Thursday, March 22, 2012

Naadir Tharpe’s nadir: Freshman not sulking over lack of court time

Kansas freshman guard Naadir Tharpe.

Kansas freshman guard Naadir Tharpe.



Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe pumps his fist after converting a bucket after being fouled by a Fort Hays State defender during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. Pictured are teammates Kevin Young, left, Niko Roberts and Merv Lindsay.

— When Kansas University freshman point guard Naadir Tharpe is having a bad day, it usually doesn’t last long.

He has been through too much in his life and is too mature to let any type of funk linger. Besides, even when he does sulk and stew, he has a support system — both in Lawrence and back home in Worcester, Mass. — that makes sure he doesn’t stay down too long.

That group and Tharpe’s maturity have been put to the test this year like never before. Highly touted out of Brewster (N.H.) Academy, the 5-foot-11 point guard came to Kansas with visions of playing big minutes and hitting key buckets. That hasn’t happened. After busting out of the gate with a combined 31 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds in KU’s two exhibition games, Tharpe has spent most of the season sitting on the bench.

“This year’s been a huge adjustment for me,” Tharpe said. “I played a lot in the past, but we have great point guards here, in Tyshawn (Taylor) and Elijah (Johnson), who’ve been here and put the time in and worked to be where they’re at right now. It’s tough, you know. But nothing’s more important to me than winning, and that’s what we’ve been doing — a lot.”

Tharpe has played in 32 of 35 games, barely. He averages just 5.5 minutes, watched all 40 minutes in two Big 12 games, and played three minutes or less 13 of the 32 times he did crack the lineup.

Tharpe and his family have too much pride to allow bitterness to take root.

“He’s never had to sit the bench since he was 11 years old,” said Tharpe’s brother, Tishaun Jenkins, 33, of Worcester, Mass. “He’s gotta find that fine line between being humble and being hungry. I think what he understands now that he didn’t understand three months ago is that he has to allow the process to play out but also not just accept the process without giving your all.”

By all accounts, that has not been a problem for Tharpe. He’s well-liked by teammates, has a special bond with All-American Thomas Robinson, with whom he played one season at Brewster, and can be seen jumping off the bench ready to offer a helpful hint to anyone who will listen.

“I can contribute a lot,” Tharpe said last week in Omaha, Neb. “Being on the bench, I see everything that’s going on. After coach says what he has to say, I talk to Tyshawn, I talk to Elijah, I talk to Thomas. What I really like about it is, even though they’re older than me, they don’t just wave me away. They actually listen to what I’m saying, and I listen to them, too. It’s a team thing, and for us to be here and me to be here, it’s just really exciting, and I’m just enjoying the ride.”

Added Robinson: “We respect Naadir as a player and as a person. When he says something, people listen because he knows how to play the game. There’s something about him. He knows how to play. Soon the world will get to see how good of a player he is.”

Jenkins believes the same is true. Because he’s nearly twice his age and has four years of Div. III college basketball at Salem (Mass.) State College behind him, Jenkins sounds a lot like a father when he talks about Tharpe’s first season at KU. Although not biologically related, the two were raised by the same parents — Tharpe from birth and Jenkins beginning at age 5 — and they were there for each other when Tharpe’s biological father, Ronald Tharpe, died in 2006 after a battle with lung cancer. Jenkins said Tharpe always had been thought of as mature before his father passed. But losing him at such a young age made that even more obvious.

“He had a couple difficult years in there, maybe 14 to 16 (years old),” Jenkins remembered. “Loving the game again, loving anything again, when you lose your dad is hard. But he came up out of that really tough, and he showed a greater appreciation for life after that happened.”

That’s what Jenkins believes is happening here. Of course, he would love to see his baby brother play more, but he gets it. The whole family does. And they’re thankful for the education — basketball and otherwise — that Tharpe is getting at Kansas.

“I don’t question coach (Bill) Self at all,” Jenkins said. “I think it’s very psychological what he’s doing with Naadir, to toughen him up. And I like to see him at the bottom because life is better appreciated when you have to struggle to get to a point where you feel you’re supposed to be.”

