Yes, Naadir Tharpe says. He’s heard it.
Sometimes, he’ll stumble upon the critical shrapnel on Twitter. Sometimes he’ll get a text message or call from his high school coach, Jason Smith of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
“Kansas fans,” Tharpe recalls Smith saying. “They try to kill you, Naa.”
Maybe it’s a bad turnover at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s a defensive breakdown. But usually — well, almost always — it’s his shot-selection. Last season, while serving as Kansas’ backup point guard, Tharpe had a tendency to fire up an off-balance jumper early in possessions. He was the seventh-leading scorer on a KU team that basically played seven players. But his shot selection often suggested the confidence of Ray Allen.
So Kansas fans would joke about the #NaadirTharpeHeatCheck, or they would question a step-back 18-footer with 29 seconds left on the shot clock, and Tharpe would just try to roll with it.
“I just laugh at it,” Tharpe says.
The truth is, Tharpe says, he doesn’t know how to play any other way. When he was a point guard at Brewster, one of the top prep schools in the country, the roster was loaded with future pros. He played alongside Thomas Robinson and Syracuse standout C.J. Fair. Iowa State senior star Melvin Ejim came off the bench. And yet, Tharpe was never shy about taking the big shot.
This goes back a ways, Tharpe says. When he was growing up in Worcester, Mass., Tharpe’s older brother and mentor, Tishaun Jenkins, used to pound the following point home.
“If you can’t take making that shot and everybody loving you — and you can’t take missing a shot and everybody hating you — you shouldn’t be playing this game.”
So it was on Monday night. No. 8 Kansas trailed Oklahoma 59-56 with 9:18 left. The Jayhawks were in danger of suffering their second home loss of the season. And Tharpe rose to the moment, finishing with 14 points and two assists in the final nine minutes as KU clinched its 10th straight Big 12 championship
“He closed the game the way good players close games,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way point guards close games. All the teams that have a chance to win, or have great seasons, they all have guys that can close.”
In his junior season, Tharpe is getting closer to becoming that guy. Let’s take a look at one stretch in particular. The Jayhawks had taken a 74-68 lead after a three-pointer from Andrew Wiggins with 2:45 to play. But on two consecutive possessions, Oklahoma challenged Tharpe to make a play — and Self gave Tharpe the freedom to make it.
On the first possession, with more than 1:52 left, Oklahoma shaded two guys on Joel Embiid and extended the defense on Wiggins on the wing.
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