LAWRENCE (TNS) — Kansas coach Bill Self expects freshman Billy Preston to play Tuesday when No. 4 KU takes on fifth-ranked Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
Preston, a 6-foot-10 forward, sat out the Jayhawks’ season opener after he was suspended for missing both curfew and class.
“He had a great attitude (since Friday), but certainly, I think that we’ve still got a full day tomorrow,” Self said. “I’m certainly anticipating there being no issues, but I don’t want to positively say one way or another until I actually know for a fact.”
Without Preston, KU was forced to play with only two scholarship big men in a 92-56 victory over Tennessee State. Udoka Azubuike logged 30 minutes and Mitch Lightfoot played 17, with Self saying Sunday the two “did fairly well.”
“Certainly, they’re going to have to play that way again,” Self said. “But adding a third big guy in there … it doesn’t give us much margin for error, but it at least gives us a margin of error from a foul situation standpoint.”
KU’s options are limited because of a roster crunch. With four transfers sitting out — guard Sam Cunliffe will be eligible at semester — and another scholarship lost following Jack Whitman’s departure, the Jayhawks are thinner up front than any other year in Self’s tenure.
The challenge will be even more difficult going up against Kentucky, a team that Self says is “1 to 5 is about as long as I can remember them” in coach John Calipari’s nine seasons.
“When you look at basketball bodies, when their length is four or five inches longer than what their standing height is, that’s usually a great basketball body,” Self said. “It looks like to me they have several of those guys that are actually even longer than what their height is.”
Self understands his team’s lack of size and numbers could present problems, especially against top teams.
“It’s hard to play that small (like KU did Friday) when you’re playing against bigger guys,” Self said. “And when you have little depth and you play that small, it’s hard to create havoc for 40 minutes, which could possibly be your advantage if you’re playing against bigger guys. But you can’t do that because everybody’s going to play 35 minutes.”
One option for Self would be to slow the pace — hoping that fewer possessions could help with foul trouble and also keep players fresher — but doing that would go against his team’s strengths. The Jayhawks have been effective in transition the last few seasons, and Self also doesn’t want to create a situation where his guys aren’t playing aggressively.
“We need to not let teams get comfortable and be in a total rhythm the whole time,” Self said. “ … Regardless of how many players we have, I don’t think we would change how we play.”
Five-star recruit Devon Dotson officially signed with Kansas basketball on Saturday afternoon, a transaction that allowed KU coach Bill Self to talk about his excitement for the 6-foot-2 point guard.
“We recruited three or four lead guards in the country this past year knowing all the perimeter players that we’ll be losing. We felt like Devon had the highest ceiling of the guys that we were recruiting,” Self said. “He’s an explosive athlete. He’s very unselfish.”
“He can make plays for others but he also has plenty of explosiveness that he can make plays for himself,” Self said. “And even though they are different-type players, in some ways he will remind people of Frank (Mason) because of his ability to get into the lane and make plays for himself and make plays for others.”Dotson averaged 24.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists last season at Providence Day School. KU assistant coach Norm Roberts was his primary recruiter.
Self lauded Dotson’s size while also reiterating that he projected as “one of the most explosive guards we’ve had since I have been here at Kansas.”
Later Saturday, KU announced the signing of forward David McCormack, a 6-foot-10 forward from Norfolk, Va. He’s ranked 35th by Rivals.
“David is guy who caught our eye early on,” Self said. “There are many things that impressed us about him and the more we watched, the more we liked. As he got older, we fell in love with his effort, his attitude and his discipline.”
McCormack, who was primarily recruited by Jerrance Howard, was teammates with KU forward Billy Preston last year at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. Self reported Saturday that McCormack recently lost 50 pounds after deciding to improve his diet and exercise.
“He’s got good skills, and we think the sky is the limit on what he can become as well,” Self said. “When you look at big bodies that we’ve had, David has a body like Thomas (Robinson) but he reminds me of a Darnell Jackson early in his career in that he can definitely shoot, he can pass, but he’ll do most of his work near the basket.”
KU is expected to get one more signing in the upcoming days, as big man Silvio De Sousa — he is trying to enroll with the Jayhawks for the second semester — inked his letter of intent Wednesday but has not yet returned it to KU.
Meanwhile Romeo Langford, the No. 6 player in the class of 2018 according to Rivals.com, narrowed his list of schools to three. They are KU, Indiana and Vanderbilt. He cut North Carolina and UCLA from his list.
“Just their guards and the way coach Self uses their guards,” Langford, a 6-5 guard from New Albany, Indiana, said of KU on Zagsblog.com. “I feel like I also fit well in their system and the way he gets his guards ready for the NBA.”
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