So now we know, officially, that Kansas junior Christian Braun is entering his name into the 2022 NBA draft pool so he can test the waters and go through the pre-draft process to see where he stands.
The announcement came late Sunday morning and, almost immediately, scores of KU fans noted in various cyber spaces that Braun’s announcement was a firm goodbye.
It may have been. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that these announcements always tend to sound that way.
They should. This could be it for Braun and Kansas. And if it is, it’s obvious from the announcement that he wants to make it crystal clear what KU meant to him.
Take a look back at Ochai Agbaji’s statement in 2021. In it, he wrote, “I’ll miss playing in front of you and but look forward to representing KU for the rest of my life and making you proud.”
Sounds an awful lot like “goodbye,” doesn’t it? And yet he followed it up by returning to KU and playing 40 more games.
The other reason these announcements tend to sound like the end is because that’s exactly what Kansas coach Bill Self believes they should be. For years, Self has said that anyone who enters the draft process to test the waters should do so full bore, fully intending to leave school and claim their place in the NBA.
That, Self believes, is the only way a player can truly give his best while auditioning for NBA scouts and going through the pre-draft combine and team workouts.
It’s after that when things get interesting. And Braun’s case will be no different.
His mind, for the next five weeks, will be fixed on doing everything he can to show NBA brass that he’s worthy of being drafted in the first round, perhaps even as a fairly high pick.
Several mock drafts have in in the middle to late slots in the first round, so he’s certainly starting from a good position. But those are mock drafts and the evaluation of actual NBA coaches, scouts and general managers will be much more telling for Braun.
In many ways, he enters this process in the absolute perfect position. For one, he’s got the talent to go make a splash. For two, he’s got the support of his family and KU’s coaching staff. For three, he has firsthand knowledge that, if he does not hear exactly what he wants to hear about his draft stock, he can return to KU for another season and set himself up for a heck of a time.
Agbaji showed him that. And while there certainly is no guarantee that Braun would do next season what Agbaji did this season, the idea that it’s possible and that it did wonders for Agbaji’s NBA prospects has to be comforting.
So now it’s all about the feedback. What it says. What it means. What he does with it. And how it helps him become a better player.
If the feedback is positive and lines up with what he wants and needs to hear, Braun will be gone.
If there are questions or doubts and the feedback points to holes in his game that scouts would like to see fixed, Braun could return.
It’s as simple as that. And as of today, even Braun doesn’t know exactly what the future holds. He will in five weeks, though. We all will.
So wish him luck, watch the ride and see what happens.
Here's a look at Agbaji & Braun's draft declarations for you to compare...
Five Jayhawks, including big men Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack, to participate in 3-point contest with Boys & Girls Club
Kansas basketball guards Christian Braun, Dajuan Harris Jr. and Joe Yesufu have been known to hoist up 3-point shots whenever they’re open.
But that trio will be joined by a couple of KU big men who fancy themselves shooters, as well, at this weekend’s Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence annual basketball tournament.
Along with those three KU guards, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot team up with BGCLK members for a 3-point shooting contest at noon on Saturday.
After the shootout, the national champion Jayhawks will sign autographs at 12:30 p.m. and Boys & Girls Club organizers will have mini basketballs for sale at the event, which will take place at Coffin Sports Complex at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.
Lightfoot has shown off his 3-point shot before. He made 13 3-pointers during his six seasons at Kansas, albeit on 40 attempts.
McCormack, however, attempted just five triples in his four seasons at KU and made one. The make came during his junior season and he spent the rest of that year and the offseason reminding any of his teammates who would listen which Jayhawk led the team in 3-point percentage that season.
To say McCormack is excited about the 3-point contest would be an understatement.
“Finally I get recognized for my 3PT game,” McCormack recently tweeted while announcing his participation in the event.
The shooting contest will be mixed into Friday and Saturday’s bracket play, which will be broken into two different divisions for beginners and advanced players. Pairings for the 3-point teams will be drawn just before the 11 a.m. game on Saturday.
Admission to the tournament is $10 for adults and $7 for students ages 6-17. Children 5 and younger will be admitted free. Tickets can be purchased online.
