Kansas’ player development is nation’s best because Bill Self is selfish?

12 Comments

John Calipari has built the Kentucky program into the HOV lane for high school prospects. To avoid the traffic jam that the one-and-done rule has turned college basketball into on their road to the NBA, those that are good enough simply take Coach Cal up on his offer. Spend one season in his hardcore, high-intensity training program disguised as two semesters as a “student-athlete” and you’ll be shaking David Stern’s hand in no time.

Kentucky is the place to go if the only thing standing between you and the first round is that pesky age limit.

But along those same lines, Cal’s greatest skill is as a salesman. He convinces these kids to play for Kentucky, and he gets them to buy in to a team concept for seven months and some 30-odd games. And while there’s no doubt that those superstar freshmen have gotten better under his watch, let’s be honest: I could have coached Anthony Davis or John Wall for a year and they still would have been the top pick in their respective drafts. Cal’s most impressive feat coaching Demarcus Cousins was controlling him between the ears, not between the lines.

My point?

For all CBT’s NBA Draft coverage and series on player development, click here

Kentucky has become a factory for first round picks because of the brand that they’ve built more than as a result of the program’s ability to develop talent. In other words, they’re the nation’s best NBA holding tank; they’re not the nation’s best NBA breeding grounds.

That title belongs to Kansas and Bill Self.

Since 2007, Kansas has had 13 players drafted, eight of whom have gone in the first round. That’s before you factor in Ben McLemore, who is projected to be taken as high as No. 2 this year, and Jeff Withey, whom Draft Express currently has going late in the first round. Two more players — Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson — have spent time playing in the NBA despite going undrafted. Do the math, and 17 players from Self’s first nine recruiting classes have played in the NBA.

Not impressed yet? How about this for a stat: since Bill Self’s first recruiting class in 2004, there have only been five rotation players that he’s brought into the program that didn’t play in the NBA and that didn’t transfer out of Kansas — Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little, Rodrick Stewart and Connor Teahan.

Now, Self hasn’t exactly been recruiting D-III athletes and magically turning them into first round picks. He’s landed 10 players that Rivals has rated as five-star recruits, and Kansas always ranks near the top of the annual recruiting class rankings. Hell, he’d have the best recruiting class in the country this season — headlined by Andrew Wiggins, who will be flanked by two other five-star recruits — if it wasn’t for Kentucky.

But when you look at the numbers a little closer, six of those 10 five-star recruits entered the program between 2004 and 2006. Only two of those ten were considered one-and-done locks, and both of them — Josh Selby and Xavier Henry — ended up having disappointing seasons in Lawrence.

If Kentucky has built their brand around being the NBA’s premier layover destination, Kansas has become defined by its ability to turn those that are overlooked and underhyped into NBA players; the top 50 and top 100 recruits that don’t get at much attention nationally until they have spent a year or two in Lawrence. The Cole Aldrichs, the Morris twins, the Thomas Robinsons, the McLemores and the Witheys.

“That’s something that we take great pride in, our individual development,” Self told NBCSports.com by phone this week. “We base everything off of what NBA teams are looking for and the things that they put their players through, and our assistant coaches do an unbelievable job with that program.”

The way Self sees it, all of this success can be traced back to one, simple fact: that he’s looking out for himself?

“I’m a very selfish coach and a very selfish person in that I want to win, just like all coaches out there want to win,” he explained. “The best way you win is to put the best team on the floor, and in order to put the best team on the floor, your players have to get better.”

“The biggest thing with our program, when guys get here, they’re not good enough. They’ve gotta get better. No matter how fast you are, you’re not fast enough. No matter how quick you are, you’re not quick enough. No matter how high you jump, you don’t jump high enough. No matter what you shoot, you’ve gotta get better. The whole deal is getting better.”

Self is arguably the best coach in all of college basketball. His staff is as good as any staff in the country, and that includes a world class strength and conditioning coach. All of that makes a difference. It gives his players the best tools to develop their craft and the best teachers to learn from. But in the end, it’s really not all that different than what every program in the country is doing. There’s only so many variations of squats; how many different drills do you really need to learn how to shoot a pull-up jumper going left?

What sets Kansas apart is that the players in the program have bought into what Self is selling them.

