Here was Wayne Selden, standing in the Sprint Center on Wednesday morning. He wore a red tie and dress pants. He yawned once, preparing for a day of interviews at the annual Big 12 basketball media day in Kansas City.
For Selden, a sophomore at Kansas, the questions would be the usual sort: Does KU have enough talent to secure an 11th straight Big 12 title? Can Selden, a shooting guard, step into the void left by Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft? Can Selden, a limited ball-handler as a freshman, take some pressure of Kansas’ smaller guards by manning the point at times? Can Selden, a 6-foot-5 brute of a guard, handle the duties of the four position?
Wait, what? Wayne Selden playing the four?
“I love how Wayne can post and do some things,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
So, yes, if there was a revelation on Wednesday at the Sprint Center, it might have been Self talking about Selden as a jack-of-all-positions leading man. In one moment, Self was talking about using Selden as a secondary point guard to take some heat off sophomore Frank Mason and freshman Devonte’ Graham, the early leaders at that position. The next moment, he was talking about using a four-guard lineup with either Selden or freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. as a stretch four.
Self has talked about playing small in years past. But with a glut of options in the backcourt, he sounds serious about exploring a way to maximize Kansas’ length and athleticism on the perimeter.
“If your definition of small ball is playing four guards? Probably a lot,” Self said of the lineup. “But our four guards could be 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 6-7, if we play Wayne at the point.”
The roots of the four-guard experiment appear to have taken hold in the summer months. As the Jayhawks went through their routine of summer workouts, Selden said KU’s coaching staff approached him about playing some four this year. At first, he said, he was a little surprised. For one, the Jayhawks have junior Perry Ellis, a preseason All-Big 12 selection and fringe All-American candidate, returning at power forward. And Selden, a former McDonald’s All-American, started all 35 games on the wing as a freshman.
But as Selden thought more about the idea, he came to understand it.
“We have six or seven guards that could all start on this team,” Selden says. “There’s guards that might not play as much, but they could start on other Big 12 teams.”
Even in the preseason, with the Jayhawks’ season opener more than two weeks away, it appears clear that Kansas could be Selden’s team. A natural leader, Selden is the type of player, teammate Jamari Traylor said, who can hold teammates accountable in practice and be humble enough to take responsibilities for his own mistakes.
“He’s vocal,” Traylor said.
Last season, Selden entered his freshman season as a potential NBA prospect. But a nagging knee injury drained him of some of his natural athleticism. Selden still managed to average more than nine points per game, but he often deferred to Wiggins and center Joel Embiid, another future first-round pick.
Now Selden is trying to step into a leadership role. It began in the days after Kansas’ loss to Stanford in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Selden had heard some rumors that he was considering entering the NBA Draft, and he wanted to quash them.
“I knew I wanted to come back, probably even before the season was over,” Selden said. “I knew where I wanted to be. I knew, from a team standpoint, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish last year. And I wanted more.”
Selden also wanted to take another step as a player. After one season at Kansas, he finally felt comfortable. And he liked the feeling.
“I feel a complete turnaround,” Selden said. “Last year, I was coming in blind, not really knowing what to expect being a freshman. Now I know what to expect, and I’m pretty confident.”