LAWRENCE — During his first semester on campus, Brannen Greene’s role at Kansas basically amounted to this: Andrew Wiggins’ Practice Defender.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
It’s not exactly what Greene, a freshman small forward, envisioned when he signed with KU in the fall of 2012. He was one of the top 30 recruits in the country, a small forward with length and skill, and four-star prospects never really plan on sitting the bench.
But this is the way it can work at Kansas. Greene may have been a blue-chipper, but he was also just the fourth-highest ranked recruit in Kansas’ loaded freshmen class.
“It’s been tough,” Greene said on Thursday. “But I know that my time is coming. History just shows that here at Kansas, your time comes. So I’m just trying to contribute in whatever way I can.”
While three of his freshman classmates have carved out starting roles and become staples in the national dialogue, Greene has focused on making incremental improvements. First, it meant improving his discipline and fundamentals on defense. Then, it meant earning KU coach Bill Self’s trust after some early hiccups in November.
“I love Brannen Greene,” Self said after not playing Greene against Iona on Nov. 19. “But he needs to be a little more responsible taking care of some responsibilities off the court.”
Greene has continued to work, but playing time has still been sparse. After playing a total of 21 minutes in Kansas’ first seven games, Greene has averaged 4.2 minutes in five conference games. Still, he’s made the most of the time, hitting three-pointers in victories over Oklahoma State and Baylor.
“I’m a confident player,” Greene said. “So when I come in, I just shoot the ball.”
It’s that confidence — and a 6-foot-7 frame combined with solid athleticism — that makes Greene an intriguing talent moving forward. For now, though, he’s still behind Wiggins and Wayne Selden at the wing position. But if playing alongside Wiggins and Selden means being squeezed out of the rotation, Greene also has the luxury of testing himself daily against future pros. So on most days, he takes on the task of guarding Wiggins at practice.
“It’s definitely helped me improve defensively and offensively,” Greene said. “Because he also guards me, and he’s such a great athlete. You learn to score over long arms and an athlete like that.”
For the most part, Self believes Kansas’ grueling nonconference schedule helped turn his young team into a battle-tested group before its 5-0 start in the Big 12. But if there’s one thing that Self laments, it’s that players such as Greene and freshman guard Conner Frankamp could not see the floor more during the nonconference season.
KU’s rotation could continue to get shorter during the most important weeks of the Big 12 season. So as the Jayhawks prepare to travel to TCU for an 8 p.m. matchup on Saturday, the chances for Greene and Frankamp to earn playing time and stick in the rotation are winding down.
Right now, Self has extended the rotation to nine or 10 guys during conference games. That could soon change.
“I told our guys yesterday,” Self said. “We’re still a team that hasn’t figured it out yet. If we’ve figured it out yet, then why are we playing 10 guys? You don’t need to play 10 guys, or need to play nine guys.
“Right now we’re kind of in a situation where we haven’t quite figured it out yet. One day seems like Conner gives us a spark, another day it’s Brannen that gives us a spark. And trust me, those kids would rather know going in, ‘I’m going to get these minutes and I know I’m going to be his sub.’ But there’s some things that we haven’t quite figured out yet.”
Wiggins, Embiid up for honor
Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were among 23 players selected to the Oscar Robertson Trophy midseason watch list Thursday. The Oscar Robertson Trophy, presented annually by the United States Basketball Writers Association, is given to the national player of the year. The honor came one day after Wiggins was selected to the Wooden Award midseason watch list.
Self says Black should play
Kansas senior forward Tarik Black, who sprained his ankle against Baylor on Monday, is slowly recovering and should be able to play on Saturday, KU coach Bill Self said.
“I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” Black said. “I’m walking around normal. I’ll be on the court (Thursday), doing some things.”
Replay ‘too slow’
Self is not a fan of the replay system in college basketball that allows officials to go to a sideline television monitor to see if players committed flagrant fouls.
“I think that’s a negative part of our game,” Self said. “It’s too slow. It slows the game up too much. We’re going to the monitors — but it’s not the officials’ fault because the rules say to do that.”