Birmingham, Ala. — Time marches on and Kansas University's basketball underclassmen must say goodbye to scholarship seniors Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase, Scot Pollard and B.J. Williams.
"I can't imagine what it will be like not having them in the locker room next year," sophomore point guard Ryan Robertson said after Friday's 85-82 season-ending loss to Arizona.
"It's hard to put into words how much they've meant to this university and me personally. We'll try our best to continue the tradition and things they taught us," Robertson added.
The seniors are gone, but the cupboard won't be bare next year at Kansas, following this year's wildly successful 34-2 campaign.
In fact, if junior Raef LaFrentz and sophomore Paul Pierce return, the squad arguably could contend for another league title and make a run in postseason play.
Robertson, who led KU to a 10-0 record to start the season while Vaughn recovered from wrist surgery, will return at the point guard position. He also could play shooting guard if KU is able to land one of two hot-shot point guard prospects, Baron Davis of Santa Monica, Calif., or Minneapolis' Khalid El-Amin.
Junior sharpshooter Billy Thomas will be back, along with soph forward T.J. Pugh, senior point guard C.B. McGrath, plus freshman Nick Bradford and walk-on Terry Nooner.
Incoming freshmen Eric Chenowith (center, Villa Park, Calif.) and Kenny Gregory (shooting guard/small forward, Columbus, Ohio) are McDonalds All-Americans and had monster senior seasons. LSU transfer Lester Earl, who figures to receive his scholarship release in coming months, will become eligible in late December and is expected to be a force at power forward.
Also, KU remains in pursuit of power forward Ryan Humphrey of Tulsa, Okla., and point/shooting guard Bernard Smith of Conroe, Texas. Officially KU has three scholarships to give in the April signing period, though KU coach Roy Williams may not want to award that many.
"We're definitely going to have to reload," Thomas said. "That is why I came to Kansas, to play. It will be our time to step up."
As far as the coaching staff goes, who knows what the future holds? Roy Williams says Kansas is the type of place he could enjoy coaching at until he retires, yet his alma mater North Carolina undoubtedly will make a bid for his services the moment Dean Smith retires.
Assistants Matt Doherty and Neil Dougherty have interviewed for jobs in the past and are regarded as hot coaching commodities. KU aide Joe Holladay also is growing in stature every year and many believe is also ready to land a mid-major head coaching post.
"I believe it's the best program in the country," said LaFrentz. "From the first time I met coach Williams I felt he was somebody I could trust. I still feel that way and will always feel that way. You couldn't ask for better teammates. Believe me, this program will continue to accomplish great things in the future."
One tough cookie: Haase scored just two points while playing 14 minutes Friday because of a broken bone in his right wrist. He finished the season in a 4-of-28 three-point slide over 10 games.
"It's been up and down. There was a stretch where it got better. The last few days it was bad, the most difficult for me," Haase said, noting he hasn't decide when he'll have surgery.
"It's been a dream season and dream career. It just didn't have the perfect ending."
Robertson on the NCAAs: "It's pretty obvious how tough this tournament is," he said. "There's no doubt who the best team in the country is ... we are. Two losses all year? We accomplished a lot this year."
Well-guarded: LaFrentz reflected on his taking just two shots the first half.
"I didn't get the shots but at the same time Ryan and Billy gave us a big lift (seven threes) and Paul gave us a lift (27 points). The second half I started to work harder. They'll throw it to you if you get open."
Pollard didn't score in 20 foul-plagued minutes. "Their defense slowed Raef and me down. They neutralized us with team defense," Pollard said. "They had a lot of steals (12 to KU's seven) and took us out of our offense a lot of times."
Vaughn on the UA loss: "We were not crisp. They shot well and had a lot of second chances," Vaughn said. UA hit 47.1 percent of its shots to KU's 44.4 percent mark. KU outrebounded UA 44-36.