Warming Up As It Is Cooling Down [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 10/24/13]

There is an excitement here in Lawrence that is hard to describe if you are not here experiencing it. It’s been a quietly slow buildup in this sleepy little town, but you can see the excitement creeping onto the locals’ faces.

You’ll see people here wearing the Jayhawks swag year round–but they seem to wear it with a different fervor now that the basketball season is (nearly) here.

The first game against Pittsburgh State is next Tuesday the 29th. Jayhawks tickets have been notoriously difficult to obtain for non-students and non-big wig donors. I looked up a ticket for KU- Georgetown on Stub Hub and the cheapest ticket could be fetched for a little over 200 dollars.

I imagine a ticket to this first game will be nearly impossible to get if you don’t already have one. The first game I ever went to nearly two years ago, I paid 80 bucks to a scalper. That team wasn’t nearly as hyped as this one–with Andrew Wiggins and the other flock of new athletic faces on this year’s roster.

Over 3,000 people were turned away for “Late Night at the Phog”, an event where the town gets to first see the (both Men and Women) basketball team in action during scrimmages. It’s an open event that is free to the public, but it is first come first served seating. Many people waited in line for over 3 hours, only to get turned away at the door because the capacity was met so quickly (There are many accounts of people saying there was a large rush towards the building doors when they were opened–many people eschewing social courtesies and typical decency to cut in front of the people who were waiting in line).

In honor of the upcoming season (my first here in town) I’d like to reflect on some of the past Jayhawks who left their mark on the town and the team. These were guys who for one reason or another I had to watch their every move on the court. There was something about their game that made me pay attention to them and made me love their style of play.

Honorable Mention goes to :

Brandon Rush was a bad boy for sure. I remember him in two distinct games during his career at KU. One of them was the Florida game they played in 2006 out in Las Vegas (Still one of the best collegiate games I have ever seen–just for sheer number of future NBA players on the floor that night) where Rush hit some timely corner 3’s against that terrific Florida team (With Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Cory Brewer). The Jayhawks went on to win that overtime classic thanks to some big time play from Rush.

F Paul Pierce (1995-1998), G Jacque Vaughn (1993-1997), and C Scot Pollard (1993-1997)

While there is no doubt that three above mentioned players were ill. The reason they make honorable mention is because I was watching a lot of Wolverine basketball during these years. I was blinded by the flash and brash of the Fab Five. Kansas basketball was something I watched if nothing else was on. I remember being aware of Pierce, Vaughn and Pollard (seemed like every other week there was a human interest piece about Scot Pollard and his ‘wacky’ lifestyle).
There was a guy from Duncanville, Texas (also the birthplace of the late Elliot Smith) who had gone to Kansas, Greg Ostertag. This initiated some interest for me, but I really only remember three things during this time period:

1) Kansas having these incredible regular season records

2)Kansas getting knocked out earlier than expected

3) Tearful Roy Williams press conferences.

G Adonis Jordan (1989-1993), G Rex Walters (1991-1993)

This back court was my introduction to Kansas basketball. This was the first NCAA tourney I watched from beginning to end on the little black and white television that I had in my bedroom.These guys were ill. I remember Rex being kind of a grimey little guy–a hustler who could shoot, handle the rock, and a decent passer.

It was fun watching him match up against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, and Bobby Hurley, who was arguably the best point guard in the country then. Rex held his own. Adonis Jordan originally got lumped in because that was his back court mate. I honestly don’t remember any particular plays by him. I think I just thought his name was cool. I recently tried watching a game from that tournament on that NCAA website where you can watch past games. I had to turn it off because I couldn’t get past how archaic the film footage looked (and those awfully short shorts).

Now that we have the runner ups out of the way, let’s get to it.

G Kirk Hinrich (1999-2003), F Nick Collison (1999-2003)

This Iowa tandem re-piqued my interest in KU hoops and led me down the road to here. Watching them play together was a real treat. I can distinctly remember extending my treadmill workout an extra 20 minutes so I could watch Nick Collison put up a 23 point-20 rebound game against Texas. The game that stands out most to me was the 30-20 he put up against Duke in the Elite Eight. Collison impressed me with his footwork and at how easily he got to the rim. I remember thinking that he was going to be the second coming of Kevin McHale (I was 23 what did I know?).

Hinrich was a bad boy himself. Like Rex Walters 2.0 except he played the 2 guard.He had a sweet stroke and he was a hustler .

He could also get up and punch it on you too. Just ask Lebron.

