When news first broke, about a year ago, that KU would be representing the United States in the World University Games this summer, I was pretty pumped up about it. KU basketball in the summer, extra practice for the team, and a chance to get new players adjusted to the KU system before official practice even starts? What’s not to like? Who knows, maybe the summer work would sway a key recruit or two to select KU over a rival school.
Come this summer, though, my enthusiasm had waned a bit. Yes, it was cool that KU would get to represent the U.S. Yes, the month of practice and games could be a huge boost to the team next year, especially with the rules changes coming into effect in the college game next season. But, with the time difference, I realized I wouldn’t get to watch many of the games live. And while KU snagged a few spring recruits, only one of them was eligible to play in the games (Lagerald Vick) and he is a kid who likely won’t play much for a year or two. So there was no top 5, difference making recruit (Jaylen Brown, Malik Newman, or Brandon Ingraham for example) who made his college choice based on the extra month of work he would get at KU.
So for the last couple weeks I’ve caught up on games in the morning after they were completed. I recorded several of the games, but after reading Tweets and game stories, I didn’t see much need to go back and watch them in full.
Until this morning, that is. The gold medal game against Germany began at 8:00 Eastern, which was perfect for me to watch live. So it worked out quite nice that not only did I get to watch a super competitive game, but I got two overtimes to get the day started off right. Despite being utterly exhausted, KU/USA somehow got the game tied in both regulation and the first OT, then had a huge five-point trip when down three late in the second OT to grab the gold.
I tried to be laid back about the game, but I’ll admit I was pretty wound up during crunch time. My expectations were awfully low, between the recent lack of success by U.S. select teams in the event, and KU missing four players who will likely be in the team’s top eight or nine next fall. Go to South Korea, play hard, get some experience, and represent your country well. But go undefeated and win the gold? That seemed silly.
But I suppose this proves the adage that a good team that spends time together over several years, with a coaching staff and system in place, will always have an advantage over an All Star/Select team.
It’s a shame a lot of us only saw this game. Because, by all accounts, Wayne Selden was phenomenal through the first seven games of the event. Today he looked tired from the beginning, leaving outside shots short, missing attempts at the rim, and even unable to get high enough to finish a perfect lob pass in the first OT. But he also played his ass off, hit the go-ahead 3 in the second OT, and knocked down some important free throws.
It sure seemed like Hunter Mickelson played with confidence he’s rarely shown before as well. Freshman Carlton Bragg played some valuable minutes and showed tremendous toughness, playing the entire tournament with a broken nose. Those minutes will, hopefully, help make his first season of college ball just a little but easier. That kid is going to be really good if he can add strength and is smart enough to spend at least two years in college.
How this will all pay off for the Jayhawks over the next year is still a question. The boost of confidence could finally turn Selden into the player so many expected him to be when he arrived two years ago with Wiggins and Embiid. Frank Mason just proved to the world what college fans already knew: he’s a bad man, especially in crunch time.
But playing without Devonte’ Graham and Brannen Greene because of injuries, and Cheick Diallo and Svi Mykhailiuk because they aren’t Americans makes me wonder how big the long-term benefit will be. I imagine Svi has been working his ass off in Ukraine and in Lawrence all summer. He should be fine. But Diallo is likely the wild card in how good KU can be next year. Will he be able to jump right in and get up to speed in the fall? Or will be be even further behind everyone else? I admit I, like a lot of KU fans, am a little gun-shy about a big man making the move from high school to college after Cliff Alexander’s struggles last year.
That’s off in the distance a bit, though. The important thing is they went out and swept every game they played and won the gold. Nicely done!
A few other observations from ESPNU’s broadcast:
• The announcers kind of sucked. But they were like the X, Y, or Z team and, I believe, were calling the action from the U.S. Perhaps that’s why they so often confused KU players for each other. But Perry Ellis and Hunter Mickelson really don’t look much alike. You could hear one of the announcers breathing into his microphone constantly, too, which was crazy annoying.
• I know it’s tough to do these international feeds, but ESPN struggled with providing accurate clock and scoring info. And the audio from the arena was terribly muted.
• Loved the international rules, for the most part. The shorter shot clock forced action. While college is going to 30 seconds and the WUG was played with a 24-second clock, I think we’ll see similar improvements in game pace. LOVED the time out rules. Players can’t call time outs and no live ball timeouts. Throw in the smaller number of time outs each team has available, and there were a lot fewer breaks in the action for no reason.
• Refereeing was odd. They’d call moving the pivot foot super closely for a couple minutes, then not call clear travels moments later. But I appreciated the lack of video reviews grinding the game to a halt.
• Another ESPN beef. On the ticker, there was a periodic entry for “Facts To Know” for the upcoming college football season. On July 13. And some of them weren’t even facts. They offered odds on Ohio State and Alabama going undefeated. Odds are not facts, even in Vegas.
• Why does Brett Favre do ads for a razor company when he is sporting a big, gray beard in his ads for the copper back brace wrap? Why should I take his word on what razors to buy when he clearly isn’t a regular user?
• Finally, I laughed at Bill Self’s insistence last month that he would play lots of different combinations of guys and “go over there and have fun.” That may not be an exact quote, but it’s close. Like he, or any other coach of an elite program, is going to go to any competition and not try to win it. He, Coach K, Ol’ Roy, Izzo, etc. are all way too competitive to just go over and let their walk-ons play more minutes than their blue chippers.
Whether this is a boon to KU next season remains to be seen. But it was an awfully good way to spend a few weeks in the summer. Is it a national championship or a Final Four? Of course not.  I would imagine most KU fans would have traded eight losses in Korea for a trip to the Final Four next year. And while I’m sure the players will cherish this go,d medal the rest of their lives, I doubt the kids who played for Duke last season would swap places with them.
Still, it was pretty cool.
Rock Chalk, bitches!
- One person kept claiming on Twitter this was bigger than a national title, because it was for the entire country. First off, I imagine about 99% of Americans had no idea they were being represented in the WUGs by KU. Second off, that dude is either being intentionally difficult or pushing his love of country just a little too far. ↩