Entries from blogs tagged with “roll”

Say something nice about Kansas football: Lone Star state recruiting paying off

SportsDayHS.com ranked the top 100 high school football recruits in North Texas and three of them already have committed to Kansas. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, one of them is a running back.

Kansas will need to have a little luck to make it through the season with enough healthy backs and the best of the lot, Ke’aun Kinner, has just one year of eligibility remaining. All of that makes the recruitment of Dominic Williams from Parish Episcopal in Dallas a huge one.

A 5-foot-9, 186-pound shifty back with breakaway speed, Williams has transferred to Independence High in Frisco, Texas, for his senior season. He rushed for more than 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons.

Dominic Williams is ranked nationally by Rivals as the 31st-best running back in the Class of 2017. To put that in perspective, consider that the No. 29 running back is headed to Michigan State and the No. 30 is bound for LSU.

Kansas was the first school to offer Williams a scholarship, which gave the Jayhawks the edge on schools that offered later, including Arizona State, Illinois, Purdue and SMU.

Kansas also has received commitments from top 100 North Texas recruits Jared Hocker, a 6-5, 295-pound offensive lineman, and Reggie Roberson, a 6-0, 180 wide receiver.

Recruiting appears to be ahead of last year’s schedule, as evidenced by 4 of the 6 verbal commitments receiving three-star rankings from Rivals.

There, for the third consecutive Monday, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn. Are you up to the task?

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Say something nice about Kansas football: On Cajun Country recruiting

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. by Nick Krug

Only five schools from the state of Louisiana compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision: LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Tech and Tulane.

Only one of those five schools, LSU, is a member of one of college football’s Power Five conferences. The SEC is recruiting the state of Texas harder than ever, a benefit of enticing Texas A&M into the conference. More Texas recruits means fewer from Louisiana, which translates to opportunity for other schools.

The state has far more Div. I prospects than LSU can recruit and Kansas head coach David Beaty has made an aggressive play to become a place for Cajun Country recruits to visit. Beaty hired Tony Hull, former head coach of Warren Easton High in New Orleans, as his running backs coach.

Kansas gained a commitment from dual-threat QB Class of 2016 recruit Tyriek Starks, who played for Hull, before Hull joined the staff. Travis Jordan, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound, three-star athlete from Louisiana, committed to KU in early April. Nebraska reportedly wanted him and Kansas landed him. Take a bow, coach Hull.

Just last weekend, Hull brought in two more Louisiana prospects for a visit. Wide receiver L’Dontrae Davis is being recruited by LSU, Ole Miss, etc. And he visited Kansas and was quoted as saying he loved it. That doesn’t mean Kansas will land him. It does mean he will spread the word in Louisiana about a Big 12 school that otherwise might not have been on their radar. His cousin, defensive end prospect Justin Harris, joined him on the visit.

Because Kansas lacks a winning tradition, convincing prospects to visit campus always has been the toughest challenge for football coaches throughout the decades. Once they make the visit, most are pleasantly surprised with the beauty of the campus, the family feel, and in recent years, the Anderson Family Football Complex.

Developing talent, putting it in the right place on the field, and playing smart football with a nasty edge still rank as the biggest keys to establishing a winning culture, but upgrading recruiting certainly plays a big role as well. I believe starting from scratch in Louisiana is well worth the gamble.

There, I just said something nice about Kansas football, which is coming off an 0-12 season. Now it’s your turn. Say something nice about Kansas football.

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A different view on Brannen Greene’s decision

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts a three over West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige (5) from the wing during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts a three over West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige (5) from the wing during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

I agree with colleague Matt Tait's opinion that Brannen Greene made the right decision in leaving Kansas, but disagree that he did the right thing by declaring for the NBA draft and hiring an agent.

Transferring to a school that would have built its offense around his three-point shooting touch, spending two more years in school, improving his ball-handling, earning credits toward a graduate degree and proving he can go two years without a suspension, all would have served to pique the curiosity of NBA talent scouts, maybe even enough for him to earn an invitation to the NBA combine.

As it is, he was left off the guest list, despite having one of the prettier jumpers on the planet. He carries the baggage of never having established himself as a major-minutes player, the baggage of multiple suspensions.

Greene wasn't the right player for Bill Self and Self wasn't the right coach for Greene. But that doesn't mean that with a long look in his mirror and fresh start, he could not have succeeded at another school.

Davidson and Wyoming are two programs that jump to mind as ones Greene could have explored as potential destinations. Davidson's Jack Gibbs averaged 23.5 points per game as a junior, and averaged 18.2 shots, 7.9 from beyond the three-point line. Wyoming's Josh Adams averaged 24.2 points, 16.1 shots and 8.4 three-pointers in his junior season. Greene could have practiced with either player for a year then inherited the available shots.

Those are just two examples of schools that might have been interested. An NBA franchise would be more interested in Greene coming off a stellar senior year. He wasn't going to get that at Kansas, where he had exhausted his chances.

Transferring would have required patience, a quality in short supply among basketball players seeking paychecks.

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Say something nice about Kansas football

KU coach David Beaty celebrates an early score in the Jayhawks' 45-14, season-ending loss to Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, at Memorial Stadium.

KU coach David Beaty celebrates an early score in the Jayhawks' 45-14, season-ending loss to Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. by Richard Gwin

Welcome to the first “Say something nice about Kansas football,” blog, which will appear here every Monday.

Here’s how it works: I’ll say something nice about the KU football program and challenge you to do the same.

Sure, it’s not necessarily easy given that the Jayhawks have gone 4-57 in the Big 12 in the past sevens seasons and have lost their last 38 games played outside of Lawrence. Going 0-12 in 2015 and losing their conference games by an average of 35.7 points doesn’t make it easy. Who said life is supposed to be easy all the time?

