Freshman Bobby Pettiford is KU's latest basketball point guard out of North Carolina

By Gary Bedore
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Guard Bobby Pettiford Jr. is expected to compete for time as a freshman on the Kansas Jayhawks roster.

LAWRENCE —Two of the top point guards in recent Kansas men's basketball history hail from the same state as Jayhawk newcomer Bobby Pettiford, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound playmaker from Durham, North Carolina.

"I mean I'm following the legacy of not just North Carolina point guards, but point guards in general and I'm wearing No. 0, so that's a lot of pressure," Pettiford said with a smile Wednesday after working the morning session of Brett Ballard's Washburn basketball camp at Lee Arena in Topeka.

Pettiford, an incoming KU freshman who knows his Jayhawk hoops history, was referring to the Chicago Bulls' Devon Dotson, who is originally from Chicago but spent many years living in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as the Charlotte Hornets' Devonté Graham, who is from Raleigh, North Carolina.

The No. 0 of note is NBA free agent Frank Mason, a KU grad from Petersburg, Virginia who was named college basketball's 2017 consensus national player of the year.

"I'm just taking it day by day," said Pettiford, who arrived in Lawrence last weekend for Tuesday's start of KU summer school classes and hoops workouts. "I talk a little bit to them," he added referring to fellow lead guards Dotson and Graham, who each excelled in Lawrence. "They keep me level-headed, talk about how to handle Coach (Bill) Self when he's going crazy at you at practice. They say If you're a dog — a guy like me — if you are a dog you'll be fine," Pettiford added.

Pettiford — he actually is to miss at least the next four weeks of drills as he recovers from torn ligaments and a bone bruise in his left ankle incurred in mid-May during a pickup game in North Carolina — says he's looking forward to being coached by, and corrected, by 19th-year KU coach Self.

"I want to be a pro. If that's what it takes, I'm ready for whatever," said Pettiford. He enters college as the No. 89-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2021 by 247sports.com, No. 90-rated player by ESPN.com and 121-rated prospect by Rivals.com.

KU coach Bill Self cites Bobby Pettiford's size and ability to shoot off the catch when talking about the incoming guard's strengths.

Pettiford originally committed to Louisville in May 2020, signed with the Cardinals in November 2020, then received a release from his letter-of-intent on March 20. He committed to KU on March 30. He chose Self's Jayhawks over Maryland, Georgia, Providence, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech and others.

"Once Devon found out I was considering KU, he's been on me since, being in my head," Pettiford said with a smile. "Me and Devonté are supposed to get in the gym when I go back home. For me it's learn, learn, learn, pick their brain about the NBA because that's the big goal."

Pettiford knows all about Graham, who at one time was committed to Appalachian State. Graham wound up advancing to become Big 12 player of the year (2018) at KU and is now considered a rising star in the NBA.

"He has," Pettiford said, asked if Graham has surprised him. "I remember the beginning, watching him in high school. He was very doubted. He proved everybody wrong. They've got young guys that can go," he added of the Graham-led Hornets. "They've been putting on shows. It's been fun to watch."

Of Dotson, who along with Udoka Azubuike led KU to a 28-3 record in 2019-20 and favorite's status entering the 2020 postseason (the NCAA Tournament was called off because of COVID-19 pandemic), Pettiford said: "I would say Devon has been more of a mentor. Devonté ... we've been talking on and off about KU and the NBA and stuff. Devon has been more the mentor."

Pettiford said he's yet to speak with former KU standout Mason, who so far in his NBA career has played for Sacramento, Milwaukee and Orlando.

Once Pettiford is cleared to practice, he figures to be battling a large group of Jayhawk guards for playing time during the 2021-22 season.

KU at the point guard position has Pettiford plus senior transfer Remy Martin (his name is currently in the 2021 NBA Draft pool), sophomore transfer Joseph Yesufu (formerly of Drake), freshman Kyle Cuffe Jr. (who also plays 2-guard) and the only returning point off last year's KU roster, Dajuan Harris.

Bobby Pettiford Jr. committed to Kansas on March 30. He has been mentored by former Jayhawk Devon Dotson.

Other guards on the roster: Iowa State senior transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands, junior Christian Braun and senior Ochai Agbaji (his name is in NBA Draft pool along with sophomore forward Jalen Wilson).

"We know we've got the older guys. We've got some 22 to 25. Me and Zach (Clemence, forward) and Kyle are the youngest on the team. We are just 18. We are competing. We won't be shying away from (competition).," Pettiford said,

"There are some guards back home ... North Carolina State's guards are good at knowing how to compete and get better. They love doing that. I'm right there in Raleigh (Durham) so I know from watching them. I don't think you should ever shy away ... with AAU (the CP3 program) I've been playing with some crazy backcourts. I'm used to competing against older guards, I'm running with pros every day. I can't get anything but better from that. I've got time to do my thing."

Pettiford in 2020-21 averaged 19.8 points, 6.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for (12-4) South Granville High. As a junior Pettiford earned all-state honors after averaging 21.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals. South Granville High School went 30-1 and reached the Class 2A state semifinals.

During his sophomore year he averaged 19.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals for the school located in Creedmoor, North Carolina, which is 15 miles from Durham.

"I look at it as motivation," he said, referring to his national ranking by the recruiting services. "The rankings ... it's whatever. I think I'm better than top 90. I can use it as motivation. It makes you more hungry. I got to KU. I don't have to be No. 1 to get somewhere."

Even though he's out of live scrimmage action and contact drills for another month, he is able to practice his shooting and ballhandling and lift weights. Wednesday was the first day he was able to shed the boot that's been on his left foot for protection for the past couple weeks.

"I've been lifting with Big Dave," Pettiford said of 6-10, 250-pound senior forward David McCormack. "Oh my gosh, me and him out there (in weight room). I'm like, 'Come on Dave, I just got here.' "

KU coach Self has high hopes for Pettiford.

"Bobby is a combo guard who has got good size. He's about 6-foot-2, is strong, can get it off the bounce.," Self said, adding, "He's also a good shooter off the catch. We feel like he can make an immediate impact with this year's group."