Naadir Tharpe’s shooting stats haven’t been pretty the past nine games.
“He doesn’t have to shoot the ball well to play well,” Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said with a shrug, not dwelling on the 5-foot-11 sophomore backup point guard’s 17 baskets in his last 62 attempts for 27.4 percent.
“He is a real good shooter.”
On Monday, he hit three of nine shots — one of four from three — in KU’s 83-62 home victory over Kansas State.
Those numbers did not tell the story of Tharpe’s entire evening. The Worcester, Mass., native was cited as one of the stars of the game for his defense on KSU standout Rodney McGruder.
Yes, the 5-foot-11 Tharpe shadowed the 6-foot-4 McGruder during much of the contest.
“I thought ‘Naa’ the first half did a great job on him,” Self said. McGruder, a likely first-team All-Big 12 pick, scored just three points off 1-of-3 shooting while being unable to shake free of Tharpe the first 20 minutes as KU stormed to a 47-29 lead.
“He got his the second half,” Self added of McGruder, who finished with 20 points off 7-of-14 shooting.
“I was happy for him and proud of him,” Self gushed of Tharpe. “He had been on the cusp of having a good game.”
In retrospect, Self doesn’t consider it a genius coaching move putting the shorter Tharpe on McGruder.
“We really didn’t have another choice. You need Ben’s legs to shoot. If you allow him to chase Rodney, that wears him down,” Self said of Ben McLemore, who scored 30 points against KSU. “Travis (Releford) was out of the game with foul problems, and Elijah (Johnson) had two.”
Tharpe wanted no credit for slowing McGruder when it mattered.
“In practice, we knew what we needed to do against him,” Tharpe said. “It wasn’t one person guarding him. It’s what we talked about. We knew he’d be curling screens. We needed everybody to be in tune. Everybody on the team did it together. I felt it is why he didn’t play as well as he usually does. He still made baskets.”
Tharpe, who played significant stretches at lead guard with Johnson moving over to shooting guard, “had a great first half on both ends,” Self assessed. “He had the defense on its heels. He drove the ball, got us easy baskets. It’s probably his best half of basketball since he’s been here.”
As far as shooting, those who know Tharpe know he needs to keep firing when open, despite the fact he has made seven of his last 31 threes over nine games.
“A lot of coaches that coached me always said I was a good shooter,” he said. “Coach says the same thing. He gets mad at me if I don’t shoot open shots, so I know I have to shoot the ball when I’m open.”
It’s all a process, Tharpe said.
“Everybody who has come here and everybody I’ve seen here, nobody comes and is automatically a superstar,” Tharpe said. “I’ve been trying to work hard every day at practice. That way I can get to being a good player and get out on the floor and help the team win.
Self to coach Dream Team?: Self on Wednesday was asked by national talk-show host Jim Rome about his name being mentioned as a strong candidate for U.S. men’s Olympic team coach, to succeed Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
“Sure it would, oh gosh, yes, it would interest me,” Self said of coaching the Dream Team. “I don’t know if anybody who has ever said that knows Jerry Colangelo (chair USA basketball board of directors) or the (Team) USA people. That’s a situation there’s so much emphasis and such a big deal they are going to hire somebody to coach that team that has been around those guys (NBA stars) and those guys have a comfort level with. Just like Coach K has done a masterful job doing that, he also had some experiences with those guys beforehand, too.
“Although it is flattering to hear things like that,” Self added, “it’s something I don’t put one bit of stock into at all because the reality of that happening is not very good at all. My plate is full here. I am just focused on what is going on at Kansas. It is flattering but not very realistic either.”
Rio update: KU freshman Rio Adams had two turnovers in five minutes vs. KSU.
“He has a good attitude in practice. He tries and is aggressive,” Self said in responding to a question about the 6-3 Seattle freshman on Self’s “Hawk Talk” radio show. “I’m not being negative at all, (but) most of the time he’s put in there is because of foul situations. We had Elijah with two and Travis with two. Rio tried hard. He had two turnovers (that led to KSU hoops) but tried hard. They were turnovers of trying rather than being passive.
“He will be a good player moving forward. Andrew (White) deserves to play,” Self added of the 6-6 freshman, who did not enter until the final minute. “Against a team that really pressures, we felt comfortable going with a ballhandler (Adams) rather than a guy who shoots it better (White).
“I don’t know his role moving forward,” he added of Adams. “He has to be ready, and if his number is called like Cole (Aldrich) in 2008, he’s got to step in and make the most of it.”
Up next: KU will meet Texas at 8 p.m. Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.