LAWRENCE — Just 28 games into his Kansas basketball career, Christian Braun is exceeding expectations.
That doesn’t, however, mean the first-year guard has already reached his ceiling.
"I think he’s a long ways away, which is good," Bill Self said Wednesday on his weekly radio program. "I mean, you don’t want a freshman to be close to reaching his peak yet. But I think everybody would agree with me: He’s had a tremendous freshman year."
Averaging 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds while playing 18 minutes per game, Braun has picked up the pace in Big 12 play, where he has four double-figure scoring outputs. He’s also connected on 21 of 40 tries from 3-point play in league action, a 52.5% clip.
Braun was pegged as a three-star recruit and the nation’s No. 130 prospect in the Class of 2019 in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
"Considering where he was this time last year and where he was projected to be, he’s way ahead of schedule," Self said. "... He can really shoot the ball. He’s a good shooter. He’s strong, he’s tough and he’s still not aggressive yet. Just wait until he gets a little bit more aggressive and comfortable. You’re going to even see more out of him."
A Burlington native and former standout at Blue Valley Northwest, Braun enjoyed his best outing this season for one of the Jayhawks’ most meaningful games, and an opportunity at an encore is on the horizon.
Braun scored a career-high 20 points, hauled in four rebounds and notched two steals in the Jayhawks' 81-60 victory over rival Kansas State on Jan. 21 in Lawrence. That impressive 29-minute appearance was buoyed by a 6-for-10 shooting mark from 3-point range, but was also overshadowed by a late-game brawl that resulted in the suspensions of four players.
"We should be in here talking about Christian Braun," Self said in that contest’s postgame news conference, "and selfishness definitely created a situation where that’s not going to be the storyline whatsoever."
That won’t be the case in Round 2, where the Kansan is sure to be an intriguing player to watch.
"I’m from Kansas, so having that game against them was obviously special for me and it was probably my best game shooting-wise," Braun said Thursday. "But like I said, we’re more focused on getting wins."
Still, Braun acknowledged that Saturday will be a unique experience.
"It’s like one of my favorite games to watch every year, so I’ve always loved watching the game. I’ve always been a KU fan, so I’ve always been on the same side," Braun said. "But yeah, I always love seeing KU get the win against them. And it’s different to be being part of it, competing. But this is my first time playing in Manhattan, so I’m pretty excited."
Braun enjoyed a 10-point outing with three made 3s in the top-ranked Jayhawks' most recent contest, an 83-58 victory over Oklahoma State on Monday in Lawrence. That followed a 21-minute stint in the one-versus-three showdown with then-No. 1 Baylor last Saturday in Waco, Texas, and while Braun finished that game with just four points and one steal, a second-half catch-and-shoot conversion caught Self’s eye.
Coming on a feed ahead from Devon Dotson, Braun’s jumper capped an 8-0 stretch for KU that delivered an 11-point lead and forced a Baylor timeout with 11:56 remaining.
"You don’t see guys doing that often in a game of that magnitude when you’re not playing a ton," Self said. "Now he’s averaging about 20 minutes for the year, but in that particular game he hadn’t been in there much and everything. That was huge, that he was able to have the confidence to do that. But I think he’s going to be good."
That said, Braun took just three shots versus the Bears. Earlier in league play, he had a four-game stretch where he attempted four total 3-pointers in a combined 90 minutes. And against the Cowboys, Braun opted not to fire on multiple good looks from beyond the arc.
He heard about that last one in a recent film session.
"I think I passed up one or two in the Oklahoma State game," Braun said. "(Self) just said something to me, like, ‘Let it fly.’ That’s another part of, ‘Stop thinking. Just play.’ But you know, I don’t think I pass up too many open looks. I try to shoot them when I’m open."
It’s time, Self said Thursday, for both Braun and Tristan Enaruna to stop playing as freshmen, a remark the 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard heard loud and clear.
"Actually to me I take that more like as a compliment that he’s trusting us more," Braun said. "So I’m not really worried like how I was at the start of the year on making every right play. Just going out there and playing hard and doing what I know I can do."