Kansas’ basketball players stood in a horizontal line and waved to Bill Self’s parent/child campers as the Jayhawks’ 15th-year head coach introduced them one-by-one on the public address system Friday in Horejsi Center.
Self’s intro of 6-foot-6, 200-pound Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe included a challenge as well as an illustration of the wing’s athletic ability.
“If Sam can get loose, maybe we’ll see if he can dunk from the free-throw line,” Self said, looking at the Seattle native for affirmation. “He’s got great legs, great bounce.”
The former Rainier Beach High standout, who arrived at KU on Jan. 12, will be eligible to play in the 10th game next season — Dec. 16 at Nebraska.
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Cunliffe — he never got around to trying a dunk from the free-throw line for the parent/child campers Friday and Saturday — may yet attempt one between now and Thursday — the second and final session of Self’s camp for youths.
“He (Self) wants me to do it this week, so I’ve got to stretch, get ready, get loose,” Cunliffe said Sunday after signing autographs for campers for two hours in KU’s Booth Family Hall of Athletics. “I think I can do it. I’ve done it once, one time.”
Cunliffe explained the dunking technique.
“If somebody were to stand there and bounce it, I could stand at the free-throw line, catch it and dunk it. My hands are kind of small,” Cunliffe said of a dunk in which one soars from the free-throw line with ball in hand as made famous by Michael Jordan. “I will try without the bounce now since you guys challenged me.”
Cunliffe had a one-handed breakaway slam in last Wednesday’s camp game victory over a KU alumni team.
“It was all right. I kind of buckled, didn’t get up as high as I wanted to. You’ll see a lot of that this year, dunks on the break,” Cunliffe said.
Cunliffe — he averaged 21.6 points a game in 2015-16 in leading Rainier Beach High to the state title and 9.5 ppg in 10 games at ASU his freshman season — said he brings more than sheer athleticism to the court.
“I would probably say shooter or somebody who can rebound. That’s one thing (rebounding) I’ve gotten better at since getting here — Coach T (Kurtis Townsend) yelling at me every day to rebound the ball,” said Cunliffe, who averaged 9.0 rebounds his senior year of high school and 4.8 per game at Arizona State. “I’m pretty athletic. They want me to get out, run, get dunks, rebound and make shots.”
Cunliffe made 15 of 37 threes (40.5 percent) with five steals and three blocked shots in his 10 games at ASU.
Asked for a comparison of his skill set to another KU player: “I’d say Svi (Mykhailiuk),” Cunliffe said. “We’re the same position, same height. I like the way he plays, finishes plays. He knows what he’s doing.”
Cunliffe worked on defense, not offense, during second-semester practices last season. He was able to practice, just not play in games.
“I’d guard whoever, try to help the team,” Cunliffe said. “Everything is for the team. I had no role in doing anything for myself, so it was good.”
He said at first it was difficult to adjust to playing at KU.
“Probably how hard everything is when you play — how hard coach (Self) coaches, no fouls in practice, no out of bounds. You have to play hard all the time. It’s kind of a playground type atmosphere when we are playing. It’s pretty cool,” Cunlliffe said noting it seems like it’s been “forever” since he played in a real game.
He still has to sit out nine more college games before taking the court against the Huskers. He will however compete for KU in four exhibition games later this summer in Italy.
“I try to look at the positive side. I’m able to work on my game, try new things,” Cunliffe said. “The first 10 games I’ll be able to watch, observe. That will help me. I think it will be pretty crazy jumping in the middle of the season, it being my first game with everybody else.”
Cunliffe said the good news is he feels more like a veteran than a newcomer this summer.
“I’m super comfortable,” he said. “When I first got here, not at all. I think they made it that way on purpose a little bit — the coaching staff. Being here from the beginning of the summer, when a bunch of other new guys came in, that kind of gave me a fresh start. I heard some things I knew (from coaches) that they (newcomers) didn’t. I kind of felt I was leading a little bit. It’s been a good time for me.”
Cunliffe is not the only athlete in his family.
Hannah, one of Sam’s eight sisters — yes he has eight sisters — won the 60-meter indoor title for Oregon last winter. She can’t compete at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor, however, because of injury.
“I don’t know if she’ll come back her senior year. I know she has opportunities to take it professional. (She’s) weighing options,” Sam said.