A snapshot of the new Wayne Selden:
Almost 15 minutes into second-ranked Kansas’ 102-74 smackdown of No. 23 Baylor on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, his fourth three-pointer in as many attempts had given him as many points (18) as Baylor.
On a day in which he’d finish with 24 points, Selden’s first-half play jump-started KU to victory in its Big 12 Conference opener.
Selden, a career 34.6-percent three-point shooter entering the season, somehow has become among the nation’s top 10 three-point shooters at 55.4 percent this season.
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But it’s not so much his numbers as the attitude adjustment and assertiveness that are telling about Selden — the same talented young man who seemed to struggle to find his place last season, faded from view in most of the stretch run and was shut out in KU’s season-ending loss to Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament round of 32.
“I feel like every one is going to go in when I take it, before I even shoot it,” he said. “So I feel like that’s the ultimate confidence. That’s what I need, and that’s what the team needs.”
At times in the past, Selden acknowledged, he’d simply hoped when he launched a three.
Then he smiled and added, “But I haven’t been there in a while.”
It’s all part of the latest testimony that the best player on the team right now, “hands down,” coach Bill Self said, is Selden.
And it’s Selden now, sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham says, who needs to continue to be “our Alpha dog.”
Which might seem like a funny thing to say about a guy who was a virtual phantom in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
But this is a player transformed, someone with much more of a sense of where he is and where he’s going, and there are any number of reasons for this.
“Mentorship, coaching — that’s got to be it, right?” said Self, laughing and shooting that down himself to say this has all been from Selden.
It’s tempting to believe that one of the explanations must be Selden seeking redemption after failing to score in double figures in nine of KU’s last 11 games last season, and mustering a total of six points in its two NCAA Tournament games.
But Selden shrugs at the idea he’d be inspired or haunted by that.
Yes, having a tough game against the Shockers — and losing — stunk but …
“Can’t really say it motivated me; it just didn’t end how we wanted it to end,” Selden said, adding, “What are you going to do? We’re grown men. We’ve got to grow up.”
Even if it’s not as intriguing a narrative, that’s a key point in explaining Selden’s emergence as a junior: simple maturity that began to come to light as he dominated during KU’s summer trip to South Korea for the World University Games.
“I came here as a kid, as a boy,” Selden said. “And I’ve grown into a man.”
With that, though, maybe the biggest thing is this:
Finally finding his rightful place.
In more ways than one.
In part, that means Selden simply was overshadowed by Andrew Wiggins as a freshman and Kelly Oubre as a sophomore.
Even if that was subconscious, at least at times it might have accounted for Selden’s tendency to become passive.
Now, even with Perry Ellis back, Selden “feels like it’s more his team,” Self said.
Yet the simplest explanation may have had more impact than anything else.
“I think we played him out of position,” Self said.
With Wiggins or Oubre on the floor, Selden often was forced out of his comfort zone into being more ballhandler than wing.
So top 20 recruit that Selden might have been, his growth has been stunted. Self now says “I don’t believe (we did) anything to help him the first two years.”
“I think a lot of it was (on the coaches), because we put our five best players out there,” he said. “But I don’t know if the pieces really fit as well.”
This might seem to be in the category of first-world problems.
Yet getting the Rubik’s cube right with this sort of talent is the kind of thing that’s the difference between being in the top five now and making it to the Final Four.
Even as Self continues to tinker with the 5 position by committee (and Cheick Diallo can’t be the answer yet), he’s at least sorted out a vital part of the equation by playing Frank Mason and Graham together to start the ball moving.
And allow Selden to become himself.
After Selden scored 25 against Vanderbilt, Commodores’ coach Kevin Stallings said, “Honestly, he’s got the easy job. He’s got Mason and Graham in there just penetrating and breaking down your defense, and he’s standing out there catching and shooting.”
It only looks easy, though, because he’s at ease at last.
As Ellis watches him now, he sees somebody confident and cutting loose and not overthinking and worrying about things he needn’t be.
Just in time for KU, and right on time for him.
“Some guys will flourish more,” Self said, “when opportunity allows them to have a bigger role.”