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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Keegan

Column: Tharpe rising above peers

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe pumps his fist after forcing an Iowa State timeout during a Jayhawk run in the second half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe pumps his fist after forcing an Iowa State timeout during a Jayhawk run in the second half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

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Josiah Turner of Sacramento, Calif., chose Arizona over Kansas University and disappointed a fan base worried about where the Jayhawks would turn next for a point guard from the recruiting Class of 2011.

They turned to Naadir Tharpe, a 5-foot-11 sharpshooter from Worcester, Mass., ranked 92nd in the nation by Rivals.

A question about him echoed through his first two seasons at KU: Was this a Kansas-caliber point guard capable of running a perennial college basketball powerhouse, or a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body struggling to find his shot?

Finally, the doubt has vanished. Tharpe has blossomed into a strong leader and lethal three-point shooter. And Kansas is right where it always seems to be, atop the Big 12 and in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rivals ranked Tharpe 19th among point guards in the Class of 2011.

What became of Turner, ranked the No. 2 point guard in the class behind only Marquis Teague, who left Kentucky after winning a national championship as a freshman? Of the 18 ranked ahead of Tharpe, Turner and 11 others are no longer with the schools that originally received their signatures on letters of intent.

After an arrest for suspicion of “extreme” DUI and other off-court issues, Turner was asked to leave the program by Arizona coach Sean Miller. Turner planned to transfer to SMU but never made it. He played for two professional teams in Canada and was released by the first for not running the plays called by the coach, according to the coach. His stay in Hungary ended after a month when he asked for his release because he was tired of counting his bed-bug bites from the dumpy apartment the team assigned to him. For now, he’s playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA Development League.

B.J. Young of Arkansas and Myck Kabongo of Texas join him in the D-League.

Teague, Shane Larkin and Tony Wroten are in the NBA.

Five players didn’t like their original choices and transferred to other Div. I schools. Another was suspended from this entire season for off-the-court conduct.

The half-dozen of 18 players ranked ahead of Tharpe still competing for their original schools: Tracy Abrams (Illinois), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Quinn Cook (Duke), Rashad Madden (Arkansas) and Shannon Scott (Ohio State).

Tharpe ranks sixth in scoring, second in three-point percentage and second in assists-to-turnover ratio among the seven survivors.

He still will frustrate his coach at times, because that’s what point guards do, but he plays with confidence and teammates feed off of that. Nothing better demonstrates his year-to-year improvement than his three-point shooting percentages: .273, .330, .441.

From the start of this season alone, Tharpe has come a long way. He briefly lost his starting job to freshman Frank Mason, a fastball from the coach under Tharpe’s chin.

“I definitely felt like I had to pick it up,” Tharpe said of the benching. “What I was doing wasn’t good enough. ... I didn’t take it as getting into it with Frank, because I knew we had to stick together as a team. I just took it on myself and knew I had to do more to help the team.”

Tharpe is KU’s only scholarship player in his third full season in the program. (The NCAA prohibited third-year sophomore Jamari Traylor from participating in basketball activities his first semester in school.)

With three freshmen and a quiet sophomore in the starting lineup and the ball in the point guard’s hands more than anybody else’s, the reins of leadership naturally fell at Tharpe’s doorstep. It was on him to pick them up and squeeze them.

“Earlier, when things were going wrong, I was kind of just sitting back, not talking as much,” Tharpe said. “I knew other guys didn’t know what to say or what to do, and they were looking for someone who was going to talk to them.”

Tharpe said the 24-turnover loss to Florida made him realize he had to speak up. Seeing how young teammates responded to his lead seems to have fed his confidence. In his first eight games, Tharpe averaged six points and shot 34.8 percent from three. In the nine games since, he has averaged 12.7 points and made 50 percent of his three-pointers, and that includes Saturday’s blowout victory at TCU. He not only went scoreless in that one, he didn’t take a shot.

“I just let it go on the basis of how the game is going,” Tharpe said of his fluctuating shot totals.

When he does shoot, why are so many more going in than in previous years?

“It’s all about confidence and just being comfortable and knowing what’s going on out there on the floor,” Tharpe said. “The first two years, I felt like I was kind of all over the place. Last year, I was better, but I still felt I wasn’t comfortable like I was supposed to be.”

He said a talk coach Bill Self had with him over the summer proved prophetic.

“Coach told me, ‘A lot of those shots you missed last year, you’re going to make. You’re going to be ready. You’re going to be comfortable. You’re going to know what to expect.’ And that’s exactly how I feel.”

And that’s exactly how he looks.

Comments

Benjamin Jones 2 months, 2 weeks ago

This man has a good head on his shoulders.

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Lonnie Snow 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What I think takes a lot is when so many were so hard on a young man. It takes time to develop your game and more time to grow up emotionally. So not sure any of the team reads these but kudos Naadir and to all the Jayhawks enjoy these years. I know I am!

