Kansas vs. UNC: Jayhawks coach Bill Self built title-contesting roster by using transfer portal to ‘get old’

NEW ORLEANS – Ahead of the 2022-23 season, there are already more than 1,000 names on the college basketball transfer portal. It’s the wild, wild west out there, like teams like LSU are flip complete rosters and a new beginning thanks to a new era of quasi-free agency and possibilities for names, images and likenesses.

But one team has risen above the chaos of collegiate athletics and masterfully created a blueprint for success: the Kansas Jayhawks.

KU will start No. 1 against No. 8 North Carolina in Monday night’s national championship game, and it’s preferred behind a squad coach Bill Self has tactically developed internally while plugging holes when needed way across the transfer portal.

“What the transfer portal does allows you not to take a step back when unexpected things happen during the season,” Self said on Sunday. “That often happens, for example, whether it’s another man or if a man or two declare themselves for the draft and have a good year that might be ahead of your schedule for him. Such things. They so you can’t get a freshman in the spring because they’re already taken. So, the transfer portal allows you to fill in the gaps, which allows the programs to remain at the level they are currently operating at. And there will be. Because of the portal, there aren’t as many burglaries as here.”

This title-struggling Kansas roster had very few gaps to fill ahead of the 2021-22 season. Top scorer and All-American Ochai Agbaji: a four-star recruit who signed with the school in 2018. Lead rebounders Jalen Wilson and David McCormack: Four-star KU recruits who were in the program for several years. Even junior guard Christian Braun, sophomore Dajuan Harris and super-senior big man Mitch Lightfoot were all targeted, signed and developed at KU after high school.

But there were gaps. The guard game last offseason was a priority area. So what would self and staff do? They continued to zoom to the portal and landed Arizona State star guard Remy Martin, a crucial shotmaker who was crucial as a senior in KU’s March Madness run. They also signed sophomore Drake Joseph Yesufu and Iowa State senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, two deep-pieces who have contributed this season.

“The backbone of all of our teams was our experience,” said Self. “It wasn’t our young kids. Even though I was always like, ‘Man, if your base is your juniors and seniors but your best player was your freshman, you have something special. That could be something special.'”

In this era of collegiate athletics, there’s certainly no right or wrong way to create rosters. Teams with a lot of one-and-done players – like Duke – have had immense success. Teams with a lot of experienced players – like Chris Beard’s teams at Texas Tech and Self’s teams in recent years – have done well and taken a completely different path. To each his own.

However, no one can speak with more authority on this subject than the Self at this time. He had a team that was old in 2020 and likely would have been the title favorite before pandemic circumstances led to the tournament’s cancellation. Now, two years later, partly because of an NCAA case looming over the program that has crippled recruiting the way a blueblood like Kansas normally recruits, he’s back with an old roster that’s playing with New- Age Tactics ready to run the table in the same way the 2020 team was favored.

Maybe other programs will take notice. Perhaps others don’t have the luxury of constantly adding quality high school recruits like KU can. (Even if the NCAA case is unsolved, it’s still raking in the top 25 classes.) But Self has a unique roster that’s old, experienced, and masterfully curated with patience — and now ready to serve him possibly Monday night to award his second career championship.

“The way it’s going, I think one of the keys to college basketball is going to be how you grow old and how you stay old,” Self said. “And we’ve been fortunate that we’ve managed to do that in recent years.” Kansas vs. UNC: Jayhawks coach Bill Self built title-contesting roster by using transfer portal to ‘get old’

Dais Johnston

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