Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said Thursday that freshman guard Frank Mason would start for the Jayhawks in Boulder, Colo., this weekend, when they take on CU.
So, naturally, as president and founder of the #TharpeFanClub, I, once again, caught some flack for KU junior Naadir Tharpe being sent to the bench.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand why fans so much enjoy trashing players on the teams they root for — this happens way more often with KU football than KU hoops — but that's neither here nor there. And, really, to each his own. It's everyone's right as a fan to cheer, criticize and follow the team however they see fit.
As for the move itself, I am a little surprised that Self pulled the trigger so early in the season, but I more than understand why he did it. And I think there are a couple of reasons.
No. 1, I think he's rewarding Mason and I think Mason deserves to be rewarded. He's played beyond his years, been one of the tougher players on the team thus far — if not the toughest — and shown that he brings an extra dynamic to the floor that KU really benefits from at this point in the season.
No. 2, I think Self is making this move now because he believes Tharpe can take it. Remember last year when everyone was saying that Tharpe should be starting ahead of Elijah Johnson later in the season? I think one of the big reasons Self never pulled the trigger was because sending Johnson to the bench might have lost him for the season. In this case, I'm guessing Self believes that Tharpe will be able to keep his head in there and still serve a key role as the team's sixth or seventh man. If that's true, Tharpe deserves credit, not criticism.
When people first began speculating on whether the move would or should be made, my opinion was that it was too soon. My read was this: Mason's a stud. He deserves to play more and he should be out there a ton of minutes. But you don't have to start a guy to make that happen. Remember that old adage... "It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it that matters." Besides, Mason's been great with the role he's been in so why risk changing that by putting the pressure tag of "starter" on him?
That was a couple of weeks ago, though, and things have changed since then. Tharpe's played a couple of poor games, made more than a few bad decisions and not looked like the confident, solid player I've always known him to be.
So, from where I sit, I think the move could benefit KU tremendously. But that's as much because I believe Tharpe can handle it as I believe Mason deserves it. And that's just one of the reasons the #TharpeFanClub exists in the first place.
Turn in your memberships if you want, but don't be surprised if Tharpe delivers plays as the season goes on that make you wish you hadn't.
If Tharpe tanks because of this and becomes a terrible teammate who pouts about playing time and can't be used, I'll eat crow. But I wouldn't bet even a penny that that'll happen. The guy cares, he's all about KU and winning and he'll do whatever is asked of him to help the team succeed.
It should be fun to see how this one plays out.