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 — Wayne Selden sat inside a back room at the Sprint Center.
Team USA had just dispatched Canada in a warmup exhibition, and Selden, the Jayhawks’ junior guard, 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:
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“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.
On early Tuesday morning, Bragg made his first start of the World University Games as the United States team thrashed Chile 106-41 at Muan Indoor Gymnasium in Jeolinamdo, Korea — a smaller facility about an hour from the host city of Gwangju.
Bragg finished with just two points and seven rebounds in 12 minutes as the Jayhawks’ version of Team USA moved to 3-0 in pool play. With a victory on Tuesday against Serbia — the game is scheduled to tip at 10 p.m. CT — the United States can virtually guarantee a spot in the medal round.
“We haven’t been getting out to quick starts these first couple games and Coach (Bill Self) was emphasizing that,” said senior forward Perry Ellis, who had nine points in 21 minutes, just one game after tweaking his ankle against Brazil. “We got out tonight and knocked down some shots and played some great defense. It was great for us.”
If Self sought to spark Bragg by inserting him into the starting lineup, that didn’t quite happen. Which underlines an interesting question surrounding Bragg moving forward.
A 6-foot-8 forward with a versatile skill set, Bragg will likely spend his freshman campaign playing behind Ellis, a player with a similar style. 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 game experience.
On Tuesday, Mickelson finished with 16 points in five rebounds in 16 minutes against Chile.
In other words: Bragg may have the talent to one day 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?
“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 game 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 in South Korea. A broken nose, suffered in the days before Team 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 and observers during his first month at Kansas. Ellis said Bragg was coming on fast, while former KU star Ben McLemore lauded Bragg’s ability after a pickup game in June.
“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.”
For now, though, Bragg is still adjusting, still trying to adapt to the physical nature of international basketball. With two games remaining in pool play, his next opportunity will come right away.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Bragg said last month. “I didn’t know there was that much to basketball. Everything is my weakness right now. I want to get better every day.”
What caught our eye
— Junior guard Frank Mason finished with a game-high 23 points while playing 25 minutes against Chile. Mason was eight of 12 from the floor while hitting three of six from three-point range.
— SMU guard Nic Moore had 15 points, his best performance of the tournament, while Wayne Selden continued his torrid offensive pace, finishing with 18 points on six-of-seven shooting.
— The Chileans were simply overmatched. The Jayhawks scored 58 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle 52-28. Expect Serbia to provide a stiffer challenge on late Tuesday night.
“We haven’t shot the ball over here very well at all,” Self said after the game. “So it was great to come out like this and Nic got us out to a good start. Of course, Wayne is playing at a ridiculously high level right now. Frank made shots.
“Even though it wasn’t as competitive of a game, it was good to see our guys score real points to give ourselves a big lead.”
A stat to remember
Mickelson was an efficient weapon on the boards again, finishing with five rebounds in nearly 16 minutes of court-time. That came after he finished with eight rebounds in 25 minutes against Brazil. For the tournament, Mickelson is averaging 9.6 points per game — and certainly making a case for more playing time this upcoming season.
Freshman wing Lagerald Vick had six points on three-of-six shooting while playing 16 minutes against Chile. He snared one rebound and missed his only three-point attempt.
Because of the time difference, we get two KU basketball games in one day here in the United States. The Jayhawks will tip off against Serbia — one of the tournament favorites — at 10 p.m. Tuesday back at Dongkang Gymnasium. The game is set to be televised on ESPNU.