Wayne Selden is one of the most controversial Kansas basketball players in recent memory. He came to Lawrence in 2013 as a potential one-and-done having showed off impressive athleticism in high school with an ability to finish at the rim. Unfortunately, Kansas fans have seen only glimpses of Selden's potential during his time in a Jayhawk uniform.
Last season, Selden struggled. Most prominently, his 2-point shooting percentage fell from 53 percent as a freshman to just 39.5 percent as a sophomore. And although his 3-point shot appeared to be improved as he knocked down 36.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, a handful of additional misses would have pushed him closer to his freshman shooting percentage of just 32.8 percent.
That's why when The Sporting News released their preseason All-American predictions for the 2015-16 college basketball season earlier this week there was a bit of an uproar. Selden was listed as a second team selection. He was the only Jayhawk chosen. The Sporting News argued:
Selden arrived at Kansas with an astonishing level of energy and willingness to work, but that rapidly was curbed as he struggled with exactly how and when to make an impact for KU. With no one-and-done perimeter players to accommodate, though, Selden has the opportunity to become the focal point of the attack and showed in the World University Games he is ready to excel.
Selden's selection caused The Wichita Eagle's Bob Lutz to respond. Lutz's opposition to Selden's inclusion is largely based on the exclusion of another Jayhawk, Perry Ellis. Ellis has the opportunity join elite company this season. As Lutz notes, he could become just the fourth Kansas player in history to score 1,700 points and grab 800 rebounds during their time in Lawrence. Selden, meanwhile, averaged 9.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season. Lutz convincingly notes, "That’s hardly the stuff All-Americans are made from."
He's right. Historically, All-Americans don't average 9.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But nobody is suggesting that Selden should have been an All-American last season. Rather the goal was to identify the players who could produce at an All-American level this upcoming season. It's "an informed projection, not a career achievement award," The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy replied.
DeCourcy's reply to Lutz lays out a compelling case for Selden's improvement focusing on prior breakouts after strong international performances like Kenyon Martin and Gordon Hayward. Selden's run in the World University Games was yet another glimpse into his potential as a college player. In Korea, Selden averaged 19.3 points and shot the ball well from the field. He was easily the Jayhawks' best player.
The larger point in my mind is one that DeCourcy deals with in passing at the end of his reply. How did Selden potentially improve so much so fast? This season, Selden will likely be put into a much different position compared to his past two campaigns. Previously Selden has spent the majority of his time playing alongside another athletic, average shooting wing. Now, with Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre out of the picture, Selden will slot in more often as the Jayhawks' small forward. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham running the show in the backcourt, Selden will be more free to look for scoring opportunities and offensive rebounds as his ballhandling obligations decrease. If the World University Games are any guide, the effect could be pronounced.
Certainly Lutz is right that Ellis could play at an All-American level this season, but at this stage in his career, Ellis is unlikely to take massive strides forward in the college game. The difference between Ellis and Selden is that it appears Selden may have some things he hasn't shown us yet. If Selden is able to bring his game up to the level that he played at over the summer, it's not crazy to think he could be due for a breakout, All-American season.