Cliff Alexander officially announced Tuesday what many Kansas Jayhawks fans assumed six weeks ago, that he would forgo his final three seasons in Lawrence and test the NBA Draft waters.
His former freshman teammate Kelly Oubre, Jr. did the same, although many knew he would be leaving even before he signed with the Jayhawks last year.
Instead of lamenting what could have been with the talented duo, Jayhawk fans can be excited for the fact their team now has three open scholarships during a time where eight of the top-20 recruits are still unsigned.
In other words, the next month could be a fun one. Here are my predictions for who the Jayhawks will land this recruiting season, why, and what the roster will look like when all is said and done.
Here is a look at what the Jayawks currently have, and what a lineup would be if Bill Self failed to sign anyone this off-season (that obviously will not happen, but this will give a clear picture of the current players and why certain positions need to be filled -- with all due respect, walk-ons not included).
|Frank Mason III+||PG||Jr.||12.6||3.9||3.9|
|Wayne Selden, Jr.||SG||Jr.||9.4||2.8||2.6|
+Projected starters if this is opening-game roster
While there is some upperclass leadership, this isn't exactly the most dominant lineup Self would ever put on the court, especially if Ellis decides to turn pro (which is more likely than you might think).
The addition of Bragg will help in the post, but Self is going to need to get him and Ellis some help on the recruiting trail. Although there are five power forwards on the roster, the Jayhawks lack a true rim-protecting center. Lucas, Mickelson, and Traylor are nice pieces to the puzzle, but if the Jayhawks are going to make a run for a title, they will need more production from that trio than a combined 10 points per game.
Recruiting "experts" across the country are split on most of the top unsigned recruits, but in the coming weeks the pieces will start to fall in to place. I'll let you in on a little secret: at this point no one really knows where the top unsigned players will land.
Two years ago, when No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins chose KU, it came as surprise to most who had predicted his parents' alma mater Florida St. would be his choice.
Stephen Zimmerman, the the seven-foot, third-ranked center took to Twitter last night to show just how much of a guessing game recruiting can truly be.
I'm not answering recruiting questions in interviews, so why would I answer them to strangers on Twitter? #PeaceAndLove— Stephen Zimmerman Jr (@BIGG_ZIMM) April 9, 2015
Sure, as the clock nears midnight on recruiting season insiders begin to have an idea, but for now, about a month away from knowing where every prospect will end up, it's still a bit of a guessing game.
Here are my best guesses:
Mike Thorne, Jr. -- C, UNC-Charlotte
Thorne could be the next signee for Kansas. The graduate transfer, who would be eligible for just one season in Lawrence, had more than 40 suitors when he announced his intention to transfer. He has now whittled it down to three: Kansas, Pitt, and Illinois.
He, as well as his high school coach, have made it well known when interviewed that a chance to play for a winning team, and develop his skills for a shot at the NBA are essential in his decision.
The Jayhawks easily fill those requirements, and give him the best shot at a national title as well. Thorne could visit with Tarik Black, who two seasons ago transferred as a graduate student to Kansas, averaged just 5.5 points per game, but played well in the NCAA Tournament and is now in the NBA.
Thorne, who averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with the 49ers last season, is visiting Kansas April 22 after initially saying it would be May 1. He will visit Pitt today and Illinois on the 17th, before making his decision on April 25.
The fact that Self has met with Thorne once and his parents a separate time, it's obvious he and his staff are interested. Look for Thorne to join the Jayhawk family 16 days from now.
Cheick Diallo -- PF, Our Savior New American School, Centereach, NY
Diallo, named MVP of this year's McDonald's High School All-American game, is the No. 6 overall player in 247Sports' rankings, and the top unsigned power forward.
At 6-foot-9 and 218 pounds, he is a high-energy, athletic big man, and proved that during the All-American game.
