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.
This interview with Kansas Coach Bill Self at the Reebok All-American Camp is the first in a series of interviews with Division 1 head coaches conducted at camps this summer.
PHILLY – Bill Self knows the 2009-10 version of the Kansas Jayhawkscan contend for their second national championship in three years, but the coach isn’t about to make that boast to the world.
Still, the Jayhawks are the consensus preseason No. 1 pick entering next year’s college basketball campaign.
Kansas scored two huge coups after last season when 5-11 point guard Sherron Collins and 6-11 center Cole Aldrich both opted to spend another year on campus instead of playing professionally. Both players were first-team All-Big 12 picks.
Collins led the Jayhawks in scoring at 18.9 points per game to go with 5.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds last year en route to being named a third-team AP All-American selection.
Aldrich was the second leading scorer on Kansas’ Big 12 regular-season and Sweet 16 team with 14.9 points. He led the team with 11.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
“I thought there was doubt, especially with Sherron [coming back]. But he never wavered,” Self said. “I mean he came and told me what he wanted to do without me even really having the chance to investigate that much for him. And Cole said all along he was coming back, so I never though Cole would jump. But I did think there would be a chance that Sherron and Cole would both test, and they both decided not too.”
Kansas returns all five starters from last season in Aldrich, Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Marcus Morris and Brady Morningstar.Tyrel Reed, Markieff Morris, Mario Little and Travis Releford all return after playing significant minutes off the bench..
“I think we should be pretty good because we return basically our main parts off of a pretty good team. And we’ve added some things through recruiting that probably wasn’t the most heralded class, but we’ve got five guys coming in that could all be in our rotation, too,” Self said at the recent Reebok All-American Camp. “We have five guys that could be in our top eight or nine in addition to what we return, so I think we’ll have great depth.”
That incoming group includes Jeff Withey, a 6-10 center who transferred from Arizona; 6-8 freshman forward Thomas Robinson; 6-2 point guard Elijah Johnson; 6-6 freshman wing Xavier Henry; and 6-4 point guard C.J. Henry, Xavier’s brother, who transferred from Memphis.
Kansas appeared poised to take a commitment from Brooklyn’s Lance Stephenson in late March, but after John Calipari departed Memphis for Kentucky Henry became a free agent and ultimately committed to the school that both his parents attended.
Still, it seemed until recently that Xavier might still end up with Calipari at Kentucky, especially after an article in a local newspaper portrayed the family, including Carl Henry, the boys’ father, in a less than positive light.
“It wasn’t as much with the boys as it was mom and dad getting upset over a couple things that had transpired, including a newspaper article,” Self said. “I gotta believe that that’s situation has been handled and the boys are looking forward to being in Lawrence.”
Asked which of his new players could make the biggest immediate contribution, Self said:
“I think on paper Xavier and Thomas Robinson. And then I’m really anxious to see C.J. Henry play because he’s plenty good enough based on where he was before baseball. So it will be really interesting to see how quick he’s able to get back in the flow of it.”
C.J. averaged 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.4 steals to earn all-state honors his senior year at Putnam City High in 2005. He then spent three years playing baseball in the Yankees organization before enrolling at Memphis as a non-scholarship student.
Between Collins, Taylor and C.J. Henry, Self has a slew of options at the point guard position.
“Tyshawn and Sherron are pretty good, but certainly we’re going to have some competition back there for sure,” Self said.
Taylor spent part of the summer with the USA U19 National Team that won the FIBA World Championship in New Zealand, and he was named to the all-tournament team for his play.
St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley said both Taylor and Rutgers guard Mike Rosario should test the NBA waters depending on their sophomore seasons.
“I think it’s way too early to talk about that,” Self said of Taylor. “Here’s a guy that averaged 9 points a game last year and had a great year for us, but let’s let some things play out…But if they’re ready they’re ready. And I certainly wouldn’t stand in their way. We probably have a couple other guys that may be thinking the same thing right now.”
Still, Self said Taylor’s experience with USA Basketball would be a major confidence boost.
“I think [playing with USA Basketball] will help [Taylor’s] confidence a lot,” Self said. “He’s playing well. The coaches over there seem to like him a lot. I think it’s going to help his confidence and help his leadership.
“We were just so young last year, but the key to our team will be getting Tyshawn and the Morris twins and our complementary players last year to play at a much higher level because I do think if Sherron and Cole have comparable year to last year, then we’re going to be able to score the ball and have a depth and should be a lot of fun.”
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(Photos courtesy KUSports.com)
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.