Kansas recently celebrated senior day with an exciting 85-78 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones, capping off their 12th straight Big 12 championship. Seniors are often an integral part of successful teams, and this Kansas team reflects that. Before we get too caught up in the madness of March, let’s take some time to reflect on the four players whose college careers are coming to a close.
A transfer student from the University of Arkansas, Mickelson enjoyed two seasons on the court for Kansas, following his redshirt season of 2013-14. Though Mickelson didn’t find his way into meaningful minutes during the 2014-15 season, he did play a large role in South Korea at the World University Games, where he averaged 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds, helping lead a makeshift Kansas team to the gold medal.
Mickelson’s performance in Korea put him in position to play an expanded role on this year’s KU squad, but a mid-season injury and the emergence of Landen Lucas diminished his role. Mickelson provides great energy, defensive prowess and rebounding off of the incredibly deep Kansas bench. Though Mickelson’s role may be diminished even further going forward, he is anything but a liability if his name is called upon.
The son of an all-time Kansas great, Evan Manning has enjoyed minutes in all four years as a walk-on for the Jayhawks. The Lawrence native and Free State High School star may not have seen much time in terms of meaningful minutes for Bill Self’s team, but his impact on the program has been immeasurable.
Having a player of such basketball pedigree as a walk-on is a luxury that not many programs enjoy. As Tom Keegan of KUSports.com writes, “Watching him play for a 6A high school, it was clear that Manning had a very high basketball IQ, an unselfish approach, gave maximum effort, and possessed enough skill and athleticism to compete credibly against scholarship players in practice.” For Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, having a player like Manning to square off against in practice helps them prepare for the rigors of the Big 12 schedule, where they face heady, talented guards in nearly every single contest.
Traylor, the fifth year senior from Chicago, has evolved into a player that, though offensively limited, provides Kansas with incredible energy and defense off of the bench. Traylor’s defensive rating of 92.5 is tops on the team among players who average 10 or more minutes per game.
In Kansas’ thrilling triple overtime win over Oklahoma, Traylor came up big off of the bench, scoring six points on three of three shooting while pulling down four rebounds, and erasing three Sooner shots. Though Traylor began this season as KU’s starting center, he has eased into his role off of the bench. His production going forward, particularly on the defensive end, will be important to the trajectory of this Kansas team. Although Traylor’s offensive ability may be limited, he still possesses the athletic ability to do things like this, making him a tough match-up for many opposing bigs.
If you haven’t already, go check out this piece by Ryan Landreth on what Perry Ellis has meant to the University of Kansas. Ellis has quietly produced one of the best careers at one of the greatest basketball schools in the country. Before that, Ellis was a four-time high school state champion, as well as four-time Kansas Gatorade player of the year; both legendary feats.
Not only has Ellis been invaluable to the program on the court, he has starred in the classroom as well, going from high school valedictorian to the All Big-12 Academic team in back-to-back seasons. Ellis has improved as a player each and every season under Bill Self, and has evolved into one of the country’s most efficient players. Ellis has turned into a model of consistency as a basketball player, as well as the face of the nation’s number one team.
Though the collegiate careers for these four players will soon be coming to an end, they have given Kansas fans a lot to be proud of. Here’s to hoping they go out in deserving fashion: by getting to put on a Kansas uniform nine more times, and celebrating their great careers while cutting the nets down on April 4 in Houston.