A look at KU’s non-con basketball schedule

By Rustin Dodd

One hundred and eighty-six days.

The unofficial countdown to Kansas’ regular-season opener began on Tuesday morning, when the school announced its nonconference basketball schedule for 2014-2015.

Plenty of time to analyze, of course. It’s May. But some early thoughts: This nonconference slate should allow for some early-season breathers — something that didn’t exist last fall.

Last season, the Jayhawks played the nation’s toughest nonconference schedule. And, yes, it came with a few benefits. A young Kansas team was battle-tested by the Big 12 season, and the Jayhawks added a 10th straight Big 12 title.

But by late February, Kansas coach Bill Self was lamenting the fact that the relentless early schedule provided few opportunities for some young players to gain some confidence and experience. One example: Conner Frankamp.

If Frankamp could have played more in November, Self wondered, would Kansas have looked different in March?

We’re still a summer away from the college football season. So no rush. But now that we know whom Kansas will be playing in November and December (and one game in January), let’s take a quick run through the nonconference schedule.

Kansas will also play home exhibitions against Washburn (Nov. 4) and Emporia State (Nov. 11).

Nov. 14, Friday, vs. UC Santa Barbara in Lawrence

Record last season: 21-9, no postseason

What you should know: Alan Williams, a 6-foot-8 center, is a statistical monster. Averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds last season. Shot 53 percent from the floor. Could be an NBA prospect. In short: It should be a solid early matchup for freshman forward Cliff Alexander.

Nov. 18, Tuesday, vs. Kentucky at Champions Classic in Indianapolis

Record last season: 29-11; National runner-up
What you should know: Kentucky should be No. 1 when the teams arrive in Indy; The Wildcats lost Julius Randle and James Young but return everyone else, including 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein, who played at Olathe Northwest.

The Harrison twins are back in the backcourt, Dakari Johnson is back in the middle, and John Calipari added four McDonald’s All-Americans. Kentucky has won its last two meetings against KU, both during the 2011-12 season: 75-65 in the Champions Classic in New York; and 67-59 in the NCAA Championship game in New Orleans.

Nov. 24, Monday, vs. Rider in Lawrence

Record last season: 14-17

What you should know: Rider coach Kevin Baggett is entering his third season. He led the school to a 19-15 record in 2012-13 before a step back last year. We know that.

Nov. 27-30, at Orlando Classic in Florida

What you should know: Last season, Kansas stumbled through a Thanksgiving trip to the Bahamas. This year, it is Orlando. KU will play three games in four days at the Orlando Classic — sponsor to be added later. The rest of the field: Georgia Tech, Marquette, Michigan State, Rhode Island, Rider, Santa Clara and Tennessee.

Dec. 5, Friday, vs. Florida at SEC/Big 12 Challenge in Lawrence

Record last season: 36-3, Final Four

What you should know: Rematch. The veteran Gators handled Kansas in Gainesville last season, but coach Billy Donovan lost four senior starters. Florida is reloading around former top recruit Chris Walker, a forward, and should be a top 20 team entering the season.

Dec. 10, Wednesday, at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Record last season: 18-15, NIT

What you should know: Kansas’ first-ever road game to Georgetown. The Jayhawks handled the Hoyas 86-64 last season at Allen Fieldhouse. Expect a sizable Kansas contingent in D.C.
Dec. 13, Saturday, vs. Utah at the Sprint Center

Record last season: 21-12, NIT

What you should know: A tricky little Sprint Center matchup. The Utes are coming off their first postseason appearance under coach Larry Krystkowiak. They should be expected to finish in the top half of the Pac-12.
Dec. 20, Saturday, vs. Lafayette in Lawrence

Record last season: 11-20; no postseason

What you should know: The first meeting between the two schools. The Leopards are in the Patriot League, the same conference as Bucknell and Lehigh.

Dec. 22, Monday, at Temple in Philadelphia

Record last season: 9-22, no postseason

What you should know: Last season was a rare Dumpster fire for coach Fran Dunphy, whose Owls finished 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference. It was the first time Temple had missed the NCAA tourney since 2007.
Dec. 30, Tuesday, vs. Kent State in Lawrence

Record last season: 16-16, no postseason

What you should know: Could be the final easy victory before Big 12 Conference play. Or one of the last chances to get guys on the fringe of the rotation some experience.

