LAWRENCE, Kan. — Wayne Selden was the star on the court Wednesday in a scrimmage at Bill Self's basketball camp that included current pros and former Jayhawks Ben McLemore and Cole Aldrich.
The scrimmage was meaningless. Selden's 17 points were meaningless. The fact that he outdueled McLemore was meaningless, as performances at camps in mid-June tend to be. But if you watched and listened closely, the signs were there to believe there's potential for a very promising upcoming season for Selden and his Jayhawks.
That's what June is about. Dreaming.
And this time last year, the dream in Lawrence was that Andrew Wiggins would dominate college basketball, jump over tall Cowboys and Longhorns and Wildcats and finish off his one-year tour by winning Self a second national championship.
Selden seems to be operating in reality these days, hardened by a loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament and a few months' worth of Self whispering why it all went wrong in the ears of the Jayhawks.
"Last year, to be completely honest, we weren't tough. We were soft," Selden said. "We weren't where we needed to be."
By that, he means the Jayhawks didn't do the things that have come to define Self's program, mainly hard-nosed defense. The Jayhawks were mediocre on that end, and there was always a perception that such a talented group would play such porous defense because that group was missing a leader.
At one point midway through the year, Self said that Selden could be as good of a leader as he's ever had at Kansas if Selden stuck around long enough to be that guy. In other words, he obviously wasn't there yet. No freshman is, and Selden felt that it wasn't his place.
"At times, definitely," Selden said when asked if it was difficult to lead as a freshman. "Because coming in, you don't want to step on anybody's toes."
Those toes belonged to Naadir Tharpe, who left the program last month for personal reasons.
Whether Tharpe left because of his own desire to be closer to his daughter, as was sold, or whether he had a little push out the door can be left to interpretation. It's odd for a starting point guard at a blue-blood program to decide to transfer right before his senior season no matter the circumstances. But what is clear is that Tharpe was a liability on defense and a scapegoat for what went wrong in March.
And as for being a leader, that was Tharpe's burden.
It's Selden's desire.
Selden acts and talks already like he wants to be "the guy," and don't be surprised if his game comes around to reflect the part.
That brings us back to Wednesday's scrimmage. Again, it's difficult to conclude much of anything from 30 minutes of a glorified pickup game, but the signs were there.
It started with a declaration from Self. He introduced Selden to campers as a player who could end up as an All-American this season.
They saw why once the ball was tipped, Selden was attacking the rim with aggression. "I went to the basket soft this past year," he said.
It appears he has more explosiveness in his legs, and there's a good explanation for that too.
After the season, Selden had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He said the knee has been bothering him for years and he really didn't know any better.
"It's good to have your body not hurt," he said.
"He was a little slow last year," teammate Jamari Traylor said. "He wasn't as quick off his first step as he is now. He's cut down on some of his weight so he's a little more quicker."
The jumper and Selden's handle look better as well. Of course, they look better in a scrimmage in June. The promise of June doesn't always deliver in March, but months of self-reflecting could go a long way.
"We didn't win last year. That was the biggest thing," Selden said. "We did the bare minimum of what we had to do. We have a lot to accomplish."
The bare minimum still ended up being good enough for Kansas to win a 10th straight Big 12 title. And who knows where the Jayhawks would have ended up if Joel Embiid's back had healed faster.
But even without Wiggins and Embiid, it's realistic to believe the Jayhawks could be better in 2014-15. Self's teams are always better once the core gets a year or two under their belt. What we also tend to forget in the one-and-done era is that the biggest leap most players make is from their freshman to sophomore seasons.
There's still plenty of talent left on the Kansas roster with another promising freshman class coming in. This class will be important but does not have to carry the team like last year's class had to. There are capable veterans already in place. The Jayhawks just need a leader and a star to emerge.
And it's already pretty clear in June whom everyone around the program expects that guy to be.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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