- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
SAN ANTONIO -- Darrell Arthur could be Kansas' most talented player and the Jayhawk taken highest in the NBA draft if he leaves school this spring.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
That's great. And there definitely is a possibility the sophomore forward will jump at the chance to declare for the draft after the Final Four. But before he goes, he has a chance -- for really the first time this season -- to make a major difference for the Jayhawks, in the national semifinal against North Carolina on Saturday.
KU's Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson likely will be the body bullies contesting with the 2008 AP National Player of the Year, North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. That could free up Arthur, when he's next to either in the post, to operate offensively.
Everyone on the Kansas squad seems to be waiting for Arthur to reach his potential.
"I think he could be due a breakout-type weekend or a breakout-type game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He's been relatively consistent, but his numbers aren't staggering. His consistency is there at 10 to 12 points, but we certainly need him, because the other guys aren't going to get us more than 13 from Sasha or 11 out of Darnell."
There is a natural comparison between Arthur and former Jayhawk Julian Wright. Wright declared for the draft last year, probably two years too early, without truly reaching his ceiling.
"We went through the same thing with Julian," Self said. "Julian wasn't a natural scorer, not like [Arthur]. There are similarities. For whatever reason, they didn't produce to their ceiling to become one of the best players in the country."
Arthur is averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds, but he has failed to produce consistently. He scored in single digits in eight of the past 13 games, and despite his athletic 6-foot-9, 225-pound body, he has recorded just four double-doubles this season.
He and his teammates have theories as to why he has been stagnant at times.
"We don't give him the ball much down the stretch. Sometimes it's hard to get him the ball," junior guard Brandon Rush said.
Sometimes he just doesn't have that mind-set, the mind-set where he realizes that he's the best athlete around and that nobody around him comes close to being as good an athlete.
-- Sasha Kaun on Darrell Arthur
Jackson added that there are instances when Arthur gets frustrated if he's not touching the ball.
Arthur said Friday that he expects an up-tempo game Saturday, which he believes will allow him to flourish. Lately, he said, teams have been playing small and trapping the Jayhawks, limiting his effectiveness.
"Sometimes he just doesn't have that mind-set, the mind-set where he realizes that he's the best athlete around and that nobody around him comes close to being as good an athlete," Kaun said. "Once he realizes he's the best all-around [athlete], that's when he'll have that kind of game."
Arthur won't be the most dominant athlete on the court against a North Carolina team that is talented and deep. Still, the opportunity is there for Arthur to shine on the sport's most recognizable stage.
On the eve of his first Final Four, Arthur said he has been frustrated a little bit, "but I have to do what helps our team win."
He will have to help a little bit more after the sombering news that senior guard Rodrick Stewart won't play in the Final Four. Stewart suffered a freak accident Friday in practice at the Alamodome, fracturing his right kneecap while attempting a dunk. The knee was immobilized, and he was carried off the court. He will have surgery next week in Lawrence when the team returns.
Stewart's injury won't affect the Jayhawks much on the court since he played a combined nine minutes in the previous four NCAA games due to tonsillitis. While Stewart is a solid defender, he probably wouldn't have had much playing time against the Tar Heels.
And this semifinal will be decided by the game's brightest stars and biggest talents.
Getting Arthur to play like Kansas' "most talented guy" (according to Self) will be key.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Kansas sophomore Darrell Arthur's talent never has been questioned. But the Jayhawks need him to have a breakout game against UNC, writes Andy Katz.