In this weekend’s thrilling 90-84 Kansas victory over the University of Kentucky, a matchup between two of college basketball's most-winningest programs, it was Wayne Selden’s dunk over freshman shot-blocker extraordinaire Skal Labissiere that accentuated the best performance, thus far, of his college career.
The 6-foot-5 muscular junior connected on 12 of his 20 shots en route to a game-high 33 points, seven of them coming in overtime, in the most hyped matchup of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Fourth-ranked Kansas fought back from an eight-point deficit in the second half and by the time things went into an extra period, Selden made a huge impression on the college hoops landscape while lifting his team on his back to carry the Jayhawks’ to their most important victory of the season.
Selden is accustomed to making an unforgettable initial impression. In the fall of 1994, he made his first appearance at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s hospital as a gigantic, 11-pound 4-ounce, newborn.
“Two hours after he was born, Wayne was lifting his head up,” said his mother Lavette Pitts. “He was so big that the hospital didn’t have any newborn diapers that could fit him.”
After the Nike Elite 100 camp at St. Louis University before the start of his sophomore year at the Tilton School in New Hampshire, Selden’s game was equally large.
“Coming out of the Elite 100, his athleticism, body and overall game really stood out,” former national recruiting analyst Dave Telep told me in the summer of 2011. “Wayne showed that he was one of the best scorers in the country and a complete wing player.”
While some thought back then that his dominance was simply a byproduct of size and physical gifts because he already stood 6-foot-4 with a build that was comparable to strong, versatile guards like Jimmy Jackson or Joe Johnson, Selden’s mental comprehension of the game was at an advanced level before ever donning a uniform.
“When I was playing in adult leagues or his uncle or father were playing ball at the park, we took Wayne with us wherever we went,” said his grandfather, Anthony Pitts Sr. “He’d be sitting there, watching and asking a lot of questions. Sometimes when I’d be refereeing, he’d criticize my calls, saying stuff like, ‘I don’t think that was a foul.’
Suiting up for his first organized team as a fourth grader, Selden led his AAU squad to a third-place finish at Nationals that summer.
His 26-point freshman debut at Tilton – a boarding prep school 85 miles from his home in Boston’s tough Roxbury neighborhood – again showed his penchant for eye-opening entrances.
In the New England Prep School AA state title game as a ninth grader against a powerful St. Mark’s School team featuring Duke-bound forward Alex Murphy, who has since transferred to Florida, and highly ranked 7-foot junior center Kaleb Tarczewski, who is now a senior starter for the Arizona Wildcats, Selden – whose Tilton teammates included Iowa State’s exceptional senior forward Georges Niang and current Philadelphia 76’er forward Nerlens Noel – punctuated his freshman campaign with 24 points in the 72-56 championship victory.
Late in the fourth quarter, with Tilton holding a tenuous lead, Niang lofted an alley-oop from mid-court toward a streaking Selden that seemed destined to soar into the stands.
“Wayne kept elevating and caught the ball with one hand,” said Pitts. “He was on the side of, and BEHIND, the basket, gathered it and rammed it in one easy motion. It was an unbelievable dunk. You had to see it to appreciate it.”
During the summer months, before college basketball fans saw him debut at Kansas a little over two years ago and away from the spotlight of packed gymnasiums and elite AAU events, Selden continued his advanced hoops education.
He worked out against pros and elite college players like Harvard’s Kyle Casey, Glenn ‘Big Baby’ Davis, former Boston College and current Detroit Pistons standout point guard Reggie Jackson and his neighborhood big brother Shabazz Napier, who won two national championships at UCONN and is now playing with the Orlando Magic.
The intense training and scrimmages were under the watchful eye of his mentor: Beantown prep legend and former Boston College point guard Steve Hailey.
“Wayne’s a freakish athlete like I’ve never seen before at that age,” Reggie Jackson told me a day after becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first round draft pick in 2011. “He plays hard but he’s so smooth, he makes it look effortless. If he decides to continue to do whatever it takes to be the best, everyone will know who Wayne Selden is one day soon, and not just in college. I don’t see why, in a few years, he can’t be a top NBA draft pick.”
“Wayne listens and he’s locked in,” said Hailey. “He didn’t play like he was a young kid in awe going against college and pro players. Even though he was only a high school underclassman back then, mentally, he understood that he could be one of the best players in the country, regardless of class.”
During the Celtics’ 2009 championship season, Selden, a middle school student at the time, accompanied his hometown team to a road game against the Knicks after winning a shooting contest at the Boston Garden. He flew on the chartered jet, stayed overnight at the team hotel, and hung out with team legends, players and former coach Doc Rivers.
Upon landing back in Boston, while Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the others playfully gave him dap before driving off in their luxury cars, Selden lingered, leaving his mom waiting in her car for close to an hour.
“I felt like I was part of the team,” said Selden. “When we landed and everyone was going home, I felt like I just got cut and didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay for the rest of the season.”
Pretty soon, he just might get his NBA wish.