College basketball’s month-long spring signing period begins Wednesday — and runs through May 15 — with Kansas coach Bill Self needing to fill several vacancies on the 2019-20 roster.
The Jayhawks — who if some recruiting analysts are correct could lose top prep prospects Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley to Duke following their announcements in coming days — figure to have as many as six openings to fill.
Scholarship players who at this time are expected to be on the 2019-20 KU roster: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot. Also, KU has signed incoming freshmen Christian Braun and Issac (“Mackey”) McBride. Freshman point guard Devon Dotson is testing the NBA Draft waters, but there is a strong possibility he will return to school.
If those players are indeed all on the roster (and if Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa decide to leave for the pros and Quentin Grimes and Dedric Lawson decide to stay in the draft) KU would have six scholarship slots to fill to reach the limit of 13.
“How many slots do we have open? Six? Seven? That’s if everybody leaves,” Self said in discussing recruiting Tuesday. “Everybody is not going to leave. Yeah, I’d say if we need to sign seven this spring, that wouldn’t probably be an ideal situation. You’ve got a chance to be better before the season even starts next year (if Dotson, Azubuike, De Sousa decide to stay rather than enter the draft) without adding any recruits. I’m pretty optimistic things will fall in place.”
Some analysts say recruiting has become more difficult for coaches such as Self because it is easier for current college players to declare for the draft and do so with the guidance/direction of an agent.
Non-seniors such as KU’s Dotson, Grimes and Lawson, who have all declared, can for the first time this year hire agents during the testing/evaluation process. Agents are allowed to pay players’ expenses at pre-draft workouts. The only stipulation is if players elect to return to college, they must then end their relationship with the agent.
Some analysts have said agents, who are paid a percentage of their client’s pro contract, might have a vested interest in convincing a player such as Dotson to remain in the draft even if it’d be smart for him to return to school.
“I think the new rule maybe is a good rule, maybe it’s not,” Self said of players and their agents having until May 29 to decide if they wish to remain in the draft. “I think time will tell. I do think it makes it harder to manage rosters. It’s much easier to say, ‘I’m going to try something.’ The thinking is if you open yourself up to try, you are telling us it’s OK to go sign somebody. That’s probably not the ideal situation to be in, but I’d much rather have too many (players) than not enough. We’ve got some things we’re working on. I think in the next 10 days a lot of this stuff will clear up.”
Self — who obviously has some roster shaping to do in recruiting prior to the start of summer school and summer workouts — was asked directly Tuesday if allowing players to hire agents for the exploratory process is changing recruiting.
“You’ve got to recruit agents,” Self replied. “If you are in good with the agents that represent the kids you have a better chance to get the kids. It doesn’t make it harder to recruit now with your older (current) players. It’ll make it harder to recruit with the 30 seniors that get agents and have them all year their senior year of high school and trying to decide if they go in and stay (in draft or attend college).”
A proposed rule that is expected to start next school year will allow high school seniors to hire agents to help them determine whether they are ready to start a pro career (in the G-League). It’s believed the one-and-done rule will be changed within the next three years to allow high school seniors to go straight to the NBA.
As far as the current situation with a player like Dotson having an agent, Self said: “A good agent will look at it as, ‘I want my guy to have long-time potential earnings.’ You get a guy to go, he could end up costing you money. You (as agent) front all the money for him to go do whatever. If he doesn’t make it you lose that money. You are better off representing guys you know are going to make it. The good agents, and there are many out there, would give kids the right advice on what they should do.”
Whereas Self seems to not be overly concerned about the influence of agents … he does acknowledge one potential problem in current KU recruiting. Rival coaches, it appears, have used rumors about Self possibly leaving KU as ammunition against the Jayhawks. One reason Self might move on to coach in the NBA, some have said, is to avoid scrutiny of the NCAA, which is trying to obtain evidence from the recent trial involving college basketball recruiting.
Self should be helped entering the month-long spring signing period by his having declared publicly on Tuesday that he will absolutely be back for a 17th season at KU. Athletic director Jeff Long reiterated the same sentiment, saying he and KU chancellor Douglas Girod want Self to be KU’s coach for “many many” years to come.
“There’s no question, no question,” Self said, asked if competitors have used rumors of Self leaving as a negative in battling for the same players. “But that’s recruiting,” Self quickly added.
“Whenever there’s stuff out there … that’s what recruiting is. It’s not negative recruiting if you are reporting something that was reported, regardless of whether there is any basis to it or not.
“If somebody told me that there’s a report out there that someone’s going to take another job and we’re going head-to-head with that school (for a player), that article may somehow find a way to the right eyes. That’s not being negative. That’s how it is. Certainly there have been some inaccurate things reported. There’s absolutely no truth to them.”
So as the spring signing opens, here’s a look at some of the prime candidates for Self to sign to fill KU’s scholarship allotment, whatever the number turns out to be. …
• Matthew Hurt, 6-foot-9 senior forward from John Marshall High in Rochester, Minn.: Hurt, the No. 7-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, will choose either KU, Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky in a ceremony Friday at his high school. No details regarding the ceremony have yet been released.
Hurt averaged 36.8 points and 12.5 rebounds a game this past season for John Marshall. He averaged 14.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for Team USA in the FIBA Americas tournament last summer. Self was head coach of that team. Hurt has been a top priority for KU throughout Hurt’s senior season.
