The discussion materialized in the weeks after the season, the aftershocks still fresh after another early-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. Bill Self and his staff hunkered down for the usual postseason excavation, sifting deep into the Jayhawks’ roster makeup and the root causes of a sluggish offense (at least by Kansas standard).
“We dissected last year’s season a lot,” Self said.
Among the many pressing issues was the matter of Wayne Selden, a sophomore who appeared to possess all the traits of a standout wing at the college level — but who had slid backward during his second season at KU. There had to be a way, KU’s staff surmised, to unlock Selden’s potential. When talks were over, Self says, the staff realized that the answer lay not with Selden, but with two other KU guards: Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham.
If the Jayhawks could play with Mason and Graham in the backcourt — two smaller guards with point-guard skills — the offense could be more dangerous and creative … and Selden would be free to be himself on the wing.
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“I think it’ll just free Wayne up,” said KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, who is tasked with working with the guards in practice. “Where he doesn’t have to handle some of the so-called ball handling duties. He’ll just be able to attack the rim and go score and play with more of a free mind.”
Yes, there is a theme here: Freedom. During his first two seasons, Selden was mostly slotted in as Kansas’ secondary ballhandler, first playing alongside swingman Andrew Wiggins and then athletic wing Kelly Oubre. Self doesn’t like to designate his guard position, but for all intents and purposes, Selden was a shooting guard with some ballhandling responsibilities, and the role didn’t quite fit.
Selden shot a respectable 36.5 percent from three-point range, but he shot just 38.2 percent overall, and he often looked uncomfortable attacking the basket from the wing. For the year, he shot 50.7 on field goals “at the rim,” according to shot data compiled by Hoop-Math.com.
When the Jayhawks convened in June to prepare for the World University Games, Selden made it his offseason goal to better harness his physical attributes.
“My biggest thing is trying to use my body more this year,” said Selden, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and 230 pounds.
But Self believes the role adjustment could pay dividends. Last week, in two exhibition victories over Canada, Selden averaged 17.5 points on 11-of-21 shooting, including 22 points and 10 rebounds in the second game. Self was pleased with the way Selden “played to his athleticism.”
Graham, who suffered a quad injury in June, was sidelined for the exhibitions and will miss this month’s tournament in Gwanju, South Korea. But the inclusion of SMU point guard Nic Moore offered a glimpse at a starting lineup with two small guards.
“The staff as a whole, we feel like playing Frank and Devonte’ together will make us a lot more dangerous offensively,” Townsend said. “We’ll be able to put a lot more pressure on (other teams) because they both can drive it, they both can shoot it, and they’re both pretty good defenders. We definitely talked about that. It’ll free up Wayne a little more, too.”
Self, of course, has discussed the advantages of playing two guards for more much of the last year. His best teams and rosters, he says, featured two creative ballhandlers in the backcourt, even going back to Illinois.
“Two guys that can handle, like the national championship team,” Townsend said. “We had Sherron (Collins), Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers.”
In the big picture, Self believes such an offense could spark his team’s offense. But he also speaks of subtle positives, too. Self, for example, talks of Selden being free to crash the offensive glass, something he could rarely do playing alongside Wiggins or Oubre.
“If he’s in with Wiggins or if he’s in with Oubre, he doesn’t go to the offensive glass nine out of 10 times,” Self said. “He’s got to get back for balance.
“If you’re in with Nic and Frank, now that adds something to his game, because now he can become an offensive rebounder. Just things like that will help him moving forward.”
If the role change doesn’t contribute to a breakout junior year, perhaps something as simple as age and maturity will. Selden will turn 21 in September. Given the nature of college basketball, he will be older than many — if not most — of the players he plays against. He is no longer the freshman trying to find his place. He is not the sophomore trying to take on a leadership role.
“It’s been fast,” Selden said.
Before departing for Korea, in a quiet moment after practice, Selden lamented how quickly his time at Kansas has passed. The trip to Korea, he said, offered another chance to play. Indeed. Here comes year three, another opportunity to get it right.
“Last year, I was one of the older guys, but I was still young,” Selden said. “Now I’m really one of the older guys.”
For the schedule of KU games at the tournament, click or tap here.