Two days before the Kansas basketball team departed for South Korea — before Carlton Bragg busted his nose during a practice session in a Gwanju practice gym, before the Jayhawks’ version of Team USA started 2-0 in Pool D — guard Wayne Selden sat inside a back room at the Sprint Center.
Team USA had just dispatched Canada in a warm-up exhibition for the World University Games, and Selden was asked about the summer development of Bragg, an incoming freshman forward from Cleveland.
“I think he’s really good. I think he has a chance to be great,” Selden said. “I think he has a chance to be really, really, really good, actually.”
Selden kept talking. One night earlier, he had gathered in Lawrence to watch the first round of the NBA Draft, where former Jayhawk wing Kelly Oubre had gone No. 15 overall. Perhaps the NBA Draft was still on his mind, or perhaps Selden has been that impressed with Bragg during his first summer on campus. Whatever the case, Selden punctuated his thoughts with this:
“Just with hard work and listening to the older guys and coach,” Selden said, “he could be right there where those guys were last night.”
Inside the Kansas locker room, everybody seems to agree about the following: Carlton Bragg is good. And he’s going to be really good. The question, though, as Kansas continues its summer foray into international basketball at the World University Games, is when exactly Bragg will start to reach that “really good” phase.
A 6-foot-8 forward with a versatile skill-set, Bragg will likely spend his freshman season playing behind forward Perry Ellis, a player with a similar game. There’s also the fact that reserve minutes could be hard to come by, with senior forwards Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson and junior big man Landen Lucas bringing a wealth of experience.
In other words: Bragg may have the talent to compete for All-Big 12 honors during his time at Kansas. But will he be the right fit in a reserve role as a freshman? It’s a question that coach Bill Self will have to ponder in the coming months.
“Carlton is not physically strong yet to get rebounds in traffic and stuff,” Self said in late June. “But you can tell, Carlton is going to be really good. That’s obvious.”
Entering Tuesday’s contest in the World Univeristy Games against Chile, which tipped off at 12:30 a.m., Bragg had recorded six total points and 11 rebounds while averaging 10 minutes in two victories. A broken nose, suffered in the day before USA’s opener, limited his production. But Bragg has managed to play on while wearing a protective mask.
Bragg, a McDonald’s All-American, has impressed teammates during his first month at Kansas. Ellis said Bragg was coming on fast, while former KU star Ben McLemore lauded Bragg’s skill-set after a pickup game in June.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Bragg said. “I didn’t know there was that much to basketball. Everything is my weakness right now. I want to get better every day.”
Now in South Korea, Bragg will have six more games to impress his new coach — including three more in pool play and three in the medal round or consolation bracket. For Bragg, it’s also six more games to position himself for a larger role in the fall.
“I like his game,” McLemore said in June. “He’s going to be a good part for coach Self’s system in how he wants to play. He is a four-man that can shoot the ball (and) dribble a little bit, too. He can hurt a lot of teams with his ability to shoot the ball and stretch out.”