Shorthanded Kansas basketball benefits from Joseph Yesufu’s best game since joining team
LAWRENCE — Gradey Dick had an idea of just how limited Kansas men’s basketball’s roster would be Monday for its game at home against Texas.
Dick could see how many guys weren’t feeling 100% healthy in the days ahead of it. The grind of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 Conference schedule was taking its toll. And then, when he and his teammates were in the locker room together before the game, it looked to him as if there was a row of guys with different shirts on because they weren’t going to be available to go up against the Longhorns.
But while No. 8 Kansas had just eight scholarship players available, including Dick, that reality didn’t keep them from capturing an 88-80 victory against No. 6 Texas. Dick even felt that there was an added motivation the Jayhawks took from their circumstance. And among those who stepped up when needed, like Dick, junior guard Joseph Yesufu put in what is arguably Yesufu’s best performance in a Kansas uniform since Yesufu joined the program ahead of last season as a transfer from Drake.
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“(Yesufu) is probably one of the best scorers on our team,” redshirt junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr. said. “And we tell him every day, coach tells him, to be aggressive. And we’re going to need that out of Joe, because he’s a great scorer. He can do everything. He can guard the ball. So, we need that out of him, like, every game. So, he’s got to just keep it up.”
Dick, a freshman guard, added about Yesufu: “He was huge, but at the same time we’re not surprised at all. Because we see that every day.”
Yesufu came off the bench and scored 14 points, tying a season high, while shooting 5-for-9 from the field. It was the first time he’d scored in double figures since he dropped 14 points in back-to-back games — Tennessee and Texas Southern — this past November. He helped pace a scoring effort from the Jayhawks’ bench, 22 points, that helped make up for an evening in which Kansas star and redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson scored just two points.
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Jayhawks (19-5, 7-4 in Big 12) head coach Bill Self would say it reminded him of the kind of player Yesufu was for Drake during the NCAA tournament in 2021. That year, as Drake won a First Four game against Wichita State before losing in the round of 64 against USC, Yesufu scored 21 and 26 points, respectively. That was the aggressive and athletic talent Yesufu had showcased himself to be, that at times hasn’t shown up consistently since he became a part of Kansas.
Self was happy for Yesufu in that way, postgame. He thinks Yesufu, who also had five rebounds and no turnovers in close to 19 minutes of action, played with more confidence because Yesufu understood the rotation limitations required him to stay in the game more than he would have otherwise. The same went for freshman guard MJ Rice and freshman center Ernest Udeh Jr., the only other two scholarship players available to be used off the bench.
“It’s what I used to be, and I’m trying to be better — better than I was at Drake,” said Yesufu, who scored at least 12 points in each of the last nine games he played for Drake during the 2020-21 season. “And, yeah, I just have to show it each and every night.”
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Self didn’t mention the recovery timelines for either super-senior forward Cam Martin or redshirt freshman guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., but did allow that he didn’t think freshman forward Zuby Ejiofor, sophomore guard Bobby Pettiford Jr. or sophomore forward Zach Clemence would be available Saturday when the Jayhawks play on the road against Oklahoma. Those five — Martin, Cuffe, Ejiofor, Pettiford and Clemence — are the five scholarship players who didn’t play against Texas. And so, it appears as if Saturday will see Kansas play with just eight scholarship players again.
If Yesufu shocked anyone Monday against Texas (19-5, 8-3 in Big 12), it’s unlikely the Jayhawks will be as fortunate again Saturday. But while Yesufu might find himself on more people’s radar, he should also step onto the court against Oklahoma with more confidence than he’s had all season. Without him, or with a lesser performance from him on either end, Kansas might not be firmly back in contention for the Big 12’s regular season crown.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. He is the National Sports Media Association’s sportswriter of the year for the state of Kansas for 2022. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas basketball benefits from Joseph Yesufu’s best game with Jayhawks