One-and-dones Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, the Nos. 1, 3 and 10 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, are long gone from Duke.
They’re playing for pay one year after combining for 83 points against Kentucky in an 118-84 rout of the Wildcats in the 2018 Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
That might be somewhat reassuring to Kansas coach Bill Self heading into Tuesday’s 6 p.m. regular-season opener against the Blue Devils in the 2019 Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“They have a whole new team. They lost so much from last year (except) they have the same point guard running the whole thing,” Self said of Tre Jones, a 6-foot-3 sophomore out of Apple Valley, Minnesota, who had six points and seven assists in that rout of UK.
He decided to return for one more season of college basketball, joining forces with the Blue Devils’ current elite class of freshmen — Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley — ranked Nos. 5, 9, 24 and 39 in the Class of 2019 by Rivals.com. The class as a group was ranked No. 2 by ESPN.com and No. 5 by Rivals.com.
“Losing R.J. and Zion … people may remember we lost the No. 1 and 3 picks one year too in Wiggs and Joel,” Self added of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who indeed went 1, 3 as one-and-dones in the 2014 NBA Draft. The following fall, without those two standouts, KU was waxed 72-40 by Kentucky in the Champions Classic.
“It was not easy to replace those guys,” Self said. Freshmen that followed the Wiggins/Embiid class were Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk.
“Certainly they (Duke’s freshmen) will be terrific. I just hope they are not terrific at our expense. We are familiar with some of those guys (Hurt and Stanley) because we were in on them. Plus Tre … I’ve known him a while because we recruited Tyus so hard,” Self said.
KU indeed was one of the finalists for Tyus Jones, the brother of Tre Jones, who played at Duke during the 2014-15 season then was selected No. 24 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
“He is a great leader, a terrific point guard,” Self said of Tre Jones, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.3 assists a game his freshman season for Duke (32-6), which advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, where it lost to Michigan State, 68-67.
Jones set Duke’s single-season record for assist/turnover ratio with 192 assists to 53 turnovers. He did hit just 27 of 103 threes for 26.2%.
“He is fast, active those sorts of things. Devon (Dotson, KU sophomore point) has a lot of the same physical characteristics. It will be an interesting matchup,” Self said. “They pressure so much in the half(court), but that’s also what Devon is good at, attacking pressure, too. It will be interesting to see how those two try to handle each other, keep each other in front and those sort of things.
“I think when you are trying to evaluate and it’s so unclear on who is the best lead guard in the country and there are six or seven viable candidates … I think any time you get an opportunity to go against one of those other candidates I think you want to be your best. It’s not Devon Dotson against Tre Jones but it’s Kansas against Duke. I am sure both players will be told that and know that going into Tuesday.”
Dotson — he moved from Chicago to Charlotte, North Carolina, when he was in grade school — was not recruited by Duke. Of course he knows the program well, however. And he knows Tre Jones personally.
“We went to the McDonald’s game together. We were on the same team. We talked a few times there. He’s pretty cool,” Dotson said, adding, “he’s a good player.”
Dotson said, “I don’t have a chip (on his shoulder),” regarding Duke not recruiting him. “They are a historic program. They are Duke. A lot of great players went to that school. It should be fun.”
Dotson, who averaged 12.3 points a game as a freshman with 127 assists to 81 turnovers, said he holds nothing against Stanley, a 6-6 combo guard from Los Angeles, and Hurt, 6-9 forward from Rochester, Minnesota, for choosing Duke over KU and others.
“They made the best decision for their family and themselves. We’re not thinking about that. They picked the school they went to,” said Dotson, who connected on 33 of 91 threes for 36.3% last season. “We’re Kansas trying to be the best team we can be.”
Of Duke, Dotson said: “Their bigs are versatile. They have a 4-man, Hurt, who can shoot it pretty well. Whoever is the 5 (6-10 Carey) can shoot it sometimes. It’s about shooting and spacing with them.”
Duke, which enters Tuesday’s game ranked No. 4 in the country, in exhibition action beat Northwest Missouri State, 69-63, and Fort Valley State, 126-57. No. 3-rated KU beat Fort Hays State, 86-56, and Pittsburg State 102-42.
“I do believe playing a game this big so early isn’t the greatest thing,” Self said. “From an excitement standpoint, it’s an unbelievable way to tip off the season, having all teams 1 through 4 all play on the same night in the same venue (indeed No. 1 Michigan State will play No. 2 Kentucky after the KU game between KU and Duke). But you’d like to have one under your belt to not look bad.
“Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has been doing this a while. I’ve watched his teams play a while. I don’t think they’ll pull something randomly out of the air, just like we won’t, but it would be nice to have at least a few tendencies to look at in order to have your team try to look good,” Self added.
The Jayhawk players are fired up playing in New York, that’s for sure.
“To start the season in Madison Square Garden against Duke just sets up what Kansas is about. We don’t run from anybody,” freshman wing Jalen Wilson said. “We play anybody that we need to. I’m pretty sure we’ll see them again sometime in March.”
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji was a redshirt at this time a year ago. His redshirt was pulled early in the Big 12 campaign.
“This will be a first. This is what I came here for, one of the reasons is to play at the highest level on a national stage,” Agbaji said. “I’m excited for it, ready to get going.”
Noted Dotson: “We know the Champions Classic is a big deal, first game of the season. Everybody should be fired up against a well-known school.”
And chimed in junior forward Silvia De Sousa: “This is the type of game we’ve been working on since summer. We’re gonna go out Tuesday and give all we have. There will be some distractions,” De Sousa added. “It’s gonna be in New York in Madison Square Garden. There will be a lot of celebrities there. So it’s like we have a lot to fight for. I tell my teammates every day at practice we’ve got to stay locked in, focused on the court.”
No matter the result … win or lose Tuesday, the show will go on. KU will meet UNC Greensboro on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Duke is going to be a team that has a chance to win a national championship and be in the game. I certainly hope we are too,” Self said. “I anticipate all four teams playing Tuesday night by the end of the season. … all could be serious contenders,” Self added.
Bryce Thompson, a 6-4 senior combo guard from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, has narrowed his list of schools to four: KU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and North Carolina. He’s the country’s No. 19-rated player according to Rivals.com. The early signing period runs Nov. 13-20. … Future KU wing Tyon Grant-Foster scored 24 points and grabbed five rebounds in Indian Hills Community College’s 72-63 victory over John Logan on Saturday in Iowa. Grant-Foster hit 8 of 14 shots and was 4 of 7 from three. The 6-7 former Schlagle High School player has committed to KU. Another preseason juco All-American, Jayden Scrubb, scored 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting in a losing cause.