Archive for Sunday, February 8, 2004

Mayer: Jayhawks need to be tough in brutal Big 12

February 8, 2004


Basketball analyst Len Elmore looked carefully at the tremendous rash of college upsets this season. He concluded that the main thing the underdog victor featured was toughness in the clutch. The victims, Elmore noted, lacked it. Despite superior personnel they got dumped.

Then Len listed good teams waylaid by softness at the wrong time, including Connecticut, Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas University, Missouri and North Carolina. He presented a strong case.

KU threw off its mantle of softness in those vital victories Monday over Missouri and Saturday against Texas Tech. Kansas lacked sufficient toughness in the upsets by Nevada, Stanford, Richmond and Iowa State -- all games it might have won with more grit and ferocity. Well, maybe not unbeaten Stanford, which has terrific people with good experience. The unbeaten Cardinal has handled everybody. But the other three could have been had.

Last season, seniors Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison could grab the Jayhawks by the throat and will them to meet a stiff challenge. Coach Bill Self has been eager for somebody to assume that role this season. He certainly is hoping the MU and T-Tech wins set the tone for another positive explosion Monday at Oklahoma State.

Aaron Miles is the nifty point guard with all the assists and some mighty timely points. But for all his talents, he still is guilty of poor judgment with some of his quarterbacking. He isn't, for all his contributions, a Hinrich, at least yet. Aaron will need to be if Kansas is to win the Big 12 Conference. His three years of combat need to pay off even better right away.

Junior Wayne Simien is another puzzle. He's the guy who must generate the spiritual thrust the determined Collison added. Maybe Wayne's injury situation is worse than we know, but Simien must hit a steady stride of forceful leadership for this club to be its best. The T-Tech game indicates he may have arrived full-bore. KU can stand nothing less.

Jeff Graves can be "tough" but remains too erratic to spark this club to a title. Just when you think he's on a roll, he clanks a key free throw, makes a bad pass or commits a foolish foul. In fairness, too many referees have preconceived notions about Graves' deportment and assess too many cheapies. But that's something Jeff has to get over and deal with. He should be doing better.

Just as Graves is victimized by referees, have you ever seen anyone protected more than Texas Tech's Andre Emmett. Talk about star treatment!

Keith Langford's fine defensive effort against Missouri's Rickey Paulding might have signaled his arrival as something of a bell-cow for a team badly in need of such. The eight-point T-Tech game was an aberration for him. If Langford can add more leadership to his bag of tricks, look out. Keith, Miles and Simien can hub a terrific stretch run. If rookies J.R. Giddens and David Padgett and aggressive Michael Lee keep improving and contributing heavily, all sorts of wondrous things could occur.

Jeff Hawkins and Bryant Nash still must prove they have more than "potential." Christian Moody and Moulaye Niang may be able to provide some more more good minutes without doing any harm. But they remain iffy. Sure would like to see more of Omar Wilkes and Jeremy Case.

KU has lost three games because it simply wasn't tough enough when it counted. It needs a Simien, Miles or Langford to force the club to win the way street-fighter Duane Stinson did at Iowa State.

Let's hope the way spirited KU met the thrust from a talented but not-tough-enough Missouri club and a stern Bobby Knight Tech threat was the turning point. The message should be clear.

It is sad that one of the best of the 38 Super Bowl football games had to be lost in the shuffle of that crass, miserable halftime debacle and, just as bad, the disgusting array of commercials. Nothing disturbed me more, including Janet Jackson's orchestrated booby-trap, than that Bud Light commercial where a super-flatulent horse blasted a young woman in the face. How low do you plan to go, Anheuser-Busch?

The "show" consisted of a batch of non-talented showoffs and schlumps simulating sex, grabbing their crotches and spouting gross lyrics that, fortunately, couldn't be heard too well. If Kid Rock, P. Diddy, Nelly and all those other lack-of-class wannabes are what entertainment is, close the door, mother! What a degrading presentation!

Pardon a fond reflection. I only regret that the ranks are thinning for people who got to see that incomparable opening ceremony for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. David Wolper and Co. unfurled a live show that nobody has topped at a sports event. Houston was a lousy attempt.

At the time, '84, America OWNED entertainment. The whole world was reminded of it by that wondrous display of genuine music, from bluegrass, to jazz, to country, gospel, pop, rock, semi-classical. You name it -- all there and tastefully and gracefully done. You'll never get a better "Rhapsody in Blue" than those 84 pianos gave in concert.

It was American music excellence radiating to the world to make us deeply proud -- the universal language that touches everyone. What did that Super Bowl trash touch except crotches and boobs? This is how we want the world to see us?

Organizer Peter Uberroth in '84 capped it with: "We make no political statement. Our only statement is hospitality and friendship, and through these efforts to make a better world if we can."

You see no-talent Kid Rock wearing our flag as a poncho after promising he wouldn't and realize the world was watching this travesty as "Americana." You want to barf. Get a tape and compare 1984 and 2004 and you can get even sicker.

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