“I would say coming from high school into Kansas, I didn’t really expect myself to be in this position of being a lottery pick, a top five pick,” McLemore told NBCSports.com this week. He was in a unique position, however. A top 50 recruit, McLemore had good enough grades to get admitted into Kansas but he didn’t qualify to play as a freshman. That meant that the entirety of his first year in Lawrence would be spent hitting the books and hitting the gym, all without the reward of playing in front of a packed Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

McLemore credited his “stick-to-it-iveness and hard work” for his success, saying that the Kansas staff not only taught him what skills he needed to work on to improve, they taught him how hard he had to work to do it. “They helped me mature a lot,” he said, “helped me better my game, each and every day. You want to learn so much in Coach Self’s system and the Kansas system. That’s what I did, I wanted to learn so much. It helps a lot, on and off the court.”

More than anything, work ethic is what is valued at Kansas. But to hear Self tell it, work ethic is one of the hardest things for him to evaluate on the recruiting trail. “When you put kids in certain environments,” he said, “then their competitive spirit will start to shine. When you put them around other people that enjoy doing the things that they’re being asked to do, it becomes more of a habit.”

It’s that environment, as much as Self’s coaching, that has fostered the development of so many Jayhawks over the years. “The names change,” he said, “but the expectations don’t.” And those expectations are what fuels the program’s fire.

Kansas has won at least a share of nine straight Big 12 regular season titles. They’ve won six Big 12 tournament titles during that stretch. There’s not a single player in the Kansas program that wants to be associated with the infamy of being on the team that snaps that streak. It’s the perfect motivational tool.

“There’s never a lackadaisical day,” Self said. “The attitude is, ‘Hey, let’s get to work’, whether it’s for 20 minutes or three hours, it makes no difference. We’ve gotta get better during that time.”

It’s a perfect storm, really.

The best coaching, the best training and a culture that’s defined by a ‘you only get out what you put in’ mentality.

That’s the secret to Kansas’ success in player development.

And to think, it all stems from a selfish head coach.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 2 Arizona loses third-straight, falls to No. 19 Purdue in Battle 4 Atlantis

Chris Coduto/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Dakota Mathias scored 24 points to help No. 18 Purdue roll past No. 2 Arizona 89-64 in the seventh-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, sending the Wildcats home with three losses in three days.

The Boilermakers (5-2) had struggled with their shooting through two tournament losses of their own, but shot 57 percent and made 11 of 22 3-point attempts in a break-loose performance.

Carsen Edwards added 22 points in what could have been a possible title-game matchup in the eight-team tournament. Instead, the Boilermakers and Wildcats found themselves playing the final game just to salvage a win.

Now, shockingly, Arizona (3-3) is the lone team leaving the Bahamas with an 0-3 tournament record.

Freshman Deandre Ayton had 22 points before fouling out for the Wildcats, while junior Allonzo Trier — who came in averaging 27.8 points — finished with just eight on 3-for-10 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: Paradise turned into a total nightmare for Arizona. There was the opening-game 90-84 loss to North Carolina State that left coach Sean Miller frustrated by his team’s poor defense. Then there was the loss to SMU in which the Wildcats undercut any defensive gains by failing to secure stop-ensuring rebounds. This time, his team offered meager defensive resistance to a hot-shooting team that quickly gained confidence with each possession. And that raises the question: how far will the Wildcats fall in Monday’s AP Top 25? Or will they stay in the rankings at all?

The last time that a team went from No. 2 to unranked was in November of 1986, when defending champion Louisville fell out of the polls.

Purdue: The Boilermakers couldn’t hold leads in their first-round overtime loss to Tennessee, then got out-toughed in a loss to Western Kentucky. Still, Mathias had insisted there was plenty to play for. His team came out and proved it, playing with a free-flowing confidence while knocking down open look after open look to reboot their suddenly sputtering offense. Purdue shot just 39 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc in the first two tournament games, but had no trouble tearing through Arizona’s defense.

UP NEXT

Arizona: The Wildcats host Long Beach State on Wednesday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers host No. 19 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday.

Marvin Bagley III’s 34-point outburst carries No. 1 Duke to overtime win vs. Texas

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

What was billed as a matchup between potential No. 1 picks Marvin Bagley III and Mo Bamba turned into a showcase for the talents of the former, as MB3 went for 34 points and 15 boards to lead No. 1 Duke to an 85-78 overtime win over Texas in the semifinals of the PK80 tournament in Portland.

The Blue Devils had dug themselves a 43-31 hole and trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but that changed once Duke figured out that Texas had no way to stop their big freshman. His 34 points tied him with J.J. Redick for the Duke freshman record.

Gary Trent Jr. added 17 points for the Blue Devils, who lost senior Grayson Allen to fouls with two minutes left in the game. Coach K played the final two minutes and overtime with five freshmen on the floor.

