Kansas’ season-opening “Late Night” basketball extravaganza has had four different names since its inception 34 years ago.
“Late Night With Larry Brown” morphed into “Later With Roy Williams,” “Late Night With Roy Williams” and eventually, “Late Night in the Phog,” which has stood the test of time the entire 16-year Bill Self era.
No matter the title, all but one of the Late Nights (the first one in 1985 was all basketball) have opened with singing, acting and dancing, and closed with a short scrimmage. The fast-paced show has been designed to not only entertain the Jayhawks players, family members and fans, but perhaps most importantly, the high school recruits who have traveled from all over the country to watch the proceedings.
“Of course,” KU sophomore guard Marcus Garrett said, asked if Late Night is important for high school prospects the Jayhawks would love to ultimately sign national letters-of-intent.
“I feel when recruits come to Late Night they have a lot of fun. They like the atmosphere, the fans and things like that,” Garrett added. “It’s fun we get to spend time with them, get to know them, have some fun, play video games, things like that.”
Showing recruits — such as former Bishop Miege and current IMG Academy forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — a good time is naturally part of what Friday’s 34th annual Late Night (6:30 p.m., Allen FIeldhouse; doors open 4:30 p.m. for students and 5 for general public) is designed to do, Self acknowledges.
“This would be a certain situation we let recruits know what KU basketball — what the interest level is all about,” he said. “Sure it’s important. Even moreso than that it’s something our guys really look forward to. It tips off our season.”
If the current KU players have fun — and they say they enjoy Late Night immensely — there’s a good chance the recruits, seated behind KU’s bench, will have fun, too.
“It’s good. It’s something we sell and should sell,” Self said. “Our fans support it so well it makes our product look good. The fans showing up and supporting this event definitely bodes well for us on the recruiting front.”
Jayhawks coaches mention Late Night in pitches to recruits and their parents. Only a select few schools in the country are able to fill their hoops arenas for a glorified pep rally/scrimmage/concert.
“It’s big-time for that,” former KU guard Devonté Graham of the Charlotte Hornets said of recruiting. Prospects have especially enjoyed the music of Lil Yachty and Tech N9ne the past two Late Nights with 2 Chainz’s performance highly anticipated this year.
“The fans know which recruits are coming in from high school. They get all the privileges around here (attention from 16,300 fans who make signs and ask for autographs). They get to experience Late Night. Seeing Allen Fieldhouse packed is different from just walking in and seeing it empty. It’s definitely a huge impact on recruits.”
Which recruits will be in the fieldhouse for Late Night No. 34?
Current uncommitted high school senior prospects who have said they’ll be at Late Night are: No. 2-rated (by Rivals.com) James Wiseman, a 7-foot center from Memphis East High School; No. 10 Robinson-Earl, a 6-9 forward; No. 31 Cassius Stanley, a 6-5 wing from Sierra Canyon High in North Hollywood, Calif.; No. 37 Zeke Nnaji, a 6-10 forward from Hopkins (Minn) High; No. 87 Chandler Lawson, a 6-8 forward from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., and No. 109 Isaac McBride, a 6-0 point guard from Arkansas Baptist High in Little Rock, Ark.
KU’s lone commitment in the Class of 2019 — Christian Braun of Blue Valley Northwest — will certainly be trying to convince some of the others to join him at KU. Braun, the No. 112-rated player in the Class of 2019, will be at Late Night as part of an unofficial visit.
Juniors from the Class of 2020 expected to attend Late Night: No. 7 N’Faly Dante, a 6-10 forward from Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kan.; No. 66 Bryce Thompson, a 6-4 combo guard from Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, Okla.; No. 78 Elijah Wood, a 6-5 wing from Sunrise Christian Academy, and No. 121 Ty Berry, a 6-4 point guard from Newton (Kan.) High.
Also on hand: Sophomore Johnathan Lawson, 6-6 wing out of Memphis East High School. Johnathan Lawson and Chandler Lawson are brothers of KU players Dedric and K.J. Lawson.
The list of senior recruits is led by Robinson-Earl, who averaged 10.7 points and 8.5 rebounds a game for Self’s gold-medal winning USA Basketball Under-18 team at the FIBA Americas tourney in June in Canada. He has visited Notre Dame, Villanova and North Carolina and has a visit planned to Arizona on Oct. 14.
Robinson-Earl — he averaged 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds for KC Run GMC on the Under Armour circuit last spring and summer — may be favoring KU and North Carolina over the other three schools.
”Obviously it’s the home town, it’s close and family is there,” Robinson-Earl said of KU to Rivals.com. “Coach Self can do a lot of stuff that can utilize my position. Even though they have had some guys like Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who have been some of the best guards in the country, they still have plenty of 3s and 4s who they get ready for the next level and use. They can develop guys for the league whether you are a freshman one-and-done or a four-year guy.”
Of Robinson-Earl, Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi said: “The guy is just sound and productive in any environment and has backed up his top 15 status for 2019.”
Wiseman — he played for current Memphis coach Penny Hardaway last year at Memphis East — has visited Memphis and Kentucky and will travel to Vanderbilt on Oct. 5. Florida State has been mentioned as a possibility. Wiseman has said he’ll probably wait until the spring to sign.
