In the library, dorms, coffee shops and apartments of Lawrence, college students tax their minds, some of them brilliant, to try to understand just what it is their professors want them to learn.
They hear what is said and try to apply it in a way to unlock the brain freeze so that it all makes sense. When it does, it all starts to flow, and they’re on their way to A’s and, more important, new knowledge.
Why should students of basketball be any different? They aren’t, no matter how gifted.
KU freshman small forward Andrew Wiggins has made one-third of his three-point shots and 55 percent of his two-pointers. He doesn’t always take the right shot at the right time. And in another 799 days, he’ll be old enough to order a drink at a bar.
Imagine that. An 18-year-old who doesn’t know all there is to know about his chosen career path. Not only that, he knows he doesn’t know it all. Now that truly is age-defying.
Coughing his way through a seven-minute interview session with the local media Thursday, Wiggins shared a couple of things he has learned about the game since coming to Kansas University to play for Bill Self.
“He wants to make every possession easier on us,” Wiggins said. “Once you get the ball moving to the second, third, fourth side, then it’s easier to score. Trying to score on the first side, that’s where all the help is, that’s when the defense is settled.”
Wiggins makes it sound easy, but he and his young, talented team don’t always make it look as easy.
“It probably was (difficult) at first, but we’re getting the hang of it, and it’s the right way to play,” Wiggins said.
Self has seen every wave of players he has recruited battle with the same concept.
“The thing about it is with our guys, and this is just youth, (they hear), ‘Be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive, (and they take that to mean) let’s make sure we take the hardest shot we can take (early in the possession),’ so that way if it doesn’t go in then our confidence is a little off and we lose aggressiveness,” Self said.
“You can be aggressive and get that shot any time, and it’s not anything selfish. He’s doing exactly what I’m telling him to do, be aggressive.”
When the light goes on for young players, they understand that it doesn’t mean the light is always green when playing aggressively.
“We’re going through that with all our guys,” Self said. “I think Wayne (Selden), I think Andrew White, I think Conner (Frankamp) … Brannen Greene, positively, is the same way.”
When Greene shoots before the ball has made the defense shift a few times, look not at the ball in the air, but at the substitute on his way to the scorer’s table. Once Greene learns to wait for the defense to get in such a disadvantageous position, the shot he’ll be shooting will be an easier one. It will go in more often, and he’ll play more often.
Self shared what he thinks probably goes through Wiggins’ mind when he takes a shot he shouldn’t and does so because he’s applying a lesson taught when he’s guilty of playing too passively: “‘Coach says be aggressive.’ (He takes that to mean) ‘He wants me to look to score or shoot.’ A lot of times that’s not necessarily true. Just have a presence out there at all times, and you’ll get aggressive within the flow, as opposed to trying to force it a little bit.”
Even with so much left to learn, Wiggins already has been of great value to his team. KU has been outscored by opponents this season when Wiggins is on the bench.
I wondered what he thinks he has done that has made that the case.
“I feel like when we play somebody, when they’re on defense, they really focus in on me,” Wiggins said. “I think that opens up a lot of things for my teammates.”
And at the other end of the floor?
“I take pride in defense,” he said, then listed what he has learned about that aspect of the game since coming to Kansas.
“Playing high on the floor, trying to stay in stance all the time, just the little things, like digging, diving on the post,” Wiggins said. “Team defense. Before this year, I was more just a one-on-one (defensive player). Now I’m more of a team defensive player. I play for my team. It is more fun because you have more help. You can rely on your teammates.”
Asked how he thought he played in the three-game Battle 4 Atlantis, when he battled some sort of respiratory illness that still appears to dog him, he said: “Not good at all.”
Asked for specifics, he said, “Nothing. I don’t think I played good. I think a lot of people on my team stepped up for us to win those games that we won. Jo Jo (Embiid), Tarik (Black), Mari (Jamari Traylor), Frank (Mason). It just shows how deep our team is.”
And when the young players reach a deeper understanding of what their coach wants them to do, things could become extremely interesting.