After spending the summer establishing themselves as the new Kansas regime, Self and company will look to build off the momentum gained during the summer as they try and fill the two remaining scholarship slots.
At this point, there seem to be just as many questions as there are answers. While three candidates -- Alexander Kaun, Malik Hairston and A.J. Price -- seem to have separated themselves from the pack, the combination of which is most desired and who the staff wants most after them remains a subject of debate.
The reality of the matter is this, nobody outside of the staff knows for sure what their intentions are but we can determine a few things. As it stands the staff wants to add another high quality post player and one scorer on the perimeter. Whether it is a point guard, or a wing scorer it doesn't really matter because the scholarship is there. However, the staff is going to be very choosy and will be more likely to take three big men, than settle for a perimeter player that doesn't blow them away.
With that in mind, we'll take a closer look at all of the known remaining KU targets and where they stand. We'll also take a look at the lone early commitment. It is interesting to note just how many remaining targets come from perennial powerhouse AAU and high school programs and how well schooled they are in keeping their true intentions close to the vest.
ALREADY IN THE BAG
Darnell Jackson - Jackson, a bruising 6-8 235 pound forward from Midwest City (OK) High became the first recruit to pledge to Bill Self when he made a commitment shortly after July's Nike All-American Camp. He's a rebounding machine who plays tough interior defense and the athletic and agile Jackson showed surprising offense for a player with only three years of hoops under his belt. A close friend of KU freshman J.R. Giddens, Jackson went from being a relative unknown on the national level to a guy who most major programs wanted in just a few short months. He's still raw, but he gets better each and every week and seems to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Should he continue to improve at his current rate, he will be a top 50 type prospect by the time he matriculates to Lawrence.
STILL ON THE RADAR, PRIMARY TARGETS
Alexander "Sasha" Kaun - With strong spring and early summer outings Kaun came from virtually nowhere -- a la Vakeaton Wafer in the spring of 2002 -- to explode onto the national scene. The 6-11 Siberian native established himself as one of the elite big man recruits in the country due in large part to his strength in the paint, long arms and skill facing the hoop from 15 feet away. The product of Melbourne (FL) Air Academy has cut his list down to a final three of Kansas, Michigan State and Duke. He'll visit Lawrence in early September before making visits to MSU and Duke and making his decision. Kaun is arguably the number one remaining target on the Jayhawk board and the staff will push hard for his commitment during the month of September and this is truly a race that is too close to call.
Malik Hairston - A versatile 6-5 wing performer, Hairston proved to be one of the top 10 prospects in the country with several impressive summer outings. A precocious talent from Detroit (MI) Renaissance, Hairston is just as comfortable ramming dunks down defenders' throats as he is shooting silky smooth jump shots. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Malik's game is the considerable maturity and calm he plays with despite being only 16 years old. As it stands, he wants to visit KU and is looking to set up a visit date. The main competition appears to be coming from UCLA, Ohio State and Michigan State while virtually any school in the country would be happy to accept his verbal. Publicly Malik remains open while many close to the situation feel that Ohio State and UCLA could have the upper hand. Ohio State has recruited and landed several Detroit area players in the past and before accepting the UCLA job, Ben Howland -- who has had plenty of success recruiting Detroit prospects himself -- had positioned Pitt nicely with Hairston. Both Malik's high school and AAU programs have coaches that are familiar with the recruiting process and they have schooled him well in what to look for and how to play the game.
A.J. Price - A slick PG from Amityville (NY) High, Price is arguably the best shooting PG in the country. Even though he is slightly built and probably only about six feet tall, Price isn't content floating around the perimeter and hoisting up long range bombs. He's a fearless attacker who loves to get into the lane and isn't afraid of contact. He can get himself into trouble by penetrating too far into the lane, but makes up for mistakes with his clever passing around the goal and in transition. He is a more than capable ball handler and was unfairly labeled as a small wing guard and shouldn't have had to prove he could run a team. He'll be on campus the same weekend as Kaun and KU along with UConn looks to have taken a slight lead over the likes of St. John's, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Florida State. There have been rumblings that he and Russell Robinson could be a combo deal and KU is not in a position to take both. That shouldn't be a problem though as it is more a situation of the two talented guards being in a position where playing together would be nice, versus playing together on the next level is mandatory. Five years ago, St. John's would have probably locked both of these guys up already but if a combo deal happens, UConn who has recruited the heck out of the New York area over the last few years would appear to be the favorite.