It’s not that Tharpe does not have bad days, but leaning on Jenkins and Robinson helps him pull through. The advice they give him is scary in its similarity and usually includes words such as “patience,” “hard work,” and “compete.”

Check, check and check.

“This is not the first time something like this has happened to me,” Tharpe said. “Back home, I played with an all-star team, and I was the youngest on the team, and there were older guys above me. I was probably 10 years old, but that’s something I don’t forget. After that, I made sure I worked hard, and the next year I was starting. I’m gonna try to do the same thing here.”

By here, he means Kansas. Many have wondered if Tharpe’s limited minutes might encourage him to take a look at other options. Jenkins said he and Tharpe had not even discussed transferring.

“This whole season has been humbling for him as a player,” Jenkins said. “And it’s made him understand that he’s not the man, and that he’s gotta work hard and improve and be tough as nails if he wants to be the point guard for Kansas University. I mean, it’s KU.”

Asked if he ever wished he went somewhere else, Tharpe fired his answer before the question was even finished.

“Never that,” he said. “Never that. I never have regrets, and I never will. This is where I wanted to go, this is where I’m at, and this is where I’m gonna be.”

Jenkins doesn’t have to hear those words to know that’s the way Tharpe feels.

“The kid is a barrier-breaker, so I’m not really worried about anything,” Jenkins said. “Ever since he was 15 years old, with any issue presented to him, he takes it and evolves with it.”


WilburNether 2 years ago

The problem is that while his bad days may not last long, they seem to have lasted as long as our team is on the court playing a basketball game.

Let's hope he works hard this summer, and makes a huge leap forward next season. Some players seem to make the adjustment to the next level quickly and easily, while with others, it just seems to take more time. Some will never make it, and we have to hope he's not one of those.


Jeeveshawk 2 years ago

Naadir will be out back up gaurd next to White next year and he should start as a junior and a senior!


Alohahawk 2 years ago

There's one thing which has gone unmentioned. And I'm only assuming this since I've never attended any of KU's practices. Tharpe hasn't been starting, so he most likely practices with the 2nd team, or at least practices a lot less with the starters. It's much easier to get into the flow, to gel with the starters when you are used to playing with them. You start recognizing what each other can, or can not do. What each player has in their repertoire. A nod of the head, or a hand signal the regular starter is familiar with, but the sub is not. When traded, even an NBA star player has to practice with their new team before they become comfortable and recognize their role amongst their new teammates. (This relates directly to the N.Carolina situation. A non-starter is forced to gel with starters who he's not quite familiar with.) > Therefore, the more Tharpe practices with the starters, the better he should perform. Of course, this can relate back to those who argue that Tharpe should have had more game time experience. Which I agree with, up to a point. The point being, do you sacrifice by chancing a loss during a game that should be won? > From which part of the apple do you take a bite? The side which might kill you, or make you ill? Or that which is guaranteed not to contain the poison? Bill Self (Snow White) must make that decision each time the situation presents itself.


Blake Brown 2 years ago

It`s nice to see other sides and insights of Nasdir as stated in the article.

The fact remains, he has not performed well over the entire season. For every good think he does, he negates them with bad decisions on both ends of the court. Bad shot selection, passes that put others in a tough spot and out of their normal rhythm, defensive breakdowns, reach in fouls and turnovers that kill. His crossover dribble places the ball directly in front of the defense and how many times has it been swiped away?

After seeing the immense improvement of many players this year over last year, it is quite possible Tharpe will grow and contribute in a big way next year. He seems to posses the skills and certainly has the quickness and speed to be a factor.

Bottom line: we need him to mature, play smart and make his teammates better when he is on the court as well as off the court.

Rock Chalk!


ku_foaf 2 years ago

I have no doubt Tharpe will be a great one.


BPSkelly 2 years ago

It's hard not to see Tharpe and E.J. as great back court next year. E.J. will clearly be the "combo guard" Self loves to have, but having another ball handler and court leader will be great to see.

Much of this has to do with E.J.'s natural progression (which has clearly started) and Tharpe's which my guess is we'll see in earnest next year.

