LAWRENCE — When eighth-ranked Kansas steps onto the floor at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, it will be the final home game for seniors Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley.
Barely heard of them?
Maybe you’ve heard of Andrew Wiggins. It also figures to be the last home game for the Jayhawks’ talented freshman, who has already declared his intention to head to the NBA after this season. But in homage to the tradition that is senior night, the spotlight against Texas Tech will be reserved for Black, Roberts and Wesley.
“I’ve seen where other schools when guys are projected to leave, they make them part of their night, which is fine,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Tuesday. “But we have a pretty tradition-rich program and there are certain traditions worth keeping, and this is not freshman night.”
So even though Black has only played one season after transferring from Memphis, he’ll be honored as a senior. And even though Roberts and Wesley barely see the floor, they’ll have a chance to bask in the spotlight of an adoring home crowd one last time.
“I think our fan base, the majority, would be very disappointed if we did something that took away from one of the great traditions of basketball, and that is senior night,” Self said.
Self has had plenty of players leave school early, of course. Ben McLemore played only one season before he was picked seventh overall last June, and Thomas Robinson was chosen fifth overall when he left after his junior season two years ago. Self even made modest acknowledgements of their contributions on senior night, knowing full well that they wouldn’t be back.
He’s never included them in the full festivities, though. That’s an honor that he reserves for his seniors, guys who have persevered long enough to exhaust his eligibility.
“I’m not saying we may not recognize (Wiggins) or something,” Self said, “but I don’t want the emphasis to go away from those kids.”
Black has clearly been the most valuable of the seniors, at least in terms of his on-court production. He’s averaged just 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds, but he’s provided a physical presence in the post and has been instrumental in helping along 7-foot freshman Joel Embiid.
“I was meant to be here,” Black said. “This is where I was supposed to be.”
Roberts has only played in mop-up duty in five games, but there may be no player Self is closer to than the son of assistant coach Norm Roberts. In fact, Self couldn’t help but laugh when he recalled Tuesday watching Niko growing up.
“I think I even spanked Niko when he was 3 or 4 years old a couple times when we used to babysit him,” Self said, “but he’s awesome. He’s part of the family and has been for a long time.”
Then there’s Wesley, who may have had their most unique experience of the three. He was among the first big men off the bench as a sophomore, and even played in the Jayhawks’ national title loss to Kentucky as a sophomore. But higher-profile recruits have arrived over the last couple of years, pushing him to the bench, and now he rarely gets on the floor.
That doesn’t mean he’s not a star in his own right. Wesley played the role of Wilt Chamberlain in the film “Jayhawkers” for Kansas professor and independent film maker Kevin Willmott.
“It’s been an up and down roller coaster,” Wesley said. “It’s been a task switching roles, accepting roles, but it made me grow. It made me a better person.”
Then there’s Wiggins, who’s in the running for Big 12 player of the year. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the astronomical expectations that accompanied his arrival as the nation’s top-rated recruit, he’s nonetheless ushered the Jayhawks to their 10th straight Big 12 title.
And while Wiggins won’t necessarily be honored on senior night, there may be no bigger ovation when he throws down his first dunk or hits his first 3-pointer, the crowd keenly aware not only of what he’s already accomplished but how critical he’ll be to a deep March run.
“It’s not sophomore night, it’s not junior night. It’s senior night,” Self said. “I think in the past we’ve acknowledged (underclassmen), maybe said something, but the bottom line is this night is about Justin, Nino and Tarik.”