Monthly Archives: July 2012

KU football’s Opurum makes Hendricks Award watch list

KU senior captain Toben Opurum has been selected to the Ted Hendricks Award preseason watch list, an honor given annually to the top defensive end in the country.

Opurum, a fourth-year senior from Richardson, Texas, had 45 tackles and four sacks last season. He also finished with 10 ½ tackles for loss. Those numbers came in just the second season after Opurum transitioned to a defensive role full-time during his sophomore year. He began his career as a running back and led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009. Opurum was one of 40 players on the watch list.

KU coach Charlie Weis has indicated that Opurum will man a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position in KU’s defense this season.

Opurum is the third Jayhawk to garner preseason recognition. Senior tight end Mike Ragone, a transfer from Notre Dame, appeared on the Mackey Award preseason watch list, while junior punter Ron Doherty was selected to the Ray Guy Award watch list.

Former KU center Kaun begins Olympic quest with Russia

Yep, that was former Kansas center Sasha Kaun making his Olympics debut on Sunday for the Russian national team. The same Kaun that spent four seasons at KU and helped the Jayhawks to the 2008 national championship as a reserve center.

That was Kaun, starting and finishing with five points in 19 minutes as Russia dismantled host Great Britain (and former Duke star Luol Deng) 95-75 in London. That was Kaun playing alongside NBA standout Andrei Kirilenko, who shredded the Brits for 35 points.

In the process, Kaun became the first basketball player from KU to play in the Olympics since Danny Manning in 1988. That ’88 team, of course, came up short, claiming the bronze medal — a finish that prompted the use of professional players and the creation of the Dream Team in 1992.

But 24 years later, Kaun’s appearance only adds to a long list of Olympians with connections to the state of Kansas. Former KU star JoJo White won a gold medal in 1968; former Jayhawk Al Kelley did the same in 1960; and in 1952, All-American Clyde Lovelette led a collection of players from the 1952 NCAA title team to the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, where they paired up with a group of AAU players from Peoria, Ill. They won gold, too.

And then, of course, there’s the story of the original 1936 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which was led by a collection of AAU players from McPherson, Kan.

Now Kaun is added to the list. A second-round pick of Cleveland in 2008, Kaun eschewed a potential NBA career for a lucrative opportunity with European power CSKA Moscow in his native country.

It’s worked out pretty good so far. Two of his points on Sunday came on a ridiculous between-the-legs assist from Russian guard Alexey Shved, a former teammate of Kaun’s on CSKA Moscow who signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this summer.

Russia will continue its quest for a medal with games against China on Tuesday and Brazil on Thursday before concluding group with matchups against Spain on Saturday and Australia on Monday, Aug. 6.

Breaking down the KU football roster

Four days until the first practice of the season for the Kansas football program. Forecast is for a high of 104 degrees. So that should be fun. (It is, of course, mild compared to the 113 degrees in Lawrence on Sunday.)

Kansas coach Charlie Weis, embarking on his first season at KU, will release a revamped depth chart this week. But as we wait for that, here’s a first look at the updated KU roster from this season’s media guide.

Let’s start with the offense, by position group:

No., Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year, Hometown

Quarterbacks (5)

6 Turner Baty, QB, 6-2, 215, So., Redwood City, Calif. (CC of San Francisco)

9 Jake Heaps, QB, 6-1, 210, Jr., Issaquah, Wash. (Skyline HS/BYU)

10 Dayne Crist, QB, 6-4, 235, Sr., Canoga Park, Calif. (Notre Dame)

14 Michael Cummings, QB, 5-10, 205, Fr., Killeen, Texas (Killeen HS)

17 Blake Jablonski, H/QB, 6-1, 208, So., Wichita, Kan. (Collegiate HS)

At first glance: This one is relatively easy. If Crist’s right arm is attached to his body and he’s still breathing, he’ll be under center for Kansas. Crist looked pretty sharp in the spring game (10 for 19 for 156 yards) and he spent the summer organizing 7-on-7 workouts for the offense.

The second-most talented quarterback in the program is (presumably) Heaps, who must sit out this season after transferring from BYU. That could leave a question mark surrounding the backup spot: Cummings, an undersized redshirt freshman, or Baty, a juco transfer who arrives in Lawrence with three seasons left. Another thought: Baty could redshirt if he wants to preserve a year of eligibility and stay one class behind Heaps.

