Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

Oklahoma ties plentiful on Jayhawk squad

June 27, 2004

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J.R. Giddens wasn't backing down from Kirk Hinrich during last week's pickup game at coach Bill Self's basketball camp, and Kansas University freshman forward Darnell Jackson knew it.

So when Giddens and Hinrich's one-on-one battle nearly reached the boiling point, Jackson defended his best friend by committing a hard foul on the alumni team's Eric Chenowith.

"He doesn't back down from anyone," Giddens said of the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Jackson. "Plus, he's from Oklahoma City. We got some hoopsters out there."

KU's coaching staffs -- past and present -- seem to think so, because they've signed three of the top players from the Sooner State during the last two seasons.

"We look at Oklahoma, Missouri or Iowa or Nebraska as being recruiting spots in our territory," said Self, who played at Oklahoma State from 1982 to 1985. "Maybe not necessarily the guys in our backyard, but an area we need to recruit because of the proximity.

"Those guys (Giddens and Jackson) are definitely Oklahoma guys, and I'm sure Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are going to get their fair share of them, but we'll take 'em when we can get 'em."

Counting sophomore guard Jeremy Case -- who hails from McAlester, Okla. -- there are three Oklahoma-born KU players. Four Jayhawks -- Jeff Hawkins (Kansas City), Matt Kleinmann (Overland Park), Wayne Simien (Leavenworth), and Stephen Vinson (Lawrence) are Sunflower State natives.

"It's real weird to have three people from Oklahoma," said Case, who, with Giddens, was recruited by Roy Williams. "But it definitely makes it more fun."

Giddens, Case and Jackson have played on the same AAU team the past three summers.

"I'd say they were the top influences for me coming here," Jackson said.

Giddens and Jackson grew up together, and their bond became even stronger when the pair was involved in an automobile accident during Memorial Day weekend.

"The way they were talking we should have been paralyzed or dead, the way the car was tore up. I just thank God that me and J.R. were OK," said Jackson, who along with Giddens suffered only bruises and scrapes when Jackson's Ford Explorer flipped over after being clipped by a woman driving a Toyota Corolla during a late-night trek to a convenience store.

"I was in the front seat, riding, chilling, the window was down low," Giddens said, recalling the wreck. "I looked over and saw a car coming. I jumped into Darnell's lap and the next thing I knew we were on our side. When the dust cleared, I looked at Darnell and said, 'You OK?' and I said I love him, because that's my boy.

"I was so relieved. I got outside the car. When I realized everything was still attached I had to lay on the grass a second and chill, look up and realize how fortunate we were. It was like Mike Tyson had knocked me out. I was dizzy."

As a freshman last season Giddens was KU's third-leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the three-point line -- lines that could make young heads spin.

But not Giddens, who said he had been trying to follow the advice he gave Jackson.

"I just told him to work hard, because there are a lot of ups and downs you can't control during the season," Giddens said.

Jackson, who admitted he was nervous playing in his first public exhibitions during the camps, said he was adjusting well to the different challenges of the college game.

"It felt real good to guard some NBA guys," said Jackson, known for his imposing play in the paint at Midwest City High. "It made me play them harder. It definitely shows me how tough you have to be in order to play at that level."

Jackson said he would stick to his own motto.

"I'm not going to back down from any competition ever," he said.

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