Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KU tough guy Tarik Black aims to share strengths off court, too

Kansas forward Tarik Black flexes after a rebound and put-back bucket by teammate Perry Ellis during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Tarik Black flexes after a rebound and put-back bucket by teammate Perry Ellis during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.


For all of his life, senior reserve center Tarik Black was groomed for the role he plays for the seventh-ranked Kansas University basketball team. He’s big brother to younger, even more talented athletes.

He knows the view from both sides of that equation.

The last of three sons born to Lawrence and Judith Black, Tarik credits oldest brother Bilal with preparing him and middle brother Amal for more than just life on the basketball court.

“Bilal Black, he doesn’t raise any softies,” Tarik said after a recent practice. “You can’t have any softness in your blood being Bilal Black’s little brother.”

With their father out of the house for as long as Tarik can remember, but still in their lives, Bilal assumed the responsibility of toughening his brothers for what inner-city Memphis might bring.

“My rough days were dealing with my brother, getting beat up every day,” Tarik said.

Many of the beatings took place in games of two-on-one basketball, Bilal taking it to Amal and Tarik, five-and-a-half years Bilal’s junior.

“Tarik came up through the big-brother boot camp and I made sure I administered a lot of punishment to Tarik and Amal, to make sure they were tough outside the house,” Bilal, a tattoo artist in Memphis, said during a telephone interview. “I figured if you can fight with your big brother, fighting for your life, when you get outside, you should be able to hold your own against people your own age. Tough love. People weren’t messing with Tarik. They left him alone.”

They still do. At times when tempers have flared during games, Black, a sculpted 6-foot-9, 260-pound man never in retreat, needed only to stick his chest out to cool boiling heads. He so looks the part of indestructible enforcer that when he sprained his ankle in a January game against Baylor in Allen Fieldhouse, sidelining him the next two games, coach Bill Self cracked, “I didn’t think you could hurt him.”

Black seems to find it amusing that he gets credit for welcoming contact.

“My style of play, you can tell there is not really a softness about me,” he said. “Never in basketball. You have referees, 15 other guys on the bench, no need for you to ever even be soft. It’s not even a real situation. You’re not even in real trouble for that. You’re just playing basketball, throwing bodies, getting rebounds, scoring points.”

His softness resides inside the left side of his barrel chest.

Brawny and brainy

To watch Black play basketball is to picture him serving as the bouncer at bar. To talk to him afterward is to envision him owning the bar and several other businesses.

He did more than throw bodies around the court in three years at Memphis. He also studied seriously enough to graduate in three years, enabling him to transfer to KU without sitting out a year.

“Some people have been intrigued by how I am as a person, the contrast between my physical looks and then when I start talking,” Black said. “When reporters sit down and interview me after a game, I can tell they’re like, ‘Wow, that guy’s very articulate. His answers are on point a lot of the times. The words he uses, we didn’t see that coming. It came out of left field.’”

Actually, it came out of a home headed by Judith Black, director of media relations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Tarik is quick to express gratitude for the opportunities his “really intelligent” mother delivered to him.

“I’m blessed with a mother who worked her way up the scale, so she was able to move us to a more suburban neighborhood with a better high school,” said Black, who graduated from Ridgeway High. “I grew up in the inner city, so I got to see both sides, and the opportunities are like night and day. I’m blessed to make it out of my neighborhood.”

Black said experiencing the view from both sides of economic opportunity has instilled in him a desire to return to Memphis and make a difference once he is done playing basketball.

“I saw it first-hand,” Black said. “I know what the kids need in Memphis in order to succeed and go past the stereotypes that are against them. I really want to give back so some kids can have the same opportunity I had, just in a different form.”

What do they need?

“Education, that’s No. 1,” he said without hesitation. “Better books. Better mentors. More people that they see who look like them, but aren’t in the streets, aren’t going back and forth to prison, can speak properly but still relate to them, can articulate their words. I was advocating for that a lot (when a student-athlete at Memphis), speaking at elementary schools, high schools. Just be a new face they can see and think, ‘Oh, OK, it’s cool to make all A’s.’”

Clearly, Black has thought a lot about the difference he wants to make, “doing non-profit, community service in inner-city Memphis.”

“I want them to speak proper English,” Black said. “My mother’s very articulate. I grew up in the inner city, but my mom is director of public relations at St. Jude’s. That’s not by accident. My mom raised three children by herself. That’s why the situation at first was like it was. Her work, that’s why we were fortunate to move out. She moved up and some things fell into place.”

His hurtful expression reveals that it pains him to think of all the smart children whose circumstances are such they might not get educational opportunities that enable them to turn their smarts into a better life.

