After another disappointing end to a season and with an obvious lack of inside presence, the Jayhawks are primed to bring in young big men to bolster the roster.
Another year, another early exit for Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks. KU’s season ended at the hands of an unlikely in-state rival, and two things were to blame: Wichita State shut down Kansas’ perimeter offense and Kansas had no significant inside presence. KU is usually a school that fans can count on to have a serious presence down low. However, this year’s team lacked that consistent production. Nobody expected Joel Embiid’s explosion in 2014, causing him to go one-and-done to the NBA. Because of Embiid’s early departure, the staff was underprepared and was unable to recruit a proper replacement. Kansas is hoping to make up for last year’s mistake with this year’s incoming class of recruits.
Kansas has already landed a McDonald’s All-American, Carlton Bragg (ESPN’s #21 overall recruit). Bragg is a versatile and extremely talented power forward from Cleveland, Ohio. Bragg will be a nice complement to Perry Ellis and will provide versatility at the PF position going forward with his ability to score inside and out. Bragg is a start when it comes to fixing the problem, but he still does not fill the main void. The eyesore of the Kansas Jayhawks this season came from the center position. Self and his staff have been working diligently this season to fill that void. As a result, KU is sitting pretty with a few top recruits that could solve their interior problems.
Ivan Rabb – Oakland, California
Position: Power Forward
Rank Overall: 6 (ESPN.com)
Height: 6’ 11″, Weight: 210 lbs
Ivan Rabb is a freak athlete. Regarded as one of the best athletes in the 2015 class, Rabb could instantly be a game-changer for Kansas. Rabb can dominate a game with his long frame, which makes him a matchup nightmare for teams. Plus, his rebounding and defensive ability is off the charts. Rabb has an unbelievable second jump that would remind KU fans of Andrew Wiggins. He can score in bunches, but will need to develop his back-to-the-basket post moves to realize his full potential at the college level, which he is fully capable of doing.
Kansas has been involved in his recruitment for a while, but Rabb has yet to visit KU officially. At this point, the silky-smooth power forward from Oakland seems to be destined to stay on the west coast. Kansas and Kentucky have been pursuing him, but this recruitment seems to be a battle of west coast teams.
Chance that KU lands Ivan Rabb: 5%.
Thon Maker – Orangeville, Ont., Canada
Rank Overall: 6 (scout.com, not listed on ESPN).
Height: 7’ 1″, Weight: 200 lbs
Thon Maker is regarded as a guy who could change the college game. The Sudan native is incredibly fun to watch. He is an unbelievable shot blocker, and his agility is off the charts for someone so tall. Maker also has a very nice jump shot that allows him to stretch a defense, which makes him incredibly difficult to guard as a center. Maker might also be the best ball handler I have seen in a long time for someone who is seven feet tall. Maker’s obvious weakness is strength. He needs to grow into his body and add a little bit of muscle. KU’s assistant athletic director of sports performance, Andrea Hudy, could do great things with Maker that would help turn him into a very special NBA prospect. Drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant, Maker is a hot commodity for every school in the nation.
At this point, I see it being a two-horse race. And those two horses won’t shock you: Kansas & Kentucky. Indiana is also heavily involved, but has ground to make up to catch KU and UK. There are still a few question marks about if Maker will actually play college basketball, but if he does, I think Kansas has a good chance to land him. Self has a good record going head to head with John Calipari in recruiting battles, and I think he has a decent chance to win this one. However, to me, Maker screams Kentucky Wildcat. At this point I would still give them the advantage.
Chance that KU lands Thon Maker: 35%
Stephen Zimmerman – Las Vegas, Nevada
Rank Overall: 10 (ESPN.com)
Height: 7’ 0″, Weight: 230 lbs
Stephen Zimmerman is an absolutely perfect fit for the Kansas Jayhawks and Bill Self. The big man from Las Vegas is an absolute stud. He is an athletic freak who excels in the high-low system. Zimmerman has great touch around the rim and possesses great back-to-the-basket moves with a high release point that makes him extremely hard to guard. He also excels at the high post with a jump shot that extends out to the three point line and exceptional passing ability. Zimmerman can be inconsistent, but he can flat-out play. I think this is the guy that Self will really lock down on now that the season is over.
Zimmerman is the perfect fit for Kansas in every single way. He fills a giant void and he happens to excel in the high-low system in which Self loves to run. KU has been in on him longer than anyone of the major schools recruiting him now, and Zimmerman was on campus for last year’s Late Night festivities, but will he leave home? That is the million dollar question. UNLV and Kansas will fight with everything they have for this seven-footer. If he leaves Vegas, I’m predicting that he will be in a Kansas uniform next season
Chance that KU lands Stephen Zimmerman: 65%
Cheick Diallo – Centereach, New York
Position: Power Forward
Rank Overall – 11 (ESPN.com)
Height: 6’ 9″, Weight: 225 lbs
Cheick Diallo is another player that Kansas would love to bring aboard next season. At 6’ 9″, Diallo is an incredible athlete with a motor that would rival Thomas Robinson. He is an absolute savage around the rim. He hunts blocked shots and aggressively attacks the glass. Diallo would be the high-energy rim protector that Kansas lacked this season. The ceiling on Diallo is incredibly high, however he his is the one big man out of these four that needs the most work. Diallo is elite defensively, but he needs to work on his offense. If Diallo can develop a few post moves and a solid 10′-15′ jump shot, he will be a prospect that will have NBA scouts drooling.
The recruitment of Diallo has been interesting. Kansas was long considered the favorite, and then the Jayhawks gained a commitment from Carlton Bragg. That seemed to cool off the Kansas steam and Iowa State became a name that everyone started connecting to Diallo. His recruitment is a question mark because his people play everything close to the chest. Kansas is still very high on the list, but his recruitment is a mystery. Self and company visited Diallo on March 23, so it seems that KU still wants him in crimson and blue.
Chance that KU lands Cheick Diallo: 45%
I feel that Kansas will land a vital big man presence for 2015-16. I believe they will land either Cheick Diallo or Stephen Zimmerman, with the advantage to Zimmerman. Self and Kurtis Townsend have done a phenomenal job recruiting him and have been with him since the very beginning. I think he ultimately decides to leave home and lands in Lawrence. Zimmerman will come in right away and start for Kansas next season. The style of play and the ability to start right away at Kansas will be what ultimately seals the deal for KU. However, Kansas will not stop with Zimmerman. KU is looking at the real possibility of losing Kelly Oubre Jr. to the NBA. If Oubre does leave, Kansas will zero in on a few wing targets to fill the hole that Oubre will be leaving. Kansas will recover, and I believe that Self signs a three-man class that has KU ranked in the top five in next year’s preseason polls. KU fans can relax; the sky is not falling, and KU is not going anywhere.