“Wiseman is a highly talented youngster with a world of upside. The southpaw has good size, extremely long arms (measured 7-4 1/2 wingspan), excellent mobility for his size and a strong foundation of skill at an early age,” reads Wiseman’s scouting report at ESPN.com. “He shows touch, not just around the rim, but facing the basket out to the three-point line. Defensively, he has the potential to be very versatile as he can move his feet on the perimeter and get off his feet quickly around the rim. A long and athletic lefty with long arms, agile feet, and early signs of skill, Wiseman is loaded with upside and a very exciting long-term prospect.”
California native Stanley, known as the most athletic player in the Class of 2019, has a final list of KU, Oregon and UCLA. His dad, Jerome, a sports agent, attended Southern California. His mom competed in track at UCLA.
After a Sept. 12 in-home visit with KU, Jerome Stanley told Jayhawkslant.com: “The in-home visit was just amazing and wonderful. The biggest thing that stands out to us about Kansas is the opportunity. We had a wonderful time with the coaching staff last night.”
Nnaji, who according to Zagsblog.com has decided to visit unofficially, has also been offered by Kansas State, Purdue, Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio State, UCLA, Wisconsin, Creighton, Nebraska, Iowa, Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Illinois, Georgetown and others.
He averaged 19.9 points a game last season for Hopkins High (26-2).
“I love the progression that Nnaji has made within the past 12 months,” Rivals.com’s Corey Evans told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He has grown over three inches and his value as a frontcourt defender cannot be overstated. He has an above 7-foot wingspan, instincts, and excellent lateral skills in guarding far and close to the basket and, best of all, properly switching out top in defending the ball screen.
“Offensively, Nnaji can play the 4 or the 5. He has to get stronger and tougher but the physical tangibles are all there. He can shoot, but also has a set of counters in the post. He can also play in bigger lineups as a high-low threat as a passer and shooter. In all, he is one of the better upside forward prospects in America.”
Chandler Lawson has left his hometown of Memphis to play at Oak Hill Academy this season.
He’s one of the players who has played for Memphis coach Penny Hardaway at both East High and also in AAU ball. He also has mentioned Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Florida and Illinois as possibilities.
Here’s ESPN.com’s scouting report on Chandler Lawson: “Lawson is a 6-7 combo forward. He is very similar to his brother Dedric (Memphis) in that he can play the 3 or the 4. He’s probably best as a really skilled 4 man but he could easily be a 3 down the road. He is best inside 19 feet where he can drive, shoot or pass very effectively. His length makes him effective defender. He can block shots and play the passing lanes very well. He definitely needs to get stronger and simply keep getting better as a prospect. Chandler has a very high ceiling and is starting to fulfill his promise.”
McBride, one of the top seniors in the state of Arkansas, has visited TCU and Auburn, but according to Rivals.com is now focusing on just KU, Auburn and Virginia. He also had been pursued by Arkansas, Oklahoma State, SMU, Georgia Tech, Loyola, Mississippi, Wichita State, Murray State, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, Arkansas-Little Rock and others.
McBride averaged 24.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals a game his junior season at Arkansas Baptist Prep (30-6). He scored 46 points in a game in December for a team that went on to win its third-straight state title.
McBride had eight games of scoring 30 points or more last season. He hit 51 percent of his floor shots (44.9 from three) and 80 percent of his free throws.
“Why did his stock rise? (In late July) in Las Vegas, I probably got asked more about McBride of the Joe Johnson Hawks than any other player I came across. So, I settled in to figure out why, and his tough and confident play were why,” writes Bossi of Rivals.com.
“He can score it from deep, finishes at the rim and has a calming presence about him. Is he as good as Frank Mason was? I’m not sure, but he reminds a bit of what Mason looked like when he really started to take off and went to prep school to wait out a scholarship release from Towson,” Bossi adds.
Of KU, McBride told Rivals.com: “I feel like it’s a very high-caliber program. They just picked up two really talented guards in Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. They are always recruiting good guards and good big guys. They always have a team good enough to make a run in the tournament.”
The prospects should start arriving Thursday night or Friday and will be able to attend a KU practice Friday prior to the start of Late Night.
“Since the recruits are here we’ll practice an hour so they can watch us practice, they and their families before Late Night,” Self said.
As far as what they’ll see at Late Night … the recruits may not learn a lot from the short scrimmage that will conclude the proceedings.
“It’ll be 20-minute running clock,” Self said. “It’s not going to be great. It’ll be awful like always. It should be better than maybe some past years,” he quickly added, “just because we’ll at least have a little bit of practice (four hours a week since the start of school and practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). You’ve got four guys trying to do it the right way and six that still think it (Late Night scrimmage) is for the fans and the parents and the people to see how far out you can shoot it and stuff like that. It’ll be a fun night though,” Self added.
Whether Late Night weekend results in immediate commitments from some prospects, one never knows from year to year.
Of the seniors attending Late Night … Rivals.com points out that Robinson-Earl is heading into his fourth of five visits and McBride also might be close to decision-time.
“Kansas remains the program he (Robinson-Earl) has been around the most and they have a huge opportunity to move toward closing on an extremely important recruit when they host him this weekend,” Bossi writes.
“Auburn was the first high-major program to really get serious with McBride of the three remaining … The Tigers had a pretty firm grip in his recruitment through July. Virginia is the most recent of the three to come into the picture and (coach Tony) Bennett’s style on and off the court certainly has McBride’s attention. But if all goes well this weekend, it wouldn’t surprise anybody in the basketball community to see him pop for Kansas on or shortly after his visit,” wrote Rivals.com analyst Dan McDonald.