To ease the challenge, nice comments unrelated to on-field performance count. For example, you might like a certain uniform combination, a particular food or drink from your friend’s tailgate, a specific chant from the students, etc.

All nice words, provided they aren’t linked in any way to basketball, are welcome. This is a football blog. Jokes about basketball season starting early are so stale and weren’t particularly funny in the first place. No basketball comments of any kind allowed in the “Say something nice about Kansas football” blog.

Sarcasm, although not encouraged, is not discouraged. For example, if someone were to write, “I like the bathrooms in Memorial Stadium because I can’t see the scoreboard from them,” that might not be within the spirit of the blog, but certainly is within the letter of the law.

One more rule: If you disagree with someone who says something nice, that’s fine, but you must then say two nice things about Kansas football to make your contribution a net positive, twice the challenge. Here’s your chance to prove you can say something nice about KU football.

I can.

Here goes: Coach David Beaty has parted from recent reliance on recruiting offensive linemen from junior colleges. More than any position, O-linemen must be recruited out of high school and grown in the weight room. That takes five years, the first as a redshirt, in most cases the first few as a backup building strength and polishing technique.

Beaty’s recruiting class of 2016 included four offensive linemen (Cam Durley, Antione Frazier, Hunter Harris, Chris Hughes), all from Texas high schools.

Kansas already has received a verbal commitment from a Texas high school O-lineman, Jared Hocker, in the Class of 2017. Grant Polley, another prep O-lineman, withdrew his commitment.

Beaty gets that it’s impossible to rebuild a football program without building the foundation with high school blockers. I like that.

Your turn. Say something nice about Kansas football.

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Video of poignant pint-sized patriot with KU family ties goes viral

Starting with Bob Frederick, late athletic director of Kansas University, the Frederick family has built a rich Final Four tradition.

Bob served as the chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee and hired Roy Williams, who took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours.

Bob’s son, Brad Frederick, director of operations on Williams’ staff at North Carolina, went to two Final Fours as a player at North Carolina and earlier this month was in Houston, where the Tar Heels lost at the buzzer to Villanova in the national-title game.

But a pint-sized patriot by the name of Sawyer Frederick, the youngest of Brad and Jocelyn’s three children, has become the most famous of all the Fredericks.

A video of Sawyer, all of 2 years old, shaking the hands of several military personnel on the tarmac after the North Carolina basketball team’s chartered flight landed for the Final Four has gone viral.

Jocelyn took the video with her phone, and her brother-in-law, Chris Frederick, a KU graduate student and bartender at The Sandbar, posted it on Youtube, triggering a frenzy of interest from global media outlets, including (London-based) The Telegraph.

“Sawyer is really funny because he is adorable to look at, but he doesn’t talk a whole lot,” Jocelyn said by phone from North Carolina. “But he’s a busy body, toddles around like a pint-sized version of an adult, so he’s very funny.”

Jocelyn said the "Pint-Sized Patriot," nickname has caught on in North Carolina.

Jocelyn and Sawyer appeared Thursday on “Fox and Friends,” and the video appears on the ABC news website.

Margey Frederick, Sawyer’s grandmother and a Lawrence resident, said she is “incredibly proud. We are a family that always supported the military. It was really fun. I had no idea it would mushroom into this much attention.”

Chris Frederick, the youngest of Bob and Margey's four sons, said that at last check, one of the Youtube postings had reached 1.3 million views.

“I read the comments under it and so many people posted that watching it brought them to tears,” Chris said. “So I sent my sister-in-law a text saying, ‘I bet you didn’t imagine when you were filming this you would make people all over the world cry.’ ”

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Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops holds key to stopping KU football coaching staff door from spinning

Kansas University defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux gets into a drill during a spring practice on Thursday March 26, 2015.

Kansas University defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux gets into a drill during a spring practice on Thursday March 26, 2015. by Richard Gwin

Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops comes from the tree of Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, so Stoops knows how to keep a secret.

That makes it difficult to gauge what Stoops will do to hire a defensive line coach for the third time in less than 13 months.

The last thing Kansas coach David Beaty needs is for Stoops to raid his staff and hire former Sooner Calvin Thibodeaux, one of two candidates who seem to make the sense. The other is Thibodeaux’s former teammate C.J. Ah You. Thibodeaux and Ah You roomed together when they were Oklahoma’s starting defensive ends.

Stoops likes to hire his former players, and in Thibodeaux and Ah You he has a pair of impressive candidates from which to choose.

Ah You knows what it's like to play and coach for Stoops, who lost Diron Reynolds on Feb. 10, the one-year anniversary of losing Reynolds' predecessor, Jerry Montgomery. Reynolds returned to Stanford to reunite with his family, which never made the move with him to Oklahoma. Montgomery left OU to work for the Green Bay Packers. Ah You spent the past two seasons on Stoops’ staff as quality control coach for defense and special teams.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason hired Ah You as his defensive line coach a few weeks before Reynolds left OU. Reynolds, who had worked with Mason as a defensive assistant with the Minnesota Vikings, recommended Ah You to Mason. So did Stoops, whose powerful backing of his former player is quoted in Ah You’s official bio on vucommodores.com.

“First and foremost,” Stoops said, “Vanderbilt is getting a great person in C.J. All of his former teammates and all of our current staff love and respect him. He was a great player for us and a valuable member of our staff.”

Stoops went on to say that Ah You “has tremendous knowledge of the game and relates so well with players. He’s got a bright future in the coaching world and I’m very happy for him.”

Ah You shapes up as KU’s best chance to avoid another hit to Beaty’s coaching staff.

Linebackers coach Kevin Kane left for a promotion to defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois. Recruiting coordinator/running backs coach Reggie Mitchell bolted over the weekend for Arkansas. Wide receivers coach Klint Kubiak left Tuesday for a job with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Losing Kane, a KU alum with rich Kansas City recruiting ties, a great work ethic and a strong presence, hurt. Beaty hired former Southern Miss and Maryland defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, out of the game since 2012, to replace him. Finding someone with Mitchell’s natural recruiting instincts won’t be easy.

