Kelly Oubre likes to think of basketball in savage terms. Physicality is to be embraced. Toughness is a vital attribute. Loose balls are not to be chased, but rather devoured like a plate of barbecue.
“We’re all savages on the court,” Oubre said. “Nobody wants to get anything easy. We’re all going to go after every ball like it’s something to eat. We’re starving.”
Oubre, a 6-foot-7 swingman, has injected his hungry nature into the Kansas program, arriving on campus in late May as part of Bill Self’s latest recruiting class. Nearly two months later, he will have a chance to test it against some of the nation’s best returning college players.
Oubre is headed to the LeBron James Skills Academy, a four-day camp for elite high school and college players that begins today in Las Vegas. Oubre will join 30 familiar college faces. Kansas junior forward Perry Ellis scored an invitation, as did Wichita State junior Ron Baker and Kansas State sophomore Marcus Foster.
But for Oubre, a McDonald’s All-American who played his senior year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, the invitation speaks to his college potential. In late June, Oubre impressed observers during a trip to the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington, D.C., another elite camp for college wing players. Oubre faced off against Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, and showcased his natural physical gifts. (During official measurements, his wingspan was logged as 7 feet, 1/2 inch, according to DraftExpress.com. For comparison, that’s a longer wingspan than recent No. 1 NBA pick Andrew Wiggins.)
For now, though, Oubre is more potential than production, more imagination than certainty. His first summer on campus has offered him a crash course on the college game, and he quickly noticed a few areas in which he needed to improve. His jumper could be more consistent; he’ll need to tighten up his ball handling; he’ll also need to adjust to the speed change of a new level.
“It’s a new atmosphere,” Oubre said. “It’s a new style of play. The game is faster. As a freshman, it’s my job to come in here and get better every day. I can’t take a day off. These (veteran) guys have done it before.”
Because Oubre is a natural small forward with a rangy build and immense athleticism, comparisons to Wiggins will be inevitable. Their games, though, are somewhat disparate. Oubre is a left-handed slasher who relies more on long strides than quick bursts of athleticism. And for now, Self has tried to tamp down any talk of Oubre living up to Wiggins’ production as a freshman.
“He’s struggling like all freshmen are as far as he’s used to doing it a certain way,” Self said earlier this summer. “Not that his way is wrong, but I really believe as he gets a little more comfortable, he’s going to be really good. He needs to be a defender, extra-possession, offensive-rebound guy that can just make athletic plays.”
Oubre will try to take that mentality to Las Vegas, where he may be matched up with the likes of Baker and Wisconsin standout Sam Dekker. For now, Oubre says, he is still in learning mode, trying to adjust to a new level.
“As a freshman, I have to come into this game starving,” Oubre said. “Because if I think everything is going to come easy, (I’m) not going to be successful.”