CHICAGO — At some point, the swelling Afro became too mainstream, too conformist.
Kelly Oubre had grown out his hair for months, and now he needed something new, something that would make him stand out. He needed something, Oubre said, that could capture his “brand.”
“I’ve never been a person to follow a crowd,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be different in anything I do.”
For Oubre, the price of non-conformity comes in the form of a flowing, unkempt Mohawk, the curls flowing toward the sky. When Oubre, a 6-foot-7 small forward, steps on campus at Kansas for the first time this summer, his hair may be the first thing students notice.
“Wild and crazy,” Oubre said, “but tamed on the sides.”
That is, perhaps, a pretty apt way to describe Oubre, who unveiled his personality and talent to a wider audience during Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, where he had 11 points and seven rebounds for the West in its 105-102 win. As the nation’s best high school players gathered for four days of practice and festivities, Oubre and fellow Kansas signee Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-9 power forward, offered KU fans a glimpse of the future after a painful early round faceplant in the NCAA Tournament.
For schools that traffic in the currency of one-and-done prospects, the yearly recruiting cycle has become an even more high-stakes game of prospect roulette. If you’ve landed Andrew Wiggins, who announced Monday that he would declare for the NBA Draft after one season at Kansas, you better start recruiting his replacement — pronto.
“The sense of urgency is we better recruit,” Kansas coach Bill Self said this past season, referencing his one-and-done strategy. “That’s where the sense of urgency comes in.”
So here comes the latest crop, two more prospects who might be one-and-done players. Oubre and Alexander both say they could see themselves staying more than one year at Kansas. Oubre sees college as a place to develop and grow, not a one-year holding spot before declaring for the draft.
“I feel like (college) helps us mature more, and if you’re not mature, stay another year,” Oubre said. “You’re going to love college so much, just from what I heard.”
Oubre has a skill set that piqued the interest of a deluge of NBA general managers and scouts who showed up in Chicago to evaluate the high school stars during practices Monday and Tuesday. Inside the Quest Multiplex gym on the west side of the city, NBA talent evaluators lined the walls to catch a glimpse of the rangy Oubre, rated as the No. 12 overall recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com.
On a practice court full of future college standouts this week, the left-handed Oubre’s size and physicality stood out. Talent evaluators describe him as a three-level scorer — someone who can shoot, drive and score in the midrange. But Oubre doesn’t want to be tagged as the heir apparent to Wiggins’ on the wing.
One reason: He will enter a program with a cache of weapons returning on the perimeter, including soon-to-be sophomores Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene.
Oubre, though, has grown accustomed to playing alongside gifted teammates. After spending his first three years at Bush High School in Houston, he transferred to Findlay Prep, a powerhouse program in Henderson, Nev., for his senior season. After Wednesday’s game, Oubre was headed for New York, where his Findlay program was opening the Dick’s Sporting Goods national high school tournament on Thursday.
For more than a year, Oubre begged his father, Kelly Sr., to allow him to transfer to Findlay. Finally, his dad relented, and Oubre feels more prepared to provide an immediate impact at Kansas.
“I like to go against the best guys everyday,” Oubre said. “Wayne is going to come back with a better feel for the game and college basketball. He can teach me a few things, and I can teach him a few things.
“I know that for sure. I’m just ready for the challenge. We’re about to showcase our talents; we’re about to go crazy.”
If Oubre bolsters a crowded backcourt, Alexander, a Chicago native, gives Kansas another big body and top-10 recruit in the middle. During the recruiting process, Alexander said, Self sold him on his ability to prepare big men for the NBA. Self even used the Morris twins, now teammates for the Phoenix Suns, as examples.
“Coach Self said he’d turn me into one of the twins,” said Alexander, who had nine points and 11 rebounds for the East squad in its loss to Oubre’s West team.
These are teenagers, of course, still weeks away from their proms. Oubre would like to improve his basketball IQ and vision over the next few months, while Alexander says he still needs to refine his post moves.
Standing on a basketball floor, surrounded by high school blue-chippers, Oubre’s wild mane and coltish athleticism can draw plenty of attention. But as college approaches, he’s ready to fit in and compete.
“I think freshmen can make the biggest impact,” Oubre said. “Because if you go as hard as you can, and you inspire the seniors, they’ll be like: ‘This guy is going hard, and he doesn’t even know the ropes yet.’ ”