Monthly Archives: September 2013

Late Night in the Recruiting Phog

By Rustin Dodd

It’s shaping up to be another signature weekend for Bill Self and Kansas on the recruiting front — though maybe not as big as once anticipated.

Three of the nation’s top senior recruits are expected to be in Allen Fieldhouse this Friday, when KU plays host to its annual “Late Night in the Phog” festivities.

Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward from Chicago, and shooting guard Kelly Oubre, a senior at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, will both be visiting KU this weekend, according to Small forward Malik Pope of Elk Grove, Calif., is also expected to be at Late Night.

Alexander, 6 feet 8 and 240 pounds, is rated by Rivals as the No. 4 overall player in the Class of 2014, while Oubre, who lived in the Houston area before transferring to Findlay Prep, is rated as the No. 12 overall player — and perhaps rising. Pope, meanwhile, entered the fall as Rivals’ No. 17 overall player in the class.

One of the most important recruiting weekends of the year? Sure. But probably not any bigger than KU’s usual list of official visitors for Late Night.

When the NCAA changed the college basketball calendar in the offseason, allowing teams to begin practice two weeks earlier than usual, it appeared to set off a ripple of unintended consequences in the recruiting world.

In the past, most of the major programs have kicked off the official start of practice with a made-for-fans event that usually doubles as a program infomercial for the recruits in attendance. At Kansas, of course, it’s “Late Night in the Phog,” while at Kentucky, it’s called “Big Blue Madness.”

And with practice starting two weeks early, those programs had a larger window to schedule the annual season-opening party. In theory, programs like KU, Kentucky and North Carolina could all schedule their events on different weekends, allowing for the best recruits in the country to hit up multiple spots. This weekend, though, USA Basketball has a mini-camp event planned at its training facility in Colorado Springs — thinning the pool of candidates to be in Lawrence.

On the whole, though, October could be a crucial month for Kansas.

The Jayhawks are still recruiting Chicago center Jahlil Okafor, the consensus No. 1 overall player in the class of 2014, as well as Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones, another top-five recruit. Both Okafor, a senior at Whitney Young in Chicago, and Jones, a native of Apple Valley, Minn., are expected to visit KU on Oct. 18, according to Rivals. Okafor and Jones have long expressed a desire to play together in college.


Ring day at Allen Fieldhouse

By Rustin Dodd

Kansas marked the official start of basketball season on Friday by handing out the championship rings from its ninth straight Big 12 regular-season title last season.
The post-practice ring ceremony also featured a familiar face when former KU guard Ben McLemore showed up to claim his title ring before reporting to his first training camp with the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday in Santa Barbara, Calif.
McLemore, who averaged 15.9 points as a redshirt freshman in 2012-13, was selected by the Kings with the seventh overall pick last June.
As for the Jayhawks’ first official practice, KU coach Bill Self told reporters that his young team is a little behind where KU was last year, when the Jayhawks were led by a corps of veterans.
“I thought we showed our age today,” Self told reporters after practice.
The Jayhawks will practice a few more times before the annual “Late Night in the Phog” event on Friday. While Late Night usually marks the beginning of practice, an altered schedule has allowed teams to begin practice two weeks earlier than normal.
“Today wasn’t very good,” Self said. “Today our kids tried hard, but I think we realize we have a long ways to go before we’re a good team.”

