LAWRENCE — Back for his sophomore season with Kansas basketball, Zach Clemence didn’t hesitate earlier this month to point out what he considers different between now and this time last year.
The Jayhawks forward sees himself as among those setting the tone for what’s expected, instead of following the lead of a teammate like Christian Braun or Jalen Wilson. Clemence, like fellow returners Joseph Yesufu and Cam Martin, is working toward what’ll be his second season with the program. He said he’s ready for the responsibility that carries.
Clemence may only have that one year of experience over the newly-arrived freshmen, and not have spent years at another collegiate program like Yesufu and Martin, but in that one year felt he saw so much. He said they did everything one can in the sport, alluding to the national championship they were a part of and more. Maybe he didn’t play as much as a Braun or Wilson, but he was able to learn from them and others along the way.
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And as Clemence continues to do his part to aid in bringing along the newcomers, he’ll be working toward a potential starting role under Kansas coach Bill Self. Clemence will do so with a certain confidence he’ll readily admit to. With the departures of veteran forwards in David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot, who’ve embarked on their professional careers as Braun has, there are minutes and a role out there for Clemence to earn.
“I don’t know, I just — I’ve always been confident in myself,” said Clemence, a 247Sports Composite four-star recruit out of high school. “Because, I mean, why not? Like, why not be your biggest fan? So, like, I just feel like it’s the, like, mindset. I just go back to that. Like, why have a bad mindset when you can have a good one?”
Clemence stopped short of saying that last season was hard for him, but did describe it as up and down given everything he went through. There was a stretch of Big 12 Conference play he missed due to injury, and by season’s end he’d averaged just 4.9 minutes per appearance in the 24 games he played in off of the bench. However tough it all was, it led to an offseason that saw Clemence’s workouts focusing on everything so he’s prepared for anything.
The biggest takeaway Clemence said he had from last season, was to approach each day with a positive mindset. Thinking that way, makes it that much more likely in his mind that a desired outcome will follow. He noted, “If you’re just hoping for the worst, then it’s going to be bad.”
Bobby Pettiford Jr., a freshman guard this past season who was a part of Clemence’s recruiting class, has seen Clemence playing more freely during workouts. Pettiford believes Clemence is getting stronger, considering the amount of time Clemence is spending in the weight room. Pettiford envisions Clemence playing the role of a stretch-5 this season.
“Zach’s arguably as good a prospect we have returning, period,” Self said. And it includes Jalen. When you talk about prospects — 6-foot-10 almost, he can really shoot, he’s going to get stronger, he’s tough, he’s got a great attitude. So, his best ball is well down the road. But, to me, he’s one of those guys that you could look up and a year from now you’d be saying, ‘Wow, he’s an all-league type talent.’ And I do think he has that in him. I do.”
The better the job Clemence does of stepping up, the more likely Self will be able to play a forward like KJ Adams Jr. on the wing. Adams, also a member of Clemence’s recruiting class, might be in line for a bigger role as a sophomore anyway. But if Clemence, Martin and the freshmen bigs can’t establish a low-post presence, it might be up to Adams to help the Jayhawks succeed without one.
Clemence is eating everything he can and lifting, as he looks to bulk up so he can provide that presence for Kansas. He doesn’t keep track of how many calories he’s consuming, but after being at about 218 pounds last year volunteered that he’s both up to 225 now and on his way toward 235. He predicted playing in the post this season will be much easier for him, as he continues to become more comfortable with the speed and size that requires.
“Anything I can do to win,” said Clemence, speaking to the goal he has for his role this season. “I don’t — whatever it has to be.”
Whatever it could be, very well might include sharing the court with a freshman in Gradey Dick who Clemence once played with back at Sunrise Christian Academy. Dick, a five-star recruit with the Jayhawks’ 2022 recruiting class, is on campus with the team. And considering how goofy they each like to be, the locker room probably isn’t a place that’s lacking energy right now.
Together, they’ll look to help Kansas defend its share of the Big 12’s regular season title. They’ll look to help the Jayhawks repeat as Big 12 tournament champions. And if there are any lessons from capturing those titles worth learning, Clemence can be there to help Dick learn what they are.
“It’s a ton of fun,” said Dick, speaking to being reunited with Clemence. “I mean, I’ve seen him change tremendously and just upgrade his everything. And, yeah, from Sunrise, me being his roommate… and just being with each other that much, and then to come in here… and be back right with him, it’s just like we never left.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.