KU junior Jalen Wilson says Jayhawks’ current freshman class reminds him of the group he came in with in 2019
A couple of weeks after making the decision to return to Kansas for his redshirt junior season, KU’s Jalen Wilson noted that the freshman class the Jayhawks will go to battle with during the 2022-23 season reminded him a lot of the group he came in with as a freshman in 2019-20.
“Just long wings that can do different things and are really versatile,” he said. “I see really good things ahead.”
Other than true big man Ernest Udeh Jr., who figures to compete for minutes at the 5, those words perfectly describe current Kansas freshmen Gradey Dick, Zuby Ejiofor and MJ Rice, all players who can fill a variety of roles and play different positions.
Even though it was not that long ago, let’s look back to Wilson’s class, which is almost all gone now, to see what kind of shoes the current crew will be trying to fill.
Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. was a bit of a late get in the 2019 class and it was clear pretty early that he would redshirt his first season with the program.
Little Rock, Arkansas, guard Issac McBride was also in that class, but he didn’t stick around. So it’s basically down to Wilson, Christian Braun and Tristan Enaruna being the three guys who remind Wilson of this year’s gang.
Braun made an immediate impact and left KU after three seasons as a national champion and a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Enaruna transferred out, first to Iowa State for a year and then to Cleveland State, where he’ll play the 2022-23 season.
Wilson, of course, wound up redshirting that year, too, but only after suffering a broken ankle in the second game of the 2019-20 season.
His potential was evident to those around him early on, though. Former Wilson teammate Ochai Agbaji, now a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, called Wilson “different” when talking about him getting the start in the first exhibition game of the season.
“He was already hype for it. He was excited and at the same time he was confident, too, and that’s something I respect about him,” Agbaji said at the time.
According to the recruiting sites, Wilson was the highest-rated prospect Kansas signed in the 2019 class. But he was not quite in the same category as Dick or Rice, who were both five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans.
Dick is a 6-foot-8, 208-pound, sweet-shooting athlete whose offensive game is already pretty refined. He compares most favorably in this context to Braun in that he, like Braun a few years ago, is ready to play big minutes in Year 1.
Rice is a 6-5, 220-pound scorer who uses his physical frame and body control to score at all three levels. He compares most favorably to the 2019 version of Wilson and is probably more prepared for a bigger role today than Wilson was then.
And Ejiofor is a 6-9, 235-pound athlete who can play on the wing or down low. It’s still early, but he seems far bigger and more assertive than Enaruna was at any point during his time at Kansas. Minutes could be tough to come by because of the depth and talent ahead of him, which was the case for Enaruna in 2019, as well.
While the group Wilson came in with was asked to play only a small role on a loaded team, KU’s crew from the Class of 2022 could feature a couple of starters and likely will see three players — possibly even all four — land in the rotation.
Their pedigree, along with their talent and skill sets, is a big reason that Wilson believes the 2022-23 Jayhawks have enough to make another run at a national title next spring.
“I think it’s really good,” he said of KU’s current roster. “You look at the young guys, you look at the guys who were already here with us last year, I think there’s a lot of potential.”
Kansas basketball to face North Carolina State in opening round of Battle 4 Atlantis event in November
Organizers for the Battle 4 Atlantis college hoops tournament in November recently released the bracket for this year’s event in the Bahamas.
KU will play North Carolina State at 11 a.m. on Nov. 23 in the opening game of the tournament.
The winner of that game will face the winner of the Round 1 matchup between Dayton and Wisconsin the following day.
North Carolina State is led by sixth-year coach Kevin Keatts. The Wolfpack finished 11-21 last season (4-16 in the ACC) and are 1-11 all-time in the series with Kansas.
KU lost to Dayton last year in the second round of the ESPN Events Invitaitonal in Orlando and also faced the Flyers in the championship game of the Maui Invitational in 2019, when KU won an overtime thriller.
The other side of the Atlantis bracket features USC taking on BYU and Tennessee facing Butler. The winners of those games will also play on Nov. 24 and the finals are set for Nov. 25.