Beaty won’t need to hire a wide receivers coach because well before Kubiak left, Beaty already had recruited Jason Phillips to join Kubiak in coaching wide receivers. Phillips had worked at SMU (2012-14) under June Jones and for three different stints totaling eight seasons at Houston, including three years under Kevin Sumlin. A former NFL receiver, Phillips has experience as a recruiting coordinator, offensive coordinator and receivers coach. Beaty made room for Phillips on the staff by reassigning special teams coach Gary Hyman.

Beaty has flexibility in how to fill his two full-time coaching vacancies. For example, he could hire a running backs coach and a special teams coach and make one of them the recruiting coordinator or he could hire a second receivers coach and add recruiting coordinator to the duties of Phillips.

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A suggestion for reviving NBA All-Star Game

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Don’t forget to include never having coached an NBA All-Star at Kansas on your list of reasons you are grateful Bill Self is your school’s basketball coach.

After all, if a Kansas player participated in the game you might be tempted to watch it and your eyes might never recover.

The NBA All-Star Game, once a worthwhile exhibition, has gone the way of the Pro Bowl and the NHL All-Star exhibition. In a word, unwatchable. The West defeated the East, 196-173, Sunday, but the real victim was not a team, rather an important facet of basketball, defense.

It’s just as well that none of Self’s Kansas players has played in All-Star Game because they play defense and they wouldn’t know what to do in a game where it’s not allowed.

In the next year or two or three, second-year pro Andrew Wiggins, averaging 20.8 points per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, likely will make the West roster. By then, he might have reason to show off his defensive skills. By then, maybe someone with influence will convince the NBA it needs to go the way of Major League Baseball Midsummer Classic and incentivize winning, the only way to resurrect the integrity of the game.

Give the home-court advantage in the NBA Finals to the winner of the All-Star Game. Please!

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Udoka Azubuike a legitimate center

Watching video clips of the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Udoka Azubuike, calls to mind Cliff Alexander dominating Chicago high school competitors with a series of dunks, plus three inches in height, 20 pounds in weight, less body fat, and broader shoulders.

In other words, he is tall enough, big enough and aggressive enough to give Kansas what it hasn’t had since Joel Embiid’s back injury ended his college career late in his freshman season: A legitimate center.

It’s easy to picture Azubuike playing alongside Cheick Diallo and/or Carlton Bragg. Either 6-10, 250-pound center Marques Bolden (ranked No. 16 by Rivals) of DeSoto, Texas (ranked No. 16 by Rivals) or 6-9 forward Jarrett Allen (ranked 20th) of Austin could be added to a recruiting class that started with 6-8 forward Mitch Lightfoot (No. 117) of Gilbert, Ariz. Strong rebounder Landen Lucas also returns for Kansas.

As Alexander and Diallo illustrated, high school dominance doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing as a freshman, but physically, at the very least, Azubuike looks like more advanced than most teenage post players.

Azubuike chose Kansas over North Carolina, which puts a premium on a big man’s ability to run the floor, so he should fit KU’s desire to pick up the pace as well.

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Hunch says Bragg best of bunch today

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) puts up a three against Baylor forward John Heard (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) puts up a three against Baylor forward John Heard (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Skid row brims with men who relied too heavily on hollow hunches, so when I tell you I have a hunch, wish me luck. But I do have a strong one heading into today’s basketball game between Kansas and TCU, a 1 p.m. tipoff in Allen Fieldhouse.

Something tells me freshman forward Carlton Bragg will get a long run today, make the most of it and produce his first double-figures scoring game.

For one thing, the opportunity likely will present itself since not one of the other four big men vying for playing time alongside senior Perry Ellis has established himself as the unquestioned leader of the pack.

In the loss at West Virginia, Cheick Diallo, Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor combined for 35 minutes, six points, 13 rebounds, nine personal fouls and two turnovers.

In his four Big 12 games, Bragg has combined for 33 minutes, 15 points, 10 rebounds, four fouls and five turnovers.

The most skilled of the bunch, Bragg sometimes looks a little too eager to make something happen right away and ends up rushing himself into a bad pass or a missed shot from close range.

If Kansas can take control of today’s game early, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Bragg might be allowed to play through a mistake or two, get a good sweat going, compete with a free mind, settle down and not look so much like he's rushing to make it somewhere on time. It's tough to imagine any more welcome development for the Jayhawks than Bragg emerging.

Ellis could use the help. As the season wears on and the aches and pains mount for the players, it wouldn’t hurt for Ellis to get more rest. Bragg by far is the best option to replace Ellis’ scoring punch when he rests, so a breakthrough performance for the freshman could be a big step forward for the team.

Whereas Diallo is relatively new to the game, hasn’t yet developed a great feel, and sometimes finds himself in the wrong spot to lend help defensively or space the floor properly offensively, it’s clear Bragg knows how to play the game. He just too often plays it sped up. The latter takes less time to fix with experience than the former.

Among the five bigs not named Ellis, Bragg ranks third in minutes (174), behind Traylor (215) and Lucas (190), first in points (70), fourth in rebounds with 45, behind Lucas (68), Traylor (54) and Mickelson (46) and first in turnovers with 17.

My very specific hunch says Bragg will produce 12 points and six rebounds to send 16,300 home happy while they put the pedal to the metal to try to settle in front of their TV sets in time for the Chiefs' 3:35 p.m. kickoff.

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Kansas hires Todd Bradford to coach linebackers

Kansas University head football coach David Beaty has chosen Todd Bradford, former defensive coordinator at University of Maryland, to replace Kevin Kane as the Jayhawks’ linebackers coach.

