The story of how a 16-year-old kid from Ukraine ended up signing with Kansas is a fascinating one, but it may not even be the most intriguing thing about Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Mykhailiuk, who will turn 17 in June, might just be the most interesting player on the Kansas roster, if for no other reason than nobody really knows what to expect from a teenage Ukranian who has never lived outside his home country.
Can a 17-year-old European immediately step into a Big 12 rotation? Is his body ready for college basketball? Can he adapt to a new basketball culture? There are plenty of questions surrounding Mykhailiuk, who officially signed with Kansas on Wednesday afternoon. One day later, let’s dive into some of the bigger ones.
1. Can a 17-year-old contribute on a Big 12 roster? “It’s a good question,” says ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who could be the most qualified man in basketball to answer this.
Fraschilla spends part of his year working Big 12 games for ESPN, and the rest of his year evaluating international prospects for ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage.
He first learned of Mykhailiuk last summer, when the 16-year-old was tearing up the U16 European Championships for Ukraine. Mykhailiuk averaged better than 25 points and eight rebounds per game while competing for Ukraine in the A-Division, which is comprised of the biggest countries in Europe. His team finished 10th in the tournament, but Mykhailiuk was selected to the all-tournament team.
“He’s really talented,” Fraschilla said. “If he was a high school junior right now, he’d be one of the 10 or 15 best players in the class. Now some of those kids can play (right now) in college, but this kid is really young.”
Mykhailiuk showed some of that youth last month at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, where he became the youngest ever player to participate in the international showcase. While Mykhailiuk reportedly impressed NBA scouts during the practice sessions, he had just two points on one-of-four shooting (zero for three form three) while playing 13 minutes during the game. He also had two turnovers.
But if the question is physicality, Fraschilla says those concerns are slightly misguided. Mykhailiuk has been playing for the Cherkasy Monkeys in the Ukrainian league, a league that Fraschilla calls one of the most physically demanding in all of Europe.
“The talent and long-term potential to be very good is definitely there,” Fraschilla continued. “He’s not getting knocked off the ball on drives; he’s extremely physical for his age. He’s played in one of the most physical leagues in Europe … even though the level of play is probably middle of the pack.”
Kansas coach Bill Self, of course, said on Wednesday that Mykhailiuk could be an “immediate impact guy” as a freshman. But Self has a tradition of being particularly bullish on players when announcing their signings.
“He is 16 years old and will turn 17 in June,” Self said on Wednesday, “but his skill level, knowledge and aptitude for the game are way beyond his years.”
1. So just how big is he? Depends on whom you believe. According to one roster at the Nike Hoop Summit, he was listed at 6 foot 5. Most online scouting profiles, including this one at Draft Express, have him listed at 6 feet 6. But the KU news release announcing his signing said he was 6 feet 8, 195 pounds. Fraschilla believes he is much closer to 6 feet 6 — unless he’s grown 2 inches since the Hoop Summit. But according to a source at Kansas, Mykhailiuk was definitely taller than 6 feet 7 when he was on campus this past weekend.
2. So what does the Kansas guard rotation look like now? In the last two months, KU has lost two perimeter starters (Andrew Wiggins and Naadir Tharpe) and a little-used reserve wing (Andrew White III). The Jayhawks return one starter (Wayne Selden) and three soon-to-be sophomores (Conner Frankamp, Brannen Greene and Frank Mason). And now they’ll add three freshmen with perimeter skills in 6-foot-7 wing Kelly Oubre, 6-foot-2 guard Devonte’ Graham and Mykahailiuk.
That is, of course, a young stable of guards — four sophomores and three freshmen. And for now, it’s hard to know how it will all shake out. Selden is the only returning starter and figures to take on a large leadership role. You might put him in a category of his own. Self has been glowing in describing the protential of Graham and Mykhailiuk, saying both could play right away. Then there’s Oubre, who projects as a future pro, and Frankamp, who came on strong in March.
Who’s getting the minutes in the backcourt? Take your best guess. If nothing else, the competition should be fascinating throughout the summer and fall.
4. How long will Mykailiuk be at Kansas? Two years … probably. According to NBA age-limit rules, draft-eligible players must be at least 19 during the calendar year of the draft. Mykhailiuk will turn 18 on June 10, 2015, meaning he won’t be eligible for the 2015 Draft. (That is, of course, assuming he’d even be ready at such a young age.)
But one thing to keep in mind: European players always have the option of leaving college and returning to play professionally in Europe. Take the case of Ioannis Papapetrou, a one-time Kansas recruiting target who spent the 2012-13 season at Texas. Papapetrou, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds during his freshman season, and he looked like a solid building block for Longhorns coach Rick Barnes. But last summer, Greek pro team Olympiacos — one of the top clubs in Europe — gave Papapetrou an offer he couldn’t refuse, a reported five-year deal worth approximately $2 million.
This is one of the inherent risks of signing European teenagers. They will always have more options than their American counterparts.
Breaking down the backcourt: Earlier this month, I looked at the Kansas frontcourt after recruiting target Myles Turner selected Texas. Now that the roster looks mostly set, let’s take a look at the backcourt.
Wayne Selden, sophomore, 6-foot-5
What he brings: A strong personality and a combination of size and strength that made him a five-star recruit before last season.
What he needs to prove: If Selden can improve his ballhandling, shoot a better clip from the outside, and tighten up his on-ball defense, he could become one of the better all-around guards in the Big 12. The same could be said for many players, of course, but Selden has the talent to do so.
Conner Frankamp, sophomore, 6-foot
What he brings: Despite some early struggles, Frankamp can be one of the better shooters in the league.
What he needs to prove: That he can defend bigger guards and handle the physicality of regular playing time.
Frank Mason, sophomore, 5-foot-11
What he brings: The best driving ability on the team.
What he needs to prove: That he can shoot enough to keep defenses honest, cut down turnovers and consistently run a team.
Brannen Greene, sophomore, 6-foot-7
What he brings: Size and shooting ability.
What he needs to prove: That he has enough lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter — and earn the trust of his head coach after some growing pains last season.
Kelly Oubre, freshman, 6-foot-7
What he brings: High-level athleticism and a long frame that seems perfectly suited for basketball.
What he needs to prove: Like all freshman, Oubre will need to prove he can defend. He’s also been a bit of a streaky shooter during his high school and AAU days.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, freshman, 6-foot-6, freshman
What he brings: A tantalizing skillset: Size, athleticism and elite shooting ability.
What he needs to prove: All the same questions. Can a 17-year-old really make an impact for a team with Final Four aspirations? Will his slender frame hold up in the Big 12?
Devonte’ Graham, freshman, 6-foot-2
What he brings: Finally, Self has landed another rangy point guard — one that projects as an above-average defender.
What he needs to prove: With seven freshmen and sophomores in the backcourt, can Graham play with enough poise and maturity to hold down the starting point guard spot as a freshman?
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.