Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Bunch of Hot Shots You Can Root For

Kansas has a different leader almost every night
By DOUG TUCKER, AP Sports Writer
March 6, 2007

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- They pull on their jerseys and lace up their sneakers, take a few deep breaths and listen to one more pre-game pep talk. Then everybody removes his ego.

Maybe that's why Kansas is ranked No. 2 in the country.

"The main thing we want is to win," All-Big 12 forward Julian Wright said. "It's not how we win; it's not who scores. It's just everyone stepping up to make plays when they're needed."

On a roster that's about eight deep with talented athletes who were courted by many of the nation's finest programs, almost everyone is a go-to guy. And they all seem perfectly happy to spread the wealth.

After a disheartening home loss on Feb. 3 to Texas A&M, the Jayhawks (27-4) won their next six straight. A different player either led or tied for the team lead in scoring in each of those games, and only twice in that span did the same player lead the team in rebounds.

Several times this season the Jayhawks have had five players score in double figures.

Yet nobody seems to get jealous. Nobody whines about NBA scouts not getting to see what he can do.

It's the sort of situation every coach dreams of, but only a few, such as Bill Self this year, are lucky enough to ever have.

"I think it's a testament to coach Self," said Wright, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds and a game-saving defensive play in the Big 12 title-clinching victory over Texas.

"This is pretty much how we've been the whole year, and last year, too. The reason I think we're doing so well this year is because everyone started buying into the concept last year."

There is no question that all this balance has cost some players personal recognition.

Although Kansas was the highest-ranked team in the conference most of the entire season and would eventually emerge as league champion, the Big 12 office recognized a Jayhawk as player of the week only twice. On one of those occasions, the Kansas player shared the award with someone else.

"Everyone wants to see everyone else do well. Everybody is just having fun and enjoying basketball. We've got individuals who are willing to sacrifice their own egos for the sake of the team," said junior guard Russell Robinson, the acknowledged leader of this senior-less squad.

"It's won us some games this year, and I think it's going to win us a lot more."

The Jayhawks led the Big 12 in scoring margin at plus-18.2 points per game. But their top scorer, Brandon Rush at 14.1 points per game, was 16th in the conference. Similarly, Wright was the only Jayhawk among the top 15 rebounders, but Kansas led the Big 12 in total rebounding and rebound margin.

"Coach is the biggest reason for that," said Robinson. "He strokes everybody and keeps us all happy."

Self, who has won seven conference titles in three different leagues the past nine years, is proud of the balance Kansas has achieved.

"It means the other team can't concentrate its defense on just one or two guys," he said.

But he also acknowledges there's a down side.

"It can mean that in the final minute or so when you need somebody to really step up and be that one guy that everybody looks to, you don't have anybody who's used to taking that role."

It's not the sort of situation Darnell Jackson expected when the 6-foot-9 reserve center arrived on campus as a highly sought prep star from Oklahoma.

"When everybody first got here, I thought it would be bad chemistry," he said. "I thought, `These guys are going to worry about who's going to get the most points and who's going to get the most publicity.' But nobody cares about it. Nobody cares at all."


  1. From Bill Simmon's Page 2 on ESPN:

    An e-mail from Chris in Prairie Village (who attended the Texas-Kansas game):

    "As much of a roller coaster as it looked like on TV, there's no way it compared to being there. I've been going to KU games since '92. My top four games: (1) Jacque Vaughn's game-winner vs. Indiana (the roof nearly came off the Fieldhouse); (2) Cal and Jason Kidd game, when Ostertag went coast-to-coast, solo, WITH A BEHIND-THE-BACK DRIBBLE to beat the defender, for the dunk (dogs and cats, living together ... MASS HYSTERIA); (3) the Georgia Tech OT game a couple of years back (audiologists all over the K.C. metro area started car shopping; (4) Texas.

