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Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Coaches: Collison league’s best

March 13, 2003

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Nick Collison sported facial hair Wednesday, making some wonder if Kansas University's senior power forward had decided to alter his clean-cut image.

"No. I just don't like to shave," Collison said. "I can't grow a beard. It doesn't come in full. The hair gets longer, and I look mangy. I'll definitely shave before the next game."

Collison, one of KU's two soft-spoken seniors who hates drawing attention, distinguished himself Thursday. He was named Big 12 Coaches' Player of the Year after averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 boards for the Jayhawks, 24-6 entering a noon Friday Big 12 Conference tournament battle against either Texas A&M or Iowa State.

Collison -- a 6-foot-9, 255-pounder from Iowa Falls, Iowa -- was joined on the coaches' all-league first team by KU senior Kirk Hinrich, Texas' T.J. Ford, Oklahoma's Hollis Price and Texas Tech's Andre Emmett. KU sophomores Aaron Miles and Keith Langford earned honorable-mention status.

Price was named Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year Tuesday, beating out Collison and Ford.

"Any of four players probably deserve it," Collison said. "As far as my season, I'd say I've tried to be consistent, bring the same effort every night. It's just been a lot of fun this year.

"This team gets along so well. There have been games I haven't played well, games Kirk hasn't played well, games everybody hasn't played well. But for the most part we've had great effort every night."

In part because of that effort, KU coach Roy Williams was named the Associated Press Big 12 Coach of the Year. Texas' Rick Barnes was the coaches' pick for the award.

"I am very, very flattered," said Williams, who has won the award three times in seven years. "It was a great year for our league. My team being able to handle the adversity and the slow start has given me more credit than I deserve.

"Several coaches in the league could have gotten this award, and every coach in the league is an outstanding coach."

Williams drew 14 votes from AP writers who regularly cover the Big 12. Four votes went to Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson, three to Colorado's Ricardo Patton, two to Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State and one to Barnes.

Williams has led KU to 14 straight 20-win seasons, 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, nine conference titles, four conference tourney crowns and three Final Fours.

"He's done a great job," Collison said. "He always does a very good job with us. This year he's had to deal with more adversity with Wayne (Simien) getting hurt and not having as much depth. He's done a good job getting us to keep playing, helping us keep our focus through good times and bad.

"Earlier in the year we were struggling at 3-3. Coach did a good job getting us to be more patient on offense, taking better shots and having fewer turnovers. He's done a good job keeping us focused and letting us keep playing and riding it out."

KU went 14-2 in league play despite the fact Simien played in just three conference games and 40 seconds of a fourth.

"In a lot of ways, this year is even better (that last year's Final Four season) because of how satisfying it is to overcome some things," Williams said. "We started out the year, and Wayne's ankle was pretty bad, Kirk's back was a little worse, and we got beat up pretty good in New York. Then we go and play Oregon at Oregon, and I laugh every time I see 'neutral court' listed ... because playing Oregon at Portland is like playing Kansas in (Kansas City.)

"There's been a lot of adversity to overcome. Those bumps along the road, whether they are stepping stones or stumbling blocks ... you've got to figure out how to use them. I think that that in itself, as a staff ... we've really tried to push the kids to stay together and stay focused on our goals because we can still obtain them. And I think from that viewpoint, this year is more satisfying than last year was."

As a reminder of those dark days, Williams keeps a newspaper headline in his office.

"A lot of teams would go belly-up with a 3-3 start and having everybody bad-mouth them," Williams said. "I still have on my desk right now, 'Biggest Disappointment Of The Year -- It's Kansas.' That was the headline of an AP story after we were 3-3."

This year marked the first time in the league's eight seasons media and coaches didn't agree on its top player.

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