G Keith Langford (2001-2005)

I liked Keith even before I found out he was a Texan. Bro could finish at the rim. He was fast and he a wicked left handed leaner that reminded me of Jalen Rose. While Collison might be my favorite Jayhawk of all time, Keith was the most exciting to watch. I still to this day think that if Roy Williams doesn’t leave Langford guarding Carmelo Anthony after getting 3 fouls that they win that 2003 championship. Langford was the only one who get easy looks against that Orange 2-3 zone defense.

SF Julian Wright (2005-2007)

Julian is another guy who I thought would have a better pro career. He had great hands, awesome court vision and was one of the best passing big men to come through Lawrence. He was also super agile and could get his own shot anytime he wanted. He could hit the jumper from up in the high post or he could feed it to a cutter along the baseline. If there is anything that will get me excited, it’s a big man who can pass the rock.

Julian also threw down some of the nastiest dunks in Jayhawks’ history.The 2006 Florida game I alluded to earlier was the first time I got to see him play. He put on a clinic that night. Unfortunately he has never been more than a 7th, 8th, 9th man role player off the bench at best. I think had he stayed through his senior year he would have had his jersey retired and been one of the best of all time.

Quick side note: If you ever see a photo of Mario’s miracle shot from the ’08 title game look at the spectators behind the basket and you will see Wright watching the arc of the ball like everyone else at the game. When I first saw this I thought, “Damn Julian got some premium seats. That’s what’s up.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute he should have been playing in this game. It wouldn’t have been that close had he been playing.”

How about that? If Julian stays an extra year maybe Mario doesn’t need to make that shot and becomes a second round pick without all the accolades from hitting that shot. Perhaps ends up somewhere besides Miami and perhaps he isn’t there to hit timely shots when the Heat need someone to step up. Who is to say this doesn’t affect how we look at Lebron’s legacy at this point? Maybe Lebron doesn’t get those championships after all? Who would have thought that Julian’s decision to leave school early could have possibly changed the landscape of the NBA? We could easily be praising Kevin Durant as the greatest basketball player on the planet (though he’s still a close second).

C Drew Gooden (1999-2002)

Drew Gooden is a pretty textbook case of someone who peaked out early. When he left college in 2002, his stock couldn’t have gotten any higher. He ended up being a number 4 pick and unfortunately ended up being a poor man’s Carlos Boozer. Who is to say what happens if he comes back his senior year. I’m sure there was just as much chance of him getting seriously hurt like Nerlen Noels and missing out on the season (and a fatter paycheck) as there was to him leading the Jayhawks to an ’03 title over Syracuse. I watched him destroy so many teams single-handedly that 2002 season where they finally lost to Maryland. That was a tough front line to face with Collison, Wayne Simien, and Gooden (really unfortunate Simien couldn’t stay healthy).

F Darrell Arthur (2006-2008)

Another Texas boy who went to South Oak Cliff High school in Dallas. The fact that he went to a DISD school endured me to Darrell. His game was fun though. He could get up in a second and mash it in someone’s face. I really liked that front line of Darrell Arthur, Julian Wright, and Sasha Kaun. They often had spacing issues in those days, but that high post through Julian was a money play. Darrell was often the recipient of a great pass that led to an easy layup or dunk. He’s in the pro’s now and is a valuable role player in the league. I think Memphis will miss him this year.

G Ben McLemore

The future is wide open for Mr. Ben McLemore. I think he can be a very good player if he can surround himself with the right people. I think at worst he can be a Rudy Gay type player, and at best? Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but I could see him having a Ray Allen type career. He will get his points for sure, but I’m curious how well he will play on the defensive side of the ball, and he will be able to do anything beside score?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play last year. When this little golden era of KU hoops is over, we will look at McLemore the same way Texas fans think of TJ Ford. Ford’s signing at UT opened up a nice stream of top recruits coming to Texas and making an impact (including the second best player alive, Kevin Durant).

McLemore was the only thing watchable about last year’s offense. No one else on the team could consistently create their own shot. If anyone else on that starting five had the ball in their possession for more than five seconds, it was almost a guaranteed turnover.

As disappointing as it was to see KU lose that heart breaker to Michigan last year, that squad overachieved (you can say that about the last 2 Bill Self led teams–a testament to his coaching ability).There were countless ugly brick-fests that KU would barely squeak out. They should have lost more games last year and finally their luck ran out when they couldn’t secure a 12 point lead with 4 minutes left. Most of those squeakers that they won was because Maclemore was the best player on the court (with the only exception being the game where Elijah Johnson went crazy and scored 41 points against Iowa State). Trey Burke was the best player on that March evening. Mclemore barely got any decent touches down the stretch and the buzzed went off as Elijah Johnson passed up a layup to throw an errant pass to Naadir Tharpe on the 3 point line. We all know how that ended.

