Say what you will about Vick’s improvement – and plenty of people have been more than willing to discuss it during recent weeks — but it’s worth remembering that the sophomore guard from Memphis still has a long way to go before he becomes a high-volume scorer for the Jayhawks.
During a couple of summer camp scrimmages back in June, Vick got hot from the outside and poured in a whole bunch of points, scoring as many as 29 in one game. That was the first sign that he had developed a better shot and made some significant improvements in the offseason, but taking that to mean that he’s going to put up big numbers for the Jayhawks this season is a bit of a reach.
There still will be three, maybe four, players on the floor at all times when Vick’s in the game who will be better offensive options. In the backcourt alone, Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson all figure to push for double-figure averages, leaving Vick to average somewhere in the 4-6 points per game range.
Azubuike dunks to spread energy to teammates, coaches and eventually to spectators in Allen Fieldhouse, where he didn’t get a chance to play in the Late Night scrimmage because of a groin injury.
“My game is like the saying goes: ‘I don’t see no dunk that I don’t like.’ Once I see the rim, I don’t care who’s over there, I’m going to try to dunk,” Azubuike said. “I’m going to try to go up on you and shatter the rim. That’s my game.”
He said that he was 13 when he moved from Nigeria and into a home with a host family in Florida. He was 12 when he gave up soccer to concentrate on basketball.
“I was really good at soccer,” said the center, whose name is pronounced you-DOE-kuh az-uh-BOO-kee. “Because of my height, people told me that I needed to start playing basketball, and I picked it up from there.”
Hakeem Olajuwon and Joel Embiid, both blessed with quicker feet than Azubuike, no slow-poke, also played soccer before making basketball their sport.
“Some stuff we do in soccer is applicable in basketball,” Azubuike said. “Pretty much the footwork in soccer you can apply to basketball, like the spin move. If you see some NBA players like Steve Nash, they started playing soccer before they played basketball and it helped them a lot. It helps footwork and balance.”
Azubuike said he considers himself a 7-footer, has shed 25 pounds and weighs 275. The extent to which he can keep up with KU’s fast pace in transition will play a big part in determining his playing time.
Lucas has been tutoring freshmen big men Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike during practice sessions.
“I’ve had so many people help me out since I’ve been here. Between Jeff (Withey), Tarik (Black), Jo Jo (Embiid) and so many other people, the least I can do is pass that along,” Lucas said.
He has been focusing on helping Azubuike, while sophomore forward Carlton Bragg has been assisting Lightfoot.
“It’s not all nice things,” Lucas said. “I try to make sure he (Azubuike) is on the right path. I get on him sometimes. He’s such a good listener. That’s definitely a good thing. It’s nothing planned. Because of the way Carlton plays and the way Mitch does, it’s more helpful when Carlton helps Mitch out. Because of the way I play and the size of Udoka (7-feet, 280), I try to help him out. Carlton and I try to bring ’em along the best we can.”
Lucas said upperclassmen are expected to help younger players at KU.
“That’s why you come to a place like Kansas,” Lucas said.
Getting pursued by all the college basketball blue bloods and those striving to recruit against the giants wasn’t all that bad either. After all, who wouldn’t want to answer his phone and hear the voice of the funniest, frankest NBA commentator ever.
“I was a little bit surprised, really surprised, didn’t know what to say to him, really,” Jackson said of the first of two phone calls from Sir Charles Barkley. “He was just telling me about the recruiting process. He was telling me Auburn was a great place, how much fun he had there, things that they could do for me there.”
And, of course, he made Jackson laugh because if you’re as good at that as Barkley is, why not?
“Oh yeah,” Jackson said. “He definitely showed a little humor. I think that’s just his personality.”
Barkley wasn’t even the biggest NBA name developing a relationship with the Detroit native. Magic Johnson shared his love of Michigan State and Magic’s name echoes even more loudly in Michigan than in Los Angeles.
“Magic was telling me to keep up the good work I had been doing in high school,” Jackson said.
Even with such charismatic Hall of Fame basketball players, both outstanding representatives of their universities, Jackson chose Kansas and seems so happy he did. It’s obvious he very much enjoys his teammates and can’t wait to battle with and for them.
“My intensity comes from the legacy, the history (of Kansas basketball) and from these guys’ intensity,” Jackson said, pointing to teammates. "I see how hard they go in practice, how bad they want to win. I don’t want to be the guy on the team who didn’t try hard enough, so as long as they’re trying, I’m trying. If they’re fighting, I’m fighting.”