All those newbie freshman coming in will push for playing time though, and my guess is that Tharpe will be ready to "get his".


AverageCitizen 2 years ago

These OAD kids that are so quick to want to play and be a star instantly without paying their dues aren't the only ones. Us fans fall into that same trap and are disappointed when our freshman aren't great players right off the bat. I am sure Naadir will improve every year and soon we will have all forgotten he struggled his first year. It's worth it Naadir. You will look back on your time at KU with great sentiment!


William Blake 2 years ago

Totally enjoyed the read, Matt! Great job!

Naadir is going to be a great one... we just have to give him time to develop.

Someday soon he will be able to penetrate the paint like TT.

His day will come!


brooksmd 2 years ago

How many people were down on the Morri during their freshmen year what with all the fouls and missed shots? How many people were down on TRob his freshman year? If the comments from Nadir and his family are true and he sticks with it, works and competes and is not in a hurry to get to the next level, he will lead a KU team.


vd 2 years ago

He should transfer. His brother called it "Kansas University" rather then "University of Kansas." Shouldn't he be expelled?


Joe Baker 2 years ago

The attitude of a baller and an individual that has matured beyond his years. I like Tharpe's bball IQ on and off the court. His skills will improve with his shot. His attitude will take him a long way in all that he does, whether on the court or off.

Rock Chalk Naadir - Nothng but respect.


jaybate 2 years ago

Naadir needs to get with Tyrel Reed and Sherron and Hudy this off season to develop his defensive footwork. Sherron always struggled with short leg syndrome, but worked at it and finally learned to be an adequate defender by stretching out his drop step and learning when to get up and under quickly, and when to lay off an extra step, and how to alternate both to keep the offender on his heels a bit. Short leg syndrome is curable and Naadir will cure it.

Next, Naadir's got to talk to Tyrel. Tyrel was the fastest sprinter, had long legs, but not enough leg strength for lateral quickness. Jumping muscles and running muscles differ from sliding muscles. Tyrel learned to slide and went from a poor defender, like Naadir, to a sound defender, then added upper body strength and became a fine defender capable of both keeping up, and muscling his opponent. Naadir can do this too.

Naadir will be a rotation guy next season and very good point guard the following year.

Soon I will write: Nothing runs like a Naadir!

Thomas has cred about who can get better. Thomas got massively better.


Chad Dexter 2 years ago

I really like this kid's attitude. I think he will be successful at KU starting next year. I also like his play. But it's frustrating at times. He makes a good/great play or two and then makes a mistake. When I see that I just chalk it up to being a freshman. He will learn.

From what little I've seen of his play, he's more of a traditional PG in the way he seems to think pass first. I know BS tends to recruit combo guards and that works for the most part. But it also takes time in other cases (see Tyshawn Taylor). I can see Tharpe making the KU offense flow well next year. I don't think there will be much of a drop off.


HawkKlaw 2 years ago

Naadir's time is coming. You can see him get a little too excited when he comes into games right now, which is natural for a guy that doesn't get a lot of minutes. Next year he will be backing up Elijah at PG (most likely) and he'll be the general his Junior year. I'm excited to see him progress into a better defender. He just needs to work on his footwork and he'll be solid.

Bill Self usually goes after combo guards as opposed to pure PG's, but I really enjoy PG's like Jacque Vaughn and Aaron Miles who pass first and make their teammates better. I feel like Naadir's game will ultimately be pretty similar to those guys. Plus, the kid can shoot! I think by his Junior year he'll be a huge factor for KU.


1PhogFan 2 years ago

Good Stuff Naadir, Stay humble, Stay hungry, and stay out of the basement of the Oread after midnight and you're going to have a GREAT career and a college experience that you can look back on and remain regret-less. Your three against Purdue was a game changer and your future is nothing but blue sky. Glad you're here!


Phoggie_Thinking 2 years ago

Sunday's game I thought he looked good. I remember the three he took and made and thinking when did he get in the game? I'm glad he was.


jaycon11 2 years ago

by now, tharpe understands that his limited playing time is due to his (mostly defensive) liabilities on the court. he's showing great improvement in his defense, and maturity in his outlook and next year, he will be rewarded--hell, the fans will be rewarded getting to see what he can do.

i can't wait to see him in his senior year, with frankamp and ellis also starting. that's a nucleus of a final four squad.