Former Kansas basketball assistant coach Jerrance Howard has resigned from his position on Chris Beard’s staff at the University of Texas, according to a report from Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman.
Howard played for KU coach Bill Self at Illinois and worked under him at Kansas for eight seasons before leaving for Texas in April of 2021.
Howard played a key role in recruiting during his time with the Jayhawks and was equally as important to the Longhorns’ recruiting efforts during his one season in Austin.
The 42-year-old native of Peoria, Ill., was named one of college basketball’s “40 under 40” most influential figures by ESPN following the 2019-20 season.
Davis’ report noted that Howard had “wiped all UT references from his Twitter account” and also did not respond to a message seeking comment. A UT spokesman told Davis that Howard “has been pursuing other opportunities.” Davis reported that Howard’s name also had been removed from the UT directory.
Those who knew Howard at Kansas knew that he wanted to be a head coach one day and had looked into potential head coaching openings in the past.
Whether that’s where his departure from UT leads or if he stays in the coaching profession at all remains to be seen.
Howard responded to a text message from the Journal-World on Thursday night by saying he would share information about his next step soon.
I have yet to see new KU commitment Chris Johnson play basketball in person, but watching his highlight clips showed me everything I needed to know.
Johnson is the guard version of current Kansas forward Jalen Wilson.
Big, physical, tough and fearless, Johnson plays a brand of basketball that is similar to the way Wilson plays. Give him another couple inches and 30 pounds and you might think you’re seeing double.
You wouldn’t be alone either. Johnson told me Wednesday afternoon that even his own mother, Sheryl, has drawn the comparison between the current and future Jayhawks.
“My mom says he and I look like twins,” Johnson said.
Maybe the hair style or the demeanor or the unrelenting confidence led Sheryl to that conclusion. But it’s definitely the game, as well.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably not going to see Johnson playing the 4 for the Jayhawks any time soon. But much in the way Marcus Garrett could hold down that spot when asked during his college days, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.
Johnson’s a guard, though. And a good one. By the time the rankings in the 2023 class are finalized, I fully expect him to jump into five-star territory.
The comparison between Johnson and Wilson, at least in my mind, is 100% tied to how physical both players are. Johnson said Wednesday that he loved to play defense and liked to use his physicality on that end so the players he’s guarding are sure to feel him when he’s out there.
Wilson has uttered similar words in the past, more about his rebounding and relentless desire to turn the corner and get to the basket, which, by the way, Johnson’s pretty good at doing himself.
One of the things that attracted Johnson to Kansas was the fact that Bill Self and his staff have shown in recent years that they’re willing — and may even favor — to play a positionless style of basketball.
Guards and wings all over the floor. Whoever gets it off the glass brings it up. Shooters and athletes with Kansas across their chest spreading the defense and creating driving lanes for each other, with the defense never really sure where the point of attack will be.
All of that fits perfectly into the style that Johnson feels most comfortable playing. And that’s what makes him as good of a fit for the KU program as any I can remember Self landing in recent years. Plenty of guys have developed into exactly what the Jayhawks needed them to be after they arrived on campus. But few were as ready, from a stylistic standpoint, as Johnson seems to be. Devon Dotson was one. Josh Jackson was another. And maybe a big guy or two.
It’s unlikely that Johnson and Wilson will ever play together for the Jayhawks. But don’t be surprised if the staff brings more players in just like them in the years to come.
Whether they fit the twin billing will be up to their mothers. All the coaches care about is that they can play. And Johnson, like Wilson — another Texan, by the way — has that part down already.
With summer workouts now in the past and the 2022-23 Kansas basketball roster set, we have a little better idea of how Bill Self’s squad will look when it hits the floor to defend the 2022 national title later this year.
The Jayhawks will feature a returning core of veterans in Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr., and Self and company are eager to see what returning role players like Zach Clemence, KJ Adams, Joe Yesufu and Bobby Pettiford can do in their second seasons with the program.
Then there are the newcomers. It’s not 11 new faces like it was a season ago. But it’s a decent amount nonetheless, headlined by Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr. as well as five-star freshmen Gradey Dick and MJ Rice.
