Versatility is the buzzword at Kansas entering the 2001-02 men's basketball season.
The departure of Eric Chenowith has left KU without a true center for the first time in five seasons.
What's left are a batch of players, including four newcomers, who can play a variety of positions.
"Coach is talking about playing three guards. It's really going to be interchangeable. We'll be all over the place it sounds like," junior point guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Hinrich, who dazzled from the outside, hitting 50.5 percent of his three-pointers last year, is expected to show his versatility at both the point guard and shooting guard slots this season.
McDonald's All-American Aaron Miles is a candidate to run the team at the point from Day One, though the 6-foot, 165-pounder also played some shooting guard his junior year at Jefferson High in Portland, Ore.
His prep teammate, 6-2, 210-pound Michael Lee, is regarded as a shooting guard who could also be used at small forward because of his bulk.
Keith Langford, 6-4, 200 from Crowley, Texas, is a shooting guard who can slip to the small forward slot.
Wayne Simien, a 6-8, 245-pound rookie from Leavenworth High, is expected to play power forward but could also drift to his high school position center.
So many others also have the ability to play various spots on the floor.
Junior forward Drew Gooden is expected to play power forward, but may also drift outside to hoist some shots at small forward.
Junior forward Nick Collison has a deadly jump hook to use at the 5-spot, but is more of a prototypical power forward, who also has the touch to drift outside.
Senior shooting guard Jeff Boschee, a former starter at the point, can play both point and shooting guard, while soph stringbean Bryant Nash spent last year working on his ballhandling skills so he could eventually play small forward as well as the power forward slots.
Senior Jeff Carey is more of a natural center, while walk-ons Brett Ballard (point guard, shooting guard), Chris Zerbe (power forward, center), Todd Kappelmann (forward) and Lewis Harrison (point guard, shooting guard) also can help out in a pinch.
KU coach Roy Williams realizes his players have the ability to play multiple spots.
"Just from the process of elimination it looks like we will be using three true guards as opposed to what we've been in the past," Williams said, acknowledging an influx of quick guard/forwards. "One way things could change is we'll be better ballhandlers. We will probably not be as good on the backboards.
"Kenny Gregory was sensational last year on the boards. Averaging seven rebounds from your 3-man is sensational. We will not have that. We should be able to pick up people farther out. Perimeter-wise we may be stronger on the defensive end. We could be stronger shooting the ball from the outside."
Williams could do a lot of experimenting early on.
"On Oct. 15 if we get everybody in here and find out Keith Langford can post people up, then he'll post people up," Williams said. "You can scout kids all you want, but until Aaron Miles matches up with Kirk Hinrich or Keith Langford matches up against Jeff Boschee, you don't really know. I don't think you'll hear me saying early, 'Kirk is the one or Aaron is the one or Jeff is the one (point guard).' Because of the numbers, you will see us more than likely play three perimeter players who all have guard skills."
The newcomers are question marks.
Williams knows much about his returnees:
Drew Gooden, 6-10, 230, Jr., Richmond, Calif.: Gooden averaged a team-best 15.8 points and 8.4 boards while earning AP All-Big 12 honors his soph season. He hit 51.6 percent of his shots while recording a club-best 10 double doubles.
"No question his work habits improved last season, his defensive grades improved. He made some great strides," Williams said. "Before his playing career is over I do think he has a chance to be a great, great player.
"The best part of his game is he's so versatile," Williams added, using the 'V' word again. "He can do so many things. He must do all of those things better, on a more consistent basis. I want him to get better defensively, to do it on a nightly basis."
This could be Gooden's last go-round at KU. He flirted with the idea of turning pro after his sophomore season, announcing he'd remain a Jayhawk at KU's awards dinner.
Nick Collison, 6-9, 250, Jr., Iowa Falls, Iowa: Collison averaged 14.0 points and 6.7 boards, third and fourth-best marks on the squad respectively.
He led all KU regulars and finished 10th in the country in field goal percentage at 59.7 percent. He led the Jayhawks with 54 blocked shots and was second on the team with 36 steals.
Collison led the team in scoring 12 times and rebounding seven times, netting five 20-point scoring games.
"I think he had a great year," buddy Hinrich said. "He comes to play every night."
"He can do so many things," said senior Chris Zerbe, who goes against Collison at practice every day. "He can fake and go to the basket. He can make pull-up jumpers and shoots a jump hook with his left and right hand. You never know what he's going to do."
Kirk Hinrich, 6-3, 180, Jr., Sioux City, Iowa: Hinrich averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds while dishing 229 assists, good for fourth on KU's single-season chart. His 50.5 percent three-point percent mark was the best single-season mark in KU history and was third-best mark in the country. He hit 84.3 percent of his charities and led the team with 43 steals.
Hinrich showed great improvement as a soph, basically doubling his point production (5.5 ppg to 11.5) and assist average (3.6 to 6.9), while suffering more turnovers 111 errors to 87 than his rookie year.
