Kansas’ next point guard has big shoes to fill.
Two pairs, to be exact.
Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham manned the position for the Jayhawks in each of the last four seasons, but with both former All-Americans on to the professional ranks, the duties turn to two players who have yet to play an in-game minute for KU — redshirt sophomore Charlie Moore and incoming five-star recruit Devon Dotson.
For Moore, who enjoyed learning under Graham last season during a mandatory sit-out year following his transfer from Cal, the task of replacing two legends whose numbers will someday hang in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters doesn’t appear to be a situation he’s losing any sleep over.
“You know, I never really think about it like that,” said Moore, speaking Monday morning at Washburn coach Brett Ballard’s basketball camp at Lee Arena. “I just try to go out there and play my game and do what I can do, and everything else will take care of itself.”
A self-described “pretty chill guy” who spends his downtime playing the video game “Fortnite” and watching Netflix — “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Following” have been his go-to TV shows this summer — Moore’s cool confidence appears rooted in 12 months of growth he classified as unrivaled in his career.
After averaging 12.2 points and 3.5 assists across 28.8 minutes per game during his freshman campaign in 2016-17, Moore transferred out of Cal after former coach Cuonzo Martin left the Golden Bears to take the Missouri job.
KU’s persistence after Moore announced his intention to transfer, the 5-foot-11 guard told inquisitive campers Monday, made KU the easy choice to continue his collegiate career.
While Moore sat out last season, he made personal strides at practices as part of one of the Jayhawks’ deepest scout teams, playing alongside fellow transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson. During these months, Moore said KU coach Bill Self molded him as a point guard by stressing communication, taking care of the ball and making sure teammates were in the right places.
It remains to be seen whether Moore — or the touted Dotson, for that matter — can be a floor general similar to Mason or Graham, who set records for minutes played in the Self era at KU. Moore, though, is at least confident he’s better today than he was his first day in Lawrence.
Moore’s coaches are inclined to agree.
“His shot got better,” KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said. “I don’t know if that’ll surprise (KU fans), but I thought he was unbelievable at getting by his man and then finding the open guy, passing the ball. He needs to get a little bit better defensively, but I think (KU fans) will be surprised at how good he is at getting in the lane coming off ball screens then finding open guys.”
Townsend labeled Moore the team’s most potent 3-point threat through the first week-plus of the preseason, though he added no guard has yet to stand out to the point of being seen as a comfortable replacement for Graham and fellow sharpshooting departures Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk.
“Nobody has done it in a game yet,” Townsend said, “so that’ll really be a point we’ll be weakest at coming back.”
With four of last season’s five starters gone, Moore was asked whether he foresees himself needing to step into one of those leadership voids right away. His answer?
“I have to,” he said.
“Like you said, Devonte’s gone. He was a big part of what was going on last year as a point guard,” Moore continued. “He knew everything on the court, where everybody had to be at. Me as a point guard this year, I’m just trying to increase my leadership and talk more as a point guard.”
If nothing else, Graham’s presence will be felt next season through advice he gave to Moore that still sticks with the sophomore.
“He just used to tell me all the time, ‘Just play your game. Don’t be listening to everybody else,’ ” Moore said. “That’s my guy.”
AZUBUIKE’S EVOLUTION — Asked to relay advice to the group of attentive attendees at Ballard’s camp, KU junior center Udoka Azubuike kept his response short and sweet.
“Stay in school,” he said, “and listen to your parents.”
The 7-footer is a bit of an authority on that first nugget of wisdom.
Azubuike, of course, tested the waters of the NBA Draft this offseason but ultimately opted to return to the college ranks, focused on improving his conditioning, free-throw shooting, rim protecting and rebounding. Still only 18 years old, Azubuike joins Dedric Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa and incoming four-star center David McCormack in the suddenly-loaded Jayhawk frontcourt.
Ballard recruited Azubuike during his time as an assistant coach at Wake Forest and said he’s seen great development from the center.
“I remember when I went and saw him, he was always a physical specimen,” Ballard said. “He was always big and strong, but his body has really changed. He’s lost a lot of body fat. He couldn’t play for more than two minutes at a time without getting exhausted. His body has changed, and I just think he’s learned to play for longer stretches. Those are two of the biggest changes, and he’s also just got a bigger feel for the game.”
Given the success of the small and fast-paced Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, Ballard was asked whether he believes there’s still a place in the NBA for a bruising throwback at center like Azubuike, who led Division I with a 77-percent shooting percentage last season but struggled at the free-throw line (41.3 percent shooting) and in other areas.
“I think that’s the challenge for him. The league’s kind of gone away from that,” Ballard said. “In order for him to play, and he knows this, he’s going to have to really have a big impact around the basket in rebounding the ball and finishing. Defensively, he’s got to get just good enough to where he can guard a little bit on the perimeter and keep those guys in front of him, because they’re going to isolate him in ball screens.
“Everybody’s just going to play ball screens with him, so he’ll have to be able to slide his feet well enough, which he’ll be able to do. I think he’s getting more athletic and he’ll be able to stay in front of those guys, but just being able to stay in front of those quicker guards will be a challenge.”
Ballard’s youth camps continue throughout June, with KU and Kansas State players scheduled to make appearances. For more information or to sign up, visit wusports.com.