High expectations aren’t anything new to the Kansas Jayhawks or their coach, Bill Self.
The same can be said about being the preseason No. 1 team in the country, which KU is this year for the fourth time in the Self era.
Conceptual expectations and preseason rankings aren’t the things that matter to a program like Kansas, though. What matters is winning championships, and Self said Wednesday at the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tipoff that he thinks the Jayhawks have a chance to do a lot of winning in 2023-24.
“I’m real excited about this year. I think we’ve got a roster that has a chance,” Self said. “I think we have a real chance, and I know nothing is guaranteed and we’ve got a lot, a lot of work ahead of us to become what I think we can potentially be, but I do like our roster and I think it should be a fun year for us as long as we can stay healthy.”
That roster Self is so high on only features three returning contributors, but all includes a highly touted freshman class and one of the best transfer portal hauls in the country.
In fact, KU added maybe the best player available in the transfer portal this year, senior center Hunter Dickinson, formerly of the Michigan Wolverines. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten pick and a former second-team All-American, Dickinson brings a skill set to Lawrence that’s unique even for a coach who has overseen numerous memorable big-man careers.
“He is, I would say, the most skilled and most talented offensive player that I’ve had from a center type standpoint offensively,” Self said. “There’s a lot of things he’s got to get a lot better at defensively … But from a shooting, aggressiveness, passing, playing out of doubles, he probably is as advanced as anybody I’ve ever been around, and he is without question the most equipped to have a big year for a first-year player.”
This season will be Dickinson’s first with Kansas but his fourth in college basketball, and for that reason Self included the transfer center in the group of veterans who will take over leadership duties for this year’s Jayhawks. That also includes the three aforementioned returning players: senior guard Kevin McCullar, junior guard Dajuan Harris and junior forward K.J. Adams.
Self noted on Wednesday that one key difference this season compared to recent years past is that the NCAA infractions case levied against KU is gone now, with the IARP handing out its final ruling and sanctions last week.
With those punishments and that cloud that’s hung over KU for the better part of six years finally dissipating, Self said his team can play with a clear mind for the first time in a long time.
“That idea of operating with a free mind is something that existed in a long time,” Self said, adding: “Having it behind us will be a huge positive.”
For Kansas to make it to and deep into the NCAA tournament this coming spring, it will have to get through the always-daunting Big 12 slate. That will also look different this year with the double round-robin format going away and new opponents and road trips dotting the schedule.
The Big 12 spent years in a precarious position regarding conference realignment, but after surviving collapse and adding eight new programs between this year and next, it has both solidified its future and maintained its strong basketball heritage.
“From a basketball standpoint, I don’t think we have to take a backseat to anybody,” Self said. “In a time when we needed somebody to be aggressive, we had the perfect commissioner.”
While league play won’t begin for the Jayhawks until Jan. 6, Kansas is just two weeks away from its exhibition tilt against the Fort Hays State Tigers and less than three weeks away from its regular-season opener against the North Carolina Central Eagles on Nov. 6 at Allen Fieldhouse.