Rock Chalk Weekly: A Solid Foundation
Written by Kyle Taylor, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Throughout one’s life, relationships with others build a foundation for what the future has in store. Whether it is a parent, teacher, coach or friend, these are the people who help make an individual who he or she is. This has become apparent in Kansas junior Wayne Selden Jr.’s life, and despite the success, family is still above all else.
Growing up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, obstacles presented themselves early in Selden’s life. As a neighborhood of Boston, Roxbury adds to the high crime rate of the city.
“It was tough growing up there,” Selden said. “People got shot and killed on my street– shot and killed where my brother went to school. I have friends in jail and friends doing the same thing they were doing when we were 15.”
Too many times, children growing up in such areas fall into what is around them as that is the only guidance they can find. Selden was one of the fortunate ones who had important figures to look up to. Perhaps the most important was his mother, Lavette Pitts.
“I got lucky growing up,” Selden said. “I had a good foundation behind me. My mom was always really hard on me and my brother. And then my grandparents were there and my father, even though he didn’t live with us, was there too. So I just had a good foundation and good upbringing so I was never really out in the streets.”
As she had lived in Roxbury for a long time, Pitts had a good idea about what the area was like. It also helped a lot that she has personal insight into human services. Such positions provided her knowledge and experience in this area before raising her own two boys.
“We were long-time residents of Roxbury and myself, as well as my father, Anthony Pitts Sr., and brother, Anthony Pitts Jr., all have worked in human services,” Pitts said. “So we were kind of familiar with what was going on in the streets as far as gangs and gang territory, so it helped prevent them from getting caught up in anything. And, the structure. I provided a very nurturing environment, but there was a lot of structure.”
This structure included values that were instilled in Selden at a young age that he continues to carry with him today. As he talks, there is a certain humbleness that is impossible not to respect.
“I think being polite and being respectful is huge,” Pitts said. “And I’ve always taught my children that adults want to help kids who are respectful. He’s extremely humble and it’s important. He learned it from the beginning. All of a sudden at 13 and 14, people were calling him a basketball prodigy and we went through a point where he thought he was all that. But that’s a part of growing. He knows humility is a huge part of success.”
The relationship between a mother and son is one unlike any other. But the relationship between Selden and his mom takes this idea to the next level. As he talks, his voice shows how much he cares about her and how important she has been through his entire life.
“She was really tough on me and my brother,” Selden said. “She had to be the man of the house until I was really old enough to be someone that my little brother could look up to. She didn’t play any games. That’s why we are really close today. She is one of my best friends, I can talk to her about anything. She never let me and my brother get too far off. Even when we messed up, she didn’t let us get too far away from reality.”
These types of words are definitely reciprocated by his mother as well. When Selden talks about his mother you can tell how important she is. When his mother talks about him it’s apparent how essential he has been to her entire life and the pride she has that he is her son. It truly is a special relationship.
“Every day he gets a text saying ‘Have a good day son, I love you,'” Pitts said. “It may seem excessive to some people, but we are pretty close. As a parent you have to be able to listen and not be too shocked by anything that they say. When kids say that they don’t want rules or boundaries it’s just not true. That’s a way for parents to show their kids that they love them is by setting certain boundaries.”
Fellow KU teammates can attest to the close relationship Selden has with his mother.
“He texts his mom daily,” sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham said. “She still cooks for him and he’ll bring us some leftover food. So family is definitely big for him.”
While Selden’s mother has had one of the greatest impacts on his life, the concept of family extends outside of his blood relatives. While in Roxbury, he regularly attended the local Shelburne Community Center, which is one of the reasons he began playing the game of basketball. This center had such an impact that he still keeps in touch with the people there.
“I grew up in a community center,” Selden said. “That was another reason why I stayed off the street. They kind of raised me too. It was a family-like environment, all the workers were family, like uncles. My grandfather grew up there, my mom went there and my uncle went there, so it was a family-based place. They didn’t put up with much there either.
“That’s where I started playing basketball and started to learn things like lay-ups. A guy named Darrell Bishop was our coach; he coached people way before me, and he coached my little brother. Whenever I go back home I go back and see all of them.”
