Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Kentucky coach John Calipari followed Kansas coach Bill Self onto the floor at the Brayden Carr Clinic last Friday at Rutgers.
After Self diagrammed several offensive plays to the more than 500 coaches in attendance, Calipari cracked, “You don’t think those are the plays he’s going to run against us, do you?”
Calipari was joking that Self was holding back on his full offensive arsenal, so as not to show it all to the Kentucky coach.
After all, the two legendary programs are slated to meet Nov. 15 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.
While much of the focus will center on Kentucky’s stud freshmen class, Calipari says not to overlook Kansas, either.
“Kansas is gonna be really good,” Calipari said. “Kansas lost everybody, but Thomas Robinson and the two other guards [Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson], and you see what they’re going to run. So you can be a role system player.
“As long as those other three are like stars — which they are — they’re going to be as good as anybody in the country.”
The Jayhawks have had eight kids leave early for the NBA over the last four years, including twins Marcus and Markieff Morris and freshman guard Josh Selby last year.
Yet Self is expecting big things from Robinson, a junior forward, and Taylor, a senior guard.
“I think Thomas probably had one of the better summers of any big guy in the country,” Self said last week during a recruiting visit to Roselle Catholic.
The 6-9 Thomas impressed folks at both the Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James Skills Academies.
“I told [James] to look out for me and see how I was doing because I’m going to try and make some noise this year,” Robinson said in July. “He said he will, so I hope he does.”
With the Morris twins gone, Robinson will be Kansas’s main go-to guy down low, and Self said he’s anxious to see how he responds.
“It’s a different pressure and everything but I think he’s ready for it and prepared for it,” Self said.
Robinson lost his mother, Lisa Robinson, to a heart attack last January, and she herself had lost both her parents in the weeks before that.
“He wants it bad,” Self said of the upcoming season. “He’s been through a lot personally and he’s got a great attitude and he works his butt off every day, trying to become more vocal, be a better leader.
“But his performance will determine whether we are successful or not, where in the past his performance definitely was a bonus so it’s a different type of pressure for him.”
Self is also expecting big things from Taylor, the Hoboken, N.J., native, who helped Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley win a mythical national championship at St. Anthony in 2008.
“Tyshawn has had a great fall, not a good, a great fall,” Self said. “I’ve always loved his talent. I think he’s gotten in his own way some since he’s been there, but I never questioned his competitive spirit or his talent.”
Taylor has had his issues with social media problems and confrontations with Kansas football players, but now appears to be maturing entering his senior season.
“I just think he’s older,” Self said. “He’s always been in a situation where he’s wanted it to be his team and now it could be.
“Before you had the twins here, you had Sherron [Collins] here, you had Cole [Aldrich] here. You had different things going on where he was one of the pieces but always kind of wanted to be a guy that everybody looked to as being the leader of the team, and he hasn’t been in a situation where that was possible yet.
“And for the first time it is possible, and he’s taken advantage of it.”
**Calipari says Kentucky could’ve been UCLA
**Self prefers nine-team Big 12
(Self photo courtesy Asbury Park Press)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.