Dear Lawsons: Don’t Copy Ball To Be The Balls, Just Ball. Sincerely, KU BALLS

C9FojYGUIAAUuz1Let me address this first: Yes, the purpose of this post is primarily just to validate the title. Now that that is out of the way…

Earlier this week, Dedric and K.J. Lawson announced that they would be transferring to Kansas, where they would be eligible to play beginning the 2018-2019 season. As they played for a Memphis team in its first year under Tubby Smith that finished 19-13 and 5th in the less-than-mighty AAC Conference, it’s understandable that many casual fans don’t know who they are. I watch a ton of college basketball and I don’t think I ever watched any of Memphis’ games this past year. But I know who the Lawsons are, and their transferring to KU is a big get for Coach Self. Pardon me, Hall of Fame Coach Self…

The Lawson brothers started nearly all of Memphis’ 32 contests (K.J. only missed starting a single one) and combined for over 31 points and 18 rebounds a game, so they will bring valuable experience to the Jayhawks when they begin their campaigns in Lawrence. You could point to Memphis’ overall record and ask if the Lawsons are really all that good, since it seems like two players of that high caliber should be able to have more of a postive impact on their team, and that would be a fair point. My counter would be that the turmoil of a coaching change inevitably results in what a team can realistically aspire to achieve, as well as that their supporting cast was a bit…light.

Talent-wise, both players were ranked in the top 40 out of high school, with Dedric being selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. In addition, they each won the AAC Rookie of the Year Award – Dedric in 2016 and K.J. in 2017. Coach Self’s “big get” doesn’t stop there, though…

As much as we hear about the Ball family, one could argue that the Lawson family may be better. Lonzo Ball is brilliant, but incoming freshman LiAngelo is considered a fringe top 200 recruit, most likely signed by UCLA in an attempt to help secure the youngest, LaMelo, who is currently ranked #14 for the 2019 class.

Dedric and K.J. are older brothers to 2019’s #20 ranked Chandler Lawson and 2021’s #6 recruit Johnathan Lawson, as well as cousins to 2019’s #6 ranked D.J. Jeffries. Obviously a lot can happen in a couple of years and there is no guarantee those three will ultimately attend KU, but at the very least with Dedric and K.J. being Jayhawks, you know Coach Self will be heard & seriously considered. If the remaining Lawsons & D.J. Jeffries maintain their rankings through their development and level of play, Self could be looking at the possibility of having the inside track for three future McDonald’s All-Americans in addition to Dedric. Not too shabby, particularly when you consider they’re all from the same family…

What we don’t need more of however, are any more distractions. This past year saw an unusually high number of bad decisions, potentially criminal behavior, and just plain stupidity by KU players, and we don’t need any more of these kind of issues. I’m perfectly fine with players having a bit of an edge to be able to play with an edge, know that kids 18-22 are going to do dumb things, and am incredibly thankful that I’m not growing up with the multitude of social media platforms and pervasive cameras to document every aspect of my life. And I’m sure it was stressful to have a new coach come in that you didn’t choose to play for, who not only changed the team’s style of play, but also demoted your father. But still, there was no need for K.J. to curse at Tubby Smith on his way out – you won. You’re on your way to a better school, a better basketball program, a better coach, better basketball opportunities in the future – no need to run your mouth like dad LaVar Ball and say anything stupid (like this, or this, or this, or this – hell, just check here for a top 10 ranking).

To be clear, just looking at K.J.’s comments in a vacuum, I am solidly in the “Who cares, it’s not a big deal” camp. What makes this a bit different to me however, is the steady drip of bad publicity surrounding the team that has popped up over the past six months, and now any slightly questionable behavior is going to be magnified on the national stage. I’m glad K.J. apologized for it and hope he learned that – particularly at a high-profile school like Kansas – he should keep his trash talk on the court.

There’s no need to channel Papa Ball – the Lawson clan could be set up to out-ball the Balls on the court and with their lasting impact at KU.

Rock Chalk!

KU BALLS Digital Experience

 

With the unplanned & unexpected pause to the Jayhawk’s postseason (grumble) and the resulting lack of desire to watch other conference tournaments, KU BALLS management took the opportunity of the break in action to update the inventory list and make sure security-tracking sensors on each of the items were installed with the latest software downloads. KU BALLS also made some minor changes to the items currently on display and you can see the refreshed look, above.

