It will be quite awhile before Bill Self determines his starting lineup but most inside the program believe that Julian Wright, Russell Robinson, and Brandon Rush certainly have a leg up on three of the five spots. The other two spots are up for grabs and time will tell which players have done the necessary work this summer.
On a roster devoid of seniors, most of the unknown rests on the shoulders of the newcomers so we’ll start there.
Sherron Collins– Guard – The Crane High School three-sport standout has the skills to make an impact right away. Don’t let the size fool you – Collin’s game is large in stature and his 5-10 frame is packed with power and punch. He may have finished second to Jon Scheyer (Duke) as Illinois’ Mr. Basketball but Collins should take a backseat to no one. He’s cut from the Dee Brown mold with impressive quickness and toughness. Will there be a tougher backcourt combo in America than Robinson and Collins? Sherron’s most redeeming qualities are knowing what it takes to win, and excelling at making others better – two crucial components to any team’s success. Sherron also seems to be an immediate cure for what ailed the Jayhawks at times last season -- untimely turnovers. Collins is masterful with the rock in his hands and will provide instant help in this department. There are a ton of players on this team that will benefit from the McDonald’s All-American’s presence.
What He Needs To Do: Sherron probably needs to drop a few pounds to survive the rigors of Big 12 basketball. Though he’s a strong kid I think the staff would like to see him just a little leaner by the preseason.
Self’s comments: “He’s a guy that can push it, he can get in the lane, he can make others better because he can really pass the ball and hopefully he’ll become a shooter similar to what Jeff (Hawkins) did this past year. Jeff was a great player for us this past year off the bench shooting the basketball – shot about 40 percent. Hopefully Sherron can do that. He’ll definitely have a huge impact and have a chance to play as many minutes as he wants to depending on how quickly he picks things up.”
Darrell Arthur– Forward – It was a long, bumpy road at times but Arthur’s recruiting journey finally culminated in a commitment to KU. Now the question is will he live up to the expectations? He has NBA talent but the knock is he hasn’t always used it. The South Oak Cliff High School star has attributes that can’t be coached. It won’t take long to understand why a ton of coaches were salivating over him for years. Shady is a smooth operator and Jayhawk fans will marvel at the athleticism which Arthur showcases at both ends of the floor. He’s got a quick second jump and will definitely be an asset in the rebounding department and he effectively utilizes his length as a shot-blocker on the defensive end. His versatility really adds to the lineup combinations Self can utilize. He’s adept at facing up and is a surprisingly accurate shooter from the perimeter. Arthur says he’s ready to play for a coach that will push him which is good because he will be pushed like never before.
What He Needs To Do: Darrell needs get tougher. Before the NBA age limit was imposed NBA chatter surrounded Arthur – in the skill department there’s no doubt he’s got the tools – but from a toughness perspective he’s got a ways to go. If he adds the toughness Self wants, it’s going to be tough to keep this talented newcomer off the floor..
Self’s comments: “Darrell definitely gives us frontline depth, definitely gives us a frontline athlete, and he gives us a guy that in a crunch could play the three, and in a crunch could definitely play the five. He brings a lot as far as versatility and allowing us to play different ways.”
Brady Morningstar– Guard – Brady is a Lawrence native living the dream after putting up some lofty numbers on the prep circuit. He had his pick of “big name” mid-major schools but his aspirations were higher. Brady chose the prep school route because he wanted play at a big-time school from the ACC or Big 12. After successfully completing a tour of duty at New Hampton Prep (NH), Morningstar will now follow in dad’s footsteps (His dad Roger played two seasons for KU back in the 70’s). He has the potential to be a very valuable role player on next year’s squad. While at prep school, Brady worked on his strength diligently and has managed to add some pounds to his skinny frame. The five inches of height he’s added haven’t hurt him either. Originally known for his shooting prowess, Brady has added an attack mode and he could help KU at either guard spot. Morningstar effectively creates opportunities for others and can get to the hoop.