The 2022-23 Jayhawks have even more depth in the front court in the form of freshmen Ernest Udeh Jr. and Zuby Ejiofor along with super-senior big man Cam Martin, who transferred to KU from Division II Missouri Southern State last season but elected to redshirt.
But it’s still too early to know what any of those three will bring to the lineup, and no one quite knows what to expect from second-year Jayhawk Kyle Cuffe Jr., who also redshirted last season.
What is known, however, is that the Jayhawks themselves believe they have the kind of roster in place that can make a real run at defending the title and getting the Jayhawks back to the Final Four for a second consecutive year.
Now that we’ve seen some of these guys play and recently talked to nearly all of them, let’s dive into exactly what this team looks like entering the rest of the summer.
Here, in no particular order, are three obvious strengths and three potential question marks surrounding the 2022-23 Jayhawks.
• Leadership – Harris is a natural leader because of the way he plays the point guard position and he has vowed to be more intentional about his leadership next season, as well. But all signs point to Wilson as the biggest reason this team will be in good shape in the leadership department. Not only is Wilson the team’s top returning player, but he also may be the most competitive and should be the face of the program. He’s hungry to improve his draft stock and show the world that the Jayhawks are still among the top teams in the country, and he’ll push both himself and his teammates to try to prove that to the rest of college basketball. And then, of course, there’s Self, who, despite the still-looming NCAA investigation, just seems to be getting better and having more fun all the time. Both of those elements benefit his teams in a big way.
• Backcourt and wing depth – In Wilson and McCullar, along with Dick and Rice, the Jayhawks have four uber-talented wings with a good mix of experience. All four of those guys can play multiple positions and each brings something slightly different to the roster. Dick is arguably the team’s best shooter and a terrific athlete. Rice is a three-level scorer with physical maturity beyond his years. McCullar is a defensive menace. And Wilson’s intangibles are headlined by his rebounding prowess and ability to push the ball in the open floor and drive to the rim. Add to that the top trio of guards in Harris, Yesufu and Pettiford, who also are interchangeable in the backcourt, and you’re looking at a roster that figures to have all kinds of flexibility in terms of both who plays and how they play.
• Perimeter defense – There’s plenty of hope (and reason to believe) that Pettiford and Yesufu can both be elite, impact defenders on the perimeter. But the Jayhawks already know that Harris and McCullar are. That duo, along with KU’s typical progression of improving its team defense from week to week throughout the season, should give this squad the potential to be pretty solid defensively. After being ranked in the 40s midway through the season in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency numbers, the 2021-22 Jayhawks climbed all the way up to 17th by season’s end. The 2022-23 squad should start closer to that number. How high the Jayhawks climb will be largely dependent on how they defend down low. But their perimeter defense — especially if they play small — should be a strength on Day 1.
• What happens inside? – It sure looks like sophomore Zach Clemence is going to get the first crack at starting at the 5 for the Jayhawks and the table appears to be set for a breakout season. Clemence, who is highly competitive and supremely gifted as an offensive player, is hungrier than ever and what little experience he gained by going along for the ride last season should help him have a better understanding of what the team needs from him and what it takes to play big minutes as a big man. He’ll be pushed by both Udeh and Ejiofor, who are athletic, explosive and versatile in their own right. Martin remains the wildcard here, and how much he plays likely will be determined by how well he defends. That’s probably the case for all four KU big men. None of them can be classified as true rim protectors, and all of them will have to embrace the physical nature of playing down low to show the coaching staff that they deserve minutes. We could be looking at a committee approach at the 5 in the early going. But if Clemence comes out of the gate on fire, he’s got the best chance of the bunch to grab the starting nod and never give it up.
