As Rivals.com’s 120th-ranked basketball prospect in the Class of 2010, Royce Woolridge begins his Kansas University career without the burden of high expectations.
In fact, the former Phoenix Sunnyslope High standout’s name is rarely mentioned — on various Internet message boards, at football tailgate parties and/or around office water coolers — as somebody with a realistic chance of cracking the Jayhawks’ rotation his freshman season.
So should the 6-foot-2, 182-pounder, who was largely forgotten by national recruiting analysts after taking the drama out of his recruitment by committing to KU his sophomore year, be relegated to an end-of-the-bench guy or possible red shirt this season?
Not so fast, says KU junior Marcus Morris.
“He’s definitely doing well,” Morris said. “He’s more advanced than I thought he’d be. He’s very aggressive. He is like a bulldog. He fights his way to the basket and is a great finisher.
“I think he’s underrated. A guy scoring 40 points in high school (actually 52 in one game) ... I think there’s a reason a guy is doing that. He can shoot and he can penetrate.”
Morris, who recently was named first-team preseason All-Big 12, continued his glowing review of Woolridge, who lit it up for 30.2 points a game his senior season, scoring 34 in the state title game.
“I like his defense, and he’s stronger than he naturally looks. I think he’s a good defender, better than what a lot of people think. He can play more than a lot of people think,” Morris said.
Woolridge smiled when told of Morris’ assessment of his defense. Work on that end could be a sure way to find court time.
“I just go out there and play hard. It’s all you can do because everybody is so much bigger at this level,” said Woolridge, who was recruited by Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Georgetown and others.
“I always knew I could play defense. It was just the fact being in high school, being lazy because you could get away with it. On the next level, you can’t get away with being lazy. You have to play defense. My coaches taught me fundamentals really well,” he added. “There are fundamental things in college that are really different. I’m still learning those things.”
He’s also learning about the life of a student on this level. Woolridge, who rooms with freshman walk-on Niko Roberts, has had a busy start, taking six hours of summer school to go with 15 hours this semester.
“It’s a lot different than high school. You are responsible for everything you do,” Woolridge said. “There’s a lot of responsibility, but if you get your work done and pay attention, you’ll be fine (in class).
“It’s a little different from what I expected. Of course you wouldn’t know what college would be like coming out of high school. It’s just a whole new experience, and classes are going well. It’s fun.”
On a happiness scale of 1-10?
“I am a 10,” he said. “I really like it here, and I’m really looking forward to the season.”
He has no idea what’s in store as far as possible playing time.
“I’ll just go out there and play hard in practice, and we’ll just see what happens. I just want to fit in the best I can. Whatever the teams needs me to do, I’m going to do,” Woolridge said.
He realizes the competition will be fierce in KU’s backcourt.
“We are a very athletic team this year. I think we’re going to be an exciting team, a good team. We might be a little bit underrated. I’m sure we’ll prove a lot wrong,” Woolridge said.
Coach Bill Self said Friday said he was impressed with the play of Woolridge in KU’s short 20-minute Late Night in the Phog scrimmage. Woolridge had five points off 2-of-3 shooting with two assists and a steal.
“He's a combo guard, really good off the bounce and has become an excellent shooter,” Self said recently regarding Woolridge. “He’s 6-2 or so, and may have a chance to grow some more. He’s a terrific young man, great student and is going to be a heck of a basketball player.”
Woolridge on ballyhooed freshman Josh Selby: “Selby is a great guy, really cool, nice with the teammates. He fits in with us. Josh is amazing. He’s really a good player.”
Recruiting: LeBryan Nash, a 6-7 senior forward from Dallas Lincoln High who visited KU last weekend, says he’ll choose either KU, Oklahoma State or Baylor on Thursday. “I met with coach Self before I left today, and we sat down and talked. He was talking to me about James Naismith and how special KU really is and how great it would be if I decided to come here,” Nash, the country’s No. 4-rated player, told Rivals.com on Sunday. “It’s really special at Kansas. My head is spinning right now, and I don't know what I'm going to do. I just need to talk to my mom and my coach. I don't have a leader right now. All the schools are equal.”
No. 76-rated Angelo Chol, 6-8 senior, San Diego Hoover High, also had his visit end Sunday. He will make some visits second semester and will sign with a school in April. He has a final list of KU, Alabama, Washington, Arizona and North Carolina. “Man, the fans at Kansas are crazy,” an impressed Chol told Rivals.com. “What I saw this weekend during my visit is something I’ve never seen before. I had never seen that many people pack a gym for a basketball practice. The thought of any school selling out a gym for a basketball practice is just crazy. It was a very good visit to Kansas, and I’m happy with everything that happened.”
No. 17-rated Ben McLemore, 6-5 from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., said Sunday he’ll visit Missouri next weekend, then Tennessee. He said he’d sign with a school in November.