Rock Chalk Weekly: A Man Among Men
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Download the app: Written by Kevin McCarty & Michael Houseman, Kansas Athletic Communications
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s game has never been soft – it couldn’t afford to be while playing amongst hardened giants twice his age. But his body on the other hand…well, let’s just say at times the tall, slender, kid has looked like a boy among men. Thanks to a year-and-a-half in the Kansas program, particularly with KU strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy, coupled with some natural growth in his late teens, the little guy isn’t so little anymore.
Mykhailiuk has shown flashes of his great potential – earlier this season he sank six threes in a career-high 18 points scoring effort against Chaminade – but his day is still coming – he’s sixth among Jayhawks with 5.3 points per game. A key reserve, Mykhailiuk’s every rep in the weight room brings him one step further down a path that most feel could lead to a big-time future. He’s added more than 15 pounds since arriving at Kansas and the physical progress is starting to match his game’s polish.
When Kansas inked the teenager from Cherkasy, Ukraine, KU head coach Bill Self lauded his basketball intelligence and maturity. Mykhailiuk had spent two years cutting his teeth in the Ukrainian Superleague (2012-14), among other international competitions.
In Ukraine, the then-14- and 15-year-old, who weighed in at less than 175 pounds, was facing players like Vladan Vukosavljevic, a 6-foot-9, 287-pound post who led the league in rebounds (10.5 per game) in 2012-13 – Mykhailiuk’s first season with his hometown Cherkaski Mavpy.
That same season, Topeka, Kansas native and former All-Big 12 Third Team big man Leo Lyons, at a svelt 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, was several seasons into his professional career, including a pair of NBDL assignments and earned All-Superleague honors as a member of league champ Budivelnyk.
“I didn’t play much,” Mykhailiuk said. “I was mostly with the second team and practicing with the first team, but I was like a little boy from a maturity and conditioning standpoint, so it was kind of tough for me.”
The league’s top talent got even bigger in 2013-14, when 6-foot-11 center Darjuš Lavrinovic, a veteran then-nearing his mid-30s, was named league MVP while patrolling the paint at a chiseled 245 pounds.
That experience was not lost on Mykhailiuk, who when given the opportunity to square off against players his own age in that same timeframe, posted 25.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in a breakout performance at the 2013 U16 Europen Men’s Championship. He followed that up with 16-points, 4.7-rebounds per game averages at the 2014 U18 European Championship.
Kansas entered the picture shortly after the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the Nike Hoops Summit that summer, where he wowed scouts in pre-game practices. Mykhailiuk also visited Virginia, but committed to play for the Jayhawks shortly after.
“He’s really talented,” ESPN analyst and European hoops aficionado Fran Fraschilla said in an interview with the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd, when breaking down Mykhailiuk’s commitment to KU in 2014. “If he was a high school junior right now, he’d be one of the 10 or 15 best players in the class. Now some of those kids can play (right now) in college, but this kid is really young.
“The talent and long-term potential to be very good is definitely there,” Fraschilla, a frequent visitor to Allen Fieldhouse to broadcast games, added.
The national tournament success has yet to be replicated at Kansas, where he’s still at a relative youngster. Mykhailiuk was the youngest player to ever suit up for the storied Jayhawks’ program as a freshman during the 2014-15 season. As a sophomore this season, he’s still the youngest on the KU team and among the league’s youngest talents.
There are no full-grown men like Lavrinovic in the Big 12, but there are a few shaped similarly like Texas’ Prince Ibeh (6-foot-10, 250 pounds), Baylor’s Rico Gathers (6-foot-8, 275 pounds) and West Virginia’s Devin Williams (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) who make life difficult for opponents in the nation’s top RPI conference. It’s seemed like the more of the same uphill battle for Mykhailiuk, but he’s growing and his collegiate breakout seems inevitable.
Hudy, Kansas’ assistant athletic director for sport performance and primary basketball strength and conditioning coach, is helping him physically prepare for that day, and what many believe will be many days playing at the next level. In the Anderson Strength and Conditioning Center, a 42,000-square-foot complex, Hudy helps Kansas student-athletes at the point where potential meets reality…which typically means a truck load of hard work, no matter how physically gifted an athlete may be.
Tucked away behind the scenes and pageantry of a Kansas gameday, outside the spotlight of ESPN’s Big Monday or College Gameday, sits Hudy’s office and workspace where a low-tech sign, declares “Thou shalt not whine,” while high-tech instruments fit for the finest sports performance facilities in the nation wait to record, analyze and enhance specific moves a body makes.
Mykhailiuk, like every Kansas student-athlete who has used the facility since 2012, does every rep under the watchful eye of not only Hudy and her staff, but the EliteForm training system, which uses a network of cameras, sensors and software to chart progress and performance during team and individual workouts. It not only measures how many how much or how many repetitions an athlete does during a workout, but can also evaluate how hard an athlete works during a given exercise and charts this information digitally.
There are three modes of workout Kansas basketball players go through at various times throughout the season – recovery, stimulating and strength, which is the most intensive but happens mostly in the summer months and preseason. The Jayhawks spend the majority of their time working on recovery and stimulating exercises – soft tissue building and stretching – during the season and Mykhailiuk has been in the gym nearly five times a week since he arrived in Lawrence.
“I’m trying to develop everything,” Mykhailiuk told the Lawrence Journal-World last summer. “I’m trying to get better at some of my weaknesses and get stronger. I think that (strength) is one of my biggest weaknesses. I try to go to the weight room more than anybody else and work out.”
