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Archive for Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Keegan: Downs patiently maturing

January 4, 2006

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If someone told you the only way to get better at what it is you do best is to continue doing the very thing that is making you do it worse, would you trust that person?

At first, you probably wouldn't, which makes you no different from Micah Downs and countless other talented college basketball freshmen.

In the clearest explanation yet of why the gifted small forward from Seattle has been moving down the bench instead of toward the starting lineup, Kansas University coach Bill Self discussed before Tuesday's practice where Downs was in his development: In the throes of growing pains.

"Micah's going through a phase that all freshmen go through," Self said. "You go from you're playing pretty good and coach is on your butt to now coach is happier with you, but you're not playing as well. I'm happier with Micah today from an effort standpoint than I probably was a month ago. He's trying to do what I want him to do. He's making a conscious effort to be more aggressive and those things, but with that now he's not playing as well."

Playing harder, at first, makes a player play worse. And when he plays worse, he loses playing time.

"Absolutely, because the game's too fast," Self said. "That's why they have to condition their brain and body every time to do a full speed on every shot, and work hard and run because now, when you go with your little comfortable speed, that speed doesn't work against athletes. So now, when they get sped up, now the decision-making's not as good, and other things start happening.

"He's got to get out of his comfort level to understand how you have to play to be successful against really good players and really good athletes. It just doesn't happen overnight. You don't go from making shots when people don't guard you to now they're going to crowd you on every single shot, you've got to set your man up full speed, that kind of stuff. You've got to prepare yourself for that over time."

Downs isn't buried.

"As long as he keeps trying, he's going to get it," Self said. "In our mind, we are not discouraged at all with Micah. Not at all."

Downs went from being a key player in KU's best victory of the season, over California at Kemper Arena, to not seeing the floor in a blowout victory over New Orleans.

"I thought the Cal game was a good turning point, but it didn't go the greatest the next couple of games," Downs said. "But there's always time to change that. I knew I was going to have all kinds of ups and downs."

Downs sounds like a young man who has the maturity to envision better times.

"I'm real happy about it," he said of his decision to come to KU. "We're all young, and we have all that time and all that room for improvement."

Asked to name the ceiling before his career at KU was over, Downs said, "I don't know if there is one. Hopefully, we'll get a national championship before all of us are gone."

As for the present, will Downs be surprised if he doesn't play tonight against Yale?

"I don't know how I can answer that," said Downs, who then proved he knew exactly how to answer it. "I'll just be ready if my number gets called. If it doesn't, I'll be a good cheerleader on the bench."

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