• 3-point shooting – There are talented shooters on this roster, but they’re also replacing some absolute marksmen. No single absence will be more important to make up for than the ability to replace what Ochai Agbaji could do as an outside shooter. Dick, Wilson, Rice, Clemence and even Harris, along with a few others, all have the ability to knock in shots from the perimeter. But it remains to be seen if any of them can do it quite as well as Agbaji. Or Christian Braun, for that matter. Those two first-round draft picks combined to shoot 40% from 3-point range last season, with Agbaji knocking in 103 3-pointers and Braun draining 51. Nobody else on the roster made more than 30. Even Jalen Coleman-Lands (44.8%) and Remy Martin (38.2%) proved to be dangerous 3-point shooters capable of making some critical shots. It’s next man up in that department for these Jayhawks, and how well they deliver figures to play a huge role in how good this team can be.
• How will the young guys handle being hunted? – There’s a reason that Dick, Ejiofor, Rice and Udeh made up the No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com. They’re all incredibly talented. But given the fact that all four of them could be playing key roles on next season’s team — and three of them certainly will be — it remains a worthy question to wonder just how well — and how quickly — they’ll adjust to the college game and the task of defending a national title. All four are competitive, confident players who have been through plenty of big moments. But playing in front of 16,300 fans at home night in and night out and drawing vicious roars from opposing fans on the road is a whole other animal than these guys are used to. All of them seem ready for it. Those challenges are actually part of the reason each came to KU in the first place. But we won’t know for sure how they perform in those situations until they’ve actually experienced it and the rest of us have seen it.
Projected 2-deep lineup as of July 29, 2022:
PG – Dajuan Harris Jr. — Bobby Pettiford
• Harris is one of two no-brainer plug-ins when predicting this year's starting five
2G – Kevin McCullar Jr. — Joe Yesufu
• McCullar has the ability to play 1 through 4 and Yesufu should be more comfortable in Year 2
3G – Gradey Dick — MJ Rice
• I go back and forth on this one more than any other but Dick's outside shooting often seems to be the difference
4 – Jalen Wilson — KJ Adams
• Wilson is the other easy and obvious choice at his position in the starting five, but I do think KJ Adams will play a ton, perhaps at 3 different positions
5 – Zach Clemence — Ernest Udeh Jr.
• It's Clemence's spot to lose, but Udeh's going to surprise a lot of people
Kings of the Wings? Kansas picked to have the best collection of hybrid playmakers in all of college basketball
The 247 Sports network recently ranked the top wings in college basketball entering the 2022-23 season and Bill Self’s defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks landed in the top spot.
A case could probably be made for a couple of other schools to sit in that top spot, but the Jayhawks are certainly worthy.
With experienced veterans Jalen Wilson and Kevin McCullar Jr. leading the charge, Kansas is at least four deep on the wing with versatile options who possess a variety of strengths.
Five-star freshmen Gradey Dick and MJ Rice join the two upperclassmen as KU’s top options at the position, and a case could be made that KU’s best lineup during the upcoming season will have all four of those players in it.
Time will tell whether that proves true or not, but all four are going to play big roles for Kansas and three of the four will likely be in the starting lineup on opening night.
A lot of this you probably knew. Much of it is probably what has you most excited about the 2022-23 season.
With that in mind, there was something about 247’s list of the 20 programs with the best wings in college basketball that stood out to me beyond KU’s place in the No. 1 spot.
Just two of the next 19 spots in Isaac Trotter’s rankings were occupied by Big 12 programs — Texas at No. 10 and Oklahoma State at No. 19.
As the game of basketball transitions further to positionless players in prominent roles and interchangeable parts dominating lineups at all levels, teams that are built like this 2022-23 Kansas squad could wind up having a significant advantage on their opponents because of the ability to create and handle matchup problems and fill the lineup with two-way players whose roles and impact remain fluid from possession to possession.
Consider Wilson for a minute and think about all of the things you’ve seen him do as a Jayhawk.
He’s had possessions where he played off the ball in a catch-and-shoot role. He’s had possessions where he initiated the offense much in the way a true point guard would and other possessions where he attacks off the dribble like a go-to scorer out of that same role. He’s had possessions where he defends the 4 on one end, crashes the glass like a power forward to get the rebound and then pushes it up the floor like a guard.
