Still a bit raw offensively, Justin Wesley has emerged as a solid defensive player early in his sophomore basketball season at Kansas University.
“I will say this about Justin ... could a guy have guarded any better than he did the other night?” KU coach Bill Self said of the 6-foot-9, 220-pound transfer from Lamar. Wesley spent most of his allotted 21 minutes shadowing All-America candidate Terrence Jones during KU’s 75-65 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday in New York.
Jones, a 6-9, 252-pound sophomore, finished with 15 points off 6-of-11 shooting in 35 minutes. Wesley chipped in five points with five rebounds.
“Justin was locked in, stayed down, didn’t go for fakes,” Self said. “When you are guarding a guy as talented as he is, it’s when you don’t gamble and miss. He was terrific defending.”
Wesley — he won’t be asked to guard many, if any, better than future NBA lottery pick Jones — hopes to earn a regular spot in the rotation by playing rugged defense.
“Early in the season, I remember you guys (media) asking me what I thought my role was going to be. As the preseason went on, I realized I wanted to focus on being the defensive stopper,” Wesley said. “It’s what I want to continue to focus on. I knew I had a job to do (against Kentucky) and wanted to focus on doing it to the best of my ability.”
Against Jones, that entailed “basically keeping my eyes on his legs. That’s what they said in practice,” Wesley said. “Stay low and keep moving my feet.”
Wesley averaged 9.0 points a game his senior year at North Crowley (Texas) High School in Fort Worth, Texas, and followed that with 1.2 ppg in 23 games at Lamar in 2009-10. He isn’t about to force the issue offensively.
“My understanding is Tyshawn (Taylor), Thomas (Robinson) and Elijah (Johnson) are our three best offensive threats,” Wesley said. “The role I’ve taken is playing good defense and getting them the ball as much as possible, being a ball-mover, setting good screens, getting to the basket and rebound, getting those trash buckets.
“As far as stepping into the role of being a major contributor, it’s not my main focus now. If that comes when the season progresses, I’ll take on that role. Right now I’m just focusing on the defensive aspect.”
He’ll be one of the first players to come off the bench during Monday’s 11 p.m. clash against Georgetown (2-0) in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
“Georgetown is an athletic team,” Wesley said. “The key for us is to execute our offense, which we didn’t do a great job of against Kentucky. We know what we have to do: execute our offense, be focused and sound.”
Self likes the sound of that.
“To me, the most pleasant surprise ... he will not be a numbers guy for us, but based on what he can give, Justin Wesley has been our most solid performer off the bench,” Self said.
About Georgetown: Big East Conference member Georgetown has victories over Savannah State (83-54) and UNC-Greensboro (86-45). Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas are led by junior forward Hollis Thompson (16.0 ppg, 66.7 percent shooting), senior center Henry Sims (6.5 rpg, 4.0 apg) and senior guard Jason Clark (13.0 ppg). . ... Georgetown is located in Washington, D.C., and has an enrollment of 15,318.