Jan. 4, Sunday, vs. UNLV in Lawrence

Record last season: 20-13, no postseason

What you should know: The Runnin’ Rebels were hit with a rash of departures after last season. Khem Birch, the two-time reigning defensive player of the year in the Mountain West, put his name in for the NBA Draft. So did Roscoe Smith. Bryce Dejean-Jones transferred to Iowa State. Nobody wanted to stay in Vegas, apparently.

UNLV coach Dave Rice did add Rashad Vaughn, a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard. But this is a young roster. Last year, Kansas finished off its nonconference schedule against a San Diego State team that advanced to the Sweet 16. This will be slightly easier.

 

Saturday mailbag

By Rustin Dodd

Earlier this week — Wednesday, to be exact — we passed one month since Kansas’ season-ending loss to Stanford in the round of 32 in St. Louis.

Now Andrew Wiggins has turned pro. So has Joel Embiid. The potential top two picks in this June’s NBA Draft both leaving campus after one season.

The rest of the roster is back, though, and Kansas coach Bill Self is still waiting on decisions from five-star center Myles Turner and rising point guard Devonte Graham.

So as the summertime approaches, let’s empty the mailbag and dive into some KU developments.

•  “Is Devonte Graham just another version of Naadir Tharpe or some of the other point guards Bill Self has recruited over the last few years? Would he actually be an upgrade?” — Scott, Atlanta

An upgrade in 2014-15? Too early to know for sure on that. Graham, a 6-foot-1 guard out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire (the same school that produced Tharpe) visited Kansas earlier this month before taking an official visit to NC State. He’s visiting Virginia this weekend, while also considering Providence and Virginia Tech.

For now, Graham says he has no timetable on a decision.

So why does Graham matter? This late in the recruiting game, he is perhaps the most coveted point guard on the market — a legitimate talent at a position that has vexed Kansas since the graduation of Tyshawn Taylor.

A late bloomer, Graham originally signed to Appalachian State out of high school before deciding to take a fifth year at Brewster Academy. It took Graham nearly all season before Appalachian State granted his release from his letter of intent, and Graham recently went from unranked to No. 36 in Rivals’ final rankings for the class of 2014. Some of the rise, of course, could be based on timing. Graham is in high demand and one of the only uncommitted players left on the market. But in college basketball circles, his stock skyrocketed during his prep year.

NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from commenting on prospective recruits, but two coaches in Kansas City this weekend for the Jayhawk Invitational suggested that Graham could be one of the top four or five point guards in the 2014 class.

If Graham chooses Kansas, he would join a backcourt that currently features returning starter Wayne Selden at the two, and sophomore Brannen Greene and incoming freshman Kelly Oubre on the wing. Point guard Naadir Tharpe is slated to return for his senior season after a mercurial junior campaign, while Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp both have the ability to play point guard as well.

It would be a crowded backcourt, but Graham would almost certainly have the opportunity to compete for minutes after nobody took charge at the point last season.

“I like the campus and the atmosphere and the players I really got along with, and all the coaches,” Graham told SNY.tv after his Kansas visit. “Basically, I would come in and have an impact right away, is what I was told.”

Graham, a native of Raleigh, N.C., said he also feels comfortable with the idea of playing at home at North Carolina State. He has known NC State coach Mark Gottfried for several years.

“I’ve known him for a couple of years because his son played high school ball with me,” Graham told SNY.tv, “so that always felt like a family environment and it’s home. That was my first time on campus and it was pretty nice.”

Entering his 12th season at Kansas, Self desperately needs a point guard that can provide stability on the defensive end and make plays in transition. Maybe that point guard is already on the roster — Mason and Frankamp could make major strides — but Self is likely to keep searching and recruiting until he finds one.

•  @TonyKargbo: @ rustindodd I notice(d) this poll http://cbsprt.co/1kFwacR has (Myles) Turner as expected Texas newcomer; do they know something we don’t?

It’s no secret that Texas has been the perceived favorite for Turner for a while. Turner, the 7-foot center from Euless, Texas, is scheduled to make his college announcement at 3 p.m. Wednesday on ESPNU.

His list still includes Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist, Texas and Texas A&M.

Turner has always maintained that he doesn’t have any “favorites”, and earlier this month, he rejected the oft-repeated rumor that it was a two-horse race between Kansas and Texas. Still, there are multiple reasons why Texas has surfaced as a likely destination. He’s said repeatedly that he’d like to stay close to home, so that his parents could easily get to his games. (Austin is a three-hour drive from home.) He also idolizes Kevin Durant, the former Texas star.