• Cassius Stanley, 6-5 senior shooting guard from Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, Calif.: Stanley, the No. 33-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, will choose KU, Duke, UCLA or Oregon on Saturday. No details regarding his signing ceremony have been announced.
Stanley, who is known as perhaps the most athletic player in the Class of 2019, averaged 17.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in 2018-19.
Stanley is the second player from Sierra Canyon to be recruited in the last three years by Duke, which signed Marvin Bagley III in 2017. Stanley, like Hurt, is a player who has been on KU’s radar a long time.
• Tristan Enaruna, 6-7 senior forward from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah: Enaruna, who is ranked No. 105 in the recruiting Class of 2019 according to Rivals.com. has a final three of KU, Miami and Creighton. He will visit Miami on April 24, Creighton on April 26 and KU on April 28.
Enaruna, who hails originally from Netherlands, averaged 10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game this past season. Self made a trip to Utah in mid-January, offering Enaruna a scholarship on Jan. 17.
“I feel like my skill set would fit very well with the way they play. I like the coaching staff and think I will be able to improve a lot at Kansas, which is very important to me,” Enaruna told Jayhawkslant.com
• Precious Achiuwa, 6-9 senior forward from Montverde (Fla.) Academy: Achiuwa, who is ranked No. 16 in the Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, is considering KU, North Carolina, Memphis and Georgia, perhaps others. Achiuwa, a teammate of guard Harlond Beverly who committed to Miami on Monday, will visit Memphis on April 22, according to 247sports.com.
Achiuwa — he is originally from Mali — also has visited KU and North Carolina.
• R.J. Hampton, 6-5 junior point guard from Little Elm (Texas) High School: Hampton, the No. 5-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2020, has a list of KU, Duke, Kentucky and Memphis.
Hampton is considering reclassifying to 2019 and playing college ball in 2019-20, but will have to pass some summer coursework to become eligible to switch classes.
“With Kansas the main thing I like is the culture and the family vibe that Coach Self and Coach (Jerrance) Howard have presented to me. They’ve been there since my freshman year and I love what they have going on,” Hampton wrote in his own blog at USA Today.
Hampton averaged 32.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists last season for Little Elm (Texas) High School. He topped the 50-point mark twice.
• N’Faly Dante, 6-10 junior center from Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas: Dante is considering reclassifying from 2020 to 2019. He is said to be considering KU, Kentucky, LSU, Oregon and others. Dante, ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2020 by Rivals.com, plays for Mokan Elite and has been to Lawrence a few times.
“It sounds like he might remain in 2020 now.” Rivals.com analyst Corey Evans said in mid-March. “I thought it was more like 60/40 or 70/30 that he would reclassify until the past few days. Now it sounds like it might be the exact opposite, maybe 30/70. But, as we know, these schools get desperate and they always find ways to make it sound good and to make it happen.”
• Kyree Walker, 6-4 junior shooting guard from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix: Walker, the No. 18-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2020, also is considering reclassifying to 2019. He has a list of KU, Arkansas, Memphis, Nevada, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, California, Kentucky and others. At one point, he was committed to Arizona State.
“He’s a kid that’s super athletic,” Hillcrest Prep coach Nick Weaver said of Walker in an interview with arkansasonline.com. “Big body, an NBA body. Probably one of the best defenders you’ll see in the whole country. A lock-down defender. He’s a guy that’s super versatile, super athletic, can play a 1, 2 or 3.”
KU is in the running for a pair of graduate transfers, who would be immediately eligible to play next season.
• TJ Holyfield, 6-8, forward and graduate transfer from Stephen F. Austin: Holyfield, who is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a list of KU, Illinois, Texas Tech, Miami and Oregon. He is slated to visit KU on Monday. Holyfield missed all of last season with a dislocated shoulder after averaging 12.9 points (on 54.8 percent shooting, 28 of 68 from three, 41.2 percent) and 6.4 rebounds a game during the 2016-17 campaign.
Current Illinois coach Brad Underwood is the coach who signed Holyfield at SFA. The Lumberjacks are currently coached by Kyle Keller, who spent three seasons as a member of Self’s basketball administrative staff at KU.
“Holyfield is a good athlete who can battle inside for rebounds and also contest shots,” wrote Derek Piper of 247sports.com. “And at the offensive end, he is an efficient scorer with the ability to put the ball in the basket from all three levels and he can play above the rim. As a junior, he shot 54.8 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three.”
• Rayjon Tucker, 6-5 combo guard and graduate transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock: Tucker, who is expected to declare for the 2019 NBA Draft but still is considering playing a final year of college basketball, has visited West Virginia and will visit Auburn this weekend. According to 247sports.com, he also lists KU, Memphis, Texas Tech, Auburn, North Carolina, Louisville, Arizona, Arizona State, South Carolina and Iowa State as possible destinations. Tucker — he started his career playing for former KU assistant Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast — averaged 20.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a game last season.
Graduate transfers seem to be entering the transfer portal daily. On Tuesday, Marquette’s Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser and Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear announced plans to transfer to yet-to-be-determined schools. Blackshear, a second-team all-ACC pick, also entered his name in the NBA Draft. KU has not at this time been mentioned in connection with those three players.