Kansas’ collection of young forwards were always going to need to step up to help fill the void left by Thomas Robinson’s departure to the NBA. But now, that development may need to be fast-tracked.
KU coach Bill Self said Friday that senior forward Kevin Young would likely be out two weeks after breaking a bone in his shooting hand during practice on Thursday.
Young underwent surgery Friday morning. He may miss both of KU’s exhibition games as well as the Jayhawks’ season opener Nov. 9 against Southeast Missouri State at Allen Fieldhouse. Self said Young would hopefully return for KU’s Nov. 13 matchup with Michigan State at the Champions Classic in Atlanta.
“We feel like the Michigan State game, if not probable, is a possibility,” Self said.
The injury, according to Self, came as Young was working through a screen while performing a defensive drill. It’s not too serious — Self said he broke the same bone when he was in college at Oklahoma State — but it does create more minutes on the interior.
Young was positioned to compete for a starting spot alongside center Jeff Withey in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt. On Friday, Self said Young had earned the right to begin the season as a starter. But that won’t be possible now. And the injury leaves KU with one fewer veteran to pair with Withey during the season’s opening weeks.
“I don’t think it’s ever good timing when one of your good players get hurt,” Self said. “Especially a kid that is playing so well, and he’s working so hard. So this will be a minor setback for him. But for the team, other guys can get reps with the first unit, so we’ll spin it into a positive.”
Those other guys include freshman forward Perry Ellis, the prize of KU’s recruiting class, redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor and freshman Landen Lucas. If Self wants somebody with a little more experience, he could also utilize junior forward Justin Wesley, who played sparingly off the bench last season.
The most likely candidate appears to be Ellis, a 6-foot-8 forward who has one skill that KU will need: He’s a natural scorer.
“I’m willing to do whatever they tell me,” Ellis said. “So we’ll see when we start rolling. I’ll sacrifice for team, whatever.”
Kansas was already set to begin the season without freshman power forward Zach Peters, who is recovering from a rotator-cuff injury that did not require surgery. Peters is expected to return to practice during the second week of November.
In the short term, the most pressing question figures to be whether Young will be ready for Michigan State.
Young averaged 3.4 points and 3.0 rebounds while playing just 11.4 minutes per game last season. But he came on strong during the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament run, averaging nearly five rebounds per game while providing athleticism and energy off the bench.
Kansas should be able to make do without Young in its preseason opener against Emporia State this Tuesday and its second exhibition against Washburn on Nov. 5. But the injury will now mean more minutes for Ellis and the rest KU’s frontcourt pups.
“It’ll be an opportunity,” Self said, “for somebody in the next two weeks to show they deserve minutes.”