For Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team, each passing season means the annual flight of talent to the NBA, or departing for life after basketball for some. While every school and team in the country experiences this, few are as equipped to restock the shelves with talent than KU. The class of 2011 has a chance to be a very good one, despite not garnering much attention by the national media.
Gone is the big and highly skilled twin duo, Marcus and Markieff Morris. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed flew the nest via graduation, along with Mario Little. Josh Selby was a one-and-done player despite having a subpar season in the eyes of many.
In all, the Jayhawks lost size, speed, athleticism, senior leadership and depth. For those in the know in Lawrence, many are still highly optimistic about the coming season. Coach Self will have to earn his paycheck by molding the remaining raw talent with the new players coming in. Breaking down the incoming class shows the potential gains could outweigh the losses.
KU returns a roster with many skilled players, some unproven. Thomas Robinson showed flashes of brilliance last year, in a season that saw him lose his grandparents and his mother. Robinson was also slowed by injuries at times, and still managed to be a force in the paint. His chiseled frame is NBA ready, and under the watchful eye of big-man coach Danny Manning, could develop the offensive game to go with the power game he already possesses.
Kansas returns a bevy of guard/wing players like combo guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. Travis Relaford, a 6'5" junior-to-be, was playing as well as any Jayhawk last year prior to injury. Should he regain the shooting form he displayed in 2010, the perimeter would be in good hands before the additions of this year.
Jeff Withey, the seldom-used 7'0" center, should finally begin to display the athleticism and shot-blocking ability he has with extended minutes on the floor. While his offensive game lacks polish, having a 7-footer in the paint will allow the Jayhawks to lock down in man defense and play the up-tempo style this team may be suited for.
KU landed a pair of 6'8" forwards in Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson. Traylor is said to be an explosive leaper, with a good stroke from the outside. While he may be able to stretch the defense with his outside game, his length and rebounding will be needed most. Traylor should pack on a few pounds to his thin frame over the summer, and could push for major minutes at the small forward position.
Anderson is somewhat an unknown commodity in the basketball world. He is from Canada, and some question his ability based on the competition, or lack thereof in our neighbors to the north. He is definitely a big body that is close to NBA-ready now. His freakishly long wingspan will bode well for KU in the paint as a defender and rebounder.
KU is already loaded at guard, but as the post season always bears out, one can never have too much quality guard play. Naadir Tharpe is another east coast combo-guard that is lightning fast and athletic. Should he play the tough physical defense that Self demands, look for Tharpe to push for major minutes in a crowded backcourt rotation.
The incoming player that garnered the most attention from recruiting analysts is 6'5" slasher Ben McLemore. McLemore is another supremely athletic player with length and speed. He is an explosive leaper, and has a tremendous stroke from the perimeter.
While he is somewhat thin, he will fill out nicely under the tutelage of strength coach Andrea Hudy. Ben will more than likely find his way to the starting line-up after learning the system and playing defense the Bill Self way.
The Jayhawks also have senior sharpshooter Connor Teehan coming off of a redshirt season. Also, 6'8" transfer Justin Wesley, the half-brother of former Jayhawk Keith Langford could emerge as a pleasant surprise for Kansas.
In all, the Jayhawks will be as athletic as ever, and will push opponents toward the half court line on defense. KU may struggle on the offensive end early on, but could could round out to be very balanced in scoring. Defense should end up the way KU will make their money as they will be long, athletic and lightning fast. The bigs can run the floor and the guards will lock down the perimeter.
Many times, less talented groups end up as better teams as they must rely on technique rather than talent. KU is very talented, but if coach Self can impress upon this group the importance of team, the Jayhawks can make another run at another conference title.
If all of the pieces fall into place, KU could find themselves in the discussion for the National Title again. The expectations are less for this flock of Jayhawks than in years past, but not for the Kansas fans. The experts may expect a letdown from KU, but then again...what do the experts know?