LAWRENCE, Kan. — Expectations never change at Kansas.
It doesn’t matter that the Jayhawks lost the seventh overall choice in the NBA draft in Ben McLemore, or a bevy of seniors led by 7-footer Jeff Withey, a second-round pick in April’s draft.
In fact, expectations may be higher than ever this season.
The Jayhawks will begin pursuit of their unprecedented 10th consecutive Big 12 championship by leaning on perhaps the most heralded freshman class that coach Bill Self has assembled during his decade-long tenure in Lawrence. It’s led by Andrew Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 overall recruit, and includes two other potential one-and-done stars in Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid.
“There’s as much hype around this year as any,” Self said, “and it’s a large part because of the unknown. We’ve had other good players and other good teams returning. This team hasn’t proven itself at all. But the unknown of having a good recruiting class has everyone pretty excited.”
McLemore averaged more than 16 points during his only season at Kansas, while Withey rewrote the record books when it came to blocked shots. But after reaching the national title game two years ago, the Jayhawks took a step backward last season.
Sure, they shared the regular-season Big 12 title with Kansas State, and then ran roughshod through the league tournament. But they were ousted by Michigan in overtime the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, a frustrating end to what had been a solid season.
The loss stung even more when folks realized just how much talent was departing — along with McLemore and Withey, the Jayhawks also lost veterans such as Elijah Johnson. But any angst over the future turned to excitement when the low-key Wiggins made his intentions official.
The silky-smooth 6-foot-8 swingman was the final addition to the incoming crop of freshman, and easily the biggest name. Self compared his game to that of Tracy McGrady, and Wiggins has already created the kind of buzz around town not felt since Danny Manning arrived in the 1980s.