Breaking the Trend: Why Self Needs to Redshirt a Freshman

Unless he is forced into it by the NCAA, Bill Self usually does not like to redshirt freshman. Instead, he usually lets those guys ride the bench in the hopes that they can find a minute or two at the end of a blowout.  In general, I like this strategy. It allows young guys to get some real game experience throughout their freshman campaigns. That’s something that you cant simulate in practice, and it gives them a taste of the floor and also a glimpse at what kind of player they will need to develop into if they are to see more of it. 

During the sophomore year the player gets to take a step back. They can reflect on the limited minutes they had, go nuts with Hudy and build up their body, study game film of themselves as a reminder of how far they have come and push the rest of the team in practice. A redshirt sophomore is a much better sparring parter for the team to develop off of in practice than a redshirt freshman.

Brannen-Greene
Brannen Greene catches his breath during a free throw at KU’s open scrimmage.

Then, in year three, these players emerge. They have transformed physically since arriving. They have two years of learning the system under their belts. They know how to play. And, in general, this strategy has paid dividends for Self’s program, producing players like Travis Releford and Brady Morningstar who, I would argue, achieved far beyond their natural gifts while at KU and far beyond what they otherwise might have if they had not taken that redshirt year.

Now, about this year’s team.  The way I see it, There are 9 players guaranteed to see minutes this season.  The starting 5: Tharpe, Seldon, Wiggins, Ellis, Black(early)/Embiid(late). The other 4: Black(late)/Embiid(early), Traylor, Mason, White III.  I think in any given game, Traylor and Mason will see the majority of that 8th man’s minutes depending on the match ups. Do we need another ball handler or do we need another big? It will vary game-to-game.

That leaves a lot of guys out of the mix. After you eliminate some guys who are guaranteed not to redshirt this season either because they can’t or because they shouldn’t (think Mason), you are left with two freshman to choose from: Greene and/or Frankamp. Coming into the season I though AWIII was the obvious choice, but it seems the kid has really developed into something this off-season and is poised to see a lot of time on the floor. Unlike last year when Big Jay could have probably crossed him over, it sounds like he will be a legitimate perimeter defender coming into this year, and we all know how well he can shoot the rock.

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Niko Roberts guards freshman PG Conner Frankamp in the Blue-Red open scrimmage.

Following typical Self logic this means you just don’t redshirt anybody. Of course, this is not a typical Self team. With so many freshman, and only two sophomores to choose from, Ellis and White III, a freshman is going to have to be redshirted this season.

The Scenarios 

There are three potential ways I see this playing out, assuming at least someone gets the shirt. I have them ordered by likelihood, with the least likely scenario first.

1. Both Frankamp and Greene. This probably isn’t going to happen. I think you have to look at the two guys and see who benefits more from the year off and go with him, leaving the other to develop while burning a year of eligibility and giving you some valuable minutes every few games whether its because of poor play or injury higher up the food chain.

2. Greene only. This is a viable option. It seems like Greene has been a little slow absorbing the offensive and defensive philosophies so pervasive at Kansas, but he wouldn’t be relied upon heavily this season and should still get some time late in games to see the floor. Or in some of the above-mentioned scenarios as a result of poor play or injury.

3. Frankamp only. This seems like the best option to me. Frankamp is the one player who looks out of place on this roster. He is physically just not there yet. And, unlike a guy like Greene who is also a little light at the moment, he doesn’t have great length for his position to make up for it. He is a fantastic shooter, maybe the best marksman Bill has ever recruited, but there are plenty of more than serviceable shooters on this roster who can light it up from deep including Seldon, Wiggins, Tharpe and White III. Having one more marksman who likely won’t have the physicality needed to get open this season is probably not where the greatest lies. Especially at the expense of said marksman with a developed ability to get open and to release a quick shot a few years from now.

The dark horse option is, of course, that my summer prediction that White III would redshirt will come to pass.  Any other year I think he makes the most sense, but as I stated earlier, this is not any other year. White III brings experience to a very inexperienced team. That could be a prized asset going forward. If he has also developed the physicality and motor that Self has alluded to in recent weeks, I think there is no way he redshirts this season. If, however, his practice effort fails to translate to the floor and he has an underwhelming exhibition showing, he may still be a guy Self decides to hold out. If that happens, I still think Frankamp sits this season, which leaves Self with a paltry 11 eligible and legitimate talents to choose from. Woe is him.

We should know more after watching Frankamp, Greene and White III go tonight in Allen Fieldhouse as the Jayhawks take on Pitt State at 7:00pm. It is going to be fun. Enjoy the game everybody.