It’s feasible with the equipment available that a number could be generated for how many reps Mykhailiuk has done since arriving on campus, and there are hundreds of other analytics that Hudy and her staff keep under lock and key – mostly due to privacy issues – but there are a few numbers she does share proudly.
Hudy and her staff, including assistant strength and conditioning coach Glenn Cain are, well…nerds when it comes to matters of strength – nerds, who could in fact crush anyone who dare called them nerds. Nonetheless, Hudy slips on her reading glasses, flips open her laptop, and with an excited grin talks about how Mykhailiuk arrived on campus officially at 190 pounds and has been up to 210, before settling at around 205 for his in-season playing weight.
There’s talk of wattage, an amount of power most commonly used for measuring electrical power, that’s also used to measure energy produced and consumed by the body. The Kansas staff has been monitoring average wattage during back squat – a mix of force and velocity – for 12 years and has noticed a predictive trend where players who have gone on to play in the NBA have achieved at least 800 watts in the lift. The average Kansas player who didn’t advance to the NBA over the same time period averaged 690 watts. Mykhailiuk entered the program at 560 watts, but today is at 800 watts.
The staff also monitors wattage in hang power clean, which offers an instantaneous look at peak power – the moment in the lift when it’s fastest and at its highest load. Mykhailiuk started at 1,185 watts and today is up to 1,736 watts, an increase of more than 32 percent of his max power output.
“We began working on his overall strength,” said Hudy, who’s worked with more than 50 student-athletes who have gone on to play in the NBA and WNBA. “He was 17 and tiny, and strength was a major goal for him. Leg strength, we had to increase his mobility and posturing. The whole workout plan was focused around his posturing, which will help him run and jump better.”
In simplest terms, Mykhailiuk now passes the eye test also and Hudy has pictures to prove his transformation, but those too are classified.
“Hudy has shown me the pictures and you can see that I’m bigger – you can see the results,” Mykhailiuk said.
Hudy added, “If you look at his leg development, it’s through the roof – his quads are well improved. Again, the one thing Svi doesn’t do well is his posturing. When he runs, he’s slumped, so he loses efficiency. If Svi works on his posturing, Svi will be better, but that’s the one thing limiting him. That’s where he needs to grow up a little mentally. You can work hard in here, but you also have to apply it. It needs to be an all-day deal to him.”
Mykhailiuk was unable to participate when the Jayhawks represented the United States and won gold at the 2015 World University Games in South Korea, both a blessing and a curse for the wing man. On one hand, he was able to return home and get some much-needed rest while visiting family and when he returned to campus, he had all the time he wanted to get shots up in the gym and continue Hudy’s workout plan. But Mykhailiuk, who sits at eighth on the team in minutes played, was also unable to get invaluable game minutes with his teammates. Hudy still thinks he was right where he needed to be.
“Svi probably had a bigger benefit being here for the month and lifting,” Hudy said. “For his development, I thought it actually helped him being here.”
There was never a worry that Mykhailiuk would follow the recent trend of top prospects like KU’s Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Cliff Alexander and leave for the NBA, mostly because his age prohibited it, at least after one season. The longer he stays at Kansas it seems, the more time Hudy and the Kansas coaching staff have to refine his game and help him realize that potential on a more consistent basis.
In addition to his outburst against Chaminade at the 2015 Maui Invitational, Mykhailiuk has reached double figures in five contests and has contributed 22 three-pointers throughout the 2015-16 campaign. In the Sunflower Showdown win over Kansas State in Allen Fieldhouse to open February, Mykhailiuk scored 10 points, but also contributed three steals and four assists in 21 minutes of play – part of back-to-back 20+ minute contributions as he continues to develop.
It may not seem like much, but Mykhailiuk was a relative non-factor in Big 12 play last season with 1.7 points per game in just nine of KU’s 17 league games after starting a handful of non-conference games early on. He’s more-than doubled his point production to 3.6 points per game in league contests this season.
“It’s different from my freshman year to this year because I feel more confident, and am more confident with my body,” Mykhailiuk said. “The work has allowed me to move on the court faster and be stronger.”
Outside of the physical transformation, Mykhailiuk has needed time to get comfortable off the court after packing his bags and leaving his family for a trek across the globe more than a year ago – even though he said he’s fairly used to the travel with all the international competing he’s done.
Mykhailiuk has always spoken English well, and his official bio lists Russian and Ukrainian among a total of three languages he’s fluent with, but there are still times when the unfamiliarity of something other than his native tongue is evident.
“Sometimes he gets excited, and when he talks it’s kind of crazy because no one understands what he says – it’s pretty funny,” Kansas senior Jamari Traylor said.
Mostly, it was slang that has tripped up the jet-setter, but that’s all behind him.
“Students use a lot of slang words like ‘chill’ and stuff like that and I didn’t know that before,” Mykhailiuk said. “But right now I am pretty good at it.”
With a pair of professors for parents – his mother Inna is a high school biology teacher and his father Iurri is a college history professor – and an early graduate from secondary school it’s not much of a surprise that he’s adjusted so well in the classroom. Mykhailiuk is expected to earn academic all-conference honors this season when the awards are announced in late February.
“On the court and off the court you can tell he is more comfortable now,” Traylor, a veteran presence on the team, said. “Especially off the court, he is just one of the guys now. He’s got a lot more poise on the court and is a lot better defensively.”
The peripherals are there, or nearly there, as he moves ever closer to full potential. When he first signed with Kansas, head coach Bill Self lauded Mykhailiuk’s skill level, knowledge and aptitude for the game as way beyond his years. Soon his body will be ready to match.
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