Now that the trophies have been handed out and the postseason banquet is in the bag, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is planning to meet with each member of his roster for what basically will be exit interviews for the 2021-22 season.
Self said at Thursday’s postseason banquet that he already had informal conversations with Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson about their futures. That group, Self said, likely will make announcements about their plans in the next week.
College players have until April 24 to declare for the draft and still be able to return. Rule changes in recent years have made it possible — sensible even — for underclassmen to declare for the draft while maintaining their college eligibility so they can, with the help of a certified agent, get feedback from professional teams and make better decisions.
Players used to only be able to test their draft stock one time but that rule has been amended to allow players to test multiple times. That’s important for a player like Wilson, who tested last season and elected to return.
While most eyes on the KU program will be focused on that foursome during the next several days, Self’s conversations with the rest of the roster will be just as important.
Covered in the one-on-one meetings will be everything from what went right this season to what guys need to work on for next season. This is also where players discuss their futures and roles with the program moving forward.
Last season, Self and company brought 10 new faces into the program — four freshmen, four transfers and two walk-ons. While it’s unlikely that they will approach that number of newcomers again this season, there will be new faces when the 2022-23 season rolls around.
How many remains to be seen and will be partly determined by the decisions made by the four players mentioned above.
With that in mind, here’s an early look at where the roster stands entering the offseason.
Let’s start with the group of seniors that we know will not be back. That includes Mitch Lightfoot, Ochai Agbaji, Remy Martin, Jalen Coleman-Lands and walk-on Chris Teahan.
McCormack’s probably in that group, too, especially when you look at how well he played in the NCAA Tournament and Final Four. I can’t imagine his stock ever getting higher and I can’t imagine a better way to end a career.
Technically, because of the extra year afforded by COVID-19, Agbaji and McCormack both could come back. But Self said Thursday that no one should hold their breath on Agbaji even entertaining a return. And it seems like a smart bet to assume McCormack will move on, too.
That brings us to the junior class, where Christian Braun has by far the most interesting and difficult decision on the entire roster.
Could he go? Absolutely. Many mock drafts have started to plug him in as a first-round pick in this summer’s draft and the draft guys I’ve spoken with say they love how Braun’s game translates to the next level. The question is this: Would returning for his senior season boost his stock even more?
It did for Agbaji. And the general thinking around the draft is that if Braun came back and had an Agbaji-like jump next season, he could become a lottery pick.
The potential is there for him to do so, both in terms of room to improve his game and the kind of role he would have coming back.
Jalen Wilson is in a very similar position.
“Both have a chance to have big, big, big next years,” Self said Thursay night. “But I don’t think (they) should look at it that way. Look at it as go get feedback. After you get feedback you can make a decision. You don’t worry about next year until you see what is right in front of you now.”
Wilson has yet to show up on mock drafts consistently and while his role on this team’s title run was undeniably huge, he doesn’t have quite as many obvious skills that translate to the pro game at this time. The biggest area where that could change is if he becomes a more reliable outside shooter and adds that as a bona fide weapon next to his toughness, rebounding and ability to attack off the dribble.
After a slow start, Wilson finished the season as KU’s second-leading scorer (11.1 points per game) and top rebounder (7.4 rebounds per game). He shot just 26.3% from 3-point range, though.
Outside of that group, the player with the most obvious immediate future is Dajuan Harris Jr., who will return for his junior season as KU’s unquestioned starting point guard with the potential to play three more seasons because of his initial redshirt and the COVID year that’s still available to him.
As for the future for KU’s underclassmen, it’s hard to know exactly what they’re thinking, but it sure seems likely that big roles await KJ Adams, Zach Clemence and Bobby Pettiford.
Self reminded Adams that he was on the floor for the final play of KU’s national championship win and noted that Adams was great in the limited playing time he got throughout the season. I've heard nothing but good things about Adams' feelings about Kansas and would expect him to put in a monster offseason to be ready for a big role next year.
Clemence, who spent chunks of the 2021-22 season battling injury, was called a pro prospect by Self on Thursday night and his ability as a long, tall, tough stretch 4 certainly could be viewed as a legitimate weapon for KU heading into Year 2.
Self’s love of Pettiford has never been in question. The injuries the KU point guard battled throughout the season did not change Self’s opinion that Pettiford has a chance to be “the next great guard” at KU, and he said those words again at Thursday’s banquet.