Running backs (8)

3 Tony Pierson, RB, 5-10 ½ , 168, So., East St. Louis, Ill. (East St. Louis HS)

25 Brandon Bourbon, RB, 6-1, 218, So., Potosi, Mo. (Potosi HS)

28 Marquis Jackson, RB, 6-0, 220, So., Fort Worth, Texas (Arlington Heights HS)

29 James Sims, RB, 6-0, 200, Jr., Irving, Texas (MacArthur HS)

36 Taylor Cox, RB, 5-11, 210, Mill Creek, Wash. (College of the Siskiyous)

37 Ryan Burton, RB, 5-9, 190, Jr., Colorado Springs, Colo. (Air Academy HS)

43 Ed Fink, FB, 6-2, 235, So., Belleville, Ill. (Althoff HS)

45 Nick Sizemore, FB, 6-0, 240, Jr., Lititz, Pa. (Manheim Township/Buffalo)

At first glance: Earlier this summer, Weis was comfortable giving true freshman Tevin Shaw, a two-way standout from Piscataway, N.J., the option of starting his college career at safety. The reason: Weis says Shaw would have started way down on the depth chart at running back. Even with the departure of Darrian Miller — and the looming three-game suspension for James Sims — the Jayhawks remain relatively deep at running back.

It’s probably safe to say that Weis has imagined all sorts of different ways to utilize Pierson’s game-breaking speed, while Bourbon appears to be fully recovered from the leg injury that ended his season after just eight games last year. Cox, meanwhile, rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 10 games last season for the College of the Siskiyous. And Jackson is a converted receiver who switched to running back in the spring. What about fullback? In the spring, Sizemore was listed first on the depth chart, one spot ahead of Fink.

Wide receivers (12)

7 Kale Pick, WR, 6-1 ½, 205, Sr., Dodge City, Kan. (Dodge City HS)

8 Josh Ford, WR, 6-3, 205, Jr., Landover, Md. (Coolidge HS, Arizona Western CC)

11 Tre’ Parmalee, WR, 5-10, 168, Fr., Overland Park, Kan. (Bishop Miege)

12 Christian Matthews, WR, 6-1, 205, Jr., Arlington, Texas (James Bowie HS)

15 Daymond Patterson, WR, 5-8, 180, Sr., Mesquite, Texas (North Mesquite HS)

19 Justin McCay, WR, 6-2, 215, So., Shawnee Mission, Kan. (Bishop Miege)

20 D.J. Beshears, WR, 5-9, 185, Sr., Denton, Texas (Ryan HS)

22 Connor Embree*, WR, 5-10, So., Superior, Colo. (BV West/UNLV)

80 Ricki Herod, WR, 6-2, 195, So., Mesquite, Texas (North Mesquite HS)

82 Andrew Turzilli, WR, 6-3, ½ , 185, So., Butler, N.J. (Butler HS)

83 Chris Omigie, WR, 6-4, 200, Jr., Arlington, Texas (Martin HS)

89 JaCorey Shepherd, WR, 5-11, So., Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite Horn HS)

At first glance: In the spring, Patterson and Pick were listed as starters, with Beshears and JaCorey Shepherd behind Patterson at the “Z” position and McCay and Chris Omigie behind Pick at the “X” spot. McCay has since lost his battle with the NCAA for a hardship waiver, ruling him out for the season.

But Weis has continually been positive about the team’s depth at the position. Ford is a big-play transfer from Arizona Western CC, averaging more than 14 yards per reception last season. Beshears led the team with 40 catches last season, while Pick hauled in 34. And Patterson, of course, had 60 catches in 2010 before sitting out last season because of injury.

