It wasn’t so long ago that Kansas’ Lagerald Vick was the hottest shooter in the country. As December began he was shooting 59 percent from the arc. At 45.5 percent he remains Kansas’ most accurate 3-point shooter, as well as the only one who can reliably make guarded jump shots.
Just one thing: It’s unclear whether or not Vick is still on the team and increasingly clear the 14th-ranked Jayhawks are better off without him.
Three games ago, Kansas announced Vick was taking what the school described as a “leave of absence,” offering no further explanation. Vick’s mother, LaLa, tweeted that Vick was needed at home in Memphis for a non-specified family matter, and that’s all the information anybody has been able to gather as to the life and times of the second-leading scorer on the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
Meanwhile, floundering Kansas has reinvented itself and turned its season around.
For weeks the Jayhawks had looked slow, depressed and confused. They looked like a collection of good parts that didn’t fit together, and a loss at Kansas State on Feb. 5 was their fourth in six games. They looked like the worst Kansas team in at least a decade, and the first one since 2004 that would not win the Big 12 championship.
Vick was held out for most the first half of that game. Two days later, Kansas announced Vick was on leave.
Eleven days after that, the Jayhawks are demolishing West Virginia on ESPN, and Fran Fraschilla — part analyst, part Big 12 beat reporter — says more than once he doesn’t think Vick will be returning to the team, and that Kansas once again looks like it could get to the Final Four.
All of which begs the question: Did Bill Self kick Lagerald Vick off the team without telling anybody?
Everyone who’s been following Kansas basketball for the last year or so could tell you Vick’s place on the Jayhawks has been … tentative. When he declared for the NBA draft after last season, I assumed that was because Self had given him the “soft boot” — not kicked off, exactly, but encouraged to find a new basketball team nonetheless.
“I believe the time is right for him to move on,” Self said at the time.
Not many thought Vick would be playing in the NBA this year, but even fewer thought he’d be playing at Kansas. Then, out of nowhere, KU announced that oh by the way Lagerald Vick is coming back and everybody is real happy about it.
In a conversation with The Topeka Capital-Journal following Friday’s announcement, Self labeled Vick’s return a “win-win,” although he admitted it’s a scenario he would’ve never envisioned in April.
“No chance. None, none. When we played our last game, it was very evident that he had played his last game at Kansas,” Self told The Capital-Journal. “Certainly I think in his mind he was 100-percent sure he had, and in my mind I was 100-percent sure he had. But things change and certainly the process he’s gone through I think has been very eye-opening to him, and he’s realized that maybe he’s still got a ways to go to get to where he wants to be. I think that kind of helped change his perspective.
“I think it’s positive. He seems excited to have the opportunity to finish what he started. We’re also very excited to give him that opportunity. I think it’s a win-win.”
Against all odds, this actually looked like it was going to work out. Vick played so well in November he was one of those guys broadcasters would talk about during games he wasn’t even playing in. He had back-to-back 30 point games, then 27 against Stanford and 29 against Villanova.
Lagerald Vick is not the smartest player KU has ever had. His shot selection has always been dicey, and the hero-ball shots had really become a Thing this year.
Still, without Vick’s shooting, the Jayhawks probably would have lost to Stanford, Villanova and Baylor, and we’d be talking about a team barreling toward something like a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
For about a month, it appeared Vick was KU’s leader and it appeared he would make a serviceable one. You could practically hear the longform narrative features being typed up in the background.
Then came that pivotal game at K-State. Self held Vick out most of the first half, which was a bold move considering the alternative was little-used Cal transfer Charlie Moore. Needing some offense, Self ultimately played Vick 19 minutes but afterward sounded like he regretted it.
“We made a decision to not play him in the first half obviously, but when we did that we were actually better,” Self said.
That has held up for the last three games, too.
Without starting center Udoka Azubuike (injured), power forward Silvio De Sousa (NCAA suspension), guard Marcus Garrett (injured) and Vick, the Jayhawks have won three games in a row.
They look fast and exuberant. They look joyful. They’re dunking again. They look like they have an identity.
And without saying it, Self is saying that’s because Vick is gone.
As recently as Feb. 5, KU’s Dedric Lawson (also from Memphis) told reporters he expected Vick would be back with the Jayhawks before this season is over.
The way it looks now, the Jayhawks can’t risk it.