Tuesday, October 31, 2006

But what about our frontcourt?

SI.com's Luke Winn lists Kansas as the nation's #1 backcourt:

The Jayhawks' three-headed monster (with superstar freshman Collins in reserve) comprises the nation's top backcourt. Rush, a sweet-shooting, physical wing, leads the scoring barrage while Robinson and Chalmers wreak havoc on defense.

Also, a week after Giles is suspended, Sasha Kaun steps up by tearing a tendon in his right knee, and will be out for 3-6 weels. We'll see a lot of Darrell Arthur right away.

Andy Katz caught up with the Jayhawks earlier this month:

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Finally, last week, Glenda Rush had to come to Lawrence and collect her son's trophies.

Bill Self had seen enough of them. He didn't know what to do if Brandon Rush didn't want the awards. They were getting dusty sitting in his mailbox in the basketball office.

Constant reminders were futile. Rush showed no interest in the four national freshman of the week plaques and his first-team all-Big 12 trophy.

It's not that Rush doesn't care. He loves basketball. He is enthralled with Kansas, so much that the NCAA Tournament first-round loss to Bradley last March was enough to make him decide to return instead of take his chances as a possible first-round NBA draft pick.

It's just that Rush is one of the least assuming stars returning this season. He is a legit first-team All-America candidate, and the likely preseason Big 12 player of the year, but none of that matters. He'd rather you go talk to anyone but him. He is the antithesis of LSU's Glen Davis or Florida's Joakim Noah. When the spotlight shines on Rush, he hides.

"Most kids who get an award like that put it on their dresser, but this kid hasn't even thought twice about it," Self said. "He told me, 'What do I need this for, Coach?'

"He doesn't like the individual spotlight. [During Late Night at the Phog last Friday] he was clowning around with everyone and we saw a side of his personality we haven't seen. He was comfortable with everyone else, but he doesn't like it when [the attention is] just on him."

There is a reason. Rush is naturally jaded when it comes to attention because there was so much on his family. One older brother, JaRon, was the subject of an exhaustive summer-league scandal involving Myron Piggie; he also served a suspension while at UCLA, ultimately left the Bruins and never was able to sustain a pro career. Kareem, his other brother, has been much more of a success, with a four-year NBA run after a solid stint at Missouri, but he, too, drew plenty of attention while in college.

Rush drew the spotlight when he declared for the NBA draft out of Mt. Zion (N.C.) Academy two years ago. His decision to go to college and his subsequent recruitment over the summer created a stir, as well.

Something happened, though, when he got to Kansas. He was surrounded by enough talent that even though he averaged a team-high 15.1 points a game as a freshman last season, he didn't seem to be the only face thrust forward.

And that was fine with him.

"I don't like doing interviews," Rush said. "I especially don't like doing them on TV, since I tend to freeze up and stutter a lot. There are so many superstars here that they don't need to pay as much attention to me. I just want to go out and play. Just let me play."

Rush said he feels the pressure of having two older brothers who were pros.

"I don't need the attention," Rush said. "I don't like to be in the spotlight. Everyone has always paid attention to my life."

Still, Rush's desire to have the ball, to get it in every game-winning situation, means he can't avoid the headlines, even if he'd rather just let his game speak for him.

"I like [the game] being on my shoulders," Rush said.

Self talked about freshman Darrell Arthur having the most talent on the Jayhawks, but Rush is his most complete player and the one who is ready to make the jump to the first round of the NBA draft, possibly into the lottery. Still, that doesn't mean Rush couldn't improve in the offseason.

"He had to work on his ballhandling and to become a better passer," Self said. "He's got to become more aggressive, more explosive than he was last year. He deferred too much. Your best player shouldn't defer. He still does it too much, even though he's equipped to be a take-charge guy."

Self said he was convinced at the end of January that Rush was gone once the season ended. Rush's freshman season was going too well, and since Rush was a late signee over the summer, it's not like Self ever believed he was getting Rush for the long haul. Self changed his opinion, though, as Rush's production went down in the last month of the season.

The two didn't speak during the season about Rush leaving. Self just knew when the season ended that Rush would be back.

"His stats fell, his shooting percentage fell and he didn't finish the season the way a great player should," Self said. "In order to be drafted where he wants to be drafted, he has to average more than eight or 10 points a game in the last 10 games."

Self said Rush's public announcement that he would return sealed it as well. He told Rush not to say a word if he wasn't sure. Once he did public functions, he knew Rush wouldn't embarrass himself.

Underclassmen can declare twice during their college careers; Rush declared out of high school, which wouldn't have counted against that limit.

"He didn't want to send the wrong message to the NBA, where twice they were telling him he's not good enough yet," Self said. "He's smart in that regard."

"I made up my mind right after that Bradley game that I was coming back," Rush said. "I felt like my team didn't go far in the NCAA Tournament and that meant I wasn't a guarantee first-round pick."

Watch practice and you'll see that as talented as Rush is, he still shies away from being vocal.

"He's a laid-back leader," said point guard Russell Robinson, who is the most verbose of the bunch. "He's not as animated as most people. He's not as aggressive. He lets the game come to him. He probably jokes more than anyone on our team and he has fun laughing.

"He knows the spotlight is on him but he doesn't care. He does what he wants to do. He plays hard and scores."

And that's enough to get him plenty of attention this season -- whether he likes it or not.

The Jayhawks are recruiting as if Rush is gone following this season, one Rush expects will end in Atlanta. If it does, there's a good chance he'll take a piece of that net, a player's personal national championship trophy, home with him.


  1. Fox Sports' Big 12 Preview also has some interesting nuggets, like this one:

    "... Bill Self has the ingredients for a Final Four run —- or the egos for a third consecutive first-round flop. To a large extent, Kansas' success or failure will be determined off the court. If every player embraces their role, the Jayhawks will dominate the Big 12. But if NBA aspirations get in the way of NCAA teamwork, Self may reconsider his hard-charging recruiting style."

    Also, in contrast to Luke Winn, Fox Sports' Cohen suggests KU doesn't even have the best backcourt in the conference. That honor goes to ... Baylor!? Yet he predicts that Brandon Rush will be the MVP of the conference and the nation.

    Other interesting points: Cohen says it's possible the conference will get only three NCAA bids. (In another blow to the conference, Bob Knight has now dismissed his best player, Jarrius Jackson).

    On the bright side (from an overall Big 12 perspective), Cohen compares Longhorn frosh Kevin Durant to both Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett. Whoa! Look out!

    As for our suddenly depleted frontcourt, it is not included in CNNSI's list of top ten frontcourts. The list does include two of our noncon opponents--BC and Florida. Sasha had better heal up quick.

  2. Oh yeah, and another good quote from Cohen:

    "The Jayhawks' second five would finish in the conference's top half."