Season of Change: Instant Jayhawks
Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we've turned our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between. Today: Bill Self's sudden youth movement.
For starters, let's get this out of the way: Bill Self's success at Kansas is remarkable -- period, that's it, sentence over, the end. Self's Jayhawks have now won or shared nine consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles, a streak that would be crazy in a top-heavy mid-major league but is utterly jaw-dropping in a league like the Big 12. He has won more back-to-back regular-season Big 12 titles than he has lost home games at Allen Fieldhouse. And no, I have no problem doubling down on that stat. It's completely insane.
To dig into the past decade of Kansas rosters is to gaze upon the glories of personnel development. Every season, Self's teams have been a combination of talented youngsters, promising stars and reliable, program-sculpted veterans; every season, players from one group slowly move into the other.
In 2008, when Kansas won a national title, Sherron Collins played 50.2 percent of the Jayhawks' available minutes; in 2009, he was the team's leading scorer. That season, sophomore Cole Aldrich anchored the low block; Marcus and Markieff Morris served as understudies. In 2010, Marcus Morris earned a starting role at power forward alongside Collins, Aldrich, and rare one-and-done freshman Xavier Henry. In 2011, all three players left, and the Morris twins were backed up by an intriguing sophomore named Thomas Robinson. In 2012, after the Morris twins departed, Robinson morphed into a national player of the year candidate, and little-used three-year center Jeff Withey assumed the other frontcourt role. Last season, Withey was the stalwart on the low block, senior forward Kevin Young jumped from playing 27.6 percent of his team's available minutes to starting and seniors Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson joined lottery pick freshman Ben McLemore in the backcourt.
And so on. This is the single defining characteristic of Self's tenure: He has built lineups in the classical style -- developing players from clueless freshmen into All-American-level veterans while adding a dash of raw talent along the way. Every season, his teams are extremely good because every season there's another guy finally ready to make the most of his shot.
Every season, that is, except this one.
It is entirely possible Self has assembled his most purely talented group this season. There's some kid named Andrew Wiggins, and maybe you've heard of him, but there's also Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Conner Frankamp and Jamari Traylor. Are all of these players good? Yes. Are any of them seniors? No. Well, OK, but are any of them juniors? Also no!
Self has three upperclassmen on his team. They are point guard Naadir Tharpe (who earned his first major, and often shaky, run last season), forward Tarik Black (a graduate-exception transfer from Memphis who arrived in Lawrence just a few months ago) and Justin Wesley (a barely-used redshirt senior). That's it.
Which is what makes this such a completely fascinating season for Kansas beyond the Wigginsanity. For the first team since 2007, Self is coaching a team whose best players are freshmen, whose most reliable returning player (Ellis) is a sophomore, whose lone key senior spent the last three years 500 miles to the east, whose junior point guard remains an open question.
It's a good thing Wiggins and Selden and everyone else are so talented. They better be quick studies. Self Basketball 101 is usually a multiyear course. The advanced seminar is a matter of weeks.