LAWRENCE — One of Lagerald Vick’s greatest strengths, as it turns out, had little to do with the guard’s surprising Kansas basketball return.
Vick will come back for a fourth and final collegiate season, KU announced Friday, postponing a professional career that seemed a certainty when the two sides announced Vick’s entry into the NBA Draft nearly three months ago. Instead, Vick will be one of only five upperclassmen and the lone senior on the Jayhawks’ projected roster.
A career 37.8-percent shooter from 3-point range, the 6-foot-5 Vick gives the Jayhawks firepower in an area that was expected to be a sore spot for the stacked squad. KU coach Bill Self, though, said that fact “didn’t have anything to do with” the Memphis native’s return to Lawrence.
“Why he’s coming back is because it’s best for him and his situation,” Self recently told The Topeka Capital-Journal, “and it could be best for us if everything goes well.”
Vick shot 37.3 percent from 3-point range as a junior, averaging 4.1 attempts per contest. Before his return, the Jayhawks were on track to lose 94.4 percent of their deep makes from a season ago, with 26.7-percent 3-point shooter Marcus Garrett the team’s leading returner at 12 made treys.
Self indicated he isn’t as bearish about the Jayhawks’ potential prowess from beyond the arc as some early prognosticators.
“(Vick) is the only proven college perimeter shooter that we have, but that doesn’t mean other guys won’t step up and be that. They just haven’t had opportunities yet,” Self said. “It’ll help having somebody out there like that, but I will tell you this: That doesn’t mean just because he made shots last year, if we don’t guard and if we don’t share it and if we don’t compete every day, there’s going to be somebody else there that will.
“I think his skill set is beneficial and it will help us — as long as everything else is right.”
Quentin Grimes was named MVP for the gold medal-winning USA Basketball squad at last month’s FIBA Americas U18 Championship, though he was just 6 for 25 (24 percent) from 3-point range in the six-game tournament and, along with fellow incoming five-star guard Devon Dotson, is seen as a bit of a project from long range.
Forwards Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot are options to stretch the floor and are 30.4- and 40-percent shooters from distance, respectively, across limited career opportunities, but neither is likely to lead the team in 3-point attempts in any game next season.
Sophomores K.J. Lawson (31.6 percent) and Charlie Moore (35.2 percent) were mixed bags from 3-point range before transferring to KU.
Sam Cunliffe, perhaps the player with the highest ceiling from deep, shot 40.5 percent on those attempts as a freshman at Arizona State but made two of only eight 3-point attempts last season with KU. He averaged 4.9 minutes as a sophomore for the Jayhawks.
Having said all of that, nothing appears guaranteed for Vick.
“We’ve got more depth. We may not have as much skill in some certain areas, but we certainly have more depth,” Self said. “I think our culture is terrific right now. (Vick) has got to understand even though he’s coming back, there’s no starters right now. Just because he started last year does not give him an inside track on starting this year. It’s all going to be up to individual performance.
“He said he could accept that and certainly looked forward to the challenge.”
C.B. McGrath values the lessons he learned in his first season as a head coach last year with UNC Wilmington, but the former KU guard and Roy Williams disciple admits it was at times a struggle.
“I felt like a chicken that got my head cut off in Year 1,” McGrath, a former Topekan, recently told The Capital-Journal. “Everything was just new, different.”
McGrath, who played at KU from 1994-98 after a standout high school career at Topeka West, followed Williams to North Carolina in 2003 and remained an assistant for the Hall of Fame coach until 2017.
McGrath went 11-21 in his inaugural campaign with the Seahawks.
“We’ve got more depth now on our team. I know my team,” McGrath said. “It takes a while to get to know kids and obviously that happens during the recruiting process some, and there was no recruiting process with any of these kids that I’m coaching until this year. It’s just nice to know what they can do, know what their strengths are, know what their weaknesses are and just put them all together.
“Obviously I’m still learning, but I feel a lot more comfortable.”