Can Selby make KU great?

NEW YORK – When Tyshawn Taylor returned to the Madison Square Garden locker room following Kansas’ 81-68 victory over Memphis on Tuesday, a message awaited him on his cell phone.

Josh Selby's playmaking ability and speed may be just what Kansas needs to be a great team.
(Henny Ray Abrams / AP)

Not from a friend or family member, but a teammate.

“I’m so proud of y’all,” Josh Selby texted. “I can’t wait ‘til I’m out there with you.”

Selby, the Jayhawks freshman point guard, was forced to watch Tuesday’s win from Lawrence because of NCAA rules that prohibit him from traveling with the team until he becomes eligible Dec. 18. As the game unfolded on his television screen, Selby surely noticed what’s been obvious all season.

The Jayhawks are a good team without him.

With him, though, they could be great.

“We’re all waiting to see how he fits in,” forward Marcus Morris said. “I think everyone is expecting him to have a big impact on this team.”

Selby, the No. 1-ranked player in the Class of 2010 by, was suspended for the first nine games of the season for accepting impermissible benefits from Robert Frazier, a family friend and the business manager for NBA star Carmelo Anthony.

Kansas has gone 8-0 with Selby on the sideline, but it barely squeaked by unranked Arizona and then posted a one-point home win against UCLA on Thursday. Three days later, the Bruins were whipped by Montana.

Bill Self’s team made 57.1 percent of its shots against No. 14 Memphis on Tuesday, but the Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers that led to 29 easy points for the Tigers, who applied full-court pressure for most of the game.

“I don’t think that would’ve happened if Josh would’ve played,” Taylor said.

Granted, Kansas may not face a backcourt all season as deep, long and talented as the one it saw here. But even against weaker teams, the Jayhawks need someone to help Taylor with the ballhandling duties. Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar are integral parts of the team, but their style is that of a two-guard and not a point.

“When you look at our team, who breaks down pressure [other than Taylor]?”Self said. “Obviously, you need a second guy who can do that. Josh is the only guy in our program where you can run really bad offense and still come away with two or three points.”

Even though there have been a few scares, Self has to be happy with how well his team has played without Selby. Kansas has established itself as the best team in the Big 12 and a legitimate Top 10 squad during a young college basketball season that, thus far, has been defined (other than Duke) by parity.

With an 18.6-point scoring average, Marcus Morris is playing like an All-American while his twin brother, Markieff, ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 9.1 rebounds a game.

Morningstar is one of the league’s top defenders and the hiccup-quick Taylor is having his best season as a junior. Kansas also touts an emerging star in sophomore forward Thomas Robinson, a 6-foot-9, 237-pound bully who gets better with each game. Robinson had 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes against Memphis.

The missing piece is Selby – even if Self is hesitant to admit.

“Josh has to beat somebody out to start, and he knows that,” Self said. “Expectations are for him to be a certain player. But to be honest with you, our other players aren’t doing poorly.

“So he needs to be part of something instead of ‘the guy.’ He’s not going to be ‘the guy. ’ We don’t have ‘the guy.’ And I like it that way. We have balance.”

Selby has been allowed to practice with the Jayhawks the last few weeks, although he seldom runs with the first-team unit. Selby and Taylor are both known for their speed, so the possibility exists than Kansas could play at a tempo faster than anything Jayhawks fans have seen since Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Miles manned the backcourt during the final few years of the Roy Williams regime.

The biggest contribution Selby should make, however, is his ability to score. Taylor and Reed can both put the ball in the basket, but neither is the type of player who can go off for 25 or 30 points a game. Selby has that capability, which means the Jayhawks’ potential is limitless.

“When he’s being aggressive and looking to score … man, he makes tough shots,” Taylor said. “He’ll go into the lane and bounce off the [Morris] twins and make a shot. I’ll look at him like, ‘You made that?’”

Self said Selby was particularly frustrated about missing the game against Memphis. Selby and Tigers freshman guard Will Barton are both Baltimore natives who are projected as future NBA lottery picks.

Barton offered nothing but praise when asked about Selby.

Bill Self watched his Jayhawks struggle with turnovers again Tuesday night.
(Nick Laham / Getty Images)

“Kansas is getting an explosive player, an explosive athlete,” Barton said. “He can defend, and he really gets after it on offense. The best thing about him is that he’s a big-time competitor. I’m sure he’ll do well there.”

Self certainly hopes so.

More than any team he’s coached, Self said this group of players “loves to play basketball.” When they’re not in practice, they’re playing pick-up games or watching other teams on television. There is a chemistry and cohesion there, Self said, that defines a special team.

“We’ve got a fun team, but we’re wild,” Self said. “We’ve got to harness some of that in, but that’s also what makes it good at times.”

Self smiled.

“Josh is wild, too,” he said, “so he’ll fit in great. The expectations will be a little ridiculous for him starting out, just because everyone has been waiting and asking questions.”

Self said Selby’s Dec. 18 debut – which will come against USC – may be as “anticipated of a home game we’ve had in years at Allen Fieldhouse.”

Everyone will be waiting to see how Selby responds.

“It might take him a little while, it might not,” Taylor said. “He might come in and have an impact at the beginning. It will be hard, but I think he’s one of those players who is capable of doing that.”

Ten more days.

Let the countdown begin.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Dec 8, 2010