When Hunter Mickelson was a senior in high school at Westside High in Jonesboro, Ark., his father, Darien, had to bite his tongue and stay quiet.
His son was one of the best basketball players in the state, and he had his heart set on playing for the home-state Arkansas Razorbacks. But Darien, a lifelong military man who had grown up in southwest Minnesota, had another dream.
“To me,” Darien says, “Kansas was my pick all along.”
Nearly two years later, after two seasons at Arkansas, Hunter Mickelson, a 6-foot-10 forward, will hit the reset button on his college career — and make his dad a content man. Mickelson is transferring to Kansas, where he’ll sit out next season before being eligible to play his junior and senior years.
“I’ve been a Kansas fan since I played ball in high school,” Darien says. “What’s appealing is the history of the school, the way they do things, the high expectations year after year.”
Of course, for Hunter Mickelson, this was more than a decision based on his dad’s nostalgia. After spending two years in Mike Anderson’s up-tempo offense at Arkansas, it was clear that Mickelson wasn’t playing in the right system.
Mickelson averaged 5.2 points in 17.1 minutes per game as a freshman, and the numbers (5.4 points in 16.6 minutes) didn’t improve much as a sophomore. He did set the school record for blocks as a freshman, swatting 72 shots in 2011-12, but his role diminished by late this season.
"The tradition they have..." Hunter Mickelson said. "The home games are really, really intense. And just a combination of that stuff."
Mickelson had originally signed with Arkansas when former coach John Pelphrey was still at the school. But then Pelphrey was fired in 2011, and when Anderson took over from Mizzou, both Hunter and his dad has second thoughts.
“Coach Anderson convinced him to stay,” Darien said, “and he could have gotten out of his scholarship if he wanted to. I asked him to, and he said he didn’t want to back out on his word.”
Two years later, Hunter Mickelson was ready. He asked Anderson for his release last Wednesday, and soon more than 30 schools had contacted the compliance office at Arkansas with interest.
According to Darien Mickelson, his son cut the list to Kansas, Butler and Arizona before making his decision on Wednesday night. Mickelson, who was ranked 100th in the nation by Rivals as a high school senior, never visited Kansas — not even in high school — but that was of little concern.
“He talked to coach Self a couple times,” Darien said, “and I think that just sealed the deal.”
The main selling point: Mickelson will enter a Kansas program that has churned out plenty of NBA big men. He’ll sit out next year while practicing against returning forwards Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and incoming freshman center Joel Embiid. And Mickelson can work with KU strength and conditioning coordinator Andrea Hudy to get bigger and stronger.
“We just talked about all the the things I'm gonna have to do," Mickelson said of his conversation with Self. "I'm gonna have to sit out a year, and we just went through all the work I can put in. And I was definitely ready to do that."
The addition of Mickelson, who will arrive this summer, leaves the Jayhawks with two open scholarships for the 2013-14 season. KU is actively pursuing No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins, who is still considering Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State.
Self also reportedly visited Memphis transfer Tarik Black, a 6-foot-9 forward, earlier this week. Black, who is expected to graduate this spring and be eligible immediately, is seeking a school to play his senior season.