Kansas University sophomore basketball forward Justin Wesley hasn’t received any extra pampering or T.L.C. from his mother since he had a front-right tooth knocked out at practice on Nov. 28.
“She was (upset) at first, but all she does is make fun of me. She calls me ‘Snaggletooth,’” the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Wesley said with a laugh after grabbing four rebounds and scoring two points on a strong move to the hoop off an offensive rebound in Saturday’s 72-61 victory over Oklahoma at OU’s Noble Center.
Wesley’s mom, Charlene Taylor-Mask, attended the game in Norman, making the drive from Houston, where she lives with husband, Larry.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me anymore,” Charlene said of being squeamish over her sons’ losing teeth and getting bloodied.
“Now all three of them have had their front tooth knocked out,” she added, referring to her oldest son, Keith Langford, having a tooth dislodged during his KU career, and middle son, Kevin, who had a tooth displaced during his years at TCU. “That’s something they can all get together and talk about when they’re old and not playing anymore.”
Keith, who is KU’s seventh-leading scorer of all time, currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. Kevin Langford plays for Navarra in Spain.
“Keith is super-excited (about baby brother Justin). He says he’s not the same kid on and off the court as he was at Lamar,” Charlene said.
Justin began his career at Lamar University in 2009-10, then sat out last season at KU in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
“I talked to Keith today. He said, ‘Look at the stat line (from OU game) — four rebounds, a steal, a block, 13 productive minutes,’” Charlene said, proudly.
Like Keith, Charlene has noticed a big change in her son in a season-and-a-half at KU.
“It’s like night and day, not so much the physical part of the game, but from the shoulders up,” said Taylor-Mask, who played college ball at Texas-Arlington. “His all-around knowledge of what he is doing and his confidence level ... (it’s) night and day. I knew he had the physical capabilities to be good, the prototypical body to be that 3, 4, sometimes 5 guy, a defensive stopper, a freak athlete. Looking at him, his moves on the court … it’ll take time to put that together.”
“Coach (Bill Self) and I have talked about this and that, where his confidence level is now from where he came in and where it could be when he leaves. I’m proud of him and really excited for him.”
Wesley, who was put on scholarship this season after arriving as a walk-on, has come a long way just to be in the rotation. He averages 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 points while logging an average of 12.2 minutes in the frontcourt for the Jayhawks (12-3).
It seems working with Self and Danny Manning has been beneficial to the still-raw athlete.
“At the beginning (of his career), we’d always tell him stuff. Keith and Kevin would tell him things. He stepped on campus, and Danny or Bill told him something, and it was like God had spoken,” Charlene said with a laugh. “We said, ‘What? We told you that for three, four years.’ He just loves Danny. The only thing I tried to forewarn Justin … I said, ‘Your first year you are just practicing. Wait until you start playing. It’ll be different.’ He said a month ago, ‘Mom, I hit this wall. I lost confidence.’ I said, ‘Can’t you talk to Danny?’ He said, ‘Mom, with scholarships come expectations.’ I said, ‘You are one of the guys now. It is what it is. You got what you wanted.’”
Wesley, who has been a sponge soaking up knowledge from the coaches since his arrival, said he received a boost just having mom around for Saturday’s OU game.
“It’s always great to play, especially when my mom is watching,” Wesley said. “It’s great to see her. Her living in Houston ... it’s not the same drive as when Keith was here. When Keith played at KU, we lived in Fort Worth.”
He grinned when asked what mom told him about his play after the game.
“She tells me the same thing every game: ‘Run the floor harder,’” Justin said with a smile. “It’ll be fun having her at more games. She was at Late Night and in New York to see us play.”
Charlene admits she expected the worst when KU took the floor against Kentucky in the second game of the season at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t think anybody expected them to be as good as they are now,” she said. “I was in New York thinking, ‘We are about to get straight up run out of the Garden on national TV.’”
Kentucky won, 75-65, in a close game.
“Never underestimate a kid’s heart and will,” she said. “Those kids play hard. They are playing as hard as they can and playing well.”
She’s been a bit amused at the flap surrounding Tyshawn Taylor’s Twitter account. Taylor entered into a war of words with some demanding KU fans Friday night. Charlene remembers the days she used to get into it with fans on Internet message boards.
She doesn’t use the message boards anymore, preferring to chat with fans via her Facebook account.
“When Keith was here, I was infamous,” Charlene said with a laugh. “I don’t do the boards anymore. Quite a few Kansas fans do friend requests for me on Facebook. I will answer any questions they have.
“(About Tyshawn) ... I don’t care how old he is, he is living a kid’s life. Whether he’s 21 or 22, he is not earning a living yet or paying bills yet. He’s a kid. He has feelings. He’s not out there making mistakes on purpose.
“Sometimes fans take it a little overboards. I don’t care if you are an alumni. You don’t have a vested interest more than those guys suiting up. Whether an alumni or somebody financing the program (as university donor), you are a fan, period. These kids who are on the team don’t want to make mistakes, they don’t want to lose. They are giving all they have. They want to do well more than anybody.”