Ready for responsibility

In order to determine the importance of the newcomers to the University of Kansas basketball team this season, all one has to do is apply a little logic - and some quick math.

Not that Head Coach Bill Self has a crystal clear picture of exactly how his rotation will shake out, with just a few practices under his belt at the time of this writing. But some realities are inescapable.

"If you look at our team, we've only got 10 guys on scholarship," Self said Oct. 18 at Big 12 Media Day. "So that could tell you that there's only going to be one or two guys that don't play much out of that 10. Or maybe just one. So I think they're all important."

In recent years, the Kansas Jayhawks have certainly been a testament to the unpredictable nature of the recruiting world. Following the national championship of 2008, many wondered how Self and his staff would replace the loss of so many prolific talents to graduation and the NBA, players such as Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasah Kaun.

But along came Marcus and Markieff Morris, who committed to Self following a visit to Lawrence, Kan. for the 2007 iteration of 'Late Night in the Phog.' Later in the process, the staff added Tyshawn Taylor - an athletic point guard out of Hoboken, N.J. who was previously committed to Marquette. There were others in the class of 2008, such as current junior Travis Releford, but those three became fixtures in the lineup immediately and helped ensure the Jayhawks never missed a beat.

The Class of 2011 played out in a somewhat similar fashion.

Kansas jumped in on Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy point guard Naadir Tharpe not long before the early signing period began in November 2010, and it didn't take the Top 100 floor general much time at all to decide he wanted to be a Jayhawk.

From there, on the outside at least, recruiting slowed. The Jayhawks tore it up on the court, emerging as a favorite for the 2011 NCAA title, but no new commitments were forthcoming. And as most of the obvious choices came off the board, observers again began to wonder how the program would replace the Morris Twins - who by this point had developed into two of the top big men in the country and, eventually, NBA lottery picks - as well as freshman Josh Selby and seniors Mario Little, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed.

If Self has proven anything on the recruiting trail during his tenure at Kansas, it's that he's relentless. One can never count him out, as he always seems to find a way to fill in the gaps, and that trend continued in the spring.

St. Louis-native Ben McLemore was the next domino to fall Kansas' way. Recruited longer by the coaching staff than perhaps any other prospect in the class, the Jayhawks eventually outlasted Missouri for the 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing's services - and fans rejoiced. McLemore was a national name, having blown up on the AAU circuit with his highlight reel dunks and deep shooting touch, and an important pickup.

Then came Canadian big man Braeden Anderson, just a week after McLemore gave his verbal commitment. The unheralded power forward received a great deal of attention late in the process, from the likes of Arizona, Kentucky and Mississippi State among others.

And then, three more signees in rapid succession. From May 18 to June 22, Kansas picked up Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy power forward Jamari Traylor, junior transfer Kevin Young - who played his first two seasons at Loyola Marymount - and west coast swing man Merv Lindsay - who impressed the staff with his performance during AAU events in the spring.

Somehow, Self and Co. had done it again. Through a combination of hard work and good fortune, they'd assembled a six man recruiting class that filled all of their positional needs with talent - if not experience - and Jayhawk Nation, always with an eye toward the future, breathed a little easier.

Unfortunately, complications arose in the weeks that followed. With Tharpe, Young and Lindsay firmly ensconced on campus during the summer, word begin to filter out that Anderson, McLemore and Traylor had yet to receive academic clearance from the NCAA.

On Sept. 16, the ruling came down on Anderson, deeming him a partial qualifier - making him eligible for financial aid and possibly the right to participate in team activities - excepting actual competition - during the second semester.

As a partial qualifier, however, his financial aid was subject to approval from faculty athletic representatives of the Big 12. It was approval he ultimately did not receive.

"I am very disappointed but I know Braeden is even more crushed," said Self, via a press release. "He has worked very hard to be in a position to come here. I certainly understand the uniqueness of his academic record coming from Canada. I understand the NCAA ruling and I understand the Big 12 policy that states that the faculty athletic representatives must approve, but I am extremely disappointed in the outcome."

On Oct. 14, with Late Night in the Phog concluded only minutes prior, Self revealed McLemore and Traylor had met with a similar fate - with a twist. Both were tagged as partial qualifiers, but both had also received the approval from the league's faculty athletic representatives Anderson had not, making them eligible for practice during the second semester and full competition next season.

Still, the developments were problematic for the season at hand.

"You recruit six and only get three," Self said. "So obviously our depth situation is not great, but it's fine as long as those guys develop."

The ability for at least two of the trio - possibly all three - to contribute immediately will be a key to the Jayhawks' success this season.

Of particular importance are Tharpe and Young. Tharpe, whom Self has said reminds him of Kansas' all-time assist leader, Aaron Miles, looks to be the first guard off the bench, and Taylor's primary backup at the point.

"He needs to play," Self said. "He's going to play. I anticipate him being a part of our rotation, and depending how much we play Elijah at point, Naadir is going to play for us. He's going to get minutes and hopefully be very productive for us."

Young is an intriguing talent - and an equally intriguing case as a recruit. During his freshman and sophomore seasons at Loyola Marymount from 2008-2010, the Perris, Calif. native averaged more than 30 minutes per game. He broke the freshman record for rebounding, and averaged more than 10 points and five rebounds per game as a sophomore.

Last year, he transferred from Loyola Marymount to focus on his academics, ending up back on the west coast and earning his associates degree from San Bernadino Community College. The time off made him eligible for competition this season, to the benefit of the Jayhawks.

"It's amazing how recruiting works," Self said, via a June press release. "You work so hard for some guys and don't get them and sometimes great opportunities just happen to come your way and this is certainly a great opportunity for us."

Described by his new coach as a jack-of-all-trades in the mold of Julian Wright, the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Young will provide immediate depth and athleticism in the post, and potentially on the wing.

"He's a high energy guy, he's a great kid," Self said. "He's just got to get comfortable basketball-wise, but I think he's going to be a huge impact for us."

Currently, Lindsay is a step behind the others from a strength standpoint, which may make his quest for minutes a little more arduous. But Self likes what they have in the 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing from Moreno Valley, Calif.

"He's a talented kid," he explained. "He can shoot the basketball, but the one thing that he's not quite there yet - just like a lot of 18 year old guys - is physically he hasn't gotten strong yet. But he's working hard, he's gained a lot of weight and it's good weight. I hope he can be a contributor for us this year."

As for the players themselves, they know they enter the season with less fanfare than is typical of recruiting classes at Kansas. And, honestly, they don't mind in the least. After all, the chance to prove doubters wrong is one of the classic motivational tools in all of sports for a reason.

It's because it works.

"That's exciting that a lot of people don't know us, don't know what we have and what we can bring," Tharpe said. "But the coaching staff does, and sooner or later everyone else will know as well once we step on the court." Top Stories