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Archive for Wednesday, March 5, 1997

S RAEF THE GREAT

March 5, 1997

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It's Raef in a runaway.

Raef LaFrentz, Kansas University's 6-foot-11, 235-pound junior forward, captured the Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year Award in a landslide Tuesday.

LaFrentz, who averages 19.0 points and nine rebounds for the 29-1 Jayhawks, received 22 of a possible 24 votes. Colorado's Chauncey Billups received the other two votes.

MVP of the league? You bet, say LaFrentz's teammates.

"Raef is the man," KU junior guard Billy Thomas said simply.

"He can shoot, score, rebound, block shots. He's carried us at times on his shoulders," noted sophomore guard Ryan Robertson.

"He's awesome. He's always had the skills and has really shown them this year," noted senior pivot Scot Pollard.

LaFrentz, a native of Monona, Iowa, who averaged 13.4 points and 8.2 boards a year ago when KU went 29-5, remained in Lawrence last summer to work on his physique.

He gained some muscle mass and has reaped the benefits of that offseason program. LaFrentz collected 17 double-doubles this year.

"A lot of us made the commitment to staying here and working out to improve our bodies," said LaFrentz. "I stayed and worked out with our strength and conditioning coach (Bill Maxwell) on footwork, strength and stamina.

"We did a lot with the medicine ball, weighted dunks and agility drills. I've noticed a difference this year. My footwork has improved. I can run longer."

LaFrentz said last year's Elite Eight loss to Syracuse was not the main reason he remained over the summer.

"It was a very disappointing loss. At the same time, we accomplished a lot last year," LaFrentz said.

"For me, there's no reason to dwell on the past. But I put it in the back of my mind to use as motivation. The loss wasn't our only motivation. We just wanted to make sure the next time we came out on the other end."

LaFrentz has hit 59.5 percent of his shots overall this season; 62.2 percent of his shots in league games.

"You can see the maturation process take place with Raef. It's a lot of fun delivering the ball to him," noted point guard Jacque Vaughn.

LaFrentz appears to have the most fun when he's around bookend Pollard.

"He's my big buddy. Sure we can co-exist out there," LaFrentz said after scoring 20 or more points in an eight-game stretch when Pollard went down with a stress fracture in his foot.

Pollard has been back for three games now. LaFrentz scored 20 or more points in two of those games.

"When I was out, Raef had to step up. He had the numbers. Now I'm back taking away his numbers again," Pollard joked after Sunday's win at Nebraska. "I probably have destroyed his game. I may be hobbling, but I still can outrun Raef LaFrentz."

Upon hearing that remark, LaFrentz called Pollard "ugly."

'''Hey, jerkhead, shut up.' The guy gets a couple double -doubles and thinks he's great," Pollard retorted.

All ribbing aside, LaFrentz is the second straight Jayhawk to win conference player of the year. Vaughn won the final Big Eight award a year ago.

Also Tuesday, Oklahoma guard Corey Brewer was named newcomer of the year. And Texas A&M forward Jerald Brown was named freshman of the year. Brown received nine votes, narrowly edging out OU's Eduardo Najera (seven) and Nebraska's Cookie Belcher (six).

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