The announcement last week that Udoka Azubuike would be returning for his junior season at the University of Kansas dramatically changes the dynamic of the Jayhawks.
After back-to-back years of playing Azubuike and four perimeter players, coach Bill Self can return to the bruising inside-out game he greatly desires.
Azubuike’s decision takes KU from a fringe Top 10 team to a near sure-fire lock to be in the Top 5 at the start of the year.
He’s the only returning starter, provided something crazy doesn’t happen with Lagerald Vick. Vick tested the NBA waters and received little-to-no interest, so he’s pulled his name out of the draft. However from all indications, he doesn’t want to return to Kansas as he may go to the G-League.
Even without Vick, the Jayhawks once again appear to be loaded, provided the newcomers live up to their somewhat unrealistic hype.
Azubuike made the right call to pull back from the draft. While he had an excellent sophomore season, he’s still only 18 years old and his skillset is raw. He is powerful around the basket, but needs to develop an all-around game and playing one more year of college will only help him.
The Jayhawks could send out a frontcourt that has an NFL offensive line look with all the beef. Silvio De Sousa looked like a bust early on, but found himself near the end of the season and in the postseason. He’s chiseled and will only get better.
The big hope is 6-9 and 240-pound redshirt Dedric Lawson, who averaged nearly 20 points in his final year at Memphis before transferring. Add to that McDonald’s All-American David McCormack (who was a physical presence at 6-10 and 260) as well as a bulked-up Mitch Lightfoot and you have a quintet that can pound opponents. Lightfoot had to play out of position last year as he was the first sub off the bench until the light went on for De Sousa.
Self is stocked with perimeter, but inexperienced, players, but a definite concern will be 3-point shooting, which has been such a staple the last two years.
McDonald’s All-American Quinten Grimes reportedly is the real deal and maybe KU’s next one-and-done. Freshman point guard Devon Dotson, another McDonald’s All-American, also is highly regarded, but if he’s not ready redshirt Charlie Moore, who started at Cal, is right there to pick up the pieces.
Marcus Garrett, who had an uneven freshman year, is a great defender but whose offense is woefully lacking. But he does all the little things that Self likes.
And don’t forget there’s still Sam Cunliffe, who surely is better than what he showed last year after sitting out the first part of the season, and 6-7 redshirt K.J. Lawson, the brother of Dedric who came in a package deal. He played a lot in his year at Memphis.
That’s 11 players, not counting freshman Ochai Agbaji, who the Jayhawks are hoping will become the next Travis Releford as he’s a late bloomer that flew under the recruiting radar.
Team chemistry has been one of Self’s strengths during his time at KU. With so many new parts, this could be one of his greatest challenges as this is a team of holdovers, redshirts, transfers and freshmen. If he can get this hodgepodge united as one, a trip to the Final Four will be the expectation.