Looking Forward: Is Bill Self the right coach for a one-and-done star like Josh Jackson?

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

As we take a look at ahead at the 2016-17 season, we’re also going to take a deeper dive into what we think will end up being some of the biggest storylines next season. Today, we’re talking about Kansas and whether or not Bill Self has earned the reputation he has with one-and-done freshmen.

Last week, we looked at Duke and the potential for a 40-0 season.

The consensus among college basketball observers is that Duke and Kentucky are the two programs that, right now, are recruiting better than anyone in the sport.

They’re the teams that can lose three — or four or five or six — players to the NBA Draft and find a way to reload their roster enough to compete for league titles and Final Fours the following season. Kentucky had cornered the market on one-and-done prospects until Duke and Coach K decided to throw their hat into the mix, and on Tuesday, I wrote a column about the tension that the rivalry has created on the recruiting trail.

But nowhere in there did I mention Kansas, and I’d be willing to wager that there aren’t many hoops pundits or recruitniks that would tell you the Jayhawks are on the same level as Duke and Kentucky when it comes to bringing in elite talent.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s not Bill Self’s ability to put together strong recruiting classes. Kansas is the best in the country at gathering the leftovers once Duke and Kentucky have picked through the kids they want from each class. In the 11 recruiting classes since the one-and-done era went into effect in 2006 — the year Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were freshmen — Self has landed 15 five-star recruits, according to Rivals. (For comparison’s sake, John Calipari has landed 32 five-star recruits since he came to Kentucky in 2009 and Coach K has landed 20 since 2006, with 10 coming in the last three seasons.) Nine of those 15 kids have come in the last four recruiting classes, a stretch that has included six of the eight top ten recruits that Self has brought to Lawrence. Three times in the last seven years and twice in the last four seasons Self has landed the No. 1 recruit in the country.

The natural question to ask, then, is why so many consider Kansas to be a step below Duke and Kentucky in the current recruiting climate, but the more pressing question given the way that the 2016-17 college basketball season is taking shape is this: Can we trust Bill Self to make the most out of landing the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Josh Jackson?

The answer to the former is the reason why we even have to consider the latter.

Bill Self is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball. No one is going to argue that if they aren’t senile. The 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles that he has won, combined with the National Title that he won in 2008, are enough that he would be elected to the Hall of Fame if he were to retire today. Mark Few is the only coach to come close to putting together a streak like that, and even he hasn’t been able to win 12 straight regular season titles at Gonzaga. Say what you will about the strength of the Big 12, it’s a hell of a lot better than the WCC.

But this past season was the first time in a while — probably since the 2012 team — where it felt like Kansas had the rest of the conference outclassed, and that only happened late in league play, thanks to an 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season. In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in saying that the Jayhawks’ reign over the Big 12 is due the impossibility of winning a road game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse as much as anything else. They’re almost assured of going 9-0 at home in league play, which means that a 5-4 record on the road in conference will just about guarantee at the very least a share of the regular season crown. With Texas Tech and TCU at the bottom of the conference, and with the state of the current Kansas State and Oklahoma State programs, going 5-4 on the road in the Big 12 isn’t exactly a daunting task.

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The fact that Kansas has struggled in the NCAA tournament relative to expectations in recent seasons hasn’t helped, either. In the last four years — the four years where Self has done what he can to embrace the one-and-done ideal — Kansas has not made a Final Four. In 2013, they lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed. In 2014 and 2015, the Jayhawks lost in the second round as a No. 2 seed. This past season, they reached the Elite 8, where they lost to No. 2 seed — and eventual champion — Villanova as the No. 1 seed.

Bill Self has only made it to the Final Four twice in his career, and neither team had anything remotely close to a one-and-done player on it. When he won the title in 2008, his roster was so deep and so veteran-laden that future All-American Sherron Collins was the seventh man and future lottery pick Cole Aldrich couldn’t get off the bench. The 2012 team that reached the national title game was nowhere near as deep, but the only player on that roster that left school with eligibility remaining was junior and National Player of the Year runner-up Thomas Robinson.

Even the team that he had this past season, the one that lost in the Elite 8, was built entirely around veterans. There may not have been a first round pick on the roster, and the two marquee freshmen that he brought into the program — Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg Jr. — were somewhere between a bust and a bigger project that some expected.