But this is recruiting, of course. So predict at your own peril. Remember: Last year at this time, most recruiting types (but not all) had Andrew Wiggins headed to Florida State.

•  “… Guess we can circle the Kentucky game in Indianapolis as the biggest game of the non-conference (next season) … ” — Matt, Overland Park

Yep. Even if Myles Turner goes elsewhere, the Kansas-Kentucky matchup at the Champions Classic in Indy on Nov. 18 will feature 13 McDonald’s All-Americans — including nine on the UK roster. Maybe not a record — we’ll have to Google that — but that’s a lot.

The Harrison twins are headed back to Kentucky. So is Olathe Northwest graduate Willie Cauley-Stein. The Wildcats will likely be the preseason No. 1.

So where will Kansas be slated in the preseason rankings? Probably somewhere between four and six, depending on who you believe.

•  “The offense in the spring game looked a little suspect, but the new spread looked like an improvement. Still need some stability up front, but … any guesses on a breakout player on offense this fall?” Mark B., Prairie Village

Charlie Weis keeps pointing to junior receiver Rodriguez Coleman, a junior college transfer entering his second season. The Jayhawks need a lift at receiver, and Coleman received a lift himself when he was granted an extra year of eligibility this past winter.

But we’ll point to senior running back Brandon Bourbon, who has suffered through an injury plagued career while playing behind James Sims. Bourbon was once a top recruit, wanted by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. He may actually be bigger and faster than Sims. While new offensive coordinator John Reagan will implement a new no-huddle, spread offense, expect the Jayhawks to run the ball a lot. That could mean big numbers for Bourbon.

Gardner tourney to host KU recruit

By Rustin Dodd

It’s lining up to be a convenient basketball recruiting week for Kansas. The nation’s No. 1 overall player in the class of 2015 — combo guard Malik Newman — is expected to be in KU’s own backyard this week, competing in the Under Armour Jayhawk Invitational in Gardner.

In the world of AAU basketball, schedules and rosters can fluctuate at the last minute, but Newman, a 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., is slated to play for Mo Williams Academy, which will open the tournament at 8:20 p.m. Friday against Kansas City-based Run GMC at New Century Fieldhouse, 551 New Century Parkway.

Run GMC features Blue Springs South standout Kevin Puryear, Lee’s Summit’s Drew Lock, who has committed to play quarterback at Mizzou, and Columbia Hickman standout Jimmy Whitt.

Kansas coach Bill Self, of course, is still working on adding some final pieces to his 2014 recruiting class. But while KU waits for decisions from five-star center Myles Turner and rising point guard Devonte Graham, Newman figures to be one of Self’s top targets in the 2015 class. Self and assistant Jerrance Howard conducted an in-home visit with Newman earlier this month.

Newman, who has led Jackson-Callaway High School to three straight Mississippi state titles, has drawn heavy interest from Kentucky, Duke, Baylor, Missouri (before the departure of Frank Haith), Memphis, as well as Kansas. The list of suitors is longer than that, of course. But Newman still has an entire summer before he begins his senior year of high school.

Rivals’ recruiting analyst Eric Bossi likened Newman’s game to former UConn star Ben Gordon, an athletic combo guard with a scorer’s mentality.

Rivals’ scouting report described him as a “a scoring machine who is virtually unstoppable on the offensive end. (Newman) has a beautiful jumper that features deep range and he’s plenty capable of creating off the dribble; has a body that is built for contact. Ideally, (Newman) will develop more point guard skills because he is slightly undersized as a two.”

At least two other five-star recruits are expected to be in town this weekend: Diamond Stone, a 6-foot-10 center from Milwaukee, will play for the Young Legends team that opens the tournament against 1 Nation at 7:10 p.m. Friday at the New Century Fieldhouse. Stone is rated as the No. 3 overall player in Rivals’ 2015 class, holding offers from more than a dozen schools.

Stone will face off against 1 Nation’s Josh Jackson, a Detroit shooting guard rated as Rivals’ No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2016. Jackson holds scholarship offers from Kansas, Louisville, Ohio State, Memphis and Oregon, among others, according to Rivals.

Embiid’s father hopes son back in uniform soon

By Rustin Dodd

In the minutes before Kansas faced Oklahoma State on Thursday afternoon, Thomas Embiid stood up from his seat in a far corner of the Sprint Center and surveyed the scene.