Tight ends (6)

41 Jimmay Mundine, TE, 6-2, 250, So., Denison, Texas (Denison HS)

44 Scott Baron*, TE, 6-2, 245, Fr., Santa Ana, Calif. (Orange Lutheran HS)

84 Mike Ragone, TE, 6-4, 255, Sr., Blackwood, N.J. (Notre Dame)

85 Trent Smiley, TE, 6-4, 245, So., Frisco, Texas (Wakeland HS)

86 Charles Brooks, TE, 6-6, 240, Jr., St. Louis, Mo. (Scottsdale CC)

87 Jordan Shelley-Smith, TE, 6-5, 240, Fr., McGregor, Texas (Reicher Catholic HS)

At first glance: KU must replace the graduated Tim Biere, who is currently going through training camp with the Chiefs. That could start with Ragone, who was selected to the Mackey Award preseason watch list this summer despite limited production during an injury-plagued career at Notre Dame. Mundine was listed as the starter during spring practice, but that was before Ragone or Brooks, a highly-regarded juco transfer, arrived on campus.

Offensive line (15)

56 Josh Burgoon*, OL, 6-1, 275, Jr., Lenexa, Kan. (St. James Academy)

61 Pat Lewandowski, OL, 6-5, 285, Overland Park, Kan. (BV West HS)

64 Randall Dent, OL, 6-4, 300, Jr., Dallas, Texas (South Grand Prairie HS)

66 Dylan Admire, OL, 6-3, 277, Fr., Overland Park, Kan. (BV West HS)

67 Duane Zlatnik, OL, 6-4, 312, Sr., Rossville, Kan. (Rossville HS)

68 Luke Luhrsen, OL, 6-3, 300, Fr., Wheaton, Ill. (Warrenville South HS)

69 Trevor Marrongelli, OL, 6-3, Sr. Austin, Texas (Westwood HS)

70 Gavin Howard, OL, 6-4, 300, Jr., Owasso, Okla. (Owasso HS)

72 Tanner Hawkinson, OL, 6-5, 300, Sr., McPherson, Kan. (McPherson HS)

73 Damon Martin, OL, 6-3, 295, Fr., Arlington, Texas (Arlington HS)

74 Brian Beckmann, OL, 6-6, 300, Fr., Overland Park, Kan. (BV West HS)

75 Sean Connolly, OL, 6-7, 295, Fr., Kirtland Hills, Ohio (St. Edward HS)

76 Bryan Peters, OL, 6-3, 300, Fr., La Mirada, Calif. (La Mirada CC)

77 Aslam Sterling, OL, 6-5, 360, Jr., Springfield Garden, N.Y. (Nassau CC)

79 Riley Spencer, OL, 6-6, 305, Jr., Hesston, Kan. (Hesston HS)

At first glance: Hawkinson, a captain who has made 36 consecutive starts, appears entrenched at left tackle. And signs point to Zlatnik, who started at right guard last season, shifting to the left and lining up alongside Hawkinson. Marrongelli was listed as the starter at center during spring practice, and Howard (right guard) and Spencer (right tackle) filled out the other starting spots. Sterling, a juco transfer, is a newcomer to track, while Dent and Lewandowski are moving over to the offense after spending last season on the defensive line.

***

The Defense

No., Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year, Hometown

Defensive line (11)

9 Jordan Tavai, DL, 6-3, 290, Jr., Redondo Beach, Calif. (El Camino CC)

62 Dylan Avery, DL, 6-3, 250, So., Topeka, Kan. (Topeka HS)

71 John Williams, DL, 6-3, 300, Jr., Tulsa, Okla. (Washington HS)

78 Shane Smith, DL, 6-5, 295, Jr., Albuquerque, N.M. (Eldorado HS)

90 Kevin Young, DL, 6-3, 285, Jr., Olathe, Kan. (Olathe North HS)

93 Ben Goodman, DL, 6-3, 260, (RS) Fr., Beaumont, Texas (West Brook HS)

94 Tyler Holmes, DL, 6-3, 280, Fr., Garland, Texas (Sachse HS)

95 Josh Williams, DL, 6-4, 255, Sr., Denton, Texas (Nebraska)

96 Keba Agostinho, DL, 6-2, 280, Jr., Katy, Texas (James Taylor HS)

97 Ty McKinney, DL, 6-3, 310, Jr., Athens, Texas (Trinity Valley CC)

98 Keon Stowers, DL, 6-3, 290, So., Rock Hill, S.C. (Georgia Military Coll.)

At first glance: This might be the most intriguing position group to track during August and the opening weeks of the season. Consider: Back in April, Lewandowski was still being listed as a starter at defensive tackle, and Josh Williams, Keon Stowers, Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney had yet to arrive on campus. Assuming that juco transfers Tavai and McKinney make it to campus without any problems — both are apparently finishing up classes at their respective schools — both will likely be in the mix. Weis lavished praise on Josh Williams, a senior transfer from Nebraska, earlier this summer. (Williams made 12 tackles while playing in all 13 games for Nebraska last season.) And John Williams, still a junior, returns after tearing his ACL against Northern Illinois last season. (He was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA).

