RCW: An International Summer
Watch Svi play this season!
During this past summer, Kansas senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had strong goals throughout his basketball-filled schedule. After testing the waters and going through National Basketball Association (NBA) workouts, in May he announced his decision to stay at the University of Kansas for his senior year along with fellow senior Devonte’ Graham. In his final season donning the Crimson and Blue for Kansas, Mykhailiuk wants to embrace his role as a leader. This summer, playing with the Ukraine National Team, gave him the chance to showcase that leadership.
Mykhailiuk has come a long way since his arrival on campus as a freshman. At only 17 years old, he arrived on campus in 2014 and was the youngest player to play for Kansas in head coach Bill Self’s tenure. His 3-point shot has improved steadily and he’s off to his best start with the Jayhawks this season, averaging 15.8 points per game and shooting 46.2 percent from three. He has already achieved a career-high 27-point performance against South Dakota State (Nov. 17), including a 5-of-7 mark from beyond the arc.
According to the 6-foot-8 guard, this marked improvement started this summer while playing with his national team and included a strict diet of greens and drinking lots of water. These adjustments helped him drop 20 pounds and gave him a lot of confidence heading into his final collegiate season.
Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said Mykhailiuk’s physical presence this season, compared to when he arrived on campus, is the biggest change he has noticed in Mykhailiuk.
“He was kind of weak and frail when he got here, but getting in the weight room with (assistant athletics director for sports performance Andrea) Hudy has helped a lot. He’s probably gained 25-30 pounds since he got here,” Townsend said. “So, the biggest change is in his body and how much stronger he plays.”
Mykhailiuk’s international trip this summer started in his hometown of Cherkasy, Ukraine, where he jumped right into basketball again to get ready to play in his fifth year with the Ukraine National Team. While some college students find summer a time to relax, Mykhailiuk prepared and practiced to play for his home country in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Under-20 European Championships.
While in his hometown, Mykhailiuk’s regimented schedule took up most of his time.
“We practiced twice a day, every day,” Mykhailiuk said. “I woke up, went to practice, came back to eat and then I’d take a nap. After that, I went back to practice, and repeated the same schedule. I would maybe go out for a couple hours to see friends, if I had time.”
After a month of practicing, the team went to training camp in Kiev, Ukraine, to compete in friendly games against European teams.
Mykhailiuk has played with many of the same guys on the national team each year, so it wasn’t difficult for him to get comfortable and find his shot. Many of the competing countries in the U20 Championships have various NCAA Division I players and draft prospects who Mykhailiuk is familiar with. His progression with both his teammates and coaches helped him fill his role effortlessly.
“It’s mostly the same guys on the team every year, so it just becomes easier,” Mykhailiuk said. “This year we were kind of short, but it is what it is. Ukraine isn’t known for basketball so we just become better every year. It was pretty competitive and it gave me a lot of experience.”
His practice and trust in long-time Ukrainian coach Maksym Mikhelson helped Mykhailiuk thrive in the U20 Championships that were held in Crete, Greece, from July 15-23. He led all scorers in the 16-team tournament with 20.4 points per game, improving from his mark last summer at 14.8. Mykhailiuk also showed his versatility by contributing 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Townsend said Mykhailiuk’s consistent shooting this summer really helped his mindset heading into the 2017-18 season back at KU with the Jayhawks.
“He was the best player on the (Ukrainian) team and the leading scorer, so I think it gave him a lot of confidence coming back here,” Townsend said. “You can see by the way he’s started the year that he’s still playing with that sort of confidence.”
After KU’s win over South Dakota State (Nov. 17), head coach Bill Self agreed with Townsend that Mykhailiuk is shooting the ball with confidence. He spoke about it in his postgame press conference.
“He (Mykhailiuk) showed tonight what we’ve been kind of waiting for and waiting to see,” Self said. “…for him to come out and score a lot of points in bunches.”
Mykhailiuk attributes the confidence he is playing with and trust he has found in his shooting to his time with the national team where he is expected to make the right plays and use his experience to benefit others.
“I try to work on everything when I play with the national team,” Mykhailiuk said. “I have a lot of freedom on offense so it helps me become a better player and Coach (Mikhelson) teaches me new things since he’s been my coach since I’ve grown up. He’s been teaching me every day to be a better vocal leader and how to bring the team to win.”
While Ukraine went 3-4, and finished 10th out of 16 teams in the tournament, Mykhailiuk had his best performance in the final game against Turkey in an 85-82 loss. He finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Overall for the tournament, he shot 39.5 percent from the floor for Ukraine and also shot 32.7 percent from three, which greatly improved his 19-percent average from last summer. In seven outings in the 16-team tournament, he scored 143 points and led his team in scoring and assists.
“Coach (Mikhelson) puts the ball in my hands and lets me score any way I can,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’m a leader, so in my head I’m trusting myself, but sometimes I take too many shots or don’t think it was a good shot. At the end of the day, I got better and I feel like I was in my best shape.”
Mykhailiuk had a quick turnaround after the U20 Championships to get ready for the Jayhawks’ eight-day, four-game trip to Italy to play against Italian professional teams. He didn’t have a chance to partake in KU’s 10 practices before the trip back in Lawrence, but he met the Jayhawks in Italy after taking a week and a half off in Ukraine. Despite donning a different team’s jersey on his back this time, it wasn’t hard for him to adjust back into playing basketball, but especially KU’s system.
“I didn’t play a lot because I just got back, but one game I played really well,” Mykhailiuk said. “It was easy to transition back into playing because I’ve been here for three years. I know what Coach (Self) wants me, and the team, to do. I knew I could just come in and fit in pretty well.”
The Jayhawks were in Italy from July 31-August 8 and Mykhailiuk played all four games with two starts. He averaged 12.5 points, including a 26-point performance in the finale against the Italy All-Stars to seal up KU’s perfect 4-0 record on the trip.
The international experience, like Mykhailiuk gained during the summer of 2017, is special for the senior because he doesn’t get the chance to visit his family or go back home on holiday breaks regularly. While difficult to be away from his family in Ukraine, staying in Lawrence over breaks from school gives him the chance to get closer with his teammates and coaches. For example, Mykhailiuk has stayed with Townsend and his family over some Christmas breaks. Mykhailiuk says talking to Townsend, his wife and kids adds to the feeling of being “one big basketball family” at Kansas.
Many players couldn’t face the difficult adjustment to yearly international play and traveling to different countries. However, Mykhailiuk’s leadership and consistent play over the summer has translated over into the beginning of his senior season at Kansas in 2017-18. Townsend notices the different ways Mykhailiuk can score and his development on both ends of the court.
“He can score,” Townsend said. “He’s not just a shooter anymore; he can score in a variety of ways. He can get himself to the basket, get himself to the free throw line and he’s become a pretty good defender. Last year, people used to pick on him so we’re hoping he takes that to the next level and can guard some of the best perimeter players.”
Mykhailiuk’s productive summer working on all aspects of his game shows in the Jayhawks’ hot start to the season. Kansas is currently 7-2 and ranked No. 13/12 in the country. His athleticism and speed will be key for the Jayhawks’ success throughout the season, along with his shooting ability.
“We hope he can be our best 3-point shooter,” Townsend said. “And, hopefully, one of the best 3-point shooters in the conference as well as the country.”
One thing is for certain though, is in order to prove Townsend right, Mykhailiuk will need to embrace a leadership role and pull from his international experiences to be the consistent shooter everyone knows he can be.