When Malik Newman talked to Kansas the second time around — after he decided to transfer from Mississippi State — there was no specific conversation about how the school could help him get drafted.
It wasn’t something that needed to be spelled out, though.
“They knew what I wanted. I knew what they wanted,” Newman said. “They just said they wanted to help me accomplish my dreams.”
It’s why, whether talked about or not, Thursday will be a big day for KU basketball recruiting. Josh Jackson is likely to be KU’s third top-five NBA Draft pick in the last four years, which only will help a reputation that the program is constantly trying to build.
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You can see it from social media, where the official KU basketball Twitter account posted an eight-second video Tuesday flashing through KU players shaking the commissioner’s hand before ending with a three-word crescendo: “Who is next?”
It also can be seen in the hallway outside the Jayhawks’ locker room, where NBA jerseys are prominently displayed showing the names of the team’s recent stars.
The subtle message for recruits and players: Come to KU, work hard and there’s a clear path to the NBA. Others have already shown the way.
“It’s not like it’s luck or something like that,” Newman said. “It’s a process that they go through each and every year to help those guys.”
There’s prestige that comes with a school producing early draft selections, and a quick study shows KU has been one of the best at this since Self arrived in Lawrence.
After organizing the picks of the last 13 drafts — since Self’s first completed season with the Jayhawks in 2004 — here’s where each school ranked in top-five, lottery and first-round selections.
Let’s start with the top-five picks.
One could argue we’re selling Self short here, as he’s not getting credit for Deron Williams — the third pick in the NBA Draft whom he recruited to Illinois.
Even with that caveat, Self is in a good spot that is likely to get better Thursday. If Jackson is drafted as expected, the Jayhawks should move into third place by themselves behind both Kentucky and Duke — two schools also projected to have top-five players.
KU also is in a solid position when it comes to lottery picks, ranking only behind Kentucky. Duke could leapfrog to second place Thursday if both Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard go top 14, but the Jayhawks remain in line with North Carolina and also comfortably ahead of Arizona and Texas.
Kentucky’s lead becomes a bit more defined when looking at first-round picks, but KU still remains at the top among other schools. The Jayhawks also could potentially make a jump next year, with a number of players (Newman, Devonté Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick) who have previously appeared in the first round of NBA mock drafts.
Newman admits that choosing a school that could help his stock was important in his final decision.
“At the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal — to get drafted and get your degree,” Newman said. “That’s like the top of the bucket list.”
And while Self can’t guarantee success for any of his incoming players, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a track record of NBA teams not hesitating to take Jayhawks early.
“I don’t really think it’s something (coaches) can control, like, ‘Hey, draft my guy here or there,’” Newman said. “But I think it’s just about them putting guys in situations — and they did tell me that they could put me in a situation to be successful.
“The rest of it is on me.”