Defensive end/linebackers (4)

35 Toben Opurum, DE/LB, 6-1, 250, Sr., Richardson, Texas (Plano East HS)

38 Josh Richardson, DE/LB, 6-4, 245, Sr., Dublin, Ohio (Scioto HS)

55 Michael Reynolds, DE/LB, 6-1, 240, So., Wichita, Kan. (Kapaun Mt. Carmel)

92 Neal Page, DE/LB, 6-4, 220, Fr., Birmingham, Mich. (Seaholm HS)

At first glance: Opurum, a captain, leads a small group of players listed at the hybrid position of defensive end and linebacker. In KU’s defense, it’s likely that Opurum will move between defensive end and the Sam linebacker position. Reynolds, one of the defense’s true speed guys, had a solid spring game while going after the quarterback.

Linebackers (12)

2 Darius Willis, LB, 6-2, 240, Jr., Houston, Texas (Eisenhower HS/Buffalo)

4 Prinz Kande, LB, 5-11, Jr., 205, Euless, Texas (Trinity HS)

17 Tunda Bakare, LB, 5-10, 205, Sr., Woodbridge, Va. (Forrest Park HS/Highland CC)

31 Ben Heeney, LB, 6-0, 225, So., Hutchinson, Kan. (Hutchinson HS)

32 Schyler Miles, LB, 6-2, 225, Fr., Tampa, Fla. (Berkeley Prep HS)

34 Huldon Tharp, LB, 6-0, 227, Jr., Mulvane, Kan. (Mulvane HS)

39 Jon Shelby, LB, 6-2, 205, Jr., Brockton, Mass. (Brockton HS/Nassau CC)

49 Tyler Hunt, LB, 6-2, 230, Lawrence, Kan. (Lawrence HS)

51 Anthony McDonald, LB, 6-2, 235, Sr., Burbank, Calif. (Notre Dame)

53 Ryan Karlin, LB, 5-11, 220, Fr., Shawnee, Kan. (Rockhurst HS)

57 Jake Love, LB, 6-0, 220, Fr., Tonkawa, Okla. (Tonkawa HS)

58 Courtney Arnick, LB, 6-2, 195, Fr., Dallas, Texas (Carter HS)

At first glance: During the spring, Bakare, Willis and Tharp were listed as starters at linebacker. Now McDonald, the third transfer from Notre Dame, joins the mix. In addition, true freshman Schyler Miles was a nice recruiting coup in Weis’ first few months on the job.

Safeties (7)

1 Lubbock Smith, S, 5-10, 200, Sr., Dallas, Texas (Carter HS)

23 Dexter Linton, S, 5-10, 195, Jr., Arlington, Texas (James Bowie HS)

24 Bradley McDougald, S, 6-1, 209, Sr., Dublin, Ohio (Scioto HS)

26 Ray Mitchell, S, 6-0, 190, So., Irving, Texas (MacArthur HS)

27 Victor Simmons, S, 6-1, 206, So., Olathe, Kan. (Olathe North)

30 Tevin Shaw, S, 5-11, 185, Fr., Piscataway, N.J. (Piscataway HS)

47 Brian Maura, S, 6-3, 205, So., Miami, Fla. (Felix Varela HS)

At first glance: McDougald, a senior, enters his final season after starting all 12 games at strong safety last season. He was listed as the starter at free safety during the spring and appears a lock in the secondary somewhere, while Smith was listed as the other starter. Simmons, a graduate of Olathe North, played in 11 games as a true freshman last season. And then there’s Shaw, who, according to Weis, could have the ability to start pretty high on the depth chart at safety. How high? We’ll see.