Texas was led by Dylan Osetkowski, who finished with 19 points. The 6-foot-9 Tulane transfer played well, but a couple of questionable decisions and a missed dunk cost Texas some points; their 16-point lead should have been closer to 25. Bamba finished with nine points and 10 boards, but he fouled out in regulation and struggled to make as much of an impact as the other three big men that were on the floor.

Duke will play the winner of tonight’s No. 7 Florida vs. No. 17 Gonzaga game in the final of the PK80’s Motion bracket.

Here are five things we can takeaway from the game on Friday night:

1. Grayson Allen fouling out was the best thing that could have happened to Duke: Duke is an exceptionally young team. We’ve been this before, but it bears repeating because they youth showed up on Friday afternoon. There are six freshmen in the rotation. There are two sophomores in the rotation, neither of whom played a big role as freshmen. And there is Allen.

That’s it.

That’s Duke’s entire rotation.

On Friday, Allen played all of 25 minutes due to foul trouble. He fouled out with two minutes left in regulation. He was on the bench in overtime. And what that meant was that Duke’s youngsters got thrown into the fire in a nationally-televised tournament game. They were forced to be the ones to make winning plays, and for 20 of the 45 minutes that were played on Friday, they were not able to rely on Allen to be the one to do it for them.

Trevon Duval looked up to the task once again. Bagley, despite taking a stupid 23-footer with five seconds left in regulation, was totally dominant down the stretch. Gary Trent Jr. scored a critical and-one with a minute left that gave Duke their first lead since the first possession of the game. Wendell Carter made some important plays. Alex O’Connell was probably the biggest beneficiary. He played 29 minutes and made one of the most important plays of the game, chasing down a loose ball that eventually wound up in Allen’s hands for a three that sparked Duke’s comeback.

Those guys needed that, and it will help Duke in the long run.

2. Duke’s defense is a major problem once again: It was terrible on Friday night. No wonder Coach K is becoming reliant on a 2-3 zone. Defense rotations were slow. Guards were getting beaten one-on-one. Big men were lost defending the pick-and-roll. Their transition effort was, frankly, terrible. The thinking before the start of the season was that the presence of Bagley at the four and Duval at the point would make this group more efficiency defensively, but through two weeks that does not appear to be the case.

3. Texas gave this game away: This one is going to sting for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns, because they should have had this game won. Texas was up by 16 points in the middle of the second half, and frankly, they weren’t even playing that well. As good as Dylan Osetkowski was, he settled for far too many jumpers, missed a dunk and turned the ball over trying to throw a lob to Mo Bamba when he should have just laid the ball in. Bamba fired up two ill-advised threes of his own, while Matt Coleman shot 1-for-12 from the floor and Andrew Jones made some poor decisions.

Put another way, Texas had Duke on the ropes and couldn’t finish them off. Instead, they let Duke hang around close enough to put together a second-half run that salvaged what was an otherwise underwhelming performance. If the Longhorns find themselves on the bubble come March, they are going to regret failing to land a win over the No. 1 team in America.

4. Mo Bamba has insane tools, but his motor is a question: The potential that Bamba has as a defender is unreal. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan and has the footspeed to be able to, in theory, hedge ball-screens and even switch when he needs to. He’s a unicorn prospect on the defensive end of the floor, and his offensive repertoire is, at the very least, intriguing. He’s got a soft touch and has shown enough as a three-point shooter that he wasn’t taken out on either of his misses on Friday.

But there are some issues with his motor. It’s not that he’s soft, and it’s not that he isn’t competitive, but there is just something about the way that he plays. He’s nonchalant. The word that Mike Schmitz of ESPN uses is “casual”. He has a habit of coasting, and it will be interesting to see if spending the rest of the year being coached by Shaka Smart can break him of that habit.

5. Coaching freshmen is hard: This should be the biggest takeaway from Friday night. Duke was a mess on the defensive end of the floor. Texas wasn’t much better. Coleman was a trainwreck offensively. Bamba fouled out in 20 minutes. There’s a reason that the saying goes, ‘the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.’ Coach K has learned that the hard way in recent years. Shaka Smart is in the middle of the crash course.

After win over No. 15 Xavier, is Arizona State the Pac-12’s best team?

David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

On a day that the Pac-12 desperately needed some good things to happen for the league, Arizona State provided it.