Combo guard Joseph Yesufu played some important minutes for the Jayhawks this season and, most importantly, now has a full year of playing for Self under his belt. His strength, speed and athleticism still seem like they could benefit the program and he talked at the parade about leadership being an area he wants to improve heading into next season.
In terms of scholarship guys, that leaves super-senior forward Cam Martin and freshman guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., two players who redshirted the 2021-22 season.
The whole reason Martin redshirted this season was so KU would have size and experience up front heading into the 2022-23 season. Self said Thursday that he thought then and still thinks today that Martin redshirting was a smart decision. A year in the system and the chance to learn from Self, Lightfoot and McCormack no doubt helped position the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward to be more comfortable heading into next season.
Outside of Braun and Wilson, Cuffe may be the biggest question mark on the entire roster. It’s hard to know exactly what kind of playing time will be there for him. It could be a lot and, if KU were to add another player through the portal, it could be very little. He came to KU a year early and Self said Thursday that he believes he’s going to be a very good college player because of his athleticism and IQ.
Assuming McCormack moves on, that opens up four scholarships — Lightfoot’s did not count last season — for the four signed freshmen KU is bringing to town in Gradey Dick, MJ Rice, Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh Jr.
If Self and company want to add another player via the transfer portal, at least one scholarship player currently on the roster would have to decide to move on – either by entering the NBA draft or via transfer.
That certainly could happen and it has happened a lot in recent years. But it’s also worth noting that Self would have to see something in the portal he likes a lot to move ahead with that kind of roster reconstruction.
One such name to watch in that area is SMU guard Kendric Davis, who was the American Athletic Conference player of the year after averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 37% from 3-point range last season.
Davis has both entered his name into the NBA draft pool and entered the transfer portal and several national reports have indicated that the cream of the crop in college basketball, including Kansas, already have reached out to him.
Adding Davis would be akin to what Kansas did by adding Remy Martin last season, even if it wouldn’t come with quite the same amount of hype and buzz. Still, Davis will be among the top available players in the transfer portal and most programs out there will at least check into his interest in joining them and how he might fit with their roster.
Expect Braun, McCormack and Wilson to all enter their names in the draft pool for now and expect the Kansas coaching staff to begin to put the wheels in motion for contingency plans that will cover them regardless of what those players, and possibly others, decide to do.
The guess here, at least as of today, is that McCormack moves on and Braun and Wilson return for another season, with Wilson being the most likely of the two to do that.
If that happens, KU will return three starters from a national championship team and add to that a recruiting class that ranks No. 3 overall per Rivals.com.
Buckle up, KU fans. Things might not get quite as crazy as they were last offseason, but it seems fairly certain that there will be some movement worth tracking that will impact the way the Jayhawks look heading into next season.
Despite the presence of a trophy, all that gear & Sunday’s parade, many Kansas basketball fans still in disbelief that their team finished on top
They saw the final score, witnessed nets being cut down and the trophy being handed out and even purchased T-Shirts and attended or watched a parade.
So why is it that many Kansas basketball fans are still in that pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real stage regarding Bill Self’s bunch bringing home the 2022 national title?
There are many answers to that question, but the ones I got from inquiring about it on Twitter seemed to sum it up best.
The quest started with a post from @JayhawkTalk, who laid out the very scenario listed above and then added, “And it STILL hasn’t fully set in. Not sure when it will.”
Hundreds of KU fans responded to my question whether they, too, felt like @JayhawkTalk and if they had any idea why. Here’s a collection of some of the best replies.
“I do,” wrote @DanEngland. “Maybe I had given up at halftime or maybe it’s because I never had national title expectations for this team. I don’t know.”
From @PannoneNick: “Yeah. I felt the same in ’08, too. That tournament is so stinking hard to win. There are so many things that have to go right to pull it off. Slaying the dragon with ‘Nova and the comeback, then thinking about the second-half adjustments all tourney. It’s crazy!”
“I am still in shock,” wrote @Jeffandstph2012.
“Still feels more like a dream than reality at this point,” added @beems34.