Cornerbacks (6)

5 Greg Brown, CB, 5-10 ½, 185, Sr., Cedar Hill, Texas (Cedar Hill HS)

11 Tyree Williams, CB, 6-0, 193, Fr., Stafford, Texas (Dulles HS)

14 Nasir Moore, CB, 6-1, 185, Jr., Suwanee, Ga. (Peachtree Ridge HS)

18 Corrigan Powell, CB, 5-10, 174, Sr., Garland, Texas (Lakeview Centennial HS)

22 Greg Allen, CB, 5-11, 199, Fr., Houston, Texas (Alief Taylor HS)

33 Tyler Patmon, CB, 5-11, 180, Jr., Round Rock, Texas (Vista Ridge HS)

At first glance: Brown, a fifth-year senior, is a returning starter, while Patmon made seven starts last season. Moore, meanwhile, is a juco transfer from East Los Angeles College, and Williams and Allen are both true freshmen from Texas.

Specialists (3)

13 Ron Doherty, P/PK, 5-11, 209, Jr., Klein, Texas (Klein HS)

38 Justin Puthoff, LS/TE, 6-2, 245, Jr., Goddard, Kan. (Goddard HS)

54 Justin Carnes, LS, 6-1, 250, Jr., La Porte, Texas (La Porte HS)

At first glance: Kicker Alex Mueller exited the program earlier this summer, leaving Doherty as the only punter or kicker listed on the most recent roster in the program’s media guide. Doherty was selected to the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list, an award reserved for the best punter in college football, and handled field-goal duties during the last four games last season. He averaged 42.8 yards per punt last season, the third-best average in the Big 12.

* denotes walk-on

KU hoops to appear four times on ESPN’s “Big Monday”

One season after a Final Four berth and an appearance in the national title game, Kansas basketball will once again get plenty of television exposure.

Kansas will make four appearances on ESPN’s “Big Monday” during the Big 12 basketball season, the conference announced Wednesday.

  • The “Big Monday” schedule starts Jan. 14 with KU playing host to Baylor at 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, features a doubleheader with Oklahoma State at Baylor at 4:30 and Texas at Oklahoma at 8:30.
  • On Jan. 28, Kansas plays its first conference game at West Virginia, an 8 p.m. tip. The Mountaineers are on “Big Monday” the following week against Texas at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 in Morgantown.
  • The Sunflower Showdown in Allen Fieldhouse at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 will get the “Big Monday” treatment, as well as Bob Huggins’ return to Manhattan at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 when K-State plays host to West Virginia.
  • On Feb. 25, Kansas plays at Iowa State, an 8 p.m. tip, and the schedule closes out with Baylor at Texas at 8 p.m. March 4.

That’s four appearances for KU in eight official Big Monday dates. And it bodes well for the Jayhawks, who are 26-8 in Big Monday games under coach Bill Self — including 14-0 at home. In all, KU is 45-16 in Big Monday matchups.

Three KU football questions to ponder on media day

DALLAS — It’s Day Two at Big 12 media days. One day of football talk in the books. One more to go. On Monday, we heard K-State’s Bill Snyder discuss Collin Klein’s leadership skills; we heard from TCU’s Gary Patterson on the Horned Frogs’ move to the Big 12; and we heard Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville, and Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads talk about all the matters that seem important in late July.

Now it’s a new day. And Kansas coach Charlie Weis will take the stage to address the writers at close to 11:30 a.m.

In honor of Weis’ first trip to Big 12 media day, here are three questions to ponder as Weis and KU prepare for their day in Dallas. (And honestly, you can probably ponder these for a while after, as well. This is media day, after all, and some of these questions won’t have definitive answers for months.)

1 Will Weis make relevant — at least, for a day?

This is, perhaps, the most intriguing question on Tuesday. It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another to be awful — and totally uninteresting.

Weis will give KU a new voice — and it will be interesting to see if his message can carry beyond the state of Kansas. Weis has struck nearly all the right notes during his first spring and summer on the job. (He doesn’t want to lob bombs at the previous regime, he says, but he’s not shy in being bluntly honest when assessing his team’s talent level.)

Of course, Weis has also had one major advantage. KU hasn’t played a game yet. That will still be the case on Tuesday. But the clock is beginning to tick.