And he’s just one player. McCullar, Dick and Rice all play that same way — with varying strengths within it — and the fact that KU could have three or four of those types of players on the floor at all times certainly makes the Jayhawks a tough matchup. We saw that in 2021-22 with Wilson teaming with Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun for the majority of the minutes during KU’s run to the national title.
Having to account for that type of skill set puts pressure on opposing teams and coaches to match up. And unless they’re equipped with versatile wings in the same way, that can lead to mismatches. Self’s teams have always been sensational at exploiting those and he often coaches — and builds his rosters — to play to them.
If this truly is the direction the game is going, and if the rest of the Big 12 isn’t quite there yet — at least according to the 247 Sports rankings — that might be the best example yet of why Kansas should still be considered the team to beat in the conference during the 2022-23 season.
TCU and Oklahoma did make Trotter’s honorable mention list in the article, but that’s still not even half of the rest of the league.
Texas and Baylor, along with TCU, should be KU’s biggest challengers for the 2023 Big 12 title, but if they want to finish ahead of Kansas they might have to find somewhere to gain advantages that isn’t the wing.
Including the honorable mention picks, Trotter’s list includes teams that Kansas will face at least 10 times during the 2022-23 season.
In the seven weeks following his decision to return to school for his junior season, Kansas forward Jalen Wilson has been asked for his thoughts on just how good the 2022-23 Jayhawks can be.
Each time, and without hesitation, Wilson has said something along the lines of: “We’re going to be good.”
The latest such occasion came this week, when Wilson appeared on a podcast with NCAA.com’s Andy Katz to discuss the outlook for the upcoming season.
He was joined by UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme — two other accomplished upperclassmen who elected to return to school for another year — and Wilson was the first in line given his status as a defending national champion.
In addition to answering Katz’s question about how good these Jayhawks can be with that familiar answer — “we’re going to be good,” he said again — Wilson was asked what had stood out to him so far in KU’s offseason practices.
That answer was easy to find, as well.
“Every day I’m seeing glimpses of what we can be, a very fast team, athletic team, a good scoring team, as well,” he told Katz. “I’m getting looks of kind of just a team that’s going to be up and down (in terms of) how we like to play.”
More than that, Wilson, who along with Dajuan Harris Jr., is by far the most experienced player on KU’s 2022-23 roster, said he was most energized by the hunger and passion he has seen so far from newcomers and returners alike.
“(We have) guys who are willing to learn, no matter if they’re All-Americans or not,” he said. “Everyone’s in here willing to learn from each other, and once we have that mindset I feel like all we can do is grow. … I’m seeing a lot of good things and it’s only, what, July?”
Earlier this summer, shortly after announcing his decision to return to KU, Wilson was asked what he thought of the roster that will be tasked with defending the 2022 national title.
Although it features all kinds of new faces — and several missing faces, as well — Wilson showed then that his expectations for this group would be high.
“I think it’s really good,” he said of the KU roster. “You look at the young guys, you look at the guys who were already here with us last year, I think there’s a lot of potential.”
Kansas point guard Dajuan Harris thrilled about facing best friend Isiaih Mosley when KU visits Missouri next season
Topeka — Although it’s not officially listed on the Kansas basketball schedule for the 2022-23 season yet, the Jayhawks know that at some point during the upcoming season, they’ll be heading to Columbia, Missouri, to take on the Missouri Tigers.
That matchup, wherever it lands on the schedule, just became even more exciting than it already was for Columbia native and current KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr.
That’s because on Monday, Harris’ good friend Isiaih Mosley committed to the Tigers.
When asked about what Mosley’s addition does to the KU-Mizzou showdown during the upcoming season, Harris could hardly contain his smile.
“We were talking yesterday on the phone and I already told him, ‘All that stuff you think you’re (going) to be doing, it ain’t working. We’re going to lock that up,’” Harris said between sessions at Washburn basketball camp on Tuesday.
There was some thought this offseason that the Missouri State transfer guard could be reunited with his lifelong friend and former Rock Bridge High backcourt teammate on the KU roster for the 2022-23 season. But Mosley never visited Kansas, and the Jayhawks reached their scholarship limit when Kevin McCullar Jr. transferred in and Jalen Wilson decided to return for his junior season.
