As we bask in the excitement of North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes' decision to stay in college -- and everything it seems to mean for the college game itself -- Kansas fans are no doubt still smarting over freshman guard Josh Selby's decision to enter the NBA draft. Selby announced his decision Thursday via Twitter, and he was immediately excoriated by KU fans, former players and media folks alike. (One example, Seth Davis of CBS and SI, tweeted this.)
Why all the distaste? Because Selby -- a top-five recruit considered the best in the 2010 class by some recruiting analysts -- had a disappointing, suspension- and injury-riddled season. Many believe he's not ready for the NBA. Kansas fans want him to return and star for a new-look batch of Jayhawks. (Some Kansas fans likewise seem to believe Selby isn't yet suited to be a pro, but come on, like that's the No. 1 worry in Lawrence.) As Barnes and others have showed, the choice to jump into the NBA's lockout morass this summer isn't always necessarily the prudent one.
Despite all that, it's entirely possible Selby made the right decision for him. In fact, it's hard to read Kansas City Star reporter J. Brady McCollough's weekend feature on the freshman and think otherwise. McCollough got Selby to recall his difficult upbringing in Baltimore, where he and his mother, just 17 years his senior, struggled to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. One time, when he was 12, Selby saw his friend brutally pistol-whipped in the street. He became, in his own telling, "a little thug."
Those difficulties began to fade when Selby started realizing his prodigious basketball talent. As McCollough writes, that talent set the young, underprivileged star on the NBA track, one he's been on "so long that he couldn’t turn back."
“In one year, I had about six people close to me get killed, all gunshots,” Selby said. “Seeing stuff like that wakes you up. You want to be dead or you want to be something? I want to be something. I want to see my mother happy. I’m tired of seeing my mom crying at night worrying about if her son is gonna live, go to jail. I had to change my life around.”
[...] “To be honest, I worry about her more than she worries about me,” Selby said. “She can sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night because I want her to have everything in the world. I just stay up all night, till about 3 or 4 in the morning, just worrying about, ‘What do I gotta do to make sure my mom has everything she wants?’ Because she deserves it.”
It's easy to criticize a kid for making an early-entry decision. Sometimes, that criticism is deserved. Sometimes, even the most talented player might be better off waiting another year -- even if it means another year of struggle at home -- to reap larger personal and professional benefits in the long run.
But sometimes, the old cliché is true: Until you walk a mile in Josh Selby's sneakers, you're probably not qualified to offer him advice. Sometimes, all you can do -- and in this case, "you" means "you, the disappointed Kansas fan" -- is swallow your basketball-related hurt, put away your wonkishly negative appraisals and wish a young man the best of luck.
Oh, and for what it's worth, I would totally draft Josh Selby. One man's disappointing freshman season is another man's chance for a late first-round steal.