Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It Will Be Fine Jayhawk Fans

My best friend Kris-Ann and I at the KU vs WSU tournmanet game

I’ve been asked by a number of friends what I think about KU’s loss on Sunday evening in Omaha to the Wichita State Shockers. Honestly, my thoughts are quite simple.

We got beat by a better team.

So let’s just tackle some of the points of view floating around Kansas, social media, and the sporting world.

First of all, Bill Self does recruit in Kansas. Remember Tyrel Reed (Burlington Ks)? Perry Ellis (Wichita KS)? Conner Frankamp (Wichita KS)? Conner Teahan (Overland Park KS)? As for Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, an Olathe native, Bill Self has said of course he’d love to have him but recruiting is an inexact science and had he recruited Cauley-Stein he wouldn’t have landed Joel Embiid.

There are more Kansas kids who have played for KU, I know, but in my defense I’m writing this off the top of my head. Use google if you want more names.

Which leads us to Ron Baker. Who wasn’t on anyone’s radar until his senior year, when he grew an astounding three inches, put on pounds and led his high school team to a state championship…which is when Bill Self and Greg Marshall both took notice.

You see, neither KU nor WSU had scholarships available by then. Both were interested though, recognizing the young talent, but when Bill Self invited Ron to tour KU and practice with the team Ron declined. He said he was afraid he would embarrass himself and didn’t think he was good enough. WSU, he said, felt less intimidating so he paid his own tuition the first year and was able to get a scholarship his sophomore year, which is exactly what would’ve happened at KU had he chosen to play for the Jayhawks.

Now I don’t have a crystal ball and neither do you, Bill Self, Greg Marshall or Ron Baker. Who knows what might have been. Had Baker attended KU he may have ended up down the bench and never fully developed. Bottom line? Ron Baker is better off at WSU. He has been nothing short of amazing and part of a monumental shift in their basketball program, which began under KU alum Mark Turgeon. What happens after he and the rest of WSU’s core leaves is anyone’s guess. I personally think that Coach Marshall has something special and I hope it continues. It doesn’t matter, though, because for Ron Baker he made the right choice and I’m happy for him. He’s an amazing young man based upon everything I’ve read and seen and he has absolutely flourished in Wichita.

Stop saying Bill Self ignored him though, because he didn’t.

That leads us to this idea that Bill Self is “scared to play WSU”, which is absolutely insane.

Bill Self has played the toughest non-conference schedule in the entire country for the past two years. That’s not up for debate. That’s not exaggeration. That is based upon every ranking and RPI number published. It is quoted on every sporting show and article. KU played Kentucky’s two NBA teams this year and got pounded. Doesn’t look like fear to me.

Here is what IS true.

KU has a limited number of very valuable non-conference away games. They are chosen carefully, in national recruiting hot bed areas, against power conference teams.

Wichita is not a recruiting hot bed. It never has been and it never will be for KU because kids who grow up in Kansas are already familiar with KU. And the Perry Ellis’s aren’t hopping off the school bus in Wichita every year either. They are, however, quite abundant in places like Chicago, Philadelphia and the east coast.

KU is not going to give up one of those valuable road recruiting opportunities to play an away game in Wichita. They will, most likely, gladly host WSU in Lawrence. None of this has anything to do with how Bill Self “feels” about WSU; it has everything to do with the future of his basketball program.

Greg Marshall finally publicly admitted last week that he has never picked up the phone and called Bill Self to ask him to play. He also admitted he understands why KU doesn’t schedule an away game against WSU. Maybe Greg Marshall understands that he may very shortly be in the same position as Bill Self when it comes to recruiting and scheduling. I don’t have a crystal ball.

WSU is in a mid-major conference; the last few games KU played against them in the early 90’ were beat downs by 30+ points (the last game KU won by a whopping 49 points). Not very competitive, to say the least, which is probably why the games were ended.

That was then and this is now. WSU has proven for several years that they are no longer a mid-major caliber team but, for the time being, capable of beating any power conference school in the country. That is awesome for WSU, their fans, the city of Wichita and the state of Kansas.

It doesn’t impact KU though, other than to leave their fans irritated and whiney about one loss.

We should be irritated.

We shouldn’t be whiney though (seriously, Jayhawk fans, don’t perpetuate the stereotype).

We should keep things in perspective.

This year was rough. We lost two first round draft picks last year, one of which was unexpected.

We spent a number of years without a true point guard.

We have no large inside presence, which absolutely destroyed our rebounding this year.

We either had a mental block when it came to making easy shots or someone with a sick sense of humor messed with the rims.

We played with a majority of freshman and sophomores and the most notable freshman recruit has been sidelined with NCAA issues.

We finally have two amazingly young and talented true point guards but after watching Self’s teams for years I’ve come to accept that his offense is so difficult, so complicated, that it takes even talented point guards several years to master it.

This means watch out. Next year we will see Frank Mason transitioning into a great leader. I believe this. In fact, I can’t wait for the player I call “Bulldog” to unleash his anger over this season’s ending.

Moving on; some of you have questioned Bill Self’s recruiting. Seriously?

Every school is recruiting. Every school has needs. It isn’t an exact science and schools are competing against each other.

Tom Izzo, in my opinion one of the greatest active coaches in the NCAA today, began recruiting Jahlil Okafur when he was in EIGHTH GRADE. Michigan State offered him a scholarship when he was just a freshman in high school. Izzo thought Okafur would attend Michigan State until, late in the recruiting game, Okafur chose Duke instead.

This means Izzo had to look elsewhere. By then, many of the top recruits were already committed to other schools.

This happens to all of the coaches. There are only so many players, only so many schools, and many factors involved in how and if a coach is finally able to land top level talent. And then there are the Ron Bakers out there; kids who show lower level talent and are smaller until, for some reason late in the game, they blossom, grow and surprise us.

Do you have a crystal ball? No? Then why on earth would you expect it of Bill Self?

Coach Self’s rate of winning is widely known. He has achieved a monumental feat, untouched by a power conference school since the days of UCLA in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, with an insane 11 straight conference championships. I honestly doubt I will see another power conference school achieve this in my lifetime.

KU has attended the NCAA tournament for 26 years straight. The Jayhawks win at one of the highest rates in the country and have done so for decades.

Unfortunately, the Hawks had a weaker team than usual this year. We had a young team. Something was off, far be it for me to say what. Matchups were bad, we lacked size, we lacked experience, sometimes attitudes were bad and we lacked the hard working motor so indicative of Bill Self teams. Watching likely NBA bound Kelly Oubre get beat on a loose ball because he simply didn’t hustle was, for me, the final exclamation point on what was missing for the Jayhawks this year.

Suffice it to say, this was the weakest Bill Self team in many years happening to meet up with a powerful and seasoned Wichita State Team. Bad timing for Self and the Jayhawks but, seriously folks, it’s not the end of the world. We still won the league and made the NCAA round of 32. Over 300 other teams in Division I basketball can’t say that.

The loss does sting for me because it is once again the end of the season and because they played beneath their ability. I’m not sad that it was to Wichita State, just sad about the way we lost. The Shockers are having a ball, their fans are getting a taste of how awesome following a winning program can be, and the state of Kansas has something positive to share with the country as opposed to our sad state government.

And folks, WSU is damn good.

Sunday night was one game. It is one season. We won the Big 12 again and we will return almost every player next year. We will actually have a senior starter for a change. We will have a junior point guard running the offense.

If nothing else, watching a Bill Self team with upper class leadership is something awesome to look forward to. I can’t wait for 2015 Late Night.

In the meantime, don’t be haters. Let’s cheer for the Shockers. They have earned it!