The sheer thought of a “starting point guard” is a bit of a sore subject for the Kansas basketball team right now. Their current starter, junior Naadir Tharpe, recently announced that he would be leaving the Jayhawks to return home to Massachusetts to be closer to his sick infant daughter.
This announcement isn’t exactly following a smooth season: Tharpe only averaged 8.5 points and 5 assists this past season, only shooting 25% during Kansas’ last six games. Let’s remember, these stats are those of a starting point guard. Yikes. Also, his defensive prowess wasn’t exactly “noteworthy”: this was the first time in five years that Kansas did not place a point guard among the Big 12’s top 20 defensive win shares. Also, the recent “photo” of the 22-year-old guard that captured him in quite the questionable situation (shirtless, and potentially pant-less with a topless, non-unidentified blonde) is not helping his legacy.
Obviously, family should always come first and it is commendable that he chooses his sick little girl versus pursuing his college career. But, considering that during the 2011 class, he was ranked 19 positionally and 92 nationally? Tharpe came in like a lion, and is heading out like a lamb.
Even without Tharpe’s exit, next season will still be a struggle for the Jayhawks. Tharpe was not only the most experienced guard on the team, but would have been the only scholarship senior on the team next year, meaning that the Jayhawks are facing another year with a relatively young squad. However, all’s not lost. The Jayhawks have a few options as far as who can replace Tharpe in, arguably, the most influential position on the team.
On Kansas’ bench, there lies hope in two returning players. The first of which, Frank Mason, is an upcoming sophomore out of Petersburg, Virginia. Playing about 16 minutes per game this past season, Mason averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 assists. Granted, he wasn’t seeing nearly the amount of minutes to garner more points and rebounds, but during his time off the bench, he shot only 41.7 percent from the field. As a point guard, that is a bit alarming. It’s been stated that Mason may make more of a presence as a combination guard versus solely taking over the point guard position. However, Mason was only a freshman and still has three years to grow under Bill Self and prove himself worthy of being a star at Allen Fieldhouse.
The second catalyst off the bench is Conner Frankamp. Frankamp is also an upcoming sophomore who appeared in all 35 games this past season and started three (but still, only averaged about 16.2 minutes per game). He was quite the breakout star in high school, coming into the college draft ranked as the number 17th point guard in the 2013 class.
Frankamp had a few noticeable moments this past season: he made a career high six shots (shooting six out of seven, respectively) during the February 2nd bout against Texas. Also, he scored 10 points in the second half alone at West Virginia in March and tied a carrer high with four rebounds versus Eastern Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Frankamp presents himself as a well rounded player who is easily capable of simultaneously running the floor and being a scoring presence in the paint. But once again, experience is always a factor, and Frankamp is another young player who just has not seen the playing time.
The day after Tharpe’s announcement that he’d be departing the Jayhawk squad came great news for Kansas. Devante Graham, ranked 36th in the overall recruits in the country, verbally committed to Kansas, after a long debate on whether to become a Jayhawk or part of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Coming from the same prep school as Tharpe (Brewster Academy in New Hampshire), Graham was at one time an Appalachian State commit and had even signed a letter of intent. However, Graham changed his mind but Jason Capel refused to release him from the NLI.
Following the release of Capel from Appalachian State at the end of the 2013-2014 season, new head coach Jim Fox granted Graham’s release. So here we have another point guard that hasn’t exactly avoided controversy, but that is all in the past now. Kansas has a new promising face on the Jayhawk squad and that’s what matters.
As previously stated, this season will not be a breeze for the Jayhawks. They have an incredibly young squad, with their potential starting point guard only being a freshman. With Graham being the third recruit out of Kansas’ recruiting class (following Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander), Kansas is providing themselves a deeper bench that will definitely provide anticipation and intrigue alike for the 2014-2015 season.