I hate the one-and-done rule, wish it could be replaced by the baseball system that allows high school athletes to either sign out of high school or make themselves eligible three years later. The NBA will never go for that, so maybe it’s time to relish the gifts the one-and-done rule bestowed upon Lawrence.
After all, one year of watching Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins certainly trumps not getting to watch them at all, doesn’t it?
It’s enjoyable to watch them not only turning losses into victories the way they did in Lubbock against a determined, well-drilled, passionately supported Texas Tech basketball squad.
Beyond that, it’s been refreshing to see how they handle themselves under the microscope that comes with being the top two projected selections in the NBA draft.
From my view, as an outsider looking in, the way they have handled it can be summed up in two words: Genuine humility.
But why take the word of an outsider when we can offer an opinion from a teammate, which is as insider as it gets in sports?
This is the second time senior center Tarik Black has been part of a recruiting class ranked second in the nation to Kentucky. The first time came at Memphis. Black speaks from the heart, not from a coach-prepared script, so he’s a good source to open a window into the personalities of the two most famous teenagers he ever has called teammates.
“Very humble kid,” Black said of Wiggins. “Very down to earth. The pressure people apply to him, you might think it might get to him or he might know who he is. He doesn’t understand. He’s actually that good, but he doesn’t understand that he is. He’s so humble. He’s inspiring to me. He’s inspiring to a lot of guys on the team.”
The hype surrounding Wiggins was not of his own doing, but he doesn’t seem to hold that against anybody, seems to find it strange, but not in a negative way. And it is a little bizarre. After all, he doesn’t turn 19 until Sunday.
“You’re on the cover of magazines, left and right, everywhere you go people want their picture with you, even though they’re not Kansas fans,” Black said of Wiggins. “Everybody wants to talk to you. Everybody wants to do for you. For him to step on the court every day and not try to set himself aside but actually just fit in with us — ‘Tarik, that’s my big brother. I’m going to listen to whatever he says. I’m not gonna push him away’ —that’s very humbling for all of us. Nobody else on the team can act like they’re up here (puts his hand above his head) if the guy who actually is there is just still playing his role as an 18-year-old kid.”
Asked to name his funniest teammate, Black said it’s either Jamari Traylor or Embiid.
“JoJo’s hilarious,” Black said. “He’s very funny. Love him to death. Very intelligent. Very intelligent. I recognized he was intelligent from the first time I met him. Hearing the story of how long he’s been playing ball, how quick he’s picked up on school, seeing with my own two eyes how quick he picks up on things, he has to be very intelligent. A lot of people overlook it, but if you’re around him, you can’t deny it, that guy is very intelligent.”
But, Black said, Embiid tries to pretend to be just the opposite at times.
“JoJo understands English very well,” Black said. “Everything about America he understands very well. But when it’s convenient for him not to know, he’ll kick it in and be like, ‘What, what did you say?’ ‘JoJo, you know exactly what it means. Stop playing like you don’t.’ He’ll look at you and start smiling.”
Embiid and Wiggins probably won’t be around much longer, but the memory of both their stays in Lawrence will trigger smiles for a long, long time, regardless of how the rest of the season plays out.