KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The official term would be crapola, more or less, although we’d also accept “baloney,” “bullroar,” or any number of censor-friendly adjectives that cut straight to a similar chase. The premise is that Kansas — mighty Kansas, King Ghidorah of the college basketball landscape — is somehow wounded or sullied by the fact that it hasn’t produced a genuine, bona fide NBA star since the Hinrich/Collison Era, some 10 years earlier.
The response is silence. Silence, followed by soft, scoffing chortles.
“I think that’s a coincidence,” NBA draftnik Aran Smith, the brains behind NBADraft.net, tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com.
“That’s not to say that (the Jayhawks’) system doesn’t attract players that are NBA, elite-level guys. I’d say it’s more coincidence. Somebody like Ben McLemore — I wouldn’t take recent history and discount him for that reason.”
In other words, if McLemore isn’t taken among the top five in Thursday’s NBA Draft — and that ain’t likely — it has nothing to do with the fact that he played at the same school as Xavier Henry or Josh Selby or Cole Aldrich. Or that Bill Self was his coach. Or that he was a product of some gimmicky collegiate offense that somehow managed to hide his flaws, as is so often the case with Big 12 quarterbacks, once they’re tossed into the deep end of the NFL’s kiddie pool.
“In the last five or six years, we’ve had guys taken in the (NBA) lottery, so I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” counters ex-KU guard Travis Releford, one of the many prospects hoping to hear his name called next week. “And next year, we’ll have the No. 1 pick (via incoming freshman Andrew Wiggins).”
But perceptions are hard to shake, and for some reason, a perception has built up in recent years among some corners of the hoops elite that Kansas is not as strong an NBA finishing school/steppingstone as, say, Kentucky or North Carolina.
Which, of course, is pure balderdash. Malarkey. Hogwash. Hell, take your pick.
Since 2005, 16 different Jayhawks have logged NBA minutes, a number that’s expected to grow by at least two in 2013 once McLemore and center Jeff Withey join the party. And it’s the same number of pros turned out by the Tar Heels over that same span. Yes, Kentucky has 22, but an astounding 10 of them have made their NBA debuts over the past two seasons. Coach Cal goes through backcourts the way Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends.
At any rate, it’s not a quantity thing. The knock, so to speak, is quality: Since 2005, only two Jayhawks have been drafted in the top 10. And in the Bill Self Era, now a decade old, only Mario Chalmers (27.1 career minutes per game, 8.4 points) and Brandon Rush (26.8, 9.1) have averaged at least 24 minutes and eight points in the NBA.
“I don’t think it matters,” Releford says. “If a guy is coming into the league and just (having to be) like Paul Pierce — a lot of other schools don’t have that, either. It’s more about how guys just shape up to be, I guess, when they get into the league.”
Different game. Different level. Different rules. Different biases. If anything, the middling NBA fates of recent KU players is more circumstantial than endemic. The pro game is shifting toward the little man again, toward speed and space and mobility, toward the shot-creators.
It’s certainly not a question of preparation, either mental or physical. Self is as demanding as they come, especially where defense and toughness are concerned.
Plus, one of the program’s unheralded weapons is the training regimen instituted by strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy, who helped mold NBA-ready physiques at Connecticut before joining the Jayhawks in 2004. Under Hudy’s tutelage, Withey morphed from a scrawny, 210-pound California beach-volleyball type into a take-no-prisoners, 235-pound shot-blocking machine.
“I feel well prepared and focused,” Releford says. “And after one of my workouts, I made sure to thank (Self), thank him for getting me ready throughout this process.”
And ask yourself this: If KU was so crummy at turning out pros, why would the presumed No. 1 pick in 2014 — Wiggins — bother to cast his gravity-defying lot in Lawrence?
“And I personally think he made a great decision to go to Kansas over Kentucky and some of the other teams,” Smith says of the 6-foot-7 freshman-to-be.
“There (are) so many players coming into Kentucky, whereas he’s really the unquestioned ‘top dog’ going to Kansas. I tend to think the system will benefit him just as much as the factory that they’ve got going up at Kentucky.”
Before he arrived in Lawrence, Self lured a pretty good point guard out of Texas by the name of Deron Williams to the University of Illinois. Whatever became of him, anyway?
“It seems like Self has proven himself as not only a great coach and had some great (NCAA) tournaments, but also done a great job with his talent,” Smith says. “He’s established himself. The general consensus among NBA people is that he’s one of the better coaches out there, as far as developing talent.”
And to say otherwise is just, well, straight poppycock. Pardon our French.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.