Tarik Black arrived at Kansas this season with great expectations after transferring from Memphis, where he showed flashes of dominance during this three years. KU coach Bill Self raved about the 6-9, 260-pound senior forward at Media Day in late September.
"I think Tarik Black may have been the big steal of any recruiting class in America because here is a guy that is a potential draft pick," Self said. "You get all the maturity and he already knows how to work; coming in for one year, he knows it has to be a banner season for him otherwise the transfer wasn't worth it. He's hungry.
"I think Tarik will have a great chance to play as much as he wants," Self added. "He will have a great chance to start. Not very often do you recruit a senior that has already started three years and have him come in and be as well respected and basically be the leader of our big guys already, so I am expecting him to have a big year and he has prepared himself to have a big year because he has worked very, very hard."
While he continued to work hard, Black struggled through his first 10 games as a Jayhawk, going scoreless in five contests, including his last four heading into the Georgetown game on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. Black, who was in foul trouble most games and averaged just 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game, even lost his starting spot to Joel Embiid after the eighth contest.
But here he was Saturday playing like an NBA Draft pick who dominated the paint against the Hoyas during the Jayhawks' 86-64 victory. Black, who entered the game at the 8:26 mark in the first half, made his bruising presence felt immediately and broke his season high with 10 points by halftime. He finished the contest with a season-high 17 points (5-5 FG, 7-9 FT) while grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots in 20 minutes, the most action he's seen this year since playing 21 minutes in the season opener against Louisiana at Monroe.
"I feel really good," Black said. "I have a great coaching staff that told me to keep my head up, to keep on working. ... My teammates pushed me. Joel (Embiid) and Nad (Naadir Tharpe) tell me every day, ‘you need to play games like you come to practice and play hard. Just (keep) your faith and when your opportunity comes, you got to take advantage of it.'"
Black certainly took advantage of it on Saturday. And he was having a blast playing with passion. Take late in the first half, when he pulled down an offensive rebound, scored the bucket and got fouled, pushing KU's lead to 39-29. Black celebrated his effort with a couple of jubilant punches to the basketball support goal.
And who could blame him for having some fun. After all, his breakout game had been a long time coming. He's tried to be patient throughout all his struggles.
"It was tough because as a basketball player, we obviously want to perform good every day, night-in and night-out," Black said. "At the same time, I knew coming here that it wasn't going to be perfect. I knew there were things I would go through. The thing that made it easier was knowing that I have played many college games and knew what I was capable of. It was just a matter of finding it in this system and having faith that the time was going to come."
, for one, knew Black's time would come.
"Definitely," Tharpe said. "Every practice, he is a guy that is always talking. He never comes in down on himself, or try to put the other team down. The one thing about him is, throughout that time he was (struggling), he was still a good teammate the whole time."
Hoyas' coach John Thompson III said Black was a difference maker for KU. Black and fellow big men Embiid (17 points) and Jamari Traylor (8 points) combined for 42 points on 12-of-12 shooting.
"Their frontcourt, I thought particularly Black, played very well," Thompson said. "Whenever we thought we were making a step toward cutting into their lead, he would get a rebound, he would get a three-point play, and he made (most of) his foul shots."
Self was also impressed with the big fella.
"Tarik was better today at any point of time he's been (here), but this is how how he's been practicing almost every day," Self said. "It's a great lesson for young kids to learn. His attitude has been great. He lost his starting spot to Joel, and his attitude has probably even got better. He tries so hard, you knew eventually he was going to kick it. He was great today.
".... He knows he hasn't played as well and a lot of it is self-caused and a lot of it is bad luck. He lost a little confidence but he kept working hard and he never took practices off, even a few possessions off. Hard work paid off. The way he played today, he may not always have 17 points, he didn't do anything spectacular. He just played to his strengths."
Self elaborated about the difference in Black's game Saturday.
"The same balls that had been rolling out, a couple of them rolled in today," Self said. "He made his free throws for the most part, and he got an opportunity to play extended minutes. It's hard to get in a rhythm if you're just playing two or three minutes at a time at the most. We didn't play him until about 10 minutes in the first half because Joel was on a roll. That was nice to be able to take Joel out and get just as good production bringing Tarik in. One thing I did see today, depending on how the other team plays, we can play those two big guys together, too. That's a bonus."
Black got a nice boost today with his mother and father in the stands. This was about the third time they've seen him play at KU.
"I saw my mom before the game and I looked up and saw her in the stands," Black said. "I am used to being able to look up and see her in the stands back home when I was playing (for Memphis). I knew exactly where she would sit, and I remember she used to try and give me pointers from the stands. Having them here today was special. It is what I am used to."
As good as Black was Saturday, Self hopes to see his parents more often in the
"We need to have his mother and father come to more games," Self said.