What He Needs To Do: Though Brady successfully added some extra weight during his prep school tour, he needs to continue to get stronger. The added muscle would certainly help him on the defensive end when trying to guard bigger/stronger Big 12 competition.
Self’s comments: “We’re real high on him because we feel like Brady makes other guys better and makes the game easier for others. He’ll know how to play with really good players and he’ll make sure to put them in the position to best utilize their talent level. He’s beyond his years from a basketball IQ standpoint because he’s been around it his whole life, and he’s older.”
Now that we’ve checked out the newcomers, it’s onto a talented crop of sophomores. Will one of the three newcomers or one of Self’s second year returnees be more crucial to KU’s success this season?
“That's a great question, because it really is hard to discern,” stated college basketball expert Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. “Although I believe point guard is an extremely important position and that a difference could be made there, it really should come down to your most talented player. And I still believe that player is Brandon Rush.”
On that note…
Brandon Rush – SG – The Big 12 Freshman of the Year returns for his sophomore campaign and his decision to stay puts Kansas in that upper echelon of teams next season. Brandon was even better than advertised, but he’s returned with the hops of taking his game up a notch. Ball-handling is an area of concern but it’s tough to complain about a guy who turned out to be the ultimate team player and also averaged 13.5 ppg, and 5.9 rpg along the way. He led the team in scoring and was the first freshman in KU history to accomplish that feat. Brandon will continue to be the go-to guy and should also benefit from the presence of some talented roster additions. The most surprising part of year one for Rush might’ve been at the defensive end where he frequently drew the other team’s top-scorer.
What He Needs To Do: If Brandon Rush continues to work hard at his game it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a first round pick next June. But will he keep the drive alive from last season? This is no time for Brandon to rest on his laurels. Hopefully he’ll come back as hungry as ever. Should the attitude and work ethic match up, Rush will be responsible for a ton of KU’s success next season. Scouts will be watching how he utilizes his left hand and would love to see his turnover total decrease.
Mike DeCourcy’s comments: “I love how hard he has worked to fit into the team, and I love his patience with his career. It's such a change from where he was less than two years ago. It's time for him to step forward and be a game-changer. He needs to get double-figure shots, and he needs to make big plays when they're needed. I'm certain he's capable of that.”
Julian Wright – SF – Wright struggled at times during his freshman year but really put it together during the last month and a half of the season. The scouts think he has a game tailor-made for the NBA. Julian is an energetic kid who must continue to learn how to channel that energy positively. Wright is working on adding some bulk this summer so he can compete more regularly down in the trenches. Julian finished the season rebounding with fervor, and his accuracy from the perimeter improved as the year went on. Wright must continue to work on that 12-15 foot jumper this summer along with his body. Wright used his length on the defensive end and was second on the team in blocks. I expect the points per game and rebounds will increase along with the highlight reel material. Now that Self has even more weapons in his repertoire, we might even see Julian play some minutes on the perimeter next season.
What He Needs To Do: Thanks to a statement that he will be around Lawrence for two more seasons, Jayhawk fans will have a front row seat for Wright’s development. Should Julian add another few feet to his jumper, he would become a national name. The staff would like to see the turnovers reduced but you certainly don’t want to curb his ability to make the big play.
Mario Chalmers – G – The early season struggles of Mario Chalmers are now a distant memory. Since being inserted in the starting lineup, and taken off the ball more, Chalmers excelled. His confidence rose along with his scoring average. In the last 12 games of the season Mario led the team in scoring seven times. He also led KU in steals and set a Kansas and Big 12 freshman record (89 steals) in the process. Chalmers led the conference in that category with 2.7 steals per game. He and Robinson formed quite a combination at the defensive end of the floor and there’s no reason to not expect the same and more from this duo. This summer, like many of his teammates, the Alaska native is working on his body and strength.
