Monthly Archives: October 2013

Pittsburg State exhibition aftermath

By Rustin Dodd

After Kansas’ 97-57 victory over Pittsburg State in its first exhibition game on Tuesday, here are three thoughts on the performance:

1. Andrew White III showed why, after a month of practice, he went from a redshirt candidate to KU’s first guard off the bench. White, a sophomore wing, finished with 12 points — two of three from three-point range – in 15 minutes. He added four rebounds and shot four-of-seven from the floor.

But White’s emergence goes beyond offense.

Last season, he struggled to find minutes on a team that already had two bigger guards in Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. White could always shoot, the result of some late-night workouts at the KU practice facility, and effort was never the issue. But as a 6-foot-6 wing, he always appeared a step slow and his lateral quickness was lacking.

“As soon as we lost to Michigan,” White said on Tuesday, “I just recommitted myself to working, trying to emphasize some things I’m not good at — ballhandling, I wanted to get my body a little better and faster … just doing whatever I have to do to help this team.”

One year later, White is stronger — and perhaps a little quicker — and the hustle is paying dividends. On a team with freshman starters Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, Bill Self will likely need a smart veteran to mix into the rotation — someone that can make shots and won’t make mistakes. So far, White appears to be capable of filling that role.

2. After one exhibition game, Bill Self wasn’t ready to make any decisions about redshirts. Not a surprise, of course. Self said on Monday that he was still thinking through the possibilities. Freshman wing Brannen Greene, who made three of four from three-point range against Pitt State, and Conner Frankamp, who went scoreless, appear to be the only candidates. On Tuesday, Self offered some more insight into the decision-making process.

“Brannen Greene can jump up and make a shot,” Self said. “Brannen Greene is talented; if he’d just bend his knees, he could probably move a little quicker. But I think he’s a good player. I think Brannen Green’s a good player, and he physically looks the part and can play the role. He’s just time away…

“But I thought everybody did fine. Conner is not making any shots because he’s thinking too much. We’ll make some decisions in the next week or so. And just because we make decisions doesn’t mean that’s the direction we’ll end up going, because maybe families don’t want to do it, or a kid doesn’t want to do it, or maybe we don’t want to do something. But certainly we’re not gonna be able to distribute the minutes evenly from this point forward.”

One thing to remember: The redshirt decisions don’t necessarily have to made by Kansas’ regular-season opener against Louisiana Monroe. The players in question could always lay out the first couple games and use more time to make the decision.

3. Considering that a heavyweight battle with Duke is looming on Nov. 12, it’s certainly not ideal that Naadir Tharpe has to sit out KU’s season opener for committing a minor NCAA violation last summer. (Tharpe played in a summer-league game in Chicago, a violation because he did not have prior permission, and it was not in his hometown.)

Freshman Frank Mason will start in place of Tharpe in the Jayhawks’ season opener against Louisiana Monroe, Self says. Of all of KU’s regulars, Tharpe is probably the most equipped to miss a game and still be ready to face Duke. But for Kansas’ young players, it could certainly hurt not having the extra game time to jell with Tharpe at the point.

Basketball is finally close

By Rustin Dodd

After more than a month of practice, Kansas will open its two-game exhibition schedule against Pitt State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The game will provide the next step in a maturation process for a six-man freshman class that includes No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins and probable starter Wayne Selden,

Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 swingman, and Selden, a 6-foot-4 guard, are expected to take two starting spots for Kansas, while junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, sophomore forward Perry Ellis and senior forward Tarik Black, a graduate transfer from Memphis, will fill out the starting lineup, KU coach Bill Self said on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, Ellis talked about the adjustment process for all of KU’s young players.

KU freshman point guard Frank Mason also talked about the nerves of the freshmen playing their first game inside Allen Fieldhouse.

Five observations from KU basketball scrimmage

LAWRENCE It’s now nine days until Kansas opens its exhibition schedule with a game against Pittsburg State on Oct. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse. After watching Kansas practice on Fridayafternoon and again on Saturday during a public scrimmage, here are five thoughts on Naadir Tharpe, Andrew Wiggins and the young Jayhawks — and five bits of video highlights if you missed Saturday’s early morning scrimmage:

1. Andrew White III is making a case for reserve minutes in the backcourt. The question of whether White, a sophomore guard, is a candidate to redshirt should be put to rest for now. White ran with KU’s blue team — the top seven or eight players — during Friday’s practice and at the beginning of Saturday’s scrimmage.

White played sparingly last season, but he is a natural marksman with good size at 6 feet 6. Self likes his ability to rebound and get the ball to the right spot on offense. And while White still appears to lack some lateral quickness on defense, his straight-line speed has improved, Self says.

