Bill Self was on the phone, calling from Texas, where he was trying to persuade recruits to join the Kansas Jayhawks in the fall of 2006. You can be certain he was not searching for any wing players.
Kansas needs more wings like Melanie Griffith needs more plastic surgery.
This season, the Jayhawks are adding four talented players who primarily are shooting guards or small forwards. But Michigan State taught us last season this circumstance is not a cause for dread. The Spartans juggled five first-rate wing players and advanced to their fourth Final Four in seven years.
"I believe when you recruit a perimeter player, you're recruiting for him to play one of three spots," Self says.
"I know we'll have to massage different lineups - get a feel for different lineups - but the bottom line is this is the lineup we envisioned."
The Jayhawks also have holdovers Russell Robinson and Jeff Hawkins, who both can play on the wing, so the situation was complicated when Kansas pursued Brandon Rush after he removed himself from the NBA Draft. Up against some hard deadlines, the Jayhawks got him enrolled and approved for freshman eligibility by the NCAA clearinghouse.
Why go through that much trouble when you have so much depth? It makes sense if you look closely at the new faces on the wing:
¢ Julian Wright. For someone who's 6-foot-8, Wright is a dazzling passer and ballhandler. He's also a tenacious rebounder. He struggles, though, as a perimeter shooter. Self envisions Wright at point guard, small forward or even power forward. But Wright is best creating for others.
¢ Rodrick Stewart. He is quick and strong, but Stewart has a lot to prove. He played mostly point guard as a freshman at Southern California but never has been a passionate distributor and averaged only 4.4 points. Kansas is counting on Stewart's ability to play both backcourt spots.
¢ Micah Downs. Ultimately, Downs could have the best future. He is a terrific shooter and an exciting athlete. But he is the least ready to play immediately because he carries 180 pounds on his 6-8 frame. Imagine him trying to guard Texas brute P.J. Tucker for 25 minutes.
¢ Brandon Rush. NBA scouts were appalled by Rush's lack of effort during 2004 summer events and his final season at Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina. But at the predraft camp, the 6-7 Rush played with effort, intelligence and flair against some of the best college players. He showed the ability to be the No. 1 option for a Division I team, provided he takes the responsibility seriously.
Self says Rush is "somebody with the presence about himself that he can go get a shot when you run bad offense." Rush can drive the ball, finish in traffic and shoot from the outside. He gives KU what no other player on its roster can provide. After losing to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks wanted to get more athletic and be more eager to extend their defense. With Rush, they should be better able to turn defensive stops into offensive production. In what appeared to be a transition year, they have a chance to soar.