His son, Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid, is shut down for this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament with a stress fracture in his back. But Thomas Embiid is still hopeful he’ll see his son play in person before the end of the season, saying his son’s back injury wasn’t “too serious.”

“It’s improving,” Thomas Embiid said. “Hopefully he can come back soon.”

Thomas Embiid and Joel’s mother, Christine, traveled to Kansas City this weekend from their native Cameroon. Thomas Embiid plans to travel back to Cameroon after the tournament but would like to return to see Kansas play in the NCAA Tournament. When asked if he thought Joel would be able to return before the end of the season, Thomas Embiid said: “I don’t know. Hopefully he can.”

Thomas Embiid said he was pleased with the way Kansas and coach Bill Self had handled his son’s back issues. He also downplayed Embiid’s looming decision to potentially enter the NBA Draft after his freshman season, saying his son would make his decision after the season.

This is Thomas Embiid’s second trip to the United States to see Joel play. He also visited in November.

Turner to visit KU basketball

Myles Turner, the top unsigned basketball recruit in the country, will take an official visit to Kansas on March 5. Turner’s father, David, confirmed the visit to multiple outlets on Wednesday.

A 6-foot-11 center from Euless, Texas, Turner will attend Kansas’ Senior Night game against Texas Tech, the same game that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins visited last season before committing to KU in early May. Kansas coach Bill Self later said that he game-planned to throw multiple lobs to KU guard Ben McLemore, hoping to impress Wiggins.

Turner is rated as the nation’s sixth-best prospect, according to Rivals.com. His current list of options still includes Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas. He has visited Oklahoma State and SMU and will take a visit to Duke on March 8. He may also visit Kentucky, according to multiple reports.

Kansas has signed two players in its 2014 class — Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander and swingman Kelly Oubre of Findlay Prep in the Las Vegas area. The Jayhawks’ scholarship situation still remains fluid. The expected departures of senior forward Tarik Black and freshman wing Andrew Wiggins will open up two scholarships, while freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. will also have NBA decisions to consider.

Turner would be an obvious reinforcement if Embiid, a potential top-two pick, decides to enter the draft. So all signs point to Turner waiting until April to choose a school. Huntington prep guard JaQuan Lyle visited Kansas during its victory over Oklahoma on Monday.

Post-Sooner thoughts

By Rustin Dodd

One day after No. 5 Kansas clinched a share of its 10th straight Big 12 title, The Bonus returns with three takeaways from the Jayhawks’ 83-75 victory over Oklahoma.

Yes, Naadir Tharpe says. He’s heard it.

Sometimes, he’ll stumble upon the critical shrapnel on Twitter. Sometimes he’ll get a text message or call from his high school coach, Jason Smith of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.

“Kansas fans,” Tharpe recalls Smith saying. “They try to kill you, Naa.”

Maybe it’s a bad turnover at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s a defensive breakdown. But usually — well, almost always — it’s his shot-selection. Last season, while serving as Kansas’ backup point guard, Tharpe had a tendency to fire up an off-balance jumper early in possessions. He was the seventh-leading scorer on a KU team that basically played seven players. But his shot selection often suggested the confidence of Ray Allen.

So Kansas fans would joke about the #NaadirTharpeHeatCheck, or they would question a step-back 18-footer with 29 seconds left on the shot clock, and Tharpe would just try to roll with it.

“I just laugh at it,” Tharpe says.

The truth is, Tharpe says, he doesn’t know how to play any other way. When he was a point guard at Brewster, one of the top prep schools in the country, the roster was loaded with future pros. He played alongside Thomas Robinson and Syracuse standout C.J. Fair. Iowa State senior star Melvin Ejim came off the bench. And yet, Tharpe was never shy about taking the big shot.

This goes back a ways, Tharpe says. When he was growing up in Worcester, Mass., Tharpe’s older brother and mentor, Tishaun Jenkins, used to pound the following point home.

“If you can’t take making that shot and everybody loving you — and you can’t take missing a shot and everybody hating you — you shouldn’t be playing this game.”

So it was on Monday night. No. 8 Kansas trailed Oklahoma 59-56 with 9:18 left. The Jayhawks were in danger of suffering their second home loss of the season. And Tharpe rose to the moment, finishing with 14 points and two assists in the final nine minutes as KU clinched its 10th straight Big 12 championship

“He closed the game the way good players close games,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way point guards close games. All the teams that have a chance to win, or have great seasons, they all have guys that can close.”

