Travis Releford, Bill Self

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

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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?

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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.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.