On Monday morning, the Kansas basketball program claimed gold for the United States at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. The United States outlasted Germany in the final, claiming an 84-77 victory in double overtime and finishing a perfect 8-0 at the tournament.
For the United States, it was the first gold medal at the World University Games since 2005. For the Kansas program, it was the pinnacle of the offseason months, a possible springboard moment heading into the 2015-16 college basketball season. With that in mind, here are the five biggest takeaways from two weeks in South Korea.
1. Wayne Selden found something this summer.
In 10 games over the last three weeks — including two exhibition contests against Canada — Selden averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 34 minutes per game. More impressive: Selden posted these numbers while shooting an efficient 58.2 percent from two-point range and 39.6 percent from three. Here is Selden’s game log from this summer:
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Selden’s summer performance comes on the heels of some well-documented offensive struggles during his sophomore season. For much of last season, Selden was an offensive liability. He shot an astoundingly poor 50 percent on shots at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com, meaning he converted on just half of his dunk and layup attempts. For the season, he shot 39.5 from two-point range and his offensive rating was 98.0, which translates to well below average for a starting perimeter player on a Kansas team.
Selden looked dead tired on Monday, shooting just six of 28 from the floor and four of 17 from inside the three-point line. But after playing eight games in less than two weeks, perhaps the shooting performance can be excused. For most of two weeks, Selden was the best player in South Korea.
Selden likely won’t be this good during his junior year — nobody is expecting him to average 19 points and six rebounds, of course. But playing alongside Mason and senior forward Perry Ellis, he won’t have to be. At the very least, Selden offered a strong rebuttal to any lingering questions after a sluggish sophomore season.
2. America, Frank Mason. Frank Mason, America.
During a breakout sophomore campaign, Frank Mason averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. It was easy to assume, based on his recent trends, that Mason would take another step entering his junior season. But if this summer was any indication, we might be seeing the first steps of a true star turn for the junior guard.
Mason began the summer by scoring 28 points — including 16 in the fourth quarter — in an exhibition victory against Canada. He finished it by recording 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the United States’ gold-medal victory.
Senior forward Perry Ellis could be Kansas’ leading scorer next season. Selden appears poised for a breakthrough. But more and more, it appears that Mason could be Kansas’ most important piece, a junior guard ready to break through on the national scene.
3. Hunter Mickelson made his case for more playing time.
In the weeks before the tournament, Mickelson conceded that the games in Gwangju could be an important personal opportunity after a disappointing junior season. Mickelson, a former Arkansas transfer, played sparingly during his junior season. Now he enters his final year as part of a crowded frontcourt. From that standpoint, the trip to Korea was a success. At times, 6-foot-10 Mickelson was the United States’ most productive big man, an active presence on the boards and a decent rim protector.
He put up seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes against Germany, and in hindsight, he might have deserved a few more minutes.
4. How will the rest of the guys fit in?
Kansas represented the United States in Korea without five scholarship players, including four potential regulars. SMU guard Nic Moore offered solid production in the backcourt, and Florida Gulf Coast guard Julian DeBose provided some depth. But this was not the Kansas roster that will take the floor this fall at Allen Fieldhouse. Sophomore Devonte’ Graham and junior Brannen Greene missed the tournament with injuries, while sophomore guard Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and incoming freshman big man Cheick Diallo (Mali) couldn’t play for the U.S. at the international level.
It’s the time of the year to ponder possible rotation combinations, and one could easily imagine Graham starting alongside Mason and Selden in a smaller backcourt, or Mykhailiuk developing into a weapon on the wing — either in the starting lineup or off the bench. Freshman wing Lagerald Vick earned some invaluable experience in South Korea, and his athleticism and finishing ability is impressive. But for the moment, he will likely enter the fall having to surpass Mykhailiuk and Greene to earn a substantial role as a freshman.
Kansas coach Bill Self, meanwhile, has said that Diallo could challenge for starter’s minutes on the block, praising his motor and rim-protection ability. Diallo projects as a solid complement to Ellis in the frontcourt, but as a freshman, he could be subject to the usual growing pains. The frontcourt puzzle will be an interesting thing to track when practice begins this fall.
5. Will the international game influence Bill Self?
Before the tournament, Self talked about the World University Games being a learning experience for him as well. The United States team played with a 24-second shot clock and was exposed to all sorts of international styles during eight games. It remains to be seen if the tournament will have any effect on Self’s core philosophies as a coach. But after a successful trip to South Korea, the Jayhawks have built a solid foundation for 2015-16.