During his first six months on the job, Weis has generally been on point in getting out in front of the message. (Example: When he tossed a group of kids off the team earlier this year, he told reporters exactly why.)

In the Big 12 landscape, KU certainly could use a jolt of something. Remember this: The last time KU beat a current member of the Big 12 conference? Oct. 10, 2009, against Iowa State.

So will there be a message on Tuesday?

2 Where does Dayne Crist rank among Big 12 signal-callers?

The last time Crist played close to a full season — in 2010 at Notre Dame — he threw for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 59.2 percent of his passes in eight-plus games. (He missed the final four-plus games with injury.)

Crist, of course, was playing under first-year coach Brian Kelly in 2010 — and not under Weis, the coach who recruited him to South Bend.

But for comparison’s sake, here’s the five Big 12 signal-callers that appeared on the preseason Davey O’Brien Watch List, the award given annually to the best quarterback in college football.

Seth Doege, Texas Landry Jones, Oklahoma Collin Klein, Kansas State Casey Pachall, TCU Geno Smith, West Virginia

Smith is the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, while Jones is a possible early-round pick in the NFL Draft. Doege put up ridiculous numbers in the Red Raiders’ offense, Pachall had a 158.0 passer rating while leading TCU to a Mountain West title, and Klein’s numbers (13 passing TDs, 27 rushing TDs) are head-turning as well.

At this moment, based on numbers and history, it’s hard to rank Crist ahead of anybody in that group. But you can craft an argument that Crist is a solid sixth — with the potential to improve. And that’s more than you could say about the quarterback position at this time last season.

3 What’s the over-under on victories for Kansas this season?

Let’s make this simple: In the past two seasons, the Jayhawks have finished a combined 5-19 and 1-16 in the Big 12. That’s an average of 2.5 victories per season. Would three wins be an improvement? Well, statistically, yes.

Is four or five victories achievable. Sure.

But that would also probably mean an undefeated non-conference season, which includes a game at a solid Northern Illinois program on Sept. 22, and at least one victory in the Big 12. As Weis put it earlier this summer, which Big 12 game should KU be favored in?

It’s too early to know for sure what KU can be. But four wins — with a handful of other competitive conference games — seems like a step up from last season.

 

Summer League notebook: Robinson debuts with Kings

He may have been wearing a practice jersey — and the games may not count — but Thomas Robinson finally got his first introduction to the NBA with two summer league games over the weekend for the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas.

First reviews: The former Kansas All-American certainly held his own — even if he wasn’t quite happy with his performance.

Robinson, the No. 5 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, averaged 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games, including a 14-point, 12-rebound effort against the Lakers on Saturday. (Watch game highlights from Saturday here.) That came on the heels of a 19-point performance in a 121-87 loss to Charlotte in the summer league opener. But Robinson also had just five rebounds while committing eight turnovers in 29 minutes in the loss.

“I played horrible,” Robinson told the Sacramento Bee.

“I wanted to do so good today, and I did the complete opposite. I wasn’t nervous at all. I just wanted to do so good. It just didn’t happen.”

The instant takeaway from some Kings teammates and coaches has been a little different — with the 6-foot-9, 244-pound Robinson being lauded for his physicality and motor.

“I remember when LeBron James came in the league,” Kings assistant coach Alex English said last week, “how he used to drive to the hole, and he was so big and strong that people would get out of his way. (Robinson is) kind of like that.

“I mean, he’s not that player. But when he goes to the hole, he goes hard. He goes strong. He’s got a lot of power.”

Taylor impresses in Orlando

Robinson’s summer debut came just as fellow rookie Tyshawn Taylor was completing a strong performance in the Orlando summer league.

Taylor, a second-round selection last month, averaged 15.5 points and 2.5 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field for the Brooklyn Nets. Only five other players — including former Grandview star Alec Burks — averaged more points during the five-day league.

Jackson back with the Kings

Former KU forward Darnell Jackson, a starter on the 2008 National Championship team, is back in the NBA alongside Robinson in Sacramento.

Jackson, 26, spent the 2010-11 season with the Kings, averaging 3.2 points in 59 games, but he signed with BC Donetsk of the Ukrainian Basketball Super League during the NBA lockout last season.

