ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -J.R. Giddens was recruited to Kansas by Roy Williams and now plays at New Mexico under Steve Alford.
In between, he was stabbed in a bar fight and reluctantly agreed with Jayhawks coach Bill Self to leave Kansas. The notoriety lingered when then-New Mexico coach, Ritchie McKay, prematurely predicted Giddens would be an NBA lottery pick.
``It's been long journey, man,'' Giddens said. ``Different coaches, different players. I grew up with guys at Kansas and I grew up with guys at New Mexico. It's been a big learning process.''
Giddens turns 23 on Wednesday when New Mexico visits San Diego State (16-7, 6-3).
He remains a scoring threat, putting up a career-high 36 points in a 100-55 win over Wyoming last weekend. But he's also developed into a team player in Alford's first season, averaging 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior for the Lobos (18-6, 5-4 Mountain West).
nselfish at times, almost to a fault. Yet he's been our guy, and you've got to have somebody like that.''
In many ways, Giddens has been trying to find himself since transferring to New Mexico after the 2004-05 season.
A star coming out of high school in Oklahoma City, he was recruited to Kansas by Williams, who then left for North Carolina. Giddens suited up for Self, averaging 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore.
But he was criticized for inconsistency and poor defense, and the bar fight in May 2005 became a public-relations disaster. Giddens needed 30 stitches for a knife wound and now wears a sleeve over his right calf.
Giddens arrival - the first McDonald's All-American to play for the Lobos - was heralded at New Mexico. After a redshirt year, he averaged a team-leading 15.8 points as a junior last season, along with 6.5 rebounds.
But early last season, McKay declared Giddens would become an NBA lottery pick.
That forecast was grounded in Giddens' remarkable athleticism, but the comment built up expectations and arguably contributed to McKay's firing late in a 15-17 season - after a 5-0 start.
``It brought some extra attention to J.R. that he might not have needed,'' teammate Daniel Faris said earlier this season. ``He still had a good year. Everyone just expected so much out of him.''
Alford's arrival from Iowa has been a healthy change for Giddens.
irst objectives last spring was breaking up cliques that existed previously. He confronted that issue by making his players live together in dormitories.
Alford also told Giddens to get his academics in order, leaving his star player in Albuquerque during an exhibition trip to the Bahamas.
Giddens responded, hitting the books and agreeing to help teammates buy into the new coaching staff's philosophy. Alford imposed structure that Giddens said was missing.
``This staff has been a lot more disciplined,'' Giddens said. ``We stay in the hotel a lot more on the road. We don't go out to eat quite as much or go to the mall. We just stay inside and focus on our game plan.''
The bickering that littered New Mexico's locker room is gone, too.
``It hasn't resurfaced at all,'' Giddens said. ``We spend so much time together. We know each other. We carpool together. There are no clashes. Nobody is off-campus, doing this and that. Everybody's together.''
Giddens has stepped up his defense and sharpened offensive nuances, such as making better cuts away from the ball and knowing his location on the floor so he can be a scoring threat after receiving a pass.
``I just showed him tape a half-hour ago,'' Alford said. ``He goes, 'Coach, it looks a lot differently than it did two months ago.' And it's true.''
It's been an up-and-down ride, Giddens agreed, marked by emotional highs and lows, but he's satisfied with the way it turned out.
``Honestly, I feel really blessed for the experience,'' Giddens said. ``I'm thankful for it. The Lord does everything for a reason. He chose this path for me and my career, and I'm not going to argue or question it.
``Part of it is my fault, too, but I'm happy with what has happened. I've learned a lot of things.''

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