“My grandmother’s very intelligent, my grandfather’s highly intelligent,” he said. “My dad’s intelligent himself. I’ve always been around intellectual people. The physical (environment) situation, was different. The mental was always upper-echelon.”

He plans to use his long reach and strong hands to pull others up the way his mother’s hand pulled him up.

Adjusting on the court

Part of the No. 2-ranked Class of 2010 recruiting class (behind only Kentucky), Black knows all about battling expectations. That and so many other aspects of his three years at Memphis have come in handy in dispensing advice to freshmen who aren’t shy about talking about how much they look up to him.

But in a sense, Black was a freshman all over again when he came to KU to play in a new system, for a new coach and living away from his hometown for the first time.

He struggled with the adjustment, which coincided with a change in the enforcement of rules aimed at creating more fluid movement for offensive players. Black was hearing whistles in his sleep.

In his first 10 games, he averaged 9.7 minutes, 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.7 fouls. In 12 games since, he has averaged 12.7 minutes, 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.

With starting center Joel Embiid’s minutes on the decline the past three games as he battled knee and then back woes, Black picked up the slack, averaging 22 minutes, 8.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 fouls.

He said he never — not even when he went scoreless four games in a row — regretted his decision to leave Memphis, where he averaged 22.6 minutes as a freshman, 20.8 as a junior.

Self ‘cooler than us’

“Man, toughest decision I ever made in my life. Memphis is still right here,” he said, pointing to his heart. “It was bigger than basketball. Getting away from home, experiencing something different. Having the opportunity to play for a guy like coach Self. How much can I learn? How much better can I get?”

He said he has gotten a great deal better as a basketball player and person.

“I can take back to the city things I’ve learned,” he said. “For one thing, maturity. Being under coach Self, I’ve learned how to be so much more patient with myself, my teammates, and just with people in general, just accepting things around me. Taking it for what it is, figuring it out, assessing it to my life. How is it going to help? What are the negatives about the situation? Then moving on. That’s the way he coaches.”

The polished Self who appears in public doesn’t always have the same delivery in practice, but to hear Black tell it, KU’s 11th-year head coach forever is in control.

“He’s so calm,” Black said. “He’s so cool. I’ve never experienced it before. When I came out here I didn’t expect it. I expected him to be even more rowdy than the coach (Josh Pastner) I previously had. I figured, well, they win, so he has to be jumping on them, going crazy every day.”

Not so in practice or games, Black insisted.

“He’s so cool,” he said. “He’s cooler than us. He’ll tell us, ‘Guys we’re going to be OK. Just run the play the way I told you to and we’re going to be fine.’ I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know. These are things I hadn’t experienced.”

His birth order on his second family is new to him as well.

“He gets to be me for a second,” Bilal Black said with pride. “And I know he’s being a good big brother. Tarik has always been a real good kid.”


Luca Rossi 8 years, 7 months ago

Really glad Tarik chose to transfer to KU. His selfless, team first attitude makes him one of my favorite players. I have no doubt he will be successful in life. As much as I believe he has the tools to be a great coach someday, I'm starting to think that he can do better than that for himself and should aim higher.

Wish there was a way we could squeeze out another year here with the big fella.

Tony Bandle 8 years, 7 months ago

The current status of our front line is stabilized by Tarik's presence:

1] Brings a precious load of experience to a really, really young crew of guys.

2] Provides toughness to spare as well as an "enforcer" type presence on the court.

3] it is critical that he remain in play these next few games especially with Jo Jo's health compromised.

4] Has teamed quite well with Jamari in a partnership that, when on the court together, they make each other more effective than when either is on the court alone.

5] This on a personal note, since this was my M.O...when he fouls someone, he really gets his moneys worth. :). And don't think for a minute that doesn't stay in the back of an opponenets mind.

6] Along with White and Greene, Black almost sounds like a casting call for the movie, Reservoir Dogs!

Joe Baker 8 years, 7 months ago

Dang, everytime I hear this guy and watch his attitude on the court, I'm impressed. He's been a great asset and was happy when Self got him. I love his physical play, sportmanship, heart, and maturity on and off the court.

Thank you Tarik for representing and Rock Chalk

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

Tarik's also showed us some nifty post moves, as obviously he can score (1000+pt scorer at Memphis). I, too, wish we had him for another year.

Honestly, I hoped he could be an "overpowering" force in the paint. At 6'9 and 260lbs, he could be an absolute Tyrannosaurus rex regarding rebounding. I think he is still finding his comfort level with everything, so I am not at all being critical, just think he will continue to find his niche. We need him to be DOMINANT. We need him to be another Thomas Robinson on the glass.

