Archive for Sunday, November 24, 2002

KU bench prospects encouraging

Jayhawks’ reserves must ‘do no harm,’ then concentrate on improvement

November 24, 2002

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While Kansas basketball is going through its shakedown cruise, the five players who must provide "the bench" should adopt the No. 1 priority of physicians' Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

Moulaye Niang, Bryant Nash, Jeff Graves, Michael Lee and Jeff Hawkins can meet that challenge. Before long they could be augmenting the starters in highly desirable fashion. Instead of just holding the line while the reserves are in, the Jayhawks may soon reach the point where they can gain ground through the contributions of the backups.

That's when they'll become legitimate Big 12 title contenders and prime Final Four prospects.

The biggest test will be for the front-line people, Nash, Niang and Graves. I'm bullish enough to think that by January, Nick Collison and Wayne Simien will provide KU a more consistent 1-2 punch than the Collison-Drew Gooden tandem of last season. Of course, NOBODY can get hurt.

Gooden for all his athletic skills could be erratic and self-serving. The serious Simien already has indicated he'll be a steadier entity and more attentive to the team concept than the flamboyant Gooden seemed at times.

Trouble is, last year, Simien was in reserve for Collison and Gooden with reliable Jeff Carey in the wings. This season, it's Nick and Wayne with the immediate pressure on Niang, Nash and Graves. The latter three have shown encouraging signs, though their defense remains suspect. But they possess a lot of talents, such as Niang's agility and soft touch, Nash's activism and Graves's bulk, to augment Collison and Simien handsomely.

Another good sign is that Graves seems to have grasped what is needed and what is expected; he may seriously be getting with the program.

In Aaron Miles, the spectacular Keith Langford and All-American Kirk Hinrich, Kansas has a "guard" gang that measures up to any in the nation. Last season, Miles, Jeff Boschee and Hinrich were in the forefront while Langford was moving along toward greatness. After that, walk-on Brett Ballard, for all his dedication and eagerness, wasn't top-drawer.

The current backcourt bench guys are muscular Michael Lee and redshirt Jeff Hawkins. Both soon could add a lot to the mix. Further, once Aaron Miles is totally comfortable as the quarterback and can afford some time to think offensively, we could see some 15-20-point nights.

A lot of refinement is needed before KU will be on a par with deep and talented Arizona. But with the frontline package headed by Collison and Simien and a backcourt five-pack hubbed by Hinrich, Langford and Miles, Kansas might come up with a pretty potent 10-man crew.

When the five-member "bench" begins to measure up to its potential so that it can do more than just "do no harm" in relief, that's when more good times than ever could roll.

It may take time to compensate for the loss of Gooden and Boschee. Three-point shooting will be suspect for a while, but don't count out this perimeter patrol too soon. (Again, nobody can get hurt.)

l He's 87 years old and still goes to his Chicago area insurance office every day. But former Kansas football coach Chuck Mather faces as big test as he ever did in football. His wife, Mildred, developed Parkinson's Disease about five years ago and Chuck spends a lot of time cooking, care-giving and helping her through her ordeal.

"Actually, we're pretty lucky," Chuck said during a telephone visit the past week. "I'm in good health and able to do some things and we have some good help from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. while I get to the office and take care of business. Mildred's shown as much courage as anyone I ever met."

Chuck's clearly proud of their children. Son George played football as a linebacker at Navy and is now a broker with a major financial agency in Atlanta. Daughter Nancy is a professor at Arizona University, and has written several books on learning disabilities. The writing has been widely accepted and "I'm amazed at what she has made in the way of royalties," Mather said. "Just let me say she's in great shape along with loving what she does. Same for George."

In the six years Chuck coached the legendary Massillon, Ohio, High before coming to Kansas for the 1954 season, his Tiger teams were 57-3, capturing six state and two mythical national titles. He was thrust into the KU job, as a Franklin Murphy experiment, without enough background and left after '57 with an 11-26-3 record.

While working part-time in insurance, Chuck was on the Chicago Bear staff from 1958 until 1965, then did scouting for the next 10 years.

"George Allen (then a top Bear assistant) wanted me to go with him to the Los Angeles Rams but, you know how serious George was. He said I couldn't do any more insurance," Chuck said. "I checked what I was making and what I'd get at LA, no problem. I stayed in the field, and I'm sure glad I did. Still hear and keep in touch with a lot of players but without all that coaching pressure."

At various times Chuck was interviewed for head jobs with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Cardinals but is glad he never landed them.

"My family is a lot better off, and we still keep in touch with some people in Lawrence," said Mather. "Things didn't work out there, and they're struggling again, but we have some wonderful memories about being Jayhawks those four years. We've been blessed in a lot of ways."

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