Jayhawks reload after losing Embiid, Wiggins
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Bill Self has replaced five starters and won the Big 12 title. He has replaced first-round draft picks, post stars and point guards, and kept winning Big 12 titles.
Now, he's replacing a pair of lottery picks in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
You can bet he still plans on Kansas contending for its 11th straight Big 12 title.
''We don't have anyone as talented as Wiggins and Embiid,'' Self said during the Jayhawks' media day Thursday, ''but we've got guys that might end up being as good as they were.''
Wiggins and Embiid weren't the only departures. Andrew White III transferred to Nebraska, Naadir Tharpe skipped off to the NBA D-League, and Justin Wesley, Tarik Black and Niko Roberts all graduated, leaving plenty of minutes for Self to fill.
Freshman forward Cliff Alexander has the potential to be a lottery pick. Swingman Kelly Oubre can fill up the basket. And perhaps most importantly, Self believes he may have his best point guard in years in another freshman, Devonte' Graham.
''Cliff's a little taller and needs to learn to go after the ball with hunger,'' Self said, when comparing him to former All-America forward Thomas Robinson. ''If Graham is half the point guard (Aaron) Miles was, I'd be absolutely elated.''
Oubre does things that aren't typical of a wing, grabbing offensive boards and posting up. He may slide nicely into the spot that Wiggins filled as a freshman last season.
''It's hard to make a true evaluation,'' Self said. ''The guy is really good. He's not going be at Kansas for a long time.''
Throw in Ukrainian youngster Svi Mykailiuk, who played for the Ukraine against the U.S. roster of Derrick Rose and Co. in the World Cup, and that's quite a class.
''It's hard to make a true evaluation,'' Self said. ''The guy is really good. He's not going to be at Kansas for a long time.''
The freshmen are certain to grab the headlines, but there are plenty of big-name players who are coming back from a team that struggled at times last season - yet still won the Big 12 championship - and was eliminated on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Shooting guard Wayne Selden began to blossom late last season, and junior Perry Ellis is coming off a breakout year. Fellow junior Jamari Traylor may be the most vocal leader of the bunch, a bruiser in the paint who has continued to grow.
''I just want to come out there and help the young guys learn,'' Traylor said. ''I got to step up and be a bigger leader this year. I'm looking forward to that, stepping up to the challenge, but we are still a pretty young team for the most part. I'm going to do my best to help out.''
That could be vital on a team that doesn't have a senior on scholarship.
That doesn't mean there isn't experience, though. Selden, Ellis and Traylor all played significant minutes last season, and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson and forward Landen Luca will provide two more big bodies on what should be a post-dominated team.
Mickelson, a redshirt junior, blocked 69 shots his freshman year with the Razorbacks. That's comparable to the 72 that Embiid blocked last season.
''I'm just going to take it as it goes,'' Mickelson said. ''I'm not going to try to force too much. I'm going to go with what I know and help the team however I can.''
Self made plenty of comparisons of current players to former players on Thursday, but he threw out one more for the team. He said that the talent could rival what the Jayhawks had in 2008, the year they won the national championship.