Wayne Selden Finally Thriving After Blocking out Pressure of NBA Expectations

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterFebruary 2, 2016

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 30:  Wayne Selden Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates during the final seconds of overtime in the game against the Kentucky Wildcats as Kansas defeated Kentucky with a final score of 90-84 at Allen Fieldhouse on January 30, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

LAWRENCE, Kan.—Kansas guard Wayne Selden's name came up in a discussion with an NBA scout last summer at the Nike Basketball Academy in Santa Monica, California, and it wasn't flattering.

The scout was providing his opinion of an elite, 5-star wing who—during his time in high school—overwhelmed his peers with strength and athleticism and how it's important not to get enamored with that power and focus, instead, on skill.

That was the trap that some fell into when evaluating Selden before he arrived at Kansas. His stock shot up when he overpowered his peers at the Adidas Nations Camp in the summer of 2013, and Selden's name started appearing as a lottery pick in mock drafts.

"Prior to coming, there was just so much hype around what the expectations were," his mom, Lavette Pitts, said. "I think that got into his head a little bit."

If Selden was viewed as a potential one-and-done lottery pick, then his first two years in Lawrence could be described as underwhelming. He wasn't a bust as a player—he started every game for Kansas both seasons, averaging 9.6 points per game—but the hype didn't exactly meet the production. 

"I struggled with confidence a lot at times," Selden said. 

Selden's name slowly dropped down draft boards, and whether he was an NBA player became a real question. But just like labeling Selden as a one-and-done lottery pick was premature, so was writing him off. 

Selden has remodeled his game and is beginning to change the perception of what he is and what he can become.

The transformation took place last summer at the World University Games in South Korea, where Selden was the best player of the tournament after averaging 19.3 points and shooting 50.4 percent from the field.

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 30:  Wayne Selden Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks dunks during the 1st half of the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse on January 30, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kansas coach Bill Self made a change this summer that seemed to revitalize Selden's college career. During his first two years at Kansas, he had played the shooting guard spot and was a secondary ball-handler, which helped take pressure off KU's two talented one-and-done wings, first Andrew Wiggins and then Kelly Oubre, but stunted the production of Selden.

Self decided in the offseason that he was going to start two point guards and move Selden to small forward. The changes allowed Selden to worry less about creating for himself and just get to his spots on the floor where he could be successful. He became money on spot-up threes and was blowing by defenders off the dribble. 

The production overseas has carried to this season. Selden is averaging a career-best 15.4 points per game and shooting 47.3 percent from beyond the arc, and he seemed to bust out of a recent slump with a career-high 33 points in Saturday's overtime win over Kentucky. 

"I just know my role better," he said. "My first year, I didn't know what to do. I was just out there at times, hoping to make shots. I used to worry about scoring. I used to think about it, but now it just comes naturally. All my plays are easy. I don't have to do much to score the ball when you have those two guards. I've just got to get open."

A look at what kind of shots Selden is taking compared to last year shows his progression. Last season, Selden often tried to go one-on-one off the dribble and would end up settling for long two-point jumpers. According to Synergy Sports, he took 51 jumpers inside the arc. This killed his shooting percentage, as he made just 31.4 percent of those shots. He also finished poorly around the rim—50.7 percent, according to Hoop-Math.com—and that had always been his strength.

Jan 2, 2016; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) scores over Baylor Bears guard Ishmail Wainright (24) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Selden is barely taking any jumpers inside the arc—he's attempted only 17—and instead, he's spotting up for three-pointers. That has helped open up his slashing, as defenders are closing out hard and allowing him to make straight-line drives to the rim to score, which has bumped his shooting percentage at the rim up to 66.2 percent. It's rare now to see Selden try to shake defenders with his dribble in isolation.

"I'm trying to take more efficient shots," he said. "Last year, I feel like I settled for those because I would be hesitant at times to go by (my man), but now I know, pull up for the three or drive it, or if he backs up, take the mid-range. I'm just being aggressive."

