LAWRENCE — To say Malik Newman hasn’t reached the heights Bill Self foresaw from his sophomore guard this season would be an understatement.
“I didn’t envision this last year at all, or this summer,” Self said Monday of Newman’s struggles. “I thought he was one of our better athletes and certainly had a chance to be one of our leading scorers, if not our leading scorer.”
That said, the longtime Kansas coach believes he’s identified what’s been holding the former top prospect back.
“I know that the reason for him not really playing well or as productive of late isn’t physical,” Self continued. “It’s more he’s kind of frozen from a mindset standpoint.”
Coming off a career-worst effort, Newman will look to begin the thawing process when the No. 12 Jayhawks (12-3, 2-1 Big 12) host Iowa State (9-5, 0-3) at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Newman scored just one point last Saturday against TCU, his hollow line score including no assists, no rebounds and no steals to go along with a turnover and four personal fouls.
It was a rock-bottom performance in a season that’s been a far cry from the showing envisioned by Self, who last spring said he’d be “disappointed if (Newman’s) not an all-league player.”
“Let’s just call it,” Self said after Saturday’s game, an 88-84 victory for KU, “Malik is struggling.”
A former five-star recruit and Rivals’ eighth-ranked prospect in the Class of 2015, Newman has seen his minutes drop in four consecutive games — from 32 against Stanford to 15 against the Horned Frogs — and has come off the bench for all three of the Jayhawks’ conference contests, replaced by true freshman Marcus Garrett.
Unflatteringly labeled by Self as “a thinker,” Newman’s mental approach to his recent struggles and overall uneven season — he’s averaged 9.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 27.9 minutes per game — may be causing matters to snowball.
“We’ve all (gotten in our own heads), and I think Malik’s kind of done that too — ‘God dang, I just don’t want to screw up, I just don’t want to screw up,’ ” Self said. “As soon as you think like that, you screw up.”
Newman joined KU ahead of the 2016-17 campaign as a transfer from home-state program Mississippi State, where he averaged 11.3 points on 39.1-percent shooting as a freshman. He turned heads internally going toe-to-toe with Frank Mason during practices last season and wowed fans in KU’s four-game exhibition tour of Italy this summer.
No longer playing teenagers in Rome and Milan, Newman has found much tougher sledding, particularly in the Jayhawks’ more high-profile contests.
In nine games against Power Five opponents this season, Newman is averaging 7.2 points on 32.9-percent shooting and has shot 24.3 percent from 3-point range. After starting the season with six straight double-digit scoring outputs, Newman has since posted three such outings.
Newman attempted only two shots against TCU.
“I’ve told him just to be aggressive, try to score and don’t think about anything other than being aggressive to try to free him up,” Self said. “He’s going to be fine. He’s probably hit a low point since he’s been here for sure — I don’t know, I can’t speak to Mississippi State — where it hasn’t gone as scripted. But you look at it, he’s still averaging 10 points a game halfway through the season, so if we can get 12 or 14 out of him in the second half I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Will Newman reach those admittedly lowered expectations? Self is hopeful.
“I think he’s got personality. I think he brings energy to the court. But what he does (best), he can go get his own shot,” Self said. “He’s never going to be Bruce Bowen (defensively), OK, but he can be a guy that that can go get his own shot. He’s gotten better defensively, but he hasn’t been near as aggressive on making plays on the offensive end.
“We haven’t even seen what Malik can do potentially.”
PRESTON SAGA CONTINUES — Monday brought no update on the status of freshman forward Billy Preston, withheld indefinitely and yet to make his collegiate debut.
KU in late December completed its look into the financial picture of a vehicle Preston was driving on campus and forwarded that information to the NCAA, but Self said college basketball’s governing body has yet to provide “any information” in response.
“We’re pushing buttons,” Self said. “Our people have done a lot and have been about as aggressive as you can be without literally upsetting everyone in Indianapolis, so I think our people have been good. I think it’s just on Billy’s situation, I think it’s a little bit more complicated than your normal case, but you’ve still got to get a decision, so we’re expecting it soon.”
Self also said there was no update to provide on freshman forward Silvio De Sousa, who joined KU on Dec. 27 after graduating high school early. The KU coach doesn’t expect to hear news on De Sousa’s approval through the NCAA amateurism review process before he learns of Preston’s status but believes it “could play out very favorably for Silvio.”