JS82 2 years ago

What I love about KU is basketball is that you get to see these guys develop if they stay for 3 or 4 years. I think about Cole Aldrich and how he looked in his first year versus later. Elijah Johnson has come a long way. If a player can wait to get on the floor, the coaching and practice will elevate their game. The one-and-done's miss out on what is great about college basketball.


guithawk 2 years ago

Somtimes this year he has looked like Naadir in the headlights. lol


Mel Clare 2 years ago

This kid reminds me of Collins. Small package with alot of heart and fight in him. I think it is he and not EJ, Withey, Travis or Young who will be the leader next year. All the others are seniors but this kid has the maturity and knowledge of the game to lead. He has experienced the ups and downs, the learning curve and got some experience on the court this year. That is more than McClemore or Traylor can say. Kid has guts in a small package!

We have had a very thin bench this year. The team has suffered somewhat because of it. Next year and the couple of years after will look like 8-9 man rotations possibly with still more help if needed! You have McClemore and Traylor getting thier eligibility back..........Ellis, Lucas, Peters, Adams and White coming in and will all contribute next season. And then with Frankamp and Greene the following year. Great mix of bigs and wings and shooters!


Jayhawk444 2 years ago

I really like Naadir. Such a classy kid - he represents what college basketball should be all about. Here's hoping he's able to realize his dreams at KU.


Vernon Riggs 2 years ago

"...he’s gotta work hard and improve and be tough as nails if he wants to be the point guard for Kansas University. I mean, it’s KU.”

He has the right mind set. He has the right skills. Naadir will make us proud. His ability to drive the ball inside will set up 3-Point shooters like EJ, BenMac, Frankamp, White, Greene for years to come. Rock Chalk Naadir!


iamakufan 2 years ago

Another fine example of what being a Jayhawk is all about. I look for some great things from Naadir Tharpe in future seasons. What a classy guy.


jchief40 2 years ago

I've read lots of comments on here doubting Tharpe's role on this team. This guy is very very good. Just like how last year people were doubting Withey when the potential was obvious the same is true of Tharpe. Next year he will be a big part of this team regardless if we land Shabazz or not to go along with McLemore and Johnson. Tharpe is a smart player who is an incredible passer and great shooter. The epitome of a team player. His time is coming.


KansasComet 2 years ago

Naadir, like Elijah has no fear and that is a strong asset to have in March. He will be just fine. With the way he easily gets into the paint and can distribute, great times are ahead for him and for the Jayhawk Nation, once he gets all the kinks worked out.


REHawk 2 years ago

Perhaps Naadir's closest ally on this squad is Thomas Robinson, a junior All American who logged 14+ minutes as a sophomore. Thomas paid his dues, kept himself in steady upward flight, and now soars with the best of power forwards in the nation. Naadir will do well to follow in Thomas' footsteps, extracting the most from what Andrea Hudy, Bill Self and Co., and the university at large have to offer. He is a quick and gutsy guard who eventually will dance circles around the tall trees which proliferate his space. I see him as that 14+ minute player who will back up Elijah next season as an integral figure on a Jayhawk squad teeming with newcomers undergoing the same test by fire which Naadir has experienced this season. If he stays focused and on target, eventually he will see action as the Jayhawk starting point guard, one of the most coveted positions in the world of NCAA Hoops. If Naadir Tharpe's heart throbs with the blood of a champion, someday he and his family might gaze upward to admire his All American banner hanging from the sacred framework of The Phog.


STLrockCHALK 2 years ago

Naadir reminds me a lot of our starting point guard when we won the title in 08, Russel Robinson. Robinson certainly took a couple of years to develop into a starter. Nadir is probably a more natural scorer and shooter, and if he can become the type of defender that Robinson was, it wouldn't be surprising to see him grow into the same type of player with the same type of role that RR had.


jhox 2 years ago

Naadir struggled the first preseason game for most of the first half, but then the second half of that game and all of the next preseason game he got comfortable, and played really well. I've always said it is difficult for a guy who doesn't get a lot of minutes to come into a game, only play one or two minutes, and get yanked. When that happens you never get into the flow of the game. Withey is a perfect example of that. Withey is still a guy who seems to get better the more minutes he plays, and he's playing a lot of minutes, so imagine how tough it is for a guy who plays 2 or 3 minutes a game.

