KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s interesting: The last two starting centers for the Kansas Jayhawks came in as awkward, gangly projects and left (or, in the case of Joel Embiid, will leave) as NBA millionaires.
Meanwhile, the last two starting point guards for Bill Self came in looking like Kate Upton — and left looking like Phyllis Diller.
Maybe it’s something in the water.
Or maybe …
"One thing I can say about Naadir is, you don’t see him complain," Jayhawks guard Andrew White told FOXSportsKansasCity.com during the NCAA tourney, which feels like a very, very long time ago. "He accepts his role.
"When you’re the point guard at KU, you’ve got to take the bad with the good. And I think he has done that."
Over three years in Lawrence, Tharpe was very much — oh, heck, exactly — that, in a freaking nutshell: You took the bad with the good, and all points in between.
Now he’s taking K-10 east out of town, a story unfinished.
"Due to extenuating circumstances within my personal life, I will no longer be attending the University of Kansas," the Jayhawks’ now former point guard said in a statement released by the school Thursday. "My daughter has current medical issues that require weekly visits to her physician, as well as with a specialist. At this juncture, I feel it is best to be closer to home where I can assist and support in any way necessary."
Family first, now and forever, and Godspeed. Before you dance too loudly on Tharpe’s KU grave today, respect that choice, at least.
That said, what’s done is done. And whether because of his child, 2-year-old Amara Grace, or other mitigating factors, Tharpe’s junior campaign, his first as KU’s primary point guard, was … it wasn’t so much bad, per se, as it was all over the place.
Nine times this past season, the Worcester, Mass., native dished out six assists or more in a tilt. Eleven times, he committed three or more turnovers. Again, you took the bad with the good.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, March was just as mercurial: 5.5 points, 5.3 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game at the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys. No coincidence, KU was a nonfactor at both events.
And that, ultimately, is Tharpe’s legacy, the final word, fair or otherwise. Jayhawk point guards are defined by what they leave up in the rafters and inside the trophy case, the Big 12 regular-season crown — something of a given now — notwithstanding. This past season was a boon for NBA scouts, given the presence of Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, but something of a retooling/transitional year in the grand scheme of things: a 25-10 record and a third-round, first-weekend exit at the Big Dance.
Lookin’ good! CLICK HERE to check out our gallery of cheerleaders from around the Big 12.
"Personally, it’s something that we 100 percent support and wish him nothing but the best," Self said, via a university statement, of Tharpe, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 assists as a junior. "I certainly appreciate all of his efforts since he’s been here. Naadir has been a good player for us in his three years here. But we also respect the fact that he wants to be closer to his daughter and we want to do everything we can to support that."
On one hand, there’s the father who said he needed to be closer to an infant daughter in New England.
On the other, the shirtless — and possibly pants-less — young man in "The Photo."
First move: Honorable.
No. 10 left as he played: You took the bad with the good.
Tharpe’s final bow with the Jayhawks was even more cringe-worthy than that premature NCAA tournament exit against Stanford; in late March, a photograph of the 22-year-old in a salacious pose went viral — and we mean viral — on the Internet. "The Photo" featured Tharpe in an embrace with a blonde woman who appeared to be licking his face while her left breast was exposed.
Fun is fun, but in the context of Tharpe’s up-and-down play, and KU’s underwhelming March, well … let’s just say the timing didn’t, um, help.
Self said during a news conference shortly thereafter that he was "certainly extremely disappointed" in Tharpe’s decision-making, which had become something of a recurring theme since Thanksgiving, more or less.
"I enjoyed my time here," Tharpe’s statement continued. "I appreciate the players that were here before me that I got a chance to play with and that are still friends with me right now. It’s going to be tough leaving a situation like this because of the teammates I’m leaving behind. Everything happens for a reason and I have to continue my journey a different way."
The Jayhawks will, too, although the fans are hoping this whole point-guard-melting-down trend is a two-year aberration — and not a harbinger for the futures of Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp, the for-now heir apparents.
Wanted: Sound judgment, a reliable outside shot, quick hands, speed, a nasty defensive temperament and toughness. But especially toughness.
Because there will be yelling. Lots and lots of yelling.
The shot, hands and speed, Naadir had down. The rest, of course, is open to debate, and probably always will be.
Tyshawn Taylor was the last Self point guard to tick most of those aforementioned boxes; as a senior in 2011-12, he was seventh in the Big 12 in steals per game (1.3) and fourth in defensive win shares (2.2), according to Sports-Reference.com. His defensive rating was 97.5 — or 97.5 points per 100 opponent possessions. Sherron Collins, another Self favorite, posted a 100.0 defensive rating as a senior in 2010 and was credited with 1.7 defensive win shares.
Tharpe? In his first full season as the man at the point, his defensive rating was a very un-Self-like 108.1 (the higher the number, the worse it is) this past winter, with just 1.0 defensive win shares, to boot. In fact, 2013-14 was the first time KU didn’t place a point guard among the Big 12’s top 20 in defensive win shares in five years.
Last April, it was obvious, given the benefit of hindsight, that Johnson was more effective on the wing, as a score-first type, than he was running a team, especially with Self snarling down his neck. The same could probably be said of Tharpe, now that we’re in post mortem mode again, although it also raises a follow-up point:
If Elijah and Naadir were bad "fits" at the point, was that their respective faults? Or was it Self’s, for continuing to trot ’em out there in the first place?
Still, when Tharpe closes a door, he opens a window. On Wednesday, prep point guard ace Devonte’ Graham announced that Kansas was one of his two final schools. A day later, KU announced that Naadir, the point guard of the present, was leaving the nest. Hmm.
Conspiracy theorists and recruitniks can chew on those two particular circumstances, in tandem, until their gums bleed. But if it is, indeed, Graham’s show, the kid would be wise to bring a thick skin. And maybe some earplugs, just to be on the safe side.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.