Rock Chalk, Tarik! So glad you are at KU!

John Randall 8 years, 7 months ago

My skepticism about a big, black transfer from inner-city Memphis was, I believe, pretty much typical of a large portion of the Jayhawk fan base.

I sympathized with his early season foul problems and soon came to realize that was more because of his appearance and expectations of officials than about his play. Like a lot of situations, especially situations with Bill Self on the periphery, that wasn't all bad. Joel was forced into the rapid development we have seen. Tarik stood the gaff like a soldier on duty. Landon, Jamari, Perry each developed faster than backcourt players with more talent.

My conversion to Tarik's personal fan club is nearing a conclusion I hardly anticipated and I want Bilal and their mother to know that it's partially because of their resolve to make things better that I still have some hope for our country's ability to get on with the recovery from waiting while LibLefties continue to destroy individual initiative and responsibility.

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

Thanks John for staying on topic and not inserting your political views in a sports column. Find a more appropriate venue for your political rant. Share your political views with Limbaugh, Beck, Faux News or someone who cares.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

Mick, the article was about Black's background. Randall should be able to voice what he wants within the context of the article. If he expresses something you do like agree, you have atleast two options....1) don't read it or 2) make counter points within the context of the story.

We live in a country that nobody has the right to shut down anyone's opinion, although there has been efforts to quite the likes of "Faux News."

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

Your response won a wager for me on two counts, first that would would make a comment and the content content. Please provide specifics anytime about what you feel are half-baked ideas. As previously offered, I'll meet with you to discuss any of the related topics. I feel some responsiblity to render intellectual aid to Hawk fans with limited abilities and perhaps could open my eyes to a better understanding. FYI, I'll be in KC/Lawrence this weekend attending the TCU game and the Jayhawker film, love to meet you at the Oread.

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

Suzi not surprised at your support of those that go totally off topic and throw their political darts. I agree that the story was about his background and his mother and his resolve to make a better life for himself and that did not require Randall making the blanket accusation that the environment he was trying to avoid was a creation of the"LibLef

Walter Bridges 8 years, 7 months ago

Mick, your comments were just as politically driven as John Randall's

Too bad you couldn't stop after posting "Thanks John for staying on topic and not inserting your political views in a sports column. Find a more appropriate venue for your political rant.".

That would have been refreshing instead of hypocritical..

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

Walter I did not initiate the discussion, but once initiated, isn't it only fair to present both points of view? The hypocrisy would have been letting his statement go unchallenged like there was only one conclusion as to what created and feeds the often destitute life of the inner city when in reality there are several factors that contribute to the mind numbing poverty and lawlessness that is far too prevalent in the ghetto. I'm sure my reference to Limbaugh, Beck and Faux news is what motivated your retort. If I had just said share your political views with someone who cares would that have been been more palatable for you? Did you upbraid Suzi for her/his posts? If not was that not hypocritical on your part?

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

Mick, I know this is off track a bit but I'd like to better understand where you are coming from. Is it your position that people that listen to Limbaugh, Beck and Faux News don't care about destitute life in the inner city? Are you trying to say something. Just what is it about Randalls or my post you find so offensive?

I recently posted about meeting David Booth, Mark Allen and their wives in Austin. I always invited posters to meet either at pre-game parties or other sites. Why would you question my gender? I hope you can understand why this seems so strange.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 7 months ago

I find it surprising that the part of Randall's post that started this thread is the rant about "LibLefties".

The comment about the LibLefties was completely out of place and very much tinged with bigotry, but that's pretty typical of any comment that turns political.

The piece of John Randall's post that I find mind-boggling is the first sentence. Even if that were my opinion I would be very embarrassed to share it in public forum.

Walter Bridges 8 years, 7 months ago

No. This is KU Sports. Be the bigger man and don't feel challenged. You can think what you want about my motivation but you don't know because I don't talk politics.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

You're completely right. I'm just very curious about trying to understand where people coming from.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Mick, Brett, and Jonathan, I find myself, like so many others here, disagreeing with your point of view on so many things. Constantly you seem to lack the ability to grasp concepts and perspectives. I will comment back to you, disagree, try to enlighten you, but it seems hopeless. Don't worry I won't give up. When something strikes you three as beyond you own set of rules for this site you seem bent on crusading for your ideals and shouting others down for theirs.
Hate to break this to you, but you do not run this site. Also unless someone blatantly abuses the privilege to post, you get to say what you want, hopefully on topic, but it is ok to throw an idea or concept in the discussion.
Not sure how you think you get to police the site, unless your real identity is with LJW, which I tend to doubt. See you get to say what you want, whatever that is, so why does someone else not get that right? Who gave you even the idea you get to make that decision? Disagree with what was said, make any points you want, include ideals that make your point. Heck say what you want. But stop thinking you get to say who can and can not post, and what they can say.
So many people disagree with you for a reason guys, no one is out to get you, its just, well, you post things we all disagree with...

