LAWRENCE — There are really two Wayne Seldens, but Bill Self will spend the next couple moments talking about the first one.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
This Selden, a Kansas freshman guard, has the confidence to call out his teammates and the maturity to do it in the most effective way possible.
“He’ll be one of the better leaders we’ve had at KU if he’s in school long enough,” Self says. “Because he gets it. He gets it.
“Wayne’s not scared of his voice.”
The other Selden is sitting in front of a few cameras and microphones on a Thursday in February. It’s nearly an hour or so before practice, and Selden sounds like he’s trying to preserve his voice for a night of karaoke or a yodeling competition. He speaks softly, in quick bursts. When the subject of his own play comes up, he immediately tries to include the entire team.
“I feel like we all share a lot of the same roles,” Selden says, deflecting a question about his specific niche. “And we have to come out and play with fire.”
At times, it feels like Selden is still trying to figure out exactly what he is for No. 5 Kansas, which can clinch an outright Big 12 title in a Saturday night matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Selden is a McDonald’s All-American guard with an NBA future, but he’s spent most of the year as the Jayhawks’ fourth or fifth scoring option. He entered the program with what Self once called a “man’s body,” but it’s taken him a couple of months to translate those physical tools to the defensive end.
But slowly, Selden seems to be finding his place. Basketball, Self says, can often be about chemistry, about making the pieces fit. All the notes can be perfect, but you still have to make music. So maybe it took Selden a little while to learn to be a complementary piece to fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
“Wayne is getting it,” Self says. “Whether or not he’s making shots or not, he’s figuring out a way to impact the game, and he’s figuring out his role and the impact he can have and certainly taking a lot of pride on the defensive end. He’s played well.”
Selden has averaged 11.9 points during Big 12 Conference games — slightly better than Embiid’s 11.4 average. Selden is shooting 46 percent from the floor and finishing on 71 percent of his chances at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. Wiggins, meanwhile, is shooting 45 percent and 62 percent at the rim.
Selden has also cut down on turnovers during the Jayhawks’ recent four-game winning streak. After averaging 2.3 turnovers in KU’s first 11 league games, he’s recorded just two in the last four. And Self believes that Selden could be taking on a larger offensive burden — if he was asked to do that.
“Joel and Andrew deserve the majority of the attention, I get that,” Self says. “But it shouldn’t be lost, if we didn’t have those two, then obviously Wayne Selden would be used in a way where he could be strongly considered for freshman of the year in our league.”
When Selden is on the floor, he takes 19.9 percent of Kansas’ shots. For comparison: Wiggins takes 26.2 percent during his minutes, while sophomore forward Perry Ellis takes 23.8 percent. Selden, though, says he doesn’t mind sacrificing a more significant role for victories. In high school, he played on a loaded roster at Tilton Prep in New Hampshire, a team that featured lottery pick Nerlens Noel and current Iowa State standout Georges Niang. Selden didn’t think of himself as The Man, just a cog in a machine.
“We’re winning, that’s the biggest thing,” Selden said. “We’re winning and we’re playing better and better, so I’ve having a great season.”
Self says Selden has taken on more ownership on the defensive end during the last few weeks, and now comes another stiff test. When the Jayhawks arrive in Stillwater, Selden will likely match up with reigning Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart, who has played some of his best basketball since a three-game suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan in Lubbock during a loss on Feb. 8.
Selden, listed at 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, is one of the few Big 12 guards who can match Smart’s physicality. And nearly five days after the Jayhawks clinched a share of a 10th straight Big 12 title, they can now win it outright.
The ESPN “College GameDay” crew will be in town for a day of festivities before the 8 p.m. broadcast, and Oklahoma State desperately needs a victory to burnish its NCAA credentials. But Selden, speaking up for just a moment, says his teammates don’t want to surrender any ground after clinching part of the title.
“It’s kind of anti-climactic, I feel, because we still got three more games left in the season,” Selden says. “And we want to win all those obviously, so you’re never really settling.”