Sitting out a season that saw Kansas emerge as a presumptive top seed in the NCAA Tournament before that event was canceled taught Jalen Wilson a thing or two about opportunity.
After playing in the Jayhawks' first two games last year, the 6-8 wing suffered a season-ending ankle injury and accepted a freshman redshirt.
Three games into this season, with Kansas sitting 2-1 and ranked No. 7, Wilson looms as a scoring threat who can flat out take over a game as the Jayhawks face Washburn (3-0) on Thursday at Lawrence, Kan.
Wilson scored 21 of his career-high 23 points in the second half Tuesday as the Jayhawks rallied from a 13-point deficit to down Kentucky in the Champions Classic. While scoring 18 of Kansas' first 23 points in the second half, Wilson proved his bite can be as fierce as his bark after also snagging 10 rebounds.
"That mentality of a junkyard dog, yeah, it's just the chip on my shoulder, everything I came through last year, not being able to play at all," said the former four-star recruit. "I wanted to come out and prove to people what I can do."
He did so on a national stage, albeit with no fans at a neutral site in Indianapolis. The lights won't be as bright, obviously, with Washburn visiting the Jayhawks for their home opener, though Kansas coach Bill Self is more aware of the prime-time potential Wilson could not exhibit last season.
"We don't come close to winning the game without him," Self said.
It could be too that Wilson would not have been thrust into that kind of limelight last season when the Jayhawks' star power centered heavily on the inside-out tandem of Udoka Azubuike, a center picked in the first round by the Utah Jazz, and Devon Dotson, a point guard signed as a free agent by the Chicago Bulls.
While Wilson's scoring punch was much needed in a game Self thought more resembled "the feel of a scrimmage," his rebounding was just as welcome.
The Jayhawks continue to start one big, David McCormack, but he has struggled to fit in around four guards and went 1-for-9 with five rebounds while playing fewer than 20 minutes against Kentucky. Christian Braun led Kansas with 13 boards. The 6-6 guard ranks as the team rebounding leader with an 8.0 average.
Washburn, located in Topeka, Kansas, will make a 25-mile trek to play in what will be an exhibition for the Division II Ichabods.
Tyler Nelson drew a surprise start Monday for Washburn because of an injury to leading scorer and rebounder Drew Maschoff. Nelson responded by going 7 of 8 from 3-point range and scored a career-best 23 points against Central Oklahoma.
"Tyler showed flashes last year as a freshman and played big minutes in some big games," said Washburn coach Brett Ballard, a former Kansas player and staff member. "He's been more consistent with his preparation and I'm just happy to see it carry over to the games."
--Field Level Media