Kane left for the defensive coordinator job at Northern Illinois, where he had worked before coming to Kansas.

Bradford, 52, last worked in college football as DC at Maryland in 2011. After one season with the Terps, Bradford was bought out of the remaining two years of his contract for $300,000.

Bradford had put his career on hold to focus on caring for his mother, Sandra Hampshire, who died Jan. 3, in St. George, Utah, after suffering for seven years from multiple myeloma.

Bradford has worked 25 years in college football, including three as defensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi (2008-10). Working under current North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, Bradford guided the 2010 Southern Miss defense to a 31-16 victory against Kansas and a No. 13 national ranking (113 yards allowed per game).

At Maryland, his defense was ranked last in the ACC.

Bradford last worked in the Big 12 for Oklahoma State (2005-07) when he coached linebackers.

He also worked at his almater mater, Southern Utah, as well as New Hampshirie, Lehigh, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State and BYU (his only job on the offensive side).

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My Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

My baseball Hall of Fame ballot:

Two of my nine choices, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza, received the required 75 percent of votes to gain enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The players for whom I voted, listed in the order of how easy it was to put an X next to the name:

1 - Ken Griffey, Jr.: A Hall of Fame baseball player asked me in 1999 in Fenway Park which hitter I thought would win the Home Run Derby the day before the All-Star Game. Since Mark McGwire had hit 13 home runs to take a big lead after the first round, I gave the obvious answer: “Mark McGwire.” The Hall of Famer shook his head. “Why not?” I asked. I’ll never forget his answer: “Too long a wait (between sessions at the plate). The steroid guys tighten up when the sit down. The natural guys stay loose. Junior will win it.” Sure enough, Griffey won it. The identity of the accurate forecaster? Sorry. It was off the record then and off the record then equates to off the record forever.

2 - Barry Bonds: Did steroids inflate his numbers? Yes, greatly. Was he the best hitter in the game before the juice increased his head size, his muscles, his power? You better believe he was. This is not a tough call. Keeping players who sought an edge through performance enhancing drugs strikes me as short-sighted as not deflating the numbers of those I believe juiced. A Hall of Fame ballot does not equate to a juror’s vote in a court of law. It requires an informed opinion, so I do my homework with the help of former players, managers, coaches, etc. and then decide to deflate the numbers of those I believe cheated and then decide whether they deserve induction. Bonds requires no thought whatsoever.

3 - Roger Clemens: See Bonds explanation.

4 - Mike Piazza: Always suspected of using steroids but never directly linked, Piazza was such a gifted hitter his numbers still stand up even after deflation.

5 - Mike Mussina: Other than having won 54 more games, why Mussina and not Curt Schilling. Mussina was at the top of his profession for a longer period of time. He ranked in the top six in Cy Young Award voting nine seasons, Schilling in four seasons.

6 - Mark McGwire: His blasting of writers who called into question home run numbers, stated with such moral indignation, was a low point, but the guy hit 49 home runs as a rookie well before his muscles grew muscles. Steroids inflated his numbers, which makes him less than an easy call, but I believe he would have been one of the game’s top power hitters if steroids never became all the rage and nobody did them. He’s a 12-time All-Star.

7 - Tim Raines: Always a tough call, Raines knew how to get on base and steal bases as well as anybody of his era not named Rickey Henderson.

8 - Edgar Martinez: I went back and forth on Edgar and then I pictured the prettiest right-handed swing rapping doubles in big spots over and over and I put an X next to his name.

9 - Alan Trammell: The toughest call of all, he was such a good hitter for a shortstop that it sometimes overshadowed just how slick he was with the glove.

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Traylor carries big load in triple-overtime thriller

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31), forward Cheick Diallo (13) and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) react to an and-one bucket by guard Devonte' Graham (4) to tie the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31), forward Cheick Diallo (13) and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) react to an and-one bucket by guard Devonte' Graham (4) to tie the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Crowded out of prominence by the drama that unfolded over and over and over again later in a Big Monday night, Jamari Traylor’s terrific stretch at the opening of the second half of a 109-106, triple overtime victory over Oklahoma was not lost on his coach.

“I thought Mari was great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the fifth-year senior from Chicago. “Second half, he was about the only one playing start of the second half, and of course Landen (Lucas) down the stretch was awesome.”

Traylor came off the bench in the first half and started the second. It’s a good thing he did because without him using his explosive leaping ability near the hoop, the game could have gotten away from the Jayhawks.

Kansas made just four field goals in the opening 7:19 of the second half and Traylor had two of them. Traylor’s biggest contributions weren’t the points he scored. They never are. He’s a limited offensive player, but has a tendency to make defensive plays that fire up the crowd.

For sheer out-of-nowhere shock value, Traylor had the game’s two most amazing plays. Ninety seconds into the second half, Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard drove to the hoop for a bucket that would have given the Sooners a nine-point lead. Traylor somehow snatched the shot out of mid-air with two hands and came crashing to the floor, landing on his back, where he stayed for a nervous moment.

A couple of minutes later, the Sooners’ high-flying Khadeem Lattin went in for a dunk that would have given OU a 12-point lead. Traylor had the body control to go up with Lattin, and without touching the would-be dunker, put his hand on the ball to block the shot and snuff the bucket. This time, Traylor landed out of bounds, near the stanchion and Lattin had the harder crash. Incredible play.

A couple of Kanas possessions later, Traylor caught a pass in the lane and decisively drove right, throwing a shot off the glass for a bucket that drew Kansas within seven points. After OU pumped it back to a nine-point lead, Traylor shaved it to seven again, crashing the glass from straight on to put back a Wayne Selden miss.

Traylor’s minutes are down a little this season (14.8 average, compared to 20.4 as a junior and 16.1 as a sophomore), but his spirits seem up. His body language is better and he has been a consistent positive, energetic force.

Tensions ran high in a game that both sides badly wanted.

