Wayne Simien- Without question, Wayne is going to be a juggernaut this season. Throughout the tour, Wayne proved to be unstoppable, culminating in a 25 point performance in the final game on 12-14 shooting. As dominant as Waynperformed in the post, more impressive to me was his outside game.
Simien never passed up an open jump shot, and opponents could only shake their heads in disbelief as he knocked them down one after another. In the post, from the top of key, and even shooting 2-4 on threes, Simien is looking to prove he’s a worthy draft pick in the spring. Wayne is already in midseason form, and I’d look for him to have a dominant senior season.
Aaron Miles- Aaron played very well throughout the weekend. He seemed to be a little quicker than last season, though it’s tough to gauge based on the quality of opponents. What was clearly evident was that Aaron was pushing the ball down the court faster than ever. Miles’ drive-and-dish game proved difficult to defend, and opened up numerous three point shots from the wing. Miles seemed equally comfortable taking it all the way to the basket when the opportunity presented itself.
Aaron literally became a momentum-eraser throughout the weekend. Every time a team would get a big basket, Miles would get the inbound and head full-tilt down the court and hit a jump shot or dish for a three before the hometown fans had stopped applauding their own team’s bucket. He literally slammed the door on opponents’ mini-runs. Miles continued to play lockdown defense, and literally stole the ball at-will while avoiding needless fouls.
Michael Lee- Mike is just flat-out a great athlete. Never flashy, often workman-like, Lee continues to do the little things to help the team. Lee can help this team with solid defense, three point shooting, and perhaps most importantly, leadership. Lee carries an attitude of confidence unrelated to his performance on the floor, and his teammates will look to him throughout the season as inspiration.
Lee is in great shape already, and seems to be elevating on his jump shot more so than in the past. From all accounts, he will clearly be an important role-player in the upcoming season.
J.R. Giddens- Giddens was Giddens. Clearly the most athletic player on the court, Giddens wowed the hometown crowds with his play, and his charisma. On offense, Giddens drained numerous threes, many well beyond the arc. A few ill-conceived three point attempts were met with a headshake from Coach Self, but overall Giddens’ perimeter game looks better than ever.
On defense, Giddens played tough, though again, the opponents were significantly over-matched. It will be interesting to see how well he does during the regular season. He had some athletic blocks that he was able to control and turn into a fast break back down the court. Giddens looked to be a more mature player who was willing to let others get involved in the offense and yet, taking the open shot when it was given to him. The most impressive thing about Giddens is that he never wants to leave the floor. Most of the time when he was pulled, he’d leave the court with a look of “but I was just about to drain a 22 footer, coach!” Giddens charisma is contagious, and opponents’ fans took to him from the first highlight reel dunk in pregame warm-ups. Giddens should be nothing short of impressive this season. If he’s able to take his man off the dribble and drive to the bucket, he’ll be virtually unstoppable.
Keith Langford- Overall Keith played well, but is likely still in recovery mode as he didn’t drive to the bucket as much as expected. He played solidly both offensively and defensively considering he’s still rounding into shape. Langford is clearly an important piece if this team wants to contend for a national championship. With a couple months before the first game of the year, I think we can expect to see Keith ready to go when it counts.
Christian Moody- Christian played solid ball throughout the weekend. Clearly it’s advantageous for the Jayhawks to have a guy who knows and understands the system as well as Christian does. Christian doesn’t make many mistakes and takes what’s given to him on the court. Rarely forcing shots, and almost always keenly aware of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, Jayhawk fans are likely to see Moody bring a quiet intensity off-the-bench which should serve the team well.
Moulaye Niang- Moulaye’s strength continues to be his defensive play. With quick hands and feet, Moulaye often finds himself in the right place at the right time to get defensive rebounds. He seemed to be intent on converting defensive rebounds into offensive opportunities by getting the ball to the guards quickly and pushing down court. While he may never be a major scoring threat, Moulaye clearly understands the system, and even showed a willingness to be a vocal leader on the court with his teammates.
Alexander Kaun- Sasha is going to be an interesting player to watch this season. He played well in spurts, showing an ability to use his left or right hand in the post. Kaun’s bank shots are difficult to defend, and as he gets more comfortable, could be nearly unstoppable. Sasha’s challenges are those typical of any freshman. Sasha oftentimes hurried shots, and the adrenaline rush resulted in a few shots put up with too much strength which caromed off the backboard without a chance of going in. When Sasha was more patient in the paint, the result was much better.
