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Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Mayer: KU, Okie State players have taken different paths

October 31, 2004

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It's no wonder pollsters have decided Kansas University and Oklahoma State are preseason co-favorites for Big 12 Conference basketball mastery. The Cowboys also have a lot to excite their fans. Yet the personalities of the two teams are vastly different.

Kansas has justifiably received wide and frequent notice about its lustrous four-senior contingent which has been tempered by two NCAA Final Four carnivals. Add celebrated sophomore J.R. Giddens and throw in five richly talented freshmen and it's not difficult for KU followers to get stars in their eyes. Coach Bill Self seems to have a 10-man outfit with powerful clout, enough to justify its No. 1 rating in some preseason national polls.

But don't shortchange OSU, even if coach Eddie Sutton still is laboring to overcome a couple of injurious tumbles, one on an escalator at an airport.

While Kansas features four seniors, OSU has seven on its 12-man roster. The addition of junior Aaron Pettway, 6-foot-11, 240, from Hutchinson Community College, provides some of the height the Pokes have lacked.

The only "center" listed is Frans Steyn, a 7-2, 290-pound monolith from Pretoria, South Africa. He scored only two points in the recent Orange and Black squad match, but he's expected to contribute experience, bulk and paint-harassment.

Kansas had two seniors on the preseason all-league team: 6-9 Wayne Simien and 6-4 Keith Langford. O-State also had two tested veterans chosen: 5-11 John Lucas and 6-7 Joey Graham. Iowa State sophomore Curtis Stinson was the fifth selection.

Little wonder observers consider KU and OSU primed for a neck-and-neck league race, with talented Texas ready to step up from a No. 3 spot and Oklahoma lurking as the No. 4 contender.

But back to the contrasting Kansas-Oklahoma State rosters -- the first a collection of young men who started or are starting their careers with no previous experience at the collegiate level; the second with a wide range of transfer-types. KU doesn't have one man who has had anything resembling junior college or other-school action; by my count, four of the seniors OSU is counting on heavily have come from somewhere else, and Ivan McFarlin is a fifth-year performer who sat out a year getting his house in order.

The four Pokes from St. Elsewhere from whom Sutton and Co. expect a lot are the versatile Lucas from Baylor, shooting guard Daniel Bobik from Brigham Young and 6-7 Joey Graham and 6-6 brother Stephen from Central Florida (Orlando). Pettway from Hutch Juco is another transfer, and so is 6-8, 243-pound David Monds of Macon, Ga., who prepped at Shores Christian Academy.

Terrence Crawford, 6-6, is a homegrown senior from Oklahoma City, one of the rare in-house inhabitants of the OK Corral. That leaves Marcus Dove, a 6-7, 210-pound red-shirt freshman from Long Beach, Calif., Jeff Johnson, a 6-1, 180-pound junior from Kingfisher, Okla. and a controversial pure freshman whom OSU seems to have taken on as a project.

In fact, 6-3 JamesOn Curry of Mebane, N.C., is the ONLY pure freshman on the Oklahoma State list. He originally committed to North Carolina after averaging 40.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.3 steals as a high school senior. In four years, he scored a whopping 3,370 points.

But Kansas-ex Roy Williams rescinded North Carolina's scholarship offer after Curry pleaded guilty April 5 to six felony counts: two each of possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana; two each of the sale of marijuana; two each of delivering Mary Jane or a derivative. He was sentenced to 36 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and monetary fines.

Whether he's still on a legal leash and must report regularly to authorities has not been publicized. He scored four points in the Orange and Black scrimmage. Sutton says he has talked at length to the kid, has checked on his background and is confident JamesOn can stay on track in Stillwater. He terms Curry a "very good young man who made a mistake. ... He is without question a person of extraordinary ability who also has strong character and has had strong family guidance."

With a problem child like the lippy and moody Rashad McCants at Chapel Hill, I'm betting Roy Williams is supremely happy Curry is Oklahoma State's problem. McCants is enough of a distraction.

Broken down, OSU has seven seniors (four came from other schools), a red-shirt freshman, a pure freshman, a pure junior, a junior-college junior and a sophomore transfer. Sutton says he has no reservations about transfers. He says players who know they have only two years to make an impact are more receptive to coaching and are unlikely to bolt early as do so many pure freshmen and sophomores.

Meanwhile, all the guys on the Kansas roster are due to contribute, or not, without having been seasoned at other schools. Can the "purebred" method that Bill Self is cultivating overcome the "foreign legion" aspect of the Oklahoma State operation? What about the future?

While Kansas and OSU are trying to slay dragons in the Big 12 (they meet only once in the regular season), could a couple head-banging crews from Texas or Oklahoma sneak up on both? Or, horror of horrors at this Halloween-time, might Missouri finally have one of those years Tiger fans have been expecting from Quin Snyder for the past five seasons?

Plenty of reason to salivate over the thrills we'll get once they start playing for keeps next month, but especially after KU's league opener against Texas A & M here Jan. 5.

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