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Kevin McCullar’s Kansas return makes Jayhawks preseason No. 1

Kevin McCullar Jr. is returning for another season in Lawrence

Kevin McCullar Jr. is returning for another season in Lawrence
Photo: AP

The Kansas Jayhawks were already a strong choice to be next season’s preseason No. 1 in men’s basketball with another stellar recruiting class, the loaded haul from the transfer portal, and a returning strong core. Not to mention a healthy Bill Self is one of the best basketball coaches of all time. And I’m pretty sure my ears are still ringing from covering the return of the Border War against Mizzou from Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence in December 2021. Kevin McCullar Jr.’s decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft process and return to the Jayhawks on Wednesday leaves no doubt: KU has the most stacked roster in the country heading into next season.

McCullar had coin-flip odds of being drafted, with his best chance to latch onto an NBA roster coming over the summer and preseason. It’d be far from a certainty. And in returning to one of college basketball’s blue bloods, he’ll be a primary figure for a team that’s expected to compete for another national championship. The 6-foot-6 McCullar is known for his defensive ability, being named a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist the last two seasons. He also started 33 games for Kansas last season, averaging 10.7 points and seven rebounds per game. McCullar is also ultra-experienced, having played for three years at Texas Tech before transferring to Kansas.

Jayhawks boast one of the deepest, most talented rosters

The return of McCullar gives the Jayhawks almost every other team in the country wishes it had. KU has too much elite talent. It’ll be an overcrowded starting lineup with a rotation of eight or nine players that will be as good as any in America. Before McCullar’s return, Kansas’ starting five looked to be Dajuan Harris, Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, Towson transfer Nick Timberlake, Texas transfer Arterio Morris and KJ Adams. And I can’t forget star-studded freshman Elmarko Jackson, who will no doubt play a role in how the Jayhawks do this fall. That’s a salacious seven with McCullar. I covered Harris in high school and he’s turned into one of the best distributors in the country. My alma mater is Towson and I’ve watched Timberlake be a big fish in a small pond in the greater Baltimore area for his entire college career. A lights-out 3-point shooter, a great passer, and tenacious in transition. Some low-level bump-ups don’t pan out. I’ll bet on Timberlake bucking that trend.

There was plenty of deserved fanfare about Dickinson leaving Michigan to come to Kansas, as he was highly regarded as the best player to enter the transfer portal this offseason. One of the best players from the Big Ten over the last few seasons in a conference with worse defensive teams across the board should help the 7-foot-1 center thrive. Adams is entering his third year in Lawrence and stepped up to fill a few voids from the Jayhawks’ national championship team from two seasons ago. Now he’s the KU veteran and should only improve in his junior season.

Of course, there will be competition for an early No. 1 spot from Duke, UConn, Marquette, Houston, and others. But no one else has the combination of talent, depth, and experience, both on the court and on the sidelines, like KU. It might be boring to have the repetitive nature of Kansas being on top college basketball. If you don’t like them, beat ‘em. That will be one tough-as-hell thing to do this winter and upcoming spring. 

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