Wayne Selden was still dripping with sweat as he pushed through a glass doorway and found a seat near a staircase outside the Kansas practice gym.
“Can I sit here?” he said, the moisture soaking through a red undershirt.
It’s the second week of June, which means Selden and the rest of the Kansas basketball team spent Wednesday afternoon running up and down the court inside the Horejsi Center, entertaining a gym full of campers at Bill Self’s annual summer camp.
This was the day where a few former stars show up — Ben McLemore and Cole Aldrich to name two — a new crop of freshmen makes its public debut, and the KU basketball program christens the summer with an unofficial scrimmage.
It’s usually a little ragged, of course, and Wednesday was no different. But Selden’s sweat-soaked shirt offered a pretty good illustration of his performance. For more than 30 minutes, the sophomore guard had sprinted around the gym and basically tried to dunk everything.
“I went to the basket soft this past year,” Selden said. “I really didn’t go too aggressive.”
For Selden, the operative word is “soft.” In the span of 10 minutes on Wednesday, he used it at least four times to describe himself and this past season’s Kansas team, the youthful squad that finished 25-10 and bowed out against Stanford in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
“We got out-toughed a lot,” Selden said, “and we knew going into this season now, that we have to be a tougher team. We have to be a more defensive-minded team.”
Selden continued: “Last year we came in, and we kind of settled for being the freshmen.”
Two of those freshmen, of course, are gone now. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will be top picks in the NBA Draft on June 26. And the Jayhawks are reloading again. But Selden is back, ready to take another step as a sophomore after an injury-muddled freshman season. Selden averaged 9.7 points and started all 35 games. But he shot just 43.7 percent and often struggled with turnovers.
Some of the struggles, Self would reveal, stemmed from a knee injury that stunted Selden’s natural athleticism. According to Selden, he had played with knee pain for as long as he could remember, all the way back to his high school days. But once he tweaked his left knee early in the fall, Selden and the KU staff opted to delay an arthroscopic procedure until after the season.
“They said it could have been there for years,” Selden said. “I’ve always had a knee pain. I never knew. From a young age, I’ve always had it, so I’ve never really thought about it.”
Selden won’t make any excuses for his play last season. (“I never really thought about it,” he says.) But he’s felt an extra bounce of athleticism while continuing his rehab. The pain is gone. The natural physical gifts that made him a McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit are surfacing again.
“It feels good to have your body not hurt,” Selden said.
Self, meanwhile, is still bullish on Selden’s potential. As Self looks toward the fall, he would like to play a backcourt with multiple ballhandlers and playmakers. That’s how his best teams have played, he says, and he’s hopeful Selden can grow into a secondary option at point guard.
Before Wednesday’s scrimmage, Self introduced Selden to the campers by saying he could push to be an “All-American” this next season.
“I’m not really looking towards stuff like that,” Selden said. “I’m looking toward stuff that we didn’t accomplish this year as a team.”
Still, Selden responded with 17 points as the Blue team — comprised mostly of KU’s returners — handled the “Red” team 79-67. Selden added an assortment of athletic drives and dunks while shooting eight of 13 from the floor. It wasn’t just Selden, either. Sophomore wing Brannen Greene rained in four three-pointers while scoring a game-high 23 points. And in the moments after the game, he echoed Selden’s sentiments about toughness.
“We weren’t the regular Kansas team that Coach was used to,” Greene said. “We would just take it too easy. And this year, as older guys, we’ve came together and decided we’re going to be tougher.”
If there was a theme to Wednesday’s scrimmage, it touched on experience and toughness. Three of Kansas’ four freshmen — Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Devonte’ Graham — were on the Red team. But at times, it was easy to forget they were there. Alexander often looked uncomfortable with his back to the basket. Graham didn’t score.
It’s still June, of course, and Selden has been pleased with the freshmen’s attitudes thus far. A natural leader, Selden always wanted to speak up last season. But often, he worried about stepping on the upperclassmen’s toes. This year, he’s embracing the leadership role, and all the responsibility that comes with it.
But he’s also pushing his younger teammates to do more.
“They’re coming in and coming right at us, and that’s what we need them to do,” Selden said. “And we got to go right back at them. That’s going to help us come together.”
Junior forward Landen Lucas missed Wednesday’s scrimmage after hyper-extending his knee earlier this week. Other than freshman wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk — who is spending the summer playing for the Ukraine U-18 national team — Lucas was the only player to sit out. Self said earlier this week that Mykhailiuk is expected to arrive sometime in August or early September, depending on his national team duties.