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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

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-âÂÂ90s.

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 Jayhawksâ 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 Williamsâ 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, letâÂÂs 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 McDonaldâÂÂs 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 wasnâÂÂt far behind.

But wouldnâÂÂt you know it? The next year was a washout. KUâÂÂs 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 didnâÂÂt 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 Williamsâ only recruits prior to this season were slender freshman Moulaye Niang, who isnâÂÂt quite ready for prime time, and not-so-slender Jeff Graves, a juco transfer who has yet to distinguish himself.

Still, IâÂÂm 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 âÂÂ: ad infinitum.

Checkered recruiting patterns donâÂÂt necessarily affect starting lineups, but they do produce thin benches. For example, as weak as the Jayhawksâ bench has been this year, it probably isnâÂÂt as bad as two years ago when Williamsâ ONLY guards late in the season were Boschee, Hinrich and walk-on Brett Ballard.

Williams confessed the other day he hasnâÂÂt been sleeping very well for the last two weeks.

âÂÂIâÂÂll admit,â he said, âÂÂI slept a lot better last year than so far this year âÂÂ: The price you pay.âÂÂ

Yes, thatâÂÂs the price every coach pays for inconsistent recruiting.

ItâÂÂs 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 thatâÂÂs a scary thought.

If the thought of playing this season without Hinrich, Collison and Gooden doesnâÂÂt 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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