Why KU forward Zach Clemence says he thought about burning redshirt ‘every game’

Kansas Jayhawks forward Zach Clemence spent last year, his junior season of college basketball, waging an inner battle against himself.

He thought constantly about pulling his redshirt as KU’s season floundered and injuries piled up.

This became an almost daily occurrence.

“Every game,” he said. “Every game … every game.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Clemence to sit on the sidelines as his fellow Jayhawks struggled.

“It sucked,” he said.

The 6-foot-11 forward from San Antonio averaged 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds in 5.9 minutes per game during the 2022-23 season. Clemence was beset by injuries and struggling to get on the floor.

The redshirt season provided Clemence an opportunity to reset and really work on his game. And that seems to have paid off. KU coach Bill Self praised Clemence constantly throughout the 2023-24 season.

“Zach is the most improved player on our team,” Self said at KU’s end-of-year banquet. “He actually had a great year this year. We redshirted him. Of course there were many times this year we wished we would not have. But he’s gotten so much better and his confidence level, I think, is as high as it’s been.

“I think it came from a mindset. He’s (become) a lot stronger. He got a lot more physical, tougher, and just got more complete in large part because he may have been stronger and tougher.”

Clemence credits looking at his redshirt as “a professional thing.”

His biggest improvement in the last 12 months? He said it’s his ability to play without the ball. Clemence has also gained some weight — he’s now up to 230 pounds after previously playing at 215.

“Every practice I still went in like I was about to play,” he said. “I think that’s what really helped me.”

The biggest question mark now surrounding Clemence is his role for the 2024-25 season. KU’s frontcourt is crowded, with starters Hunter Dickinson and KJ Adams both returning. The Jayhawks have also brought in five-star freshman big man Flory Bidunga.

Clemence will likely be Dickinson’s backup, especially early in the season as Bidunga adjusts to the college game. But he said he is open to filling any role on Self’s roster.

‘I feel like I’m a guy you could just plug in and do pretty much whatever you want,” Clemence said.

He said he hopes to make the most of the time he has left at KU.

“I hope for two great ones (years), that’s about it,” he said.