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Kansas basketball / Post-Julian thoughts

Julian at the SIU game

Julian Wright is tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time, and who can blame him? He brought enthu­si­asm and ener­gy to every game, con­tributed huge­ly in many of the big wins in the last cou­ple of years (cf. these dunks dur­ing the Flori­da game and this epic 33-point per­for­mance at MU), and showed enough skill and poten­tial to be very high­ly regard­ed by NBA scouts. Who wouldn't seize a chance to be finan­cial­ly secure, and to play in the NBA? The future is rarely cer­tain in these sit­u­a­tions, as these guys can attest. Best of luck to you, JuJu.The KU-sports-relat­ed Inter­net is (pre­dictably) thrash­ing around with the news, and the emo­tions range from hurt to hap­py, fatal­is­tic to opti­mistic. And who can blame them, real­ly? The last four years have been tough on Kansas bas­ket­ball, so tough that the men­tion of cer­tain names — Roy, Mic­ah, Pad­gett, Galin­do, Gid­dens, CJ, etc — can pro­voke pangs and spasms of hurt and guilt. I guess Julian gets added to the list now, though per­son­al­ly I think he's ready and I'm hap­py for him. Most of the com­menters at the end of this sto­ry feel oth­er­wise. Julian's depar­ture is com­pli­cat­ed, of course, by the fact that he pledged to stay fol­low­ing the loss to UCLA. This CBS reporter was real­ly peev­ed that Julian recon­sid­ered his prospects after the sea­son end­ed, which seems kin­da sil­ly to me. Did it real­ly take Julian's change of heart to com­mu­ni­cate to him that big-time col­lege sports are bit­ter­sweet, unpre­dictable, and per­pet­u­al­ly com­pro­mised by the twin prospects of major, life-chang­ing injuries and major, life-chang­ing paydays?Whatever hap­pens, I think that Julian will even­tu­al­ly have a good NBA career. Ryan Greene of kusports.com com­pares Julian to Shawn Mar­i­on, and I see the resem­blance as well. That said, he would be way bet­ter off with estab­lished, vet­er­an-heavy teams like Phoenix (who wouldn't?) or Chica­go, where he'd be able to learn and adjust out of the spot­light. Career-endan­ger­ing teams like Mem­phis, Atlanta or (once again) Sacra­men­to will give him too much respon­si­bil­i­ty too soon, though he may be able to sur­vive that either way. Long term, he's a West­ern Con­fer­ence play­er who will come off the bench, get his 12 and 8, con­tin­ue do all the lit­tle stuff that makes him great (deflect­ing pass­es, set­ting oth­er guys up, keep­ing offen­sive rebounds alive), and be a good team guy to boot.

The bright sides

Look­ing for­ward to next Novem­ber, here are three sce­nar­ios that reflect my think­ing on the remain­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for ear­ly entries and (yikes, not again!) trans­fers.

  • With­out Wright: Actu­al­ly may be bet­ter. Like Drew Gooden's ear­ly exit, I actu­al­ly think there's quite a sig­nif­i­cant bright side here. Julian's ath­let­ic abil­i­ty and tal­ent require that he play a major role in the offense, which results in few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for the tal­ents of oth­er play­ers — Mario's dri­ves and shots, Sherron's shot and dri­ve, Rush's entire offen­sive arse­nal, Shady's sweet moves inside 12 feet. When Good­en left, Collison's McHale-like low-post pres­ence and Hinrich's Stock­ton-like abil­i­ty to make the right deci­sion on every fast break end­ed up pro­vid­ing a sys­tem more sta­ble than the one focused on Gooden's always ath­let­ic, some­times errat­ic pres­ence. With­out Julian at the 4, Shady starts and gets more time. This means that the line-up gets bulki­er with­out los­ing that much in the way of speed. They'll miss Julian's explo­sive­ness and shot-block­ing, but they gain Shady's sweet touch and bet­ter abil­i­ty to (more depend­ably) make plays while post­ing up. If Rush is still around (not like­ly, so see the bul­let point below), I tend to think that this line-up may even be more dan­ger­ous than if Wright had stuck around.
  • With­out Wright and Rush: Lots of re-jig­ger­ing, lots of uncer­tain­ty. Los­ing Rush is a much big­ger deal than los­ing Wright, obvi­ous­ly. He's the team's best on-the-ball defend­er; he became the go-to scor­er dur­ing the games in San Jose, and he can stroke it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for him, he's not the explo­sive ath­lete that Julian is, and scouts are not eval­u­at­ing his drafta­bil­i­ty in the crys­tal-ball­ish terms of upside and poten­tial. His capac­i­ty is known, appar­ent­ly, and there­fore it has lim­its in the eyes of scouts. Does this mean he can't become, say, a Bruce Bowen type of play­er? Heck no. In fact, I think he'd fit in real­ly well with the type of team who would draft him in the 20's or so. And this is prob­a­bly what will hap­pen, so it all works out for the best, for him. If mon­ey and aca­d­e­mics (which are a major has­sle for him) were not issues, he's in a great posi­tion to thrive next sea­son. He fits into Self's sys­tem real­ly well; he real­ly began to shine at the end of the sea­son; anoth­er sea­son would real­ly give him a chance to refine his drib­ble-dri­ve and his out­side shot. But this is not an ide­al world, and bar­ring the entry of the entire UNC team or an injury that pre­vents him from com­pet­ing in the pre-draft camps, I sus­pect he's gone. Good luck to him.
    So. How do the Hawks replace Bran­don? Who becomes the stop­per? Who takes over the offense at the end of games? Who attracts the oth­er team's defend­ers when­ev­er he's on the floor? I'm not real­ly sure about any of this. A cou­ple of things are cer­tain, though: This will be a sea­soned, capa­ble team. They've been through a lot, beat­en Kevin Durant twice, won two Big 12 tour­na­ments, etc. More­over, they'll be with­out a super­star like Bran­don and Julian, and this — weird­ly — might make them much more like Self's Illi­nois teams — grit­ty, hun­gry, scrap­py and dan­ger­ous in the tour­na­ment.
  • With­out Wright, Rush, and Collins: !@$#%$#@*&. Almost too painful to con­sid­er. How many times did I text the words "Thank God for Sher­ron" dur­ing the Big 12 sea­son? How many times did he sin­gle-hand­ed­ly change the pace and momen­tum of a game with a vicious dri­ve to the bas­ket? He's not ready to jump to the League, but rumor has it that he wants to be clos­er to home. But would he real­ly want to sit out a year, play for a school in a mid-major con­fer­ence, give up a chance to play in a Final Four, give up a chance to play on nation­al tele­vi­sion for 15–20 or 20–25 games next year? I real­ly hope not. Man, that would hurt.