Kansas basketball coach Bill Self was quick to tell anyone who would listen that last Friday’s men’s basketball scrimmage at last week's Late Night in the Phog was nothing to brag about.
The Jayhawks missed shots (17-for-51 combined, including 5-for-26 from 3-point range), were a step slow in their attack and, as expected, did not play like the Big 12 title was on the line.
Still, there were enough individual moments and notable flashes that gave you a glimpse of what the 2023-24 Jayhawks might look like.
Some came from old faces and familiar friends. Others came from the impressive list of KU newcomers.
Here’s a quick look back at the moments that stood out most during the scrimmage that Self would just assume forget.
• First, the red team won, 24-19, with Kevin McCullar Jr. leading the way with a dozen points on 5-of-9 shooting. More on that in a minute. McCullar was joined on the red team by KJ Adams, Parker Braun, Johnny Furphy, Elmarko Jackson and three walk-ons. The blue squad was led by Dajuan Harris Jr. and Hunter Dickinson, who teamed with Zach Clemence, Jamari McDowell, Nick Timberlake and three walk-ons. (One of them made good on a heck of a story that you can read here). Timberlake led the blue team with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. OK. On to the moments that mattered.
• Both Parker Braun (on the game’s first possession) and Hunter Dickinson pulled up from 3-point range in this one. Neither made a shot, but both should be free to take them when they’re open. Particularly Dickinson. He’s talked a lot about his 3-point prowess since joining the Jayhawks. It was a big part of his past at Michigan (he shot 42.1% from 3 last season, on 57 attempts) and he wants it to be an even bigger part of his time at Kansas. The easiest way for him to make that happen is by dominating down low, too. If he takes care of Self in the paint then Self will take care of his desire to show off his range elsewhere.
• Speaking of Dickinson, he finished 1-of-6 from the floor with 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 13:19 of game time. Those numbers will never matter, but they’re worth looking at as a reminder that you probably shouldn’t expect Dickinson to dominate the glass. KJ Adams, Kevin McCullar and even Johnny Furphy could — could — all wind up with better rebounding numbers than Dickinson on any given night. At 7-foot-2, you’d expect Dickinson to be a monster on the glass, but the biggest dudes don’t always do the most damage in the rebounding department. For one, they’ve got other big dudes leaning on them. For two, sometimes their role is to pull the opponents’ best rebounders away from the rim, leaving room for wings like those mentioned above to clean things up. Dickinson’s a career 8.4-rebounds-per-game guy and he never averaged fewer than 7.4 per game in his three seasons at Michigan. So, the numbers should be there. But he should have help, too. If he ever decides to flip the switch and be an aggressive maniac going after misses, he easily could average double-digit rebounds. We’ll see.
• A couple of handles notes: Freshman guard Jamari McDowell handles it way better than I realized. He’s also not afraid to mix it up on the glass and appears to like the challenge of playing defense. He’s got a long way to go before he’s playing Bill Self-style defense, but wanting to do that, and having the frame to do it, is a great place to start. I might be alone here, but I keep seeing Marcus Garrett when I see McDowell. Maybe not in the pound-for-pound, skill-for-skill sense. And I’m not even sure he’s as skilled at any one thing as Garrett was. Certainly not as a defender. But I think the comp comes from seeing him as a player who is wise beyond his years and could find a way on the floor early because of it.
• KJ Adams also appears to be poised to handle the ball more than he did in the past, and he looks completely comfortable doing so. I don’t think he’s going to break guys’ ankles and take anyone off the dribble. But he certainly can use his ball-handling skills to reset an attacking angle, step into a jumper or keep the offense moving. He’s too talented and driven to stay stagnant. I’d expect a similar jump from last year to this year as the one we saw from freshman to sophomore KJ. It just remains to be seen what areas it shows up and what that looks like. Oh, and don’t sleep on KJ as a passer. He’s shown it in the high post area before, but it looks like he can make plays all over the floor with more freedom, evolved skills and a bigger role.
• I loved what I saw from McCullar, who appears to be so comfortable in the lead dog role for the Jayhawks. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t sense that he is, with Dickinson, Harris and Adams all still around, as well. Whatever the case, he looks comfortable and that’s allowing him to play a smooth brand of basketball on the offensive end. He looks confident. He likes the ball in his hands. He can score at all three levels and he looks like he’s ready to be more aggressive in looking for his offense. Sure, it was just a scrimmage, but these things have shown up all summer and they’ve become a part of who he is.
• Freshman Johnny Furphy, who received a ridiculously loud ovation from the crowd when he was introduced, is going to be as good as advertised. Still so early in his KU career, Furphy hasn’t even begun to find out what kind of player he can be as a Jayhawk. But if you squint, it’s pretty easy to see what that will look like. He’s long, athletic, has a good looking jumper and has elite potential on both ends of the floor. For goodness sake, the man rejected a lob pass in transition to save a possession for the red team. You’d be wise to be patient with your expectations. But when the light comes on — and it could happen sooner rather than later — it could lead to a rapid rise in his role and production.
• Speaking of Furphy, that length I mentioned could go a long way toward making an impact on this KU defense. With McCullar, Harris and Adams already in place, the Jayhawks looked flat-out nasty on defense in Puerto Rico, with Arterio Morris’ length and athleticism creating defensive disruptions, as well. But with Morris no longer with the team, the Jayhawks will need Furphy, Elmarko Jackson and even Nick Timberlake to produce in that role instead. Furphy may be the best of the bunch equipped to do so.
• There's no doubt that there's a big role on this team for Timberlake, who showed off his outside shooting in the scrimmage and could easily be, hands down, this team's best outside shooting threat. Things got a little interesting there for a while with Morris and Furphy in the mix, but Timberlake was always going to play because of that shot. He's a better athlete than people realize, though. He's good in transition. And if he can find a way to be even decent on the defensive end, minutes will be easy to come by. Timberlake's shot is so pretty and often looks so effortless. That certainly was the case on the three 3s he made in the scrimmage, one of the few highlights for the KU offense.
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