I honestly don't know what we have in Naadir. It is concerning that he seems to regularly come in and have two turnovers in a couple of minutes of playing time. I would think, given that he knows how short of a leash he's on, that he would be a little more cautious with the ball. On the other hand, he did play well against the D2 teams in exhibition games when he had a chance to settle down and get in the flow of the game. Ultimately, I think he'll turn into a good player for us, but it's not likely that will happen overnight. Unless Self lands a stud juco point guard before next season, Naadir will be thrown into the fire next year. It's pretty clear that Elijah is the heir apparent at the point next season, unless we land a juco guy, but there is still going to be a lot of available minutes for Naadir.

The good thing is that it sounds as though he's kept a good attitude through this humbling experience. It has to be frustrating for him.


phogphan2000 2 years ago

We all know Tharpe has the tools (quickness, shooting ability, ball handling), he just needs to keep working on composure and decision making and he's going to be a starting PG at the University of Kansas


RJ King 2 years ago

"This is where I wanted to go, this is where I’m at, and this is where I’m gonna be.”

And, Naadir - this is where WE want you to be! If you watch Tharpe on the bench, he's usually right next to Self, listening, talking, and generally conducting himself like an assistant coach. You'd never know he hadn't even come into the game yet, or might have just been yanked after a turnover or bad decision.

He absolutely doesn't sulk, and shows huge potential for owning this team when his time comes. I love his seeming intelligence, resiliency, and commitment.


ancient_hawk 2 years ago

Want to know why we're KU, and you're not?

Bill doesn't go get the hyper-athletic but prima donna one-and-done kids. He doesn't have to promise them playing time, face time, and whatever else Faustian deals certain ahem coaches have to make with Lucifer. He doesn't have to kiss their asses.

Instead, he finds the best athletes he can with CHARACTER, and promises nothing more than this: I, and your upperclassmen will beat you like a rented mule until you get it that you're just a teenager with talent, and I'm a Grand-Dragon. In return, you will leave here a complete player with a deep understanding of team basketball, and not least....a MAN.

We don't rebuild, we reload. Next year's star players are already on the bench, patiently waiting their turn to shine.


jayhawker_97 2 years ago

i never doubt this kid's ability. he's such a good passer. he sees the court like eagle's eyes. a pure PG, who can criss cross & dish dash in a flash. trust me. it takes time to adjust & play together. like TRob said "Soon the world will get to see how good of a player he is.”


Alohahawk 2 years ago

For obvious reasons all of us hope that every new recruit will, sooner rather than later, produce and succeed. I'm only guessing but I imagine there have been a lot of Jayhawk fans who have questioned whether Tharpe would survive at KU. I admit, I have been one of those fans.

As the season winds down, Naadir has barely cleared the hurdles set before him, both by Coach Self and during game situations. However, I've always felt that Tharpe has been a Jayhawk at heart from day one. I can't say exactly why, but I've always had that impression. For that reason alone, I've hoped he would succeed. And it's not just because KU needs a dependable backup PG next season. After reading the above, I think I now understand why.

Nice human interest story, Matt. Mahalo.


trustyourSelf 2 years ago

It's really good to hear he isn't considering transferring. He'll get minutes for sure next year.


Ethan Berger 2 years ago

Tharpe has a very high roof. He is better at getting into the lane then EJ. If he has a strong summer don't be shocked if he is our starting PG. But that will have to be a really really strong summer.


Hurinfan 2 years ago

I love Naadir and have great respect for him. I love character pieces and learning about player backgrounds. Keep it up.


KULA 2 years ago

So glad to see that Naadir is a PLAYAH! and his confidence hasn't been shaken by Bill's quick hook. He showed some real guts in not hesitating to fire up that three when we needed it so bad against Purdue.


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