Sunday marked the final day that players were allowed to withdraw their name from the NBA draft and while the Kansas Jayhawks were never going to see the return of the Morris twins or Josh Selby, the date does provide some clarity as to how the Kansas 2011 roster might shape up.
For Kansas fans the last seven years have provided a fortunate and enjoyable ride. Seven consecutive Big 12 championships, a NCAA championship and a healthy total in the win column seemed the result of a series of good fortunes in terms of recruiting and player development.
Whether it was the blockbuster class of Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright or the rapid and dramatic improvement on the court of Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins, Bill Self has had a full stable and depth at his disposal that made him the envy of many. Is 2011 the year that Kansas finally takes a step back and looks to take on a bit of a rebuilding project? Following the 2008 National Title it was expected but never materialized and after a great season cut short in 2010, that time may finally settle in.
If history is any indication it might be premature and even risky to doubt Bill Self, but look at the big picture. Kansas had a rotation that went somewhere between eight and nine deep for the 2010 season. Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Mario Little and Josh Selby are all departing. Four of the six mentioned are starters and the other two were key contributors in the rotation at varying points in the season.
Those changes leave the Jayhawks with very little in the way of proven commodities. The trio of Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson are the notable returnees that will be relied on. Robinson and Johnson are juniors while Taylor is a senior. The big question will be whether or not that nucleus can pick up the slack and provide enough stability to bridge the gap.
The backcourt rotation will also include incoming freshman Naadir Tharpe and Ben Mclemore along with the possibility of a player like Connor Teahan or Travis Releford filling in minutes. The big question with Releford will be how he fits in the rotation. At the moment the Kansas big man situation is thin with Robinson, Jeff Withey and incoming freshman Braeden Anderson the primary three that are being talked about. Does an undersized Releford work into that mix over a raw but more prototypical big man in Anderson? Does walk on Justin Wesley factor into that rotation ala Christian Moody?
At every turn there seems to be more questions than answers and that often leads to growing pains and what many will point to as a rebuilding year. With all that in mind there are still a few pieces left to drop and with the NBA draft deadline past and teams around the country taking shape, the Jayhawks will await final word on a few recruits set to decide by May 18th.
Trevor Lacey is a five star shooting guard out of Alabama that spent last weekend on campus in Lawrence and is set to decide between Kentucky, Alabama and Kansas with many predicting Kentucky as the favorite. DeAndre Daniels is another major talent and a good sized small forward set to decide between Kansas, Duke and Texas. Jamari Traylor is a raw power forward prospect out of Florida and Traylor is expected to make a decisions soon between Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Overall the optimism with regards to Lacey seems to be dwindling. Where Daniels ends up is anyone's guess right now but both Lacey and Daniels would stand to see immediate playing time and factor into the rotation early with the Jayhawks. Traylor is another piece with some upside but like Anderson he is viewed more as a three or four year player with upside as opposed to an instant game changer.
Where the roster settles in terms of recruiting will go a long way toward determining the Jayhawks fate. The Big 12 as a whole looks wide open in 2011-2012 and Kansas looks to have a rotation, talent pool and experience level much more closely aligned with the rest of the pack in the Conference at first glance. At the same time, Bill Self has shown the ability time and time again to shift expectations in a hurry during his time in Lawrence and elsewhere.