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."
Posted by Christopher at 10:03 AM