If you could create a basketball universe in which only Division II players existed, Cliff Alexander would basically be a Wilt Chamberlain-esque figure of ridiculous numbers and physical domination. Alexander, Kansas’ brutish freshman power forward, would score points at will, grab rebounds by the bushel, bully opponents on the block, and pretty much do whatever he wanted on a basketball floor.
That’s more or less what Alexander did on Monday night during No. 5 Kansas’ 85-53 decimation of Washburn at Allen Fieldhouse, an expected beatdown in the Jayhawks’ exhibition opener.
In just 17 minutes of work, Alexander finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, a rather beastly night of production on his first test run of Allen Fieldhouse.
“It hasn’t even started yet,” Alexander would say. “By the end of the season, I think I can potentially reach my peak.”
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This was Washburn, of course. The competition will escalate. The opponents will transform into beefier, bouncier and more experienced post players. This is partly why Kansas coach Bill Self has exercised plenty of caution during Alexander’s first fall on campus. In one breath, Self might mention that Alexander is a Thomas Robinson clone — just a little more advanced at the same age — and in the next he’ll point out that Alexander still doesn’t even really know what he’s doing out there.
Take Monday afternoon, the hours before his first exhibition game. Alexander could feel the nerves roiling in his stomach.
“I had the butterflies,” he said.
So there are still stretches like this one from the first half, where Alexander is called for a three-second violation, and Self is yelling at his freshman specimen from the sideline.
“Do what you’re supposed to do!” Self said.
Alexander is still at his most comfortable when he can play on instinct — when the ball is in the air, when the play is in front of him, when the task is simplified: Beat the man in front of you.
“He goes after the ball pretty good,” Self said. “And he’s becoming a better outlet passer and doing good things that way. And I’m getting the confidence to have him in there because he tries so hard.”
The same could be said for the rest of the KU freshmen, though perhaps to differing degrees. For Kansas, the first exhibition game always doubles as an introduction to a cast of newcomers. So let’s get the pleasantries out of the way. Freshman guard Devonte’ Graham, who started next to Frank Mason and Wayne Selden in the backcourt, appears to be the most poised and game ready, while wings Kelly Oubre (nine points) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (six points) each offered flashes of what they do best.
Oubre juiced the old barn with a thunderous left-handed jam that pushed Kansas’ lead to 65-32 with more than 11 minutes to play. Mykhailiuk stalked the perimeter and cashed in two of five from beyond the three-point line. Graham, meanwhile, showcased a steady influence in the backcourt, finishing with seven points and three assists while playing alongside Mason.
The talent is evident, Self will say, but there is still much to learn.
“Like how to play,” Self said, rather bluntly.
“Kelly could be a great defender and a great rebounder, and Svi could be a great ball-mover and a really, really good shooter,” Self said. “And I just don’t think we play to our strengths near as much as we should.”
If Monday was about first impressions, though, the most memorable one belonged to Alexander, who began the night on the bench and then offered a five-minute clinic on the power forward position.
Alexander stepped onto the floor at the 15:14 mark of the first half, scored eight points, snared three rebounds, sprinted the floor hard, and calmly headed back to the bench at the 9:59 mark. For a five minute, 15-second hello to Allen Fieldhouse, it was hard to top. Alexander was active on the glass, overwhelmed the smallish D-II competition and provided a brief snapshot of why he was a consensus top-five recruit.
“That’s all natural,” sophomore center Landen Lucas said. “You could put him out in any situation and that’s going to happen.”
As Alexander exited, in came Oubre, a 6-foot-7 swingman and fellow McDonald’s All-American. Moments later, he drilled a three-pointer from the corner.
There were other players on the floor for Kansas on Monday, and on another night, more attention may have been cast toward Mason, who finished with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds in just 24 minutes of action.
But Monday was unofficial freshman night, Alexander and Co.’s first run inside Allen Fieldhouse. Self’s was encouraged by certain stretches and frustrated at others. This was just the first step. But moments before Alexander left the Allen Fieldhouse media room, he was asked about his only foul of the night. For a moment, there were no butterflies.
“That was a clean block,” he said.
Greene has concussion
Sophomore wing Brannen Greene suffered a concussion during the second half when he was blindsided by a screen and his head snapped back.
Greene headed to the locker room and returned later to the bench. Self said Greene probably would miss at least a few days of practice.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.