Selden has not eliminated the mid-range jumper altogether, but he's attempting fewer long twos—he has only four attempts from 17 feet to the three-point line, compared to 28 attempts in that range last year—and most of his jumpers inside the arc are coming inside of 17 feet, where he's made six of 13 attempts, according to Synergy's numbers.

"What's happened to him in college is he's become more of an NBA player now," an NBA scout told Bleacher Report. "Generally those guys don't, McDonald's All-Americans, they kind of are what they are, and they just become incrementally better. The way that he's shooting the ball now, that's what is going to give him the greatest opportunity, because he didn't have a polished shooting resume coming into school."

In part, that was because Selden could always rely on bullying his opponents and getting to the rim at will. He started to realize his freshman year that wasn't so easy at the college level, and he needed to improve his jumper.

Selden remodeled his jump shot between his freshman and sophomore year. He used to bring the ball above his head and release it at a higher point. He now comes more in front of his face and has better shot mechanics. He started to see improvement last season—his three-point percentage went from 32.8 percent as a freshman to 36.5 percent last year—and now his new shot feels second nature.

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 09: Wayne Selden Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on January 09, 2016 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Kansas won the game 69-59. (Photo by John Weast/Get
John Weast/Getty Images

More than the improvement he's made to his skill set, Selden credits his better play to simply growing up. Before he could really succeed, he had to learn how to handle the public's perception of his play.

"People are tweeting at you and you're going to go look at your Twitter," he said. "It would get to me a little bit.

"I could look at my eyes and see I didn't have it. I didn't have the toughness. At times, I felt like I was soft. Just looking back, I didn't like the person I saw on the court that lacked confidence and wasn't a man."

Selden said he was allowing every little mistake to get to him on the floor, and he put too much on himself as a leader. He thought he had to be KU's sole leader last season, but now he sees his fellow veterans as a core group of leaders—Selden is one of seven upperclassmen in KU's rotation. A willingness to lean on his teammates and not let in outside voices has lifted the pressure he once felt on the court.

"People don't realize at the end of the day we're just kids," he said. "In my first couple years, it was a big burden on my back just to get out there and play good. Now I really don't care what people think anymore. I just care what the guys in that locker room think, what the coaches think and that's how I've been playing this year."

Selden has also benefited from his mom and little brother living close by for the first time since he was 15—Selden, who is from the Boston area, attended Tilton School, a private boarding school in New Hampshire, for his final three years of high school.

In May, he asked his mother to move to Lawrence.

"He really just wanted us to come, so we made it happen," Pitts said.

Pitts and her younger son, Anthony, live in an apartment near KU's campus. Anthony is a sophomore at Lawrence High, and he plays on the junior varsity basketball team.

Pitts has spent her career in social services—she works with at-risk youth in the Lawrence community—and it's obvious that she understands the family's role is to be patient and not put undue pressure on her son. 

"I don't try to coach," she said. "I don't try to give advice on what he needs to do, because that's not my position. I'm the mom. I stay in my lane and do that."

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 04:  Wayne Selden Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with fans as he leaves the court after the Jayhawks defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 109-106 in triple overtime to win the game at Allen Fieldhouse on January 4, 2016 in Lawren
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

That's not always the case with freshmen who arrive with the one-and-done tag. The entourage around some guys can resemble a distasteful reality television show, but Selden has had room to learn and grow.

"He's got good people around him," Self said. "When we recruited him, it was never a one-and-done type deal. But when you have Wiggs around you and you have Kelly around you, you see how NBA people responded to them and I think that probably puts some pressure on you.

"But the whole thing is he's had a good attitude and we hope that he's able to leave after this year if he plays himself into a position to be a first-round pick, and I think he's well on his way to doing that."

That sort of talk was not associated with Selden after his sophomore season, which ended with him not scoring a point in a Round of 32 loss to Wichita State.

But Selden is no longer the cautionary tale in the scouting community. He's evolved his game and changed the narrative in the process.

"If he were to come out after his freshman or sophomore year, the results might have been negative for him," the scout said. "But anyone that evaluates him has seen the improvement he's made and is retuning their opinion on him."

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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