Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has implemented a four-guard lineup the majority of the time in the Jayhawks’ first two exhibition games of the 2017-18 season.
Self is not guaranteeing that alignment will continue into the regular season, however, especially if 6-foot-10, 240-pound freshman forward Billy Preston emerges as the force Self believes he can be.
“Have you guys noticed how talented he is?” Self said enthusiastically at Thursday’s Williams Fund-sponsored KU Roundball Luncheon at the Wichita Marriott Hotel. “Have we had anybody 6-10 that can shoot, run, jump and handle? I mean this dude is ridiculously talented.
The question is whether Preston will give maximum effort on a more consistent basis. If so, he could garner a lot of minutes playing next to 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike with just three guards running the perimeter.
“If you have a 10-speed bicycle and it gets to a 10th gear … his would max out about third gear,” Self said of McDonald’s All-American Preston. “He needs to be able to play harder with spurts and things like that, give second, third effort.
“He’s a remarkable talent. (But) he’s behind in my mind from an energy, effort standpoint. If he had Josh’s intangibles effort-wise,” Self added, referencing Phoenix Suns rookie and former KU wing Josh Jackson, “people wouldn’t be talking about Josh, they’d be talking about Billy because he can shoot so well and is so big.
“He’s one of those guys that can be great or one of those guys who can be just OK depending on the situation. If he becomes really good, we’ll be really good up front with he and Udoka. If not we’ll play a lot of four guards and he’ll probably be Udoka’s backup.”
Preston scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds while in 15 minutes in a 93-87 victory over Missouri on Oct. 22 at the Sprint Center. He scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, but committed four fouls, while playing just eight minutes in Tuesday’s 100-54 win over Pittsburg State at Allen Fieldhouse.
Preston left that game for the locker room early in the second half after getting hit in the head while committing a charging foul. He returned to the bench but did not re-enter the game.
“He’s fine. He got hit in the noggin,” Self said at the luncheon. “When you come down and you charge and it’s your fourth foul in eight minutes, his head really started hurting. But the reality is Billy is fine.”
Self kidded about the play in which Preston was dazed.
“He lay on the ground how long? Two guys had to carry him off the floor. Three minutes later he’s back on the bench,” Self said. “He did get hit hard. It was a legitimate hit. We wouldn’t have let him play the remainder of the game either way. But I think the charge … it was one against four and losing the ball and all that stuff probably played a role in how much (his head hurt).”
During a Q-and-A session at the luncheon, a fan asked Self about some of the Jayhawks wearing shorts that rest well above the knee this season.
“I don’t know if you noticed, the in-thing now is shorter shorts. If you have smaller kids you probably know this is a hipper thing. I don’t like it,” Self said noting freshman Marcus Garrett and junior Lagerald Vick are the only two Jayhawks wearing short shorts.
“What they (players) do is they take them and roll them up one time. They are not (being) made shorter. You can’t blame that one on Adidas,” Self added, drawing a roar of laughter from the audience at the Wichita Marriott ballroom. Two Adidas officials are facing charges in the FBI’s ongoing investigation of corruption in college basketball recruiting.
Self noted: “I used to want everybody to do things the same way. Our guys can only do what they do every day in practice. Malik (Newman) wore a headband every day growing up. When he first got here (to KU from Mississippi State) he didn’t wear a headband so his headband days are over. We’ve always been that way. But there are some things … this is how I want to wear my shorts, that ain’t a big deal to me, folks. … That one doesn’t register with me that much.”
Levity regarding MU game
The Adidas joke wasn’t Self’s only one-liner at the luncheon. Referring to KU’s 93-87 exhibition victory over Missouri, he said: “The bad thing, what could have been a sad thing about the $2 million we raised playing Missouri, is if we would have lost the game you would have asked me to write the darn, personal check myself,” he cracked to audience laughter.
Self praises Vick
Self on ultra-athletic Vick, who scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Pitt State after scoring 13 points with two boards against Mizzou.
“My opinion is he is our best all-around player as of right now,” Self said. “You could make a case for Devonté (Graham) certain days, Svi (Mykhailiuk) certain days and others, but the most consistent guy to date so far to me, when you talk about a complete player, I think it is probably Lagerald. I think he is a really good basketball player, doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Azubuike an improved player
Self on Azubuike, who had 17 points and 14 boards against the Gorillas and 16 points and four boards with four blocks against MU:
“Gosh, he’s gotten better,” Self said. “He’s an athlete … even though sometimes he looks crude offensively, but he’s very, very explosive. I think by Christmas, if things fall right, he could really play himself into one of the premier big guys we’ve had in a while.”
Cliff Alexander suspended
The NBA G-League on Thursday announced that former KU forward Cliff Alexander of the Wisconsin Herd has been suspended for five games without pay for violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug program. The league release said, “Alexander’s suspension will begin with the next game for which he is physically able to play.”
No other details were reported.