It appears that a core group of six or seven players has emerged during the first month of practice: Junior guard Naadir Tharpe, freshmen wings Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins, sophomore forward Perry Ellis, sophomore forward Jamari Traylor and freshman center Joel Embiid.

For now, it seems White is right on the cusp of that core. After Saturday’s scrimmage, Self said he expects freshmen guards Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene to all make strides over the next few weeks. So the final spots in the rotation are still in flux. But if White continues to play well, the final guard spot could belong to whoever can best serve as a back-up point guard for Tharpe.

Disclaimer: With six freshman, the rotation could look a lot different in January than it’s looking right now.

Some action from Saturday’s scrimmage:

2. Naadir Tharpe has established himself as KU’s starting point guard. It’s not all that surprising, of course. Tharpe and senior Tarik Black have emerged as the team’s primary leaders, and KU will definitely need some stability and leadership during a tough non-conference slate.

3. Andrew Wiggins can wreak havoc on defense, but it may take some time. It’s easy to focus on Wiggins’ offensive skill-set, but while visiting practice on Friday, former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was impressed with Wiggins’ defensive potential. Wiggins’ length and quickness is a scary combination, and KU will need a lockdown perimeter defender to emerge after losing senior guard Travis Releford.

4. Could we see any four-guard sets? While speaking at Self’s annual coaches clinic on Friday, Van Gundy told a story about how Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to play small with the Miami Heat. The short version of the story: Spoelstra saw that playing three guards with LeBron James — and spreading the floor with shooters — allowed James the space to maximize his potential.

For a 6-foot-8 swingman, Wiggins has the potential to be a solid rebounder. He can also get to the basket and set up for others. It’ll be interesting to see if Self experiments playing Wiggins alongside a group that features Selden, Tharpe, another shooter, and either Joel Embiid or Tarik Black.

KU, of course, will need sophomore power forward Perry Ellis on the floor. But an occasional small-ball lineup could cause matchup nightmares.

5. Sophomore Jamari Traylor appears to have polished certain aspects of his game — passing, defensive spacing, court awareness — after his freshman season. Last season, Self liked to remind people that Traylor had only played competitive basketball for two season before arriving at KU. His shooting and offensive skills still need some work, but he could slot in as a quality fourth big man for KU.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.

Former KU guard Elijah Johnson signs with Polish pro team

By RUSTIN DODD
Former Kansas guard Elijah Johnson has signed with Polish team KS Rosa Radom, a pro team in the Tauron Basket Liga.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4 guard, was previously expected to sign with Polish team Anwil. After finishing up his four-year career at Kansas last spring, Johnson now becomes the third member of KU’s latest senior class to move into the professional ranks.

Center Jeff Withey is in training camp with the New Orleans Pelicans — formerly the New Orleans Hornets — while former KU guard Travis Releford is playing with Okapi Aalstar in Aalst, Belgium. Former KU guard Ben McLemore, who entered the NBA Draft after his freshman season, is in training camp with the Sacramento Kings.

Jayhawk mailbag!

LAWRENCE — It’s been a quality week in Kansas beat writer land, where the Jayhawks announced an upcoming home-and-home basketball series with UNLV. The Jayhawks will play in Las Vegas during the 2016-17 season, and the series continues a trend of Kansas road games in primo locales.

This year, of course, the Jayhawks will play Duke in Chicago, make a return trip to play Colorado in Boulder, and play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney in the Bahamas.

Also in play: An upcoming road game at Georgetown in Washington D.C.; a trip to play at San Diego State in 2015-16; a recently scheduled road football game at Hawaii later this decade; and a likely return to the Maui Invitational. It appears the KU schedule-makers are really maximizing the road opportunities.

From a competitive standpoint, though, the Jayhawks’ nonconference basketball schedule, which is made by associate athletic director Larry Keating, continues to be among the nation’s best. A lot of top programs probably wouldn’t schedule road games at San Diego State or UNLV. But both areas are prime recruiting areas, and Kansas should benefit from that as well.

So without further ado, let’s get to the first #KUmailbag of the fall. We’ll be here every Thursday or Friday, hashing out the big issues of the week. Send me questions via Twitter (@rustindodd) or email (rdodd@kcstar.com).

@tc_erickson It’s funny. After the season everyone (says) “I’ll never pick against KU again until they don’t win.” Preseason, “They might not win.”

This, of course, is in reference to Kansas being tied for first in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll with Oklahoma State. More specifically, it’s in reference to this: The Jayhawks have won (or shared) nine straight Big 12 regular-season titles, and in three of those seasons (2006, 2009, 2011), KU wasn’t picked to finish first.

