|Depleted Jayhawks still expecting to win|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 16 October 2008 19:22|
By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -Mario Chalmers hit his historic jumper and left town, now an NBA rookie playing alongside Dwyane Wade and former rival Michael Beasley in Miami.
Three other Jayhawks - Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur - heard their names called in the NBA draft. Two others, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson, are playing professionally overseas.
That's all five starters, nearly 80 percent of the scoring from last season's national championship team, gone, along with a key reserve. That's as close to a rebuilding year as it gets at Kansas.
The difference is that rebuilding in Lawrence doesn't come with lower expectations.
Four returning scholarship players, four walk-ons and seven newcomers? Doesn't matter. The Jayhawks are still expected to compete for the Big 12 title and another national championship. That's just the way it is at Allen Fieldhouse. Always has, always will.
t or whether it be last year when we won it all, there's always going to be pressure,'' center Cole Aldrich said. ``It's just part of playing at such a prestigious place. With great fans and tradition comes a little pressure.''
Everything fell into place perfectly for Kansas last season, from the 20-0 start to the Big 12 regular-season and tournament championships to Chalmers' last-second 3-pointer that sent the national title game against Memphis into overtime.
The school's third national title was the culmination of a great recruiting class from three years earlier maturing and meshing with players coach Bill Self brought in.
This year, Self believes he has a similar class.
There aren't any stars or McDonald's All-Americas like the 2005 class that included Rush, Chalmers and Julian Wright, who's now playing for the Charlotte Hornets. What this class does have is depth, seven good players instead of three great ones, players who can fill a variety of roles.
``We're not as talented as we were last year. We lost five guys to the draft and replaced them with young kids,'' Self said. ``But we, I think, are comparable to where those guys who got drafted were three years ago, when they were all real young.''
Holding all this youth together will be junior guard Sherron Collins.
during key stretches, finishing fifth in scoring at 9.3 points per game despite struggling with injuries. Stocky and quick, Collins has always been aggressive in driving to the rim, a trait that should be enhanced this season now that he's fully healthy.
The key will be whether he's able to handle leadership duties thrust upon him with so many players gone. Collins has had his problems in the past - he was accused of exposing himself and rubbing against a woman in an elevator last spring - but has impressed Self with the way he's matured this fall.
``I'm proud of the man Sherron has become,'' Self said. ``He's improved in so many areas, but he gets in his own way a little bit. That makes it challenging, but a little bit fun. Since school started, he's been as good as anybody could be - great leader, great worker, really has realized and accepted responsibility for things that are going on. This past year has really helped him mature.''
Aldrich didn't have nearly the impact as Collins, at least most of the season.
The 6-foot-11 center was a highly touted freshman a year ago, earning respect from teammates and coaches for his practice battles against Arthur, Jackson and Kaun. He had a knack for blocking shots and grabbing rebounds right away, but looked hurried, even a little confused offensively in the early part of the season.
Aldrich seemed to learn from those in-house skirmishes, though.
Against North Carolina in the Final Four, he put in a career performance against Tyler Hansbrough, roughing up the national player of the year, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in the Jayhawks' 84-66 victory.
``Last year my role was basically learning,'' he said. ``Coming in from high school, I didn't really know anything, still flustered with the speed of the game at the beginning of the season. Then finally things started slowing down. This year, the whole role has done a 180.''
The Big 12's coaches picked Kansas to finish fourth - behind Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor - mostly because of its young roster, full of unproven players.
The Jayhawks have aimed a little higher.
They already know what Collins and Aldrich can do. This year's recruiting class is considered one of the best in the country, filled with talented players like twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, speedy guard Tyshawn Taylor and athletic junior college transfers Mario Little and Tyrone Appleton.
No, fourth in the Big 12 won't do, not at Kansas.
``Every year, the goal is to win the league and it should be a goal here. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, but it should be a goal and there's no reason we should accept anything less than that,'' Self said. ``At the end of the day, we want to play as close to our ceiling as possible and if our ceiling doesn't allow us to get there, then it won't. But certainly, there's no reason not to set bar high.''