Selden's time finally arrives at Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Wayne Selden Jr. is sitting in the players' lounge at Kansas, talking about "kids today." He actually used those very words, along with "that's the problem with this world nowadays." He didn't call anyone a whippersnapper, but the message nonetheless was the same.

Selden is 21, a baby in the context of the real world but a wizened veteran in college basketball circles. The guard is now midway through his third year at Kansas, or two more than anyone suspected he might stick around when he first enrolled.

That's what brings Selden to lamenting the state of things in today's world, the idea that the path he has followed is some kind of a detour as opposed to how he views it -- the right road for him.

"People telling you how good you are since you're 15, what you're going to be, that's the problem," he said. "You see all this stuff written about you and you expect things to happen, but everything is timing. Everybody is different. I was waiting on my time."

It's arrived now, in gangbusters.

This Kansas team, ranked No. 1 in the nation and playing at West Virginia tonight (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN), isn't built like the Jayhawks teams of recent memory. It is not a one-player show, nor is it a one-and-done audition. Four guys average double figures in points. The leading scorers are, in order: senior, junior, junior, sophomore, junior. You've got to dig all the way down to the eighth spot to find a freshman.

So in some ways, Selden is simply a part of the machine, the second-leading scorer at 15.5 points per game. Except if you dissect these Jayhawks and try to figure out what makes them so exceptional this season, you'd find the answer is Selden.

It's not the numbers -- though the 50 percent shooting from the arc, 53 percent from the floor, as well as the plus-6 point scoring bump from last season, is certainly helpful. It's how Selden is playing. He has a presence now, an air of responsibility and reliability. A season ago, Selden memorably fizzled, his production slipping until the final-game flameout -- 0 points in 23 minutes against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament.

That same absentee player was huddling up the Jayhawks and firing up the crowd in Kansas' three-overtime win against Oklahoma eight days ago, overcoming early foul trouble to hit a clutch bucket in the third OT. He eventually finished with 21 points.

"He's felt like it's more his team. He has a lot more ownership with what's going on," coach Bill Self said.

He was supposed to own the world as a freshman, but then again, what freshman isn't? Ranked 14th in the ESPNU 100 Class of 2013, Selden starred in the McDonald's All American game with 13 points, and arrived in Lawrence as part of a recruiting class with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, a class ranked second in the country behind only Kentucky.

Selden wasn't necessarily tabbed as a one-and-done sure thing. The early scouting report explained: " . . . will need to continue to get more skilled and learn to incorporate his athleticism into his game as his peers catch up with him physically."

But when a top-15 kid goes to Kansas, alongside Wiggins, it's what people come to expect. Fortunately, Selden hasn't been a head-in-the-clouds kind of kid in a long time.

At 15, he left his family's home in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to attend the Tilton School, a private boarding school in New Hampshire. The culture shock was real -- the boys and girls basketball teams made up the better part of the African-American population on campus -- and Selden still marvels at the difference between his own upbringing and that of his classmates. Money, he said, was spent much more freely than he was accustomed; extra-large care packages arrived for kids regularly. He joked that his biggest surprise was that if he left his cellphone behind in a room, it would still be there five hours later.

He saw the school as a chance to better himself, and not just as a basketball player.

"I don't want to say it made me a better person, but more intellectual, more universal," he said. "Coming from the inner city, where it's mostly all black people, to a prep school where they didn't understand if I said, 'axe,' instead of 'ask,' it was hard but it helped me grow up."

That early reality check no doubt helped when Selden was faced with his own future following his freshman season. He had a good year, earned All-Big 12 honorable mention, but he wasn't a guaranteed NBA anything. He wisely chose to return to Kansas.

And then along came Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander, two more stud freshmen with NBA paychecks all but signed before they stepped on a college court. Oubre, like Wiggins, turned Selden into more of a ball handler than he preferred. Self even admitted that he, as a coach, didn't do Selden many favors by forcing him out of position.

His sophomore-season numbers dipped across the board, leaving him little choice but to return for a third season.

"It's hard for a kid,'' Self said. "You look at the guys like Wiggs and Kelly and you think, 'Well I can do some of the things they can do. I can average double figures. Why can't I leave, too?' "

The truth is, it takes a lot more courage to be patient than to take the leap to the NBA. A player "expected" to leave who opts (or is forced) to stay in college is tabbed a failure before he has even had a chance to succeed. Selden thought that way once, too, until he started on his own detoured path.

Now he sees it all for what it is; not fate, necessarily, but a master plan of some sort. Had he left after his freshman season, he doesn't think it would have been a disaster. But he realizes now that he wasn't anywhere near ready.

It's the difference between being prepared to be paid and being prepared to play, Self calls it. Selden has transitioned from the former to the latter.

"What 18-year-old kid has the confidence that a 21-year-old man has?" said Selden's mother, Lavette Pitts. "Look at him now, at how he's playing. It's all confidence. That's the difference."

Blessed now with a viable backcourt in the form of Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham, Selden is playing with controlled abandon; there is an ease to his game and his person.

Some of it is having his little brother, Anthony, and Pitts nearby. The pair moved to Lawrence this year, which was Selden's idea. Between prep school and college, he hasn't been around Anthony -- now a high school sophomore -- that much, and he wanted to have his brother close. Pitts has a job working with at-risk kids. Anthony is playing JV hoops at Lawrence High School, and Selden is a frequent visitor, happy to eat some homemade food when he can.

But really, it's just time.

Selden has had time to grow up, time to find his niche and time to spread his wings and fly.

"Everyone thinks about basketball, but this is a life experience," Pitts said. "You send your kid to college to grow up. He's ready now."

For Wayne Selden Jr., the timing is finally right.