PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — It was getting late on Saturday night, and Bill Self was growing tired. Five days in the Bahamas will do that to a coach. Three lackluster performances from a young team will only exacerbate the mental fatigue.
No. 2 Kansas had just finished off a 67-63 victory over Texas-El Paso in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, a rather lukewarm response just one night after suffering its first loss of the season to Villanova. And inside Imperial Arena, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins had just closed out a quiet weekend in the Bahamas with his most unproductive night of the year: Six points on two-of-nine shooting in 34 minutes.
So, in the moments after the game, the question was posed like this: Is Wiggins, perhaps like all of Kansas’ young players, still finding a comfort zone in the Jayhawks’ system?
“I’d say they’re all trying do that,” Self said. “I would say that’s a fair assessment.”
And that was it. Self, who generally makes a habit of using even straight-forward questions as a bridge to more thoughtful answers, didn’t elaborate any further.
Instead, Self hammered away at a more general criticism of his team: After seven games, the players are just too casual.
“Way too casual,” Self said.
Self, of course, has always said there would be growing pains with his young core, which, in addition to Wiggins, features seven freshmen and sophomores in a nine-man rotation. But he didn’t anticipate the growing pains would feel like this.
“I thought we would have errors of trying too hard, rather than errors of casualness,” Self said. “And that’s the thing that’s really frustrating to me.”
In three games at Atlantis, Wiggins averaged just 11 points and 4.6 rebounds. And even if the link between casualness and Kansas’ most analyzed freshman went unspoken, it was easy to draw the connection.
For Wiggins, who entered the night averaging 15 points per game in his first six college games, there were still moments of brilliance, still moments brimming with promise. In the final minutes of the first half, a minute after drilling a three-pointer, he split two defenders and finished at the rim, a fast-twitch burst of athleticism.
But playing his third game in three days, there were also moments where he looked as if he was still trying to fit in, still wandering blindly through offensive possessions.
On the whole, Wiggins’ first seven college games have gone about as expected. He is averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, and his efficiency numbers have been more than respectable: He’s shooting 49 percent from the floor and 33 percent (six for 18) from three-point range. And yet, Wiggins has the tendency to leave onlookers wanting more.
In seven games, he’s hoisted just 10 shots per game. Of course, if that doesn’t seem like many, it’s about in line with what Self’s leading scorer last season, Ben McLemore, averaged for the season. And it’s worth point out that Self’s teams have always been balanced on the offense end.
In ten seasons at Kansas, Self has never had a player average more than 15 field goal attempts per game; guard Sherron Collins averaged 14.8 shots in 2008-09, the most during Self’s tenure.
And in some ways, the Kansas style aligns with Wiggins’ nature — a player that would just as soon make the extra pass than force a shot.
“That’s who he is,” Self said last week, after Wiggins scored 16 points on eight shots in a blowout win over Towson. “But he’s the type of kid that I really believe, in a game like this (Towson), that’s the way it should be. But in a game where you struggle to get baskets, he needs to be taking 15 or 20 shots.
“That’s what the good players do.”
In other words: Kansas’ lackluster performance against UTEP — a fragmented and choppy affair — was the type of game where Wiggins needed to be a more active on the offensive end.
But as Self stressed, Wiggins isn’t the only KU freshman that had a bad night on Saturday. And seven games into the season, Wiggins and Kansas still have plenty of time to find a level of comfort.
“As a coach, you should be judged on basically three things,” Self said. “Do they play together — are they unselfish? Do they play extremely hard, and are they tough? And I’d say we went Oh-for-three. So that’s frustrating to me when you go oh-for-three.”