KANSAS CITY, Mo. — How is it that a guy like Tarik Black, who averaged just 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season at Memphis, became such a hot commodity last spring when he announced his plans to transfer?
Remember, this is a guy who walked out on a practice last November and was suspended for a game. And this is a guy who was once a top 50 recruit at Memphis but eventually became nothing more than a bench player during his junior season with the Tigers.
Yet when Black, who graduated in three years with a degree in organizational leadership, opted to go elsewhere for his final year of eligibility, big-time programs all over the nation came calling for his services.
There was Duke. And Kansas. And Ohio State. And Oregon. And Georgetown. And numerous others.
“Players his size (6 feet 9, 260 pounds) are hard to find,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said last spring. “They just are.”
Yep, it’s as simple as that. Supply and demand.
Black is a bruiser, and a powerfully built 260-pounder who can move defenders in the paint and play the role of the all-important enforcer.
But Self and his staff had additional reasons to covet Black: They want him to be a leader on the court and in the locker room.
“He’s very, very bright,” Self said. “And he’s beyond his years, maturity-wise. And even though the reason we recruited him is because he could help us win, the residual effect is that we probably got one of our biggest team leaders in return.”
Black, who signed a financial-aid agreement with Kansas in May and entered its master’s program, is completely fine with assuming a leadership role.
“Most of these guys are new here,” Black said. “But I’m a newcomer, too. I just have more experience at this thing. I think I can help them.
“Am I a better leader than I was (at Memphis)? I will say I’ve learned a lot about that in the short time I’ve been under coach Self’s tutelage.
“The thing is, coach Self asked me to be a leader. That’s what he expects. I don’t want to disappoint him.”
So far, so good.
“He’s been great for our young guys,” Self said. “He hits them every day, and he applauds them every time they hit back. It’s been fun to watch.”
Of course, Black had his own reasons for coming to Kansas. No. 1 was to get a fresh start. Memphis fans remember too well his stormy junior season that included him walking out on the team and then being suspended.
“It was a buildup of things, just being honest,” he told reporters at the time. “You have to endure things, keep pushing, keep moving and keep motivating. … But at some point, I’m only human, so it’s going to come out. It just so happened that after this three-year period it came out.”
Black has never explained publicly what was troubling him last year, and he is eager to move on. With this being his final year of college eligibility, he still harbors dreams of playing in the NBA.
“But the irony is that now it’s not about opportunity or just about trying to make it to the NBA,” Black said. “It’s just about a breath of fresh air. It’s just about being with these guys. It’s bigger than basketball. It’s about friendships and being part of a family.
“All the attributes and accolades will come later. We’ll put that together later. Right now, we’re just enjoying being together and having fun. If we put ourselves in coach Self’s hands, it’ll happen.”
Already, even though the Jayhawks haven’t played a game yet, Black believes firmly that he made the right decision in choosing Kansas.
“It’s a different feel and atmosphere here,” he said. “It’s coach Self. He’s done this over the years. He’s earned it. He has a track record that is almost unparalleled over the years.
“Everything he does is for a reason. You can see that. And now it’s our job and my job to see it all through.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.