Some thoughts on the latest goings on with University of Kansas athletics.
I mostly sat out the search for the latest KU football coach. I was aware of the biggest names that were getting thrown around – Buffalo’s Lance Leipold and Army’s Jeff Monken – but I refused to invest much time or emotional energy into following the process.
I assumed whoever KU hired, it would be the wrong choice.
Thus, when KU announced Leipold as the man, I immediately texted some friends saying, “Should have hired the Army guy.”
Because odds are no matter how different this search was to the previous four, KU will still have managed to make the wrong choice, right? They were too cautious. Or too daring. Went too old. Or too young. Too much experience at the wrong level, or not enough experience period. Chose the offensive guy when they should have picked the defensive savant. Or vice versa. After ten years of always making the wrong choice, it’s hard to have any faith that this time will be any different.
Football people seem to think it was a good choice. Leipold isn’t flashy, but insiders say he possesses the traits needed to tackle the most difficult public school, Power 5 job in the country. He’s won by tweaking his offensive schemes to match his talent. He was immensely successful at lower levels of college football, and his process seemed to translate to a MAC school. The several million dollar question is can it translate to Kansas, where football coaches go to die?
There was a part of me that leaned towards Monken simply because he would, even if it wasn’t the full triple option he runs at Army, implement a run-first offense. I’ve long been a proponent of not using the same offensive concepts most of the Big 12 runs with the 10th best talent. Monken also, reportedly, had been planning explicitly for the KU job for several years.
A friend pointed out that going to a pure running offense immediately could destroy all the hard work that had gone into rebuilding the scholarship numbers, since most of the offense was recruited to run a passing system. KU has already lost some players to the portal since Leipold was announced, ironically most on the defensive side of the ball. Who knows if hiring Monken really would have created a mass exodus on offense, but from purely a roster retention standpoint, Leipold may have been the smarter choice.
Even if Leipold is 100% the right guy, any enthusiasm for his hire is tempered by knowing it will still take a lot of extremely hard work to generate even the smallest glimmer of hope for the program. It’s been a long 11 years. A lot of Saturdays of KU grads standing on soccer pitches, cross country courses, and other kid events, checking our phones and sighing as we see yet another blow-out loss in progress. A lot of weeks of putting the game on the TV and then switching to another one before the first quarter ends.
I just hope Leipold isn’t another total disaster, the latest in a long series. I want to believe he was the right hire. But it’s going to take more than some expert analysts lauding his track record to get me to think there’s any light at the end of the KU football tunnel.
We knew this was going to be a crazy-ass off season for every college hoops program, but I’m not sure I was prepared for what has gone on in Lawrence since the blow-out loss to USC.
Five players transferred out of the program.
Marcus Garrett passed on a fifth year of eligibility.
Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson are exploring their draft options. Initial expectation was that both would be back, but I’ve heard rumblings and sense some vibes on my own that at least one of them will not be back.
And then 190 new players have committed to play for KU next year. Or eight. Three of those kids were committed from the fall, four were new commits or transfers in the spring, and the eighth was a 2022 commit who decided to reclassify and come to Lawrence this summer.
KU also chased at least 10 other significant transfers or high school recruits who backed out on their initial commitments.
And in today’s KC Star, Bill Self said he could still add another player or two before next season.
It has been a dizzying two months.
The biggest addition came Monday when Arizona State’s Remy Martin – the most excellent name in college basketball! – announced that if he does not get drafted, he will play at KU next fall. Remy is a straight bucket getter, and exactly what KU needs. He’s not big, but is still an exceptional athlete and has four years of experience. Assuming he meshes with Self’s system and coaching and the personnel around him, he has the potential to make a solid KU team great.
Drake transfer Joesph Yesufu, another crazily athletic little guard, should also make a difference. Those go a long way toward meeting Self’s post-USC game goal of getting faster and more athletic. Best case is they are a smaller version of the Frank Mason III – Devonté Graham backcourt that was pretty good together.
As for the other transfers and incoming freshmen, well, I’m glad I’m not Self. I honestly don’t see how he manages the minutes to keep everyone happy next year. It’s sad when a national writer, while going through KU’s roster, already identifies two players as potential transfer candidates for next summer, and wonders if a third would join them if he doesn’t redshirt.
I get what Self is doing at the highest level: he’s trying to make next year’s team as competitive as possible. I think he hopes the freshmen who get pushed out of the rotation will take the long view and see that waiting one year to play sets them up for better success beyond that.
Self has always been relatively laid back about kids who don’t think they fit into the program leaving. It seems like he would rather them depart than become problems and relishes the challenge of trying to fill holes that open up late in the recruiting game. In other words, he’s won a lot more games than I have, so I’ll trust that he is prepared to deal with the headaches that will come with having so many talented players, plus some young players who need minutes to develop.
I struggle with this a little. I want KU to contend every season. The fluctuation in rosters is not just a KU thing this year. Recruiting has not been great the past three years due to the cloud of the NCAA investigation, and this has given Self and his staff a chance to make up for some misses.
If all these late additions don’t work out next year, though, I wonder if they were worth potentially sacrificing what was a very good freshman class and its success over the next 2–3 years. Perhaps bigger, if Self had been content to just add more freshmen and young transfers like Yesufu, he had set the program up nicely to deal with sanctions, if the NCAA ever gets around to resolving their case against KU. Now, if say a group of kids leave this time next year, that could really compound any scholarship and postseason restrictions that KU may have to deal with beyond 2022.
I have a few friends who are more perturbed by the craziness of this off-season. I get that. This feels more like the NBA free agency that what we expect from college hoops. I hope it is just a function of this one-off change in the transfer rules. However, transfer numbers have been going up for years. I think this is just what college sports are becoming, with kids committing earlier and earlier, then deciding to bail quicker and quicker when they don’t have a perfect experience once they get to campus.
At KU, Final Four banners are the standard for turning a good season into a great one. I think adding Remy, Yesufu, etc. put KU in a better position to add another banner in 2022. I hope that doesn’t set us back for 2023 and beyond.
Well, that was quick. Not too long after I first posted this, Iowa State senior Jalen Coleman-Lands announced he is transferring to KU. Which should likely ice Ochai Agbaji not returning. It could be Jalen Wilson (or both), but as Coleman-Lands is the same size as Ochai, that swap makes the most sense.
That’s a bummer from the Ochai perspective because I don’t think he’s anywhere close to being an NBA player, and it sucks for a local kid who seems like a terrific person to leave before his four years are up. But if his goal is to play in the NBA, he must have decided the best path to that is getting paid to play in the G-League, in Australia, or in Europe and not have to share the ball and go to class at KU. I hope things turn out well for him.
Speaking of swaps, I suppose this means KU traded one year of Coleman-Lands for three of Tristan Enaruna, who will be a Cyclone next year.
From my family’s perspective, the biggest part of this news is that Coleman-Lands played two years at Cathedral High School before transferring to La Lumiere Academy in LaPorte, leading the Irish to a state runner-up finish his sophomore year. I should get M and C jerseys to wear on college days next year!
He is also a year older than Svi Mykhailiuk, who just finished his third year in the NBA. Weird ass times.