Kansas Adds Former Memphis Big Tarik Black, Tidying Up a Gold-Striking OffseasonPosted by Chris Johnson on May 22nd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
In professional sports, the offseason is when most teams proactively set out with clearly defined roster goals, scour the personnel grapevine and come up with intricate ways to improve their respective outfits within the limiting constructs of salary cap barriers. Teams dangle mid-level exceptions and veteran minimum deals in the hopes of discovering that year’s market inefficiency. LeBron James goes on national television, announces his decision to join the Miami Heat, generating millions of dollars for local Boys & Girls Clubs charities in the act, and immediately transforms into some variation of demonic NBA anti-Christ. That is, in its most polarized narrative rendering, the very essence of free agency – player movement, buzz, flash, improvement, cost-cutting, not-five-not-six-not-seven-championships-type stuff. It’s a complex system that involves a tsunami of minor contingencies and rules, each sport offering its own unique guidelines to control the same underlying concept: free player movement.
College sports are different. The nomadic tides of inter-team player voyages is much easier to follow, the stipulations and legislative jargon more streamlined and simply understood. There are two primary ways teams go about acquiring new players. The first is the transfer, which is complex only when coaches and players make it so – but the idea is simple. A player leaves one school, finds a new one, and begins his career in a new and hopefully more personally gratifying location. The more common mechanism underpinning the constant churn of the player-eligibility cycle is recruiting. First year players replace last year’s first year players, moving up the ladder and burning eligibility along the way, right up until the clock runs out and careers come to a screeching halt. Kansas used both avenues to improve its perennially dominant basketball program this offseason. If you live under a rock, or somehow happened to gloss over the fact that the best high school prospect of the past decade announced his college choice last week, the name Andrew Wiggins probably remains something like an ethereal, distant, fairy-tale concept. If you’re up to snuff on even the most nebulous outer fringes of the college hoops news cycle, the name should ring a bell. Wiggins did announce his intention to play his (assumed) one season of college basketball at Kansas, and on Monday night KU learned its bullish offseason fortunes were only just beginning.
An official school release brought more pleasant hoops tidings to Lawrence by releasing news that former Memphis senior forward Tarik Black had finally put an end to his high-profile transfer destination mystery and formally joined Kansas for the 2013-14 season, his final (and immediately-viable) year of collegiate eligibility. Black has never quite lived up to his immense freshman hype. Far from it, actually. In three seasons at Memphis, where he constantly ran into foul trouble and saw his minutes – only once did Black earn more than 60 percent of available playing time – shaved off by persistent foul trouble, Black never became the dominant physical presence coach Josh Pastner thought he was getting after beating out the likes of Florida and Tennessee to sign the 6’8’’ big man out of Ridgeway High School (Memphis) in 2010. His best season came in 2012, when Black posted a 119.5 offensive rating, the nation’s sixth best true-shooting percentage (67.3%) and second best effective field goal percentage (68.9%). Black’s scoring numbers dipped considerably this past season, but his ability to carve out space and outmuscle opposing post bodies on the low block remained intact, and his two-way rebounding work (OR%: 10.1; DR%: 16.0) made him a sporadically productive piece in Pastner’s frontcourt rotation.
He may not need to do much else for Kansas, now loaded with the generational physics-defying force everyone’s billing as the next, next; plus a top-three recruiting class and a robotically consistent Big 12-winning coach to carry him through the journey. Black has one more season of college basketball left, and if winning a Big 12 title, competing for a national championship and, oh yeah, saying you got to suit up with tomorrow’s LeBron James for 30 games sounded like a pretty sweet deal, Black did too. Black’s decision doesn’t require a huge upward revision of Kansas’s already lofty, Wiggins-aided 2014 ceiling. It fortifies a hugely impressive (and hugely young, by Self’s typical veteran, bench-tested, program-vet standards) cadre of gifted but unrefined stars – including Joel Embiid, the nation’s top-ranked center in 2013, and fourth-ranked small forward Wayne Selden, as the backbone of the nation’s No. 2 incoming recruiting class – by solidifying KU’s biggest roster wart (frontcourt size and stability).
If Black is the embodiment of Bruce Wayne’s form-fitted suit of impenetrable armor and fleet of arms-bearing utility vehicles, Wiggins is Lucius Fox – to any college basketball team not named Kansas, their message, Kansas’ message, probably goes a little something like this: “Good Luck.” Rarely has a non-modern-day-John Calipari team seen its regular season prospects change so drastically in the midst of one offseason sojourn. There is no point in prolonging the faux-optimistic pretense any longer: Kansas, with Black and Wiggins in tow, won’t come close to anything resembling a rebuilding effort. Sorry, Big 12! The Jayhawks are reloading.