Watching the clinic put on by the Morris twins last night it occurred to me that being a Kansas big man might just be the best gig in college basketball. I suppose I should say it re-occurred to me because ever since Bill Self and Danny Manning have teamed up at Kansas both the offensive philosophy and the coaching instruction have been absolutely ideal for any big time big man recruit with NBA aspirations.
Let's start at the beginning. Bill Self takes over for Kansas at the start of the 2003-2004 season. Closely coinciding with his hiring is the announcement by Danny Manning that he will be hanging it up after 15 seasons in the NBA. From the beginning Bill Self was someone that embraced the history of Kansas basketball and it comes as no surprise that when Manning wanted to get involved, Self found a spot.
This first Bill Self team was obviously comprised of players recruited by former coach Roy Williams. Wayne Simien, Jeff Graves and David Padgett are your big men along with an emerging walk on extraordinaire,Christian Moody. For the sake of this discussion year one is a wash. It's the first in a system and a first working with coach Manning. Nonetheless this was an Elite 8 team.
That brings us to year two. David Padgett departed for Louisville after giving Self's system a try. He did some nice things for Rick Pitino, but I bet he has at least once had a second thought after seeing what Self's bigs have accomplished. Wayne Simien is an All American, Christian Moody becomes the world greatest walk on and Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson join the ranks. Simien is drafted in the 1st round of the NBA draft.
2005-2006 of course brings about the second consecutive 1st round tournament loss for Kansas. But Julian Wright joins the team as a bit of a tweener and Kaun begins to emerge as a solid big man for Kansas.
2006-2007 Kaun continues to assert himself while the Jayhawks add Darrell Arthur to the mix. This is an Elite 8 team for Kansas with Julian Wright departing for the NBA Lottery based on his performance. For Wright a lot of it was about potential, but he had made strides in his two seasons and in a different world where he might stay four years, his time at Kansas could have helped polish up a raw but explosive game even more.
2007-2008 of course brings a National Title to Lawrence. This is the year where Sasha Kaun's role slowly shifts as Darnell Jackson emerges and Darrell Arthur becomes a regular. This is the year where you see three players fit the system and three players who have had the benefit of that developmental time with Danny Manning. Any one of these three could be relied upon to provide a boost at any given time and Jackson's growth specifically was astonishing. The fourth big man in the rotation for Kansas was of course Cole Aldrich and despite having a field day against Tyler Hansbrough in the Final Four, Aldrich was playing in slow motion during his first year as he tried to adjust.
As we know Arthur and Jackson have now put together a nice little run in the NBA. And for his part Sasha Kaun, who was drafted, elected to return home for a more lucrative situation overseas.
Jumping ahead a season to what many considered a transitional year in 2008-2009 and Cole Aldrich is the lone remaining big, while a set of twins from Philadelphia arrive on the scene. Aldrich explodes and becomes 1st round NBA material, while the Morris twins stumble their way through year one and the Jayhawks make a surprising Sweet 16 run while winning the Big 12.
2009-2010 sees the return of national title aspirations for Kansas as Cole Aldrich goes from 1st round pick to surefire lottery selection while dominating the paint throughout the season. Two years ago this wide eyed freshman was along for the ride and now he looks like a player ready to shoulder a load underneath.
The Morris twins show dramatic improvement in what might be the most ringing endorsement for Manning's efforts to date and Thomas Robinson, another raw big man with off the chart athleticism joins the team.
That brings us to this year and a season where Marcus and Markieff Morris absolutely take over games for long stretches and Thomas Robinson has worked his way into the NBA discussion with a motor that doesn't quit and a sense of his place in the game that he didn't have a year ago. Some NBA projections list ALL THREE as first round picks in the upcoming draft with Marcus Morris listed as a lottery selection. That's almost unheard of.
Sure there have been those that didn't last at Kansas. CJ Giles, David Padgett, Quintrell Thomas. But the players that remained in this system have been rewarded throughout Bill Self's tenure. Almost to a player the big men at Kansas over the last eight seasons have enjoyed some level of success and most have garnered NBA attention.
Yes it helps to land big time recruits, but the system and the help from coach Manning are invaluable. Recruits come here with potential. The coaches still have to help them reach that.
What's more impressive is Kansas has done it with different types of bigs. They aren't all big lumbering shot blocking post players. They aren't all agile athletic wings stuck in a big mans body. Kansas has had both, the system has accommodated both and both types of players have flourished at Kansas.
Next year is looking like it may once again challenge that development, but for now it's hard to believe that any big man in the country wouldn't open their door and sit down for a chat with Bill Self when evaluating their college options. And yes I'm biased, but at that point why wouldn't you want to play for the Jayhawks?