Archive for Saturday, July 31, 2004

KU’s Self has good reason to smile

With paucity of point guards, Jayhawks’ head man already has secured one of best in nation

July 31, 2004

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— It nearly is impossible to catch Kansas University coach Bill Self without that wide, disarming grin spread above his chin. Right now, though, he has a reason to smile.

Many of the other coaches in this gymnasium are searching for point guard prospects like blackjack bettors wishing for another ace. The supply is short, but the Jayhawks grabbed theirs early in the game.

Down on the floor at Shadow Ridge High in Las Vegas, Alaska's next exceptional basketball product, Mario Chalmers, is playing with some not-so-great Alaskans. They are competing in the Adidas Super 64 event.

Chalmers is strong, long and fluid. He is an alert passer and effective shooter. He does not yet have a feel for what awaits him at Kansas -- playing with, and trying to enhance, other talented players. As he figures that out, he'll likely become the best point guard to emerge from the high school class of 2005.

That might be the least flattering compliment Chalmers ever receives.

Never has the importance of effective playmaking been more obvious.

Rarely have there been so few apparent options for teams seeking to add talent at point guard. This is not an especially good year for colleges to be seeking any sort of help at any position, but the shortage is worst where it matters most.

Recruiting analyst Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops.com figures some point guards will be recruited two levels above where their talent suggests they should play. That would mean a guy who ought to be in the Southland Conference will wind up in the Big 12.

"I don't know what the junior college ranks look like," Telep says, "but somebody's got to go check them out."

The importance of employing a capable point guard can be gauged by measuring the gap last season between Georgia Tech and Michigan State.

Those schools were the final choices for Jarrett Jack when he was recruited three years ago. Tech got him and two years later surged toward the top of the ACC and into the NCAA championship game.

Without him, the Spartans struggled to create a consistent offensive flow, received only a No. 7 NCAA Tournament seed and lost an opening-round game to Nevada.

Indiana's miscalculation of Marshall Strickland's ability to play the point led the Hoosiers to finish 11th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage. Louisville collapsed to a 4-9 finish after Taquan Dean, who had been successfully converted from shooting guard, injured his groin and could contribute only token minutes.

Programs now are so convinced of the value of point guard play they will employ as many as can fit into a lineup. Connecticut's 1999 NCAA championship team, with Ricky Moore and Khalid El-Amin, helped pioneer the dual-point approach.

The list of high school seniors who might manage that in the next few years is painfully short.

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