Remember when the 2013-14 Kansas Jayhawks were going to be a shaky proposition? I do!
Just two weeks ago, Kansas was the team losing all five of last season's starters, among them four seniors and one freshman top-five draft pick. Left in their wake was an unusually young team. Sophomore Perry Ellis would have to be a star. Naadir Tharpe would have to develop into a less erratic distributor. A crop of promising freshmen would have to step up right away.
After nine straight titles, Kansas' stranglehold on the top of the Big 12 must be taken as an article of faith. But with Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart back, and Baylor looking plenty talented in its own right, said stranglehold appeared to be straining at the knuckles. Would this finally be the year?
Those were the days, weren't they? Of course, that was before Kansas landed arguably the best young prospect in the past decade in Andrew Wiggins, and also before Monday evening's news that Memphis senior Tarik Black had chosen to play his final year of collegiate eligibility -- available immediately via the graduate transfer exemption -- in Lawrence, Kan.
Black's decision is more icing than cake. Whereas Wiggins was a revolutionary addition, by all accounts the type of player who could have lifted an 18-16 Florida State team into ACC title contention, Black is merely a nice bonus. Which is not to say he isn't talented. He is, and always has been. But after arriving as a highly touted prospect, he was disappointing in three seasons at Memphis, primarily thanks to his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Over three seasons, Black averaged 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes. His lowest rate, 5.1 as a sophomore in 2011-12, also coincided with his most efficient performances. His 68.9 effective field goal percentage was the second-highest in the country that season.
Whether or not Black will be able to stay on the court long enough to put his combination of skills and size to work is an open question, but it's almost beside the point. Kansas needed another big body, not a star, and preferably a veteran. Black should be able to play 20-25 effective minutes, when he can take some pressure off the nation's top-ranked incoming center, Joel Embiid. That's a baseline expectation KU coach Bill Self would surely be happy with. Anything else is, again, a bonus.
In any case, any thoughts you might have had about the Jayhawks two weeks ago are essentially irrelevant. Kansas is still young, sure, but not as young as it was. It is more talented than ever now, with the exact thing it lacked -- a veteran in the frontcourt -- signed up for the ride. The end result is another KU team that will enter the season as the Big 12 favorite and a national title contenders. Same as it ever was.