.
Arnold’s first down conversions were an example of that.
“You have to assume that every play that you’re playing will be the difference in the game,” Kotelnicki said. “Because you don’t know when it’s going to come up.”
KU’s second-year offensive coordinator also said that the growth he and the rest of the coaching staff have seen from the players in carrying out their assignments was at least partly derived from the coaches being more effective communicators in Year 2 compared to Year 1.
“We’re way better of explaining why we do things,” Kotelnicki said.
Beyond that, when things like Arnold’s conversions in the West Virginia game occur, the coaches make sure to emphasize that in their film sessions as much as any of the things that did not go right.
“It was caught underneath the sticks but he immediately got north and south and got the first down,” Kotelnicki said, giving his recollection of the play. “(When) we were in the meeting room, we pointed out that a year ago, that doesn’t happen.”
He continued by sharing the message they preach to their players.
“Here’s why we do these things: I know they’re mundane and they can be monotonous and you’re not going to want to do them and they’re not fun, but you’ve got to freaking do them because that’s how you improve. It doesn’t need to be complicated and sexy, just do them. Do them with good attitude and good effort and they’re going to start to show up in games.”
Bigger, faster, stronger is always the goal every year. And this team is gaining on that type of progress, as well.
But when you get three different Jayhawks’ pointing to the same part of a recent win at separate times, that’s when you realize that the alignment part of what’s happening with Kansas football is already on the right path.
The buy-in has been there for a while. Now, that commitment and the work that goes into it is starting to produce consistency.
Consistency creates competitive football teams and competitive football teams win games.
KU already has done that twice so far this season and those victories did not come by accident.