ST. LOUIS — A reporter asked Naadir Tharpe about next season, and in the moments following Kansas’ 60-57 loss to Stanford on Sunday, it was only natural for the junior point guard to still be thinking about the season that had just ended.
"We’ll have different guys next year. It’s not going to be the same guys here," Tharpe said. "We’ve just got to make sure the new guys that come in just have to start working and get everybody on the same page."
Though much of KU’s roster is set for the 2014-15 campaign, many questions still remain, starting with the NBA decisions of three freshmen in the coming weeks.
KU freshman guard Andrew Wiggins is all but assured to declare for the draft, but that leaves center Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden Jr. as guys who still have decisions left to make.
Embiid, a 7-foot center who is a projected top-five pick, hinted earlier in the year that he was considering a return to KU for his sophomore season, but that was before a back injury kept him out of the final six games. At this point, it’d be a surprise if he chose to return to KU.
"He’ll be advised by his family as much as anybody," KU coach Bill Self said. "Whatever happens, happens and we’ll be prepared for it."
Selden’s status appears to be more of a toss-up. The 6-foot-5 guard served as a role player for the Jayhawks this season, and while he could be more of a feature player if he returned, it might not be wise to pass on the draft if he’s projected to be a first-round pick.
With or without Embiid and Selden, KU has two top-rated recruits who should immediately challenge for starting spots.
That includes Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8 power forward known for his physicality and strength at the rim. Rivals.com’s No. 4-rated player has a shot of moving all the way up to No. 1 when the final rankings are released next month.
Kelly Oubre, a 6-7 shooting guard, also will help fill the void left by Wiggins, as the left-hander is an athletic wing with a strong outside shot who is still developing his right hand.
If Embiid does leave, KU also is still in the mix for 6-11 center Myles Turner. The Euless, Texas, native — ranked sixth in his class — is likely to choose either Texas or KU.
The Jayhawks appear to have plenty of frontcourt options either way. Perry Ellis will be back after making 55 percent of his 2-point attempts this season, though with his struggles against taller defenders, KU might consider playing him more on the wing.
Jamari Traylor also returns for his junior season, while Landen Lucas and transfer Hunter Mickelson should battle for reserve minutes.
KU’s biggest question mark remains at point guard.
Tharpe will be returning for his senior season, and though he started 31 of 34 games this year, his spot in the first five might not be secure. The 5-11 junior struggled with consistency and lost some playing time late when he struggled defensively and with turnovers.
Conner Frankamp, who played limited minutes all season, emerged as one of KU’s two best players in the NCAA Tournament when filling in for Tharpe. The freshman isn’t a natural point guard, but he did provide KU with stability and a shooting threat during his 43 NCAA Tournament minutes.
That leaves freshman Frank Mason, who is quick off the dribble but needs to improve his shooting — both from the outside and at the rim — to become a more well-rounded player.
If Self does have an open scholarship following NBA departures, he also could try to pursue a junior college point guard or a graduate transfer who would be eligible to play immediately.
KU’s only other returning rotation player is freshman wing Brannen Greene, a talented outside shooter who should receive more minutes as he continues to improve defensively.
After ranking as the fourth-youngest NCAA team this year, according to KenPom.com, the 2014-15 Jayhawks should have more experience while also relying heavily on a pair of incoming players.
"We just have to get back in the gym and work hard," Frankamp said, "and hopefully be in this position next year and not let (an early loss) happen again."
See postgame interviews from KU above or by clicking here.