Kansas senior Tarik Black was a solid frontcourt role player for the Jayhawks last season, as the 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds on 69 percent shooting from the field in 13.5 minutes per game.
Now that he’s exhausted his college eligibility, Black will likely look over his professional basketball options but could the forward be better suited for a potential career in the NFL?
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers thinks that Black should give it a shot.
It just so happens that Black’s favorite NFL team is the Green Bay Packers.
“Green Bay is my favorite team. (Black) told him, ‘Hey, I understand you’re hurt; we need you healthy. We need a championship.’ Then (Rodgers) says, ‘You should help me win it. Come play some tight end.’ So I say, ‘Give me a contract and make it happen.’ ”
Black thought the whole interchange was a joke.
Apparently Rodgers did not.
The Packers passer went to Self and said, “I want to throw balls at him and see what he can do.”
From there, Rodgers threw to Black and came away impressed with his football ability. The two exchanged phone numbers and Black texted Rodgers a month later to see if Aaron was serious about his interest in the forward’s potential football pursuits.
“Just wanted to see if you were serious,” Black wrote.
“I’m definitely interested,” Rodgers wrote back. “If there’s something I can do, let me know.”
Rodgers put Black in touch with a Green Bay Packers scout and the two spoke over the phone. Adelson also notes that three NFL teams have shown interest in Black through his agent Chad Wiestling, including one NBA team that called on behalf of an NFL team from the same city to get Black’s phone number.
Since former college basketball players like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham have successfully transitioned to NFL tight ends, it’s no surprise that Rodgers is looking for any kind of big red-zone target that he can find.
Could Black potentially play in the NFL? That’s hard to say. Black certainly has the size and strength to give it a shot, but at least he got to catch passes from his favorite team’s quarterback.
On February 1 in Austin, Texas No. 8 Kansas didn’t play its best basketball, falling to the Longhorns 81-69 in a game they trailed by as much as 20 early in the second half. The Jayhawks shot just 38.5% from the field as a team and Andrew Wiggins struggled, making just two of his 12 shot attempts. The rematch offered both the Jayhawks as a team and Wiggins individually a shot at redemption, and Bill Self’s team took advantage.
No. 19 Texas may have led 8-5 at the first media timeout but from there it was all Kansas, with the Jayhawks rolling to an 85-54 victory. Kansas was very efficient on offense and they were tough defensively, limiting the Longhorns to 34% shooting on the night. The win puts Kansas three games up on their closest challenger in the Big 12, which in all likelihood means that they’ll win their tenth consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
Kansas went from down three to up 28 by the end of the first half, shooting 63% from the field with Wiggins serving as the catalyst. Wiggins was assertive offensively and it paid off, as he shot 5-for-7 from the field and scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half. As a team Kansas scored 1.39 points per possession in the first half, and given the amount of talent at Bill Self’s disposal they aren’t losing when performing that well offensively.
The contributions came from many players, with reserves Frank Mason and Tarik Black combining to score 23 points off the bench. Mason made six of his seven shots and scored 14 points, and with Naadir Tharpe (five assists) shooting 1-for-9 from the field those points were important. As for Black, his emphatic dunk provided two of the nine points he scored while also grabbing five rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Given the issues he’s had with foul trouble throughout his career Black won’t be a 30 minute per game player, and given the presence of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid (13 points, seven rebounds and six blocks) that’s fine. But the senior needs to be productive when on the floor if Kansas is to make a run at a national title, and he was against Texas.
With the number of young players in the rotation there’s still progress to be made in Lawrence. And their two games at Texas are a prime example of what can happen when things click for this group. In the first meeting there were issues on both ends of the floor, especially in regards to the quality of shots they were taking. There were no such problems in the rematch, and the Jayhawks rolled as a result.
After not practicing in the days following Kansas’ loss at Kansas State on Monday night, freshman center Joel Embiid did not play in the Jayhawks’ 95-65 win over TCU on Saturday afternoon. With Embiid being a key figure for Kansas, the time off could prove beneficial down the line as the Jayhawks need their big man to be healthy in order to make a run at a national title.
Without Embiid senior Tarik Black moved into the starting lineup and accounted for seven points and one rebound in nine minutes of action, with foul trouble plaguing the Memphis transfer. The star of Saturday’s decisive victory was Perry Ellis, who finished the game with 32 points (13-for-15 FG), eight rebounds and five assists.
Ellis, averaging 14.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season, has averaged 17.3 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last six games for the Jayhawks. Ellis has been one of the Big 12’s most improved players this season, but it can be argued that his progression’s been overlooked in some circles due to the presence of Kansas’ highly-regarded freshmen.
