In the final weeks of May, Svi Mykhailiuk was back home in Cherkasy, Ukraine, spending his mornings at the gymnasium of Cherkasy Mavpy, the local basketball club in his hometown.
Mykhailiuk had three weeks to decompress and unwind after his freshman year at Kansas, three weeks see his parents, Inna and Iurri, catch up with old youth teammates and reintroduce himself to the cuisine. (Who wants some borscht!)
But on most days, Mykhailiuk says, he preferred to spend his free time at the gym.
“I was working out a lot,” Mykhailiuk said. “I was trying to prepare for next season.”
It was Tuesday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, and Mykhailiuk said these words the way he says most things, which is to say they came out with a certain seriousness. For three weeks, Mykhailiuk was back in the comforts of home, but his focus remained mostly on basketball and his upcoming sophomore season at Kansas.
Well, actually, there was one thing. During his time at home, Mykhailiuk finally learned to drive.
“I can (drive), but I don’t have a license,” Mykhailiuk said, one day after landing back in Lawrence. “I just learned how to drive one week ago.”
The driving lessons, though, won’t be the only touchstone moment for Mykhailiuk this summer. On Wednesday, he’ll finally turn 18 years old, a fact that remains startling even after his precocious age became a primary story line during his first year on campus. Consider this: KU freshman forward Carlton Bragg turned 19 years old last December and incoming big man Cheick Diallo will be 19 in September. Mykhailiuk, meanwhile, won’t be 19 until next June, and he has already played one season of college basketball, averaging 2.8 points in 11 minutes per game.
“There are guys out there that are about ready to be seniors in high school that older than him,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And he’s getting ready to be a sophomore in college. So he’s still got some growing up to do physically and obviously through the maturation process. But I think he’s right on track.”
For Mykhailiuk, the right track could lead him to significant playing time this season after the departure of freshman starter Kelly Oubre Jr. to the NBA Draft. The Jayhawks return starting guards Frank Mason and Wayne Selden, and sophomore Devonte’ Graham figures to be in the thick of the backcourt rotation. But Mykhailiuk projects as a solid fit in a backcourt that could use a wing that possesses a high basketball IQ, strong positional defense, solid passing skills and, perhaps, strong outside shooting.
Mykhailiuk, who possesses a smooth stroke, shot just 28.8 percent from three-point range as a freshman. Standing in Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday, Mykhailiuk chalked up the shooting woes to inexperience and a freshman “mentality” — something he’s working on correcting.
“The first season, like for a freshman, it’s hard like every time,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’ll be good next year.”
Still, Mykhailiuk says he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as simply a three-point specialist. Instead, he’d like to be seen as a versatile guard with playmaking skills. At various times, he has cited Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving as his favorite NBA players. Mykhailiuk probably won’t be running the Kansas offense anytime soon, but he believes he can be more than a shooter.
“I’m not going to just shoot three-pointers,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’m not that type of player. I will try to do whatever Coach wants from me.”
For now, he says, the offseason focus is on adding strength to his upper body and working on his posture. Mykhailiuk isn’t eligible to play for the United States in the World University Games, so after practicing with his teammates in June, he’ll likely remain in Lawrence during July. He works daily with Andrea Hudy, Kansas’ strength and conditioning coordinator, and he estimates he’s added close to 15 pounds since last year.
“I got to get stronger,” Mykhailiuk said. “I think that’s my (biggest) weakness. So I try to go to the weight room more than anybody else.”
Mykhailiuk also believes he’s grown at least a “centimeter” since last season, when he was measured at 6 feet 7 without shoes. In other words: he is still growing — in a literal and figurative sense.
“He’s had a very good spring,” Self said, “and I think he’s going to have a terrific year.”