Cheick Diallo with the off the backboard oop & spin move #kubball @cheick_diallo13 https://t.co/o1e6sZcpAQ— Matt Scott (@KUTheShiver) April 2, 2015
He has 23 offers so far, but it appears that Kansas, St. Johns, Kentucky and Iowa St. lead the way. According to 247's Crystal Ball predictions, the Jayhawks are most likely to land him.
In an interesting twist, 247's Keven Flaherty wrote that Matt Abdelmassih, an assistant at Iowa St. for five years, took a job on Chris Mullin's staff at St. John's, which he said could be key in the Johnnies landing Diallo.
That could certainly happen, but a chance to come in and play for a perennial power like the Jayhawks, in a needed position, could bring him to Lawrence.
Brandon Ingram -- SF, Kinston High School, Kinston, NC
There is no doubt that plucking the North Carolina native from Duke, UNC or other state schools will be hard, but there is also no doubt the lanky, but super-athletic Ingram likes what he sees from the Jayhawks.
Rob Harrington, in an article from ScoutHoops.com, said Ingram "always speaks with a reverence toward his official visit to Kansas last October." Ingram, who said he considers former UNC players Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock mentors, isn't letting that influence his decision according to the article.
"I don't feel any pressure at all to stay in the state," Ingram said. "Jerry and Reggie both support me 100 percent, and they just tell me to make the decision that's best for me and my family."
On the flip side, the Jayhawks really like the top-15 prospect as well. JayhawkSlant has been reporting that Self has been very active with Ingram, telling him "Kansas needs him" directly after its tournament loss.
Again, it won't be easy but the Jayhawks always have their history and tradition in their back pocket. One thing they do not have is a small forward on the roster. Ingram could come in and make an immediate impact for a team that could use a slashing No. 3 who can get to the basket with ease, but also hit from the outside if called upon.
In-state schools have led the way in most expert predictions, but the Jayhawks are starting to trend upward in 247's rankings. Just one week ago, Duke had a 53 percent chance to land him, followed by UNC at 25 and KU at 16. Today, the Jayhawks are tied for second with UNC at 18 percent.
It can't be said enough that sometimes decisions are literally made at the last minute by these top recruits, although Ingram has said he will make a decision before the end of the month.
If it were up to Bragg, Ingram would join him in Lawrence along with No. 2 overall prospect, Jaylen Brown.
Other possibilities: Jaylen Brown (No. 2 overall player; No. 2 SF); Thon Maker No. 8 overall player; No. 3 PF); Stephen Zimmerman (No. 9 overall player; No. 3 C), Malik Newman (No. 4 overall player; No. 1 PG).
If Self pulls off this class, which would include the No. 6, 11, and 19th ranked players, as well as one of the top graduate transfers, not only would the Jayhawks be front runners to win a 12th straight Big 12 Conference title, they would be Final Four contenders as well.
If you follow KU at all, you understand that Self could change his starting lineup numerous times throughout the season, and he would have a lot to work with if this is the roster come November.
At this point Mason is penciled in to play the point, but Graham will see a lot of action, and don't be surprised to see him running the show more often than last year.
If Ellis stays, he will be playing 30-plus minutes a game, but will have more help with this lineup from Diallo and Thorne. If he leaves, adding another big man or two would become an absolute must.
Bragg will see plenty of playing time, although it will be interesting to see how Self uses all of his freshmen, considering how he brought them along slowly this year.
Returning players Seleden, Lucas, Mickelson, and Traylor will be interesting cases. Selden won't be automatically relegated to the bench, but if Mykhailiuk is as good as an NBA prospect as they say (borderline lottery pick status) he will see a lot of action. Lucas, just because of his size and rebounding ability will see playing time, but Mickelson and Traylor could get lost in the shuffle.
Traylor has failed to take that next step and show he can be a complete basketball player, and if Mickelson couldn't get regular minutes with the absence of Alexander last year, why would anyone think he will see more than 5-8 minutes per game next season?
No matter how it all plays out, there will be an abundance of talent in Lawrence next season, and it will be up to Self to make all the pieces work.
*All rankings according to 247Sports.