Once again, the Kansas Jayhawks look to have championship aspirations going into the 2013-2014 men’s basketball season, despite significant losses in the offseason.
It’s hard to rebound when you lose your entire starting five over the offseason. A heartbreaking loss in the sweet sixteen ended the college careers of future NBA draft picks Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey as well as fan favorites and important starters Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Kevin Young.
However, despite losing heaps of talent and experience, Head Coach Bill Self has proven adept at bringing back a team just as strong the next year. This, season he looks poised to repeat the feat once again.
The talk of Lawrence in the coming months will surely be freshman recruit Andrew Wiggins. The Gatorade high school athlete of the year reclassified to be included in the 2013 recruiting class and was instantly became the top recruit on boards across the country. Already drawing comparisons to LeBron James, Wiggins is a game-changing athlete that brought his talents to a team desperately in need of a star.
Wiggins is a 6’7” athlete that has no problem playing as a 2, 3 or 4. His unbelievable combination of size and speed will obviously cause problems for those trying to defend him. There are few weak points in his perimeter game, as he sports good ball-handling skills, a great jump shot with range, and an amazing ability to attack the basket. As soon as he puts on a little more weight and muscle, he’ll surely be able to work in the post as well.
Big things will be expected of the most anticipated high school player since LeBron, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the excitement surrounding his arrival. One of the largest criticisms of Wiggins is his motor and some wonder whether he will showcase his potential brilliance every game and dominate the floor like he has shown he is capable of.
Apart from Wiggins, the most important arrival may be Tarik Black, a transfer from Memphis. Black, formerly a top recruit in the 2010 class, finished his coursework at the University Memphis in under four years, allowing him to transfer to another university without having to sit out a year.
Black is a big, strong forward with plenty of experience at the top level of college basketaball. While his teams at Memphis may have never lived up to their billing, Black brings maturity and power to the post, an area Kansas surely need help in.
Wiggins and Black should take some of the pressure off of the other members of this very young Jayhawk team, allowing them to flourish. There is little experience to be found in their ranks, mainly coming from returning role players Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis.
One of Bill Self’s best attributes as a coach is his ability to develop talent in the time that they spend with him. He regularly turns less touted prospects into stars over the course of their time in Lawrence (See: Marcus and Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Ben McLemore). Tharpe, who will likely be tasked with running the point, and Ellis are prime candidates for emergence as unheralded stars for Kansas.
Though Self regularly relies on more established players, the 2013 freshman class is nothing to be scoffed at. Along with Wiggins, Self has brought in four other recruits that should offer help in a number of areas this season as well.
Joel Embiid, a 6’11” athletic center from Cameroon, should help fill the large Withey-sized hole in the interior, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Wing Wayne Selden, an All-American in his own right, may sneak into the starting lineup as well to play opposite of Wiggins and provide more perimeter support. Like Wiggins, he has overpowering athleticism, giving the Jayhawks more offensive options, especially attacking the basket.
Point guard Conner Frankamp and wing Brannen Greene should provide more depth on the bench, while competing with upstart sophomores Jamari Traylor and Andrew White III for the most rotation time.
All in all, Jayhawk fans should feel great about their prospects this season. Bill Self has proven his merit as one of the best coaches in the country again and again; this season will just be another strong case as to why. The star power is present and the Jayhawks will be looking to capitalize on it to the tune of an 10th straight Big 12 regular season title and another run into the Big Dance.