AMES — The NBA has a player draft, and in June woebegone teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic can snap up players like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
The NCAA has no such draft. So year in and year out, Kansas can replace an All-America freshman guard in Ben McLemore with an even-better player in Canada’s Andrew Wiggins after McLemore departed for the NBA.
And just as a special bonus, KU Coach Bill Self signed a 7-footer named Joel Embiid from Cameroon, called “the best player in the country” Monday night by Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg.
“You see him play tonight?” Hoiberg replied.
“He’s huge, he’s got great length, he can shoot, he has incredible footwork. And he’s been playing the game for about two years.”
People across the U.S. were raving about Embiid after he took matters in his own hands in the second half of the Jayhawks’ 77-70 Hilton Coliseum win over ISU. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second half, which began with the game knotted at 36.
As for Wiggins, regarded as the prize catch in all of college basketball recruiting last year and deemed as someone who would have gone first in the 2013 NBA draft were high-schoolers still eligible?
He had 17 points and 19 rebounds. He is a guard. A 6-foot-8 guard who shoots, finishes, defends, rebounds, and basically flies in transition.
Kansas has nine straight Big 12 titles. For all the talk a week ago from various experts claiming the road to this year’s championship goes through Ames, the Jayhawks went through Ames Monday. And the result was the same it had been in 16 of the previous 17 times Kansas played the Cyclones.
For all the feel-good stories in college basketball, and the occasional Final Four runs of the Wichita States and Butlers, the smart money will always be on the teams with the players projected to go high in the next NBA draft.
A site called NBAdraft.net has Embiid going No. 1 and Wiggins going No. 3 five months from now. Duke’s Jabari Parker, another wunderkind freshman at an old-money program, is No. 2. Freshman Julian Randle of old-money Kentucky is No. 5.
The Sporting News begs to differ, projecting Wiggins No. 1. It has Embiid all the way down to No. 6. Maybe not after the latest Big Monday.
This is why it would be such a happy shock to the system here if Iowa State could win the recruiting derby for Rashad Vaughn, a 6-6 guard finishing his prep career in the Las Vegas area. ISU is a finalist for the blue-chipper. Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina still have their hats in the ring, but Hoiberg has a puncher’s chance for this kid.
Put a premier player alongside next season’s returning Cyclones and maybe ISU becomes monstrous. But for now, yet again, the road to the Big 12 title is still going through Lawrence.
Not that Monday’s game was out of reach for Iowa State. Atrocious shooting (4-of-25 from 3-point range, 31.4 percent overall) combined with abysmal rebounding, yet this was a contest.
“We were very fortunate tonight, because they missed shots,” Self said. “Even if they shoot a bad percentage and make eight or nine (threes) …”
The Cyclones surrender size to just about every team they play, but they have countered it against just about every team they’ve played by going on runs, getting some rhythm in their offense. And, most importantly, sinking open shots.
“I missed eight free throws,” Kane rued. “Georges (Niang) was 4-for-20. Mel (Ejim) was 5-for-15. That’s rare.”
“The best shooters in the world have nights like this,” Hoiberg said. But funny how it happens against a Kansas, with a 7-footer in the front of the minds of the players driving to the hoop and missing shots they almost always convert.
“It’s tough,” said Hoiberg. “They’re long, athletic, they play extremely hard, they’re as well-coached as any team in the nation. We couldn’t have had a much worse offensive night and we had a chance at the end.”
It’s a long season. Iowa State, spending its second-straight week in the Top Ten, is no less formidable than it was before Monday night. It is, obviously, very good. But it can’t compensate for shooting woes like Kansas, which was no great shakes at 5-of-16 behind the arc.
You don’t have to be a master salesman to pitch Kansas basketball to the truest of the blue-chippers. They know who you are, they know where you can and will take them.
Two of the top five, maybe top three, maybe even top two picks in this year’s NBA draft played in Hilton for the only times in their careers Monday. They heard the noise, they met the No. 10 Cyclones, and they remained the only unbeaten team in Big 12 play.
And they’re only starting to get good.
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