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

"I find myself, like so many others here , disagreeing with your point of view on so many things" Rodney please enlighten me further, who are these "many others" that you refer to? See if you can grasp this concept. This is a KU sports related site so is it too much to ask that the posts be relevant to KU athletics? Do you have the ability to grasp that concept? It is a KU sports site not a KU whatever you want to discuss site, i. e. politics, economy, social issues. I am so sorry you are frustrated in your ability to enlighten me.If only I was blessed with your all knowing perspective." You get to say what you want, hopefully on topic, but it is ok to throw an idea or concept in the discussion". Please pull out your Webster unabridged and look up the definition of relevant. Our country is currently so politically polarized, why interject those differences in what should be a discussion about the status of our basketball team. Is it too much to ask that one choose the appropriate forum to discuss issues totally unrelated to KU athletics? I'm sure I will again receive the benefit of your prescience if you again feel I have misspoken. I so appreciate your counsel and guidance.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Its OK Mick I won't give up on you. I know the road will be long and hard, but I think in the end you will add value to the blog and society. I will keep guiding you back to the center and helping where I can point out the numerous mis-steps you tend to make. It is understandable, you just do not know what you do not know. None of us start at the same spot so getting to be a positive contributor will come, I don't care if it takes me 10 years I will get you there! Rest Assured. Case in point, although you would love to keep sports and the rest of the world separate, that is just fantasy Mick. Race, gender, sexual preference, politics, many other world topics all have relevance in the world of sports. In the last week, Race with Marcus Smart, Sexual preference with the MU FB player, as well as with this article Society in general, all have a component beyond just KU basketball. They are relevant due to the context of the article. This was about how society impacted Black. So there is a lot of latitude with an article like this to comment on broader subjects.

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

So relieved that you have now set out the parameters of the broader subjects that can be discussed on a KU sports site. I now know I can discuss KU basketball on political sites. The words numerous missteps, please, if you can, name any of my previous missteps other than this one that so offended your precious sensibilities. It is not understandable to me why you think you know what you don't know. Would it be permissible on an article discussing Sam's decision "to come out" to reply that we should not have to provide services to a gay couple if it is contrary to one's religious beliefs? According to you this would be a permissible. To me it would be an inappropriate forum to broach that subject. Oh, and lastly dear Rodney, please "give up on me". One of you is enough.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

I will never let you fail Mick. I will make it my life's work to help you. There are way to many to name, almost Everytime you post would be safer to say. I will help don't worry little one....

Eliott Reeder 8 years, 7 months ago

"My skepticism about a big, black transfer from inner-city Memphis was, I believe, pretty much typical of a large portion of the Jayhawk fan base." - No, nope, not at all. Please speak for yourself. I think it was probably just the racist morons within the Jayhawk fanbase who were 'skeptical' because an incoming transfer happened to be big, black, and from the inner-city.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 7 months ago

I too was excited about Black joining the team. Unpleasantly surpassed by the slow start, but excited about the development, and off the hook hearing and watching the words and actions outside the lines. Very perceptive and eloquent comments that will serve him well in the future - and hopefully KU in future recruiting as well.

Michael Leiker 8 years, 7 months ago

So following your logic you would be completely convinced of the immediate success of a wkinny, white transfer from a Canisius who played his college ball in Olpe, KS...that about right? I post some suspicious stuff on here from time to time but this one was awesome!

Walter Bridges 8 years, 7 months ago

I wish we could stop the political discourse without reverting to your own political does nothing but continue the conversation.

People like Mick and John will never agree to talk sports without letting us know their political point of view.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

We really need Black to bring some toughness to the lineup for the balance of the season. In large measure, his performance will determine the team's success. Nothing good ever happens to teams that allow layups at will.

With regards to Blacks larger life goals, I prayer he is successful and makes a difference. He has the leadership qualities that often does. The OECD completed a report ( that shows where the US stands in education vs the ROW. I hope black reads this post and studies the OECD report, which also happens to be one of my hot buttons.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Interesting Brett, it is so nice you do not break form. It makes it easy to follow you throughout the blog, dropping this, dropping that. With no real positive points being made, just you being you. Which is so refreshing.

