LAWRENCE — Josh Selby walked through the throng of autograph seekers after Saturday's Kansas win over Colorado wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt under a black leather jacket. A long gold chain with a cross dangled from his neck, and a flashy gold watch did far more for him than tell the time.
"SEL-BY!" little boys and grown men chanted together, hoping the kid who scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes of action would stop to sign their ball, poster or game program.
There is a rock star inside Selby, and, even though his freshman season hasn't gone the way anybody planned, he still sees himself as "Showtime," a nickname he earned on the way to being rated the No. 1 player in the country by Rivals.com.
Selby, who for a number of reasons has been only a talented first-year player learning the college game, reminded everybody what the fuss was all about with 22 seconds left in Saturday's game when he received a pass in the open floor, took a couple of dribbles and bounced the ball off the court and high into the air, where Travis Releford grabbed it and dunked it.
"Everybody thought I was gonna dunk it," Selby said. "That was one of my unselfish moments. I saw Trav on the break, and I just wanted to do something different that fans haven't seen."
Nobody had seen a play like that in Allen Fieldhouse, which went right along with the expectations for Selby, whom KU coach Bill Self called the most talented player he's recruited. Selby was supposed to dazzle people from day one, to turn the Jayhawks from really good to great, but mostly to make you wonder what you're about to see every time he touches the ball.
Selby said he had seen Washington Wizards point guard John Wall make the same pass on Friday night during the Rookies vs. Sophomores game at NBA All-Star weekend.
Wall, who dominated college basketball for one season at Kentucky during 2009-10, is a natural reference point for Selby. Wall was the country's top recruit a year earlier, but Selby has not walked into a situation in which he is being asked to do everything as Wall was by Kentucky coach John Calipari.
First of all, KU coach Bill Self couldn't hand his team over to Selby because there was uncertainty about whether he'd ever suit up for the Jayhawks. The NCAA was investigating his relationship with fellow Baltimore native Robert "Bay" Frazier, who is the business manager of NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Even after the NCAA announced Selby's nine-game suspension on Nov. 19, Self had still had to make sure his team was in a position to win games until Selby's debut on Dec. 18.
That meant that Selby would begin his career playing off the ball, something he had not done much of in high school or AAU ball. KU had a veteran guard in Tyshawn Taylor to run the show, so it made sense to not put too much pressure on Selby. In his first game, Selby scored 21 points against Southern California and made the game-winning three-pointer. During his first 13 games, he showed the ability to knock down shots and occasionally drive to the basket to create for teammates.
Before the game Feb. 5 at Nebraska, Selby's development took another hit. An injured ankle suffered Jan. 25 at Colorado had turned into a stress reaction in his right foot. He missed three games and is now working his way back into the flow. He's got seven games at the most (four regular-season games and possibly three Big 12 tournament games) to get back in rhythm before the NCAA Tournament.
"It really doesn't matter how he wants to play," Self said. "It matters how we need him to play. Fortunately for him, the way we need him to play is the way he has envisioned it in his brain. Be aggressive. Go make plays. We need that from him.
"When you take Tyshawn out of the game against K-State, we had no playmakers on the perimeter. That took away a big part of our offense, having guys that can beat guys off the bounce and get to the paint to force help. If you can't do that, you can't get the ball inside. We need Josh to be the player that we know he can be."
Saturday's game was a positive sign, not because of the playground pass to Releford but because of the five assists he racked up, two of which came on lobs in the lane to Markieff Morris for alley-oop dunks. Selby, who is playing at around 85 percent, showed that he can affect the game without scoring.
"I love throwing it to the big guys," Selby said.
Selby says it would be easier for him to score if he were playing point guard. But at this point in the season, it's unlikely there's enough time for Self to develop the trust in Selby to let him run the team for more than a burst here or there.
"It's different for me," Selby said. "But I just have to buy in and do whatever Coach asks me to do."