Naadir Tharpe had first met Bill Self two years ago, when the Kansas head coach was on the Brewster Academy campus to check in on commit Thomas Robinson. That was when Self put the bug in Tharpe's ear that stuck with him as he continued to rise on the national radar.
"You're going to be a real good player someday, just keep working hard," Tharpe said Self told him.
Fast forward to two days ago, when Self came to visit the Wolfeboro, N.H. campus and offer Tharpe a scholarship. Many a school has come calling ever since his de-commitment from Providence last June, but it's admittedly a little different when Kansas comes knocking. So much so, the 6-foot Worcester native didn't even wait until his scheduled official visit to Lawrence, Kan. later this month to make his decision.
"I couldn’t really speak," Tharpe said. "Basically, it was just the excitement of being blessed with this chance. But it's just the beginning now. I understand it's just the beginning, there's more to come and I'm just going to get ready for what lies ahead for me. The sky's the limit."
And with it comes closure on just what the athletic point guard is capable of. At a time where athleticism and scoring ability are at a premium on the recruiting trail, Tharpe's teammates embrace him for his pass-first mentality, and his intuitive ability to create off the dribble and out of pick-and-roll's. His own coaches, both at Brewster and with the New England Playaz, extol him for his relatively high basketball IQ. Still, things weren't always like this.
Tharpe made the varsity as a skinny eighth-grader at St. Peter-Marian High, and in three years with the Guardians surpassed the 1,000-point milestone. But with little supporting cast, he shouldered the load for a laboring offense, full of clear-outs designed to put the ball in his hands.
Averaging over 30 points a game on a team that didn't qualify for postseason wasn't doing it, and he took his services to the renowned Wolfeboro prep school in 2008, repeating his sophomore year. There, he honed his distribution skills playing alongside big bodies like Thomas Robinson (his soon-to-be KU teammate) and Maurice Walker (Minnesota), and high-flying finishers like Memphis freshman Will Barton.
"Naadir is the definition of a true point guard, of what the job entails," Brewster head coach Jason Smith said. "You need to be a facilitator of the offense, make good decisions and not turn the ball over. I don't think you're going to find anyone in the country who has played with more high-level players over the last three years than Naadir, between Brewster and the New England Playaz. They all love playing with Naadir."
As for his home city, players of this caliber don't come around too often. The Dwayne McClains and Michael Bradleys of the world come once in a generation in this part of the state, and Tharpe is prepared to elevate his game in Lawrence.
"I feel like they're super happy back home," Tharpe said. "I want to be one of the first players from Worcester that goes somewhere big and does big things in a real long time. Like I said, the only thing to be right now is blessed. I've got a lot of people back home supporting me, that are going to be happy."
After finishing the day's classes at 10 a.m. (Brewster had a half day Wednesday), Tharpe promptly put his cell phone in his locker. Then he hit the weight room for 90 minutes, followed by a short lunch and then 300 shots in the gym. He then joined the team for an organized workout at 2 p.m., stopped by five different sporting events on campus to support his classmates, then joined the team again at 5 p.m. for an hour-long conditioning session.
He then washed up and accompanied his roommate, Villanova commit Markus Kennedy, to a meeting with headmaster Michael Cooper ("He said he was excited to see my hard work pay off," Tharpe said).
Finally, at 7 p.m., he fielded some phone calls. And then, it was off to study hall. Big day indeed, but far from over. Time to get back to work.