It was hardly a cushy experience. Long practices. Grueling schedules. New country. All that stuff.

“I think the biggest thing that helped me over there is finding who I really am as a person and a basketball player,” Jackson told the Sacramento Bee.

But now Jackson is back in the U.S., 25 pounds lighter than when he last played in the NBA, and ready to battle for a roster spot.

“I was calling home every day: ‘I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m coming home,’” Jackson said. “But the biggest thing I love is, I love challenges. The coach I had was always prepared, every day, and everything was full-speed. I loved it, and the guys were in shape.

“I just thank the Lord I’m back home in the States.”

Other Summer League performances

Former KU center Cole Aldrich averaged 5.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games for Oklahoma City in Orlando … former KU forward Markieff Morris had 21 points and nine rebounds in his opener in Las Vegas. Former KU guard Josh Selby had 20 points in 25 minutes in the Memphis Grizzlies’ first game in Vegas.

KU basketball a winner in television ratings game

Earlier this week, Sports Media Watch compiled a list of the 50-most watched sporting events from the first half of the sports calendar. (Sports Media Watch used the All-Star Break as the unofficial cut-off point.)

If you peel back from the obvious — the NFL is an unstoppable juggernaut — there’s at least one local story to glean. For the Kansas basketball program, March and April were a pretty good month of exposure.

KU appeared on the list three times, with the Jayhawks’ final three NCAA tourney games being watched by nearly 50 million fans combined. In all, there were seven college basketball games on the list.

No. 15: KU-Kentucky, NCAA title game, 12.3 rating, 20.869 million viewers

No. 21: KU-Ohio State, Final Four, 9.6 rating, 16.603 million

No. 32: KU-North Carolina, Elite Eight, 7.1 rating, 11.683 million

Other college basketball games:

No. 25: Kentucky-Louisville, Final Four, 8.4 rating, 13.908 million

No. 35: Ohio State-Syracuse, 6.7 rating, 10.949 million

No. 45: North Carolina-Creighton, 5.7 rating, 8.799 million

No. 46: Kentucky-Indiana, 5.2 rating, 8.702 million

Here’s a couple other interesting notes from the list:

• There were five college football games on the list, including K-State vs. Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. It’s not a bad number, considering the time frame (which started Jan. 1) only included a handful of bowl games.

No. 13: Alabama-LSU, BCS Champ, 14.0 rating, 24.214 million

No. 18: Oregon-Wisconsin, Rose Bowl,10.2 rating, 17,558 million

No. 26: Oklahoma State-Stanford, Fiesta Bowl, 8.4 rating, 13.684 million

No. 40: Michigan-Virginia Tech, Sugar Bowl, 6.1 rating, 9.572 million

No. 49: Kansas State-Arkansas, Cotton Bowl, 5.0 rating, 8.363 million

• The top 12 events were all NFL games — and so were 14 of the top 16.

• The Pro Bowl drew a bigger audience than KU-North Carolina in the Elite Eight. (Seriously, the Pro Bowl? What gives?)

KU-Michigan State game will headline ESPN Tip-Off Marathon

For the second straight year, Kansas will face a big-time hoops program on a national stage in the season’s opening week. This year, it’s Michigan State in the Champions Classic in Atlanta on Nov. 13, and ESPN announced on Wednesday that the matchup will be part of the network’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

The KU-Michigan State game will lead off the Champions Classic at 6 p.m., followed by Duke-Kentucky in the second game. ESPN’s “College GameDay” program will also broadcast from the Georgia Dome before the games.

KU will have just two exhibitions and its regular-season home opener against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 9 to prepare for the Spartans.

Next season, the three-year Champions Classic cycle will conclude with two games at the United Center in Chicago. Kansas is slated to take on Duke, while Michigan State will play Kentucky.

KU tight end Ragone selected to Mackey Award watch list

LAWRENCE | Kansas tight end Mike Ragone has yet to play a down for the Jayhawks – or even see his name on KU’s depth chart.

But that didn’t prevent Ragone, a senior transfer from Notre Dame, from appearing on the 2012 John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List.

The Mackey Award is given annually to the most outstanding collegiate tight end. Selected by vote of the John Mackey Award Selection Committee, the 2012 winner will be presented live on December 6 at The Home Depot College Football Awards Red Carpet Show. The next cut will come on Nov. 12, when the semifinalists are announced.

