An overview of the Kansas basketball roster entering the offseason
Now that the trophies have been handed out and the postseason banquet is in the bag, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is planning to meet with each member of his roster for what basically will be exit interviews for the 2021-22 season.
Self said at Thursday’s postseason banquet that he already had informal conversations with Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson about their futures. That group, Self said, likely will make announcements about their plans in the next week.
College players have until April 24 to declare for the draft and still be able to return. Rule changes in recent years have made it possible — sensible even — for underclassmen to declare for the draft while maintaining their college eligibility so they can, with the help of a certified agent, get feedback from professional teams and make better decisions.
Players used to only be able to test their draft stock one time but that rule has been amended to allow players to test multiple times. That’s important for a player like Wilson, who tested last season and elected to return.
While most eyes on the KU program will be focused on that foursome during the next several days, Self’s conversations with the rest of the roster will be just as important.
Covered in the one-on-one meetings will be everything from what went right this season to what guys need to work on for next season. This is also where players discuss their futures and roles with the program moving forward.
Last season, Self and company brought 10 new faces into the program — four freshmen, four transfers and two walk-ons. While it’s unlikely that they will approach that number of newcomers again this season, there will be new faces when the 2022-23 season rolls around.
How many remains to be seen and will be partly determined by the decisions made by the four players mentioned above.
With that in mind, here’s an early look at where the roster stands entering the offseason.
Let’s start with the group of seniors that we know will not be back. That includes Mitch Lightfoot, Ochai Agbaji, Remy Martin, Jalen Coleman-Lands and walk-on Chris Teahan.
McCormack’s probably in that group, too, especially when you look at how well he played in the NCAA Tournament and Final Four. I can’t imagine his stock ever getting higher and I can’t imagine a better way to end a career.
Technically, because of the extra year afforded by COVID-19, Agbaji and McCormack both could come back. But Self said Thursday that no one should hold their breath on Agbaji even entertaining a return. And it seems like a smart bet to assume McCormack will move on, too.
That brings us to the junior class, where Christian Braun has by far the most interesting and difficult decision on the entire roster.
Could he go? Absolutely. Many mock drafts have started to plug him in as a first-round pick in this summer’s draft and the draft guys I’ve spoken with say they love how Braun’s game translates to the next level. The question is this: Would returning for his senior season boost his stock even more?
It did for Agbaji. And the general thinking around the draft is that if Braun came back and had an Agbaji-like jump next season, he could become a lottery pick.
The potential is there for him to do so, both in terms of room to improve his game and the kind of role he would have coming back.
Jalen Wilson is in a very similar position.
“Both have a chance to have big, big, big next years,” Self said Thursay night. “But I don’t think (they) should look at it that way. Look at it as go get feedback. After you get feedback you can make a decision. You don’t worry about next year until you see what is right in front of you now.”
Wilson has yet to show up on mock drafts consistently and while his role on this team’s title run was undeniably huge, he doesn’t have quite as many obvious skills that translate to the pro game at this time. The biggest area where that could change is if he becomes a more reliable outside shooter and adds that as a bona fide weapon next to his toughness, rebounding and ability to attack off the dribble.
After a slow start, Wilson finished the season as KU’s second-leading scorer (11.1 points per game) and top rebounder (7.4 rebounds per game). He shot just 26.3% from 3-point range, though.
Outside of that group, the player with the most obvious immediate future is Dajuan Harris Jr., who will return for his junior season as KU’s unquestioned starting point guard with the potential to play three more seasons because of his initial redshirt and the COVID year that’s still available to him.
As for the future for KU’s underclassmen, it’s hard to know exactly what they’re thinking, but it sure seems likely that big roles await KJ Adams, Zach Clemence and Bobby Pettiford.
Self reminded Adams that he was on the floor for the final play of KU’s national championship win and noted that Adams was great in the limited playing time he got throughout the season. I've heard nothing but good things about Adams' feelings about Kansas and would expect him to put in a monster offseason to be ready for a big role next year.
Clemence, who spent chunks of the 2021-22 season battling injury, was called a pro prospect by Self on Thursday night and his ability as a long, tall, tough stretch 4 certainly could be viewed as a legitimate weapon for KU heading into Year 2.
Self’s love of Pettiford has never been in question. The injuries the KU point guard battled throughout the season did not change Self’s opinion that Pettiford has a chance to be “the next great guard” at KU, and he said those words again at Thursday’s banquet.
Combo guard Joseph Yesufu played some important minutes for the Jayhawks this season and, most importantly, now has a full year of playing for Self under his belt. His strength, speed and athleticism still seem like they could benefit the program and he talked at the parade about leadership being an area he wants to improve heading into next season.
In terms of scholarship guys, that leaves super-senior forward Cam Martin and freshman guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., two players who redshirted the 2021-22 season.
The whole reason Martin redshirted this season was so KU would have size and experience up front heading into the 2022-23 season. Self said Thursday that he thought then and still thinks today that Martin redshirting was a smart decision. A year in the system and the chance to learn from Self, Lightfoot and McCormack no doubt helped position the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward to be more comfortable heading into next season.
Outside of Braun and Wilson, Cuffe may be the biggest question mark on the entire roster. It’s hard to know exactly what kind of playing time will be there for him. It could be a lot and, if KU were to add another player through the portal, it could be very little. He came to KU a year early and Self said Thursday that he believes he’s going to be a very good college player because of his athleticism and IQ.
Assuming McCormack moves on, that opens up four scholarships — Lightfoot’s did not count last season — for the four signed freshmen KU is bringing to town in Gradey Dick, MJ Rice, Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh Jr.
If Self and company want to add another player via the transfer portal, at least one scholarship player currently on the roster would have to decide to move on – either by entering the NBA draft or via transfer.
That certainly could happen and it has happened a lot in recent years. But it’s also worth noting that Self would have to see something in the portal he likes a lot to move ahead with that kind of roster reconstruction.
One such name to watch in that area is SMU guard Kendric Davis, who was the American Athletic Conference player of the year after averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 37% from 3-point range last season.
Davis has both entered his name into the NBA draft pool and entered the transfer portal and several national reports have indicated that the cream of the crop in college basketball, including Kansas, already have reached out to him.
Adding Davis would be akin to what Kansas did by adding Remy Martin last season, even if it wouldn’t come with quite the same amount of hype and buzz. Still, Davis will be among the top available players in the transfer portal and most programs out there will at least check into his interest in joining them and how he might fit with their roster.
Expect Braun, McCormack and Wilson to all enter their names in the draft pool for now and expect the Kansas coaching staff to begin to put the wheels in motion for contingency plans that will cover them regardless of what those players, and possibly others, decide to do.
The guess here, at least as of today, is that McCormack moves on and Braun and Wilson return for another season, with Wilson being the most likely of the two to do that.
If that happens, KU will return three starters from a national championship team and add to that a recruiting class that ranks No. 3 overall per Rivals.com.
Buckle up, KU fans. Things might not get quite as crazy as they were last offseason, but it seems fairly certain that there will be some movement worth tracking that will impact the way the Jayhawks look heading into next season.