KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Of all its hallowed, gothic charms, perhaps the most remarkable single feature about Allen Fieldhouse is that it remains one of the few places in America where the floor is almost as high as the ceiling. Kansas won 25 games this past winter, notched a 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title and landed a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
And that was a "down" year. An "off" year, a "transition" year, the runt of the litter.
Bill Self’s teams have won 325 games over the past 11 seasons, a statistic that shouts for itself. In terms of conference-level domination, the Jayhawks are pushing into John Wooden-UCLA territory now, a ship that wins 28-29 tilts on autopilot. Self inherited something pristine and made it sublime, winning a championship and reaching two Final Fours over the past six campaigns.
Mortals rebuild. KU reloads.
But for all the glitter, all the gold, there is also this:
From 2006-13, the Jayhawks turned out exactly one player — forward Markieff Morris — who has averaged at least 10 points per game in the NBA, and just one player (also Morris) to average at least five boards per contest in the NBA, and only one player (Mario Chalmers) to average at least three assists per tilt. From 1999-2005, the Jayhawks produced four NBA alums who’ve averaged 10 points or better; four who’ve averaged at least five boards per game; and two who averaged at least three dimes.
From 2007-13, Kentucky has bequeathed the NBA six players who’ve scored at least 10 points per tilt over their pro careers; North Carolina has sent one in the double-digit-scoring club, but has accounted for two players to average at least five boards per contest and two others to average at least three assists.
This very point has been made before, of course, and if you want to throw out the blanket statement that Self is incapable of turning out capable NBA fodder, well, Deron Williams and his 5,633 career assists would like to have a quick word.
Instead, let us just say this, and gently: It wouldn’t hurt Self’s street cred, or that of KU, one salt lick if Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, however they come off the board next Thursday in the 2014 NBA Draft, don’t stink up the joint.
"I mean, I’ll be emotional," Self said earlier this week when asked about the pair, who are expected to account for two of the top three selections. "But not such that I’m hoping one goes ahead of the other. I just hope they both get in great situations."
The Jayhawks could very well account for half of the first four picks on June 26, which is rare air even by KU’s lofty standards; Kansas has seen only four players taken among the top four in the NBA Draft, period, since 1954 — the last being Drew Gooden, by Cleveland, at No. 4 in 2002.
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"Even though the draft is important and I know it changes lives on that day, but really, that’s when the work begins, too," Self said. "And regardless of who drafts you and what number, now it’s time to go prove yourself."
Because, let’s face it, if you’re going to throw the alumni card at Self, you have to play this one as well:
From 2007-13, the Jayhawks churned out eight top 14 NBA Draft picks.
From 1990-2006, they produced five.
Is it Self’s fault Xavier Henry never quite panned out as a star at the next level? Or Josh Selby? Or Julian Wright?
Every kid is different; every scenario is unique. Some make the jump for love. Most make the jump for money.
Or, in the case of Embiid, because a slew of people told him he’d be nuts not to do it, right now — regardless of whether he wanted to or not.
In terms of Self’s NBA credence and whichever team lands the 7-footer — Cleveland, which owns the No. 1 pick (again), is sending out more mixed signals than a Soviet submarine — JoJo is the package with the most upside and the most risk, all in the same breath. The agility. The feet. The size. The shot. The smarts. The reach. Soccer toes. Volleyball hops. In terms of pure talent, pure tools, the native of Cameroon is a once-in-a-generation prospect. The individual pros outweigh the individual cons by tenfold.
Mind you, the only major con is a biggie: That back. That aching, aching back.
While Embiid could be the next Olajuwon or Oden, health pending, Wiggins is a surer thing in the pros — one of the surer things in years. The 6-8 wing guard is a leaper and athlete first, a shooter and dribbler second; the more space he has to work with, the more dangerous he figures to become, a trait that should serve him well in the NBA.
Even if the best-case scenario is Tracy McGrady, and not LeBron James, that’s still one hell of a baseline to work with.
"I think (Wiggins) translates not to a good pro," Self said, "but to a great pro."
If Embiid’s back goes south again, he just might have to be.