The response from @WestCoastHawkKU pointed to measuring this team against past KU champions: “In ’88 we had the best player in the country/#1 pick. In ’08, a team filled with NBA guys. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really know what we have in ’22. This year was a surprise — a great surprise — but it will take time to figure out how great this team was. … Under truth serum, I doubt I could have said I saw this team as a serious contender 2 months ago. ’08 always felt like one. This needs to sink in.”
“I thought it was just me,” wrote @Wildcats1600. “I still can’t believe it. They have set one helluva standard.”
Karen Holmes, who goes by @RockChalkinTX on Twitter, wrote that even though she watched the games from afar she always felt like a part of “something really special.” She added that, after all of the real world challenges of the past couple of years, the feeling of celebrating a title like this is a bit overwhelming because it was “what we ALL needed!”
For @theREALgigante_, the sudden ending of it all makes it hard to digest in a short amount of time. “It’s something we do two or three times a week for like five months then it abruptly ends. Even when it’s on the happiest of notes, it just feels like there should be more games to watch.”
Added @rupertpupkin91: “There’s times when it hits and I have one of those moments, but most of the time I have to remind myself what transpired. Still can’t believe it!”
Ty Logan, aka @lugnut527, has some advice for those needing help believing it.
“Watch the games 4-5 more times like I did. Soak it all in.”
If there’s one thing we know about championship teams at Kansas it’s that their games live on forever. Especially those from the NCAA Tournament run. So whether they intend to do it or not, Jayhawk fans figure to have plenty of chances to take Logan’s advice in the days, months and years to come.
By now, whether you watched it just once live, have watched a couple of replays since or simply can’t stop watching it at all, you’re well aware of all of the key plays in Monday’s 72-69 win over North Carolina that delivered Kansas the 2022 national title.
There were the two big buckets by David McCormack late. There was the defensive stand by Christian Braun on UNC’s final shot to tie the game. And there were the four 3-point makes by Remy Martin, including two absolute ice-in-your-veins swishes late in the second half.
But what about the plays that aren’t as well remembered or didn’t grab quite as much attention in the aftermath of the win and those aforementioned big moments that led to it?
Just about every game has plays like those. And this year’s national championship game was no different. While the plays listed above might have been the most critical, in a game where a team comes back from 15 down at the break, every single positive play winds up being huge.
Kansas had plenty of those in the second half and in this space we’ll look back at a few of the most overlooked on KU’s road to the cutting down the nets.
1 – Remy Martin’s late block
Arguably the biggest defensive play of the entire season, Martin was beat on the drive to his right by UNC sophomore Caleb Love and had to do some hand fighting to recover.
The officials let that go and Love still had a fairly clear path to the basket with less than a minute to play and UNC trailing by a point. A bucket here would’ve put all the pressure on the Jayhawks.
But, perhaps sensing that he would not get over in time to cut off the drive, Martin slipped behind love and blocked the shot from behind. Replays show that Love went up with the clear belief that he had a layup. But Martin swatted it out of bounds from behind to save the possession and allow KU to reset its defense.
On the very next play, with KU still leading by one, UNC big man Armando Bacot fell down on his drive to the rim, turning the ball over to Kansas, which got a bucket from McCormack to go up by three with 22 seconds to play.
For a guy known for his offense, who struggled mightily to play Kansas-level, Bill-Self-approved defense, this was a terrific play at a massive moment.
2 – Dajuan Harris Jr. forces the inbounds turnover
The second half started about as perfectly as it could for Kansas, with a stop and a score on the first two possessions.
But there was a play in there that didn’t actually end up leading to points for Kansas that looked, to me, like it played a huge role in the KU comeback and the UNC collapse.
Right after David McCormack scored on a lob to cut the lead to 40-27 — assistant coach Jeremy Case, who had the scout for the game, told me that play was his favorite, by the way — Harris forced a UNC turnover when Leaky Black stepped over the baseline before inbounding it while trying to get the ball to Caleb Love.
Love was hounded by Harris, who gave him nowhere to go. And Black’s momentum carried him onto the court without anyone to pass to, which led to the turnover.
As I mentioned, KU did not score off of this, but it happened right in front of me and the looks in the eyes of Love and Black led me to believe they knew the game was not in the bag. In fact, it looked as if the play took their soul and panic started to set in.
