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Veteran Jalen Wilson's big stat line gets KU's season off to a stellar start

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) pulls up for a jumper over Omaha forward Marquel Sutton (10) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) pulls up for a jumper over Omaha forward Marquel Sutton (10) during the first half, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1 – Jalen Wilson – You’ve known it for a while, you’ve heard it discussed throughout the preseason and you’ve even expected it to happen. But now you know it’s for sure. Jalen Wilson is the alpha of all alphas on this Kansas team and he’s not afraid of the role. Wilson packed the stat line in KU’s season-opening 89-64 win over Omaha on Monday night, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, and nearly all of it came easy and within the flow of the offense. Wilson was just four points away from tying his career-high and easily could have eclipsed that mark if he had been even more assertive as a scorer late. Instead, with the game in hand, he played team basketball and continued to look to get others involved. Wilson is arguably better this year in transition than he was last year, which is certainly saying something, and he’s often the first guy you find sprinting down the floor whenever Kansas has a fast break opportunity. Big, physical, fast and experienced, Wilson got his junior season off to a stellar start on Monday night.

2 – Gradey Dick – This dude is the real deal and he’s already shown that to you over and over again. His jumper is so smooth and his release so quick that it looks like it’s going in every time. And he’s fearless in transition and while attacking the rim. The only thing that slows him down in either of those areas is his need to add muscle to his 6-8 frame. Still, Gradey Dick is a star in the making and, yet, he’s still the ultimate teammate, too. He never looks greedy or overly aggressive and he’s always ready to attack. There’s room to grow as a defender and he will because he will want to. But in terms of the offensive punch that everyone hoped he would provide, it’s absolutely there already. He looked comfortable, confident and supremely skilled in delivering a game-high 23 points in his KU debut.

3 – Dajuan Harris Jr. – He didn’t shoot it great (just 5 of 13) and he took some questionable shots, too. But, at the end of the day, Harris did exactly what the coaching staff has asked him to do throughout the offseason — looked to score. He’ll have better nights shooting the ball and he’ll take better shots. But he finished with 11 points and 8 assists compared to just one turnover while playing the kind of annoying defense that drives opposing guards crazy. If you can get that from your point guard, there’s absolutely no need to complain about any of the rest.

4 – Bobby Pettiford – This is what Bobby P looks like when he’s healthy. And make no mistake about it, he can be an absolute weapon for this team. Pettiford is fast and explosive on both ends and he’s also selfless. Acting KU coach Norm Roberts said a couple of his buckets were designed to get lobs, but the defense stayed with the lob man so Pettiford coolly and calmly finished the easy buckets inside. That shows great instincts and also a little maturity. There’s no doubt that he would have thrown them if the lobs were there. But the fact that a guy who has played so little at this level he can read things so easily like that shows great things about Pettiford’s game. He was sensational and a couple more games like that will only make his confidence soar.

5 – KJ Adams – Adams started and played great in the first half. He was all over the offensive glass — seven of his eight first-half boards came on the offensive end — and used his size, strength and athleticism to his advantage. But he finished with just one additional rebound in the second half and hardly ever even looked to score when KU ran half-court sets. It’s not that you want him pulling jumpers and attacking like Wilson or Harris. But he needs to look at the basket so opposing defenses will respect him and account for his presence as an offensive option. If he can do that, even if he doesn’t score, it makes life easier for everyone else on the floor. If he can’t, it almost because a 5-on-4 advantage for the defense.

6 – Kevin McCullar Jr. – McCullar was big in getting KU going early, with active hands and energy on the defensive, but this wasn’t his best game overall. He took a couple of rushed jumpers, turned it over three times and picked up three fouls while playing 23 minutes. Nothing to worry about, of course, but it’s even though it’s early, it’s already clear that McCullar’s value is going to be in attacking the rim, playing lock-down defense and creating havoc that benefits both him and his teammates.

7 – Ernest Udeh Jr. – Udeh’s coming, and when he fully arrives it’s going to be massive news for this Kansas team. Right now, it’s all about patience. But he has the perfect attitude and approach for his role at the moment and will only get better — and more comfortable — as he logs more minutes. He finished with 5 points, 5 rebounds and a big block in his 14 minutes off the bench on Monday night.

8 – Zuby Ejiofor – Played just a couple of minutes late, but had one major highlight that was pretty minor in the game but potentially significant in the big picture of everything. After blocking a jump shot at the free throw line late in the game, Zuby hustled after the miss and laid out to get the ball as it rolled on the floor. That led to a tie-up and possession for Kansas and sparked the entire bench, led by Jalen Wilson and Norm Roberts, to jump to their feet applauding the effort. It could be tough for him to find big minutes, but his big frame and athleticism might lead to some kind of role.

9 – Joe Yesufu – Yesufu played 9 minutes but scored just 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting. He attacked the paint a few times, which is what he needs to focus on, and he missed both of his 3-point attempts, at least one of which was a bad shot. This is nothing new for Yesufu, of course, but the hope for him and within the program was that he would be much more comfortable and have a big role as a scorer. It’s only one game, so it’s still too early to say anything definitive about him, his play or his role. But neither he nor KU is going to want him to be quite as quiet as he was in this one for very long.

10 – Zach Clemence – Clemence was again the odd man out in the KU big man rotation on Monday night. He played just 4 minutes in the win and did not attempt a shot. He did grab 3 rebounds and tried to bring energy, but he’s still got some work to do to figure out exactly what his role with this team is going to be. It’s hard to find that while playing just 4 minutes, but that underscores the fact that it’s not game night when you find it. It’s in practice.

11 – Kyle Cuffe Jr. – Missed his only shot, missed a pair of free throws and played just 2 minutes. It’s going to continue to be an uphill climb for Cuffe in terms of playing time.

Season standings

1 – Jalen Wilson, 11

2 – Gradey Dick, 10

3 – Dajuan Harris Jr., 9

4 – Bobby Pettiford, 8

5 – KJ Adams, 7

6 – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6

7 – Ernest Udeh Jr., 5

8 – Zuby Ejiofor, 4

9 – Joe Yesufu, 3

10 – Zach Clemence, 2

11 – Kyle Cuffe Jr., 1

Comments

Dirk Medema

Matt - Do you see Zuby being sort of a bigger version of KJ from last year as far as roles?Energy tweaner D specialist off the bench? KJ was a 3/4 whereas Zuby would seem to be more of a 4/5?

Obviously, all the guys individually and as a team need to continue to develop but it would seem vitally important to the latter half of the list, and by extension then the team.

It will also be interesting to see what happens when the other 2 become healthy; Rice and Martin.

4 weeks ago

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Matt Tait

I hadn't really thought of the Zuby-KJ comparison but it's not too bad. It's also not exactly right. As you mentioned, I don't see Zuby being able to guard guards the way KJ has/can, and I'm not sure he's quite as skilled offensively.

To me, Zuby projects as a build strength, play big kind of guy in the future. He's got a great frame and if he can maintain his athleticism while adding bulk, he could be pretty damn good. Maybe a more athletic Tarik Black. Or a kind of cross between Jamari Traylor and Dok.

Time will tell.

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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