Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.
Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.
“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.
“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”
Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.
Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.
Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.
Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.
Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.
“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.
With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.
Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.
Kansas has started its 2017 recruiting class with a top-50 guard.
Marcus Garrett, a 6-foot-6 guard from Dallas, committed to the Jayhawks on Monday, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.
“Marcus Garrett is a great start for Kansas in the Class of 2017 because they need a lot of perimeter options,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “At 6-foot-6, Garrett is versatile enough to play multiple spots as Kansas needs to reload with a lot of perimeter players in this class.
“A tall point guard who can also play off the ball a bit, Garrett will have to improve his jumper, but he has a lot of upside. Garrett came on strong this summer and is trending upward.”
Garrett chose the Jayhawks over the likes of Baylor, Iowa State, Texas and SMU, among others. He gives Kansas a solid start to a 2017 class in which the Jayhawks will, per usual, be competing for some of the top players in the country against fellow blue bloods.
He’s also an important add in that Kansas will be losing guard Frank Mason III to graduation and Devonte Graham could flirt with the NBA as well. Malik Newman, the highly-touted transfer from Mississippi State, will also be eligible for the first time in Lawrence starting with the 2017-18 season.
One of the top points guards in the Class of 2017 has trimmed his list of potential collegiate destinations to six.
Trae Young, a consensus top-25 recruit, listed Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oklahoma State and Kentucky as the schools he is considering as he readies to begin his senior year of high school.
The list of the 6-foot-2 point guard is largely provincial as it includes Oklahoma, whose campus is just minutes away from Young’s Norman North High School, and fellow in-state school Oklahoma. Another pair of Big 12 schools make the list in powerhouse Kansas and the Red Raiders, whose first-year coach, Chris Beard, has spent the bulk of his career working in Texas. Texas Tech is also Young’s father’s alma mater. Washington has been on a role sending its players to the pros and recently received the commitment of top-five 2017 recruit Michael Porter, Jr.
Kentucky, of course, needs no explanation as to its attractiveness to high-level players.
Kansas is looking to add big men to its roster and the Jayhawks landed a future player to its roster on Friday. Liberty sophomore big man Evan Maxwell is transferring to Kansas after averaging 10.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, Maxwell said to Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World.
Maxwell was a much-improved player as a sophomore for the Flames, as he became a starter and averaged 21.5 minutes per game. The 245-pound Maxwell now has to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules as he’ll have to add strength and improve his skill level to make the transition to the Big 12.
Adding Maxwell gives Kansas another big man in its rotation for a few seasons for now and also gives them another body in practice to work with this season. Kansas is still trying to add to its recruiting efforts in the Class of 2016 as they’ll continue to search for players to add to its talented roster.
Kansas junior Brannen Greene plans to enter the NBA draft and hire an agent, the school announced Wednesday.
“I certainly understand Brannen making this decision. We wish him nothing but the very best,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “He has an NBA skill that I think will translate very well to the next level. We appreciate his efforts during his time at Kansas.”
Greene has the look and skill set of a 3-and-D wing in the NBA with a 6-foot-7 frame and a 3-point shooting percentage over 40 the last two years, including a 49.2 percent mark this past season. Still, he rarely had much opportunity to display it over long stretches while at Kansas, never averaging more than 15 minutes a game and actually seeing his playing time dip this past season.
He often was located in Self’s doghouse., getting suspended one game last year and again for six games this season following a “contentious and prolonged argument over playing time” in November. When Greene dunked late in a blowout February win over rival Kansas State, Self went on the school’s post-game radio broadcast and called it “probably the biggest (expletive) move I’ve ever had a player do during the game.”
In short, a parting of the ways may be best – and inevitable – for both sides here.