Tra Holder popped off for 40 points and Bobby Hurley’s four-guards provided a total of 91 points as the Sun Devils erased a 15-point first half deficit before running No. 15 Xavier out of Las Vegas, 102-86. It was the second time this season that Holder has scored more than 35 points, and after adding four assists, four boards and three steals, he’s now averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 boards, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals.

Hurley also has Shannon Evans on this team, and after putting up 22 points on the Musketeers, Evans is averaging 19.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. Kodi Justice, who had 28 points in a win over Kansas State in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational, is averaging 15.5 points this season, and that doesn’t even factor in Romello White, De’Quan Lake or Remy Martin, who are all capable of putting up 20 points on a given night.

Put another way, Arizona State has scored at least 90 points in every game that they’ve played this season.

There may not be a more potent scoring team in college basketball this season.

And it begs the question: Is Arizona State actually the best team in the Pac-12?

We wrote about it this morning. The Pac-12 has had a rough go of it this week. Arizona lost twice in the Battle 4 Atlantis. UCLA lost their opener to Creighton in the Hall Of Fame Classic. Oregon got beaten by UConn. Cal was blown out by Chaminade. Oregon State fell to St. John’s and Long Beach State. It’s been rough out west.

Unless you hail from Tempe, where the Sun Devils are now 6-0 on the season with a blowout win over a Xavier team that, despite pooping the bed on Friday night, look like a team that could legitimately test Villanova in the Big East.

If you want my take on Arizona State, it’s really pretty simple: On the nights where Tra Holder and Shannon Evans get it rolling, there isn’t going to be much anyone can do. They’re nearly impossible to guard. They make tough threes off the dribble, they can get into the lane and finish amongst the trees, and if you try and help on a drive or trap a ball-screen, they are both willing a capable passers. We saw it on Thanksgiving, when Kansas State held them in check while allowing Justice to hit for 28 points and White and Lake to combine for 30 points and 11 offensive rebounds.

Put another way, on their best night Arizona State is going to be able to beat just about anyone in college basketball this season.

The question is what happens on the nights when those two don’t look like a back court made up of Steph Curry and Allen Iverson.

They beat Kansas State when Evans and Holder combined to shoot 6-for-23 from the floor, but I’m not exactly sure that beating Kansas State is all that impressive.

At the very least, we know that there is going to be a fifth team in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 standings, and that if Arizona, UCLA and USC don’t figure out their issues, there will be someone there to take advantage.

POSTERIZED: Texas guard Kerwin Roach throws down Dunk of the Year candidate on Duke (VIDEO)

Screengrab via ESPN
Leave a comment

Kerwin Roach is one of the best dunkers in college basketball, and he was at it again on Saturday afternoon in the PK80, as he went soaring in to throw down a dunk in the face of Duke forward Javin DeLaurier:

Luke Maye’s career-high 28 paces No. 9 North Carolina past Arkansas

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In hindsight, maybe we were a little too concerned about Luke Maye’s ability to anchor North Carolina’s front court.

In the toughest test that the Tar Heels have faced to date this season, Maye turned out the game of his life. He finished with career-highs of 28 points and 16 boards while tying a career-high with five assists and knocking down four threes as the No. 9 Tar Heels took care of Arkansas, 87-68, in the semifinals of the PK80.

The Tar Heels will advance to face the winner of this evening’s No. 4 Michigan State-UConn game.

But the story here is Maye, who became the first North Carolina player since Antawn Jamison to post 100 points and 50 boards in a season’s first five games. On the season, he’s averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 2.8 assists. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from three and nearly 60 percent from the floor. On a team that features a potential first-team all-american and the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Joel Berry II, it’s been Maye who has been the star of UNC’s season to date.

And there’s no reason to believe that this is a fluke, either.

Maye had 26 points and 10 boards in a win over a Northern Iowa team that just beat SMU and N.C. State. He had 20 points, nine boards and four assists against a good Bucknell team. He had 12 points, nine boards and five assists in a win at Stanford. And, of course, there was Friday afternoon’s performance.

What makes Maye’s development so important is the reliance of big men in Roy Williams’ system. He is one of the only high-major coaches that still builds his team around two big men. He values rebounding above all else. He runs his offense through post touches. The crux of his transition offense is the ability of his big men to beat their defenders down the floor.

Maye not only can do all of that, but his ability to make threes helps to space the floor.

After the year that he had last season, it’s not all that surprising that Maye was able to step in and have success this year.

But if you’re going to tell me that you thought Luke Maye would be doing this, I’m going to need to see the receipts.