As a highly recruited prospect from the prep basketball factory that was Findlay Prep High School in Las Vegas, Kelly Oubre Jr. knew exactly what he wanted upon arriving at Kansas University as a freshman in 2014.
Points, points and more points. Light up the scoreboard at legendary Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Now in his fourth week as a member of the Warriors, Oubre recalled Thursday after Warriors shootaround what happened, when it happened and how it changed his basketball priorities and, ultimately, his career trajectory.
“Bill Self,” he said of the Jayhawks’ coach. “He sat me down after my first nine games at Kansas, because I was more so back young kid who just wanted to come in and get buckets. I thought my (expletive) didn’t stink. But he really humbled me.
“I appreciate him for that, because he really taught me the basic values of who I am as a basketball player and the potential that I can reach you if I just focus on the things that benefit me.”
That was the birth of Oubre as a defender. He understood its significance and realized he had tremendous potential to become more than a scorer.
Six years later, Oubre has reached the point at which he relishes defense. The first taste of joy came in the 2017 NBA playoffs, when as a member of the Wizards the 6-foot-7 wing accepted the challenge of guarding Isaiah Thomas, the 5-foot-9 field mouse of a point guard for the Celtics.
Thomas averaged 27.4 points on 44.9 percent shooting, including a fabulous 46.3 percent from distance. One might say Oubre has mixed success.
“But it was fun to go up against him because I could slow him down when nobody else could,” he recalled.
Though Oubre is more than a defensive specialist, his enthusiasm for it is evident. He takes pride in being an irritant.
“I love it; it’s fun for me,” he said, noting his 6-foot-7 height and 7-foot-2 wingspan. “A lot of point guards are definitely smaller than me. It's just fun being able to keep up with the little, fast guys and just kind of make them annoyed.”
Oubre admits he studies such high-level defenders as Jrue Holiday (Bucks) and Avery Bradley (Heat), both guards that excel in on-ball defense.
That’s what the Warriors will need from Oubre. He has moved into the role vacated for now by Klay Thompson and can expect Warriors coach Steve Kerr to present him with more than his share of assignments against tough covers.
“I love it,” Oubre said. “I want to be great, and I tell him that all the time. He’s seen greatness in this league, so to be able to be pushed by him is a blessing to me. It's something I would never take for granted.”
Somewhere in Kansas, Bill Self is smiling.