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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

It might be time to scrap KU’s feast-famine recruiting

December 11, 2002

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Annual vigilance in the pursuit of college basketball talent has become more of a necessity at Kansas University.

With more and more college players leaving for the pros before they reach their senior seasons, it is more imperative than ever to reload every year, not just every other year as KU coach Roy Williams has been doing since the mid-'90s.

With the Jayhawks off to a slow start, many people are wondering why.

Although unexpectedly poor shooting and the inexplicable slump of point guard Aaron Miles have been the most glaring factors in the Jayhawks' inability to defeat good teams outside of Allen Fieldhouse, the bottom line is - and will always be - recruiting.

In you have paid close attention to Williams' pursuit of talent, you know his recent history has been to corral a signature class one year, then settle for scraps the next.

Without going too far back, let's start at 1995 when Williams brought in Paul Pierce, Ryan Robertson and T.J. Pugh. That was a memorable class. But the next year, with only one scholarship, Williams signed Nick Bradford, who was an average college player at best.

Then in 1997, Williams landed two ballyhooed McDonald's All-Americans in Eric Chenowith and Kenny Gregory plus Jeff Carey and juco transfer Jelani Janisse. Chenowith and Gregory became contributors.

A year later, Williams added five more newcomers, including Luke Axtell, a transfer from Texas who had to sit out a year. Yet only guard Jeff Boschee made an impact. John Crider and Marlon London - two guards in over their heads - transferred, and juco transfer Ashante Johnson never developed into anything more than an eighth or ninth man.

That was around the time Williams admitted he had reached the point of dreading the recruiting process because too many unscrupulous people had become involved.

A year later, however, Williams was smiling again after landing another dandy group - maybe even his best - in Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. Gooden became an All-American while Hinrich was a preseason All-American this year and Collison wasn't far behind.

But wouldn't you know it? The next year was a washout. KU's freshmen recruits in 2000 were Bryant Nash and Mario Kinsey, a couple of Texas preps - one with no portfolio (Nash) and the other with baggage (Kinsey). DeShawn Stevenson, who signed with KU, dealt Williams a major blow, heading to the NBA after his struggles with standardized tests.

Darned if the up cycle didn't return last year, though, when Williams again corralled another showcase group of newcomers - Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford, Michael Lee and Jeff Hawkins.

But the on-again, off-again trend resumed when Williams' only recruits prior to this season were slender freshman Moulaye Niang, who isn't quite ready for prime time, and not-so-slender Jeff Graves, a juco transfer who has yet to distinguish himself.

Still, I'm sure you know Williams has secured another class full of potential for next year in David Padgett, Omar Wilkes, J. R. Giddens and Jeremy Case.

Up, down, up, down, up down : ad infinitum.

Checkered recruiting patterns don't necessarily affect starting lineups, but they do produce thin benches. For example, as weak as the Jayhawks' bench has been this year, it probably isn't as bad as two years ago when Williams' ONLY guards late in the season were Boschee, Hinrich and walk-on Brett Ballard.

Williams confessed the other day he hasn't been sleeping very well for the last two weeks.

"I'll admit," he said, "I slept a lot better last year than so far this year : The price you pay."

Yes, that's the price every coach pays for inconsistent recruiting.

It's not hard to envision Williams turning into an insomniac if Collison and/or Hinrich had decided to emulate Gooden and leave for the NBA prior to this season. Now that's a scary thought.

If the thought of playing this season without Hinrich, Collison and Gooden doesn't make Williams and his staff resolve to end this frustrating feast-famine recruiting cycle once and for all, then nothing will.

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