Kansas basketball coach Bill Self granted his players permission to return to their hometowns on Aug. 8 following several weeks of summer school, 10 practices in Lawrence and four exhibition games in Italy.
The Jayhawks were told to enjoy themselves during their abbreviated summer vacations then return to town this Sunday — a day before the Aug. 21 start of the 2017-18 school year.
“Devonté went home for like four days and said, ‘I’ve had enough. I’ve got to get back,’ just so he can get back in the gym to work,” Self said Wednesday, referring to focused senior guard Devonté Graham, a native of Raleigh, N.C.
Self, heading into his 15th season as KU’s coach, was speaking on Seth Greenberg’s “Courtside with Greenberg and Dakich” podcast on ESPN.com.
“(It’s) because he is thirsty right now. He and Malik (Newman, sophomore guard) spend about as much time in the gym shooting the ball as anyone we’ve ever had here,” Self added.
Graham was so happy to arrive back in his favorite college town on Wednesday, he immediately took to Twitter and exclaimed simply, “Lawrence.”
“First stop … Jeffersons,” was his follow-up tweet, referring to a popular restaurant.
Self said he hadn’t spoken with Graham about any “undue pressure” the player might face in trying to replace point guard Frank Mason, who has graduated and is now a member of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
“He (Graham) said he’s going to do everything he can to have a big senior year like Frank did,” Self said. “He wasn’t talking about national player of the year. He was just talking about having a great year.”
Self has high hopes for a group of guards that includes Graham, Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk, Marcus Garrett and Sam Cunliffe. Cunliffe will be eligible to play in games at the conclusion of the first semester.
“That’s a pretty good group of guards there,” Self said. His Jayhawks routed four teams of all-stars on the Italy trip. “From a positive standpoint, I think athletically how we can share and create some havoc and certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter.”
Self was asked specifically about the progress of freshman guard Garrett and freshman power forward Billy Preston.
“Billy is a guy who has relied on size and talent for the most part to basically outplay his opponents during the majority of his high school time, not as much last year (when he faced extremely tough competition at Oak Hill Academy),” Self said of the 6-10, 240-pound Preston. “It’s still a learning process for him. It’s going to take some time. Marcus is probably a little bit more talented than we thought. Billy is everything we thought he would be from a talent standpoint. Now we just have to get those guys clicking with the others.”
Of 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike, Self said: “He has to get in better shape because he needs to stay out of foul trouble and play extended minutes. He looks good. If I was guarding against him, I’d say, ‘Gosh just don’t let him get close to the basket.’ But when you are that big and strong it’s hard to keep somebody from getting close to the basket. He’s a weapon a lot of people don’t have because he’s so explosive down tight.”
Self added: “He is still going to get in foul trouble. Officials … even though it (physical inside play) has been cleaned up so much they could still call a foul every possession on the post if they chose to. With a big guy like that there will obviously be contact. He’ll have to get where he plays smarter. I think he will with time. We’ll have our moments where hey, at the 17 minute mark (of the first half), dude’s got two fouls. I’m sure that’s going to happen.”
Dedric Lawson update
Self said Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson, who was suspended prior to the team’s trip to Italy because of an “altercation” at a practice, would be back with the squad starting Sunday when the players attend their first team meeting of the school year.
“I love those guys. They’ve been great since they’ve been here,” Self said of Dedric and his brother, K.J., another Memphis transfer. “We had a situation that escalated (at practice). He (Dedric) didn’t handle it very well. To me, that (suspending Lawson) wasn’t that hard of a decision. He was 100 percent OK with it. He knew. Family’s great. They have been great.
“It was a situation obviously temporary,” Self added of the suspension. “When he gets back we’ll be ready to go. In no way did that take away what we think of him or anything like that. It is something just like when your own son or daughter … it doesn’t mean you love ’em less just because you ground them. That was kind of one of those situations. He was 100 percent on board with it. He was very good with it.”
Several transfers dot KU’s roster
Self on adding transfers Lawson and Charlie Moore, who will be eligible to play in games during the 2018-19 season:
“If we could just go out and get the best freshmen every year, then of course that would probably be the direction we’d go,” Self said. “With our situation we had a nice team last year but we lost three key players — Frank, Landen (Lucas) and Josh (Jackson). This year I think there’s a legitimate chance we’re going to lose our top six (seniors Graham and Mykhailiuk, plus possibly Newman, Vick, Preston and Azubuike). My thinking was instead of relying on five freshmen to start next year or four freshmen and one returning guy or whatever it’d be, if you had some guys sitting out it puts less pressure on you to recruit starters as freshmen.
“We want to recruit freshmen to start, but on the flip side, it’s nice to have a little bit of experience back there so you are not just playing five all the time or four all the time. Even if it’s from a reserve role standpoint. We have a couple of guys that are proven that we feel if they sit a year can be starter-type guys, so it puts less pressure on this year’s recruiting class.”
Report: Robinson visits New Orleans
Mitchell Robinson, a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American out of Chalmette (La.) High School, who is ranked No. 8 in the recruiting class of 2017 by Rivals.com, completed a visit to the University of New Orleans on Wednesday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
He visited KU last week, and the Times-Picayune indicated Wednesday night that a decision between KU and UNO was “coming soon.”
Robinson recently was released from his letter-of-intent at Western Kentucky after attending class and practicing with the Hilltoppers for two weeks in July before electing to leave the school on July 27. He has also visited LSU, but the Tigers recently dropped him as a recruit, ostensibly because they feel he will not be eligible this season.
Because Robinson participated in summer practices with Western Kentucky’s team, which was preparing for a summer trip to Costa Rica, he would have to receive a waiver from the NCAA in order to play for another Division I team without having to sit out a season.
If Robinson elects to attend KU without an NCAA waiver, he would be allowed to practice but not play in games until 2018-19. He’s expected to be a top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
▪ R.J. Barrett, a 6-7 senior forward from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, who is ranked No. 1 in the recruiting class of 2018 according to Rivals.com, on Wednesday eliminated KU from his list of schools.
He tweeted a final five of Duke, Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky and Oregon.
▪ Bryce Thompson, a 6-2 sophomore combo guard from Tulsa Washington High School, will make an unofficial visit to KU on Thursday, according to Rivals.com.
Self coached Thompson’s dad, Rod, at Tulsa.
Mitchell Robinson, a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American out of Chalmette (La.) High School who is ranked No. 8 in the recruiting class of 2017 by Rivals.com, completed a visit to the University of New Orleans on Wednesday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Robinson visited KU last week, and the Times-Picayune indicated Wednesday night that a decision between KU and UNO was “coming soon.”