Lutz Blog

Naadir Tharpe's confidence

Remember when the Kansas junior guard was a bad player? Like just the other day at Texas, when he scored three points in 26 minutes.

Actually, Tharpe’s performance in Austin was an anomaly. The exception rather than the rule this season.

Tharpe has become one of the Jayhawks’ most valuable players through hard work, dedication and – last but certainly not least – experience.

He’s been there now. He played very little as a freshman, quite a bit more as a sophomore during a wildly inconsistent and at times maddening season and now, in his third year at Kansas, he has become a guy.

Yes, Tharpe is a guy. A strong contributor to a very good team that is in the driver’s seat to win another Big 12 championship. His 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting against Baylor on Tuesday night led KU to a 69-52 win over a Bears team that will make you scratch your head until your scalp bleeds.

My advice: Don’t spend much time thinking about Baylor. I heard television analyst Jimmy Dykes say numerous times during Tuesday’s game that the Bears have Top 25 talent. Well, that Top 25 talent shot 29.1 percent against Kansas and was out-rebounded by 15.

Anyway, back to Tharpe. He has shot 61 percent from the field and 53.5 percent from the three-point line in KU’s past 11 games, during which he has averaged 12.1 points.

It wasn’t long ago that the biggest question mark surrounding the Jayhawks was whether Tharpe has what it takes. And if you’re still hesitant about Tharpe because of the fluctuation he shows offensively at times, you have to be impressed with the overall player he has become.

Tharpe added five rebounds and four assists against Baylor. He’s also a plus defender and a guy who likes being a leader. It shows. He made it through the most difficult periods of his career at KU and has come out the other side with supreme confidence.

And is there anything commodity more valuable to an athlete than confidence? It’s what everyone strives for.

Which makes me wonder . . . do freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid have confidence? They have amazing talent. They have NBA skills. They have millions of dollars awaiting them.

But do they have confidence?

I’m not sure.

Those three combined for just 23 points on 6-of-22 shooting at Baylor. I contend that there are times when their talent is simply too great to contain. But I also contend that when they play well, it has little to do with confidence.

Add some of that to their mix of size, skills and athleticism and you could have three All-Americans. But it’ll probably never get to that because it’s expected that the KU trio will in unison declare for the NBA shortly after this season concludes.

Money, money, money, money.

Some people got to have it

Hey, hey, hey – some people really need it

Hey, listen to me, y’all do thangs, do thangs, do thangs – bad thangs with it

Those lyrics from the old O’Jays song got into my head as I was thinking about the futures of Wiggins, Selden and Embiid. I’m not saying they shouldn’t grab the money as lottery picks.

But I am saying that it’s almost impossible for a college basketball player – or any athlete – to excel with limited confidence. And it’s unique for a freshman in college to have that high confidence level because of the aptitude required to play the game at such an advanced level.

High school basketball doesn’t get you ready for this. AAU basketball doesn’t. Only one thing prepares players for college basketball, and that’s college basketball.

Tharpe is a prime example. He didn’t come to Kansas with the kind of credentials the Jayhawks’ freshmen have. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. Now he’s a major contributor and the most confidence player on the team.

Confidence takes time. Most often, more than one season. It’ll be too bad, really, if Wiggins, Selden and Embiid move on without ever having experienced it.