Lagerald Vick rubs KU opponents with offense, defense and athleticism

Lagerald Vick was on nobody’s radar last season, where the slender 6-5 Kansas freshman guard was learning the major college basketball ropes and was a fixture on the bench.

He only played 91 minutes while averaging 2.1 points in 19 games.

A year later and it is a different story. Vick is one of the team’s most improved players. After studying the system last year and getting acclimated to KU coach Bill Self, Vick is feeling much more comfortable and confident this season.

“I’m being more aggressive, crashing the offensive boards, bringing the ball up the court, creating shots for others and just being a better defender,” Vick said.

Lagerald Vick is a do-it-all player, an elite athlete who can shoot the three, drive with graceful, smooth and poetic moves to the hoop, challenge the big men of college basketball for rebounds, and bring down the house with his rim-rocking dunks. He also has the potential to be a lock-down defender with his superb quickness, instincts and tenacity guarding the ball.

Lagerald Vick was on a mission in the offseason to transform his game and become this kind of difference maker. He shot a thousand jumpers daily during the summer and spent countless hours conditioning and honing his skills with huge hopes of earning major minutes in 2016-17.

“(I didn’t) take any off days in the summer and just (kept) working and working,” said Vick, who was averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 25.0 minutes game entering January while shooting 52.6 percent from the field and a blistering 45.5 percent from three-point range, which ranked second on the team.

The hard work has certainly paid off. Lagerald Vick, who was named to the 2015-16 Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team, responded in his first career start against UNC Asheville on Nov. 25 with 15 points and nine rebounds on 6-of-7 field-goal shooting. Then he almost made history in his next start versus Long Beach State on Nov. 29, shooting 9-of-9 from the field, including making all four threes for a career-high 23 points. Vick came just shy of tying the school record for shots without a miss in a game set by Norm Cook (10-of-10) in 1973 and Danny Manning (10-of-10) in 1986.

He actually would have tied the mark but his dunk was nullified by a silly foul from teammate Carlton Bragg on the other end of the court.

“That’s a little disappointing (Bragg’s foul) because not too many guys have a chance to do that,” Self said about Vick nearly joining Manning and Cook in the record books. “They were hard shots – he was 9-for-9, but four of those were threes, it wasn’t like they were all layups.”

The consummate team player, Lagerald Vick didn’t seem bothered about not going 10-of-10.

“We were just trying to win the game,” Vick said of KU’s 91-61 victory.

Vick, a Memphis native, is certainly helping KU win games. After opening the season making just 1-of-13 three-pointers, Vick has since shot a scorching 70 percent (14-of-20) from downtown. His confidence is rising since tweaking his mechanics after the CBE Classic (Nov. 21 and 22) at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

“(Assistant coach Kurtis Townsend) told me, ‘You’re fading back,’” Vick said. “We got back here (Lawrence) and one of my (friends) sent me a video of my shot. I just kept replaying it, noticed it and started working on it. I started going straight up and down.”

After a freshman season far away from the limelight, Lagerald Vick drew rave reviews from Self, teammates, and even opposing coaches in November.

Just listen to Self.

“He’s improved a ton,” Self said. “He’s confident. He’s reacting instead of thinking, for the most part. He attacks the rim well and he’s going to end up being one of our best defenders. He’s really improved a ton.”

Just listen to KU junior guard Devonte’ Graham.

“[He’s improved] tremendously,” Graham said. “This offseason he put in a lot of work. Everybody could see it coming. I remember talking during the summer about him being one of the biggest keys to our team. He’s been working on his game, his jump shot. He’s really explosive so he can get to the basket and finish at the rim.”

Vick posted 12 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes during KU’s 86-65 victory over Siena on Nov. 18.

“I did an interview before the game and I said Lagerald Vick was my favorite player,” Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. “That’s my kind of guy. He does a lot of dirty work, unfortunately I was correct. He’s a great player. He’s killer at our level (mid-major teams in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference). He can do everything. He’s just a stat stuffer. Reminds me a little bit of this guy we had, Keith Booth, at Maryland (when Patsos was an assistant coach under Gary Williams).

“He was like a 6-5 four-man, but he could shoot. I know Vick is a three-man, but I just like him. I like his energy and he can do a little bit of everything. He can switch and guard anybody. He’s a really good player.

“We all know (Josh) Jackson is what he is and then (they have the) other two guards (Graham and Frank Mason III), but when you watch him (on film) he was the guy I was like, ‘Wow I didn’t know they had him.’ …We run and press. It’s a 94-feet pressing, running kind of hard-hat, lunch pail kind of game, and that’s what I think he is.”

Just listen to Long Beach State coach Dan Monson after Lagerald Vick put on that memorable show against his team.

“That’s what makes Kansas an elite team,” Monson said. “He’s not one that we were focused on. The game plan was trying to pack it in and make them beat us from the perimeter and help in and cast out. He just opened the game up with his shooting.

“The difference between Kansas and Long Beach State is we’ll have players that can shoot like that, but they can’t do the other things. When we looked at him in film today it was more of how aggressive he was and how he would go to the offensive boards and how aggressive he was at attacking. Now he’s able to shoot like that.”

Townsend compared Lagerald Vick to former NBA star Latrell Sprewell at the beginning of last season.

After five straight starts, Vick was replaced in the starting lineup by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk against Davidson on Dec. 17. Still, he played 22 minutes and scored eight points while logging 24 minutes and blocking two shots off the bench at UNLV five days later.

“I think Svi’s on an uptick,” Self said about giving Mykhailiuk the start after KU’s 89-71 win over Davidson. “Lagerald has done nothing wrong. I just don’t think he’s playing as well and giving us as much energy.”

Lagerald Vick average 27 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals per game as a senior at Memphis Douglass High School. He was one of three finalists for the Class AA Mr. Basketball Award for the state of Tennessee his junior and senior seasons.

He originally committed to SMU and former KU head coach Larry Brown before signing with Kansas.

“Everybody thought Lagerald would be a 2016 grad, but he reclassified to 2015 after his senior season was over, so we were fortunate,” Self said. “Recruiting is inexact science, so you’ve got all these recruiting experts. But take Frank and Devonte’ and Lagerald; those guys were not, at that time, considered to be blue chip, five-star type recruits and they turned out to be pretty good. You just never know.

“But the thing about Lagerald, you knew he was a great athlete. You knew he had great instincts and you knew he had great size for a guard. But he’s improved at such an accelerated rate, I don’t think I could have anticipated this when he first got here.”

It is a new year with the Big 12 schedule starting for the No. 3 Jayhawks.

“The team has been hyping me up and (I’m) just looking forward to playing better in the future,” Vick said. “I’m having a lot of fun, especially with Devonte’, Frank and Josh and the big fellas inside. (It’s) definitely a lot of fun.”

Vick will be having much more fun if Kansas is fortunate to cut down the national title nets in April in Glendale, Arizona. The forgotten man last season has become a key player in KU’s quest to accomplish that grand prize.

“When you win a national championship, you need a guy like that,” Patsos said.

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Article by David Garfield

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