Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998

MAYER COLUMN

September 20, 1998

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From the dust, din and disorientation of an Allen Fieldhouse undergoing extensive renovation come heartwarming stories about Kansas University's immediate basketball future.

This from people I consider quite qualified to evaluate such things, though I dare not tell you who, legal though they may be. Their advice: Don't sell the Jayhawks short despite the departure of Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce and Billy Thomas.

The guys who are left along with some newcomers offer evidence that Roy Williams will show us a better team than a lot of analysts are expecting.

Such observers also got a glimpse of the recently committed Andrew Gooden. The 6-10 Californian was seen taking part in pickup activity with past and present Jayhawks. He showed good signs, like quickness, mobility and an ability to shoot from beyond 10 feet. Gooden's stamina is nowhere near what it must be, but that's quickly apparent whenever boys go against men. The consensus of several judges is that he'll be a major addition to the roster a year from now.

How can a guest take part in such activity? Rules allow him on a formal visit to mix it up with players as long as coaches are not around, which Williams and Co. dare not be. Theoretically, the incumbents aren't supposed to talk about it with the coaches.

Yeah, yeah . . . sure, sure. And you can bet they never do. Bottom line, KU has another hot prospect heading this way. Gooden's early commitment should help lure other blue-chippers for 1999-2000.

One rookie regularly drawing raves from the workouts is 6-1 Jeff Boschee, the quick and clever North Dakotan. Penciled in as a point guard, Jeff can shoot, penetrate, dish and orchestrate. All this should allow senior anchorman Ryan Robertson more chances to play the shooting guard spot and realize his vast potential as a key scorer. Boschee seems to be in tremendous shape, able to run with the best of the bulls. With a little combat experience in the big leagues, he could soon make a sizable impact.

Robertson, of course, is a bona fide all-conference prospect. If Boschee can ease some of the quarterbacking load from Ryan's shoulders, we could see new dimensions by the St. Charles, Mo., star. Whatever his assignment, Robertson is a winner.

There has been highly favorable talk, too, about Ashante Johnson, the 6-8 junior collegian from out west. Sometimes lost in the shuffle of bigger names, the active Johnson has opened eyes. Toss in 6-3 guard John Crider, a Kansas prep legend, 6-3 Marlon London from Chicago and 6-9 redshirt freshman Jeff Carey from Camdenton, Mo., and you get a tantalizing array of new guys. Carey may need a year of seasoning to be at his best, but he's expected to help soon.

Then there's another ``new guy'' who, unfortunately, can't play until a year from now -- 6-9 Luke Axtell, the touted transfer from Texas. When discussions turn to launching the ball effectively from all over the premises, Axtell's name is quick to surface. Hate to parrot Dick Vitale, but the reports say this rangy guard can flat-out shoot the rock. Too bad we have to wait.

More good news. With Robertson, Boschee, Johnson, Crider in the mix and some of the veterans showing signs of erupting, Kansas could field the best shooting team it's had in quite a while. That's something coach Williams and Co. determinedly set out to achieve after erratic gunnery knocked KU out of the NCAA tourney again last season. There's evidence substantial progress has been made.

Agile Lester Earl and dependable T.J. Pugh are still in drydock because of knee and foot repairs. But if they respond as planned and have improved and matured over the past year, they'll contend for starting jobs.

Haven't even mentioned 6-5 sophomore Kenny Gregory and 6-6 junior Nick Bradford, and never sell them short. Word is they've worked tremendously hard in the off-season to sharpen established skills and add new ones, and also have looked impressive in the pickup games. Sophomore Eric Chenowith, all 7-0 and 235 pounds of him, benefited from a summer with a Big 12 all-star team in Europe and is showing more consistency to blend his considerable talents.

It won't be surprising to see coach Williams using a 12-man rotation, with a lot of firepower. Last season the team too often waited for Raef, Paul and Billy to do it. Billy could win you games but he also could disappear at key times. There look to be many more offensive quills on the crimson and blue porcupine this season.

Kansas may not have quite the height it has had, but it'll have a lot of guys with a lot of skills who are eager to show they can win as many games as the Raef-Paul-Billy crew -- and more important ones.

-- Bill Mayer's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is bmayer@ljworld.com.

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