When Naadir Tharpe dribbled the ball up the court Wednesday, he found himself staring at two of the best on-ball defenders in the history of Kansas basketball - Aaron Miles and Russell Robinson.
The dozens of die-hard Jayhawks fans in attendance probably didn't expect a great deal of Tharpe in this scenario. After all, the sophomore point guard averaged just 5.5 minutes, 0.9 points and 0.7 assists per game as a freshman last season. He frequently looked overwhelmed, befuddled by the complexity of the defenses and the increased speed of the game which, to be fair, is a common affliction among freshmen.
But whether it's a pickup game or not, the Naadir Tharpe of the present is already starting to look different. He carries himself with more confidence. He's quicker, more decisive. He takes open shots and finds open teammates.
He stares back at a defender such as Russell Robinson, and he does what a point guard is supposed to do. He creates. He makes plays.
"They're going to try and guard me," Tharpe said. "They're going to try and go at me because they're the oleo dudes. They don't want to see the younger dudes try to kill them. So they were going hard out there."
Wednesday, during the second of two alumni scrimmages held during the summer as a part of Head Coach Bill Self's basketball camps, Tharpe did a little bit of everything. He nailed open threes, created for his teammates, and played with an assertiveness missing from his game most of last year.
With Tyshawn Taylor graduated and the only experienced point guard on the team – Elijah Johnson – still on the mend from post-season knee surgery, he knows everyone is expecting more from him next season. Heck, the team needs more from him next season in order to succeed.
"So I've got to be a leader, even when (Elijah is) out there," Tharpe said. "I still have to know I'm the point guard even though I'm only a sophomore, I still have to be a leader, talking to dudes. That's just what I've got to do."
The Jayhawks he'll be leading next year will look significantly different, with a massive freshman class and the departure of so many major contributors from last season's national runner up - most notably Taylor and Thomas Robinson.
However, though they may be a bit short on experience one thing they're definitely not lacking is athleticism. Throw in newcomers Ben McLemore, Andrew White, Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis - the list goes on - with returners like Johnson and Travis Releford, and this is a team with some serious high-flying potential.
That potential has Tharpe excited for the possibilities.
"You've got dudes that are going to be able to run the floor," he said. "We're just going to be looking up ahead and going. It's going to be alley-oop city."
The ability to play that way doesn't come without sacrifice, however.
"If that's how dudes are going to want to play that means we're going to have to be in better shape, we're going to have to be defending more on the other end," Tharpe added. "So all that stuff goes with it."