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Archive for Sunday, April 21, 2002

Stars-in-waiting abound at KU

April 21, 2002

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Roy Williams stressed Friday that Drew Gooden is the best offensive rebounder Williams ever coached. Roy's said that before. No surprise.

But in once again complimenting his beloved junior All-American following Drew's departure declaration, Williams formally issued the challenge for his 2002-03 Kansas basketeers. The Kansas coach was declaring, "The king is gone; how about a new king, or kings?" He sees terrific heirs-apparent in the royalty department.

Roy followed his tribute to Gooden by declaring that as effective as the ultra-quick glass-cleaner has been, the coach hopes returnees Nick Collison and Wayne Simien become so good they surpass Drew. Williams also will find a new Jeff Boschee, the senior who made more three-pointers than anyone in league history.

One king down; best of luck, Your Highness. So long, been good to know ya! There are potential successors in the ante room.

As potent as the 6-10 Gooden has been in the double-double department, senior-to-be Nick Collison has everything needed to duplicate or perhaps even top the lithe Californian. Next year it could be Nick and Kirk Hinrich garnering the All-America honors.

We haven't seen nearly all the 6-9 Collison can do. Out of the shadow of the egregious, charismatic Gooden, Nick may blossom better than even he dreamed he could. He's strong, smart, experienced, owns countless weapons and is one of the most efficient operators you'll ever see in and around the paint. If Collison can overcome his lapses in finishing easy shots, he will be hell-on-wheels.

As for sophomore-to-be Simien, if Wayne can stay healthy, gain the confidence that will allow him to be more quickly decisive in ball-handling and going to the hoop, he also could make massive waves. Name me 10 Jayhawks who could rip the ball off the backboard more decisively than young Simien. When a fully focused Simien extends his claws in a crowd, his retrieval clout is rather authoritative.

Further, the Leavenworth powerhouse has a good scoring touch, can hit from medium range and is the kind of free-throw threat that terrorizes opponents.

Williams points out that nobody will "replace" Gooden right away. But he leaves the door wide open for those on hand to step up, adjust and make the team function just as well, though in a different way.

I refuse to believe Collison and Hinrich will turn pro. I'm licking my chops, as is Roy, about what a marvelous force Hinrich as a healed and healthy senior can be in any of at least three positions and as a defensive stopper.

Kansas was horribly handicapped when Hinrich turned that ankle against Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament. He roared off the bench with adrenaline-laced inspiration in the rout of Stanford. But motivated KU probably could have won without him so Kirk didn't have to do as much. Don't tell me he wasn't hindered later, particularly on defense. Kansas needed him at his very best. Gallant as he was, he wasn't near his peak.

But turn out the lights and call the law in 2002-03. With Kirk's heart, grit and dedication along with his countless skills, he can quarterback Kansas to another Final Four, even a national title.

Further lessening Williams' grievance about Gooden's departure for the pros will be freshmen sensations Aaron Miles and Keith Langford. Good as they were this year, like Simien, we haven't seen nearly what they will do with combat-time in the bank.

Kansas needs a couple of frontliners to help Collison and Simien; it might take a while to plug those gaps. But there are people in the mix who could lessen the loss of Gooden if Collison, Simien, Langford and Miles deliver and soph-to-be Michael Lee and red-shirt Jeff Hawkins are as good as some of their fans contend.

Collison and Hinrich are All-America timber, let alone Big 12 preseason all-star sureties. They're the bright, battle-tested coaches' kids with the same pro potential as Gooden. As seniors, they won't be hounded about whether they'll be back. Gooden caused some of his own problems in the nagging department by dropping periodic hints he might leave. He'd been settled on that course far longer than even he might admit.

But there are no flies on the kids who will be stepping in to prove they, too, can win the Big 12, reach the Final Four and even capture the brass ring.

One of my local critics tends to gag and have a cow when I dare mention hall-of-famer Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati. But there's a tremendous parallel here between Oscar and Cincy and Gooden and Kansas.

Cincy had the brilliant Robertson three seasons, and the best it could get was two third-place NCAA finishes. Then new coach Ed Jucker blended a heavy-hipped, knock-kneed sophomore named Paul Hogue, willowy 6-2 forward Tom Thacker, burly 6-4 forward Bob Wiesenhahn, 6-2 Air Force veteran Tony Yates as the quarterback and holdover Carl Bouldin as the other guard.

Cincy proceeded to win the '61 and '62 titles and was one free throw short of winning again in '63. Cincy twice upset the fabled Ohio State team with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek that won the title in '60. One free throw against Chicago Loyola and the Bearcats would have been the first team to win three straight.

OK, Collison, Hinrich, Simien, Miles and Langford are as good as or better than that first Cincy title team in '61; the Kansas bench is better. KU has a better coach. These Jayhawks need to be reminded Dean Kelley was the only starter back from the 1952 title team, yet the Jayhawks reached the national finals the coming year with 6-9 B.H. Born the only starter taller than 6-2.

Yep, one king may have abdicated, but there is a batch of regal wannabes on Mount Oread just itching to shed some royal blood to show that as much as they loved and appreciate Drew Gooden, they ain't too shabby themselves.

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