In most years, Kansas basketball media day is a combination of introductory interviews with some new faces, some platitudes about the coming season, and a chance to hear Bill Self discuss his latest group of players.
On Thursday, though, there was one question that needed to be answered: How does Perry Ellis know Vince Staples?
Ellis, of course, is Kansas’ starting power forward, a senior who could be positioned for All-American honors in his final college season. He is also from Wichita. So none of that explains how Ellis would become internet friends with Staples, the rising MC from Long Beach who came to prominence with some guest appearances on some Odd Future stuff earlier this decade. Staples is an avowed basketball fan with a history of wild Twitter takes on NBA players — Pitchfork once called him “gloriously no bull(expletive— and this one might be the best.
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But earlier this week, after Staples name-checked Ellis on Twitter before his show in Lawrence, and the two met up before the show, we had to ask Ellis about it.
So we did.
We’ll let Ellis explain:
“Last year, he was here in Lawrence,” Ellis told me. “And I guess he had tweeted at me and I had favorited it, and we followed each other, and we’d just been talking a little bit.”
Ellis has been told that Staples wore his No. 34 jersey to a show last March in which he opened for Earl Sweatshirt. So when Staples returned to Lawrence earlier this week for a show at Liberty Hall, they linked back up.
“He came back in town,” Ellis said. “So I wanted to go meet him.”
We also noticed that Staples spent most of his time in Lawrence tweeting about Kansas basketball.
So, yeah, Staples is either a huge Kansas basketball fan, a master guerrilla marketer, or both. We reached out to Staples’ reps to see if we could talk some KU basketball, but the interview fell through. Next time, Vince.
OK, onto the mailbag.
Back in the spring, I predicted this starting lineup: Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Cheick Diallo. The caveat, of course, is Diallo, who isn’t cleared to play yet. And even if he is cleared, he may have to work himself into the starting lineup over time. That’s Self’s way.
But after hearing Self speak at media day, I think he might be leaning toward this lineup, too — at least in the backcourt. When I asked Self about the Jayhawks’ interior scoring potential — which was a consistent weakness last year — he mentioned how improved guard play could help that issue.
Here was his answer:
“We've got to do a much better job on the perimeter of being able to feed our folks,” Self said. “You know, you look at it the last two years, we've played with one guard, and that seems kind of weird, but Wayne coming in … when he got here, he was really a three; [Andrew Wiggins] was a three; Kelly Oubre was a three, and these guys weren't natural as far as just being able to feed the post and play the angles and things like that. So I think we'll be much better at that this year, and I think we'll be a much better passing team, especially because we'll play two little guards a lot together.”
There is a long time until November, and injuries could play a role. But that sounds like a coach who likes the idea of a backcourt with Mason and Graham.
Cheick Diallo has one of the top-five “autocorrect” names in sports. And based on the early impressions, yes, Self thinks Diallo could be a good “hedge guy.”
Here’s Self on Diallo from Thursday:
“He'll do things that won't show up in the stats sheet [where] we think: ‘Why did we just have a great possession there?’ And it's basically because he kept two balls alive or he ran so hard that it forced help, or he sprinted to a ball screen and it was a loose hedge. There's going to be so many things that he can do from an energy standpoint that will make us better.”
This is a great question. Since arriving on campus, Bragg has drawn nothing but praise from teammates and coaches. Self compares him to Marcus Morris. Wayne Selden essentially said he could be a first-round pick someday. But I wondered about how Bragg would find time in a crowded backcourt.
He is a smallish power forward in the mold of Marcus Morris or Perry Ellis, and with Ellis likely to get 30-plus minutes, and Diallo commanding minutes at the other post spot — and then you have veterans Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson — you can see how this can get crowded. Especially since Bragg isn’t a great option to play alongside Ellis.
Self, though, has remained high on Bragg.
“Offensively, (he’s) obviously a Marcus Morris type guy,” Self said. “He's one of those guys that has that type of skill, and it's going to take time, but certainly I think he has a chance to be a special guy.”
In general, Self has preferred to play four post guys. If Diallo is cleared, it could come down to this: Does Self prefer Bragg’s talent and ceiling or Traylor’s experience and knowledge of the system?
From Self: “I expect Svi to challenge for a starting position and be, without question, if he doesn't start, be as good as any reserve in the country.”
So there you have it. I do think Mykhailiuk could be one of the breakout players in the country. But he also needs to prove he can knock down shots. He shot less than 30 percent from three-point range last season, and if he duplicates that mark, he may find Brannen Greene swiping some of those reserve minutes.
He looks like he might be in the best shape of his life.
No, there is no 7-footer on this roster. There are no 6-foot-11 guys who are listed at 7 feet, either. Jeff Withey and Joel Embiid were a special kind of breed, and it’s almost certain that Kansas lacks a shot-blocker in that category. But if Diallo is eligible, Self is bullish on his ability to protect the rim. From a stylistic perspective, Diallo has drawn comparison to Iowa State big man Jameel McKay, who stands just 6 feet 9 but was one of the best rim protectors in the league last season. On Thursday, Self referenced Diallo’s 7-feet-5 wingspan, which is elite.
In the end, if Diallo plays, I’ll probably refer to his “length” a lot, and I might write that he is “long”, and I’ll hear from an upset reader who always wonders why journalists just stopped referring to big guys as “tall”.