LAWRENCE — Quentin Grimes isn’t one to sugarcoat a response.
Just past the midway point of a debut season that at best could be described as bumpy, the Kansas basketball guard and former five-star recruit spoke candidly Monday about a freshman campaign that started off with great promise but has since seen its share of setbacks.
“It’s definitely been a struggle, for sure,” Grimes said ahead of the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks’ 8 p.m. Tuesday tilt against Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. “There’s always been those couple of games where I always broke out and showed what I could do, but it’s definitely been a struggle, ups and downs.”
Pegged as the nation's No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2018 according to recruiting outlet 247Sports' composite rankings, Grimes shined over the summer as the MVP of USA Basketball's gold medal-winning under-18 national team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. Bill Self, who coached that USA Basketball squad, returned to Lawrence and declared Grimes “probably as complete a guard as we’ve ever had,” a player who can shoot, pass, dribble and score at all three levels.
That certainly looked to be true in Grimes’ collegiate debut, a 92-87 victory over then-No. 10 Michigan State in which the 6-foot-5, 210-pound native of The Woodlands, Texas, scored a game-high 21 points with six made 3s.
After that contest, Self recalled a conversation he had with Grimes in the lead up to what appeared to be an off-to-the-races introduction.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve screwed up a lot of good players early in their careers,’ ” Self recalled telling Grimes the day before the season opener. “(Grimes) said, ‘Well, do they get out of it?’ And I said, ‘Every one of ‘em.’ So I was glad he got out of it tonight.”
The months since, however, have revealed Grimes as a player still fighting to join that club of former Jayhawks to achieve that breakthrough moment.
Grimes averages 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists across 25.8 minutes per game for KU (17-5, 6-3 Big 12), hitting 40 percent of his attempts from the field, 33.3 percent of his 3-point tries and 59.5 percent of his free-throw attempts. In the eight games since a 19-point showing in a losing effort at Iowa State, Grimes has posted a double-figure scoring output just once while averaging six points.
Throughout the struggles, Grimes has leaned on his parents and trainers, who have encouraged him to tune out the noise and continue to put in work in the gym.
Asked if he could identify a root cause behind his uneven season, he again offered an honest assessment.
“Maybe just trying to figure out the offense, trying to maybe be too perfect out there, trying to meet every need that coach Self wants out there,” Grimes said. “So I think it’s just trying to be too perfect and just not going out there and playing free.”
Self has long expressed a desire to see Grimes play with both more energy and a freer mind, a request that, according to teammate Dedric Lawson, was made known again at a practice last Thursday. There, Self challenged Grimes and senior guard Lagerald Vick to simply be better in those areas.
“He talked about how it was kind of up-and-down, not having a lot of energy and enthusiasm over the last couple of games,” said Grimes, referring to the Jayhawks’ two-game losing streak with defeats suffered at Kentucky and Texas. “In practices it’s went a lot better energy-wise, so I feel like that translated to the game for sure.”
While Grimes scored just six points in the Jayhawks’ 79-63 home victory Saturday over Texas Tech, there were signs that a breakthrough could be around the corner.
Grimes notched four assists in that contest, the most since a 10-dime performance in the team’s second game of the season. He also pick-pocketed a pair of steals, bringing his total to four over the team’s last four games — Grimes recorded just five steals across his first 18 career games.
“I do see some positives moving forward in things other than scoring,” Self said of Grimes. “(He) had nine paint touches off the bounce against Texas Tech; (the) game before he had one. So yeah, there were some positive things — activity, defensively — there were some positive things taking place that I think hopefully will be good moving forward.”
The KU coach isn’t alone in that thinking.
Lawson, the team’s leading scorer (19.5 points per game) and rebounder (10.9), credited Grimes for facilitating much of his 25-point performance against the Red Raiders.
“That’s something Quentin can do, and he can also score,” Lawson said. “I just keep talking to him just about being aggressive, things like this. I remember when I was a freshman I went through a slump probably like my first six, seven games in conference. It was one game. All it takes him is one game to get that confidence rolling.”
Grimes’ next opportunity at that one-game breakout comes against the league-leading Wildcats (16-5, 6-2) at Bramlage Coliseum, where the Jayhawks will try to improve upon their 1-5 record in true road contests.
“We’ve heard it’s probably going to be the toughest environment we’ve played in all year,” Grimes said. “They don’t like us; we don’t like them. So it’s definitely going to probably be the craziest atmosphere that we’ve played in this year. ...
“Hopefully we can turn the tables a little bit with this game going in there and try to (start) off a good run of road games. Hopefully this will be the start of something good.”
NO. 13 KANSAS AT KANSAS STATE
Tipoff: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Line: K-State by 1
TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3), WIBW-AM (580)
TJC watch party: Lazy Toad
Next for KU: vs. Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Next for K-State: at Baylor, 5 p.m. Saturday, Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
NO. 13 KANSAS (17-5, 6-3 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F Dedric Lawson ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 19.5 ... 10.9
G Lagerald Vick ... 6-5 ... Sr. ... 14.5 ... 4.0
G Ochai Agbaji ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 8.8 ... 4.8
G Quentin Grimes ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 8.1 ... 2.3
G Devon Dotson ... 6-2 ... Fr. ... 11.1 ... 3.4*
KANSAS STATE (16-5, 6-2 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F Makol Mawien ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 6.6 ... 4.3
F Dean Wade ... 6-8 ... Sr. ... 14.3 ... 6.6
F Xavier Sneed ... 6-5 ... Jr. ... 9.6 ... 5.6
G Barry Brown ... 6-3 ... Sr. ... 15.3 ... 4.1
G Kamau Stokes ... 6-0 ... Sr. ... 9.9 ... 3.5*
* — Assists