"Some of those loose balls, diving, sacrificing bodies, that was two teams really, really competing,” Self said.

In other words, the game was right in Traylor's wheelhouse.

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Two feel-good KU sports moments in 2015

Sometimes the best moments at sporting events take place before the main attractions start.

The worst moment of the Kansas spring football game happened when Michael Cummings suffered a career-ending knee injury. The best came on the last play of the annual alumni football game. World War II veteran Bryan Sperry, 89, found the holes and sprinted to glory for a touchdown captured by the KU athletic department's talented video team. Sperry and brother Kenneth Sperry played Kansas football from 1946-48.

The presence of UC Irvine's 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye made Tuesday night more interesting than the average nonconference basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse. But even he couldn't steal the show because the show had been stolen before the opening tip by Kurtis Townsend's daughter, Myka, shown above in a photo snapped by the Journal-World's Nick Krug.

Myka didn't miss a note and to the amazement of the customary crowd of 16,300 belted out a really strong version of the Star Spangled Banner. I kept waiting for her dad to break into tears, but all he broke into was a huge smile as his daughter triggered a huge ovation from the crowd and Fred Quartlebaum, director of student-athlete development for the basketball program, pinned a bear hug on the proud father.

"She told me she wasn't nervous, so I wasn't nervous," Townsend said. "She did great."

That she did. Kurtis bears a facial resemblance to one of music's most talented stars, peerless guitarist Carlos Santana. Myka is a talented star in the making. Advantage Myka on the music front.

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KU volleyball, Royals ride to rescue for last-minute shoppers

Last-minute Christmas shoppers seeking ideas to put a smile on the faces of sports fans on their lists ought to think Kansas volleyball and Kansas City Royals because everybody loves a winner.

1 - Two season tickets for Kansas volleyball, 2016: After becoming the first in the program’s history to make it to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks (shown above in John Young photo from NCAA tournament victory against Furman) then became just the 18th school in the history of the NCAA tournament to reach a Final Four. Both of KU’s All-American selections, setter Ainise Havili and right-side hitter Kelsie Payne, have two remaining years of eligibility and just two seniors participated in KU’s five post-season matches.

The Final Four is scheduled to take place at Sprint Center in 2017, when Havili and Payne will be seniors. Might as well catch their junior seasons, learn the nuances of the sport as I plan to do, and enjoy watching as exciting a spectator sport as there is.

Watching women’s college basketball doesn’t do justice to the athleticism of the players because the game is played below the net. Volleyball is played above the net Kansas plays an exceptionally exciting brand of it.

If season tickets aren’t for sale yet, I’m sure someone can put your name on a list and call you when they are available. It’s dollar-for-dollar the best sports entertainment in Lawrence.

Denny Matthews points to the radio booth at Kauffman Stadium during
his induction into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. Matthews,
the voice of the Royals since the club's inception in 1969, was
honored Saturday in Kansas City, Mo.

Denny Matthews points to the radio booth at Kauffman Stadium during his induction into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. Matthews, the voice of the Royals since the club's inception in 1969, was honored Saturday in Kansas City, Mo. by AP Photo

2 -A CD of highlight calls by Denny Matthews, Voice of the Royals: Pat Huges, voice of the Chicago Cubs, has done a series of “Commemorative Audio Tributes to Baseball’s Greatest Announcers.” His latest is on Matthews. Hughes narrates it, interviews Matthews about big moments and runs unedited clips of calls from famous moments in Royals history.

I wrote the biography of the late, great Ernie Harwell, long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers and it was a great experience getting to know such a kind, talented man. But the problem with a book about a broadcaster is that it’s impossible to capture the voice in the printed word. This format does a better job telling the story of a broadcaster’s career.

Hughes’ series also includes compact discs (and digital downloads) on the careers of Mel Allen, Red Barber, Marty Brennaman, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Milo Hamilton, Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons, Harry Kalas, Dave Niehaus, Bob Prince, Ron Santo, Chuck Thompson and Bob Uecker.

The series is a cool idea well executed by Hughes.

Shop at www.baseballvoices.com or call (847) 867-3682.

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KU volleyball getting red-carpet treatment

The Kansas volleyball team fueled itself for tonight's 8:30 tipoff in a national semifinal vs. Nebraska with a 4:30 meal at the Embassy Suites, the team hotel. The athletes filled their plates by choosing from: salad, roasted-potato wedges, small sirloin strips, small chicken breasts, mixed vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots), wild rice and dinner rolls.

The close-knit group of competitors began boarding the team bus outside the hotel at 5:45. Two police squad cars — the first a sedan, the second an SUV — turned their lights on at 5:53 and as the lead car turned onto 10th Street its siren began to blare and the six-block, six-minute police escort to the CenturyLink Center began.

The Jayhawks then went from the bus into the arena and onto a red carpet to start a walk (that Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin captured with above photo) to their locker room to get ready for to play a volleyball match in front of a standing-room only crowd in excess of 17,000 people. The winner advances to Saturday's national-championship match. The loser goes home after an outstanding season.

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Jayhawks appreciate men who drove them on road to Omaha

Kansas senior Anna Church (1) keeps the ball in play off a block during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep.

Kansas senior Anna Church (1) keeps the ball in play off a block during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep. by John Young

OMAHA — The road to the Final Four can’t be traveled without bus drivers behind the wheel. The Kansas volleyball team has a way of making fans out of those transporting them.

“My favorite team,” said John Bialek, bus driver for KU’s basketball teams, baseball, softball, soccer, track, cheerleading, swimming and sometimes tennis teams. “They treat me like a king.” Bialek normally is allowed entry to watch the matches, but with tickets so tight at sold-out CenturyLink Center, as of this afternoon, he wasn’t yet sure if he would be able to watch tonight’s 8:30 match vs. Nebraska.

