LAWRENCE — Kansas’ role in the ongoing Billy Preston saga appears to be completed. Now the freshman’s fate rests with the NCAA.
The fact-gathering process into an automobile Preston was driving at the time of a single-vehicle accident Nov. 11 on campus is no longer in the hands of the university’s compliance department, KU coach Bill Self revealed Tuesday night. The former five-star prospect has been inactive for the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks’ last 10 contests as administrators sought a “clearer financial picture” of the vehicle.
While Preston will travel with the Jayhawks (9-2) for their next contest — a 10 p.m. tilt with Stanford (6-6) today at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento — Self doesn’t expect a ruling before that game. He is, however, hopeful everyone involved is “getting very close to knowing if and when he will be able to play.”
“I’m pretty optimistic and our people are pretty optimistic,” Self continued, “but it is at the point now where it will be out of our hands and somebody else is going to make the decision.”
Self said Preston — a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward and the No. 11-ranked prospect in his class at recruiting outlet Rivals — had a “really active and good” practice Tuesday but acknowledged the long process has worn on the yet-to-debut Los Angeles native.
“Losing interest may be a little bit too strong, but losing focus would be pretty accurate over the last month,” Self said. “But he was good today.”
If the NCAA clears Preston, which Self earlier in the week indicated he is hopeful could happen as soon as the Jayhawks’ conference opener Dec. 29 at Texas, it still would take time to comfortably integrate him into the rotation.
“He’s done enough to plug him (in), but I don’t think he’s done enough where you could anticipate getting 20, 25 minutes from him,” Self said. “But I do think in a couple weeks he could certainly be that.”
Preston isn’t the only frontcourt puzzle piece the Jayhawks are expecting imminent news on.
Silvio De Sousa, a 6-9, 220-pound forward and a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018, is attempting to reclassify and join the Jayhawks for the second semester. Rivals’ No. 25-ranked recruit in the upcoming class took his final exam of the semester Tuesday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and Self said De Sousa was upbeat in a phone conversation the two had at around 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Self said he’s hopeful the Angola native and KU will receive word on whether he’s met his academic requirements for eligibility by the end of the week.
“He hasn’t gotten his scores back. They just need to get graded and sent in and let (NCAA clearinghouse) decide what the situation is,” Self said. “But … I do feel really optimistic about that one though, unless something went really haywire.
“If he’s eligible, he’s coming.”
Even if all goes as KU hopes, both Preston and De Sousa will need a lot of reps and will primarily be plug-in players in the immediate aftermath of their eligibility rulings.
Still, the reinforcements would be a welcome sight for Self and the Jayhawks, currently playing with two active scholarship frontcourt players in sophomores Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot.
“Our team, if we’re able to have our full complement of players and figure out everybody’s role, you’re looking at, depending on when we get our guys back — depending on if and when we get our guys back — you’re looking at the first of February before we know how to plug everybody in,” Self said. “But still though, if you’re playing somebody and you can sub guys out when they get two fouls and not have to play certain guys, it will still be a big bonus for us.”
As Self indicated, though, KU likely won’t have that luxury against Stanford, a team with three players standing at least 6-8 in its starting lineup.
One of those bigs is 6-8 junior forward Reid Travis, who was unstoppable in last year’s meeting between the two programs at Allen Fieldhouse. Travis scored 29 points in his team’s eventual 89-74 defeat, but the effort made a believer out of Self, particularly in the four-man’s ability to get to the free throw line.
“You stop and think about it, we’re playing a kid — not a kid, a man — on Thursday, I think he was 19 for 22 from the line last year against us,” Self said Monday of Travis, who is averaging 22.2 points and 7.3 rebounds this season. “This year he’s shot (101) free throws and we’ve shot 132 as a team. … I mean, so you better shoot a good percentage because you’re not getting to the line, ever.”
JAYHAWKS SHOP FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED — Self’s media availability came as his players walked the aisles of the Walmart in south Lawrence, gathering items off their shopping lists as part of the 21st annual holiday shopping event for underprivileged families.
“It’s a good event,” Self said. “Of course, we get to shop after the finals are over and our players always look forward to coming out and taking Christmas lists and having their own budget and going out and trying to purchase some things to meet some family needs.”