Maybe the strongest stance on Kansas’ conference dominance came from Wainright’s coach at Baylor, Scott Drew, who nonchalantly said the conference is competitive “two through ten,” but that Kansas is a clear favorite to win the conference.
“We don’t look at it like that at all,” said Baylor guard Al Freeman, who averaged 11.3 points last year in his junior season. “We know that Kansas has been winning it every year, so when we step on the court, especially when we play against against them — every team in the conference is coming after them.”
Freeman paused for a moment, then continued: “Every team, they want to take it from them. And we want to be the ones to do it.”
As media swarmed the four Kansas players at Big 12 media day — Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham — Freeman’s sentiment of a true one through ten battle was echoed through the other nine teams in attendance.
For Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu, it’s frustrating when coaches called it a two through ten competition. And while he sees Allen Fieldhouse as a tough place to play, it’s not necessarily the apex of a different team taking a Big 12 championship from Kansas.
“If you ask me, I think the league is pretty much wide open this year. From one to ten, I think it's competitive,” Iwundu said. “There ain't going to be no easy games or anything. Every game is going to be challenging and tough ... Whatever teams end up at the end of the year, we'll see.”
In some ways, Wainright is with his teammates, and the rest of the players in the Big 12 who think this season — when Kansas will chase its 13th straight Big 12 title — is unpredictable.
But maybe Wainright is more realistic with his expectations. He’s seen this Kansas team for years — Bill Self’s dominance, Mario Chalmers' shot. He played with Landen Lucas on a club team before he chose Kansas and has fond memories of watching Brandon Rush play at Kansas. Yet still, even after watching years of Kansas basketball and going to games at Allen Fieldhouse, he thinks his team — and any other team in the conference — has a chance at Kansas.
In any case, the Jayhawks, the head honchos of Big 12 basketball, certainly have a target on their back.
“Everybody wants to be on top.” Wainright said. “Everybody wants to beat Rocky. Everybody wants to beat Muhammad Ali. Everybody wants to beat (Floyd) Mayweather. And it's possible.”
“Well, a lot of times I do that because I want to mess with you,” he said, laughing. “So if I say, ‘Hey, check me on this,’ and you know I’m right, next time when I say something like that you’ll believe me that it’s true.”
More seriously, Self spoke to it in the context of recruiting.
“I do that all the time, because I don’t think that there’s an absolute best way to do things,” he said. “I think there’s a best way to do it that fits your personality and your skill set.
“When a school says that we have The Best, I have a hard time believing it. Because the best is in the eyes of the beholder, not the seller. Because you can have the nicest car you’re selling, but if it’s not what the buyer wants, it’s not the best to them.
“And so even though I have strong beliefs on what I think is best, and how we play or whatever it is, I think you should always be objective to the fact that not everybody sees it through your eyes.”
That is how powerful the cult of Joel Embiid already is. And, after making his professional debut with an emphatic 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 22 minutes in a tightly contested 103-97 loss, the furor around him is unlikely to die down anytime soon.
Embiid showed every part of his prodigious talent Wednesday, a talent that took two years for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft to finally reach the court because of recurring foot injuries. If Wednesday was any indication, though, the wait was well worth it for the Sixers and their fans.
His first basket came on a nasty move at the foul line, pivoting swiftly into a fadeaway jumper that send the home fans into an absolute frenzy with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter. Embiid then swatted away a Russell Westbrook shot, and the love affair was on.
…It only took one game, though, for Embiid to show he’s on a different level than the likes of Okafor and Noel as a long-term center for the franchise. Few players are capable of doing the things Embiid has already proven he can do in so far as making game-changing plays at both ends. As the final minutes of Wednesday’s game ticked off, the Sixers kept giving the ball to Embiid — someone who hadn’t played in a competitive game since early in 2014 while at Kansas — and he responded with two big baskets to keep Philadelphia in the game.
BIG 12/COLLEGE NEWS
Ten years from now, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sees himself fishing — far away from the Big 12 or whatever it becomes by that point, retired and living his own life at age 75.
So when he was asked about the grant of rights — the agreement which would grant the Big 12 a team’s television rights — as it pertains to the future of the Big 12 and the ongoing shifting of the Power Five conferences, he shrugged it off. For now, the Big 12 has each team’s grant of rights until 2025. He doesn’t have a real reason to be worried.
But Bowlsby does realize this: the digital marketplace is expanding, and quickly. Sports organizations and leagues are monetizing sports streaming. Digital ad spending, through outlets that are far wider and more catered to a particular audience, will surpass television ad spending by the end 2016.