Bialek said he has been driving KU’s teams for “about 12, 13 years. When I first started driving them, I didn’t know the rules real well. After driving them for so many years, I can yell at the referees ‘cuz I know the bad calls when I see them.”

Bialek said he’s made to feel like part of the volleyball team.

“When they have their banquet for senior night, they always invite me and recognize me,” he said.

They don’t just appreciate Bialek, but everyone who drives them, it seems.

“Our bus driver, Jose, did a great job for us,” senior Anna Church said, looking back on their trip to San Diego, the launching pad to the Final Four. “He was giving us motivational speeches. He really emphasized, ‘Play for yourselves. Play for KU. Remember, you’re representing KU and you guys can do this.’ He was just a really great guy."

Shortly after the team arrived at CenturyLink Center for the Nebraska match, Jose sent a text to KU assistant athletic director Jim Marchiony, wishing "the No. 1 volleyball team in the NCAA tournament," luck.

“He gave us a tour of San Diego," Church said of Jose. "He knew everything about the city. He took us to the fish market. There’s a big Navy Ship. I don’t remember what it’s called. The Fish Market’s a restaurant down in the harbor area, and we drove through downtown to get there, so he gave us a tour of downtown.”

Church, who transferred to KU from Saint Louis University for her senior year, couldn’t remember the name of the ship, but Google, the font of all knowledge, knows it: USS Midway.

With Bialek behind the wheel, the volleyball team left Lawrence at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Just being in their company put Bialek in a good mood.

“There’s more spotlight on the (men’s) basketball players, more pressure,” Bialek said. “These girls, I’ve been to some of their parents’ houses for dinner and what not. It’s just a lot more fun.

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Flyover country is volleyball country now

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone.

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone. by Tom Keegan

OMAHA — USC headed to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament West regional in San Diego last week on a quest to win a seventh national championship. It’s more difficult than ever to win one, isn’t it?

“No question that that’s true,” Trojans coach Mick Haley answered, two days before getting knocked out of the tournament by Kansas University in an Elite Eight match. “It used to be that you felt like the kids on the West Coast would play a little bit more volleyball because they get to play in the summers and outdoors. If you look at the number of matches and the number of practices kids in the Midwest and on the East Coast and the Southwest are playing now, they’re all playing about the same number. It’s amazing.”

As a result, Haley said, “recruiting shifts from each side of the country from year to year. You know, Texas has more than 38,000 high school kids playing. California has 37,000 now. Texas has actually taken the lead.”

Haley also listed Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio as “very strong recruiting areas,” and added, “Iowa, believe it or not, is a very strong state to get talent out of. You don’t have an advantage being on one side of the country or another now. There’s talent everywhere.”

This Final Four at CenturyLink Center features all teams from the Central time zone, two from the Big Ten (Minnesota and Nebraska), two from the Big 12 (Kansas and Texas), meaning that for the third year in a row, the Pac-12 will not have a team playing in the national-title match. The Big Ten had six teams in the Sweet 16.

In every season from 2001 through 2008, the Pac-12 had at least one team in the title match.

“I think it speaks to the parity across the nation,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said.

Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon cited the same factor.

“Perhaps at one point it used to be a little more West Coast dominated, but it seems that there’s great volleyball players and great volleyball programs everywhere,” he said.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne. by Richard Gwin

Nebraska, which holds an 86-0-1 series record vs. Kansas, and Texas are far from new to the big stage.

“Way back, Nebraska and Texas kind of opened the door, and then Penn State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Now you’re seeing teams like BYU, Kansas, that are breaking the doors down in regards to anybody can get into this Final Four and this NCAA Championship. So I think you’re seeing great balance across the country.”

KU’s recent run has grown the fan base overnight, although that won’t be evident at Thursday’s match vs. Nebraska because each school was limited to 200 tickets. Cornhuskers fans long ago bought up most of the tickets.

“It’s great for the sport,” Cook said of new teams crashing the gates of volleyball heaven. “I think it creates great stories. Similar to what men’s basketball does in the NCAA Tournament, where a Butler can be in the Final Four. ... I also look at Texas, which has been here five years straight, which is an amazing accomplishment.”

Half of the 14 first-team All-Americans are from Final Four teams: Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne of Kansas, Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska, Amy Neal and Chiak Ogbogu of Texas, and Daly Santana and Hannah Tapp of Minnesota. Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini makes it eight first-team All-Americans from Central time zone schools.

Three players — Florida’s Rhamat Alhassan, Ohio State’s Taylor Sandbothe and Penn State’s Haleigh Washington — made it from Eastern time zone schools. Just two, USC’s Samantha Bricio and Washington’s Lianna Sybeldon, are from the Pacific time zone and BYU’s Alexa Gray is the lone first-team selection from a Mountain time zone.

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Flyover country is volleyball country now

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone.

This year's NCAA women's volleyball tournament Final Four at CenturyLink Center features four schools from the Central time zone. by Tom Keegan

OMAHA — USC headed to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament West regional in San Diego last week on a quest to win a seventh national championship. It’s more difficult than ever to win one, isn’t it?

“No question that that’s true,” Trojans coach Mick Haley answered, two days before getting knocked out of the tournament by Kansas University in an Elite Eight match. “It used to be that you felt like the kids on the West Coast would play a little bit more volleyball because they get to play in the summers and outdoors. If you look at the number of matches and the number of practices kids in the Midwest and on the East Coast and the Southwest are playing now, they’re all playing about the same number. It’s amazing.”

As a result, Haley said, “recruiting shifts from each side of the country from year to year. You know, Texas has more than 38,000 high school kids playing. California has 37,000 now. Texas has actually taken the lead.”

Haley also listed Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio as “very strong recruiting areas,” and added, “Iowa, believe it or not, is a very strong state to get talent out of. You don’t have an advantage being on one side of the country or another now. There’s talent everywhere.”