3 – Remy Martin’s hard drive to the rim to put KU up 65-61
In looking back at my running score sheet from this one, I noticed that all three of Martin’s 3-pointers in the second half broke ties. Incredible.
The first gave KU a 53-50 lead midway through the second half, marking the Jayhawks’ first lead of the game since 18-16 early in the first half. The second gave KU a 60-57 lead after UNC’s Puff Johnson had tied the game at 57 with a 3-pointer of his own. And the third, which has been the most shown and probably was the most incredible, pushed KU to a 68-65 lead after Martin drained a step-back 3 from the wing in front of the KU bench, over the outstretched arm of UNC big man Armando Bacot.
As clutch and incredible as all three of those shots were, Martin’s hard drive to the rim and finish through contact with his left hand might have been even wilder. UNC had just cut a four-point KU lead back down to two and the Jayhawks were trying to hang on. Martin, who had a somewhat rough first half, instantly flipped the switch to attack mode and scored the tough basket to push KU’s lead back to two possessions.
Although the Tar Heels wound up tying the game again — and even took a late lead — after that, Martin’s bucket made sure it didn’t happen any earlier and may have kept Carolina from wrestling back any of the momentum that KU had stolen.
Just for fun, since they didn’t end up hurting anything in the long run, let’s look back at three moments that didn’t go KU’s way that surely seemed agonizing at the time.
1 – Ochai Agbaji’s 1-for-3 trip to the FT line
In the two possessions after UNC’s RJ Davis scored on a third-chance bucket to put the Tar Heels back up by a dozen after a KU run early in the second half, KU got five quick points to cut the lead back down to seven.
That set the stage for Ochai Agbaji to draw a foul on Leaky Black on a 3-point attempt with Kansas trailing 45-38 with 14:50 to play. With KU stealing some of the momentum back, this moment seemed huge. Agbaji, the All-American senior leader, surely was headed to the line to cut the UNC lead to four. Until he wasn’t.
Agbaji missed the first and third of the three free throw attempts, even going as far as to say to himself, ‘Oh my God,’ after the first miss.
Agbaji finished 3-of-8 at the free throw line on the night, a stat line that may have haunted him and Kansas fans forever had the Jayhawks not made enough plays the rest of the way.
2 – Agbaji’s 3-pointer that went around, down and out with 11:25 to play and Kansas trailing 48-47
Despite the two free throw misses mentioned above, KU kept coming, trimming the lead to one on two occasions in the next 3:30 of game time.
Christian Braun was responsible for cutting it to one both times, and, after the second, following a UNC 3-point miss on the other end, Agbaji rose and fired from the wing to give Kansas the lead.
The ball rolled around the entire rim and even went down halfway before squirting out.
Even though the Jayhawks still had all of the momentum and more than 11 minutes remaining to get the job done, that miss seemed cruel in the moment, like one of those that shows you that no matter how hard you fight and how close you get, you just might not be able to get over the hump. KU did, of course. But no one knew it at that moment.
3 – David McCormack’s third foul
Part of the reason it seemed so obvious that McCormack should win Most Outstanding Player honors was because of how clear it was that Kansas was fine when he was on the floor and in trouble when he wasn’t.
UNC big man Armando Bacot was too much for the rest of the Jayhawks to handle consistently, and he had a terrific finish to the first half when McCormack sat with two fouls.
Then, 1:24 into the second half, McCormack was whistled for his third foul with a whole bunch of time still remaining and KU down by 13 points.
From my seat, it didn’t look like much of a foul. But I’ve talked to enough people who said he hit Davis pretty hard. That foul was the play that preceded the forced turnover by Harris mentioned above.
And the fact that Self chose to roll with McCormack despite the three fouls told you how dire the situation was for Kansas.
It turned out to be a genius move, McCormack played a massive role in the comeback and the win and McCormack fouled just once more in the 17:31 of court time he saw the rest of the game.
One of the biggest challenges of modern-day college basketball is that the roster building never stops.
Win a national title? Cool. Congrats. Better get back on the recruiting trail the very next day.
That has become particularly critical with the rise of the transfer portal. Whether you’re a college basketball blue blood or a small-budget mid-major, the grind never ends.