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Beau Woolsey 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Every three Tharpe shoots I feel good about.

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Erich Hartmann 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tharpe's D is my biggest concern. Especially when we see equal sized Mason, and possibly Frankamp actually show better D-ability than Tharpe. It's junior season now. We need the disruptive D. We know what Bill Self requires. Kane went thru Tharpe like butter in Ames. The TCU guard went thru Tharpe also.

I love Tharpe's 3 shooting, and running the offense, but even EJ improved his D by his jr. season, while D remains Tharpe's only real weakness. Come on, Naa, you can do it!

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Robert Brock 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tharpe is plenty adequate on offense; it's his defense that needs a lot of work. He is still sub-par and it may be a problem in the tournament.

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Jeremy Paul 2 months, 2 weeks ago

"He briefly lost his starting job to freshman Frank Mason, a fastball from the coach under Tharpe’s chin."

This might be the best sentence Mr. Keegan has ever written.

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Jonathan Allison 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't remember anyone ever questioning if Tharpe was just a shooting guard in the PGs body. We did hoever question whether he was the caliber of PG that we need at KU. He was recruited and billed as a pure point guard. Bill Self billed him a great shooter last year, but his results were average at best. This year he's shown a great deal better accuracy. The kind that comes with experience and the kind that comes with knowing he's won the coaches trust. And equally importantly he's been much more selective with his shot this season. He rarely forces his shot unless he recognizes that no one else can get any offense going. Most importantly though, he's shown a command of the offense, and he's shown that when the offense isn't getting the job done that he can and will create for himself or his teammates. Those two things (command of the offense, and ability to create) are the true test of a pure PG.

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Michael Pannacciulli 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What ever happened to jaybate? Don't think I have noticed his postings under a full name since kusports made that switch.

I like when Tharpe is scoring...I too feel confident that as a fan we are in good shape with the game in hand.

Beat ISU! Rock chalk.

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Brianna Zaleski 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Hard not to think of what would have become of Turners career had he chose the Jayhawks. I tend to believe he'd still be here and running this team. Good coaches don't let players stray too far off course. Self is just as good of a motivator as he is a coach. His players (for the most part) want to play for him and don't want to disappoint him. Instead he chooses to go to Arizona and play for Slick Sean Miller and 2 yrs later he's fighting bed bugs in Turkey.
Glad we have Tharpe and I'm really impressed with his development. But it's hard not to think of "what if" when u hear Turner's name.

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Sae Thirtysix 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Often hard on TKeegan articles, but NOT today. This is a good one.

Naadir has worked hard performed exceptionally in games of late. I believe the Coach Self system has come to serve Naadir well, in that once he aligned to what his coach wanted then there was a direct correlation to player output and performance.

Said another way, "HCBS and staff can take the #19 ranked PG and get top 10 'team' performance from him in leading the team."

It starts with a great Head Coach, as Jayhawk fans we are fortunate to have a PG who is coachable and great leader who communicates and connects in his development of young men.

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Rodney Crain 2 months, 2 weeks ago

We have a very intriguing team this year. With so many options we do not need one or two players to excel each night to win. We also seem to do just enough on defense to control our conference games as well. Although it would be great to have consistency in our play, that just might not be in the cards this year. Tharpe fits our makeup as well as any one else on the team. Up, down, scoring or dishing assists he seems to find a way to help the team for the most part. Really glad we have Mason, it makes it very hard for teams to adjust to one player and he is a nice Ying to Tharpes Yang on defense. If we ever hit on all cylinders with this much talent it could be something to see. I hope we do see it at least once this year, the 6th game of the NCAA tourney would be nice. Tharpe would lead the way as our PG, which would be very fitting for our most experienced starter.

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Dirk Medema 2 months, 2 weeks ago

In some ways it would be nice to think that we would get consistent production out of him (so often written as pts), but with as much talent as this team has, it is fine with me if he never takes another shot that isn't needed as long as he is feeding his teammates. Just deadly enough to retain the respect, and no TO's.

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Suzi Marshall 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tharpe is now having a nice year running our set half-court O. His shooting has bailed Kansas out of about 3 games, including the 23 pts for the ISU game in Ames where he shot 7-9 (3-5 3s, 6-7 FT). I liked the way he managed the O for TCU but was a bit annoyed when he passed up the open shots. It hurts our team when he passes on open shots because it enables opponents to clog the lane. Since his 4 TOs in Ames, he's taking better care of the ball.

I call Tharpe the teams AF player. A for Offense, F for Defense. AF was also the code the Japanese gave to the Island of Midway in 1942. After Midway we were always on the Offense. Tharpe only plays Offense. When the ball is in the other teams’ hands he’s on break.

Since the team goes nowhere without Tharpe's management of the O, the other guys will have to continue to put in the extra effort on D.

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Steve Zimmerman 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Spot on, Mr. Keegan! We need Tharpe to counter-3 vs ISU. He'll shine once again.

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