This Final Four at CenturyLink Center features all teams from the Central time zone, two from the Big Ten (Minnesota and Nebraska), two from the Big 12 (Kansas and Texas), meaning that for the third year in a row, the Pac-12 will not have a team playing in the national-title match. The Big Ten had six teams in the Sweet 16.

In every season from 2001 through 2008, the Pac-12 had at least one team in the title match.

“I think it speaks to the parity across the nation,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said.

Texas coach Hugh McCuthcheon cited the same factor.

“Perhaps at one point it used to be a little more West Coast dominated, but it seems that there’s great volleyball players and great volleyball programs everywhere,” he said.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne.

Nebraska coach John Cook talks about defending KU's Kelsie Payne. by Richard Gwin

Nebraska, which holds an 86-0-1 series record vs. Kansas, and Texas are far from new to the big stage.

“Way back, Nebraska and Texas kind of opened the door, and then Penn State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Now you’re seeing teams like BYU, Kansas, that are breaking the doors down in regards to anybody can get into this Final Four and this NCAA Championship. So I think you’re seeing great balance across the country.”

KU’s recent run has grown the fan base overnight, although that won’t be evident at Thursday’s match vs. Nebraska because each school was limited to 200 tickets. Cornhuskers fans long ago bought up most of the tickets.

“It’s great for the sport,” Cook said of new teams crashing the gates of volleyball heaven. “I think it creates great stories. Similar to what men’s basketball does in the NCAA Tournament, where a Butler can be in the Final Four. ... I also look at Texas, which has been here five years straight, which is an amazing accomplishment.”

Half of the 14 first-team All-Americans are from Final Four teams: Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne of Kansas, Kadie Rolfzen of Nebraska, Amy Neal and Chiak Ogbogu of Texas, and Daly Santana and Hannah Tapp of Minnesota. Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini makes it eight first-team All-Americans from Central time zone schools.

Three players — Florida’s Rhamat Alhassan, Ohio State’s Taylor Sandbothe and Penn State’s Haleigh Washington — made it from Eastern time zone schools. Just two, USC’s Samantha Bricio and Washington’s Lianna Sybeldon, are from the Pacific time zone and BYU’s Alexa Gray is the lone first-team selection from a Mountain time zone.

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Where the KU volleyball comeback ranks

Tom Keegan

Tom Keegan by Nick Krug

OMAHA — In the moments after such a devastating volleyball setback to Kansas last weekend in San Diego, USC coach Mick Haley was asked where the loss ranked.

“Yeah, I think the worst,” Haley said. “But you know, the next win will be the best. That’s the way it goes. You start ranking them, you might as well retire. That’s what you do after you quit trying to win the next one. But this one teased us so badly that, just a little hard to get over.”

Conversely, you stop ranking things as a sportswriter and it’s time to retire. It’s in our blood. In roughly 35 years of hacking away, I have had the good fortune of covering many championship teams as a beat writer (1988 Los Angeles Dodgers) and columnist (Michael Jordan’s first three championships; Derek Jeter’s four championships in five seasons; Mario’s Miracle and the Todd Reesing/Aqib Talib Orange Bowl champions).

The most exciting games to watch generally are the most difficult to write because they involve remarkable comebacks on deadline, which requires a last-minute switch from writing a loss to writing a victory.

Five comebacks that I covered live rank as my favorites, which isn’t to say they rank as the biggest to anyone else, just to me.

I selected these off the top of my head and then did research to see which ones I either excluded because they didn’t come to mind as quickly or or decided not to include, all from Kansas basketball (KU 108, Iowa State 96, overtime, 2013; KU 88, Texas 84, OT, 2007; KU 85, Kansas State 74, 2009; KU 70, North Carolina 58, 2013).

Now, my five favorite comebacks during 35 years as a sportswriter:

5 - Kansas defeats Ohio State in 2012 Final Four: In the first half, one of Tyshawn Taylor’s better passes was caught by coach Bill Self. Ohio State, with Aaron Craft getting the better of Taylor, jumped to a 26-13 lead. In the second half, no Buckeye could stop Taylor from getting to the hoop. Kansas, which had made similar comebacks throughout the season, won it 64-62 to advance to a national-title showdown with Kentucky.

It remains the only post-Tulsa team that Self has coached that did not have a single McDonald’s All-American on the roster.

4 - The 2008 men’s basketball Final Four in San Antonio remains the only one that featured four No. 1 seeds: Kansas facing North Carolina in one semifinal, UCLA meeting Memphis in the other.

Down nine points with 2:12 remaining, KU forced overtime on Chalmers’ three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining and finished with 18 points. Darrell Arthur had 20. Sherron Collins made huge plays. Brandon Rush, as always, played stellar defense.

Cases could be made for Arthur, Chalmers and Rush being the MVP of that team, but there was no debate as to which star was the one Self most wanted taking the big shot and that was Chalmers.

Memphis missed 4 of 5 free throws down the stretch in regulation, but too much was made of that. KU had to do everything right at the end and did so well before Chalmers delivered in the clutch yet again.

The thing about thrilling comebacks in title games, they also mean seasons are over, which keeps this one from ranking higher. That was a phenomenal team that moved the ball, defended and played in transition so well that it was a delight to watch.

3 - Kansas rallies from 19 points down to defeat Missouri in the final basketball game of the Border War series: Thomas Robinson’s blocked shot forced overtime and he had a terrific game. But it was the relentless, under control way that Taylor led the team back that is the first thing that pops into my head when I reflect on that game.

2 - Kirk Gibson, his hamstring burning like a bonfire, rips a two-run homer to lift the Dodgers to a 5-4 thriller in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson could barely walk when he arrived at Dodger Stadium, where Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and closer Dennis Eckersley made the Oakland A’s the heavy favorites to win the World Series.

