Royce Woolridge played basketball in Lawrence last summer — at Bill Self’s Elite Camp, held behind closed doors in the privacy of Kansas University’s Horejsi Center.
Friday, the future KU shooting guard from Phoenix Sunnyslope High will be back in town, this time showcasing his game for the public to see.
Woolridge’s Arizona Magic AAU team will square off against top Class of 2010 prospect Harrison Barnes’ All-Iowa Attack Red squad in the opening game of the Jayhawk Invitational, set for a 7:10 p.m. start at Haskell’s 3,000-seat Coffin Complex.
“It’s going to be a circus,” Arizona Magic coach Kenny Mullins said.
His featured player is Woolridge, a 6-foot-3 prep junior who averaged 28.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals a game last season for Arizona’s Class 4A state championship team.
“There will be a lot of people there rooting, cheering — where every basket is a big deal. There will be a little more hoopla (than normal), with Kansas fans wanting to see Royce,” Mullins said.
Jayhawk fans also will be eager to take a look at Barnes, a 6-6 guard/forward from Ames (Iowa) High who averaged 19.7 points and 8.8 boards a game as a junior for Iowa’s undefeated state champs. Barnes is considering KU, Duke, North Carolina, Iowa State and many others.
“I can’t wait. I’m excited to get to play against Harrison in my future college town,” Woolridge said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I’m going in hoping to play well and have our team play well and win the tournament.
“I’ll play as hard as I can. Hopefully the fans will see me play well.”
Woolridge has never met Barnes, but has heard a lot about him.
“I’ll try to talk to him after the game,” Woolridge said. “I know he’s a really good player.”
Barnes is ranked No. 4 nationally by Rivals.com in the Class of 2010. Woolridge is No. 88, but figures to move up in the ratings if he has a big spring and summer on the AAU circuit.
He’s off to a strong start after hitting eight of nine three-pointers and exploding for 34 points in a recent victory over Belmont (Calif.) Shore in Las Vegas.
“I don’t know why I’m so low. I guess somebody doesn’t like me,” Woolridge said with a laugh. “I think it’d be awesome to be in the top 10 or 20. It’s what I want. I’m just trying to prove to everybody I’m good enough to play at Kansas.”
His Arizona Magic coach can envision a scenario in which Woolridge makes a huge jump this summer.
“It depends how he plays,” Mullins said. “The ranking stuff ... I’ve been doing this awhile. We go to some big tournaments. Sometimes 10 to 15 scouts are at our games, sometimes not. Sometimes you have a good game when they are there, or you might not.
“I’d say in (a recent tournament in) L.A., he had 25 to 30 every game, but the first game where he struggled with his jump shot,” Mullins added. “He had 34 in Vegas. He’s a shooter who hits threes and also gets to the basket. We’ll run some sets for him, to try to get him open looks. He also can spread it out and take his man. Royce is the best ball-handler on our team. If we’re pressured, he’ll bring it up.”
Woolridge hit 50 percent of his shots his junior year at Sunnyslope, including 34 percent of his threes.
“You always have to work on your jump shot,” said Woolridge, who likes to put in time in the gym. “I think I’ll play either point guard or off guard (at KU). I’ll be a guard, versatile.”
It still will be awhile before he’s here. He has a championship to defend next year at Sunnyslope, which went 24-5 last season.
“It was a big deal,” Woolridge said of winning his first state crown. He, in fact, went off for 30 points in the state semifinals and 31 in a 78-65 victory over Avondale’s Agua Fria in the finals.
He’ll be watching the Jayhawks on TV again next year.
“They’ll be really good (next season),” Woolridge said of KU. “They’ve got Xavier Henry coming in. They’ve got Cole (Aldrich) and Sherron (Collins) and all the other guys back, too. They should be really good, and when I get there, hopefully we will continue that.”