For Selden, one of the biggest disadvantages of growing up in the inner city was not knowing much about the world around him. It is almost as though he was confined in one place with no knowledge of what else is out there. Selden was lucky enough to break out of this. When he was 15, he got the chance to go to Tilton High School in New Hampshire. While it was an opportunity to get out of the city, it was a rough adjustment.
“My first year I didn’t like it, I just wasn’t used to it,” Selden said of Tilton. “I was used to a big public school where the behavior wasn’t the best and the books weren’t good and there were dirty bathrooms. When I went to prep school it was a completely different scenario. People were so nice. We did so many outdoor things that I wasn’t ever really into before and people talked a lot more proper than back home. I felt uncomfortable most of the time. I had a hard time relating.”
As a 15-year-old with such a close relationship with his family, it is inevitable that such a change would be difficult. While he lived at the prep school, he was basically living on his own. This can often be a scary thing for parents as children can do whatever they want, especially at such a young age. Fortunately for Selden, he was always reminded of the structure he grew up with and knew what the consequences would be if he wasn’t doing the right thing.
“By that time we had already established what my expectations were,” Pitts said. “I don’t have any problem with shutting everything down at any given point. I get basketball is his life and his passion, but he is my life and my passion. He’s always known if he wasn’t doing what he should be in the books or I heard he was being disrespectful, then he wasn’t going to play. And he’s experienced that.”
But like all else, it just took some time. Selden was able to adjust to switching from a predominantly black school, to being the minority at a predominantly white school. While playing on the basketball team and becoming more comfortable, Selden was able to expand his family even further.
“It was such a tight-knit community,” Selden said. “Everybody knew everybody. After my first year things opened up and I was able to meet some friends who will be my friends forever.”
Continuing to build on a solid foundation, it was time for Selden to choose where he wanted to attend college. A common theme remained on his mind– family. As he was being recruited, the opportunity to play in one of college basketball’s most infamous and historic venues presented itself—Allen Fieldhouse.
“When I was visiting schools I was looking for a family-type environment,” Selden said. “And a strong base, because that’s what I had at prep school. Our team was really close there. The cohesion when I visited (Kansas) was so extreme it really drew me in. And now, I could sit down with anyone on the team and hang out.”
In his time as a Jayhawk, Selden has continued to expand his family, but never forgets his foundation. He has taken what he has learned from growing up and translated it into basketball. Among these values, the importance of guidance is one that has stood out.
“As soon as I came in he was one of those guys I looked up to, especially coming in as a freshman and not knowing what to expect,” Graham said. “He kind of paved the way for all the guys. Even now, with Lagerald (Vick) and Carlton (Bragg Jr.), you can tell they look up and follow the things he does.”
While it may be expected that the younger players look up to Selden, his guidance can be seen by all of his teammates.
“He has a great relationship with everyone on the team,” senior forward Perry Ellis said. “He has a great personality and knows how to relate. He is always helping me out saying, ‘You’re the best, you’re the best’, always lifting me up and he does it with everyone and builds confidence. Each year he has gotten better at making his teammates better by talking and relating. He becomes better vocally as time goes on. Everybody listens to him and he has that respect.”
This gift of guidance extends further than just the basketball court. Selden hopes to go back to his roots and help children that are growing up in situations similar to what he did and show them that they can do anything they want.
“I want to start a community center where kids can experience things that they’ve never experienced before,” Selden said. “Where kids in the inner city can go out and do and see things they aren’t used to seeing. The older you get, the more you see how lives can change from small things. I just want to be someone to guide kids. I feel like I can be a good example. They can see me and see it’s possible to get out and accomplish your goals.
“I got to talk to some inner-city kids from Kansas City and that was big for me because I got to see the joy in their faces and the promise that they can actually do something.”
This attitude of wanting to help other people is another value that has come from his strong family foundation.
“It doesn’t matter how successful you are if you don’t pay it forward,” Pitts said. “Everybody in my family does human services. He’s always seen his family helping other people and how humble you have to be.”
With all of his success, Wayne Selden Jr., still gives credit to how he grew up. The foundation his mom helped set was enforced by the other relationships around him and built upon for years. He will continue to live by these examples and hopes to improve the lives of others by exposing them to similar experiences and ultimately growing his own family.
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