The Kansas Jayhawks had yet another successful season during the 2013-14 campaign. Head coach Bill Self and his start studded squad delivered an unprecedented 10th consecutive Big 12 championship and plenty of highlights along the way thanks to super freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who were selected first and third in the NBA Draft, respectively.
Both Wiggins and Embiid continued a building tradition of Kansas players who have been drafted in the NBA Lottery. Ben McLemore went in the top five to Sacramento a year ago.
Despite the disappointment that came with an early round exit to Stanford, believe it or not, a really good Kansas team could be even better and more lethal in 2014-15. Not too often in college basketball does a team get to say that they could be better a year after losing two top three NBA picks. The recipe is in the players and coaching that Self has out together.
Looking ahead to this upcoming season, the Jayhawks replace Wiggins with forward Kelly Oubre (6-7 200), a player who could be every bit the defender that Wiggins was. Oubre has a knack for getting to the basket and will be just the latest high flyer to don a Kansas jersey, which is now becoming the norm.
Fans will fall in love with and marvel at the abilities of forward Cliff Alexander (6-8 240). Alexander is a bruiser with grace and brute strength. He’s the latest big time player Self has landed from the immensely talented city of Chicago and with him comes the kind of player that NBA scouts will drool over throughout the course of the season. His body is already built like a pro and if he can play to his limitless potential. KU will have quite the weapon that won’t be fun for opposing frontlines to deal with.
Self and his coaching staff love point guard Devonte Graham (6-2 175). He’s a player they fully expect to come in immediately and make his presence felt, hopefully bringing stability to an position that has had its share of ups and downs over the past few years.
Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Graham originally signed a letter of intent at Appalachian State in November 2012. He did not enroll at Appalachian State and spent last season at Brewster Academy prep school in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Following a coaching change at Appalachian State, Graham was granted a release from his letter of intent in April 2014 and was immediately targeted by Self and Kansas.
"We've had our fair share of guys from Brewster over the years, primarily Naadir (Tharpe) and Thomas (Robinson)," Self said. "We're very familiar with that program. We certainly solidified our situation in the backcourt by bringing in a quality guy and I think Devonte' is one of the premier point guards in the country. Jason Smith is not a good coach, he's a great coach. He's been at Brewster for a number of years and has coached many, many great ones. He definitely made me feel Devonte' is as good as any he has had in the backcourt."
"I think Devonte' will be an immediate impact guy for us," Self said. "That's not to take away from the other guards we have but this is a situation that we just got a lot better. He comes from very good high school and prep school programs and an exceptional AAU program in Gardner Road. After he and his mother came here on their recruiting visit, it was a situation we felt like he and she connected with everybody here and I think he will be a great leader for our program."
Finally, if those three weren’t enough, the final commitment provides the most intrigue in Ukranian swingman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. At 6-8 and 195 pounds, Mykhailiuk has been best compared to Manu Ginobili, who has wowed fans over the years with his unique ability to score and play the game, while helping the San Antonio Spurs to win four NBA championship in his 12-year hall of fame career.
The 17-year old will be eligible to play in the upcoming 2014-15 season. He has already completed high school in the Ukraine, which would keep him in the college ranks for a minimum of two years due to the NBA Draft age requirement rules.
"Obviously, this is great news for us," Self said. "He is 16 years old and will turn 17 in June, but his skill level, knowledge and aptitude for the game are way beyond his years. I think that he will be an immediate impact guy. He is a guy that can play all three positions on the perimeter. At 6-8, he can play point, play the No. 2 (guard) or the No. 3 (guard). He allows us to be more versatile next year and certainly, there would be few people that would shoot it better than him."
The thought of the Jayhawks possessing a player with any comparisons to anyone like Ginobili is downright frightening, when considering the fact that Kansas is already and typically loaded from a talent standpoint, which doesn’t even take into consideration the talent that is already on the roster and is sure to be even better next season.
Led by junior forward Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks will be even better in 2014-15. Ellis has come a long way since his first year and continues to add elements to his game, combined with improved strength, he could have a true breakout year in his junior campaign.
Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene were often forgot about with Wiggins taking most of the spotlight. Many forget that the two were huge gets when they committed and they enjoyed a solid freshmen season. They’ll be sure to be even better in the second year in the program and if you listen to Self, you’ll see why he projects both to have promising futures in the NBA.
Point guard Frank Mason showed promised in his first year at Kansas and year two could prove why the staff thought they got a steal in the guard who started several games in his freshman campaign.
Sophomore Conner Frankamp will be fun to watch, as many forget he came close to being the hero against Stanford. It’s very possible that sharpshooter found some confidence and with more experience in the program could be poised to enjoy a breakout season.
Redshirt junior forward Jamari Traylor and redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas could bring some punch off the bench. Traylor continues to improve with each day and could be a vital piece of the puzzle before all is set and done.
Kansas has earned a reputation under head coach Bill Self of playing a marquee schedule that always toughens his team prior to conference play. Each year, fans can bank on the Jayhawks facing some of the nation’s best and 2014-15 will not be an exception.
Kansas will face will face traditional powers Kentucky, Georgetown, Utah, Temple and UNLV with the potential to meet up with Michigan State, Tennessee, Marquette, Georgia Tech and Rhode Island. In addition, the Jayhawks will host the Florida Gators inside historic Allen Fieldhouse in a contest that could have a National Championship game feel to it.
“Obviously, next year’s non-conference will be very challenging,” head coach Bill Self said in a statement. “We always play a good schedule, but this past year was rated by many to be about as tough of a non-conference schedule that a team has played in years. Certainly, next year’s schedule will be one of the better non-conference schedules that anyone in America plays, as well.”
“When you think about two teams that were in the Final Four last year with Kentucky and Florida, then you throw in the Orlando Classic, which is loaded, including Michigan State, then on the road at Georgetown and Temple along with other tough non-conference contests like Utah and UNLV, all of those will certainly prepare our guys to make another strong push at a conference championship.”
The schedule will highlighted by a clash with 2013 National finalist Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis on November 18. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Jayhawks will take part in the Orlando Classic from November 27-30. The brackets have yet to be set, but the eight confirmed teams participating in the event include: Kansas, Michigan State, Tennessee, Marquette, Georgia Tech, Rhodes Island, Santa Clara and Rider.
Then, on December 5, Kansas will face Florida in what will likely be one of the most anticipated games in Allen Fieldhouse history. It will also be a rematch of a 67-61 Gators win last December. The game will once again be part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
It won’t get much easier from there, as the next two games are a road game at Georgetown on December 10, before facing Utah in Kansas City, December 13. Nine days later, KU travels to Temple, before UNLV to Lawrence on January 4.
From there, it’ll be time for the Jayhawks to pursuit an unthinkable 11th consecutive Big 12 championship and one look across the Big 12 will tell you, it belongs to Kansas until you come and take it away from them.
Then, when you get further down the road, you have to feel confident and excited, as this year’s Kansas team on paper has the makings to be very special, or as it’s become, business as usual.