Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who is still young by college basketball standards, just might be ready to fully blossom during this, his junior year, at Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, who turned 19 on June 10, had his best game as a Jayhawk against Austin Peay in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
He scored a career-high 23 points off 9-of-11 shooting while logging 24 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 105-79 rout of the Governors in Des Moines, Iowa. He hit four of five threes, including consecutive treys that opened a 23-6 run that stretched a 12-10 lead to 35-16.
Mykhailiuk played so well, it prompted guard Wayne Selden to say “he’s first-round material” after that game.
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That performance indeed had some KU fans worried that Mykhailiuk just might throw his name in the 2016 NBA Draft. It had long been speculated he’d signed up for two years at KU, no more.
However, he did not test the waters and returns still young, but mighty seasoned as far as the college game.
“I think the way the rules are set up gives everybody an opportunity to test (by attending NBA Combine if invited and individual workouts with NBA teams) but in Svi’s situation ... what he shared with me is no matter where he would test at right now, he knows a year from now would give him a much better chance to have a career,” KU coach Bill Self said. “The way he said it was, ‘Coach I don’t need to look into it because I know I’ll be much better next year.’
“We know Svi’s ceiling is high, but he hasn’t probably had the opportunity nor the consistency to show that yet in large part because of Brannen (Greene, left KU after three years) being here.
“Also he came in here with (Kelly) Oubre and Greene and Wayne (Selden) and playing Frank (Mason) and Devonté (Graham) a majority of the time together there probably have not been enough minutes nor the time for him to probably demonstrate what he can do. This year obviously would be the year in my opinion would be his time to go ahead and look into it (NBA).”
Mykhailiuk, from Ukraine, said it was an easy decision to return for a junior season.
“A lot of guys left and I think the team is going to be really good this year,” he said. “I am going to help my team win. It’s been like family to me, like home. I just wanted to spend one more year here.”
Mykhailiuk showed some versatility the NBA might like in the NCAA game vs. Austin Peay. He actually played some point guard because Mason, Graham and Selden were all saddled with foul problems. Mykhailiuk is not looking to play much point in his junior season at KU.
“I don’t think so,” the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Mykhailiuk said. “I did when I was a kid, not when I was with my main team (Ukraine’s Cherkasy Mavpy),” Mykhailiuk added of his past experiences at point guard as a youngster. “I play it in practice on the Red team. With Frank and Devonté in foul trouble, I had to play point — focus more on my teammates, try to get shots for them instead of me.”
He knows his future in the pros likely consists of being a deep three-point threat at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
“I would try to (play point if asked). I will just try to get better at every spot to help the team,” noted Svi, who had 32 assists to 26 turnovers with 12 steals in 2015-16.
Mykhailiuk didn’t play as well in the final game of the season, a 64-59 loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight. He missed the only three he took and committed one foul in an scoreless seven-minute stint.
For the season, he averaged 5.4 points a game off 45.2 percent shooting. He made 37 of 92 threes for 40.2 percent.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive. I’m getting stronger, kind of faster,” Mykhailiuk said.
Self said Mykhailiuk gained valuable experience this summer playing for Ukraine in the FIBA Under 20 European championships in Finland. Svi led his squad in scoring at 14.9 points per game in seven games.
He hit 36.8 percent of his floor shots — 47.2 percent from two but just 19 percent from three. He made 85.7 percent of his free throws and also grabbed 5.6 rebounds a game with 2.7 assists and 4.7 turnovers with 2.1 steals per contest.
Ukraine placed eighth of 16 teams overall.
“What was good for me is I got my confidence back, I think,” Mykhailiuk said. “The last two years I didn’t play very much. As you know, when a player is not playing, their confidence is getting low and this summer I played a lot. I played well I think. That’s what gets my confidence back.
“I started taking more advantages and creating more shots, being aggressive more,” Mykhailiuk said of his play in seven games for Team Ukraine. “Actually I needed to score because that was my main option. I was (the main) scorer on my team so that’s what I did. I would say I would take more responsibility over there because I was leader of the team. I kind of did a lot more stuff than I did here.”
Self thinks Svi’s summer has helped him.
“I think he played well but didn’t shoot it very well, 19 percent from three,” Self said. “It was a different ball, further out (deeper three-point line). He’s at worst a 35 percent shooter from three. I know he can shoot. He’s got to make shots this year. … I think he’s become a much better all-around player. Everybody told me over there he played terrific. He just didn’t make shots.”
Of his shooting, Svi said: “I was taking a lot of guarded shots because a lot of people know me. They were playing defense sometimes with two or three people. Sometimes I was taking quick shots, not thinking. I think that’s what it was.”
Self thinks Mykhailiuk will be refreshed entering the season.
“I think it’s good for kids to get away from here. It was great for him to see his family and of course play at a high level with guys he grew up with. I don’t see any negatives to that at all,” Self said.
“He looks good. He may have gotten a little heavy last year. He’s slimmed up a little bit. He told me this is the most explosive he’s felt in a long time.