TILTON, N.H. — Soon it may be Paul Pierce who will want to meet Wayne Selden — the rugged, 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound, five-star college basketball recruit from the Tilton School — and not the other way around.
“Not yet,” responded the Roxbury native when asked if he’d spoken with the Celtics forward since committing to Kansas, Pierce’s alma mater. “I wish. I wish I had.”
A McDonald’s All-American this season, Selden is regarded as one of the country’s best high school combo guards.
Pierce can expect a conversation with a humble, respectful, focused, and funny young man who has an intensely competitive spirit and unquenchable desire to improve on the court.
“Athletically, he makes probably the most spectacular plays of anybody we’ve had,” said Tilton coach Marcus O’Neil. “He’s [also] played 1 through 5 this year and there have been games where he’s played every single position.”
It’s Selden’s self-sacrifice that led Kansas coach Bill Self to remark, “He cares about winning. He’s unselfish. I think he’s mature beyond his years and we’re going to need mature guys when we will have arguably the youngest team in the country.”
Attend a Tilton game and it quickly becomes apparent that Selden is well-supported by family and friends.
“Wayne has done really well, even though his father and I were not together,” said his mother, Lavette Pitts, a program director at The Home for Little Wanderers. “There was always some sort of parent around, even with my work. My parents were always able to step in.”
Since the age of 13, Selden’s support system has included Steve Hailey, the former Boston College basketball player. He helped guide Selden through the college recruitment process, and works with him year-round to improve his shooting, ball handling, and conditioning.
So when Selden was presented with the chance to attend Tilton following his freshman year at O’Bryant High, it was a decision that involved his full support system. It was an opportunity he had always wanted.
At Tilton, Selden has matured into what he describes with self-deprecating humor as a “decent young man for the time being.”
“I started off as an inner-city freshman, not really where I am now,” he said. “I would just play basketball and [in] school I would get by. But now I am a better social person. I do things here that I wouldn’t normally have done if I didn’t come here. It’s been a great opportunity.”
Selden said his academic performance has steadily improved each year.
On the court, Selden’s game and attitude also transformed.
Entering his senior season, Selden was regarded as a slasher who didn’t need a consistent outside shot. Scouts reasoned that once his jump shot improved, he would become a daunting matchup.
“I looked at the [criticism] in a positive way,” said Selden. “I put myself in position [where] I could get in the gym every day for some extra shooting.
“You’re not going to just wake up and it’s going to happen one day. I get into the gym every day with my friends and just get shots off. It’s paid off.”
Through Tilton’s 27-game regular season, Selden averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. His vastly improved 3-point range — coupled with advanced playmaking abilities — prompted Brewster Academy coach Jason Smith, following a win over Selden’s Rams, to tweet, “@WayneSelden23 is the most ready guard/wing I have seen in prep school basketball in a LONG time.”
Selden has also matured emotionally. His intensity tended to overflow in years past following a questionable foul or missed call.
“Attitude is probably No. 1,” said Brockton native Jon Joseph, who’s known Selden since fourth grade and followed him from the Boston Amateur Basketball Club to Tilton. “It went from sour to great. You can see all the differences . . . all the changes he’s gone through to make him the guy he is now.”
A month ago, Tilton beat Lawrence Academy, 108-105, in a quadruple-overtime thriller. Though Selden finished with 29 points and 20 rebounds, he fouled out midway through the second OT. But he did not sulk. He was his team’s most vocal cheerleader.
“He tells me all the time, ‘When I’m not doing something, you tell me so I can change,’ ” said Joseph. “If he’s doing something wrong I tell him. And he’s going to do the same with me.
“He’ll send the group text messages after a loss, ‘We’ve got to work on this. We’ve got to get back in the gym.’ He’s the perfect captain.”
Last summer, Selden opted to work part time helping at-risk youth. He balanced those responsibilities with strong showings at numerous showcases and camps for top high school players.
“Wayne’s a really nice guy,” said O’Neil. “The last two years we’ve done some community service at the Spaulding Youth Center [in Northfield, N.H.]. We all go up there and run recreational activities in the fall and the spring. Wayne really embraces that.
“As a person I think that’s kind of a little less known. But that stuff is sincere for him. And he does a nice job with it. Kids that are less fortunate light up [around him].”
Though Selden is poised to join follow fellow BABC standouts Nerlens Noel (Kentucky), Georges Niang (Iowa State), and Dominique Bull (Missouri) onto the college basketball scene, he won’t bypass an opportunity to try something that he might never again have a chance to do. Last year, he had a small role in a school play, something he downplayed as “nothing major. I just dug a hole and had a couple of lines.”
At a Tilton girls’ varsity basketball game against rival New Hampton, Selden — wearing a Kansas sweat shirt and red-and-blue plaid pants — passionately led the crowd in cheers.
“He’s a complete clown,” said Joseph. “You see him and what he’s wearing — he’s all for the team. He’s just that guy. He doesn’t worry about his basketball [image] off the court.”
The ever-appreciative Selden realizes just how lucky he has been.
“In seventh and eighth grade at O’Bryant, [I thought] I was going to be at O’Bryant and then who knows,” he said. “It’s just really a blessing. I just thank God to be able to come here and now I am headed off to Kansas. It’s just great.”
VIDEO: Wayne Selden discusses his decision to accept a basketball scholarship to Kansas. Go to boston.com/schools.