Much like the center position this is a bit of a blurry line in terms of who qualifies as a small forward and who qualifies as a third guard on the court. Bill Self has and will go with either look depending on what lineup gives him the best chance to win.
The fact is that many teams in college basketball struggle to fill a true small forward which is what makes having one so valuable. In the case of Kansas in 2010-2011 there does appear to be a pair that fit the mold but we really don't know what we're getting with either.
How Travis Releford and Mario Little pan out could have a big impact on the season for Kansas. After having both sit through redshirt seasons a year ago, it will be interesting to see how much development has occurred in both.
Little arrived on campus the year following the Kansas 2007-2008 National Title. Along with the Morris twins, Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford, the class was viewed as one that could make the transition following the mass departures that occurred. For their part this group has contributed to that transition quite nicely.
With Little, his role was expected to be a little more significant. As what many viewed as the top junior college player in the country, Little had shown the ability to score and the hope was that he would bring that to Kansas. Between a nagging injury and playing out of position that just didn't happen.
During his junior campaign, Little played in 23 games and averaged just 4.6 points per contest. It was hard to get a true sense of what he had to offer because he was playing through pain and the fact that the Morris twins were still a bit of a project meant that most of Little minutes came at the power forward spot. Sure Richard Scott played that role at 6'6", but there are only a few Richard Scott's.
The following season saw the arrival of Kansas' first one and done talent in Xavier Henry. The Jayhawks were as deep as any team in the country and for Little, a senior season spent cheering from the sidelines wasn't all that appealing. With a redshirt year to burn Little made the sacrifice and practiced all year knowing full well he'd never touch the floor.
That brings us to our final season with Mario Little and as with most junior college players it feels like we've hardly had a chance to get to know him. The good news is Little has an opportunity to play a key role and really develop the type of story that Kansas basketball fans love. A player who's made some sacrifices, stuck it out and eventually taken his turn on the court.
Little can play anywhere from the 2-4 spot on the court depending on the look that Coach Self is going for and that versatility could allow Little the opportunity to make a bigger impact than he might otherwise. All signs are that he's back at 100% health and feeling confident in his ability to score points once again. Little brings a smooth, effortless style of play to the court and if he can provide a spark and some extra leadership when needed he might just end up being a big part of the success for Kansas in 2010-2011.
A local product with a story that is developing into a good one. Releford, like Little, was part of the group ushering in a new era. Unlike Little, Releford's first year wasn't one that many look back on and say what if. The fact is, Travis Releford needed some time to develop.
In an era of instant gratification and one and done superstars, Travis Releford is almost the opposite. He's a throwback to the days when guys came in, learned the game by competing against stiff competition in practice and waited their turn to see the floor.
Looking back there were rumblings that he would transfer, rumblings that there was distrust in Coach Self and that Releford was unhappy with his role. At this point it's hard to imagine any of that is the case because you can't go into what he's gone through without some buy in.
Releford stumbled through a freshman year, sat through a redshirt year and now he's taking the court and looking like a solid defensive player that with a little more time could start really contributing offensively as well.
Releford appears more confident, he appears less frantic and right now he's just a redshirt sophomore. The story of Darnell Jackson is a good one to look at. Jackson was a player that it took three years before he really figured it out. Jackson's senior year was almost out of nowhere. I'm not saying that Releford will reach that or that he won't, but as a player who likely grew up watching Kansas basketball and as a fan of Kansas basketball, it sure feels like he has the buy in and work ethic to make an impact.
For 2010-2011, Kansas will need Releford to bring energy to the defensive end and feel comfortable attacking offensively. We've heard his shot has improved, but at the same time he has the ability to attack the rim and getting to the free throw line can be just as valuable. Between Releford and Little, the small forward/3rd guard spot has the opportunity to be a nice role player position for the Kansas Jayhawks.