Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Jayhawks' departures leave Kansas State on top

If ever a player had more to gain by staying in college to play basketball for another year or two, it's Xavier Henry.

But that's not going to happen. Henry, Kansas' 6-foot-5 one-and-doner, is a one-and-goner, having announced Wednesday that the potential riches of playing in the NBA are too good to pass up. With a potential lockout looming in 2011, Henry may have decided to get while the gettin's good.

His announcement comes on the heels of a similar decision by giant center Cole Aldrich, who honed his skills for three seasons at Kansas. And leaving the building with them will be guard Sherron Collins, a dinosaur among today's college stars in that he actually used up all of his eligibility.

That's a lot to lose from a team that was everything it was touted to be during the regular season, then exited stage left in the NCAA Tournament far before its time.

It's an uneasy time for KU fans, at least as uneasy as it can be for a group of people who are following a team that is sure to reload and be right back in the championship picture soon.

It's not as if the Jayhawks are going to throw a YMCA team on the floor next season, either. Marcus and Markieff Morris are improving by the second. Tyshawn Taylor won't have to look over his shoulder. Mario Little is ready to go after a redshirt season. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed return to provide quality depth. Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson should play bigger roles as sophomores. Incoming recruit Royce Woolridge is the son of a former NBA All-Star. And KU coach Bill Self probably has a trick or two up his sleeve in spring recruiting; perhaps he can pluck one of the few remaining uncommitted players who aren't waiting with tongues wagging for Kentucky to make them an offer.

Kansas will be fine. But for a season, at least, it's fair to wonder where the Jayhawks go from here. And fair to consider the possibility that the school in the Little Apple just might be better than KU in 2010-11.

Kansas State returns everyone of note except for point guard Denis Clemente. That's a significant loss, but the Wildcats are rolling after an appearance in the Elite Eight. Former critics of Frank Martin are now offering to pick up his dry cleaning. Except for Martin's tirades on the bench, everything is rosy at Kansas State.

Do you realize K-State hasn't finished higher than Kansas in the Big 12 standings, well, ever? Or that it's been since 1988-89, in the days of the Big Eight, that the Wildcats had a loftier place in the standings than KU?

It's been a one-sided rivalry. Even last season, Kansas won all three games it played against Kansas State.

But with such hefty roster losses, won't the Jayhawks need a season to regroup? analyst Andy Katz already has posted his Top 25 for the 2010-11 season. Kansas State is No. 8; Kansas is 16. Sounds about right. And Baylor might be better than both.

K-State will have Jacob Pullen back to lead the way and Pullen, who will be a senior, should get some votes for preseason player of the year. He's just a few good decisions away from being a really superb player.

The Wildcats' frontcourt looks awesome with Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Wally Judge leading the way. There's no reason that threesome shouldn't be among the best in America.

Guards Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving will be a year wiser and better for it.

Have you noticed that since Michael Beasley and Bill Walker left K-State earlier, Martin hasn't recruited anything close to a one-and-done player like Henry? That's not a knock. I'm all for players hanging around to play college basketball for three or four years. It makes them better players and it is, after all, "college" basketball. Which means it's nice to get some college under your belt while you're playing.

I can't be critical of Self for signing Henry, who was at the time considered to be just a notch below Kentucky freshman John Wall. Henry had a nice season at KU, but there's an undeniable truth that he wasn't the player we expected him to be.

Henry had an eight-game stretch to start Big 12 play during which he shot 29 percent from the field and 27 percent from the three-point line. He recovered and finished well, but he was far from a game-changer.

Had he stayed at Kansas another season or two, he probably would have become one. But the right people — or perhaps the wrong people — are telling Henry he still has what it takes to play in the NBA. He'll be drafted, surely, but perhaps not as a lottery pick. Chances are, he'll go to a team that doesn't need immediate help and languish on the bench for a while before finally getting a chance. Or perhaps that chance will never come.

Optimistically, Henry will be better able to showcase his skills at the next level. Perhaps the KU system was too confining and he felt forced to share the ball too much with the likes of veterans such as Collins and Aldrich.

Whatever the case, chemistry appeared to be a problem for Kansas all season. It sounds crazy to make such a statement considering the Jayhawks' 33-3 record. But how many times did Kansas play like the Kansas team we expected to see? There was always something to worry about.

One worry — Henry's status at KU — has been eliminated. Self knows pretty much what his team is going to look like next season. The Jayhawks have suffered heavy losses, but they are the Jayhawks.

And Kansas State is Kansas State. For the first time in a long while, the Wildcats might be No. 1. At least in Kansas.