Inspired by the detailed listing of items from the popular “Slumbering Jayhawk” portrait, KU BALLS also decided to do something similar with its current attractions (after removing most of the duplicate items from display, of course). Although thousands visit KU BALLS each month, we recognize that not everyone is able to work such a pilgrimage into their busy lives and are pleased to offer a digital experience of the museum:

KU BALLS may also provide the audio tour for download (for only a nominal fee) in the future, but obviously the full experience can only truly be enjoyed by visiting the museum in-person. The memorabilia serves as a touch point for the rich history of Kansas basketball, and our knowledgeable staff is world-renowned for their ability to seemingly transport visitors back in time, as if sharing the hardwood with the Jayhawk legends of yesterday.

Until you are able to make your arrangements for such a visit however, please enjoy the KU BALLS Digital Experience. Rock Chalk!

Celebrating Black History Month: University of Kansas Firsts

c3oa-nqumaijlzj

As you know, February is Black History Month, and ESPN had a nice feature story a couple of nights ago about Baylor guard Ishmail Wainright, whose grandfather Maurice King was the first African-American starter in Kansas basketball history during the 1954 season. Wainright debuted a custom jersey honoring his grandfather when Baylor visited Lawrence the first of the month, and if you haven’t seen ESPN’s piece, it’s worth checking out:

KU BALLS is proud to honor Maurice King along with other African-Americans and their notable firsts at Kansas:

img_8375

LaVannes Squires was the first African-American to play at the University of Kansas.

IMG_0982

Maurice King, whose signature is in the upper right of the program, was the first African-American starter at KU and played with some guy named Wilt Chamberlain on the 1957 national runner-up team.

img_8374

Al Correll was the first African-American captain at the University of Kansas.

img_8373

Lafayette Norwood was the first African-American assistant coach at Kansas.

IMG_0590

John McLendon, although not allowed to play basketball while he went to school at KU, studied under James Naismith before going on to become the first African-American basketball coach at a predominantly white university as well as the first African-American head coach in any professional sport.

To these and all the other African-American pioneers who helped blaze a trail at Kansas for everyone that came after them, a truly respectful Rock Chalk!

C+C+C+C=13th C (And maybe a 4th C, too?)

img_8337

The Alpha and the Omega of the past 13 Big 12 titles.

Now that KU has secured the outright Big 12 title with yesterday’s win over Texas, I started thinking about the characteristics of this year’s team and the unique qualities that have been on display on the march towards our 13th conference championship in a row. Years from now when I think back to what defined this year’s team, these are the hallmarks I believe I will remember:

ku_bkc_tcu_16_t640

CAMARADERIE

I don’t want to dwell on this for too long, but this has definitely been a challenging season when you consider the number of off-the-court issues this team has faced. Carlton Bragg, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson and Lagerald Vick have, either fairly or unfairly – and let’s be honest, some of the news has been troubling – all been been thrust into the national spotlight for actions & situations that no one wishes would have occurred. In addition, the shadow of an alleged rape investigation still hasn’t been (at least publicly) addressed. Despite the distractions and suspensions however, the team has remained focused enough to stay a top ranked team for the entire season. I don’t want to speculate that the team has become closer as protection against the swirl of events outside the locker room, but it wouldn’t be difficult to see them rallying into a more cohesive & tight-knit team and adopting a bunker-like “us against the world” mentality. When you also think back to the number of times Coach Self commented how well this team gets along and how fun of a group it is to coach, you can’t help but believe this closeness has played a significant part of the team’s success.

CONTROL

Although it would be easy to point to Self, this refers more to the leadership of the upperclassmen – primarily Landen Lucas and Frank Mason. All season, Lucas has served as KU’s rock on the inside. Not flashy, not perfect, not the person we all originally thought would be our primary force on the inside, but Lucas has provided consistency and reliability – as well as a couple of game-winning free-throws. As for Mason…what more can you say? He has been phenomenal, being the clear front-runner for national player of the year, let alone Big 12 player of the year. It became clear this was Mason’s team with his game winner against Duke, and ever since then he has consistently willed this team to victory with a combination of timely shots, relentless attacks to the hoop, and conditioning that has allowed him to be on the court for an amazing amount of time. Plus, he already has his own theme song, which I conservatively estimate that I reference & yell out a half-dozen times each game…

ku_bkc_tcu_12_t640

A lineup seemingly built perfect for a small-ball offense.

