This year's Kansas basketball team is arguably the most talented in the history of one of college basketball's most tradition rich programs.
The recruiting class that head coach Bill Self and his coaching staff have assembled join an already richly talented group of young men to form a star studded collection of talent that will embark on an odyssey fans hope ends with another all night party down Mass Street, as well as another National Championship banner to hang in the rafters of historic Allen Fieldhouse. That quest begins tonight, when the Jayhawks welcome Pittsburg State to Allen Fieldhouse for an exhibition.
It all started when Trey Burke and Michigan broke the hearts of Kansas fans everywhere with late game heroics in the waning moments of last year's South Regional Semifinal in AT&T Stadium, the same palatial site of this year's Final Four. Self took an already loaded recruiting class and took to astronomical levels. Let's take a look at the class and the team that they join, a team that is being considered among the favorites to win the title this season.
First and foremost, you have to start with Andrew Wiggins, a 6-8 200 pound jawdropping forward, who is drawing comparisons that just don't seem fair. He's the ultimate one and done, who is assured to be the number one player selected in next June's NBA Draft. He also can do just about anything on the floor.
"Getting Andrew is something that made people, maybe even nationally, look at us in a different light. We've recruited a lot of good players but we haven't really had a ton of success recruiting the top three or four players in their respective classes in the country. He obviously has that distinction. I think from a standpoint of other recruits it brings instant attention to our program. But after he gets here none of that matters anymore. He's very talented and has a ton of potential, but he's just a freshman. He's going to find his way like everyone else. The expectation that have been put on him by outside factors or media members comparing him to this person or that person are really not fair at all. He has a chance to become a great player. I would not say he's a great player yet but is a great prospect. And hopefully he will develop in a way where he can become a great player quickly," Self said.
Wiggins brings some of the most national attention to Kansas basketball in its history, which says something considering the tradition and history behind the program. He's a player that will give Self many options when it comes to putting his team in the best position to win each and every night. Still, the 11th year coach knows that Wiggins for all his talent will have room to grow, which should scare opponents.
"The thing with Andrew (Wiggins) is, he showed flashed of dominance in high school but he didn't do it on a consistent basis. He's a guy that relies on athletic ability and turning it on when it needs to be turned on. But when you get to this level and even at a very high level of high quality ball you have a lot of guys who play that way and you will never get it turned on. And so he has to become a consistent guy who needs to impact every possession in whatever way shape or form he can. He's got to learn to compete in order to win every possession in the game," Self said.
The funniest thing about all the hype is that is potentially overshadows a class that already ranked among the best in college basketball. Self and his staff have brought in great kids with a wide variety of skill sets that if they gel, will make for a nearly unstoppable basketball machine.
"The combination of Greene and Selden is an impressive one. While Selden can shoot the ball, that isn't what he is known for. That means Greene and Selden will complement each other's games because Greene is one of the top shooters in the country. Also both of them have the length and athleticism to be versatile on the defensive end," Scout.com's Brian Snow said.
Speaking of shooters, there's 6-0 165 Conner Frankamp, the Wichita sharpshooter, who likely is the best shooter around. Added to the group is 5-11 185 pound Frank Mason, who Self has raved about, even comparing him to former Jayhawk Sherron Collins. On top of that, comes seven footer Joel Embiid, who has an upside that could be limitless. It's a class that Self was eager to analyze and breakdown, even brag if only just a little.
"Wayne Selden, you guys will see, he's prepared. A large part of that is because physically he is prepared. Brannen Greene is a talented player. Conner Frankamp, if there is somebody that can shoot better, I would like to see it because he can shoot it maybe as well as anyone we have had here. (If he) can he do it under game conditions remains to be seen, but we certainly think he can. I think Tarik Black may have been the big steal of any recruiting class in America because here is a guy that is a potential draft pick. You get all the maturity and he already knows how to work; coming in for one year, he knows it has to be a banner season for him otherwise the transfer wasn't worth it. He's hungry. Joel (Embiid) is probably as talented big kid as we have had because he's so good on his feet. There are a lot of guys who have the potential tag around their neck but haven't done anything yet. Frank Mason, he's a guy that went to prep school and we were begging him to come here; you guys will understand why once you see him play. We are excited about our entire class. Andrew (Wiggins) was the icing on the cake but this class would have been one of the better classes even if Andrew hadn't have come."
"It's a good group, covers a lot of ground and needs," Scout.com's Evan Daniels said. "Kansas added firepower on the perimeter and a lot of guys that can score the ball. They needed a point guard and they added two, added some shooting on the wing with Selden and Greene. Connor Frankamp is a point guard, but will be able to play off the ball some because of his skill set. Joel Embiid adds great talent up front and rapidly developing big man. Kansas has a great history with developing big men."
If that wasn't enough, Self added Memphis transfer Tarik Black, a 6-9 260 pound big man who is seeking the ultimate happy ending to his college basketball career. Immediately, he has become a leader and brings a tremendous amount of intangibles to the table.
"I think Tarik will have a great chance to play as much as he wants. He will have a great chance to start. Not very often do you recruit a senior that has already started three years and have him come in and be as well respected and basically be the leader of our big guys already, so I am expecting him to have a big year and he has prepared himself to have a big year because he has worked very, very hard," Self said.
The class joins several returners who figure to play a prominent role in Kansas' success this season. Former McDonald's All American Perry Ellis grew tremendously in his freshman campaign, including a rapid ascension late in the year, culminating with a 23 point performance against Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament, in which he was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Naadir Tharpe returns after a solid season in 2012-13. His 12 points were vital in a victory over Kansas State to win the Big 12 Tournament championship last March. Then, there was his 12 points against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament that helped KU rally from behind to outlast the Tar Heels once again.
Jamari Traylor could be one of the most improved players on the team, especially with addition of Black and Landen Lucas, who redshirted last season and then, there's guard Andrew White III, who proved to be a sparkplug off the bench last season and could play a bigger role this season.
It's a very young team that will be tested early with a brutal non conference schedule, one that will present matchups with great teams from all over the land, such as Duke, Florida, Georgetown, New Mexico and San Diego State, just to name a few. It will also be difficult in that Kansas will go almost an entire month without a game in Allen Fieldhouse. However, Self will be the first to point out to you that it also presents a great teaching tool and a chance for his very young team to bond, gel and form into a team. He also issues this warning to his team and to opponents.
"We have had some pretty good teams; you stop and think about the last seven years, I think our teams have averaged 33 wins a year. If this team got to 33 wins, it would be an unbelievable year considering how difficult the schedule is. So I would say if you are talking about the ceiling, if everything fell right come March, I would think that this team's ceiling would be very high. But I don't think we are anywhere close to being compared to any of the great teams that have come through here yet. Not even close. We have a lot of unanswered questions, but if guys develop and mature, things fall right and (the players) stay healthy and things like that, then there is no reason why this team cannot be a team that could be very tough to deal with by the end."