Mosley then chose between Mizzou and Mississippi State after receiving interest from KU, Kansas State, Texas Tech and others throughout the process.
Harris never said much about what landing Mosley would have meant to him, but it’s clear that playing against him during the 2022-23 season will be nearly as big of a thrill as playing with him.
“That’s my best friend,” Harris said of the 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 20 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 42% shooting from 3-point range last season. “We’ve been playing together since fourth grade. We know a lot about each other. We’re just going to have fun, though.”
So, too, will the crowd at Mizzou Arena.
As if defending national champion Kansas coming to town wasn’t already a big enough deal, the idea of two Columbia natives doing battle on the floor on what figures to be a national stage surely will add to the day’s buzz when it arrives.
Asked Tuesday what he thought about returning to his hometown for a game of that magnitude with his best friend, Harris said his focus would be entirely on the task at hand.
“That’s home,” he said. “I’m going to have a lot of people there, but I ain’t going to be too busy on the crowd. I’m going to be focused on the game for real.”
As for whether the two Rock Bridge alums would be matched up against each other on game night, Harris said he was up for anything.
“If coach wants me to (guard him) I will,” he said. “But we’ve got Kevin (McCullar) now, so I probably don’t have to now.”
Three of the five incoming Kansas basketball freshmen moved into their McCarthy Hall rooms on Saturday and one of them discovered a heck of a surprise.
Gradey Dick, Ernest Udeh Jr. and walk-on Wilder Evers all made their way to the KU campus with their families to move their belongings into their new rooms.
For Dick, a 6-7 wing from Wichita and the reigning National Gatorade Player of the Year, the moment turned emotional not when it was time to say goodbye to mom and dad but instead when he looked inside the top drawer in his new dresser.
In it was a note from the room’s former occupant, Kansas All-American Ochai Agbaji.
The note’s message was simple: “Whoever takes over this room, be great.”
Judging by the video of the discovery that was captured by a Kansas Athletics video team, it was clear that the mere presence of the note and the words in it gave the new Jayhawk chills.
“Oooo,” he said after reading it quietly to himself before sharing it with his parents. “That’s crazy. Appreciate you Ochai.”
Dick then summed up what the message meant in a single word.
“Motivation,” he said, before adding, “Gonna leave that right there.”
He then put the note back in the drawer where it came from and, presumably, plans to leave it there for the entirety of his stay in Lawrence.
The other two KU freshmen, MJ Rice and Zuby Ejiofor, are awaiting their graduations and expected to arrive in Lawrence sometime next week.
Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr. is slated to be on campus Monday for the start of summer workouts and Tuesday’s first day of summer school.
Now that June has arrived, there’s more to watch than just the NBA decisions by Kansas forward Jalen Wilson and Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr.
It’s also time for the next crop of Jayhawks to start making their way toward Lawrence for the beginning of summer school and summer workouts.
The first summer school session beings Tuesday and it looks as if half of KU’s incoming class of freshman will be on campus in time for the beginning.
Gradey Dick, a 6-foot-7 wing from Sunrise Christian, is slated to arrive this weekend, in time for the start of summer school and KU’s first team workout on Monday.
Big man Ernest Udeh, a 6-10 forward from Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, is also expected in this weekend.
MJ Rice, a 6-5 guard from Prolific Prep in Napa, California, and Zuby Ejiofor, a 6-8 forward from Garland, Texas, are both awaiting graduation and are expected to arrive late next week.
All four freshmen will have a chance to show they belong in the rotation in Year 1. But it’s hard to envision all four of them actually being in the rotation. Dick and Rice almost certainly will. And then it seems as if Udeh and Ejiofor could be battling for one spot that gets minutes and one spot as a deep reserve.
Kansas coach Bill Self is hosting his first camp of the summer next week, which should give us a chance to talk to some of these guys and get a look at how guys might fit into the 2022-23 rotation.
It’s still way early, though, and there’s no doubt that putting together the rotation will be a work in progress that runs into November.