Why college basketball’s new landscape will affect Kansas a bit differently than others

Vahe Gregorian/

Some 28 days after a heart procedure prevented him from coaching in the postseason, Bill Self sat behind a table inside Allen Fieldhouse and for half an hour addressed the past month of his life.

But then with one sentence, he addressed the next month.

“I need to be living in the portal,” he said.

He does. His staff does. The bulk of his roster, old and new, already has.

Welcome to the new world of college basketball, right? A world dictated by the transfer portal, immediate eligibility and NIL deals. A world that turns its head coaches into NFL general managers filling gaps in their rosters at the onset of free agency. A world that has transformed college scholarships into one-year pacts and then, hey, we’ll see how this all works out.

The Kansas basketball roster has had the comings and goings of a local QuikTrip — eight players have transferred out and four have transferred in. And the search for more is still a couple of weeks from over.

By the end of it, the Jayhawks are looking at two returning scholarship players.


And get this: They’re a top-five team. Heck, they might even be the No. 1 team in the country. Remember when those way-too-early polls were defined by which team had the best crop of returning players? We’d laugh at that thought now.

It is now those who dominate the portal, and KU has picked up the No. 1 transfer in the land in Hunter Dickinson and filled other perceived weaknesses.

But one thing has been lost in this chaos, and it’s a quality that aided KU more than its peers.


You can’t afford to preach it any longer. Really, you can’t afford to even possess it any longer, or you will be the program that falls behind.

But in the new world order, as KU welcomes a host of plug-and-play newcomers this “offseason,” it is losing one of their specialties. One of their trademark differentiators of the past couple of decades.

The development of their players, and I couldn’t emphasize that word any more.

Every college basketball team in the country will be affected by long-term agreements becoming short-term rentals. They’re all losing players. They’re all trying to replace them with better players. But KU just happened to be among the very best — if not the best — at making the most of long-term relationships.

Consider it like this. Self has coached nine players at KU who were either consensus first-team All-Americans or the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, if not both: Jalen Wilson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason, Thomas Robinson, Sherron Collins, Marcus Morris and Wayne Simien.

The classes of those nine players: junior, senior, senior, senior, senior, junior, senior, junior and senior. And all nine spent all of their time at KU.

None, by the way, were rated as a top-20 player coming out of high school.

They got better with time.

They got better because they had the time.

And that’s what this new process eliminates. Time.

To be fair, Self has to be pleased with how the transfer portal has improved his roster this season. Dickinson was the most coveted player available. Self figures to fare quite well in the two-week speed dating relationships. He tends to make a quick impression.

The primary byproduct of transfers becoming immediately available is a good one. It is a player benefit first and foremost. They can depart bad fits, maintain eligibility and not be punished with a year on the bench.

But even if we can agree these players deserve freedom of movement — which in turns provides teams the opportunity to upgrade more quickly — the pros of the portal does not come absent a cons list.

For KU, as it has successfully created an edge in the offseason imports, another edge could be reduced in the exports.

On the surface, for example, KU needs to replace only 8.3 minutes per game with the departure of Ernest Udeh, who has entered the portal and is taking visits to Duke and potentially Kansas State.

Just 8.3 minutes. Easy enough, right?

KU is not simply losing 8.3 minutes, though. It is losing the exact type of player that Self has transformed into a star. Into a, well, All-American.

Who says Udeh could not have followed in the footsteps of a couple of other players on the aforementioned list? Azubuike played 12.9 minutes as a freshman. Thomas Robinson played just 7.2. Udeh is perhaps already a better defender than Robinson ever was in Lawrence.

That is what will slowly evaporate in college basketball, and particularly in Lawrence. Sure, there will still be examples of success stories framed around growth at a single stop. KJ Adams and Dajuan Harris are two good ones. But they will be more infrequent. More will instead take the path of Udeh than ever before because they can without retribution. Why practice patience for it all to come together?

Coaches are now required to operate as though they are signing prospects to one-year agreements because in many cases that’s all they’re guaranteed. And then the player will move on, or the program will encourage the player to move on.

That will be off-putting for some, though if I could maneuver slightly off-course for a minute, the fans will get used to it, even if the primary point here is that the program will lose out on something from which it has long benefited.

Fans root for the team first and the players second. Nobody in Lawrence complained that it was Remy Martin making plays in the final minutes of last year’s NCAA national championship game. They celebrated that he made them for KU.

But it sure was a nice bonus that Agbaji, who began his college career as a redshirt, was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American — after staying in Lawrence four full years.

A bonus for fans.

The foundation for that team.

Agbaji, Christian Braun, Wilson and David McCormack led the national champions in scoring. All had been on campus for at least three years. That can’t be coincidence. Not when it’s a trend. KU has had impact freshman and impact transfers, but they have been supporting pieces to their best teams.

The full story of Ochai Agbaji — not the one- or two-year blip — is what prompted one of the postseason’s best moments, Self pulling his senior aside while they were on stage celebrating a trip to the Final Four.

You could approach Danny Manning’s legacy in Lawrence, he told him.

Player of the year in the league. Conference title. All-American. Final Four. National championship. Self rattled them off in a news conference as though he was presenting the case for his words.

But there’s one other thing Agbaji (and the team) possessed that his successors might not.

The patience to see it through.