Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk went to the University of Kansas as one of the most hyped prospects to come out of Europe in recent years but so far the Ukrainian wunderkind has struggled. Emmet Ryan looks at the struggles of Sviata.
Mike Fratello wasn’t in the best of moods. It wasn’t so much the result as he had to deal with an Irish journalist speaking at a mile a minute and cornering him after he’d already finished his press conference. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had shown flashes of brilliance in his brief stint for Ukraine in their 81-76 loss to Finland at the FIBA World Cup. The youngster, who excelled in the FIBA Europe Under 18 B championships earlier that summer had shown he had a right to play on the big stage.
The train of hype behind the youngster had been building all summer and his cameo appearances in Bilbao were enough to set expectations high for his first season with the Kansas Jayhawks. After all, if he could live with the grown-ups, surely NCAA ball would be fine for him? In truth, it was asking too much of a man still developing as a baller.
“My expectations for Svi were pretty low, to be honest,” Sam Vecenie, basketball writer at CBSSports.com, told BallinEurope.
“The Jayhawks had quite a bit of talent on the perimeter to begin with — guys like Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene — so I didn’t think he’d get a ton of playing time early, then he’d maybe carve out a role later in the season as a 3rd/4th wing. That’s not to say I don’t like the skill level or anything, as he’s clearly tremendously talented, but there was just a lot going against him. Battles for playing time, the cultural adjustment, the fact that he’s so damn young compared to everyone, the fact that Bill Self does goofy things with freshmen…it’s just a lot, said Vecenie.
Even with Vecenie’s couched hopes for the young Ukrainian, things have still deviated far from the arc expected for him. Mykhailiuk’s perfomances have, if anything, gotten worse since he started out with the Jayhawks.
“He contributed quite a bit early on, and that led to people — including his coaching staff and some of my colleagues — to declare him the best NBA prospect on their roster. I never really bought into that, but it was a prevalent thought early in the college basketball season. Now, he’s playing sparingly behind the three aforementioned wings, and isn’t really a big part of the team at all. Go figure. Basically, I think he’s been fine and has done what most expected of him, and will be a much bigger piece next year as he continues to get adjusted,” said Vecenie.
Shooting is only one part of Mykhailiuk’s game but his shot chart makes for ugly reading. This, via Vecenie, is how Mykhailiuk fared over his first 17 games as a Jayhawk.
That shot chart brings us through to the start of this month, he hasn’t scored a point since having played just 11 minutes in total over the last five games. That lack of time on the floor hurts Mykhailiuk two-fold, he needs minutes to develop rhythm but without rhythm he can’t earn those minutes.
“I think it’s just more of a lack of rhythm and playing time than anything. The shot is absolutely beautiful coming out of his hand and it’s looks confident, sometimes it’s just tough to knock down shots when you’re not playing a ton. I think the shot from distance will rebound just fine next year,” said Vecenie.
“He’s exactly what Self wants from a wing. A guy who can spot up and space the floor for a lead guard and post play. So I think he’s done that well. He’s also a pretty smart and willing defender, which Self also loves. He just is limited there right now because of his strength and size. So I think he’s actually a really good fit in Self’s system,” he said.
“In a pure fundamental sense, I’m not sure he needs to do a ton. He’s already terrific in the traditional fundamental and mechanical sense. His ‘basketball IQ’ or whatever you want to call it is absolutely off the charts. The biggest thing he needs to do is just keep getting older and improving is his strength. The athleticism will keep improving as that happens. And it wouldn’t hurt if he became an improved ball handler. He’s solid there, but could be better.”
That challenge in fitting in to Self’s system is a key problem for Mykhailiuk according to Alexander Proshuta, editor-in-chief at basket-planet.com.
“Svyat doesn’t play minutes he was expected to play this year. When he shows up for these small minutes, this will to show skills and real ability makes his play a bit hectic, he takes shots he never take in normal game pace. Mykhailiuk had big love in Ukraine, coaches trusted him to shoot a lot and by making some extra shots he could find his stroke this night. He can’t do this in Kansas at the moment,” Proshuta told BallinEurope.
“In the first week of the season Kansas played against Kentucky, Mykhailiuk showed his ability to play this level and I was sure he would be major threat off the bench. But things changed, coach Self doesn’t trust him too much and it worries me a lot. I believed on his rookie season Svyat would play 15-20 minutes every night, with consistent growth to major games, but it didn’t happen,” said Proshuta.
Like Vecenie, Proshuta said the bar was set a little too high for Mykhailiuk after his stellar summer run.
“Making the World Cup roster and getting some some decent minutes in Spain should only be considered like a good bonus. When the kid is projected to be lottery pick in two years, it’s already sets the bar very high,” he said.
The Ukrainian journalist doesn’t think pressure from these high expectations is affecting Mykhailiuk’s game and the young man has the experience to bounce back.
“Mykhailiuk had much bigger pressure in 2013, where U16 European Champ was played in Kyiv. The city was packed with boards with faces of our kids, even trolleybuses were printed with their photos. The expectations of Mykhailiuk, the team’s leading scorer, were very high. He overcame it and played an awesome tournament. He knows, how to deal with it, he’s grown man,” said Proshuta.
“This season is coming to the end of conference games and [then it’s] March Madness. I don’t see Svyat getting many opportunities to show his skill this season. Maybe he will see one dead game, even in March Madness, and coach Self will look at him on another angle. When Mykhailiuk moved to Kansas, it was 2-year plan for NBA, so the sophomore season for him will be crucial. I’d like to believe Bill Self will build his team next year around Mykhailiuk, but if Perry Ellis stays, in best case Syvat will be the second star. That’s not so bad,” he
“To fulfil his potential he needs to win his coach’s trust and get more playing time. Since 15 he played pro-level [as an amateur in pro leagues], he’s used to playing extended minutes and it won’t be problem for him. He’s used to playing a bigger role and surely needs it in Kansas. If these things settle up, I have no doubts, Mykhailiuk will show his fantastic potential in the near future.”
For now Mykhailiuk’s growth is on hold but come March Madness, if the Jayhawks get a blow-out in their opener, he might have a chance to show us what to expect next autumn.
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