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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keegan

Opinion: Confident Naadir Tharpe no longer questioning his ability

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe pushes the ball up the court past American center Tony Wroblicky during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe pushes the ball up the court past American center Tony Wroblicky during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self talks after win over American

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 89-57 victory over American on Dec. 29, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Naadir Tharpe, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey

Kansas players Naadir Tharpe, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 89-57 victory over American.

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Box score

KU-American

For the longest time, Naadir Tharpe played like an athlete who didn’t seem sure he was good enough to hang with the guys surrounding him. They attacked. He retreated. They made plays. He tried to avoid making bad plays.

Remember that guy? You can forget him now. Tharpe certainly has shoved him into the past.

Tharpe is sure he belongs now, so sure he played with as much confidence as anyone Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse, where he sparked Kansas to an 89-57 blowout of American, or for that matter anyone on your television all day long.

Tharpe always had one quality that gave him potential to fit in eventually. He’s fast, really, really fast and plays on a team at its best when flying up and down the court. But when a player looks as if he’s not quite sure he’s good enough, it’s difficult for anyone else to hop on board.

Suddenly, Tharpe’s bandwagon’s getting mighty crowded by the game and he’s at the wheel. For the fourth game in a row, Tharpe played inspired basketball and had a big hand in Kansas playing at such a rapid pace.

The most impressive individual game statistic of this getting-better-all-the-time season now belongs to Tharpe. He had 12 assists without a single turnover. He consistently attacked, penetrating into the paint and zipping passes to open shooters behind the arc and underneath. He mixed in nine points on three of four three-point shooting and picked up four defensive rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

By halftime, Tharpe had eight assists, driving, shooting and passing Kansas to a 53-26 advantage. This was more a case of a sophomore fueled by soaring confidence than a superior athlete exploiting inferior competition.

Kansas won’t again play a team as talent-challenged as American, but Tharpe's rapid improvement predated Saturday.

In the past four games, one against then-No. 7 Ohio State, Tharpe has 22 assists and has not turned it over once. Streaks like that are rare at any level of basketball. This assists-without-a-turnover streak grows much bigger and #TharpeFanClub will be trending on Twitter.

Tharpe also has made seven of eight three-pointers in the past three games, heading into that stretch with a 6-for-21 accuracy rate. But it’s what he’s doing as a distributor and what he’s not doing — turning it over — that has raised the ceiling on a basketball team that already had a high one.

He’s making such great decisions on the run, threading passes into tiny openings for sure-handed teammates who know how to finish. Tharpe’s greatest wow moments came when was in the air seemingly with no play and found Withey for a dunk and when he turned his back to the basket in the lane and dished to Andrew White III for a slam.

Not long ago, it looked as if the one soft spot for Kansas was that Elijah Johnson was the only reliable point guard and Tharpe better fit the description of undersized shooting guard.

Since Tharpe’s emergence, Johnson’s play has picked up as well.

It took Tharpe longer than some to adjust to a demanding coach who isn’t interested in athletes comfortable with becoming known as good basketball players. He wants them all to strive to achieve great things.

“It’s been a process from the start,” said Tharpe, a friendly sort not burdened by conceit. “No one just comes to Kansas and automatically is a superstar. So I’ve been trying to work hard in practice so I can be out on the floor to help my team win.”

Few things put a charge into a team as richly as watching a young athlete shed his cloak of insecurity to reveal his true talent.

“It’s awesome because ‘Naa’ gets into the paint a lot and he knows how to find people,” senior center Jeff Withey said. “He did it today. He showed it. He does it all the time in practice. We’re just getting more comfortable with him and he’s doing a great job coming off the bench and doing really well. For bigs, we love playing with guards like that, anybody who can drive and kick it.”

Tharpe’s play has improved in all areas.

“He’s getting more comfortable and he’s more aggressive defensively,” KU coach Bill Self said. “We’ve always said he could shoot the basketball and he can, he can really shoot, but he’s getting where he can really facilitate very, very well.”

Self, who hasn’t been shy about criticizing Tharpe in the past, marveled at the box score.

“His line tonight, you go 3-for-4 from three and you have 12 dimes and no turnovers, you don’t see that very often,” Self said.

American coach Jeff Jones, in the aftermath of the blowout, became the latest to express the opinion that Kansas is as good as any team in the country. Nobody was saying that when Tharpe was in retreat mode.

“Ever since our team started playing well you could probably look back and say he’s a big reason why,” Self said of Tharpe. “When we were laboring, basically up until the Colorado game, I don’t think Naadir had played very well, but when he plays well it seems like to me he’s giving a boost every time he comes into the game.”

Tharpe’s recent play has made a deep team deeper and the two-man depth chart at point guard no longer is too shallow.

Comments

jessejayhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

I believe Tharpes incentive to improve came from football coach Weis. After watching how efficient Tharpe was at dribbling the ball off his foot, Weis offered Tharpe a schoolie to join the football team as a kicker. ( all fiction and just kidding)

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jhawkrulz 1 year, 3 months ago

A few notes:

1) A Backup Point Guard with 22 assists and 0 Turnovers and known for his shooting ability is exciting to have.

2) Self really understands how to develop role players and by the time they are seniors it seems like they are leaders. Some are starters and some are the first or second person off the bench, but they all when they stick it out, are all Jayhawks and we love to see them play.

3) For instance, TRob, Markieff, Releford, Cole, Brady, etc.

4) I also think that a lot of players wouldn't have had as big of an NBA hope without the coaching of Self. I think Markieff and TRob are the prime examples.

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Phil Leister 1 year, 3 months ago

The content of Keegan's writing is good, most days. However, the way he puts words on paper makes him sound like a high school freshman. I always wonder how he is the sports editor at LJW.

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iamakufan 1 year, 3 months ago

So, how is ‘Naa’ pronounced? Nah or Nay?

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jaybate 1 year, 3 months ago

I hate to rain on a parade, but Naa still has acute depth perception problems with on-ball defense.

He's guarding better, but you're all going to be very, very glad that EJ's knee continues mending, once the good opposing guards resume showing up.

He made several defensive errors against American that American's players were not good enough to cash in on.

Naa has turned a big corner. Self has adapted the offense to both Naa's and EJ's strengths and that is the biggest reason both players are looking much better on offense. On defense, Naa is now to a level of consistently mediocre.

The key is that Naa has reached a point of cortical development where he can actually learn what he is doing wrong and how to compensate.

But if EJ goes down again and Naa has to carry the defensive load at point, Self is going to have to go back to masking in a very big way again.

Naa's defensive development is on a track to be starting grade next season, not this one.

The great thing for Naa is that he has finally reached a level of development that Self can justify continuing with him as a guy he can expect to develop sufficiently for certain as a starter, or first backup at the point, depending on what the recruiting cat drags in.

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Woody Cragg 1 year, 3 months ago

The flashes of brilliance we saw with Nadir last year reminded me of a freshman Russ Rb & I personally think he's budding up as an elite player. He played at Brewster with TRob & is tough as nails for a small guy. With EJ's shoulder & knees always a concern, this could not happen soon enough. And 100% agreed HEM, balllhandling is priority #1. 22 assists & no TO's in 4 games is no cupcake stat, Throw in 6-7 from behind the arc & wow, he'd be starting for a hundred other D-1 schools. Way to go young man...we can dig it!

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Jack Wilson 1 year, 3 months ago

Finally, and this is at the core of Tharpe's value .. ballhandling. I remember KULA posting a reply to a suggestion back in the spring that Releford could be a backup point guard, mocking the suggestion. I agreed. I have made significant mention of the value of ballhandling (as has KULA). A point guard, or combo guard, that can handle the ball is a "must have" on the court. Period. It's why we have not played one minute of contested game situations this season without either EJ or Tharpe on the court. It's why the suggestions of KY at the point, or Releford, were just ridiculous. Look at the Ohio St. game. Non-ballhandlers can't handle that big time pressure. It's why Self said he was targeting a "point guard" in recruiting. Ballhandling is a priority one skill. You have to have depth at ballhandling. Tharpe is the best ballhandler on this team (no disrespect to EJ).

It now appears that we have ourselves a point guard. This is a great thing for this team. Now, and in the future.

In a point guard discussion, I have to bring this up about KULA .. We go back a ways on Tyshawn Taylor debates. He was ultimately correct on Taylor .. kind of. I like to point out that I was right for 3 1/2 seasons, and KULA for 1/2 of a season. But who's counting? I actually did concede to KULA in November or December of 2010, TT's junior year, just before Selby got on the court. When TT played that awesome 10 game stretch. KULA gladly accepted. But, unfortunately, I rescinded my concession shortly after that.

Taylor led us to a final four. Debate over. KULA wins. But the best KULA quote ever .. "He (Tyshawn) brings the offense like no other player." This was late in his freshman season or early sophomore season, I think. And my recollection is a bit foggy, but I recall this being after a multiple turnover, 2-9 shooting day (or something like that). At least it sounds better like that. With Tharpe, KULA might have an easier job .. 12 assists, no turnovers. Not a TT line, for sure. KULA was the ultimate TT defender.

Now, Brady? That's a different story ....

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Jack Wilson 1 year, 3 months ago

Just over a month ago, Self was proclaiming that if Tharpe didn't pick it up, he was going to have to go "in a different direction." Part psychological motivation, part dead serious -- mostly dead serious.

Self criticized his defense effort, his decision making, shot selection. Tharpe was close to losing his spot. There was a fork in the road. The fork in the road was so distinct, in my opinion, that Tharpe was playing for his scholarship. If Adams had overtaken him as the back up point guard, with the talent we have coming in, it would be reasonable to think he could transfer. Adams now sits on the perch. With Adams, the talent is there. You can see it. Will he be patient and continue to work?