"He is one, tough sucker," Williams said. "He's one of those kids you love because he cares about only one thing the 'W' at the end of the game. I truly believe if Kirk were to go to a game and not score a single point, as long as we won, it wouldn't bother him in the least.
"If he scored 25 and made one turnover and that cost us in a game we lost, it would kill him. As a coach, it's a very comfortable feeling to have when you know it means that much to your point guard."
Jeff Boschee, 6-1, 185, Sr., Valley City, N.D.: Boschee, KU's defensive player of the year, dished 115 assists to 54 turnovers. He hit for 11.1 points a game on a team-best 33.3 minute average.
Boschee hit 68 of 189 threes for a streaky 36.0 percent. He's on target to break KU's all-time three-point mark late this season.
Boschee started 32 of 33 games his junior year, subbing on Senior Day.
He led the team in scoring five times and assists five times, hitting the double-figure mark in scoring 18 times.
"Every time he shoots it I think it's going in," Williams said of Boschee, a player who shows deadly accuracy when his feet are set, but tends to misfire when he shoots on the run. "Jeff is one confident rascal. He's never lacked in confidence."
He hit for 19 and 16 points respectively in NCAA Tournament wins over Cal State Northridge and Syracuse. He played all 40 minutes in a loss to Illinois, hitting one of seven threes and tallying just three points with two assists and two turnovers.
Jeff Carey, 6-11, 250, Sr., Camdenton, Mo.: Carey played limited minutes in 33 games his junior year. He averaged 1.6 points and 2.1 boards.
He hit 54.3 percent of his shots and 60 percent of his free throws.
Carey had nine boards versus Colorado on Feb. 21. He stepped up his game when Gooden missed five games because of a wrist injury.
Carey is known for a soft shooting touch and is KU's elder statesman as a fifth-year senior.
"I will take that role," Carey said. "I've been here more than anyone has ever been here basically. It's something where I'll have to pick up the young guys. We're going to have some freshmen. If anybody knows what should be going on around here, it's me."
Williams loves Carey's attitude and it's a sure bet he'd like to reward him with some significant minutes.
"I want to do whatever is best for this team," Carey said. "I'm not expecting to score 20 points a game by any means. If coach never needs me to play because we are doing well, that's fine. If he needs me to play 20 minutes, that's fine any way I can help the team I will."
Bryant Nash, 6-6, 200, Soph., Carrollton, Texas: Nash scored 16 points and grabbed 29 rebounds while playing in 24 games his rookie season.
He spent last season learning how to play on the perimeter. He was a back to the basket pivot in high school.
Nash missed the NCAA Tournament with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
"I'll have to be ready, because I'll be one of the only three men on the team," Nash said of the small forward slot.
"Drew will probably come out there. It'll be him and me. I'll work on ballhandling, shooting, whatever it takes to be a three-man, driving.
"I think we've got a lot of new players coming in. I'm sure they'll all be good. There's a lot of work ahead of me," Nash added.
Brett Ballard, 6-0, 175, Sr, Hutchinson: Ballard played more than expected in his first year out of Hutchinson CC.
He averaged 1.5 points while playing in 24 of KU's 33 games. Ballard, whose minutes increased dramatically after the departure of football quarterback Mario Kinsey to concentrate on academics in mid-February, hit nine of 23 threes. He also had 15 assists, two blocks and seven steals.
Ballard played a career-high 18 minutes, scoring a career-high eight points off a career best five assists in a first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Cal State Northridge.
He dazzled at practice with his accurate three-point marksmanship.
"He didn't surprise me at all. We saw what he could do at practice," Hinrich said. "He pushed me every day and made me a better player."
Chris Zerbe, 6-5, 230, Sr., Andover: Zerbe scored in 12 of the 16 games he played. He hit 13 of 19 shots for a torrid 68.4 percent. He averaged just under a point per minute played.
Zerbe scored a career-high six points in three minutes against Boise State and had four points versus Tulsa.
Todd Kappelmann, 6-9, 230, Sr., Augusta: Kappelmann scored five points in 16 games, logging 26 minutes total. A Kansas native, his brother Brett played baseball for the Jayhawks.
Lewis Harrison, 6-0, 165, Sr., Kansas City: The quick point guard added depth to KU's backcourt at practice. He played in 16 games his first year out of Kansas City Kansas CC. He scored seven points with nine assists in 16 games.
Also joining the program this season along with the four signees is walk-on Jeff Hawkins, a 5-11 point guard from KC Sumner. He will red-shirt his first season then have four years on scholarship..
The Jayhawks expect great things from their newcomers.
"They better (be ready), because we don't have that many players now," Collison said. "They will be counted on to play a big role. One will probably even have to crack the starting lineup.
"Coach says they all have a good feel for the game and know how to play. That'll help us more than anything.. These guys know when to pass and when to shoot. They will have to step up and play a big role."