Programs like Kentucky, Texas, Michigan State, and more, have been on the prowl for nearly three weeks after enduring early exits from the NCAA Tournament.
There’s no way that anyone would trade winning a title for a three-week jumpstart on the transfer scene. But that head start for others makes it crucial for those who play deep into the tournament to get right to it after the celebration subsides.
At Kansas, recruiting is a year-round endeavor and has been for years anyway. But the extra attention required to make a run to the national title no doubt pushed that to the back burner for a couple of weeks.
The good news for these Jayhawks is that the 2022 recruiting class was already full entering the tournament. Five-star prospects Gradey Dick and MJ Rice, along with four-star forwards Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh Jr., give Kansas one of the top classes in the country as is.
The bad news for KU is that foursome is not likely to be the only players they bring in before the 2022-23 season begins.
Fresh off of winning it all, Bill Self’s Jayhawks enter into a wait-and-react period, where decisions from a handful of current players with eligibility remaining, as well as contact from transfers who might be interested in joining the program, create a level of uncertainty that can make it tough to predict what’s next.
In the past, with a newly crowned national champ like Kansas, fans and the rest of the college basketball world easily would be able to look at the roster, pick out who’s coming back and decide how likely that team is to defend its title the following year.
Today, too much is unknown to be able to do that and to be confident that you’re anywhere close to accurate.
We’ll get to those decisions by the Jayhawks in another article and plan to have plenty of coverage of that aspect and whatever movement there may be in the weeks to come.
But keep it in mind as lists of new schools and potential suitors for big name transfers start to surface.
In the Big 12 Conference alone, we’ve already learned that K-State guard Nijel Pack, Texas guard Courtney Ramey and Texas Tech wing Terrence Shannon Jr. are looking for new places to play next season. And they’re just three of the several hundred players nationwide who already have entered the transfer portal this offseason.
It would be naïve to think that there won’t be some type of movement within the KU program. And that’s why it’s so important to get fully back to the recruiting grind after winning it all.
The transfer portal is here to stay. And you can bet that Kansas will look to take advantage of it every offseason from here on out.
One important factor to note this year, however, is that the NCAA deadline for transferring with immediate eligibility for fall and winter sports athletes is May 1, not July 1 as it was last year. It appears that this will be a permanent part of the NCAA calendar, with July 1 being the key date for spring sports athletes.
That should help coaches manage their rosters a little better — and earlier — than what we saw a year ago. But there will be movement. Make no mistake about that. And if you're as lucky as Kansas or North Carolina to land a difference-maker like Remy Martin or Brady Manek, that player movement could wind up paying off in a very big way.
New Orleans — There’s a number of ways Monday night’s national championship game between Kansas and North Carolina can go. And it’s anyone’s guess how it will actually play out.
Here’s what we do know, though. Both teams are talented, confident, riding some serious momentum and ready to compete their tails off for the chance to bring home the trophy.
The top-seeded Jayhawks are favored by about 4 points in the eyes of oddsmakers in Las Vegas. KenPom.com sees it as an even bigger KU edge, with his predicted score at 80-74 in favor of the Jayhawks.
I’ve got it even a little bigger. Kansas 84, North Carolina 72.
Nothing would surprise me in this game, but it feels, to me, like one the Jayhawks should and will win. The ankle injury to UNC big man Armando Bacot played a part in that thinking, but only in where I set the final score. A fully healthy Bacot, by my estimation anyway, would probably be worth another five or six points for the Tar Heels. So, if he were not injured, I probably would’ve put the final score closer to 79-73.
He is, though. And as much as I have no doubt that he’ll play and be willing to give it everything he’s got, I just can’t help but think he’ll be closer to 75 or 80% than 100. That’s a big deal.
Not only will it keep him from being as active on the glass, but it also figures to keep him from being able to fully push off of that sore right ankle, neutralizing at least some of the advantage he typically gains by using his strength.
At 100% health, I’d give the edge in the Bacot matchup with David McCormack to the Tar Heels. But as it stands today, I think it’s a wash.
The backcourt is interesting both ways, with some pretty good defenders and confident shooters/scorers on both sides. I think KU’s depth and versatility in the backcourt is a little better than UNC’s, so I like Kansas to have the edge there.
