LAWRENCE — David McCormack raised the expectations of what he’s capable of with his play down the stretch his freshman season.
Last week, Bill Self pushed that ceiling even higher.
Introducing players at his own youth basketball camp ahead of a scrimmage last Tuesday inside Allen Fieldhouse, Self arrived at McCormack, Kansas basketball’s 6-foot-10, 265-pound sophomore forward. The Jayhawk coach had reserved some of his highest praise for one of the team’s most towering figures.
“He is the most improved player in our program,” Self said, “hands down.”
On Monday, Self reiterated that sentiment — and went further.
“Most improved guy on our team, hands down. Hands down,” Self said. “His athletic ability has improved, and I know that’s not easy to do in a short amount of time, but he’s much more explosive. His shooting ability is really improved, and I don’t know if that will translate day-to-day, but he’s a guy, he can make a 17-footer.
“He’s our best big shooter without question right now, unless you include Jalen (Wilson).”
McCormack, who averaged 3.9 points on 62.5-percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game last season, showcased that newfound skillset at the scrimmage, draining multiple midrange jumpers. While he’d heard Self call him the team’s most improved player before last Tuesday, he labeled the remark “a really big compliment.”
“(He's) just talking about my work ethic and how hard I’ve been trying to improve my game,” McCormack said.
A former four-star recruit and the nation’s No. 36-ranked player in the Class of 2018 according to 247Sports’ composite, McCormack had four double-figure scoring games in the Jayhawks’ final seven games last season, including an 18-point outburst on 8-for-11 shooting in a defeat at Oklahoma.
The offseason has only furthered McCormack’s growth, he explained, highlighted by improvements to his midrange game and ability to play off drives.
“The feel of the game (is different),” McCormack said. “Originally I know (the goal) was for me to slow down coming out of high school and now the game has slowed down for me. It’s just getting in the groove a lot quicker and getting to the right place sooner. ...
“Plays just kind of develop on their own. Nothing’s forced. And then also since I’ve been here a year we have the chemistry and I know where players want to be and the style they want to play.”
Coming from high-level prep program Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., McCormack thought he already had the necessary experience to be effective as a first-year player, he now acknowledges. The first leg of his inaugural season proved a rude awakening.
“To come to college, it’s somewhat of a humbling experience learning that I needed to slow down and I don’t know anything,” said McCormack, who added it was “repetitive” to constantly hear he needed to slow down but that it also proved useful "... because it was a constant reminder not to get anxious in the plays that I made, or even when it came to the big games later in the season to keep my game slowed down.”
McCormack scored 12 points in the Jayhawks’ scrimmage.
“He’s been putting in a ton of work,” senior forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “He’s been in the gym probably more than anyone, I think. Kid works his tail off and it’s showing on the court. I think you guys have even seen it. Towards the end of last year, he slowed his game down and relaxed and was more comfortable on the court. So I think once that all gets together he’ll be in good shape.”
McCormack, Lightfoot, junior forward Silvio De Sousa and senior center Udoka Azubuike combine to give the Jayhawk a frontcourt that could very well be a calling card next season, with McCormack touting the group’s size, strength, athleticism and experience.
“I mean, everybody has knowledge of the game. The game is slowed down for everyone,” McCormack continued. “We all know how each other plays, so everything is going to run smoothly. Everything is going to be compatible with each other’s style of play.”
Self ‘shocked’ by NCAA VP’s remarks
Last week's CBS Sports report that at least six college basketball programs will be notified of major NCAA violations this summer, including two high-level programs, was newsworthy to Self only in that an NCAA official went on the record with that assertion.
Stan Wilcox, the NCAA vice president for regulatory affairs, didn’t name any institutions but said the governing body is “up and ready” and that “you’ll see consequences” in the form of notices of allegations for Level I violations.
“How could I say this? I was shocked to read something, that something could be said that was not specifically intended for anyone, but it made all 20 schools that were mentioned in the FBI deal and their fan base feel like it was,” Self said. “So no, I got no comment on it because only he knows what exactly he meant by what he said, except the fact he said that schools will definitely be served this summer, which I guess could be very well true. I just think to predetermine what’s going to happen before investigations are done, I think that comes pretty strong."
KU was one of the Adidas programs whose name came up in last October’s trials of three individuals with ties to the apparel giant in the federal government’s probe into illicit payments in college basketball recruiting.
“I have no knowledge of who (Wilcox) was talking about or anything like that,” Self continued, “but certainly the fan bases of all the people that were mentioned I’m sure are very interested in what he meant by that.”