Four questions for the start of KU practice

By Rustin Dodd

There is something fundamentally disorienting about college basketball in September, like Christmas music on the radio before Halloween, or an umbrella-adorned drink served during a blizzard.
The season already drags on for months, spanning two semesters and nearly half the calendar. Most college football teams haven’t even started their conference schedules. Can the season really be starting on Friday? Yes … yes it is.
So here we go.
Bill Self and KU will officially begin practice on Friday, nearly two weeks earlier than usual after the NCAA allowed for an earlier start date this past offseason. The September launch means an earlier Late Night in the Phog — it’s next Friday — and more practice time for a team with six freshman and eight total newcomers. No surprise then, that Self likes the new schedule.
“You don’t have to cram so much stuff in so fast,” Self says. “You can probably take your time and be a better teacher. And you don’t have to wear the guys’ bodies out so much.”
For Kansas, so much of the upcoming season will be defined by how Andrew Wiggins handles — and lives up to — the hype and expectations that surround his one and only season in Lawrence.
But it’s also just September, meaning KU’s season is still mostly defined by the unknown. So as KU begins practice, let’s look at four questions that will be answered over the next six months.
1. Will this be the Jayhawks’ toughest nonconference schedule since Self arrived at Kansas?
Considering the circumstances, the short answer is probably yes. Two years ago, after losing Marcus and Markieff Morris to the NBA Draft, KU played a nonconference slate that included eventual national champ Kentucky, Georgetown, Duke, Ohio State, Davidson and a slumping UCLA. The Jayhawks went 3-3 in those games, parlaying a difficult early stretch into a run to the Final Four in New Orleans.
This year, KU is even more unproven. And the schedule may be even more of a bear. The first test comes against Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 12, and after traveling to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in late November, the Jayhawks will face a five-game nonconference stretch that includes games against Colorado, at Florida, New Mexico at the Sprint Center, and Georgetown and San Diego State at home.
2. What kind of impact can transfer forward Tarik Black have?
Wiggins isn’t the only member of KU’s recruiting class who will almost assuredly be one-and-done. Black, a graduate transfer from Memphis, will have just one season at Kansas. But for a team that was looking at having no scholarship seniors, he could end up making just as much impact as some of KU’s more heralded freshman.
On Wednesday, Self said Black may have been the “big steal of any recruiting class in America,” calling him a “potential draft pick.”
In the short-term, Black can serve as a stop-gap for freshman Joel Embiid, a raw big man still finding his way. By the end, Black may be even more.
“I think Tarik will have a great chance to play as much as he wants,” Self says. “He will have a great chance to start. Not very often do you recruit a senior that has already started three years and have him come in and be as well respected and basically be the leader of our big guys already, so I am expecting him to have a big year.”
3. Will any players join the “Travis Releford” redshirt plan?
It’s a little too early to know for sure, but based on the numbers, it’s a reasonable assumption.
On Wednesday, Self talked about playing a nine-man rotation. He’s always kept his rotation around that number, but usually the real number is more like seven or eight. If you’re in the top seven, you’re getting the minutes. This year, Self says, the rotation may actually be closer to nine. (We’ll pause to note that larger rotations seem to a reoccurring KU story line in the preseason; most of the time, the rotation naturally works itself down to eight or so).
“I foresee us talking about (a redshirt) with a couple of guys,” Self says. “The possibilities of who could do such a thing is limited because we have already had some guys transfer or redshirt and that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if one guy redshirted.”
The pool of redshirt candidates isn’t that large: It won’t be Tarik Black or junior Naadir Tharpe, the Jayhawks’ only scholarship upperclassmen, and it won’t be sophomore Perry Ellis or forwards Landen Lucas or Jamari Traylor, both of whom already used redshirt years. Junior forward Hunter Mickelson will sit out this season as a transfer. And while we’re at it, we’ll go ahead and state the obvious that it won’t be freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden or Joel Embiid.
That leaves four scholarship players: sophomore Andrew White III and freshmen guards Frank Mason, Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp. The competition in the early weeks of practice should be fierce.
4. After losing five starters, including lottery pick Ben McLemore, can Kansas actually expect to be better?
The question, of course, starts with Wiggins … and a six-man freshman class … and the development of Ellis and Tharpe. But earlier this week, Self referenced a number: 33. That’s how many victories KU has averaged over its last seven seasons.
“If this team got to 33 wins,” Self says. “It would be an unbelievable year considering how difficult the schedule is. So I would say if you are talking about the ceiling — if everything fell right come March — I would think that this team’s ceiling would be very high.
“But I don’t think we are anywhere close to being compared to any of the great teams that have come through here yet. Not even close. We have a lot of unanswered questions.”

Momentum’s a fickle thing for KU

By Blair Kerkhoff
Charlie Weis has said all the right things since Kansas’ 13-10 victory over Louisiana Tech. The Jayhawks now know good things can happen, there’s been a huge psychological lift, and more gas in everybody’s tank.

Now, Weis and Kansas have to hope history doesn’t repeat itself because the previous two victories over Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, won in improbable fashion like Saturday’s outcome, produced no momentum.

In 2010, the Jayhawks staged an incredible comeback, scoring 35 unanswered points in the final 11 minutes, 5 seconds and beating Colorado 52-45.

Kansas lost the final three games of the season and hasn’t won a Big 12 Conference game since.

In 2011, Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard scoring pass to D.J. Beshears on fourth-and-goal with 9 seconds left, completing a 45-42 victory over Northern Illinois.

The next week, the Jayhawks got crushed 66-24 by Georgia Tech, which started the 22-game winless streak against FBS competition that was broken Saturday.

Louisiana Tech fumbled deep in the red zone twice in the fourth quarter. On the first miscue, freshman quarterback Ryan Higgins, making his first start, was headed to the goal line, fumbled it into the end zone and the ball bounced to the side out of bounds. Louisiana Tech led 10-3 at the time.

The Jayhawks tied the score with their most impressive possession of the game, but the Bulldogs blew an opportunity when Kenneth Dixon, fighting for extra yards, had the ball stripped by Michael Reynolds. KU’s Keon Stowers recovered at his own 5 with 93 seconds remaining, and Kansas drove for Matt Wyman’s game-winning 52-yard field goal at the gun.

“It’s 24-10 if you can just hold on to the football,” Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said at his news conference Monday.

Instead, it was 13-10 Kansas to end one streak. The Oct. 5 visit from Texas Tech provides another streak-busting opportunity. Kansas has lost 21 straight Big 12 games. The league record is 29 straight by Baylor from 1998-2001, and Kansas provided the bookend victories for the Bears during that stretch.