Key Losses: G J.R. Giddens (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Keith Langford (14.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Aaron Miles (9.3 ppg, 7.2 apg), F Wayne Simien (20.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg)
Postseason: NCAA: Lost to Bucknell 64–63 in the first round
McAlester, OK/Redshirt 2004-05
Overland Park, KS/ Redshirt 2004-05
Seattle, WA/Transfer from USC
Chicago Heights, IL/Homewood-Flossmoor
Don't be surprised if all three of Kansas' incoming freshmen -- Chalmers, Wright and Downs -- earn starting roles. Chalmers, a point guard, is more of a scoring threat than predecessor Aaron Miles. At 6-foot-9, Wright is an athletic specimen who can literally play all five positions. The 6-8 Downs is a lethal 3-point shooter who can also penetrate and defend. Look for Stewart, an off-guard who transferred from USC, to see significant minutes off the bench.
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Poor Kansas Jayhawks. First came that humiliating NCAA tournament loss to Bucknell. Then their best returnee got booted from the team for starting a bar brawl. In July, the school admitted graduating players had received money from boosters. And now, as the 2005-06 season approaches, coach Bill Self is spewing a phrase that's nothing short of revolting to Kansas' once-proud fan base.
"This team," Self says, "has a chance to sneak up on some people."
Kansas? Sneaking up on people? That won't cut the mustard in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks have captured three of the last four Big 12 titles. Self, though, realizes it wouldn't be wise to place unrealistic expectations on a squad that lost six of its top seven scorers, including All-America forward Wayne Simien.
Considering none of Kansas' seven returning players averaged more than 6.0 points per game, it's no surprise that the Jayhawks' starting lineup could feature three true freshmen.
Former walk-on Christian Moody started 25 games as a junior last season, but that was only because newcomers Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles failed to develop as quickly as Self had hoped. Both players -- Kaun especially -- made tremendous strides during the offseason and should compete for the starting spot at center as sophomores.
Don't be surprised if Kansas uses a small lineup, with either the 6-11 Kaun or the 6-10 Giles alongside 6-9 freshman Julian Wright who is a tenacious rebounder with the ball-handling and passing skills of a point guard. Although he needs to add muscle weight, Wright is too good to keep off the court.
"All of them have a chance," says Self, whose team went 23-7 a year ago. "I see us playing more guys less minutes and creating more of an athletic type of game."
As much as they hated to lose four-year starter and school assists leader Aaron Miles, the Jayhawks couldn't be any more ecstatic about the arrival of freshman point guard Mario Chalmers. Rated by some recruiting services as the top player in the country at his position, Chalmers is a lock to take over Miles' starting role.
Unlike Miles, who often struggled with his shooting, Chalmers is a scoring machine. He scored 16 points in a four-minute span during last spring's McDonald's All-American game. A day earlier he won the 3-point contest. But the long distance marksmanship can be misleading; Chalmers is a pure point guard whose passing and defense rival his shooting abilities.
KU coaches still don't know who will play alongside Chalmers on the perimeter. Sophomore Russell Robinson became a fan favorite early last season, but a poor attitude and a knack for committing turnovers caused him to be replaced in the pecking order by Jeff Hawkins. The staff likes Hawkins because he's a steady player who rarely makes mistakes. He's also one of the team's top defenders and 3-point shooters.
On the wing, look for freshman Micah Downs to compete for the starting spot left vacant with the departure of J.R. Giddens, who witnesses say instigated the May bar melee that left four people with stab wounds. Giddens has since transferred to New Mexico, which may be a good thing for the Jayhawks. Downs has shown more versatility than Giddens, who often became a one-dimensional 3-point shooter.
Self is also searching for a way to work off-guards Jeremy Case and Rodrick Stewart into the rotation. Case redshirted last season and is Kansas' top long-range shooter. Stewart is a transfer from USC.
For the first time in recent memory, Kansas enters this season in a rebuilding mode. The talent is there, but it's still raw and untested. Even if Chalmers, Downs and Wright mature quickly, the Jayhawks will have a tough time challenging experienced teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the Big 12 title.
Like his players, Self hopes KU fans show patience as the Jayhawks search for an identity.
"We'll be inconsistent early on," Self says. "But by the time conference play gets here I hope we've become a consistent team that is tough for anyone to deal with."