In the aftermath of No. 7 Kansas’ loss at Kansas State on Monday night, head coach Bill Self noted that freshman center Joel Embiid is a bit “beat up.” Dealing with nagging knee and back issues, Embiid didn’t play as well as the Jayhawks would have hoped against Kansas State.
And with the freshman taking time to rest and recuperate, he won’t be playing on Saturday when the Jayhawks host TCU Saturday according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
“He did not practice today so he will not play tomorrow,” said Self, adding that he’s anticipating that Embiid will play when KU travels to Texas Tech next Tuesday. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to practice by Sunday.”
According to the report Embiid didn’t practice at all this week, and given the issues he’s dealing with it’s best that Embiid get the rest his body needs. Embiid has played no more than 18 minutes in any of Kansas’ last three games, averaging 7.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots during that stretch.
While the rebounding numbers have remained close to his season average (7.8 rpg) Embiid’s points (10.7 ppg for the season) and blocks (2.5 bpg) have dipped, and in those three games he shot just 40% from the field.
With Embiid out of the lineup senior Tarik Black, who’s played at least 21 minutes in each of the last three games (Embiid’s health/effectiveness has impacted this) and averaged 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in those contests, will likely see an increase in minutes. The same can likely be said for Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and even Landen Lucas in regards to Saturday’s matchup.
Kansas will have bigger games to play, and it’s important that Embiid be at full strength when that time comes.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
In The Matrix, Neo might have been The One, but he needed Morpheus, Trinity and Tank to show him the way and watch his back while he learned Kung Fu.
Andrew Wiggins will have that same luxury at Kansas this year. Bill Self will make sure his star takes the crimson and blue pill so he can walk the fine line between artistry and hard work. Wiggins’ teammates will help carry the load. It’s the only way the Jayhawks can lock down yet another Big 12 title, and possibly another trip to the Final Four.
The team concept is vital. It’s a lesson other Big 12 teams have learned the hard way in recent seasons. Remember Michael Beasley at K-State? His single season was a marvel of individual effort, but Kansas won the 2008 league (and national) title in spite of Beasley’s 28 double-doubles. One year prior, Kevin Durant was transcendent at Texas, winning national player of the year honors, but even the Durantula couldn’t wrest the Big 12 trophy from Bill Self’s hands all by his lonesome.
So what’s to keep the same fate from befalling Andrew Wiggins? The Canadian wunderkind has the inside track on the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick and the Naismith Award, and most pundits favor him to be one of the game’s all-time greats over the next two decades. That’s a lot of expectation on one guy.
Here’s the thing – Kansas doesn’t do the one man show. Take a look at the talent arrayed around Wiggins, and you’ll see the makings of a national title contender, though maybe not one as flashy as the one John Calipari has built at Kentucky. Junior Naadir Tharpe will become the primary ballhandler, and he’ll share the backcourt with Wayne Selden, a freshman who would be the team’s most notable player if not for a certain Canadian.
In the frontcourt, Self has another newbie in Joel Embiid, an experienced transfer in Memphis’ Tarik Black, and the hard-won wisdom of sophomore Perry Ellis, who learned patience in his own unpredictable freshman campaign.
“I had a lot of ups and downs,” Ellis told NBCSports.com via phone. “I realized I still had a lot to learn about the game. Just by becoming more mentally tough and learning little aspects of the game that coach was teaching.”
Bill Self has never asked one player to carry his squad. His dalliances with one-and-done talent in the past have driven home the point: no one man, no matter how talented, can do the whole job. Xavier Henry needed his teammates to pick up the slack while he learned how to be aggressive and hit the mid-range jumper. Josh Selby had to sit out nine games of his freshman season, and never really became a star as he was expected to. Ben McLemore was Self’s biggest success to date, but last season was hardly a solo performance by the eventual lottery pick.
Wiggins is a different sort of superstar – he can, and likely will, take over games on his own – but he’ll have the support system he needs if things don’t go as planned. Ellis, a blue-chip recruit in his own right, knows that those days will come. He’ll have advice for Wiggins, Selden and especially freshman big man Embiid when things get tough.
“He’ll get down sometimes,” Ellis said. “I went through that too my freshman year. I can relate to him on that. Jeff (Withey) and them would take me under their wing when I wasn’t doing well or got down on myself. That’s what I’m really trying to help them with. When things aren’t going well, just keep competing.”
Wiggins is hard to nail down. He’s the sort of player who can thrive anywhere on the court. He’ll explode eyeballs if his teammates can do the little things that create space for a superstar – setting picks, knocking down zone-busting shots, sealing off defenders in the paint – and that’s the kind of thing Bill Self teams excel at. Ellis pointed out that some of the bench players who will see their time dwindle as the stars take the court will have vital roles to play.
“Andrew White and Brannen Green are good shooters. In practice, we’ve been meshing real well, with guys knocking in shots, or I can get it in the post and kick it back out. I think that will be great for us.”