WAITING IN THE WINGS WITH PLENTY OF INTEREST
Russell Robinson - Seriously, Robinson should consider having his name legally changed to clutch because 6-2 wing guard and top 50 prospect takes and makes more big shots than any high schooler in the country. On top of that he's blessed with a superior mid range game and an almost uncanny ability to get to the free throw line. Playing at a perennial prep powerhouse like Manhattan (NY) Rice has prepared Robinson for what it is like to be recruited at the highest level as he watched several of his teammates go through the same process. He is scheduled for a late September visit to Lawrence and like seemingly every other available East Coast guard will make a decision between KU, St. John's, UConn, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and others.
C.J. Giles - The son of Ted Owens era Hawk Chester Giles, C.J. is a mobile and athletic 6-10 baseline performer from Seattle (WA) Rainier Beach. Giles is a top 65 or better prospect who has continued to improve at a rapid pace over the last few years. He can really run the court and excels at picking up garbage buckets around the hoop. Still, he projects as more than a garbage man on the next level and is developing a nice scoring package in the paint and facing the basket from 10 feet. Recently he has listed KU as a leader among a group of schools that also includes USC -- where former high school teammates Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart play -- Washington, Miami (FL) and Arizona. Giles will is planning a trip to Lawrence at the end of September and if the staff doesn't have Kaun locked up or a great feeling about him, they will make a major push to get a commitment from Giles. In fact, don't be surprised if KU makes a major push for a commitment if Kaun is on board, it will just depend on whether or not they have a commitment from a Hairston or Price and how they feel about the remaining perimeter players if those two don't want to be Jayhawks.
Quentin Thomas - A creative and athletic 6-3 PG from Oakland (CA) Tech, Thomas rates as one of the premier talents the west coast has to offer. Some have questioned his offense while others have called him a guaranteed pro. However, we haven't witnessed him first hand so it is tough to get an accurate feel for his game. He's drawn some comparisons to Gary Payton and lists KU along with North Carolina, Cal, Arizona State, UConn, Pitt and USC among others. According to some insiders, he is the only perimeter player that KU would accept a verbal from outside of Price, Hairston and Robinson without seriously considering whether or not they would rather add three big men from the class of 2004 and look for perimeter guys in 2005.
Al Horford - The son of former NBA center Tito Horford, 6-9 Al has proven to be one of the most intense rebounders and low box scorers in the land as he exploded onto the national scene in July much like Darnell Jackson did. He's aggressive and looks like he is still growing and to quote one asst. coach, "that kid is a monster on the blocks and three years from now he'll probably be on of the top six or seven college post players this class produces. KU, Georgia Tech, Xavier, and virtually the entire Big 10 will find their way to Grand Ledge (MI) High to try and land the top 75 talent and much like Giles, what happens with Kaun will be key in his recruitment.
Shane Foster - Foster is a wiry and athletic 6-6 wing who excels in transition and hails from Kenner (LA) Bonnabel. He is a sleeper prospect who came on during the course of the summer to establish himself as high caliber player. He's more than just a slasher on the break and is a more than competent jump shooter and fair ball handler. He is tentatively scheduled for a Midnight Madness visit to KU and is also drawing attention from LSU, Marquette, Boston College, Tulane and others.
A.J. Ratliff - A 6-2 combination guard from Indianapolis (IN) North Central, Ratliff is an all around player who handles, shoots, and explodes to the rim for athletic dunks. Ratliff is a top 75 talent who has drawn interest from Xavier, UConn, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, N.C. State, Marquette and KU among others. Ratliff has stated that he would like to make an official visit to KU but if Indiana decides to put forth a solid offer and make a serious run at him, Ratliff will likely be a Hoosier. Even if he isn't a fit for Mike Davis, odds are that the further away a campus is, the less of a shot they have at landing Ratliff whose play is reminiscent of former Hoosier A.J. Guyton.