LAWRENCE — Still learning the ins and outs of the college game, Kansas basketball freshman Jalen Wilson at least appears to have arrived on campus with one unteachable attribute:
“Jalen is the guy that I think believes more than anybody he belongs,” said KU coach Bill Self, contrasting Wilson to fellow freshmen Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun on his weekly radio show. “He’s the most confident of the three.”
Speaking ahead of the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ final exhibition contest, a 7 p.m. Thursday home tilt versus Pittsburg State, Wilson showcased that attribute multiple times. That confidence was most notable in an answer about the team’s first regular season opponent, No. 4 Duke, who KU will play at 6 p.m. Tuesday in New York in a high-profile Champions Classic clash.
“To start the season off in Madison Square Garden against Duke just sets up for what Kansas is about. We don’t run from anybody. We play anybody that we need to,” Wilson said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll probably see them again sometime in March.”
A 6-foot-8, 215-pounder out of Denton, Texas, Wilson was an 11th-hour get for KU. Originally a Michigan signee, the four-star recruit received his release from that program after the departure of former head coach John Beilein to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, with Self and the Jayhawks the eventual beneficiary.
“I think he’s a gamer as much as anybody that we’ve had come in here in a while,” Self added Wednesday. “I mean, I think he’s going to be the one guy that jumps a lot higher on game night and probably shoot a higher percentage on game night. Based on what people have told me, he’s always been that kind of guy.”
Wilson, the lone top-100 prospect at the time of his second pledge, chose KU on June 12.
“I’m very confident. I just believe in myself,” Wilson said. “Growing up I didn’t have a lot of people that were always, like, telling me this and that about my game. It was always just my family. So I’m always self-driven to be the best I can be.
“I’ve not really needed, you know, anyone else to push me. I’ve just had the confidence in myself to get me places. That’s just something I’ll always have with me for the rest of my life.”
An injury to starting point guard Devon Dotson shifted personnel and elevated Wilson into the starting lineup for KU’s exhibition opener, an 86-56 victory over Fort Hays State last Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse. Wilson contributed six points on 2-for-9 shooting with three rebounds but finished with a team-best plus-minus of plus-31.
Wilson labeled his first taste of KU’s home-court edge a “crazy” experience.
“I was trying to pay attention to all the little things and just take advantage of the opportunity I had,” Wilson said. “To be in that position, not a lot of people get to do that across the nation, (play) in Allen Fieldhouse. I really just had to sit down and realize what was going on.”
As indicated earlier, Wilson is still learning the ropes at the collegiate level. That rings true, Self indicated, when it comes to the 17th-year Jayhawk coach's biggest preseason concern with this squad.
“The bottom line is ... if (Wilson) can’t keep somebody in front of him too, he’ll have a hard time playing,” Self said. “But if he can and Tristan and C.B. (Braun) can, once we get Isaiah (Moss) healthy, their opportunity to play will probably be in that four spot. So one of those guys need to come through for sure, and hopefully two of them will.”
Naturally, Wilson is confident in his team’s ability to live up to that expectation.
“I don’t feel like we’re far at all. I feel like we just need to focus on defense,” Wilson said. “Once we focus defensively the offense will come with this team. Everyone’s so talented and deep on the roster. I feel like once we get that down, it will be wraps.”
Moss questionable for Thursday
Senior guard Isaiah Moss, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, will be a game-time decision for the Jayhawks’ game against Pittsburg State, Self said.
Self acknowledged he’s concerned about Moss' availability for the start of the regular season.
“He needs to play this week, I mean at least be out there some, and have three or four practices strung together so that he can at least be confident going into Tuesday,” Self said. “If he can’t do that then the chances of him playing much aren’t very real, even if he does feel better.”