In the moments after Kansas’ 70-57 victory at San Diego State, Bill Self found Brannen Greene for a brief moment of levity.
It was late Tuesday night inside Viejas Arena, and Greene, a 6-foot-7 junior wing, had just played one of his best games of this young season. He scored only four points, but that mattered little to Self. Greene had been active on defense, and he had been a ball-mover and facilitator on offense. But still, his head coach had one thing he wanted to say.
With 4:31 on the clock, and the Jayhawks rolling to a double-digit victory, Greene had hoisted a three-pointer within the confines of the Kansas offense. It was not a bad shot. But it was not a clean look, either. It was a little hurried, and a little quick, and it made Self smile after the game.
“He shot that last ball, because he knew he was coming out,” Self said. “I told him, ‘I know you well enough to know that that’s exactly why (you) shot it.’ ”
A few minutes later, Greene was told of Self’s confession to reporters.
“That’s possible,” Greene said, smiling.
In the afterglow of a road victory, Self and Greene could afford to be real with each other — and to share a laugh. And why not? Nearly three weeks after returning from a five-game suspension, Greene has rejoined the Kansas rotation and is playing some of the most complete basketball of his college career.
In four games since returning to the floor, Greene is averaging 7.3 points and in 17.3 minutes per game. He has continued his torrid shooting — he’s 7 for 12 from three in his last four games and 12 of 17 on the season. But more important, Self says, Greene is also making himself valuable in other ways.
Take, for instance, the first half at San Diego State. Starting guard Wayne Selden picked up two quick fouls. Greene took his place on the floor, and the Jayhawks didn’t miss a beat, building a 39-27 lead by halftime.
“He was one of the better players on the court,” Self said. “Even though he didn’t shoot the ball as well.”
As San Diego State extended its defense on the sharpshooting Greene, taking away his primary weapon, he turned into a facilitator and defender, finishing with an all-round line: an assist, a blocked shot, a steal and four rebounds.
“I knew they were sitting on me, playing really close to me,” Greene said. “They didn’t want me to get very many shots off. So I knew Wayne had two quick fouls, so I just wanted to do what I could for the team and bring a little energy.”
In the big picture, Greene’s recent form will serve to quiet any lingering concerns from his lengthy in-season suspension. The Jayhawks will return to the floor Tuesday against UC Irvine, and Greene appears to be an asset, a talented weapon off the bench on a team with designs on a 12th straight Big 12 title.
Self never wavered from his stance that Greene could be an important contributor this season. But in the aftermath of his suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” Self was also clear: Greene had to get on the same page as the rest of the team. For the moment, it appears he has done that.
“He’s a better team player,” Self said. “He may have got frustrated a couple times (at San Diego State). But for the most part, he took what the defense gave him.”
For his part, Greene doesn’t seek to draw a line from his suspension to his on-court play. The suspension, he says, was good for him. But Greene believes he was already poised to have a big junior season.
“To be honest, I did refocus,” Greene said. “But I feel like from the beginning of the season, I was locked in, too. Still, the suspension definitely did me good, for sure. But I’ve been locked in since the beginning of the season.”