Kansas Jayhawks Q&A: Football’s 2023 recruiting class, KU hoops bench bigs and KJ Adams

The day has arrived yet again: It’s time for another Kansas Jayhawks Q&A mailbag.

The Kansas men’s basketball team appears to be back on track. The Jayhawks beat fellow blueblood Kentucky 77-68 a week ago Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Then, KU enacted revenge for losing at Bramlage Coliseum earlier in January and beat in-state rival K-State 90-78 Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 8 Kansas heads to Ames to play No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday, looking to make it eight straight wins over the Cyclones.

It was also quite a busy week for Kansas football. The Jayhawks’ 2023 schedule came out on Tuesday. Then, Wednesday was National Signing Day. KU’s 2023 class ranks No. 66 nationally (per 247Sports).

Now, let’s get into these questions. As always, thanks to everybody for the questions.

If I’m an in-state 5-star football recruit, what would I be looking for Kansas to do this season to stay in-state? — @nikghayal7

First, I hope Barbados and medical school are treating you well, pal!

The state of Kansas hasn’t produced many five-star recruits overall, so you would be one of the few.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Jayhawks need to do to land a five-star. The biggest thing is continuing to build off last season, which means at least eight to nine wins and another bowl appearance. Having some players picked early in the 2024 NFL Draft wouldn’t hurt, either.

In the Sunflower Showdown with K-State, KU either needs to come out with a victory or at least a close loss. That loss needs to showcase that the Jayhawks are close to being the premier team in the state — they just need a five-star recruit to put them over the top.

Last season, Leipold shifted the perception of the program nationally.

Before the Liberty Bowl, Arkansas offensive lineman Dalton Wagner told me he’d become a fan of Kansas football.

“I’ve been so happy to see Kansas’ success this year,” Wagner said. “I’ve been rooting for Kansas all the time and what they’ve been doing. You see it throughout the season: ‘Hey, Kansas beat these guys and Kansas beat these guys.’ It’s awesome because you see so much of what we were in Kansas.

“There’s a time when people were counting us out a couple of years ago. ‘Oh, Arkansas is Arkansas.’ People are probably like, ‘Kansas is Kansas,’ but Kansas ain’t Kansas. They are getting after it now. They are doing such an awesome job. It was very awesome to watch this season. … I really can’t wait to see their future, too.”

The goal for 2023? Make winning and bowl appearances synonymous with KU football.

Another big thing to look at is athletic facilities, as this can be a huge differential point for any five-star recruit. Regarding KU, how much has the stadium project progressed, and how will the amenities/facilities stack up to other schools’ facilities?

Finally, you’d want to talk to the two in-state class of 2023 recruits, tight end Jaden Hamm and offensive lineman Calvin Clements. Both players flipped their commitments to KU, Hamm from Arkansas and Clements from Baylor.

They liked the culture KU football coach Lance Leipold has built and, of course, they’re interested in winning.

How are minutes distributed down the stretch for KU guards Bobby Pettiford and Joseph Yesufu and bigs Zach Clemence and Ernest Udeh? — @crimson_blu_cru

Right now, Pettiford has a slight minutes advantage over Yesufu (14.7 minutes per game vs. 11.9) and I think it will stay that way for the rest of the season.

Yesufu broke a three-game scoreless streak Tuesday against K-State with five points on 1-for-7 shooting from the floor. But he hasn’t shown enough consistency to command more minutes than Pettiford.

As for the Udeh-Clemence minutes, I think Udeh has earned the role of backup behind forward KJ Adams — at least for the time being, with Zuby Ejiofor out with an ankle injury.

Udeh offers things KU lacks, such as length on defense, vertical spacing and hard screen setting. Those are things Adams doesn’t do as well, so Udeh is perfect for the Jayhawks.

Self wanted a traditional big to diversify his potential lineups, and it appears he’s finally got that in Udeh.

The only time Udeh won’t play more minutes than Clemence will be due to foul trouble (like his four fouls against KSU) or when Self needs Clemence’s shooting ability for certain matchups.

MJ Rice has unfortunately dealt with injury issues all season, which continues to be a problem. Of late, he’s been dealing with back spasms. This could be a problem all season; it just depends on how Rice is feeling on a given day.

I understand the concern of Jayhawk fans, because who wouldn’t want the 2023 class to be highly ranked (No. 72 per Rivals)? But I don’t think how they’re ranked is a very big deal. Football is played on the field and not on paper, after all.

First, KU has addressed its biggest needs, especially in the transfer portal. Last season, KU’s most significant weaknesses were on defense and special teams. Even Leipold said those were weak points on his roster. So Kansas picked up six defensive players and two special-teamers (out of 13 transfer players).

The Jayhawks also beefed up their offensive line to protect star QB Jalon Daniels with the addition of former five-star tackle recruit Logan Brown from Wisconsin and Spencer Lovell from Cal.

Rivals also ranked KU’s 2023 transfer class No. 25, which is pretty good.

In the high school class, they went receiver-heavy and picked up three additions (Surahz Buncom, Jarred Sample and Keaton Kubecka).

Finally, a positive sign for the future: flipping top in-state recruits. Both Clements and Hamm felt convinced enough to flip their commitments from a rival Big 12 school (Baylor) and an SEC school (Arkansas), respectively. That wouldn’t have happened just two years back.

Overall, what Leipold and his staff are building recruiting-wise should pay dividends in the 2024 class and beyond. Then, the class rankings will be higher.

Hmmm, that’s a great question. I honestly think it’s KJ Adams.

I know he’s had a fantastic season, but I would go so far as to say he’s the second-most important player on the team behind forward Jalen Wilson.

Adams’ offensive development (especially scoring off that short pick-and-roll) has been an absolute godsend for a team that has lacked consistency in scoring behind Wilson. It seems like anytime KU needs a bucket, they go to Adams in the pick-and-roll.

His streak of 11 straight games with double-digit points was honestly quite remarkable. And he helped KU steal some victories from games in which the team didn’t look great overall.

On the defensive end, the 6-foot-7 forward has held his own against bigger, taller opponents all year. He’s essentially become Draymond Green for KU, where his stats might not show it but he does everything well on the court.

For example, he doesn’t put up gaudy rebounding numbers (4.2 per game), but he boxes out well and allows his teammates to crash the boards. He’s also an excellent screen-setter and has shown an ability to make smart reads/passes when the ball is in his hands.

We’ve talked a lot about him, but if he hadn’t played as well as he did, I’m not sure Kansas is even a top 15 team right now.