Bill Self knows full well that when it comes to Kansas basketball, perception is reality. Another reality is lofty expectations.
That’s why, as he restocked a Jayhawk roster that lost four starters from a Final Four team, he had no time — nor the inclination — to feel sorry for himself.
And why should he?
“Losing four this year certainly is going to be difficult,” Self said Monday during a Hawks & Highways tour stop at 638 in Salina. “We’re fortunate Doke (junior center Udoka Azubuike) came back.
“But we had probably at least a starter and a half sitting out this year, and then we signed three McDonald’s (All-American) kids, so I like our guys.”
First there are transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson from Memphis and former California guard Charlie Moore, all proven players who have spent a year in the program. Throw in a banner recruiting class includes guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, along with 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward David McCormack, and the Jayhawks should again be loaded.
“I don’t know that you can lose four quality perimeter players like we did and be better next year with all young kids, but I think that’s what people kind of expect us to do,” Self said with a smile. “But we should be really good inside, though.”
That will be a radical departure from the past two seasons, when a lack of interior depth forced Self to employ a four-guard lineup.
Now in addition to 7-footer Azubuike, the Jayhawks return sophomore Silvio De Sousa and junior Mitch Lightfoot in the post, not to mention McCormack, Dedric Lawson at 6-9 and K.J. Lawson at 6-8.
Self, who in the past has preferred a traditional two-post lineup, is more than willing to accommodate them.
“I think it will be fine,” he said. “I think the one thing I’ve learned is that we like to recruit to our needs, but bottom line is if you get good enough players, you need to be able to tweak what you do to give them the best chance to look good.
“I think we can play big and be pretty good at it. We don’t shoot it nearly as good as we did last year, so we’d better be good rebounders.”
The Jayhawks’ lack of experience — only Azubuike, Garrett, Lightfoot and De Sousa played meaningful minutes last year — can be deceiving. Dedric Lawson averaged 19.2 points and led the American Athletic Conference in rebounds at 9.9 two years ago as a Memphis sophomore, while K.J. Lawson added 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds.
The 5-11 Moore was a freshman starter at Cal in 2016-17, averaging 12.2 points.
“They know better how to play because they’ve been here a year, at least how we want to play,” Self said. “Certainly they know the things that we value and think are important, and I think all three have gotten better.”
Self is counting on all of them to contribute from the start.
“Charlie’s not very big, and he needs to be one of our better perimeter shooters,” he said. “K.J. needs to be our junkyard dog — he’s a garbage man, but his skill set has improved so much.
“And then Dedric needs to play to an All-American-type level, which I think he’s capable of doing. There’s a lot of unanswered questions still, but I like our guys a lot.”
Of the incoming freshman, Self already got a sneak peek at Grimes, whom he coached recently on Team USA in the FIBA Americas Under-18 championship. Grimes was the tournament’s most valuable player and the U.S. won the gold.
“It was good for Quentin to be around me because he knows now my trigger points a little bit,” Self said. “And for me to be around him because I know better how to coach him.
“He’s talented. He’s not a finished product yet by any means, but he certainly has about as much talent as any guard that we’ve recruited since I’ve been to Kansas.”
Grimes, Dotson and Moore all are candidates to take over the point guard spot vacated by All-American Devonte Graham. Of the three, Dotson is the closest to a true point, with the other two able to play off the ball as well.
Beware of ‘Cats
In looking at the 2018-19 Big 12 race, Self said he had his eye on in-state rival Kansas State as the top threat to end KU’s 14-year championship run. The Wildcats return all five starters from last year’s Elite Eight team.
“I picked K-State preseason one in the summer poll, which the summer poll means even less than what the preseason poll means, which is very, very little,” Self said. “But K-State, to me, if I was picking I’d pick them to win our league.
“Because they’re well-drilled, well-coached and certainly you return five starters and all of them can play and all of them are battle-tested. I think that will make them very difficult to deal with.”