If you look at Kansas teams of the past, there’s always talent. That’s a given. But Bill Self’s Final Four teams, including his national title winners of 2008, haven’t yet produced a bona fide NBA superstar. With a consensus stud on the roster this season, it’ll be up to the head coach to make sure his supporting cast is never standing and watching as Wiggins defies gravity. Ellis, who struggled to learn his role as McLemore lit up the scoreboard, knows that hard work pays off, even if you’re not the star every night.
“The game started really slowing down for me,” Ellis said. “I realized that my freshman season. It’s a long season but I turned it around at the end.”
Self’s troops, though young, should be primed to hear that wisdom. Even the younger players on the team ooze maturity. Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News – the polar opposite of an attention-hungry internet troll – lobbed a stunning compliment at one of the other freshmen earlier this season.
Wayne Selden does not relent. I’ll say this as directly as possible: Selden is the hardest-practicing freshman I’ve encountered in more than a quarter-century on the college basketball beat.
Wiggins’s athleticism will permit him to do some things college opponents can’t prevent. But those same young men simply won’t want to get in Selden’s way.
Kansas will certainly never turn up its nose at the uber-talented. But a decade’s worth of league titles won over an opponent’s superstar or two ought to prove that Bill Self’s Jayhawks will always win with more than one man, even when that man is the amazing Andrew Wiggins.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click heret.
Last Season: 31-6, 14-4 Big 12 (t-1st); Lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16
Head Coach: Bill Self (11th year at Kansas: 300-59 overall, 137-27 Big 12)
Key Losses: Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson, Kevin Young
Newcomers: Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Tarik Black, Connor Frankamp, Brannen Greene, Frank Mason
– G: Naadir Tharpe, Jr.
– G: Wayne Selden, Fr.
– F: Andrew Wiggins, Fr.
– F: Perry Ellis, So.
– C: Joel Embiid, Fr.
– Bench: Tarik Black, Sr.; Andrew White, So.; Justin Wesley, Sr.; Connor Frankamp, Fr.; Brannen Greene, Fr.; Jamari Traylor, So.
They’ll be good because …: Have you seen the amount of talent Kansas has on their roster? Let’s start with the obvious: Andrew Wiggins. This is the kid that has been talked about and written about for years as the best prospect in basketball, a guy that could, one day, find himself on the same level as the Lebrons and the Kevin Durants and the Derrick Roses. There’s a reason he’s gotten all that hype, so don’t be surprised when he ends up having an all-american caliber season.
But Wiggins is far from alone. Let’s start with Wayne Selden, a 6-foot-4 bulldog of a off-guard that certainly won’t have an issue attacking the basket. Then there’s Perry Ellis, a talented scorer at the power forward spot that should be expected to come closer to reaching his potential this season. Joel Embiid may not too much of an offensive option at this point, but he should anchor what will once again be one of the best defensive teams in the country. There’s a lot of uncertainty given the youth and turnover on this roster, but if everything works out, the ceiling for this team is as high as anyone.
But they might disappoint because …: All the talent that Kansas has amassed is young. Wiggins, Embiid and Selden are freshmen. Ellis is a sophomore. Naadir Tharpe and Tarik Black are the only upperclassmen that figure to be in the rotation, and that’s a concern because it’s tough to peg the impact that freshmen will have. Embiid is raw. His value as a prospect is rooted in the long-term. The same can be said for Wiggins, who is still trying to develop the aggressiveness he needs to maximize his talent.
The other issue for Kansas is the point guard spot. Early reviews for Naadir Tharpe are that he’s made a jump since his sophomore season, when he was so inconsistent that he was forced to split time with Elijah Johnson as the team’s primary ball-handler. If so, that’s a big deal, because not having that point guard presence was one of the Jayhawk’s biggest issues a season ago. Tharpe doesn’t need to do all that much: get the offense into their sets, protect the ball, hit a jumper when he’s open and beat his man off the dribble enough to keep defenses honest. The question is, will he be up to the task?
Outlook: You all know the stat by now: in each of the last nine seasons, Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. It’s a phenomenal run, and despite the talent up in Stillwater, Kansas will once again head into the season as the Big 12 favorite. That’s just the way it goes when you’re the nine-time champs; you’re picked to win it until you don’t.
But that’s anything but a guarantee. As mentioned early, Kansas still has plenty of question marks heading into the season, not the least of which is Wiggins himself. As talented and gifted as he is physically, there are still some question marks about how much his offensive repertoire is developed. There are concerns about his aggressiveness, about whether or not he has the killer instinct required to be able to take over game after game after game. His ceiling is nonexistent, but it’s also five years down the road. Will he be Kevin Durant or Harrison Barnes? That’s the difference between Kansas being really good, and Kansas potentially being a title contender.