All sorts of fun and games preceded the main event, the men’s basketball scrimmage that served as the finale for the evening, but Self delivered a serious message in his short address to a raucous crowd, albeit a crowd that did not completely fill the arena.
“We cut down nets in ’08, we got real, real close in ’12,” Self said, a confident look on his face. “If things fall right this year, this could be our year. Rock chalk.”
…Self made certain to look toward the recruits when he described Lawrence as “the best place on earth to play.”
About the scrimmage, however, the coach was not so enthusiastic. Crimson prevailed over Blue, 36-31, and Self was less than pleased with the performance.
“That’s terrible,” Self said. “That was awful tonight. I’m disappointed in how some individuals played because that’s not how we practice.”
KC Star Photos
KU sophomore and Topeka native Jerrod Martin Castro was the big winner at Late Night, as he earned a $10,000 check from KU coach Bill Self after director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard hit his second of two half-court shots.
Castro, who graduated from Washburn Rural in 2014, dropped to his knees after the shot went through, and a few seconds later, he was dogpiled by KU’s basketball players in celebration.
Former KU player Darnell Jackson missed a pair of halfcourt shots when trying to win $10,000 for a female contestant. KU coach Self wrote Castro a check from his own bank account on the spot after Bechard and Castro hugged and the Jayhawk players mobbed both in a dogpile on the court.
“I see him shoot them in all the time,” Self said of ex-Jayhawk player Bechard. “He, Tyler (Self) and Evan (Manning) are by far the best halfcourt shooters we have. They have contests after every practice. I guess if you are going to be known for something, I guess making a halfcourt shot after practice is OK to be known for. Brennan ... I’d pick him every time,” Self added, noting, “I was happy for Jerrod. That’s why we did it to hopefully give someone a fun night.”
Carlton Bragg was the star of Late Night in the Phog — both before and after the scrimmage began.
The 6-foot-9 freshman played a few songs on the piano during the entertainment portion of the night, then had one of the best highlights in Crimson’s 36-31 victory over Blue at the 31st annual basketball kickoff event.
Ten minutes into the 15-minute exhibition, the Cleveland native put in a reverse alley-oop on a feed from Devonte’ Graham.
“I don’t know how I caught that one,” Bragg said. “I just made the play.”
Bragg finished with four points on 2-for-5 shooting with 3 rebounds and 2 steals. He also received high praise from Bill Self during his televised interview on Jayhawk Network, as the 13th-year KU coach said he didn’t foresee Bragg staying in Lawrence all four years.
“He has great feel,” Self said. “There’s nothing, I don’t think, that kid won’t be able to do in a couple years here.”
Bragg’s musical performance was impressive as well.
With a spotlight on him, he performed the songs at mid-court. Bragg, who took one year of piano in high school, can’t read sheet music but has learned to play songs by ear.
He said he picked up these particular songs from a friend after he heard him play at the KU Union.
“That’s a pretty good gift to have,” Self said of Bragg’s sight-reading ability. “I told him he should do that when I heard him play over in South Korea. But I didn’t know he was that good. He did a nice job, and that was a lot of pressure.”
How will the Devonte Graham and Frank Mason backcourt look? Going small at guard appears to be Bill Self’s initial inclination. “We've got to do a much better job on the perimeter of being able to feed our folks,” the Kansas coach said at media day, with those “folks” being the Jayhawks’ big men. “We'll be much better at that this year, and I think we'll be a much better passing team, especially because we'll play two little guards a lot together.” Recent championship teams like Louisville and Duke found success with diminutive backcourts. It remains to be seen if Graham and/or Mason can be prolific scorers—Mason was second on the team with 12.6 points per game last year—but they may not need to pour in the points as long as they can work in tandem to facilitate for others.
SI: Tough questions for top teams
As expected, KU hosted five of Rivals.com’s top-35 recruits in the 2016 class: No. 2 Harry Giles, No. 5 De’Aaron Fox, No. 6 Malik Monk, No. 16 Marques Bolden and No. 35 Schnider Herard.
The Jayhawks will have a minimum of three scholarships available next season with the graduations of forwards Ellis, Traylor and Hunter Mickelson.
Several local recruits also showed, including Columbia Tolton Catholic forward Michael Porter Jr., who is ranked No. 3 by Rivals for the class of 2017, and Bishop Miege center Bol Bol.
“Malik really had a great time (at KU),” Monk’s brother, Marcus, told Jayhawkslant.com. “The coaching staff and players really made him feel at home.”
Bol likes KU: Bol Bol, a 6-11, 180-pound sophomore forward from Roeland Park’s Bishop Miege High who is ranked No. 10 in the Class of 2018, attended Late Night. He has an early list of KU, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, Missouri, St. John’s, Creighton and New Mexico State.
“Everything about my visit to Kansas was a lot different than high school,” Bol, the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, told Jayhawkslant.com. “The coaching staff just told me that I am good player and we talked a little bit about stuff like that. I haven’t set anything yet, but I’ll probably return for a game. I’d like to watch a game at Kansas this season.
Wilkes enjoys KU trip: Wyatt Wilkes, a 6-8 junior forward from Winter Park (Florida) High who is ranked No. 141 in the Class of 2017, attended Late Night with his AAU teammate, Chaundee Brown, 6-5 junior from First Academy in Orlando, Florida. Brown is ranked No. 73 in his class.
Wilkes has received scholarship offers from Clemson, Rice, Tennessee, UAB, UCF and Virginia Tech. He has also heard from Alabama, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Purdue, Stanford and Virginia.
Wilkes told Jayhawkslant.com he was impressed with KU’s McCarthy Hall. It’s the new apartment complex for the players.
“They are the nicest dorms that I’ve ever seen,” Wilkes said. “They are incredible. I can definitely say that the new dorms are the top in the country. You have your own bathroom and a big kitchen area with a living room with a TV. They have a barbershop in the new dorms and a massage room. They have a pool table, a ping pong table, a movie theater, and a balcony that has a grill with some tables and chairs. It’s absolutely awesome. They also have a basketball court in the new dorms.
He added: “Coach Self said they are real interested in me, and Chaundee also, and they are coming down to watch me practice next week, on Monday.”
"We've really only had two practices and probably 15 Late Night practices, so right now we're probably a lot better at dancing than we are at executing on offense," Schneider said. "I think it's really important that we get through this weekend and then we'll really buckle down and get to the real practices."
Halfway through the scrimmage, the women all switched to the crimson jerseys to compete against the male practice squad, sporting blue.
"We saw it as an opportunity to really do something special for them because those are guys that are not all on scholarship from our program," Schneider explained of the male practice players. "They are basically here on a volunteer basis and are extremely helpful to us."