Bowlsby, speaking at Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday, mentioned Amazon, who is attempting to get into the sports streaming marketplace. And he talked about the merger between digital provider AT&T and Time Warner. And with the Big 12 past possible expansion, focusing now on shifting and possibly renegotiating its TV deal in the coming year, a digital partnership is one way Bowlsby wants the conference to go.
“It’s a changing landscape, so we’re always looking for opportunities,” Bowlsby said. “There are a lot of players getting involved in this that haven’t been involved before, and that creates opportunities for us. So we’re going to be constantly vigilant.”
It was near the start of his address to the media during the ACC’s Operation Basketball media day event that Louisville coach Rick Pitino offered an astonishing comment.
He said he did not anticipate that Louisville’s decision to self-impose a scholarship sanction that eliminates two of a possible 13 grants from the 2016-17 Cardinals would hurt the team to the extent he believes it has.
“If I had to do it all over again,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t have done it that way.”
Holy hoops, Batman! He’s asking for our sympathy!
Only six days removed from Louisville’s release of the NCAA’s notice of allegations against the Cardinals basketball program, which contained four Level 1 charges that developed from the activities described in the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules” — charges that included a former staff member providing more than $5,000 worth of inducements or extra benefits “in the form of cash, adult entertainment and sex acts” to prospects, players or outside coaches — Pitino is lamenting the effects of the punishment Louisville designed for itself in order to mute the impact of infractions committee sanctions.
That’s some bold stuff right there.
Remember, it was Louisville that last February opted to remove its 2016 team from consideration for postseason play. This was done so that the Cardinals basketball program could move forward with some degree of certainty, so that it could sell to recruits who’d already committed to the program and those it would pursue in the future that they would have the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament despite the specter of the case that still has not been adjudicated.
Even though Louisville had a genuine chance to compete for the 2016 NCAA Championship — as Pitino pointed out during media day, the Cards defeated two of the teams that reached the Final Four — it was more important to secure the program’s future.
Pitino said Wednesday that if he had it to do over, the Cardinals would have been docked one scholarship in 2016-17 and another the following year.
Because really now, why should a punishment actually be punitive?
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Five-star forward returns home to visit USC
A few months ago Billy Preston (No. 20) been was expected to have slow-moving recruitment process. He shuffled his list around a couple of times in the early part of the fall but then dove head-first into his recruitment. Preston, who is from Los Angeles but attends Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) will take his fourth visit of the past few weeks, heading back to USC. The Trojans have been considered the favorite for most of the past year, as Preston and his family are close with Trojans’ assistant coaches Jason Hart and Tony Bland. Andy Enfield and his staff prioritized Preston early on, and the two sides continued to grow closer. This fall has complicated things a bit, as Preston has also visited Kansas, Syracuse and Indiana -- and USC’s grasp has loosened. Preston’s mother told ESPN.com on Wednesday that a decision during the early period seems likely.
- Prediction: USC
- Confidence level: 40 percent
- Toughest competition: Kansas
- Others in the mix: Indiana, Syracuse
I went to Kansas this past weekend and had a great time on my official.
Got there Friday morning and all the coaches met me at the airport. That’s the first time that’s happened.
…Saturday we watched practice early that morning and that was great! It was cool to see how they operate and how they do things. After that we went to the football game and we sat down with Coach Self later and had a great meeting. It was the longest meeting I’ve had.
…That next morning my flight was super early at about 7 a.m. and I had to leave the hotel at like 4:30 a.m. and when I walked downstairs literally every coach on the staff was there to meet me. They were all there telling me that they wanted to just tell me one more time how much they wanted me at Kansas.
That was big to see! I can’t believe they all came at that time of morning.
Another 10 out of 10!
I’ve already been to Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Now I’m headed to Oklahoma State this weekend for my final visit. I love what Coach Underwood is doing there and me and Coach Lamont are really cool.
We get along great!
I’m really looking forward to this visit.
Honestly, all of my visits have been 10s!
A lot of people are asking me about Duke getting involved with me and they have definitely reached out to my dad recently. I don’t know how I feel about them getting back in. They’re a great program and it’s Coach K! It’s just that when a school backs off you it’s hard to get past that. I haven’t made a decision on that as of right now.
The whole process is tough.
You have all of these great schools and, honestly, all of them make you feel like you could play there and do well.
It’s just a situation where you have to weigh everything out and choose what’s really best for you. That’s what I plan to do.
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