The Jayhawks deal in whens, not ifs. When they sort out their rotation. When they lock down their defense. Coming off a 10th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title, Kansas again sits at the top of the conference, and it seems as if nothing has changed—except so much has.
After losing three starters (including two top five NBA draft picks), the Jayhawks reloaded with three five-star recruits (bruising power forward Cliff Alexander, slashing swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ukrainian sharpshooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk). Freshman Devonte Graham, a mere four-star prospect, will give Kansas its first true point guard in four seasons.
While coach Bill Self says, "Our guys aren't that far apart, from a talent standpoint," he takes pains to make one distinction clear: His best player won't be one of the newcomers. It will be junior forward Perry Ellis, the team's second-leading scorer (13.5 points per game) last year. Self hopes Ellis will add three to five points to his average while becoming a more vocal leader. "I am a real quiet guy," says Ellis, "but when something needs to be said, I'm going to try to say [it]." He's already counseled the younger Jayhawks about team chemistry. "When they figure it out," Self says, "they're going to get pretty good."
With 2014--15 Projected Stats
ROUND OF 32
TELLING NUMBER 14
Big 12 regular-season titles out of the last 18 for Kansas, which has won 10 straight—the longest active streak in Division I and tied for third (behind UCLA's 13 and Gonzaga's 11) on the alltime list. The Jayhawks have more conference titles (57) than any D-I team.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
A more assertive Ellis will be key.