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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 2002

Collison keeps Jayhawks focused

March 30, 2002

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— A fired-up Nick Collison ripped off his headphones in a Kohl Center locker room and spoke to his teammates before last Sunday's Midwest Regional championship victory over Oregon in Madison, Wis.

Collison, Kansas University's junior forward from Iowa Falls, Iowa, tried to inspire the troops again Friday, immediately after pre-practice stretching exercises were completed at the Georgia Dome.

This time, Collison's words of wisdom didn't come after listening to the music of violent rapper Tupac Shakur, but after noticing the Jayhawks might not be mentally ready for an hour-long afternoon workout  KU's last workout before tonight's Final Four semifinal against Maryland.

"I just wanted to make sure we were focused to practice in this environment," Collison said of working out before 10,000 or so fans in the spacious dome.

"I said, 'We're not used to practicing before 20,000 to 30,000 fans. Let's make sure we focus.' We were a little sloppy in layup drills, but became focused after that. It was a lot of fun, but at first kind of awkward. It's a lot different practicing before thousands of fans instead an empty (Allen) Fieldhouse."

Collison said it's not necessarily true he's tried to become the team's inspirational leader of late.

"I think we have a lot of leaders. I think we've led by committee this season," Collison said. "All year we've had different people step up and say things."

Yet Collison definitely wants this national championship and is making no bones about it to his teammates.

"Nick is fired up. I think all the older guys have been getting after us to be focused for this game," KU freshman Keith Langford said.

Freshman Wayne Simien said he's definitely been a bit antsy waiting for his first Final Four game, which begins around 7:47 tonight.

"Everybody's having a little trouble sleeping. You definitely have the heebie-jeebies this time of year," Simien said. "Coach (Roy) Williams hasn't been getting much sleep. You hear him out pacing in the (hotel) hall. Coach lets us know he's excited about this, too."

Walk-on Chris Zerbe says his mind has been racing.

"Since the Stanford game I've had trouble sleeping," Zerbe said. "I think I'll have trouble sleeping tonight. I wouldn't trade this for anything. To be in the Final Four with a chance to win it all. If we can play our game and show defensive intensity, I don't think any team in the country can beat us. Hopefully, we'll be intense on defense and run our offense."

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