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Archive for Friday, March 16, 2007

Keegan: Jackson gets KU fired up

March 16, 2007

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— The question hangs beneath the surface like a bad burrito in the stomach: It couldn't happen again, could it?

For a hint at the answer, take a rare step into the locker room of the Kansas University basketball team, open to the media the day before the opener, per NCAA regulations.

What will it be like tonight in this room in the moments leading up to the 6:10 tipoff between Kansas, No. 1 seed in the West, and No. 16 seed Niagara?

"Darnell will be the loudest of the bunch," freshman forward Darrell Arthur said of junior forward Darnell Jackson. "He'll be bumping us on the chest, hitting us on the head, getting everybody hyped up for the game. We'll all be jumping into each other."

Uptight teams don't advance in the NCAA Tournament, so Jackson takes his job seriously.

"I just try to loosen the guys up a bit, get them relaxed," said Jackson, who averages 15 minutes a game. "If I get a chance to go out there on the court and the guys aren't showing any emotion, I'll try to show a little bit of emotion just to give us a little bit of energy to get everything moving, get our blood pumping, so we can feel a little better out there on the court."

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He pounds his chest, throws his big body all over the place and generally spreads energy when he gives Sasha Kaun breathers.

"He's always the one to get us in the right mood, get our minds right and focused on the game," sophomore Brandon Rush said of Jackson's pregame role. "We don't have any seniors on the team to lead us, so he took it on himself to put us on his back and make himself the leader in the locker room. He tries to get everybody else emotional like him."

Does Rush ever hit him back?

"He's a big dude," Rush said. "I'm not going to hit him back."

Kansas has won 11 in a row. If Jackson can ensure teammates are loose, all that was accomplished during that streak should take care of the remainder of the mental game.

"I think we're a lot more confident," Rush said. "We had a tough game against Texas, and that whole thing has brought our confidence to a whole new level. Winning the Big 12 championship straight out, instead of sharing it like we did last year, gave us confidence. Last year, we never had done it, and you don't know what to expect. It doesn't feel like a young team now."

Rush said he long ago buried the Bradley loss.

"I thought about it on the flight home," he said. "After that, my whole focus was worry about next year."

Having Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur can't hurt.

"I'll probably be a little nervous, but I don't back down from anybody," Collins said. "I don't let anything get to me."

Arthur's personality isn't as bold as Collins', his game isn't as mature, but he's not afraid to score against anybody.

"He slacked off a little from the way he started, but he's still got that aggressive mind-set that nobody can stop him," Rush said of Arthur.

Said Arthur: "I think we have a little bit of an advantage down low. We're pretty mobile down there. I think it's going to be a big advantage in the post."

These guys sound ready. They sound confident.

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