Initial Reaction: A player by player breakdown from Game 1 in Italy
Instead of a report card for tonight’s KU basketball exhibition opening victory over Stella Azzurra / HSC Roma in Rome, I thought I’d give you my quick, gut-reaction, initial thoughts on each player in their first real action of the 2017-18 season.
Let’s face it, a report card would just be weird. After all, this wasn’t much of a game, they weren’t playing a Div. I caliber opponent and the Jayhawks themselves weren’t even really running much, just out there kind of playing and trying to look good while doing it.
So the report cards can wait. But the reports can’t.
I’ll start with the starters — for obvious reasons — and then go down the line from there and we’ll see where the rest of the week takes us after that.
For what it’s worth, I am expecting Thursday’s game to be much more competitive, but it was pretty cool to see the Jayhawks back in action, especially some of these new guys that I’ve written and you’ve heard a lot about during the past few months.
• Devonte’ Graham - I’m starting to think that Graham is going to quietly go down as one of the better 3-point shooters in KU history. He’s knocking on the door of the record books to back that claim up and he just looks so smooth and solid with his shot every time he takes it. KU didn’t need to set much of a tone to win this one with ease. But those three 3-pointers Graham hit early certainly helped everybody else play loose and have some fun. Fourteen points, nine assists and four rebounds.... Sounds almost Frank Mason-like.
• Malik Newman - The thing I was most impressed by with Newman’s night was that he let the game come to him. He didn’t try to go crazy right away just because he was so excited to finally be back out there. And I’m not sure anyone would’ve blamed him if he did. But he didn’t. He took good shots, was in rhythm when he shot them and showed that he definitely can be that high-volume scorer Bill Self has talked about. Quick side note: I met Malik’s father, Horatio aka “Pops” and his Godfather tonight and it’s easy to see where the new KU guard got his outgoing and fun personality from. They told me Malik’s expecting an even better performance tomorrow. Better than 6-of-7 shooting and 16 points in 18 minutes? I’m sure KU will take that.
• Lagerald Vick – Sort of a quiet night for Vick, but I did notice that the junior guard appears much more cool, calm and collected this year and is really comfortable with both his role and his ability. It’s too early to make too much of it, but I thought Vick looked like a much improved passer tonight.
• Billy Preston – Really liked what I saw from the freshman in the game’s first 10 minutes. He was confident, he asserted himself and he did it all under control and with purpose. There’s a lot to like about Preston’s game and if he can pick up the mental side of adjusting to college basketball quickly he can make a real difference for this team even early on. The big challenge will be finding new ways to challenge Preston and I’m guessing that his rebounding will be a big part of those challenges from the coaching staff. Tonight, early on, he was aggressive on the glass and showed he can do it.
• Udoka Azubuike - Forget the dunks for a minute (if you can)... And focus on Azubuike’s aggressive attitude. He’s not going to get all of those dunks every night during the upcoming season. But if he plays with that kind of determination and tenacity, he can have monster season even without dunking once. The key will be developing the rest of his game and him continuing to work on understanding when to go and when to kick it back out and reset. He’s much improved in that area but still flashed moments where things developed too slowly. All in all, though, he a really great night in his return to action from the wrist injury that stole most of last season from him.
• Svi Mykhailiuk - I loved how Svi just jumped back into things, fresh off of an entire summer playing with Team Ukraine and looked like it wasn’t a big deal at all. He’s a veteran and he’s talented. And he looked like both things tonight.
• Mitch Lightfoot - He had a handful of good moments and played damn hard, but he also appeared to be pressing a little too much at times, like he maybe was putting too much pressure on himself. Maybe it’s the mask, maybe it’s the environment, maybe it’s the opponent and format of the game. Either way, it’s only a problem if it goes that way for four straight games over here and I can’t see that happening.
• Marcus Garrett – Only made one shot, but I loved how active he was and how poised he played. He looks like a veteran and he looks like a guy who’s going to get minutes. The rest will come.
• Sam Cunliffe – Didn’t see a ton from Cunliffe, who still has a tendency to hold the ball too long and made just 2 of 8 shots. One of them was a nice transition dunk he got by hustling down the floor to beat the defense and the other was a breakaway dunk that wasn’t contested. He’ll have to do more than that to crack the deep and talented guard rotation this year, though.
• K.J. Lawson – Not really enough of a sample size to make any kind of definitive calls, but the guy is athletic and he’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up, as evidenced by his four rebounds. Shot 0-of-3 from 3-point range, which left me asking the question, should he be the guy pulling the trigger like that? In this game it was harmless. Moving forward, it might not be.
• Charlie Moore – Point guard had a pretty solid game running the second unit. Got sped up at times and coughed it up a couple of times. But he scored seven points, showed good quickness and handled a team-high 21 minutes with poise and confidence. He has a bright future.
• Clay Young – It was cool to see the guy who usually gets in at the end of blowouts check into a game earlier than that. One of the hardest workers on the team and an all-around good dude, Young was rewarded with 11 minutes and will probably get close to that each game.
• Chris Teahan – Conner’s younger brother also received early minutes and missed both shots he attempted. Looked like he had fun, though, and I’m guessing the missed shots were the product of nerves. He’s a good shooter and has near-perfect form. He’ll knock a couple down before the week’s over.