The decision was no surprise, according to Kansas coach Bill Self.
Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward, announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft on Tuesday, effectively ending a tumultuous one-year stay that including uneven performance and an NCAA investigation.
“This should come as no surprise to anybody,” Self said. “Cliff had a very interesting and educational year.”
Alexander, who averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, joins fellow freshman Kelly Oubre as one-and-done players. Oubre previously announced his decision to enter the draft on April 1. Alexander, a Chicago native who entered the season as a projected lottery pick, is now projected as an early second-round pick by DraftExpress.com.
His time at Kansas will likely be defined in the same way. There was early promise, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.
“He worked his way into the starting lineup and has had to deal with an off-the-court issue with the NCAA that made him ineligible for the last eight games of our season,” Self said in a statement. “We all feel bad for Cliff for what he and our team had to go through, because it was difficult for him to sit and watch his teammates play without him.
“During his time here, Cliff certainly got better. I loved coaching Cliff, but we support his decision 100 percent to move on and take his ability to the next level.”
Alexander, of course, may have had no other choice. His freshman season was derailed after the NCAA alerted Kansas to a possible NCAA eligibility issue in late February. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the NCAA’s investigation focused on whether Alexander’s family received impermissible benefits from a third party. Shortly after the investigation began, Yahoo! Sports unearthed public filings that tied Alexander’s mother, Latillia, to a Florida financial company that provides loans for athletes. Loans based on future earning potential are not allowed under NCAA rules.
The NCAA investigation stalled as both sides struggled to cooperate. The matter, from an NCAA perspective, remains unresolved. On Tuesday, Alexander’s draft announcement featured his first public comments since the investigation began.
“I talked this over with my mom and my dad and we decided the timing was right for me to enter the NBA Draft,” Alexander said. “Kansas has been a great experience. I enjoyed being on campus.
“When I came in I didn’t really know much (about playing in college). I was undersized and not strong enough to bang with other guys. As the year went on, I got settled and comfortable with the system. I got stronger in the weight room and competed harder.”
After Alexander’s departure, Kansas now has three open scholarships. The Jayhawks have a commitment from just one player in the 2015 class — 6-foot-8 power forward Carlton Bragg. Self will likely use at least one of those scholarships — and maybe more — to bolster the frontcourt.
The Jayhawks are still targeting high school big men Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-footer from Las Vegas, and 6-foot-9 forward Cheick Diallo of Centereach, N.Y. Kansas is also recruiting Mike Thorne Jr., a graduate transfer center from Charlotte who will reportedly visit Kansas later this month.
For now, Kansas is moving forward with a frontcourt that includes junior Perry Ellis, who is still monitoring his NBA stock, junior Jamari Traylor, junior Hunter Mickelson and sophomore Landen Lucas. The future, as expected, will not include Alexander.
“Playing in Allen Fieldhouse … that’s the craziest place I have ever played,” Alexander said about his fondest memory of playing at Kansas. “I’m going to miss the fans. They showed me a lot of love everywhere I went. They are a very supportive fan base. I’m going to miss my teammates a lot. I’m going to miss everybody.”