Some Kansas University freshmen basketball players arrive on campus as highly regarded McDonald's All-Americans.
Others come in as unheralded, lightly recruited walk-ons.
All seem to be left with the same first impression after competing in pickup games and individual drills with the older, returning Jayhawks - their new teammates.
"Athleticism and the quickness of the game," Cole Aldrich, KU's 6-foot-11 hamburger All-American out of Bloomington, Minn., said, asked what's so different about college in comparison to high school ball.
"And the mental aspect of the game. You have to be at your best - your highest mental capacity - to play at this level."
It's one thing to see Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson run, and Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson bang in games on television or at events like tonight's Late Night in the Phog at Allen Fieldhouse.
It's entirely different to experience the change in quickness, athleticism and sheer power first-hand.
"The funny thing is, every time I play it's like I have to pinch myself because I think it was a few months ago I was watching them on TV, and now I'm playing them. It's like, 'This can't really be Sherron Collins or Darrell Arthur. It has to be somebody dressed up like them,''' said Conner Teahan, KU's 6-5 freshman walk-on from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo.
"But then you realize it's really them. You see their athletic ability, and it's like you're kind of in awe, but at the same time you can't be in awe because you have to play hard and be able to compete with them.
"I knew that they were athletic. But this athletic? These are some of the quickest, fastest guys I've ever seen in my whole entire life."
"It's a different level," noted freshman Tyrel Reed, a 6-3 guard from Burlington. "You learn a lot every time you play against these guys. They are good teachers."
Blessed with smarts, Reed quickly picked up at the start of summer school how different college would be from high school.
"It's a job. It truly is a job," Reed said of the time needed to be spent improving one's game as well as working on academics. "It takes a lot of time and work. I mean, if you love your job, it's definitely a good one to have, it just takes a while to get used to everything."
Especially considering he's from such a small town and constantly having to prove he can compete with the big boys.
"In a way, everyone has something to prove," Reed said. "Being from a small town, it's that much harder to play against people from bigger schools. I've been playing as hard as I can every day and will continue to do that."
Playing at this level is not only difficult, but fun.
"We're having a great time," Aldrich said of the freshmen. "It's like we're brothers. We spend a lot of time together through class, workouts, rooming together. The whole town, the freshmen, the players on the team : everybody has been great. It's been a fantastic ride so far."
Here's a quick look at KU's four freshmen - who begin embarking on their first Road to the Final Four at tonight's Late Night in the Phog:
Cole Aldrich, 6-11, 245, Jefferson High, Bloomington, Minn.: Aldrich averaged 22.9 points, 17.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocks last season for state quarterfinalist Jefferson. He was named state player of the year by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
During first-semester pick-up action, he has impressed teammates with his offensive play in the paint and willingness to hit the boards.
"Cole is a big boy," senior center Sasha Kaun said. "He will be a heck of a player in years to come. He is really skilled around the goal."
Aldrich gained valuable experience at last spring's McDonald's All-America game and with Reed as a teammate at the Global Games in July in Dallas.
At the McDonald's game, he feuded good-naturedly with Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley.
"We harassed each other," Aldrich said. "I told him I heard he was doing a radio interview, and he said K-State would beat us. I told him, 'Well, it's been a long time since you beat us. I predict it'll be 40 straight before you win.'"
Beasley, a 6-8, 210-pound wing out of Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., last spring told a Kansas City radio reporter KSU would break its 24-game home losing streak to KU during his freshman campaign in Bramlage Coliseum.
"I told him, 'The last time you beat us, you were not alive,'" Aldrich cracked of Beasley, who earned MVP honors in the McDonald's game after scoring 23 points in the West's 114-112 victory over the East.
Aldrich chipped in six points off 3-of-4 shooting with eight rebounds and four blocks.
"He is a load. He should be a great sealer, should be a defensive presence," KU coach Bill Self said of Aldrich. "He has touch and feel around the basket. He runs the floor better than just about anybody his size. I see him being a good scorer, a true 5-man with skill."
Self likes the enthusiasm for KU Aldrich brings.
"He's been to as many 'Late Nights in the Phog' as I have," Self said of the big man who committed to KU on Halloween, 2005, choosing the Jayhawks over Minnesota, Kentucky, Michigan, Arizona and others.
"I think it's so cool that somebody commits because they want to be at a place. They believe in a place because of the place, not just the opportunity from a personnel standpoint. He wants to be at Kansas."
Tyrel Reed, 6-3, 185, Burlington High: Reed averaged 26.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.5 steals last season for the third-place team in Class 3A. He was named Mr. Kansas Basketball as well as the state's Gatorade Player of the Year.
"He is a 6-3 combo guard that can play both on the ball and off the ball because he is an excellent shooter. He's going to do what it takes to play because he works so hard," Self said.
Reed's hard work already has paid.
"I'm 185 now, six pounds more than high school," Reed said, crediting strength coach Andrea Hudy's program. "I think I am quicker, more powerful, a better jumper.