Robert Robinson 8 years, 7 months ago

Black, please do me a favor. Try your hand in coaching.

DaNeille Dani Davis 8 years, 7 months ago

I just moved to Nashville two months ago but was in Memphis for the previous 26 years. When I heard we got Tarik, I was skeptical at first. When you think of Memphis, you think of thugs. I thought we were just getting a Memphis thug. He looked like a thug while he played for Memphis (he had more hair). I can't tell you how impressed I've been with him since he arrived at Kansas. He has been a great asset to the team and to the University. When I first saw him in pics after arriving at KU and saw that he got himself cleaned up, then heard him interview...I thought, WOW! So happy we have him! He is one of my favorite players this year! Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Go Tarik! Go KU!

Eliott Reeder 8 years, 7 months ago

You and John Randall should hang out sometime...

Nathan Scholl 8 years, 7 months ago

What a great young man! Such a great attitude and such selfless actions. I love how Coach Self gets players with such great character. Rock Chalk!! I see great things in the future for Mr. Black!!

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

Tarik, I'd like to thank you and your family for teaching Jayhawk nation and the world in general to fight the human nature to "assume" things about people. People would be wise to judge others only after they get to know someone, right? I wish Tarik all the best in whatever he chooses to do--the world is his. RCJH

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 7 months ago

I honestly did not know much about Tarik when he came in, but everyone was high on him coming in so I thought I would give him a chance. At first I just saw a bruiser who doesn't score and not really athletic and that maybe his reputation, but when I am seeing most of all is someone who works hard to get every rebound and be a great team player. He is truly a leader and a man who deserves respect on and off the court. Thank you Tarik for being the selfless man that you are.

Len Shaffer 8 years, 7 months ago

Tom, congrats for one of your best articles, a thoroughly enjoyable read. I think this is when you're at your best, doing these personal profiles.

And what a tremendous individual Tarik is! I hope he has a long, successful career in whatever he chooses to do.

Timothy Rake 8 years, 7 months ago

Great article by Keegan. Black is becoming/has become a favorite in the same vein as Darnell Jackson, et al.... a great big man (or a big GREAT man) with a terrific heart for Jayhawk nation.

Scott MacWilliams 8 years, 7 months ago

What a great piece, filling in the blanks for us on a rare Jayhawk, the senior transfer. Tarik, I'm so glad you chose KU for your last year. We really needed someone like you with your skills and strengths to help lead this team.

Here's my dream scenario for your career after KU: Play about 8 years overseas, knocking down about $500k/yr., socking it away and coming home to Memphis and starting a sports/education non-profit with your nest egg. Kids could play for free if they get straight A's, and reduced rates for those working on their grades. You have a team of mentors & coaches, offer basketball at first, then branch out to football, baseball, soccer, etc. As a non-profit you could probably lease spaces pretty cheaply, and I'm sure you know quite a few fellow Memphis athletes who would want to be on board with that.

Kids in general blossom in sports, and so many schools can't afford to keep PE programs or have sports at all.

And we'd all get to sit back and admire your work, since you are, after all, a Jayhawk for life!!

Rock Chalk, Tarik!!

Joseph Doze 8 years, 7 months ago

I hadn't heard much of Tarik before he transferred, so I was eager to see what he could do. I was rather unimpressed for much of the early season, not because he didn't contribute as much but because I was more impressed with Joel. I was slowly becoming a fan as the season progressed, but it was the later game in Waco that had me a solidified fan of Mr. Black. His composure on the bench as we battled back and forth and his big brother attitude (as well as the comments he makes) won me over. Glad to have him here. RCJH!

Steve Zimmerman 8 years, 7 months ago

Great reading material! You can tell how respectful Tarik is. That's a wonderful trait of a good leader's. I love to see more of Tarik's one-dribble 2-hand jams. I wonder if he can also jam a lob pass. How good is his jumping ability? What's his vertical leap?

“My style of play, you can tell there is not really a softness about me,” --- errr, sorry I have to disagree, not wholly, but I don't think he always utilize his strength fully when he's under the basket. Also, I have yet to see him to follow a miss with authority dunk. Watch Cliff's vids, you'll see what I mean, and he's an inch shorter than Black.

Joe Baker 8 years, 7 months ago

Tarik has some hops. He can sky with the best of them. Alex is a beast, PERIOD. Alex plays hangry: hungry and angry.

Walter Bridges 8 years, 7 months ago

So this is really a put down disguised as a compliment. Man up and make your point next time.

Mick Allen 8 years, 7 months ago

Who the hell is this post in response to?

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