What He Needs To Do: Mario needs to improve his ball-handling and cut down on the unforced turnovers. If Chalmers remains as confident, and works as hard as he did for more than half of his freshman season then it will be tough to wrestle a starting spot from him. But like Rush, now is not a time to be satisfied with last season’s accomplishments. It’s all about how much he wants it.
On to the upperclassmen…
Russell Robinson – G – Russell improved by leaps and bounds between his freshman and sophomore years and there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case again. Robinson is as tough as nails and proved it time and time again down the stretch last season. Self’s “tough guy” was second on the team in steals and first in floor burns. Most fans have penciled in Collins and Chalmers as starters but Russell is the type of kid who simply won’t allow anyone to take away that starting spot. His three-point percentage and overall field goal percentage needs a boost but Robinson is the type of tough, gritty player Self loves in the lineup.
What He Needs To Do: Russell needs to improve his ball-handling against pressure. Though he’ll have Sherron Collins to help ease the burden, he has the experience and will be called upon to handle pressure situations. Hopefully Russell’s toughness will carry over to his teammates and as a junior he will be expected to be one of the leaders of this team.
C.J. Giles – C – Arguably, no one needed a better showing this summer than C.J. Giles. Unfortunately, he’s spent more time on the shelf with a thumb injury than he has working on his game. Giles will have to step up to the challenge this seat or he’ll be sitting – it’s that simple. He’s had some problems focusing at times but C.J. is so talented and does have a very realistic shot at the next level. When he’s focused, motivated, and out of foul trouble he’s a force to reckon with at both ends of the floor. The C.J. that played against Oklahoma during that memorable comeback win was terrific. Self will be asking for more of that effort this season.
What He Needs To Do: Focus. Focus. Focus. Much like Kaun, we’ve seen the flashes of brilliance. As a junior, Giles needs to consistently produce for Self. Will he respond to the competition he’ll most certainly get from guys like Arthur?
Sasha Kaun – C – For Sasha the question is did the trip back home to Russia help or hurt his efforts to improve this summer? Only time will tell. Sasha showed moments of brilliance last season and also performed a few disappearing acts. For this team to operate at peak level, KU needs an inside threat and Sasha is Self’s most reliable option. The Jayhawks covet the player who led the team in rebounding 11 times and was a force on the defensive end. He will be pushed because everyone knows he has the ability to put up a double-double every night.
What He Needs To Do: Keep getting better. If Sasha would only come to realize how good he can be. At 6-11, and blessed with athleticism, this kid could very well spend some time making money at the next level. Remember, that Kaun took the game up late and is still developing his skills, but if his improvement since 10th grade is any indicator, Jayhawk fans will see an even better version of Kaun in 2006-2007.
Darnell Jackson – F – Hard to figure where Darnell will fit into the equation next season. Jackson is as gritty and tough a competitor as there is but his career at KU has been an emotional rollercoaster. He’s the type of kid you can’t help but root for and he’s certainly been through the mental wars. It’s time for something good to happen to Darnell. Jackson is a strong rebounder and a decent defender but there will be quite a bit of talent vying for his spot.
What He Needs To Do: Hopefully he’ll have some stability in his life next year where all he has to worry about is school work and hoops. I’m confident that if the distractions are minimized, Darnell could become a regular contributor to this team.
Jeremy Case – G – Last season was a tough one for Jeremy Case. He had the pressure of minimal time to produce maximum results. The shooting prowess he featured in practice never materialized when he faced game situations. Case is a solid guard though I’d have to say without question it’s his shooting ability that’s his most redeeming quality – that means if you don’t produce in that area, you’ll probably be relegated to bench duty. Tough spot to be in, but it is reality for the junior. Brady Morningstar is a serious threat to the minimal time he did get because Brady does more things well than Case.
What He Needs To Do: There are just only so many minutes to go around but if he can improve the rest of his game and give Self another reason to keep him on the floor it would certainly alleviate some pressure. Jeremy needs to relax and let his shot come when he gets in the game – easier said than done -- but nonetheless if he can display the lights out shooting he does in practice he’ll has a chance at seeing spot duty.