"Coach wants me to keep adding muscle. I will not overly try to take protein supplements and try to gain weight fast. I mean, I've gained six pounds since I've been here. If I can keep that up and stay in the weight room, I should be OK."
Reed called his being granted a KU scholarship a "dream come true."
"KU is the place I always wanted to be. I always dreamed of running out that tunnel (at Allen Fieldhouse)," he said.
Reed - he started attending KU's summer basketball camp when he was 6 years old - chose the Jayhawks over Missouri, Oklahoma, Missouri State, Stanford and others.
"Kansas is so good in basketball and always has been," Reed said.
Conner Teahan, 6-5, 200, Rockhurst High, Kansas City, Mo.: Teahan averaged 25 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists for 2007 Missouri state runner-up Rockhurst. In April, he received the Mr. Show-Me Basketball Award by the Missouri Coaches Association. He was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year his junior and senior seasons and received the DiRenna Award as the Kansas City metro area's top player.
It's easy to see why he received recruiting interest from Wichita State, Illinois State and Missouri State as well as Tennessee, Mississippi, Washington State, Kansas State and Pepperdine.
An accomplished football quarterback, he was recruited in that sport by Kansas State, Missouri, Wisconsin, Washington and Stanford.
"Conner had numerous opportunities to go to Div. I schools on scholarship, but he wanted to be at Kansas," Self said.
"I think he is a guy that will have a chance to impact our team in a comparable way that (walk-on forward) Christian Moody did. He's not coming here to just be a part of our team. He's coming here to impact our team from a playing-time standpoint as well."
Teahan enters KU with a reputation as an accurate three-point bomber.
"Coach Self talked to me, and he was just like, 'You're known as a scorer. I want you, when you are open, to shoot the ball,''' Teahan said. "He was like, 'I don't want you to hesitate at all,' and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to listen to him so I can become the best player that I can be, and right now it's working out.
"I feel like I'm getting a lot better. If he tells me something I have to have confidence in myself because if you don't have confidence in yourself playing KU basketball, you're going to be in trouble - especially playing against these guys."
Teahan will not be averse to driving the lane.
"He hasn't said don't do it, and I think that it will come in time. But right now, I think I need to work on being able to drive to the hoop and be able to get my shot off against the much more athletic players. I mean, these are the most athletic kids that I've played against so it's a lot different. You can't be bringing it to the hole weak, or else you're going to get thrown out," Teahan said.
Chase Buford, 6-3, 200, Alamo Heights High, San Antonio: Buford, who averaged 9.2 points and 2.7 assists his junior season, didn't have any stats or earn any all-state type honors a year ago.
That's because he was diagnosed with mononucleosis, which caused an enlarged spleen that made him miss his entire senior campaign.
Prior to his bout with mono, Buford's senior football season as a wide receiver was cut short because of a broken ankle.
He since has been cleared to play college ball.
"Chase had a rough go this past year from a physical standpoint. He is excited about being here. He's excited about playing. I know he loves Kansas and, I think he will be a fabulous teammate," Self said of Buford, the son of R.C. Buford, a Kansas assistant coach under Larry Brown from 1984-88 and current San Antonio Spurs general manager. Chase Buford's mom, Beth, was a standout golfer at Kansas from 1975-78 before embarking on a professional golf career.
Self and R.C. were roommates at KU during the 1985-86 season.
"Chase's family has played a huge role in my life. I care deeply for both his mother, father and grandparents," said Self.
Chase has attended "four or five" games in Allen Fieldhouse.
"The atmosphere is second-to-none," Buford said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm excited I get to play again."
Buford has followed KU from afar.
"It's in my blood, I guess," Buford said of KU, where aunts Beverly and Barbara also played golf and two grandparents, Warren and Nancy, coached and taught classes.
R.C. Buford knows his son will cherish the big-time basketball atmosphere at KU. Twenty years ago, R.C. helped the Jayhawks win their last national title.
"He had a lot of attention from smaller D-1's," R.C. Buford said, "but that's never what he wanted to do. He's been in Allen Fieldhouse, Spurs Arena. Playing basketball where it is important is something he's wanted to do."
He knows he is following in the footsteps of some accomplished Jayhawks in his own family.
"There are probably not many ways I can live up to what they did. I'll try," Chase said.
His prep coach, Chris Boggess, said Buford played both point and shooting guard his junior season and came on strong in averaging 16 points a game the final 12 games. He also was a starter for the San Antonio Spurs summer AAU program for several seasons.
"He has a nice stroke and likes to go to the rim. He's a tough kid with quick hands, not afraid to take charges," Boggess said of Buford, who also could have walked on at Virginia, Texas or Florida.
"He's a blue-collar player with a great knowledge of the game. He has a knack for the game. I would bet he'd follow in his pop's footsteps," Boggess added of R.C., regarded as one of the top GMs in the NBA.
"I think he'll be a good addition to Kansas' team. Put him around really good athletes and he could take another step in the right direction."