So how did Ragone end up on the list? Perhaps it says something about his reputation — and the ability of KU coach Charlie Weis to utilize the tight end.

Ragone, 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds, made just 11 catches for 109 yards during five injury-plague seasons at Notre Dame. He missed the entire 2008 season with knee issues, and then played just one game in 2011. His career high came in 2009, when he hauled in six passes for 60 yards.

Still, Ragone was one of the most sought-after high school tight ends in the country when Weis plucked him out of Cherry Hill, N.J., and brought him to Notre Dame in 2007. He’ll be eligible for one season at KU after graduating from Notre Dame and using the graduate transfer rule.

During spring football, sophomore Jimmay Mundine was listed as the starter at tight end. But that was before Ragone arrived on campus this summer. Meanwhile, Charles Brooks, a St. Louis native and juco transfer from Scottsdale Community College, could also have the opportunity to battle for snaps.

KU notebook: North’s Frankamp starring for U.S.

In the world of basketball recruiting, it’s often said that the summer before a player’s senior year is the most critical stretch of the long recruiting process.

If that’s the case, KU commit Conner Frankamp is making the most of his opportunities to impress. Frankamp, a senior-to-be at Wichita North, added to a breakout summer this week with a strong performance for the U17 USA team at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships in Lithuania.

Frankamp, a 6-foot-1 guard, had a team-high 17 points on Wednesday as the U.S. thumped China 116-47 in the final game of the preliminary round. (Yep, that’s your standard 69-point victory over a country with more than a billion people.) The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed out of Group A and will face Canada on Friday evening.

“We came out fast in this game, which we haven’t been doing much,” Frankamp said after the game. “If we do start like this, we can blow teams out all the time. We just have to keep the intensity up the whole game.”

Playing on a squad that features some of the best high school players in the nation, including Sports Illustrated cover boy Jabari Parker, Frankamp has been one of the most consistent scorers of the tournament.

During the U.S.’s first five games, Frankamp averaged 14.2 points per contest while hitting 50 percent (eight of 16) from three-point range. It was more of the same against China — he made seven of 15 shots from the floor while hitting three of seven from three-point range in 23 minutes.

“It’s really nice to have our depth,” Frankamp said. “You can work as hard as you can out there and then somebody will come in for you and do the same thing that you did. There’s no let up.

Frankamp, a Wichita City League scoring sensation who verbally committed to Kansas last summer, continues to shoot up the national rankings. Earlier this week, Frankamp checked in at No. 28 overall in the latest edition of the Rivals.com rankings, just ahead of fellow KU commit Brannen Greene, a 6-foot-7 forward from Forsyth, Ga., who ranked 31st.

Withey to LeBron James Skills Academy

 KU center Jeff Withey is headed to Las Vegas to take part in the LeBron James Skills Academy, a four-day camp and competition that begins Friday and will feature some of the best college players in the country.

Withey, who averaged 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds during a breakout junior season, previously attended the Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago from June 21-23.

With the departure of All-American forward Thomas Robinson, Kansas coach Bill Self has said that he expects the 7-foot Withey to become more involved in the offense during his senior campaign.

Adams arrives in Lawrence

All members of the Jayhawks’ six-man (true) freshman class are on campus and accounted for. The last holdout — Seattle combo guard Anrio Adams — landed in Lawrence on Wednesday.

He joins forwards Perry Ellis (Wichita), Zach Peters (Plano, Texas) and Landen Lucas (Portland, Ore.) and guards Andrew White (Chester, Va.) and Milton Doyle (Chicago).

In addition, guard Ben McLemore and forward Jamari Traylor, who sat out last season as partial qualifiers, will also be classified as freshmen, giving KU a rare eight-man freshman class.

Langford signs with Italian team

Some good news for former KU guard Keith Langford, who has carved out a solid career in Europe after a four-year career at Kansas that ended in 2005. Langford has signed a two-year deal with EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, one of the top teams in Italy. According to the publication Sportando, Langford’s deal is worth $3.2 million.

Last season, Langford played for Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 10.8 points in 20 EuroLeague Games.