In his junior season, Tharpe is getting closer to becoming that guy. Let’s take a look at one stretch in particular. The Jayhawks had taken a 74-68 lead after a three-pointer from Andrew Wiggins with 2:45 to play. But on two consecutive possessions, Oklahoma challenged Tharpe to make a play — and Self gave Tharpe the freedom to make it.

On the first possession, with more than 1:52 left, Oklahoma shaded two guys on Joel Embiid and extended the defense on Wiggins on the wing.

The lane wasn’t totally open, but the Sooners’ defense was extended enough. All Tharpe needed to do was get his shoulders past one defender and the help-side defenders were too afraid to leave Perry Ellis or Embiid. Tharpe pulled up in the lane and hit a short jumper.

The next possession was even more open.

With more than a minute left, and the lead now just at 76-71 after an Oklahoma three, the Jayhawks’ other four players flattened out along the baseline. Tharpe beat his man off the dribble, and once again, the help was late. Of course, it’s tough to leave Embiid or Ellis alone on the block. So Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger picked his poison. And Tharpe carried the Jayhawks to a victory.

“When you don’t run offense,” Self said, “and you just put the ball in his hands and say ‘Go make a play’, that’s what good teams do. And that’s how you have to score in the NCAA Tournament a lot of times.”

2. Jamari Traylor, offensive weapon. We don’t often think about Traylor’s offensive prowess, and for good reason. A redshirt sophomore forward, Traylor has taken just 58 shots this season. The Jayhawks almost never play through him on the post. But Traylor, who is playing 15.1 minutes per game, might be on his way to becoming the most efficient part-time player of Self’s tenure.

After going two for two on Monday against Oklahoma, Traylor is shooting 74 percent on the season. He’s been even better in Big 12 play, hitting 28 of 38 (78 percent). No player in Self’s tenure has ever shot 70 percent from the floor while shooting more than 75 shots. Traylor could be the first.

For comparison: Mark Randall holds the KU record for field-goal percentage in a season (minimum 175 shots). He hit 64.6 percent in 1989. KU freshman Joel Embiid (62.4 percent) has an outside chance at that mark.

3 Wayne Selden’s future. In the moments after Monday’s game, Self was asked freshman Wayne Selden Jr.’s leadership skills. Self began to answer the question, suggesting Selden could be one of his best leaders at Kansas … but then he stopped.

“Who knows how long these kids stay in school,” Self said. “But he’ll be one of the better leaders we’ve had at KU if he’s in school long enough, because he gets it. He gets it.”

While Embiid and Wiggins will be projected lottery picks in this summer’s NBA Draft, Selden’s future could be a little more cloudy. In some mock drafts, he’s projected as a late first-round pick. For now, it appears Self doesn’t want to publically presume that Selden will be back at Kansas next year. But if he sticks around, Self says, he has the tools to grow into one of his best leaders.

“Wayne’s not scared of his voice,” Self said.

OU-KU pregame talk

By Rustin Dodd

As we wait for No. 5 Kansas to tip off against Oklahoma on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence (8 p.m. on ESPN), here are five things to know about the matchup:

1. Where does Kansas’ Big 12 title streak rank?

With a victory tonight against Oklahoma, Kansas can clinch its 10th straight Big 12 championship. The streak, according to the NCAA record book, would be tied for the third longest conference title streak in history.

13, UCLA, Pac-8/10, 1967-79
11, Gonzaga, WCC, 2001-11
10, Connecticut, Yankee, 1951-60
10, UNLV, Big West, 1983-92
9, Kansas, Big 12, 2004-
9, Idaho St., Rocky Mtn., 1953-61
9, Kentucky, SEC, 1944-52

2. Wiggins and awards

Andrew Wiggins is building a compelling case for Big 12 player of the year honors. Before we get to that, here are two quick caveats: 1. There are still four games left in the Big 12 season — that’s 22 percent of the conference slate — so it may be a little early to discuss postseason honors. 2. You could argue that freshman center Joel Embiid has been Kansas’ most important/dominating player for stretches, but foul trouble and injuries have limited his minutes. (He’s averaging just 22.6 per game and missed Kansas’ home victory against TCU.)

But for now, here are some of the most convincing arguments for Wiggins:

He’s the most productive player on a top-five team that will likely win the Big 12 by multiple games. And …

Using Ken Pomeroy’s player-of-the-year metric, Wiggins has been the most valuable player in the conference. After Saturday’s victory over Texas, Wiggins is averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The offensive numbers aren’t gaudy, but …

He’s the best rebounder from the guard position that Self has had at Kansas, pulling down 8.4 percent of available offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. So yeah …

His offensive numbers could be slightly more efficient. He’s hitting just 49 percent from inside the three-point line, a fine clip but a shade below some of the top players in the country. (Doug McDermott is making 55 percent, while Duke’s Jabari Parker is at 51 percent. And both of those players are carrying a bigger offensive load.). But Wiggins’ two-way ability — he often guards the best scorer on the opposing team — had made up for some of the offensive struggles.

The Big 12 has some other solid candidates; DeAndre Kane might be the most complete guard; Melvin Ejim is probably the best scorer; and Juwan Staten might carry West Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament. But as Baylor coach Scott Drew said on the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, “To the victors go the spoils.”

That might be what separates Wiggins.

3. Oklahoma’s offense

Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler doesn’t shoot as much as Cam Clark or Buddy Hield, but Spangler is by far the Sooners’ most efficient offensive player. A transfer from Gonzaga, Spangler is shooting 62.5 percent from inside the three-point line.

Spangler battled foul trouble in Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas in Norman, scoring just four points on two-of-three-shooting in 23 minutes. So if Oklahoma wants to hang with KU inside Allen Fieldhouse, Spangler will need to supply some more offense in the frontcourt.

4. Defensive test

For a Kansas team that is trying to take another step on defense before March, Oklahoma should provide an intriguing test. The Sooners, which entered Monday ranked 12th nationally in offensive efficiency, will probably be the best offense Kansas sees until the NCAA Tournament. (West Virginia, 15th in offensive efficiency, might also have an argument). Oklahoma can shoot it from the outside (the Sooners score nearly 30 percent of their points on threes) and sophomore guard Buddy Hield (70 for 182 on threes) can clip off a lot of them.

5. Tharpe’s shooting

Naadir Tharpe is suddenly in a shooting slump. Perhaps that’s all it is, but the junior guard is still just two of 19 in his last three games — all KU victories. He’s also hit one of 13 from three-point range during the same span. Before the season, Kansas coach Bill Self said Naadir Tharpe had to be the Jayhawks’ most valuable player. But during the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks may need his outside shooting just as much as his intangibles.

Tharpe, before his shooting skid, has been the Jayhawks’ most reliable outside shooting. If he isn’t making shots, Kansas can struggle to find offense from three. In a one-and-done tourney, a cold shooting night could doom KU.

Why KU’s Justin Wesley couldn’t talk about his role in ‘Jayhawkers’

By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle

LAWRENCE — The NCAA has a lot of rules. Here are a couple more.

Kansas senior forward Justin Wesley was able to be cast in a lead role of the movie “Jayhawkers”, which premiered on Friday in Lawrence. He could be paid and everything. But at the official premiere, Wesley could not say a word about his performance or the film in general.

Why?

During the playing season, the NCAA does not allow athletes to “make any endorsement, expressed or implied, of any commercial product or service.”

Upon request, the KU compliance office supplied the specific bylaws and rules that barred Wesley from talking about his first starring film role.

Here’s the explanation:

Based on bylaw 12.4.1, Wesley could be paid for his role in the movie. As long as it was “(a) Only for work actually performed; and (b) At a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality
for similar services.”

But based on bylaw 12.5.3, which deals with “media services”, Wesley couldn’t talk about the film on Friday. He’d be, based on one interpretation, endorsing a commercial product. They sold tickets
last night, and the makers of the film are presumably trying to make some money on the film.

As far as NCAA policies and bylaws go, this one probably isn’t worth a grand protest. But it is interesting. Most KU basketball players do dozens of media interviews each season, essentially
promoting and implicitly endorsing the product of Kansas basketball and college hoops. They sell tickets to KU basketball games, too, you know, so those media interviews certainly help the school
and program.

In some ways, Wesley’s role in “Jayhawkers” wasn’t all that different. He was working with a KU film professor — director Kevin Wilmott — doing something educational and constructive with his time,
and exploring another potential career path. (Wesley has previously expressed interest in pursuing other acting roles after his college basketball career is over.)

But he couldn’t do interviews that might help his (potential) acting career. Not during the season at least.

Self on interacting with fans

By Rustin Dodd

In the aftermath of the Marcus Smart fan incident at Texas Tech on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he rarely speaks to his team about how to handle fans’ taunts or specific arenas.

“We don’t talk about the seating arrangement or how close the fans are,” Self said Monday on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “But the whole thing, you don’t communicate with fans, and it’s water off your back.”

Smart, the reigning Big 12 player of the year, pushed a Texas Tech fan after barreling into the stands in the final seconds of Saturday night’s game in Lubbock. The fan, a Texas Tech supporter named Jeff Orr, later said he called Smart a “piece of crap” but denied using any racially charged language.

“The thing that’s always concerned me the most is the storming of the court,” Self said. “You have a bumping that could escalate into something else. But I’ve never addressed anything with my team.”

Of freshmen and the NCAA final

By Rustin Dodd

LAWRENCE — So youth has been the story in college basketball this season, here in Kansas and throughout the country.

From the rather premature 40-0 talk at Kentucky, to the early-season dominance of Jabari Parker, to the fog of hype and scrutiny surrounding Andrew Wiggins, to the midseason rise of Joel Embiid. It’s been a year for the uber-prospect — even if the most productive (and perhaps best) player in college basketball is a four-year senior who didn’t think he was good enough to play in the Big 12.

But as we move closer to March, brace yourself for more talk about youth. Can a team dependent on freshmen be the last one standing at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas?

It’s a good question to ponder, so let’s start here:

In the last decade, only one team has won the NCAA title with freshmen playing more than 50 percent of the minutes. And only two teams have won with freshmen playing more than 40 percent of the minutes. More evidence for experience: From 2004 to 2013, freshmen played, on average, just fewer than than 21 percent of the minutes for the team that won the title.

So what does it mean? Maybe not as much as you’d think. Most freshmen don’t play a ton of minutes, because well, most freshmen aren’t very good. It’s rare that freshmen-centric teams win the title, but that’s partly because freshmen-centric teams are rare to begin with.

Still, recent history suggest it’s possible:

– Two years ago, Kentucky won it all in New Orleans with freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and point guard Marcus Teague leading the way. The Kentucky freshman class played 54 percent of the minutes.

– In 2011, Connecticut won the championship with a surprising tourney run; junior guard Kemba Walker did most of the heavy lifting, but the Huskies’ freshmen played 47 percent of the minutes.

– And last year, Michigan went to the NCAA title game with a class of freshmen that accounted for 51.4 percent of the Wolverines’ minutes.
All of those teams, of course, had veterans (well, sophomores at least) playing crucial roles. Kentucky had Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb; UConn had Walker; Michigan had Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That brings us to this year, and two freshmen-dominated teams.

In 22 games, Kentucky’s crop of McDonald’s All-Americans have played 74.6 percent of the minutes for John Calipari. That is, quite simply, taking freshmen dependence to the extreme. (In a preseason study, Sports Illustrated found only two teams that have relied that much on freshmen: Michigan’s Fab Five, which played 68.5 percent of the minutes; and Texas in 2006-07, which was Kevin Durant’s class.)

Meanwhile, in Lawrence, Bill Self’s freshmen have played nearly 57 percent of the minutes — a profile much closer to Anthony Davis and Co. than the Fab Five. So while we’ll likely spend the next few months gauging the development of Wiggins and Embiid, maybe we should remember this: The emergence of junior guard Naadir Tharpe has been just as key to the Jayhawks’ 8-1 record in the Big 12.

Here it comes, the same question for the next two months: Is Kansas too young to do damage in March? It’s a worthwhile debate, but it also obscures this point: If you’re going to win with freshmen, you need the right freshmen, of course. But you also need the right mix.

So while KU’s freshmen play 57 percent of the minutes, the Jayhawks’ tourney prospects could hinge on the veterans — the other 43 percent.

Here’s a look at the percentage of minutes freshmen played for the last 10 NCAA champions:

2013: Louisville, 8.1 percent

2012: Kentucky, 54 percent

2011: Connecticut, 47 percent

2010: Duke, 14.8 percent

2009: North Carolina, 16.8 percent

2008: Kansas, 6.9 percent

2007: Florida, 7.8 percent

2006: Florida, 13.7 percent

2005: North Carolina, 14.0 percent

2004: Connecticut, 21.3 percent