CHANGE

A couple of months ago when Udoka Azubuike suffered his season-ending wrist injury, I speculated that – at least offensively – the Jayhawks could end up being a better team. I believed that out of necessity, Coach Self would embrace the NBA’s concept of pace & space, and there would be a marked increase of our shooting three-pointers. Although I give myself points for seeing that the 2016-2017 team would play differently, I didn’t get it exactly right.

capture

As you can see by the tempo and 3-point field goal attempts as a percentage of overall field goals from kenpom.com, this year’s team isn’t significantly different than Self’s average at Kansas.

The best summary I’ve seen on our play this year is from Jonathan Tjarks, Staff Writer at The Ringer, in his article, “The Jayhawks Newly Modern Dominance“: “Kansas is playing a dramatically different style of basketball this season compared with how Self has dominated the conference in years past. A coach who made his name throwing the ball into the post is spreading the floor with shooters and running pick-and-rolls. He’s winning with small ball. One of college basketball’s blue bloods is playing NBA-style basketball, and it could be the key to its first national title in nearly a decade.” Of course a key reason for being able to do this is how Self has utilized the uber-talented Jackson as the team’s Swiss Army Knife. Instead of being a typical, perimeter-shooting wing, Jackson has been given the green light to take his defender to the basket at every man defense opportunity, serving as a type of offensive conductor & point-person when KU goes against zone defenses to take advantage of his incredible vision & passing ability, and employing his lock-down defender skills against every position on the court.

img_0014

CLUTCH

This, the final C that labels the 2016-2017 team, is probably the most significant. One might be tempted to look at how the Jayhawks have had to come from behind in multiple games this year and call the team lucky, but there’s no doubt about how tough this has ultimately made the team. “As far as a mental toughness team, I would take this team and go to the house and let it ride however it goes,” KU coach Bill Self said after the (Baylor) win. “(Late in the game, you) gotta have great possessions every time, and these guys did it.”

Although no game showcases this team’s ability to persevere like the amazing, come-from-behind victory against West Virginia when the Jayhawks were down by 14 when Mason went to the free-throw line with 2:43 remaining in regulation, there have been numerous instances when KU has had to find the will and the way to win: from the white-hot, national spotlight games against Duke and Kentucky, to the revenge-focused conference battles at K-State and Baylor. Just about every time KU takes the court we’re our opponent’s Game Of The Year, and there is an inevitable learning curve as players learn to take everyone’s best shot night in and night out. This year, KU has played one of the five-toughest schedules in college basketball and compete in what is widely renowned as the toughest conference – and we’re currently 26-3, won the conference by multiple games, and just might be ranked the #1 team in the nation on Monday. I don’t envision too many scenarios from here on out that should rattle this team. If, as the saying goes, there are no diamonds without pressure, the Jayhawks could be considered De Beers…

There definitely are some flaws with this year’s KU team, and another injury or even some ill-timed foul trouble could spell disaster – just like for everyone else. But the Jayhawks are one of college basketball’s best, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re able to use the strength & qualities displayed in the four Cs outlined above and win not just our 13th straight conference championship, but our fourth NCAA championship, as well.

Here’s looking forward to our march through March – Rock Chalk!

Congrats Brandon Rush, the All-Time Second-Best #25

ku_bkc_tcu_26_t960

In case you missed it the other day, KU retired Brandon Rush’s jersey in a halftime ceremony during the game against TCU.

Rush now makes the third, #25 jersey hanging in the rafters, and I think everyone would agree that he ranks second only to Danny Manning of the twelve total players who have worn that number at KU.

KU BALLS is proud to say that Rush’s jersey has been retired in honor here for several years, and that it’s good to see KU finally catching up. 😉

img_8333

In addition to his jersey, KU BALLS is proud to display other, Rush-related memorabilia in concert with the well-deserved retirement ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse:

img_8332IMG_1076 IMG_1077

Rock Chalk, Brandon Rush!

Kansas vs. Kentucky: Emotional Rescue

champions-classic-kansas-duke-kentucky-michigan-state-frank-mason

For the second time in two years, Kansas and Kentucky take the court against each other, and once again the game has a backdrop of emotion for the KU faithful.

IMG_1909

Ticket from the first KU-UK game in Allen in 1959, and one from last year’s game.

