Last week, when former Jayhawk point guard Russell Robinson got his first up-close look at current Kansas University sophomore Naadir Tharpe, he liked what he saw.
“I think he has enough talent to get some minutes on this team,” said Robinson, the starting point guard on KU’s 2008 national championship team. “You know, Tyshawn (Taylor) was ahead of him last year and that’s tough, but I think Naadir is a better point guard at that stage than I was.”
That’s not the only time these two have been compared.
During Robinson’s first year in Lawrence, he played sparingly and contemplated leaving KU at the end of his freshman season. He didn’t, of course, and wound up starting for the next three seasons and walking away with a national-championship ring.
During Robinson’s tough time, he got a lift from former teammate Aaron Miles, who simply reassured the New York native that he was a good player and that things would work out as long as he put in the time. Robinson said he tried to give similar advice to Tharpe.
“(I just tried) to set some knowledge on him,” Robinson said. “The fact that he was supporting his team (last season) means his mind is still into it. I think he’ll have an opportunity to play this year and I think he’ll make the most of it.”
Like Robinson, Tharpe, who hails from hoops factory Brewster (N.H.) Academy, logged fewer minutes (5.5 per game) than he would have liked during his freshman season and often found it tough to adjust from being a starting high school point guard to a spot role player in college. But also like Robinson, Tharpe chose to remain at KU and currently is in the midst of an offseason designed to overhaul his game.
“Coach told me that he’s going to need more out of me,” Tharpe said. “And I know I need more out of myself. It’s definitely motivating. Last year I didn’t really get to play as much as I wanted to, but I had to look at myself in the mirror and see how much I really wanted to do this and I’m just working hard every day to try to get on that court.”
Asked what area of his game he had focused on the most, Tharpe said he had done a lot of lower-body work but that he was not emphasizing one thing more than another.
“Just all around,” he said. “I need to work on everything. I really didn’t do anything spectacular last year at all, so I still need to work on everything.”
Hard work is not something from which Tharpe shies away. As a young player, at age 10, he found himself buried on the bench of his youth all-star team and responded by working hard enough in the offseason to become a starter the following year. Tharpe has that same mindset this summer and is looking forward to watching it pay off.
“From the things I’ve heard, all of the years they had a stacked team here there were a lot of great players but some of them didn’t get a chance to play right away and, you know, they had to keep working hard,” Tharpe said. “Like coach said about Russ, his first year he didn’t play, his next three years he started. So, it shows from the past. You’re not just going to be able to come here and think you’re gonna just be able to play. You have to know the system and you have to work hard. That’s the only way you’ll be able to get on the floor.”