Bragg was in a tough spot. He was never really thought of as a one-and-done caliber player and was stuck playing behind Perry Ellis, who may be the most under-appreciated player in the history of the Big 12 Conference. Diallo will look like a bust on paper, but his shortcomings were something that we probably should have seen coming. He doesn’t have a great feel for the game or a high basketball IQ — even I could pick out when he would forget what play Kansas was running or when he missed a defensive rotation. His success in high school came because he had a terrific motor and was bigger and more athletic than most of the kids he was playing against. As a slender, 6-foot-8 power forward with no discernible offensive skill set and a habit of forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, should we really be surprised that he struggled to get minutes?

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In and of itself, that’s not a big deal. The problem is that this year just added to the perception that Self doesn’t know how to coach one-and-done kids. Cliff Alexander was a top five recruit that turned out to be a massive bust. He finished the season ineligible and can currently be seen in street clothes behind the Portland Trailblazer bench during playoff games. Kelly Oubre, Xavier Henry and Andrew Wiggins — and, to a point, Wayne Selden — all had solid-to-really good careers at Kansas, even if they didn’t play out quite like many Jayhawk fans were hoping. Wiggins, in particular, was a victim of his hype and a guy whose legacy in college will forever be tarnished by the fact that Joel Embiid couldn’t stay healthy.

And who can forget about Josh Selby, who was Rivals’ No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2010 that missed the first nine games of his college career, averaging 7.9 points as a freshman and, after declaring for the draft, managed a whopping 38 games in the NBA before he was forced to find work overseas. He’s now a 25-year-old playing in Turkey while guys he was ranked in front of — Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, Enes Kanter — are playing critical roles on teams that have a shot to win the NBA title.

That’s why Self has the reputation that he does. That’s why there are people in recruiting circles that will tell you that Kansas doesn’t pick the kids that they want as much as they chase the highest-ranked and most talented players that Duke and Kentucky pass on.

And that’s why we have to ask the question: Is Bill Self the right man to coach Josh Jackson?

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

And to me, the answer is yes.

The player that Jackson is inevitably going to get compared to is Wiggins. They’re both Jayhawks. They were both ranked No. 1 in their class. They’re both big, athletic wings with otherworldly physical tools and a skill-set that is both very-much developing while still being advanced enough to allow them to play as a natural wing.

But here’s the thing that you may not realize: They’ll both play with Frank Mason as their point guard, and it’s Mason that will ultimately be the difference.

The team that Wiggins played on was an example of why relying on a new youth movement every season is risky. That team’s starting lineup included three highly-touted freshmen (Wiggins, Embiid and Selden), a talented-but-promising sophomore in Ellis and a junior point guard named Naadir Tharpe, who was no where near the veteran leader or steadying point guard presence that a roster like that needed in order to succeed. In other words, that Kansas team needed Wiggins to step in and be “The Guy” and, if his career has proven anything to this point, it’s that he’s not exactly wired to be “The Guy”.

Jackson is. He’s competitive as hell, he relishes the big moment, he wants the ball in his hands. He has all of those intangibles that coaches always rave about. There are many that believe that he can be a leader at the college level in his one-and-done season, but the reason we are so bullish on Kansas is that he’s not going to have to be.

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This is going to be Frank Mason’s team. He’s the senior point guard. He’s the bulldog. He’s the guy that sets the tone for that locker room. And if he doesn’t, than Landen Lucas or Devonte’ Graham will. Svi Mykhailiuk is back. Bragg is back. Hell, even Diallo may end up coming back.

In other words, Jackson may be the best player that Kansas has on their roster. He may better Wiggins’ 17.1 points and he may be a better perimeter defender as well. Hell, he’s probably going to end up being named to a number of Preseason All-American teams, and it’s not a stretch to think he could be the Preseason Player of the Year in the Big 12.

The expectation is going to be there.

But not only is Jackson more prepared to handle those kind of expectations, the burden that comes with them is nowhere near as heavy when you’re not being asked to lead the team, the be the alpha dog, from day one as well.

And in the end, that is what is going to be the difference for Jackson.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies


SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.