Lofty expectations

Few events in the sporting world will make as much noise this weekend as Josh Selby's debut with the Kansas Jayhawks. But Head Coach Bill Self's squad doesn't need the talented guard to shoulder more of the load than necessary – they just need him to fit in.

At the time of this writing, Josh Selby is just days away from making his highly anticipated debut for the Kansas Jayhawks.

And if you've followed the media at all - both local and national - you know that to say the anticipation for his arrival is immense would be like saying Mount Everest is "pretty tall." It's a lesson in understatement.

The reason behind the extravagant hype isn't some big mystery. It goes beyond simply Selby's status as one of the top-rated incoming freshmen in the country.

While other members of the Class of 2010 – such as Kentucky's Terrence Jones, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Duke's Kyrie Irving and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes – are out there on the court, making the most of their chance to meet (or fail to meet) those lofty expectations, Selby has been serving a nine-game suspension from the NCAA. And as the last unknown quantity among those freshmen expected to make an instant impact, the tension has grown more palpable with each passing game.

Following the Jayhawks' Dec. 2 victory over UCLA at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas head coach Bill Self had this to say in response to a reporter's question regarding Selby's potential impact:

"Josh is in the mold to be one of the better freshmen in the country, but it's going to take time. The expectations on Josh are higher than those on Harrison (Barnes) and higher than on the other guys, because he hasn't played yet and it's just been a build up.

I think he can handle that without question, but to be honest every freshman that I've coached has gone through stuff. And the best ones have gone through stuff and fought through it."

Indeed, Self is no stranger to coaching impact freshmen during his tenure at the University of Kansas. Since arriving in Lawrence in 2003, he has landed nine players ranked in the Top 25 recruits in the country per the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. The RSCI is generally agreed to be the most comprehensive and complete look at where the experts believe a specific recruit stacks up in a class.

In 2005, Self signed four players ranked in the RSCI Top 25, the most for him in a single class at Kansas – Julian Wright (#6), Mario Chalmers (#8), Micah Downs (#21) and Brandon Rush (#23).

In 2006, he signed a pair – Darrell Arthur (#11) and Sherron Collins (#14).

In 2007, 2009 and 2010 he signed one apiece – Cole Aldrich (#21), Xavier Henry (#6) and, of course, Josh Selby (#6).

Now, understanding that it is generally assumed by spectators with a passing interesting college basketball, recruiting or the Kansas Jayhawks that Josh Selby will not only be a starter when he arrives, but possibly the best overall player on the team, let's take a look at what each of his highly-touted predecessors did statistically in their freshman campaigns.

We'll look at minutes per game for each of them, as well as points per game. For the smaller guards we'll throw in assists, the posts will look at rebounds and for Brandon Rush and Xavier Henry, the only true wings in the group, we'll look at both. We'll also exclude Micah Downs, as he transferred to Gonzaga after playing only a few months at Kansas.

Julian Wright - 20.1 mpg/8.5 ppg/4.6 rpg

Mario Chalmers - 26 mpg/11.5 ppg/3.8 apg

Brandon Rush - 31.7 mpg/13.5 ppg/5.9 rpg/2 apg

Darrell Arthur - 19 mpg/9.8 ppg/4.7 rpg

Sherron Collins - 22.3 mpg/9.3 ppg/2.9 apg

Cole Aldrich - 8.3 mpg/2.8 ppg/3 rpg

Xavier Henry - 27.5 mpg/13.4 ppg/4.4 rpg/1.5 apg

What do these surface-level statistics tell us? That Brandon Rush was the most effective freshman to play at Kansas under Self. He averaged the most minutes by a significant margin, the most points and the most rebounds. He was also the lowest-rated of this particular group, for whatever that is worth.

It seems unlikely that Selby will step in and play the almost 32 minutes per game that Rush did. For one, the circumstances were entirely different. Not only was Rush absurdly talented, but also he filled a serious need for Kansas on the perimeter at the wing position. After Downs transferred, he was really the only small forward on the roster - and a true small forward in the college ranks, particularly one with Rush's athleticism and shooting ability, is an exceedingly rare commodity.

Additionally, Selby will be looking to fit into an established rotation, and one that has proven effective. Now, will he be the most talented member of the Kansas backcourt rotation? Almost certainly. Self has indicated as much in the past by saying that he is as talented a player as the team has on its roster.

But after all that, he is still just a freshman, and one who has yet to see his first official action. While players like Barnes, Irving and Jones are now at least somewhat accustomed to the speed and complexity of the college game, in that regard Selby will be playing catch-up.

Let's assume for a moment that he is, in fact, the best parts of Kansas' freshman perimeter players of the past. He averages Rush's point total (13.5 ppg) and Chalmers' assist numbers (3.8 apg). As it stands right now, those numbers would make him the team's second-leading scorer – behind only Marcus Morris – and place him second in assists as well – behind junior Tyshawn Taylor's absurd 6.4 assists per game. And yet very few observers expect him to be second-place in anything this year.

So what's the point of all this? To hopefully temper expectations a little bit. There's no denying the enormity of Josh Selby's physical gifts. He's ranked right where Julian Wright and Xavier Henry were before him, and neither made it past their sophomore year before warranting a spot in the lottery of the NBA Draft.

But Selby's talent, nine games on the bench, and the incredible success enjoyed by an elite handful of freshmen before him (Call it the Kevin Durant Effect) have conspired to drive expectations for his impact to potentially unfair levels.

Look at what similar expectations have done to the perception of Barnes nationally. Anointed as a possible (probable?) National Player of the Year Candidate without playing a second of college basketball, he was also named a pre-season first-team All-American.

But Barnes hasn't been the Durant-esque superstar everyone expected right off the bat. He's struggled to find his shot. He's made mistakes. He's looked, for lack of a better term, mortal. Sort of like a freshman.

Nobody should be surprised, and certainly not disappointed, if it's the same with Selby. No matter how talented, he is still just a freshman, and like all freshmen he's going to make some mistakes. He's going to have games where he doesn't play as many minutes. He's not going to "get it" defensively right off the bat. No Bill Self-coached freshman does.

This Kansas team is good right now. Really good. Perhaps good enough to deserve its ranking in the Top 5 nationally, without Selby having played a game.

They don't need him in order to be good team. But with him, they can be great – and he doesn't even have to be Superman for that to happen.

He just needs to be himself. He just needs to fit in.

"It is going to be different for him," Self said, recently. "The fact is that he has missed about 15 practices; it is not something you just jump in and don't skip a beat. I think if we handle this right, players, coaches, everybody, we could see some vast improvement (as a team) over Christmas break."

Welcome to the spotlight, Mr. Selby.


Phog.net Top Stories