I had covered 144 of the 162 regular-season games, including all of Orel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings, and all of the postseason ones.

Gibson changed the entire tone of the organization during the first intrasquad scrimmage of spring training. Think about that.

Good chance no athlete in history has made his presence felt on a team as quickly as did Gibson. He did so by taking out the second baseman, spikes flying high, to break up a double play. On the day of the first exhibition game at Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium, someone had lined the inside of Gibson’s cap with eye black. While Gibson was running on the field to warm up for the game, the eye black began to run down his face. He figured out what had happened, stormed off the field and left the grounds, sending a loud statement that he nobody was to mess with him at his workplace.

Gibson, once a star wide receiver at Michigan State, had an intimidating presence about him. The next day, manager Tommy Lasorda made the perpetrator of the eyeblack prank apologize to Gibson in front of the whole team. It had to be a difficult admission for reliever Jesse Orosco to make, given that Gibson could have beaten him to a pulp. When asked how one goes about making such an admission to someone like Gibson, Orosco gave one of the all-time great responses: “Easy, I just walked up to him with a loaded pistol, pointed it in his face and said, ‘I did it.’ ”

The Dodgers went on to win the World Series in five games and have not returned to the Fall Classic since.

1 - Down 13-9 in the fifth set, the Kansas volleyball team rallies to win by scoring the last six points to advance to the Final Four.

The final rally lasted for an eternity and featured a Kelsie Payne bullet beautifully defended, two spectacular Cassie Wait digs and Madison Rigdon’s powerful winning kill on a sweet set from Ainise Havili. Down went USC, the No. 1 seed in the tournament the Trojans hoped would end with them winning their seventh national title.

Unlike with the four comebacks listed above, the team that made this one flies commercial, not via chartered airplanes. Also unlike the other teams, only one newspaper, the Journal-World, had a staff member on hand to cover the comeback.

It launched a program that never had been to the Elite Eight all the way into the Final Four, a program that for the first time is on a four-year run of making the NCAA tournament. The comeback happened so fast, until that final rally, it was almost hard to believe my eyes.

I never thought I would see the day that the Gibson moment dropped to second, but it just did last week.

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Kansas volleyball squad too good to fit underdog role

Kansas senior Tiana Dockery, right, receives a hug from teammate, junior Janae Hall following Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep.

Kansas senior Tiana Dockery, right, receives a hug from teammate, junior Janae Hall following Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep. by John Young

SAN DIEGO — They aren’t the new kids brashly crashing the establishment party anymore. The underdog label no longer fits and the Kansas University volleyball players are just fine with that.

Two Sweet 16 appearances in three years. Host school for first-and-second-round matches in each of the past four years, joining an elite list of six others who can say the same. Athletic, smart, talented volleyball players so well suited for their roles. A 28-2 record with both losses coming to Texas. A 10-2 record against teams that made the NCAA tournament. An attention-grabbing .311 team hitting percentage.

That’s not the resume of an underdog. More like a list of accomplishments by a team befitting an Elite Eight appearance, which is what Kansas will make if it defeats Loyola Marymount today (7:30 p.m. Central in Jenny Craig Pavilion on the campus of University of San Diego.)

The Kansas coaching staff recruits nationally at an elite level and polishes the talent with aggressive, smart mental, physical and technique training.

Sure Kansas draws a tough opponent in Loyola Marymount University tonight, but not as tough as LMU draws.

If Las Vegas offered betting lines on volleyball, Kansas would be favored, even though LMU (24-8) is coming off a sweep of Stanford and has gone 15-2 after a shaky start. After all, who’s to say Kansas, the No. 9 seed in the tournament, wouldn’t have swept Stanford, the No. 8. seed.

Nothing about KU’s talent suggests the Jayhawks are anything but legitimate Final Four contenders, even though No. 1 seed USC casts a huge shadow at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Ainise Havili, Kelsie Payne and Tayler Soucie were named All-Big 12 first-team. Madison Rigdon earned second-team honors. All four return next year, so this is not a temporary elevation of a program destined to fade back into oblivion as quickly as it escaped it.

Kansas can’t sell a long tradition of big-time winning, but in some ways the human factors that draw recruits to the school run even deeper. Listening to Payne talk about her decision to come to KU out of high school from Austin, Texas, made me realize that.

Payne talked about the campus tour she and her parents received from assistant coaches Todd Chamberlain and Laura “Bird” Kuhn.

“We saw everything and met some of the girls and fell in love with all of it,” Payne said. “We met all the administrative people, Scooter (Dr. Scott Ward, associate athletic director for academics and career counseling) and everyone and I said I want to be here. These are people I want to be around. I feel everyone here is just good friends with each other and it’s all relaxed. Down-to-earth people.”

She isn't the first KU athlete I have interviewed who mentioned the impression Ward made during a recruiting visit. His down-to-earth vibe and commitment to helping them down a path toward a degree resonates with recruits and parents. Athletes with similarly humble personalities like the idea he'll be watching over them in a friendly, subtly relentless way.

This group is a grounded one and the players are such close friends that they feel comfortable being blunt when needed. They revel in teammates' successes, so intangibles do play a role. So do very loud tangibles.

Senior Tiana "Dock" Dockery, the only player in Kansas history to participate in four NCAA tournaments, said this is the most athletic team for which she has competed.

“We found that out during the spring,” Dockery said. “We have a fitness test and we blew it out of the water."

The strength of the team starts with the quick reflexes, great leaping ability and strong hand-eye coordination, but blossoms well beyond that.

“Couple that with good volleyball players, too,” 18th-year head coach Ray Bechard said. “Their volleyball IQ is high and they enjoy playing with each other. They really do enjoy competing together, so it’s been a competitive chemistry, too, I think, that has allowed us to create a good season.”

A very good season that very well could end late Saturday night against a loaded USC squad, but something tells me it won’t end tonight.

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