Kansas sophomore Julian Wright may not put up the eye-popping numbers ala Kevin Durant, or even get the pub that fellow teammate Brandon Rush gets, but make no mistake about it – the Jayhawks wouldn’t have a Big 12 title without the 6-8 forward.
The KU lineup features balance and can hurt you in a number of ways. Bill Self’s team really knows how to share the basketball and has plenty of weapons at its disposal. But Self would undoubtedly label Wright his indispensable “do-everything” guy. No one stuffs a stat sheet quite like the Chicago Heights native.
Start counting the number of times Wright has made a play that provoked you to say, “Wow!” this season. Whether it’s the no look pass, the handle on the break, the great block, the incredible dunk, or the sweet turnaround jumper Wright has produced a lengthy highlight film of his own for KU this year. “JuJu” has not only performed well but he has come up big in critical situations. He scored the first six points in a pivotal road win against OU and scored on a spin in the lane on a key possession late in the second half. But no moment was bigger for Wright and his teammates than the block on D.J. Augustin in the waning seconds during the win against Texas clinching a regular season title for KU. For Self this season, Wright has put the ROCK in Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
"When you look at our team from a most-valuable standpoint, not by point production, the defensive efforts and assignments he has drawn have been tough ones and he has done a good job there. His value to me is so different because he changes how teams have to play us. He's very good against the zone, is a good interior passer and without question is our best rebounder,” said fourth year head coach Bill Self.
We saw flashes of Julian’s incredible ability during his freshman campaign but what he’s added is consistency.
The All-Big 12 first team selection has already bettered his numbers in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals during the 2006-07, and you get the sense Julian’s not done yet. The team’s third leading scorer (12.0 ppg) really improved his rebounding numbers this season (10.5 rpg) and has become’s Self’s most reliable force on the boards.
“He's averaging 12 points a game and for a guy at his size to get 13 rebounds in a big game like Texas is very valuable. I think he's really developed. In scoring points, he's gone from eight to 12, which is a big step, but he is not going to be a prolific scorer. That's not who he is,” stated Self.
Wright led the team in scoring on six occasions this season, and the wiry sophomore was the leading rebounder in 17 of 31 games this season. We can talk about his lofty shooting percentage from the floor (55 percent), or his team-leading 46 blocks, or that he averages over three assists a game, but Julian’s impact cannot be measured in sheer numbers.
“I know the coaches and media voted him first team in our league and that's good to see that a guy can do so many things to impact a game and it not necessarily be all about points,” Self continued. “He's had a very solid year. The Florida game may have spoiled us into thinking he should be doing those things on a consistent basis, but that's like saying Kevin Durant should be scoring 20 points every 12 minutes."
Julian has the skills and the size that make NBA scouts salivate. The sophomore said he plans to stick around Lawrence for at least one more year and has given no reason for KU fans to believe otherwise. But with the recognition performing well in the postseason brings, there’s no doubt there will be opportunities for the super soph to possibly move on.
"I told our guys not to address any situations about their individual futures. They don't want to either because they don't know. There isn't anybody right now who knows if they'd leave,” said Self who will have several players evaluating their futures after the season. “There are guys who in their minds would know that they would stay, but things happen and people get involved. We're going to enjoy all our guys as long as we have them and we hope we have them again, unless it's best for them to leave now, and if it's that time, then they should leave."