To be clear, last year’s game had a more positive emotional vibe as at halftime there was a ceremony to unveil Naismith’s original rules of basketball:

This year’s backdrop, unfortunately, has a much different emotional tone. In addition to coming off of a beat-down in Morgantown, there is the shadow of a rape investigation at McCarthy Hall, a drug case stemming from that investigation, and Carlton Bragg being suspended indefinitely – possibly as a result of a run-in with law enforcement he had even before a more publicized one in December. And this is all just since Tuesday. Busy week. Tomorrow’s game with Kentucky is the biggest game of the year (so far) for Kansas, but not quite for why you might think…

allen_rupp

Even Phog Allen and Adolph Rupp got confused…

It’s obviously a big game – two of basketball’s bluest of blue bloods, both ranked in the top four, taking the court against each other. In many ways, Kentucky has more at stake. As it’s at Rupp Arena, Kentucky is the favorite and has the pressure from being expected to win. In addition, the SEC is recognized as a weaker conference than the Big 12, so winning the conference title may not quite mean as much because Kentucky won’t have the same opportunities to “shine” against quality opponents that KU does as it relates to getting a good seed for the NCAA Tournament.

The reason it’s a big game for Kansas however, isn’t because of what’s on the line if the Jayhawks lose, it’s a big game for Kansas because it’s important to see how the Jayhawks respond.

Bill Self Trophies

There aren’t any trophies for moral victories. Even if there were, it’s not like Coach Self has the room for them, anyway…

I’m not into moral victories, but if KU is intense and focused throughout the game with Kentucky and maintains a high level of effort, I’ll be satisfied. Against West Virginia earlier this week, there was a possession around the five-minute mark when the Jayhawks barely attempted to defend a three-point shot from the corner and then gave a lackluster effort on the resulting rebound. It was at that point, after numerous moments of maddeningly inconsistent effort, that I declared the game was over – all that was left to find out was whether the Mountaineers would rush the court.

No mid-season game can truly be considered a must-win game, but the Jayhawks simply have to muster-the-will against Kentucky. I want to see KU display the grit and determination that a title-worthy contender has to possess. The loss to West Virginia, the distractions (at the very least) swirling around the team from the investigations, Bragg’s absence, the bright lights of playing in THE marquee game of the weekend (if not the month or season), an amped Rupp arena poised to explode in full-throated roar at any moment to rattle the underdog Jayhawks – these are all excuses that can be used to explain why Kansas could struggle during the game. My prediction for the game however, is this: Frank Mason will be the savior, steadfast and true, and come to the Jayhawk’s emotional rescue.

Mason will come prepared to lead the team by sheer force of will fueled by the party-size bag of chips that will be on each of his shoulders. Every slight, ranging from questions about his height to questions about how he will be able to keep up with the “more talented” Kentucky guards to questions about the overall potential of the team to questions about the overall character of his team, will trigger a fearless drive to the basket, a pinpoint pass to a teammate, a nothing-but-net three-pointer. And with Mason’s example, the rest of the team will follow – intense and focused.

img_8160

In short, expect Frank Mason to have a BIFM kind of a game…

Rock Chalk!

A Moment of Silence and Answering the Question: Why Collect Memorabilia?

img_0013

Early Sunday morning, news broke about Yordano Ventura’s tragic death in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Others will celebrate his life and reflect on his accomplishments & impact far better than I could, but I thought I would use this as an opportunity to talk about why I collect Jayhawk (and a handful of other) memorabilia.

First time visitors to KU BALLS, once they get past the fact that a grown man has a shrine dedicated to college-age boys, typically ask the question, “How much is this worth?” Some pieces could fetch a premium on eBay to the right collector, but the majority of the items would probably go for noticeably less than I paid. The money doesn’t completely reflect the value, however; the value lies in the memories that are invoked – both as a communal and as a personal history.

img_8127

I have a handful of Kansas City Royals items, including the above ball with Yordano Ventura’s signature smack dab on the logo. Before today, when I looked at this ball I didn’t see a dollar sign, I would instead remember the collection of personalities on the team, how this team helped reconnect me to baseball, how my wife and I made an event of watching the games together, how this team triggered memories of the fantastic teams from the ’70s that I grew up watching, and of course, the thrill of winning the 2015 World Series. Now, I’ll also remember Ventura’s incredible Game 6 performance from 2014, the blazing speed he could reach with the right pitch, his fiery temper & competitive spirit, the wistful feeling of “what could have been,” and a reminder to hold my family & loved ones close.

This is why I collect memorabilia – to help serve as a physical connection to the memories and experiences that I hold dear.

Rest in peace, Yordano…