That brings it to the other key matchup — Brady Manek vs. Jalen Wilson. This, in my mind, is the most important matchup in this entire game.
If Wilson is up for the task of sticking to Manek on defense, it’ll go a long way toward helping Kansas emerge victorious. He doesn’t have to be perfect. He doesn’t have to do it alone. But he does have to make Manek feel him and make him uncomfortable. I think he’s capable. And I’m willing to bet we’ll see the best defensive game of Wilson’s life tonight.
On the other end, when Wilson has the ball in his hands and turns the corner to get downhill, the advantage is clearly on the Kansas side. Manek is not known for being a great defender and if Wilson attacks him with the drive, while doing so under control and with poise and a purpose, it will either lead to easy buckets or Manek foul trouble. Both would benefit the Jayhawks.
UNC has its share of advantages. Caleb Love is a hard guard and is playing with crazy confidence — even on bad shooting nights. So the Jayhawks won’t be able to fall asleep on him and they’ll have to make sure they guard him for the full 40 minutes. If he gets loose, Carolina gains confidence.
Overall, though, I think KU has more options, more weapons and more versatility, not to mention the better defense. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. And they’re certainly going to have to play well. But if the Jayhawks show up as loose and locked in as they have looked throughout their time here in New Orleans, I can’t see any reason they won’t be in for one heck of a night.
Jalen Wilson’s lucky hat has been a key part of his postseason experience with the top-seeded Jayhawks
New Orleans — If you’ve seen Jalen Wilson off of the basketball court during the past couple of weeks, chances are you’ve seen him with his new favorite hat.
But it might not be the one you think.
Wilson, a starter for top-seeded Kansas who has averaged a double-double throughout the Jayhawks’ run to Monday’s national title game against North Carolina — 8:20 p.m. central on TBS — has been rocking his Big 12 tournament champions hat throughout the postseason.
It’s black, which is Wilson’s preferred color for his headgear. It sits cozily propped up on top of the third-year sophomore’s full head of hair. And it even has a piece of the net that Kansas cut down in Kansas City, Missouri, tied to the back.
“This is my favorite hat,” Wilson said this week with a smile. “It says championship on it.”
After winning the Midwest regional in Chicago, the Jayhawks received brand new Final Four hats and T-Shirts. Many wore them throughout the celebration and even onto the bus hours after the game ended.
Even Wilson tried it. On his way out of the United Center that night, he walked past me and smiled and said, “Got me a new hat.”
But he then he turned back to the old one for the trip to New Orleans, estimating that he spent no more than “a couple hours” with the white Final Four hat.
“I didn’t like it as much as this one,” he said this week. “I don’t know (why). It’s been working so I’m just going to keep wearing it.”
There’ll be a new hat on the line for the Jayhawks and Tar Heels tonight. If Kansas wins, you might keep an eye on Wilson to see if he’s a fan of the new cap.
David McCormack’s work just to be out there has earned the respect of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self
New Orleans — A lot has been made about Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin getting to a Final Four or even Mitch Lightfoot returning to one.
But there’s another Kansas player who has gone through as much as any of them to be here this weekend.
His name is David McCormack and he has the utmost respect of KU coach Bill Self for making it this far.
The reason? As he battled the lingering effects of offseason foot injury, which has kept his right foot sore for most of the 2021-22 season, McCormack could have folded or made excuses or explained that he simply could not go.
But he never did. Instead, he sucked it up as needed, worked twice as hard to stay fresh and ready and continued to make himself available night in and night out for the top-seeded Jayhawks.
“I think we've had a ton of guys that want it and their preparation is great and everything,” Self explained this week. “I think I probably respect David's prep more than most because guys, if we practice at 3:00, you show up at 1:30, you get taped, you go to weights, you practice, and you go home. With David, (we) practice at 3:00, weights at 2:00, (and he shows) up at 11:30 to get treatment and do all the things that he’s doing probably six days a week, seven days a week. Just so he could go to practice.”
All of that has resulted in the senior forward from Norfolk, Virginia averaging 21.5 minutes per game and playing a key role for the Jayhawks as a full-time starter and half of the answer at the 5 position.