Make no mistake though .. despite the posts of Jaylark and KULA above .. the criticisms of Tharpe here were by and large completely legitimate. It's easy to say once a guy is playing well .. "see, you were wrong." Again, most criticisms of Tharpe were legitimate. Really, Self's comments reinforced what we all saw and commented on. And during those stretches, we didn't see significant Tharpe defenses here by either KULA or Jaylark, though KULA did make a note after a good game by Tharpe. But my point is not to criticize them. My point is that Tharpe really was walking the tightrope and that the criticisms were valid. Self was trying to bring in Barber, or Jackson, right? Guys that legitimately would have started as freshmen .. over Tharpe. Tharpe was no sure thing.

It appears that Tharpe has won. Why has Tharpe won? Why has he gotten over the hump?

First, playing time. A point KULA and I have agreed on for a long time. Tharpe has had the opportunity to play, to mature, to get better -- in games. We have seen it right before our eyes in the first 12 games. To get in the flow of the game. To adjust to game situations. Experience. It is valuable. You don't get "experience", by and large, from sitting on the bench. It's now showing with Tharpe.

Second, confidence .. his confidence and ability to make plays comes from not worrying about is role on the team. My belief is that early he felt his role was in doubt (because it was). Even when the criticism came from Self's mouth, I mentioned that the most telling moment would be the first guard in off the bench that next game .. Tharpe or Adams. It was Tharpe. From that moment, once it was clear that he had beaten out Adams, his game has taken off. No coincidence in my book.

Third, coaching .. we can pontificate about what is best, how things should be done, etc. But behind the scenes, in practice, on the bus, in meetings -- mentally and physically -- we have the best coach in the country. He's made the kid better. He's inspired the kid. He's inspired defensive intensity as leonard mentioned above.

(continued)

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KansasComet 1 year, 3 months ago

Tharpe belongs, and that is all that matters. I look forward to two more seasons watching Naadir Tharpe in a Kansas Jayhawks uniform. If he plays this well in conference and tournament play, he deserves the right to play for pay in the NBA.

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JHAWKNPHX 1 year, 3 months ago

The pic of Rel's dunk is awesome!!!

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Jayhawk470 1 year, 3 months ago

Tharpe will be a starter next season. Bank on it.

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leonard 1 year, 3 months ago

Tharpe's improved offensive numbers speak for themselves. But just as impressive has been his on-ball defensive intensity...and in Coach Self's world that is the solution for removing splinters.

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Jay Dogger 1 year, 3 months ago

Why are assists called 'dimes?' Just wondering.

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Janet Scott 1 year, 3 months ago

I really like the way Naadir is playing - he's a tremendous asset to the team.

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Michael Auchard 1 year, 3 months ago

Sadly, a few good games (or articles) do not a career make, Keegan.

I'm hoping Naadir and Ellis (also had a solid game) step it up toward the latter end of conference. With those guys playing at even 80 percent, and the rest of our regular ballers improving or playing static ball, we're one of the deepest teams in the country. Twelve assistsin a game is impressive, though this night should be taken with a grain of salt. I hope Tharpe can keep it up against a team not ranked near 300 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings.

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Brandon Pope 1 year, 3 months ago

Naa Naa Naa Naa.... Naa Naa Naa Naa.... Hey hey hey... -dir Tharpe

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William Blake 1 year, 3 months ago

"Since Tharpe’s emergence, Johnson’s play has picked up as well."

This synergistic situation may be the key to how successful we are moving forward. Tharpe not only pushes EJ to perform better... he is now offering a unique weapon off the bench.

Once again, CS proves the critics wrong. It was worth it to give Tharpe all those minutes in the past.

Nice work, Tom!

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Michael Sillman 1 year, 3 months ago

Hopefully the posters that have been ragging on Tharpe will keep their mouths shut from now on and also give future new Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt as they are adjusting to the college game.

The action has clearly "slowed down" for Tharpe to borrow Coach Self's terminology. He is seeing the angles, making the passes, and anticipating the other guard's moves when he is on defense.

As I said to some derision in a prior posting, Tharpe has the best handle on the team. No turnovers in the last three games. You may be looking at next year's starting point guard.

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David Leathers 1 year, 3 months ago

Opinion: Tharpe is suddenly playing so well because he knows Frankamp is on the way.

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kranny 1 year, 3 months ago

Interesting take but given his deer in the headlights look, his bad decisions, and how he was unable to keep up with the speed of the game, I'd have to agree to the lack of confidence opinions.

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Thomas Michaud 1 year, 3 months ago

Since I criticize, I'll also give props ... Tom, this is a really nice "op-ed" piece (can there be op-ed pieces on websites?) on a kid who is also improving nicely this year.

I'm one, who last year, cringed every time Naadir got into the game and wondered (early on this year) if things would change. However, since the Colorado game, his transformation has been outstanding. I feel much better about the remaining schedule now that he's much more consistent and confident.

I hope Rio -- another guard, I believe, who will be an amazing player -- shows the same patience with his transformation.

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Ferd Magellan 1 year, 3 months ago

If anything before his hot streak Tharpe was too confident. He's playing like a teammate now instead of an individual.

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