It's hard to imagine a team losing a top-five NBA draft pick in the paint and a four-year starter at the point and somehow getting better. But that's the scenario facing the Jayhawks as they enter the 2012-13 season. On the heels of their thrilling run to the national championship game, Self's squad returns several key pieces from last year's team and will look to replace leading scorers Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor with one of the deepest and most talented recruiting classes of the Self era.
Jeff Withey was a force defensively in his first season as a starter, setting set a record with 31 blocks in the NCAA tournament and finishing the year with a Big-12-best 140 rejections. This season, he will be asked to contribute more on the offensive end. Joining Withey up front will be impact freshman Perry Ellis, a four-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, along with Kevin Young and redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor.
Elijah Johnson takes the reins at point guard. Unlike Tyshawn Taylor, Johnson seems to be a better decision-maker and a more natural shooter. The Las Vegas native averaged 15.1 points in the final eight games and scored in double figures in all six NCAA tournament games.
Ben McLemore, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2011, was forced to sit out last season because of academic issues. Self has said that McLemore, a possible starter at shooting guard, might have emerged as the team's top pro prospect had he played. Releford, like Johnson, played well in the NCAA tournament, and emerged as a key cog in his first season as a starter.
Forward Perry Ellis and guards Anrio Adams and McLemore all have the skills to start and bring big-time scoring potential to different spots on the floor. Jamari Traylor is raw, but just as ripped as Thomas Robinson, and his physical nature should earn minutes immediately. KU also added walk-ons Tyler Self and Evan Manning, the son of KU legend Danny Manning.
Last year's squad thrived with heart and will, but this year's team figures to benefit from different strengths. Chief among them is depth. While KU's roster will give Self plenty of options, it also figures to provide a few growing pains as nearly half of the rotation could be first-year players.
In addition, Self's bench will feature two new faces -- Norm Roberts steps in for his second stint at KU to replace Danny Manning (now the head coach at Tulsa), and Doc Sadler, formerly the head coach at Nebraska, takes over as the director of basketball operations.