Saturday, February 22, 2014


Column: Freshmen duo’s KU stay short, sweet


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.


Alison Rhone 8 years, 7 months ago

Hey, lets not forget that we only get to enjoy one year with Tarik too! He seems to be a great kid and team player.

Brianna Zaleski 8 years, 7 months ago

Keegan, do u know something the rest of us don't? You assume Joel is leaving after this year when it's been widely reported (from his mouth no less) that he is seriously considering staying. Why the urge to usher these kids out of town when they aren't ready or when they might not want to even leave? Because ESPN says so? I hate this culture. 10-15 years ago we assumed a player would be around 3-4 years. Maybe if we conducted ourselves as if the players should stick around, they might conduct themselves simiilarily. Getting real sick of a bunch of 40&50 year old men speculating on a young mans future like its a stock or the price of livestock. I usually enjoy you, but to this I say, get a life.

Jeff Kilgore 8 years, 7 months ago

For Wiggins, there are 180,000,000 reasons, and even though I'm one of those 50 year-olds you seem to dislike, Wiggins already said he's leaving, and no NBA GM is going to pass up on Joel. That's just the way it is. If Joel stays, great, but don't put your money on it, because it is money that makes the world go round and not the ball.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 7 months ago

How about the young men (women would never speculate) in their teens, 20's & 30's? Do seniors get a free pass with their coffee at McD's?

Jack Jones 8 years, 7 months ago

Brianna ~ Ah, but the average ~ nay, the majority of "sports fans" thrive on these kinds of conversations ~ as disgusting as this may be ~ and as illustrated all too often on these 'pages'. An aside ~ are you related to the Wichita Zaleski's? Once purchased a home they had been the previous owners of.

Michael Leiker 8 years, 7 months ago

It's easy to look humble when you're indifferent.

Jeff Kilgore 8 years, 7 months ago

Did anyone look indifferent with one second remaining in the TT game? No, I didn't think so either.

Marc Frey 8 years, 7 months ago

I am thankful that we will see these two at all. But there is something on Senior Day, when guys who have put 4/5 years in here who play their last game for us that really tugs at my heart. To me, that is what KU Basketball is about as well.

Joe Ross 8 years, 7 months ago

HATE articles like this. Full of presumption...

Kent Richardson 8 years, 7 months ago

Tom has become our new Jaybate, stirring the pot with ease.

Eric TheCapn 8 years, 7 months ago

Ugh, I can't stand the NBA. Not only is it boring to watch, with no defense, lack of hustle/passion, disinterested fans and zero atmosphere (except maybe in OKC), but that lockout a few years back screwed over the Morii and what would have basically been a guaranteed KU title. If only the twins would have been able to see the future and stay another year.

Lee Sears 8 years, 7 months ago

Embiid has leaned more towards staying another year, so I also don't understand the presumption that he is one and done. Self said he will not leave for the money, so he is only going to leave if he feels he has learned the game well enough to make a difference in the NBA immediately, and to have a successful career like the players he admires. Obviously his first admiration and the videos he has studied have been on Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem is one of the best players to ever play the game, and he stayed at Houston for 3 years before pledging for the draft.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 7 months ago

It would seem to me that the recent injuries could be a significant influence that way. A post-player's strength is going to be a big part of his game - much more so than a wing. I can see Jo identifying another year with Hudy being a determining factor in staying. Right, no money, but many signs seem to point that way.

Kent Richardson 8 years, 7 months ago

It is about the money, it is about us wanting these guys to stay so we can win a title, isn't it? If they go, Bob Hope signature song. If they stay, I'm freaking pumped.

Today, I am thinking about how it was in Little Rock back when the Southwest Conference was alive and I called a local business and heard... "Thank you for calling First National Bank, this is Tammy, Beat Texas, how may I assist you today?"

Phil Leister 8 years, 7 months ago

It's Keegan hedging his bets. If Embiid goes, then Keegan wrote an article on February 22 presuming so. If he stays, then sweet!!!

Kent Richardson 8 years, 7 months ago

It would be Howard Cosell like for Keegan to set himself up for such future accolades. Like "Phil, White Shoes, Leister."

Mr. Tom, you want a big time network gig? You can be Keegan/Cosell to Embiid/Ali.

Cosell's wig to Wiggs? Maybe I over did it there.

Doug Merrill 8 years, 7 months ago

A lot of over-reacting here and some great examples of shooting the messenger. You may dislike the NBA (I do too - as TK writes, their approach is incompatible with young men's best interest in most cases, unlike MLB) or the fact that it is highly likely that we lose both of these guys to it next year, but it doesn't mean Tom is wrong to write about it. It seems like some missed the point and probably will complain all season (as some have been): these are good guys; enjoy their time with KU and don't keep focusing in how short it is. Pretty good message about a lot of aspects of Life in general, come to think of it .

Ty Mar 8 years, 7 months ago

The NBA is so ridiculous. The NBA treats college like a training camp. The one year rule is just...barely acceptable political correctness.

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