Kansas junior forward Jalen Wilson considers it a “blessing” to be the unanimous choice of the Big 12 men’s basketball coaches for the league’s player of the year award.
“Knowing all the hard work I had to put in before the season, at home, then coming back to school, I’m grateful for the award. Now it’s just time to continue to go out and win more,” Wilson, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound native of Denton, Texas said Monday at a pre-Big 12 Tournament news conference at Allen Fieldhouse.
Wilson, one of just seven players in Big 12 history to lead the league in scoring (19.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg) in the same season, figures to be named a first-team All-American by various organizations in coming days and weeks. There’s a good chance in fact he’ll be a consensus first-team All-American.
The postseason honors could lead up to one of the biggest achievements of all for Wilson: his jersey, No. 10, hanging in the south Allen Fieldhouse rafters for the rest of time.
“It’s everything,” Wilson said Monday, referring to what a likely jersey retirement ceremony at KU in the future would mean to him. “I remember coming here on my (recruiting) visit — just seeing all the jerseys up there, kind of just envisioning myself like, ‘Man, I wish I could be a part of that one day.’
“Four years later through a lot of things, I’m blessed to say I have the opportunity to do that now. It’s great. … There are Hall of Famers up there. Just to be part of that group up there would be special.”
Coach Bill Self, who was not part of Monday’s KU news conference, has said many times there’s no official criteria for hanging a former KU player’s jersey in the rafters. Instead there are some guidelines to be considered.
“If you are Big 12 Player of the Year you are going up. There’s a lot of guys up there — a lot — who were not Big 12 Player of the Year or Big Eight Player of the Year that are up there,” Self said in 2020.
“If you are All-American second-team, that probably won’t get you there by itself. It could depending on your career. When you are the best player in the league, I think it certainly warrants that,” Self added. “Other guys that don’t have the individual accolades whose career was obviously unbelievable and impacted the university and team in ways sometimes only coaches know (may be considered). We’ve got a pretty good group of guys up there. There’s many more you could make a case for possibly deserving to be there as well.”
So, obviously considering Self’s statements, Wilson’s jersey will be hung in the rafters at some point in the future.
Wilson on Monday expressed happiness for several of his teammates who were also honored by the Big 12 coaches on Sunday.
Dajuan Harris was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and also named honorable mention all-league. Gradey Dick was second-team all-league and Kevin McCullar third team.
KJ Adams was named Big 12 Most Improved Player.
“I mean as far as the starting five all got awards, it’s great,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he did have player of the year accolades in mind after he decided to remove his name from the 2022 NBA Draft pool and return to KU to try to win a second national championship.
“For sure that was one of my biggest thoughts … coming back and getting everything I wanted to do, seeing how well Ochai did when he came back,” Wilson said.
Current NBA rookie Ochai Agbaji considered turning pro after his junior year but returned to win Big 12 Player of the Year honors and a national title a year ago.
“It was kind of my same goals and aspirations as far as any individual accolades,” said Wilson, who was informed of his winning Big 12 Player of the Year unanimously by Self Sunday afternoon prior to Wilson’s heading to the gym to work out.
“I called my parents. It was cool,” Wilson said.
Wilson remembers the day he told Self he’d return for his fourth-year junior campaign.
“I wanted to have the full year and leave it all on the line,” said Wilson. He was injured and played in just two games during a redshirt year at KU. Last year he served an early-season suspension.
“I told (Self) I was going to come back and be the leader, lead the team, just be confident in my play. If those awards are out there, why not want to achieve them?” Wilson added. “I told coach, ‘I’m going to go for everything I can and win as well. It’s not going to be good to get any awards if you don’t win.’ We’re doing both of those things. He knew exactly why I came back to school.
“To be in this position now is exactly where I want to be.”
The seven players to lead the league in scoring and rebounding the same season are: KU’s Wilson, Dedric Lawson, Wayne Simien and Drew Gooden, plus Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley.
“When you do it it’s like, ‘Wow, I actually did it,” Wilson said of winning player of the year. “It doesn’t happen too often, just like a national championship. … They are two things that are so special to me.
“You work four years to do something like that. This is kind of surreal.”
KU (25-6) now prepares for the Big 12 Tournament after winning the regular season title by one game over Texas.
Wilson said motivation for the tourney (KU opens play against Texas Tech or West Virginia at 2 p.m. Thursday at T-Mobile Center) includes the Jayhawks being named the No. 1-overall seed in the NCAAs.
“I think some people may not realize how important it is, but it is important for us to get the No. 1 overall seed,” Wilson said. Now it won’t win us anything. It won’t guarantee us anything. I know I want it. I know the team wants it. It’ll just come down to that; who is going to make the plays to win? We are clicking on all cylinders as far as what we want to do. The next step is go to Kansas City and winning that.”