The implication: Don’t bet against Bill Self in the Big 12 regular-season race.

Still, the Cowboys have the credentials to be a worthy foil. Marcus Smart could be the league’s most talented point guard since T.J. Ford or Chauncey Billups — although the junior-and-senior version of Sherron Collins has a case, too, at least from a college perspective. The Cowboys are also experienced, with Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash returning as well.

It’s still October … and none of KU’s six freshmen have played a college game. But the Jayhawks still hold the same trump card: Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas has lost two conference games in Lawrence (Texas in 2011 and Oklahoma State last season) since the beginning of the 2007-08 season. If that trend continues, it’s a tough task to finish a game better than the Jayhawks in an 18-game conference season.

@JayhawkingChief how long a leash does Weis get? I see no improvement. And QB’s that didn’t work elsewhere. Why hasn’t he developed a Frosh?

From a pure wins and losses perspective, Weis has a worse record (3-13) through 16 games than his predecessor Turner Gill (5-11). Gill, of course, lost his final 10 games, finishing 5-19 in two seasons. But this comparison comes with one more important caveat: Gill was taking over for Mark Mangino, who had won at least five games his last five seasons. Weis, meanwhile, was picking up after Gill.

Mangino’s departure was messy, but you can argue that Gill took over a more healthy situation than Weis did.

(One other comparison: Mark Mangino, who went 2-10 in his first season in 2002, also was 5-11 in his first 16 games. But his 2003 team rallied to finish 6-6, earning a bid to the Tangerine Bowl.)

Still, these last eight games will be important for Weis. Kansas is loaded with juniors, and one can reasonably hope for improvement going forward.

The quarterback question is fair, but Jake Heaps has performed adequately this season. The real concern may be a receiving corps that hasn’t made any progress in two years, and an offensive scheme that hasn’t produced points. If you recall, Mangino’s tenure didn’t really take off until he put offensive coordinator Ed Warinner in charge of the offense. Maybe finding his own version of Ed Warinner could be a solution for Weis.

@heady_chris how much time to you think Frankamp will get this season?

The KU guard rotation could be one of the more interesting story lines to track during the season’s opening weeks. All signs, for now, point to Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins holding down the three starting spots in the backcourt. That leaves at least one reserve guard spot — with a fifth guard likely playing spot minutes.

Bill Self has said that Frankamp, in addition to playing solid defense, will have to adjust to a reserve role after being a leading man in high school in Wichita. The Jayhawks could also need a secondary ball-handler off the bench, which could create an opening for freshman Frank Mason. Of course, there’s also Brannen Greene, who Self says would be a “headliner” in any other recruiting class. And, yes, for the moment, it appears the competition in the backcourt should be fierce.

(Linebacker) Ben Heeney doesn’t get any love on defense. Is he the most underrated player in the Big 12?” — Email from Mark

I sense that, inside the Big 12, especially among coaches, there’s a growing respect for Heeney, a junior middle linebacker from Hutchinson.

Heeney leads the Big 12 with 11 tackles per game, and has also added two sacks and two interceptions. I wrote this last week, but Heeney is sort of like a Cy Young-quality pitcher on a last-place team. The pitcher might allow two earned runs in eight innings — and his performance is still wasted. Through four games, Heeney is probably playing at a level unseen since Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen were patrolling the middle of the field in 2007 and 2008.

@gtankfesho have you been the east Lawrence Rec center & if so how impressed are you with the facilities ?

It’s been a few years… but this place might be one of the more underrated gems in Lawrence. It’s free… generally empty… and has a basketball court. What more do you need?

The mailbag music pick of the week: Cowboy Indian Bear

 

35K, not 25K

By Rustin Dodd

You may have seen the official attendance number from Kansas’ loss to Texas Tech on Saturday — the one that said just 25,648 fans showed up at Memorial Stadium for a Homecoming weekend on Campanile Hill.

That number, according to Katy Lonergan, KU’s director of football communications, was inaccurate. The official attendance was actually 35,648. According to Lonergan, the incorrect figure was caused by a communication mix-up between KU’s ticket office and staff in the press box.

The original attendance (25,648) would have been one of the smallest crowds for a KU home game since the 2002 and 2003 seasons, when a couple of crowds were officially in the upper 20,000 range. And while Memorial Stadium, which holds around 50,000, was mostly empty for the latter parts of the second half, it did appear to be more than half full during the first quarter.

After the updated attendance number, KU has averaged 39,091 fans in three games this season. Last season, the Jayhawks averaged 45,050 fans during their opening three games.