Summer exhibitions provided Kansas big man with needed playing time

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While his name may not be mentioned as often as those of Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander when people discuss the Kansas front court ahead of the 2014-15 season, Hunter Mickelson is another option looking to make his mark for head coach Bill Self. Mickelson, who began his college career at Arkansas, was forced to sit out last season per NCAA rules. And while he was able to practice against the likes of Ellis, Joel Embiid and Tarik Black, there’s a clear difference between practice and actual game experience.

With that being the case, Mickelson’s opportunity to play with the USA East Coast All-Stars this summer provided the big man with a good opportunity to not only shake off the rust that can accumulate as a result of sitting an entire season but to also apply what he’d learned during his time on the sidelines.

“My summer was fun to begin with, working out here, lifting weights, doing individuals (drills) and getting better. That (trip) added a high point to it for sure. I’d definitely recommend it,” said Mickelson, whose teammates were Damonte Dodd (Maryland), Mike Gesell (Iowa), Granville Gittens (Baruch), Dusty Hannahs (Arkansas), B.J. Johnson (Syracuse), Ty Johnson (South Carolina), John Monkam (Lycoming), Tyler Roberson (Syracuse), Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina) and Adam Woodbury (Iowa).

“I think all-around I’ve improved after (practicing but not playing in games) a year. Knowing the offense and knowing how things work around here as far as the basketball aspect, kind of settling in and kind of becoming part of the team I guess is what I probably got better at.”

In the linked story Mickelson also noted the impact that Self’s boot camp program, something the Jayhawks go through every offseason, had on his conditioning. That may be a bit surprising considering the high-paced system Mickelson played in at Arkansas, but the experience can help a player remain in good shape while unable to participate in games.

In two seasons at Arkansas the 6-foot-10 Mickelson averaged 5.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per contest. He may not enter the 2014-15 season with the expectations many will have for Ellis and Alexander, but Mickelson can certainly help the Jayhawks as they look to remain atop the Big 12 and rebound from a disappointing finish to the 2013-14 season.

Hunter Mickelson looks to crack Kansas rotation after sitting out last season

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With Joel Embiid and Tarik Black both moving on, Kansas will have room for front court contributors to step forward in 2014-15. Of course there’s returning starter Perry Ellis and elite freshman Cliff Alexander, and redshirt junior Jamari Traylor will also compete for more minutes. But there’s also junior Hunter Mickelson, who could do nothing but practice last season after transferring in from Arkansas.

In two seasons at Arkansas the 6-foot-10 Mickelson averaged 5.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, playing 16.6 minutes per game as a Razorback. The year away from game action provided Mickelson with the opportunity to hone his craft against some talented interior players, but it also has the transfer itching to contribute to a program that has won at least a share of the last ten Big 12 regular season titles.

In a story written by Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World, Mickelson also touched on the work he’s been able to do with Kansas strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy and how that’s impacted his physique.

“I actually kind of dropped a little bit (of weight) to kind of tone up. I put on a little too much when I was at Arkansas,” said Mickelson, who left Arkansas at 240 pounds. “My goal here was to increase strength and tone up a little bit. I feel a lot stronger. Our workouts with coach Hudy (Andrea, strength coach) have been great. I’ve been doing the best I can. I can definitely tell I’m getting stronger.”

Also of note in the story are the complimentary words of both head coach Bill Self and assistant Norm Roberts, with the latter stating that Mickelson can hit shots from the 15-18 foot range in “pick and pop” situations. How much of an impact can Mickelson have for Kansas next season? That remains to be seen, and the fight for minutes will clearly be fierce based upon who’s returning and the addition of Alexander.

But at the very least Mickelson gives Kansas another body in the front court, and each of those interior players will be important as the Jayhawks look to remain atop the Big 12.