Kaun is clearly going to be a strong rebounder both offensively and defensively. He’s prone to getting fouled so making free throws should be a priority. Sasha has never played in front of big crowds so for the first few games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sasha’s biggest challenge being controlling adrenaline. He’s obviously an intelligent player, hard worker, and a force to be reckoned with on a team deep with big men
Darnell Jackson- Darnell played extremely well through the four games in Canada. Strong, athletic, and a hell of a force to contend with in the blocks, Darnell proved he can get rebounds and quick put-backs for points. Darnell is bouncy in the paint, oftentimes getting a hand on every rebound including those seemingly out of reach. Darnell is scary-strong, and is likely to be an intimidating force in the post. On the defensive side of the ball, Darnell also played well, and delivered one blocked shot reminiscent of a Karch Kiraly kill circa 1988. Darnell is a pure athlete and will certainly see some playing time during the season.
C.J. Giles- Perhaps the most impressive of the freshmen during the Canadian Tour. CJ showed an impressive array of shots in the paint. CJ scored on hooks, short jumpers, turnarounds, put backs, and even a jumper from the top of the key that hit nothing but net. Eric Bossi pointed out to me to take note of the height of CJ’s release, and it was clearly evident that Giles is playing the post unlike most freshmen. CJ seemed patient and unselfish in the post, always looking to kick it out to a wing for an open three. Giles has quick feet and gets down the court quickly for a big man. I would fully expect to see Giles get a ton of playing time this year, and help Jayhawk fans get over the Padgett hangover.
Russell Robinson- RusRob will be an interesting player to watch this season. As a freshman guard, his mistakes will be more noticeable to KU fans, and while he’s prone to ill-conceived drives into traffic on occasion or a mis-timed pass, Russell is going to be fan favorite. Offensively, he can flat-out score buckets, and is a dangerous three point threat. He is sleight of build which is a bit misleading because he’s always willing to mix it up, and indeed through down a dunk with a taller defender challenging him at the rim.
Defensively, the Miles-Robinson tandem makes life hell for opposing guards. Often working together, Miles and Robinson forced turnover after turnover. Robinson works the opposing guard hard, not unlike a boxer giving body blows, while it may not make for a knockout punch, there’s clearly a cumulative effect both physically and psychologically on the opponent. Robinson never lays off on defense, and the opposing guard is going to get tired and frustrated, and will make mistakes.
The most impressive thing about Robinson to me was his poise on the court. Even after making the typical freshman mistakes, Robinson didn’t look to the bench for emotional support. Offensively, he was willing to take the shot, instead of giving it up like some freshmen have a tendency to do. While he’s not a natural point guard, clearly Coach Self is preparing him to take on those duties when needed this season. With time running out before half, and the Jayhawks with the ball, Coach Self appeared to tell Miles to let Robinson run the offense. Expect some exciting guard play this season with Miles and Robinson in the game together.
Alex Galindo- Alex was actually my favorite player to watch this past weekend. He’s taller than I thought, and plays with a fluidity that is fun to watch. There’s no doubt Galindo can shoot. He dropped some long threes, a few of which were in the face of opposing players. There’s no doubt he’s got confidence in his shot, and as hit fitness picks up, he’ll be even more potent from outside as his legs won’t wear out. Galindo made three 3s on Monday morning to stop a mini-run by a hopeful Baraby Mountain All-Star team. In only 14 minutes of play, he shot 6-8 from the field, 3-4 on 3s, and got 6 rebounds.
Galindo has a nose for the ball, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Alex is a solid rebounder, and defensively played extremely well with several athletic blocked shots. Defensively, he’s still learning his assignments, but I would hope to see Alex get some solid playing time this season, because he’s fun to watch, and always in the action.
Stephen Vinson- Vinson is a fantastic addition to this team. While he’s unlikely to get a lot of playing time, Steve knows and understands the offense, hustles as much as anyone, and is comfortable taking and making the open 3. Defensively Steve always pressures the ball, and when Miles and Robinson need a blow, opposing guards will learn there will be no drop-off in intensity. The Jayhawks are extremely blessed with the quality of their walk-ons. Good players, good kids, and great Jayhawks.
A quick note about the freshmen……..I was impressed by the overall poise, patience, and confidence of the five frosh. How many times have we seen highly touted freshmen with that deer-in-the-headlights look for the first few games? These five showed none of that. There were plenty of freshmen mistakes made throughout the weekend, including missed assignments on defense, however the frosh five weren’t thrown by their mistakes. All were willing to take the open shot, challenge defensively, and learn quickly. Whether this comes from the coaching staff or simply because it’s a confident group, these five freshmen will impress fans with their overall willingness to have the confidence of upperclassmen, even while playing like freshmen.