For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks had the nation's toughest schedule, only to lose in the third round of the NCAA tournament in March. And for the second year in a row, the Jayhawks lost two freshmen to the NBA draft. But we aren't here to talk about the fact that KU played the 12th ranked team in the nation as the "seventh seed" in our bracket so the NCAA could make even more profit due to the excitement of an all-Kansas matchup with Wichita State. And we aren't here to talk about the "unfortunate" circumstances that ended Cliff Alexander's only season with the Jayhawks prematurely. We don't dwell on the past here. We are always rational and always positive about KU basketball.
Okay, now that I've taken a 15-minute recess from writing this to look at pictures of Duke's Coach K and Kentucky's John Calipari and think of everything I hate about them, I have calmed down and I'm ready to talk about next year.
First, let's talk about who we lost:
Kelly Oubre, Jr., Small Forward—NBA Draft
I know ladies, you won't be able to look at those dreamy eyes of his anymore!!! Oubre started his freshman year out slowly, fighting for minutes with other players on the team. But once Kelly got himself going, he didn't look back. He averaged just under ten points a game this year while grabbing five rebounds a game. The long, athletic winger made great improvements in his shooting while at times becoming a defensive nightmare for opponents. It would have been great to see what he would be like as a sophomore, but alas, the NBA and millions of dollars were too much for Oubre to turn down. We wish him the best of luck at the next level, and we'll all miss his amazing hair.
Cliff Alexander, Power Forward—NBA Draft
A lot of people were very disappointed with Cliff's season, even before he was suspended. I think part of this may be due to the fact that he followed former Jayhawk, and current NBA player, Joel Embiid. Embiid was ridiculously talented for how little basketball he played, and Alexander was a completely different player. For starters, Embiid was 7-feet tall with insane athleticism, strength, coordination and skill for his size. Cliff was only 6-foot-8 and didn't move as well as JoJo, laterally or vertically. So whether it was conscious or unconscious, comparisons to Embiid were unfair to Alexander. When he did play, Cliff impacted the game. He averaged seven points, a block and over five rebounds while only averaging 17 minutes a game! That production is incredible. For those of you, like me, who aren't great with math, that means Cliff either scored a point, got a block or a rebound nearly every minute he was in the game. Too bad his mom took some money from some people that the NCAA ruled a violation or something. What could have been.
Christian Garrett, Shooting Guard—Graduation
Seems like he's been here forever. It will be weird not seeing him on the bench. We'll miss his towel-waving.
Now let's talk about returning players:
Frank Mason III was the Jayhawks best and most consistent player last season. He greatly improved after his freshman season, as he averaged 12 points, nearly four rebounds and nearly four assists per game during his sophomore campaign. Devonte Graham was slowed by a toe injury when a Georgetown fat man, Joshua Smith, landed on his foot in a game this season. But when he finally recovered and played, Graham was a spark off the bench. He brought passion and energy to the game, as well as unheralded defense abilities. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch Mason and Graham run KU basketball for the next two years.
Sophomore Wayne Selden Jr. had an interesting season. He improved his three-point shooting, but his overall shooting percentage and points per game average dipped from his freshman year. At times, Selden was the most dominant player in games, other games, he was barely involved. He's still adjusting to the college game, and needs to improve on his ball-handling ability, but his body and consistent shooting form suggest that he will figure it all out.
Brannen Greene was instant offense for the Jayhawks this year. He shot very well from three-point range even with a huge shooting slump at the end of the season, which was probably due to a hip problem that he just had surgery to fix. Greene isn't so great at the whole defense thing, but his shooting and scoring ability is so hard to find in college basketball, that it outweighed his defensive woes.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (I spelled that correctly on the first try, without looking it up. Be impressed.) was a fan favorite this year. I mean, what's not to love about a 6-footl-8 Ukrainian 17-year-old with an impossibly unpronounceable name? Some of the expectations placed on him were completely unfair as he was not only adjusting to college basketball, but also to life in a whole new country. What were you doing as a 17-year-old? I bet it wasn't playing a highly competitive sport against athletes who were all two to four years older than you in a different country.
Tyler Self and Evan Manning will be back next year to do coach's son things on the bench. Thank goodness Tyler took that medical redshirt last year so we get him for another two years. You can't take them all NBA!!
The Front Court
Perry Ellis was the star Jayhawk this year. He averaged nearly 14 points a game and seven boards a game and was a First Team All-Big 12 selection (all while having his own clothing line). Pretty impressive resumé for the senior-to-be.
Jamari Traylor, 6-foot-7 (I don't care what his bio says, he's 6-foot-7) junior from Chicago, provided much needed energy, athleticism and hustle whenever he played. It didn't always look pretty, but nobody worked harder than Jamari when he was in the game.
Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson both struggled early, but, with the circumstances surrounding Cliff Alexander, were forced into more playing time. Lucas seemed to get better later in the season and will probably contend for the starting center position heading into next season. Mickelson will probably remain in a reserve role off the bench. Josh Pollard, the resident nice guy, had some really average dunks in warmups. Look for the same next season.
The New Guys:
Carlton Bragg, Power Forward—6-foot-8, 220 lbs.
Bragg is long and extremely athletic. He should provide matchup problems for teams this year because of his quickness for his height, without having to give up too much size to some of the bigger forwards in the Big 12. He also possesses a very consistent and easy shooting form which gives him some decent range on his jumpshot. He has pretty good ball-handling ability for a power forward and has a much better vertical leap the Cliff Alexander does. Before his career is over, he might end up playing more small forward than power forward, or he could go to the NBA after one year and be super lame like all the others who leave early.
Cheick Diallo (pronounced "Check"), Power Forward—6-foot-9, 225 lbs.
He's a little bit bigger than Bragg, has longer arms and is more of a true power forward. He finished this season ranked as the seventh-best incoming freshman in the nation. He's got a never-ending motor when he plays and is a fantastic shot blocker in the paint. His offensive game still needs work, but he doesn't shy away from contact and has the size, length and leaping ability to cause havoc in the paint. If he stays past one year and develops his offensive game, he could easily turn into one of the best big men in the country.
This team will have a lot of depth at a lot of positions. The talent is there to make a run in post-season play, it's a matter of consistency and getting everyone to play well at the same time. The Big 12 conference will be extremely tough again, and our schedule is brutal again, but this team should be the most complete team we've had in a few years. I would love to see a Jayhawk team go to the Final Four during my four years here, and this team will have the talent to make that happen, so we can all go party on Mass Street.