No. 1 Kansas to lean on team loaded with transfers, freshmen
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas was so short of depth last season that when Silvio De Sousa joined the program for the second semester, having graduated from high school early, he quickly began playing important minutes.
Some of them came during the Jayhawks’ run to the Final Four.
Fast-forward to the start of this season and the Jayhawks have so much depth, especially inside, that it made sense to hold out De Sousa as the school and the NCAA investigate whether he received impermissible benefits as part of a pay-for-play scheme that has rocked the world of college basketball.
The Jayhawks still have bruising big man Udoka Azubuike back after briefly eyeing the NBA draft. Throw in high-energy power forward Mitch Lightfoot, five-star freshman David McCormack and the arrival of Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson — twin standouts who had to redshirt last season after transferring from Memphis — and there still might not be enough minutes to go around.
“We have been ridiculously thin the last two years, but the players we had playing were really good players,” Self said. “We just didn’t have many up front. But this year we’re different.”
Gone are high-scoring guards Devonte Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk, all of them forging NBA careers these days. And while there is still plenty of backcourt talent in Lawrence, the reality is Kansas should resemble the inside-outside teams that Self prefers to coach.
Like the 2012 squad led by Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey that reached the NCAA title game.
“I feel like other teams coming in, I don’t know how you can guard our big guys,” said freshman guard Quentin Grimes, who along with McCormack and Devon Dotson form the core of the Jayhawks’ prized recruiting class. “Sometimes we can’t even guard them. It’s crazy.”
Rarely does a team lose its top three scorers and earn a preseason No. 1 ranking with the expectation of being even better the following year. Then again, rarely does a team reload quite the way Kansas did.
Dedric Lawson was often the best player on the floor in practices last season, and his brother wasn’t far behind. Throw in Cal transfer Charlie Moore, who averaged more than 12 points as a freshman, and the Jayhawks have a trio of newcomers with plenty of experience.
There are also enough holdovers in Azubuike, Lightfoot and guards Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick that Self believes there will be a relatively smooth transition from last season.
“This will be a different team,” Self said, “but I think the expectations are there.”
DE SOUSA’S DEAL
Kansas announced it would hold De Sousa out until his eligibility is cleared. His name was brought up in testimony during the trial of two former Adidas executives and the runner for a sports agent as having received impermissible benefits. All three men were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the first domino to fall in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. So while De Sousa vowed two weeks ago that “I know I’m going to play,” that is no longer clear. Self said there is no timetable for the investigation to be complete.
DINNER IS SERVED
Dedric Lawson said he’s slimmed down from 250 pounds to about 230 by changing his diet. Gone are the red meats, fried foods and empty carbs, and in their place are plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with a healthy helping of fish.
“One day I was feeling heavy. It was like, a whole week my knees were hurting real bad,” he said. “So I changed my diet and I’ve been better ever since. I feel like I have more energy, things of that nature.”
Vick went undrafted after declaring early, and most assumed that the swingman was headed for a professional career overseas. Self even thought so when he built his recruiting class by signing a guard late in the process. Then, Vick had second thoughts and wound up returning to school, and Self was happy to have another experienced guard in the backcourt.
Grimes got a preview of playing for Self when he starred for Team USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Canada over the summer. Grimes was MVP for the gold medal-winning squad coached by Self.
“He didn’t get on me as hard as he’s gotten on me here,” Grimes said, “but he gave me a little taste of what it would be like.”
The Jayhawks have another brutal nonconference schedule beginning with Michigan State on Nov. 6 at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. They also get Marquette and either Louisville or Tennessee in the NIT Season-Tip-Off, Villanova in a December showdown at Allen Fieldhouse, a trip to Arizona State and a visit to Kentucky as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge.