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Archive for Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Overlooked’ Langford motivated

November 4, 2003

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If Kansas University had made one more three-pointer, made a few more free throws or got a hand in hand in Gerry McNamara's face one more time, things might have been different.

But McNamara made six three-pointers for Syracuse, and KU made only 4-of-20 three-pointers and 12-of-30 free-throw attempts in the Orangemen's 81-78 victory in the NCAA title game April 7 at New Orleans.

If Kansas could have eked out of a few more points at the Super Dome, it's quite possible Kansas guard Keith Langford would have been named MVP of the Final Four.

That award automatically would have earned Langford the honor of having his KU jersey retired to the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. More importantly, it might have sent Langford's stock soaring with NBA scouts.

Instead the Texan settled for a spot on the all-tournament team and is back for his junior year and a third run at the national title.

"If I had been MVP of the Final Four, I probably would have had a little more consideration," said Langford, who was the only Jayhawk to score in double figures in all six of KU's NCAA Tournament games. "But judging from the way things went and how everything fell, I'm glad I made the decision I did."

Langford has turned in some of his best performances at tournament time. As a freshman, he scored 15 points in a 73-69 victory over Illinois in the regional semifinal and scored 20 more in a 104-86 victory over Oregon in the regional final.

He averaged 18.1 points per game in last year's tournament, helping KU reach the Final Four for the second straight year.

Langford was named honorable mention All-Big 12 last year when he averaged 15.9 points per game, but he did not receive many preseason honors this year.

"The performance he put up in the Final Four and the tournament runs both last year and this year, I don't know how those go overlooked," said junior forward Wayne Simien. "He's definitely one of the most underrated players in the country. Keith notices that. He's definitely going to use that as fuel for the fire. I think a lot of people are going to be in trouble this year."

Langford often was overlooked last season when senior All-Americans Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich were in the spotlight. Simien's return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 22 games last year has been the top story during the preseason.

"I've been going through it so long, it's second nature now," Langford said. "I think it helps me. I get to play with a chip on my shoulder. No, I don't even think of it as a chip. I think of it as a brick or a boulder."

Langford and Simien -- when he was healthy -- were looked to as third and fourth options in an offense built around Collison and Hinrich. That won't be the case this season.

"It's hard to replace two lottery picks, but I think the way you replace two lottery picks is you either have everybody come together or have two more lottery picks," Langford said. "I can't say for sure that there's two lottery picks in our lineup right now, so everybody's going to have to come together and make that much more of an effort."

Langford will be asked to score more and take on more of a leadership role.

"I'm ready," said Langford, who averaged 25.7 points per game as a senior at North Crowley High in Fort Worth, Texas. "I came from high school like that. I had the ball in my hands a lot. That was an adjustment I made when I got here. I knew I wasn't called upon to shoot all the time. I knew I had to get the ball to the guys who were proven. Wayne has proven that. Anyone else that proves they're scorers will get the ball."

Langford is best known for his ability to slash through defenses, but he'll try to show a more versatile offensive game this year.

"I always need to improve free-throw shooting obviously, outside shooting as a whole," said Langford, who shot 63.5 percent from the free-throw line and 28.9 percent from three-point range as a sophomore. "By no means do I want to become a Jeff Boschee or a Kirk Hinrich from the outside. I just want to be able to hit shots and when the ball is swung back around, be able to keep the defense honest."

But Langford's main goals are of the team variety. After two Final Four trips in his first two seasons, he's eager to return to college basketball's premier event.

"I can't even describe it," he said. "Anything less than that is unacceptable now, especially for the guys that have been there the last two years. I don't think anyone will be satisfied until we finish it off."

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