There have been plenty of times this season when it has been obvious that McCormack’s foot has been bothering him. Sometimes that fact has had a major impact on his ability to be effective on the floor. Other times, it has been something he has merely pushed past to do whatever he could to help this team win.
“His prep work for opponents is probably very consistent with others,” Self said. “But what he has to go through to put himself in a position to play, I can't help but respect that a ton.”
Although he has talked about the effects of his foot injury even less than his head coach, McCormack shared some of his appreciation for his ability to power through the injury and soreness this week while leading up to Saturday’s Final Four clash with Villanova at 5:09 p.m. on TBS.
McCormack called the entire journey “crazy” and said simply, “Look at me now; I’m at the Final Four,” when he was asked about coming back from the foot injury he suffered late last season.
“It’s been a journey and it’s definitely been a time of ups and downs,” he added. “There has been frustration. There has been celebration. I would not have (wanted to go) through it with any other team or with any other coaching staff. These are the right people to have in your corner. That’s all I can really say. It’s a great feeling.”
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New Orleans — Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said earlier this week that he never even considered starting Remy Martin over Dajuan Harris Jr. because he liked the way Martin provided the Jayhawks with a spark off the bench and didn’t want to mess with a starting lineup that has been red hot.
While Self is the head honcho and gets to make all of those types of decisions, the fact that Harris and Martin have developed a closeness and appreciation for what the other brings to the floor made the decision even easier to make.
Now, with the two Kansas point guards bringing different things to the table for the highest seeded team remaining in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Self is ecstatic about the state of his point guard position.
“They’ve got a pretty good partnership going,” Self said on Friday, a little more than 24 hours before his Jayhawks (32-6) face Villanova in the Final Four at the Caesars Superdome.
A big part of the reason they do is because of the way Harris has handled sharing the role. Earlier this season, with Martin both struggling to adjust to Kansas basketball and fighting injuries, Harris was routinely playing more than 30 minutes per game.
Since Martin’s breakout, which coincided with the start of the postseason, Harris has seen his average minutes played dip to 23 minutes per game, with him and Martin each roughly playing half of the game.
There have been times when the two have been out there together. And, when the matchup is right (which it won’t be versus Villanova) Self still likes the idea of putting those two on the floor at the same time. But regardless of who plays when, Self said the whole thing has worked because of the attitude Harris has had about sharing the role.
“He didn’t care,” Self said of Harris. “Juan is having the time of his life. He’s a remarkable young man and for anybody to go through that much hardship and family tragedy, it’s truly incredible that a guy of his age could handle it as well as he has. So Juan could care less. And I’ll be candid with you, Remy may care, but he doesn’t care much either.”
Both players want to play as much as they’re needed and win above everything else.
“There is one thing about Dajuan Harris that everybody has learned this season,” KU junior Christian Braun said on Friday. “He’s just a winner. All he did was with at (AAU program) MOKAN. All he did in high school basketball was win. So, the one thing that has been true in Dajuan’s life is he just wins. So, how has he handled it? It doesn’t even affect him. You wouldn’t even notice. Remy’s done great. He was the Most Outstanding Player of our regional and Dajuan doesn’t bat an eye at it.
He continued: “If Dajuan doesn’t play a minute, he would be just as happy as if he played every minute. He’s grateful to be here and, obviously he is competitive and wants to be in the game, but he knows whatever lineup we go with, we also know Dajuan is not going to pout. He’s the biggest cheerleader for everybody. He’s also competitive and wants to be out there, but he’s just a winner and will do whatever it takes to win.”
One of the biggest reasons the partnership has worked is the fact that Harris and Martin — like everyone on this roster — genuine like each other and enjoy playing together.
“It’s great,” Harris said Friday. “Last night, Remy was in our room talking — me and CB’s room — he be coming in there sometimes on away games and it’s great. It’s fun playing with him. He gives us a lot of energy and it’s just fun being around him.”
Harris, Martin and top-seeded Kansas (32-6) are slated to tip off against No. 2 seed Villanova at 5:09 p.m. Saturday in the first of two national semifinals. Duke and Carolina will play afterwards and the winners will meet Monday night for the national title.
Here's a look at our coverage from New Orleans so far: