The statistic came across Bill Self’s desk sometime in late May. Some KU staffer had directed him toward a piece of material that could perhaps offer some real value in recruiting, and quite honestly, the number surprised even Self.
An online publication called Business Insider — a site that specializes in business and tech news — had compiled a list of the college basketball programs with the most NBA lottery picks since 2000, and here was Kansas, atop the list by three draft picks. In the last 15 years, the Jayhawks had produced 13 players drafted in the lottery — the portion of the draft when nonplayoff teams make selections — and Connecticut, Duke and North Carolina were tied for second with 10. Kentucky, the school that has developed a one-and-done conveyor belt under coach John Calipari, was third with 10.
“That stat was pretty astounding, because if I’m not mistaken, didn’t we have 13 in 15 years, and Kentucky had seven (actually, eight)?” Self asked. “Which you would think it would just be the opposite.”
Self is the kind of coach who can recall even the most obscure and detailed statistics, especially when those numbers can be used as useful propaganda in recruiting. He will recite statistics about putting big men in the NBA; he will recall statistics that showcase his former players’ success in the NBA; he will sell recruits on his ability to prepare them to be a pro. But this lottery pick stat? This was one that Self had not memorized.
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“It surprised me that we would have 13 and the second-place team would have 10,” Self said. “Because I don’t think Kansas gets the credit it deserves on guys having great success leaving out of here.”
The numbers, of course, are the result of some selective endpoints. Stats can be cherry-picked. If you looked at the last five or 10 years, the list of lottery picks would look different. And part of the credit goes to former KU coach Roy Williams, who was responsible for producing three of those 13 lottery picks.
But as NBA teams count down to the draft on Thursday night in New York, Self is hopeful the Jayhawks can add to their lottery tradition for the sixth straight year. Which means, of course, that he hopes former Kansas wing Kelly Oubre can slide into the lottery.
Oubre, a 6-foot-7 wing, is projected as a fringe lottery pick, expected to be selected somewhere near the middle of the first round. He could go as high as nine or 10. He could slide down toward the high teens.
“I think Kelly has got a chance to sneak into the lottery,” said Self, who has been in contact with NBA teams during the draft process. “I do. I think that would be awesome. I think that’s where he deserves to be picked.”
Former KU forward Cliff Alexander is also expected to be drafted on Thursday, but he will likely not hear his name until the late first or early second round. To add another lottery pick, Kansas must rely on Oubre, an intriguing draft prospect who spent just one year at Kansas.
The book on Oubre is largely positive. Talent evaluators believe he has the size and length to guard multiple positions. His wingspan was measured at 7 feet, 2 1/4 inches at the NBA combine. He possesses a solid skill-set to accompany his size. But scouts still question his overall package — his defensive ability, his streaky shooting, his good-but-not-great productivity during his freshman season at Kansas.
One NBA scout — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Oubre projected as a likely lottery pick before the season began. His stock slipped during his freshman season, and he perhaps could have benefited from another year in college. But when Oubre sat down to weigh his options, he believed his style was more suited to the open nature of the NBA game.
“I feel like my game is unique,” Oubre said during a workout in Charlotte earlier this month. “I can thrive at this level because of the open spacing. My length can cause trouble on the defensive end.
“I have a lot of learning to do, and I’m willing to focus on basketball solely and dedicate myself to the game. I don’t have any other distractions. The game of basketball is everything to me now, and I’m committing the time to be the best that I can be.”
In his only season at Kansas, Oubre averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds while playing 21 minutes per game. He shot close to 36 percent from three-point range, and after a quiet start, Oubre appeared to come into his own during Big 12 play. After earning a spot in the starting lineup in December, he averaged 10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and led the Jayhawks with 26 steals during conference play.
“I just thank coach Self and the staff at Kansas for allowing me to learn,” Oubre said at the NBA combine in Chicago. “Because I came in as a highly recruited athlete. He humbled me pretty much, and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.”
In the weeks before the draft, Oubre appeared keenly aware of the knocks against him. As of Monday, he was projected to go No. 15 overall by DraftExpress.com and rated as the No. 14 overall prospect by ESPN Draft analyst Chad Ford.
Oubre is not close to a complete player — not yet, at least — but he is banking on continuing his development while on an NBA roster.
“Like a lot of people said, I could have benefited from a second year,” Oubre said. “But I also can benefit from the open court in the NBA. I just believe that I can compete at the highest level.”
Oubre hopes to hear his name early on Thursday night. And Self does, too. When the subject of his program’s lottery-pick success came up earlier this month, Self took time to mention that Kentucky was about to add three or four lottery picks to its own total.
Then he smiled.
Hopefully,” Self said, “our number will increase, too.”
Most lottery picks 2000-14
Kansas has the most NBA Draft lottery picks of any school in the last 15 years.