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A new day for KU men’s basketball

Cleared of NCAA cloud, hoops leaps into title trek.

by Chris Lazzarino
Hunter Dickinson

When the NCAA on Oct. 11 finally announced a conclusion to its six-year investigation into the men’s basketball program—launched amid a broad FBI probe into college basketball—athletics director Travis Goff and coach Bill Self assembled for a news conference to discuss the ruling, which cleared KU of the most serious charges.

“We do things the right way at the University of Kansas,” said Goff, c’03, j’03, “and that will continue to be a hallmark as we move ahead.”

Added Self: “I’m very, very proud to be the head basketball coach here. As Travis said, today is a good day for Kansas basketball. … And, at the same time, I don’t feel in celebration mode, because this is exactly what we thought the end result would be, years ago, and it’s taken such a long time to get here. But, I am pleased with the findings because the findings are accurate.”

The collective sighs of relief reverberating across Allen Field House were shared by nearly everyone associated with Kansas Athletics—with one 7-foot-2 exception: senior center Hunter Dickinson, the Big 12’s Preseason Player of the Year in his first season at KU and likely his last in college basketball.

When asked at media day Oct. 25 whether the long shadow of the NCAA’s investigation had given him pause when considering KU as his transfer destination from Michigan, Dickinson grinned and replied, “I didn’t even know it was still going on. I thought it was over.”

Thanks to Dickinson’s imposing presence in the post, Self can finally return to his preferred high-low offensive style, as displayed in the first play of the first exhibition game, when senior point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. immediately fed the ball to Dickinson for a dunk.

While Harris can count on plenty of easy assists to his new big man, he also says opponents might be surprised at the other skills Dickinson will bring.

“Anyone who decides to double-team him is going to find out that he’s an excellent passer,” Harris said, “so that makes it easy. He’s always going to find the right person [for an outlet pass], and we’ve been working on that at practice.”

While Self still has plenty of moving parts to get his offense in sync—including making the most of the immense talents of super-senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., the unquestioned team leader, and junior forward KJ Adams Jr.—he concedes that larger questions loom on defense.

“I don’t think we’ve totally decided how we want to play,” Self said of his defense, adding that he’ll first need to see how opposing teams decide to navigate against a 7-footer in the post.

Bill Self, who enters his 21st season at KU with a new lifetime contract that makes him college basketball’s highest-paid coach, will rely on leadership from super-senior Kevin McCullar Jr., who returned for a final college season after participating in the NBA draft combine last May: “To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country, to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog.”

Regardless of tactics, though, the strategy remains unchanged: conference and NCAA titles. When asked whether his new teammates are shy about vocalizing national championship goals, Dickinson said that it would depend on the person who’s asked. As for himself: “That’s what I came here for. It classifies you as a winner at the highest level in college basketball, and, speaking to the Kansas community, I think that is what they expect.”

After recuperating from the heart procedure that kept him out of KU’s short tournament run last season, Self in April said renewed focus on diet and exercise had revitalized his energy and enthusiasm.

“Basketball is a way of life at Kansas,” Self said, “and my goal is to take this place to a whole different level that we’ve never seen before. And we’ve been to a really high level.”

Chris Lazzarino, j’86, is associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.

Photos by Steve Puppe

Issue 4, 2023


Men's basketball, sports
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