It was all but a foregone conclusion last season that Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were going to spend about as much time in Lawrence as a tour group at the Douglas County Historical Society.
Sure enough, Andrew and Joel were gone in a flash, off to the NBA to earn, they hope, their millions. They were one-and-done at Kansas and while they left with another Big 12 championship – the Jayhawks’ 10th in a row – they were part of a team that lost to Stanford in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Wiggins was, at least. Embiid was injured and his NBA debut has been delayed until he can figure out how to get back on the court.
Never fear, because Kansas has replaced Wiggins and Embiid with Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, two more players who are expected to whistle stop at Allen Fieldhouse before being taken high in the 2015 NBA draft.
It’s the state of college basketball for those programs with the brightest marquee lights, who recruit in the shallow end of the pool and catch the biggest fish.
Love it or hate it, Kansas’ biggest recruits are now the guys who don’t stay for dessert. They gulp down their food, bid everyone adieu and go off to the land of dollar bills.
I watched some of a Minnesota Timberwolves game on television last week and Wiggins, who was traded to the T-wolves by Cleveland in the Kevin Love deal, was playing in a stale, quiet arena for a team that’s going nowhere. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft and making a ton of money, so let’s not rosin up the violin bow for the guy. Still, would it have been a terrible idea to stay at Kansas another year and refine his game?
Embiid may not even play this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. To which his teammates say, “Lucky guy.”
The 76ers are terrible, awful, pitiful. Embiid, too, is getting paid a ton of money. But he’s a project who could have benefited greatly from another season at Kansas playing for Bill Self.
Oh well, life goes on. And KU is going to have another dynamite team, thanks in part to the 6-foot-7 Oubre and the 6-8 Alexander. Another freshman, Devonte Graham, is going to get major minutes at point guard and yet another newcomer, 6-8 Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – no, he’s not from these parts – is a 17-year-old from the Ukraine who is drawing rave reviews from everyone who has seen him.
Don’t worry, there are also some upperclassmen on the KU roster. The best of those is the reliable Perry Ellis, who begins his junior season as the Jayhawks’ quiet leader. Ellis has been described as quiet more often than Charlie Chaplin, but the former Wichita Heights four-time All-State player makes his noise in the box score with points, rebounds and assists. Ellis is poised to have a great season.
Guard Frank Mason showed potential as a freshman and now that Nadiir Tharpe and Conner Frankamp have left the Jayhawks, Mason will get major minutes in the backcourt.
Then there’s that guy who didn’t jump to the NBA after his freshman season, guard Wayne Selden Jr. Instead, he seemed to hit a wall during the last dozen games, when he shot just 37 percent from the floor and 25 percent from the free-throw line.
Selden will be better this season. So will forward Jamari Traylor, whose sheer desire and hustle lead to positive things. He’s also developing as an offensive threat.
Kansas won’t have to rely on Oubre and Alexander nearly as much as the Jayhawks had to rely on Wiggins and Embiid. And that’s a good thing. Freshmen shouldn’t have to carry the biggest load.
It will give the KU kids some time to learn, to develop, to get their feet on the ground. Both of KU’s potential one-and-done players are going to be outstanding, but it’ll take time. It should take time.
It sounds like Oubre has some Paul Pierce in him, and like he’ll be just as valuable as a defender as he will as a scorer.
Alexander will be relied upon to rebound and defend while he improves offensively under Norm Roberts, who coaches the Kansas big men. There’s no telling how good he can be.
And above everything else, Self is an incredible coach. He could take a baby boy out of the maternity ward and have him playing strong man-to-man defense by January.
Oubre, Alexander and all the rest of the Jayhawks, young and old, benefit from playing for one of the finest teachers of basketball in the country. One of the reasons I don’t like seeing players come and go so quickly at Kansas is because they won’t learn as much as they could have.
But this is the college basketball world in which we live. Better to have these guys for one season, I suppose, than never to have had them at all.