    "For the first 10 minutes, all the oxygen got sucked out of the gym every time the ball left Durant's hand -- home-team free-throw silence. Then he sunk whatever he happened to throw up, bouncing back down the court like he was on a pogo stick, while 16,000+ exhaled in a group 'what the ... ?' The crowd ramped the noise back up immediately, but he kept knocking us down over and over again. He was on pace to hang at least 60 on us until he apparently got bored and started dishing. Texas finished the half at 83 percent from the arc. Absolutely sick. The entire gym was breathing into paper bags.

    "What few have mentioned is this: 8:30 into the second half, Durant only had two points prior to tweaking his ankle. Whether or not that means we would have kept him in check for the rest of the game is up for debate, but we did lock him down (as much as anyone can) for that period. Nevertheless, when he hit the deck, the entire crowd rooted for him to get back up -- some were even doing the 'we're not worthy' bow to him as he limped to the locker room. He even got applause on his return. Overshadowed in all this is the fact that Mario Chalmers decided to grow a pair the size of church bells and kick-start the entire Jayhawk squad. After the one [3-pointer] he hit where he started screaming at the top of his lungs, I knew we were safe. Anyway, I realize that I witnessed something amazing, but cell phone pics aren't gonna cut it -- I hope the Jayhawks win it all just so I can order the 'One Shining Moment'-style video of the '06-'07 season that captures a championship AND the Texas game. Amazing stuff."

  2. (Sorry about my silence this week; I've been under the weather since Sun.)

    Yancy, we forgot to tell Chris that we aren't on speaking terms with the AP.

    In all fairness, though, they have corrected themselves:

    LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -In a March 3 story about the Texas-Kansas basketball game, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Kansas' 24-7 run to take a 59-58 lead coincided with an injury to Texas' Kevin Durant . Kansas led 71-65 when Durant left the game and was up 81-72 when he returned.

    Of course, given the way KU almost collapsed in the last couple of minutes, it is legitimate to ask whether a healthy Durant might have regained the touch and silenced the crowd at the end. I'm still bothered by this team's tendency to cough up the ball at inopportune moments.

    I think this game was bigger than any of those the Simmons emailer mentions because of the stakes involved. But it still doesn't top the 2003 UT game, in my opinion. What marred this one by comparison was Durant's injury, UT's 2nd-half shooting woes, and KU's near-choke at the end.

    I see one of our nemeses has made the field of 64. Rematch, anyone?

  3. Oops, bad link on that 2003 game. Try this.

  4. (Sorry for my own silence: new term started Monday.)

    A bit more on the AP story (which had me pretty riled on Sunday, but whatever). An unnamed source says this, paraphrasing another unnamed source (how's that for reliable? No Scooters here): "he says he talked to the
    AP reporter who wrote the story about that exact part. The reporter
    says he didn't write it, but the editor in New York added it to add to the Durant hype." How responsible.

    The AP slight aside, though, Chris' posts suggest that our Jayhawks are starting to get more of that oh-so-precious-if-fleeting-and-ultimately-unimportant media respect.

    Speaking of, no disrespect to the emailer (and I haven't been to games since '92 (though I have, if anyone cares, been to at least one game every season since '99-'00)), but how can no Hinrich/Collison games be on that list? That just seems odd to me. . . .

    Any Big 12 tournament predictions, gentlemen? First game tips off at 11:30 Central (OU vs. ISU--to determine our opponent).

  5. Oklahoma it is. Things are starting to happen fast now.

    I was sort of rooting for ISU because they're not as good as the Sooners, but as we've said before, it's damn hard to beat a team thrice in a season.

    There's actually a kind of justice to this: as penance for our easy Big 12 schedule, we're forced to play two road games against Oklahoma.

    After what happened last week in Norman, I trust our guys won't underestimate the Sooners. Kansas by a dozen.

    (In fairness to the Simmons e-mailer, I don't think his list was meant to be definitive--just the loudest Fieldhouse games he could remember. I was suspicious about that Ostertag-Kidd anecdote, but apparently it did happen).