McLemore’s season opened up a pipeline to blue chip recruits coming here to Lawrence and getting in on the action. KU”s stock as dynasty couldn’t be higher. KU has the number one player in the country. The guy anointed to be the “next Lebron and Durant”. There is so much hype surrounding this team and Self would have had his best recruiting class of all time had he not landed Andrew Wiggins.

Lawrence is going to be treated to a cavalcade of talented players during the next 2-4 years.

Wiggins is a one and done and maybe a couple of other players, but there are juniors in high school already eyeing some of the holes that will be left in the next year or two. Also some of the guys not as heavily profiled like Conner Frankamp (Rex Walters 3.0?) will probably be there for the full four years. Kansas will not only be solid for this period, but will be a top 5 team contender as well. We may be looking at a run of dominance that resembles the Roy Williams teams with Pierce, Vaughn, and Pollard.

Andrew Wiggins has already made his mark here and he hasn’t played a second of ball yet. He will undoubtedly be the major force this year but he will also have a lot of help. It will be interesting to see how many more of these impact players will live on in Jayhawks’ folklore.

One thing is for certain, the excitement is only beginning.

A Hard 86 [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 12/25/13]

The knock on my door at 9 AM surprised me because I went to bed with the notion that a visit to the Allen Fieldhouse would not be in order for Saturday’s game against Georgetown. I had imbibed a bit too much the night before at a happy hour that ran way longer than an hour. I fell asleep that night okay with just watching the game on the big screen.

Although the front of the jerseys said Georgetown, with Otto Porter gone, I was unable to identify any of the names on the back of the jerseys. They weren’t even ranked. But I knew that a John Thompson III coached team would compete, and I didn’t fight it when my buddy expressed his desire to still attempt to make it into the fieldhouse. As it turned out, we got really lucky and ran into a fair scalper who offered us the best deal I’ve ever gotten scalping Jayhawks tickets (floor seats for 90 bucks).

I’m hoping that I’ll be as fortunate come January 18th against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.I’m definitely looking for the same guy next time.

One of the cool things about KU games is that fans have such access to the players. There isn’t a bad seat inside the venue and before games fans line up alongside a taped area near the locker room corridor. Fans hang out there and then cheer the guys on as they run onto the court. It’s a pretty cool thing to see, unfortunately my brain wasn’t working properly (it rarely does before 1:30 pm but I was especially scrambled from the activities the night before) and instead of capturing them jogging out of the locker room I got footage of this .

At first glance Georgetown come off as very intimidating. They only have 3 players on the whole roster who are listed under 6’5. Seeing this I immediately knew that it was going to be a physical game. We were about to see the Jayhawks be tested by these tough looking east coast boys.

The Hoyas have the make up of an NIT bound team bound for sure, but they made Kansas earn every single bucket they got. There were not many transition points for the Jayhawks and the Hoyas used nearly every single foul they had. 3 players fouled out for the game and 2 other guys had 4 fouls. The Hoyas even snuck in a cheap shot on Perry Ellis and knocked him out of the game.

Eventually things got chippy enough to where Wiggins got into some smack talking with one of their players and immediately hit a 3 on the ensuing possession (something tells me Wiggins isn’t the kind of player you want to piss off). We all knew that the Jayhawks were talented, but this game would tell us if they were tough. That was a question I hadn’t thought to ask before this Georgetown game.

Kansas was up the whole first half but it always felt closer than an 8 point game. Besides Markel Starks (19 points) and D’Vauntes Smith Rivera (12), no one in the Hoyas lineup was a legitimate scoring threat (most of their first half points seemed to come on free throws). Toughness was the only thing that Georgetown had going for it. They stepped onto the court as if the Lawrence faithful were just another hostile Big East crowd, unfazed and ready to see if the Jayhawks could be punked.

I think this was the kind of game that Tarik Black thrives in. He was not phased at all by the amount of contact going on. The refs let a lot of pushing and physical stuff go on and Tarik seemed in his element, putting up some good numbers and making some noteworthy plays–including a sick block that led to a fast break and alley-oop on the other end of the court (5 for 5 17 points 6 rebs and 2 blks).

The Jayhawks put up 86 points on the Georgetown boys but there were not any easy baskets. As badly as Georgetown got beat, there was no reason for them to hang their heads. They played hard. KU just had a much better team.

Other notes from Saturday’s game:

Bill Self has some serious swagger. I was impressed with the way he and Coach Thompson eschewed the businesslike handshake in favor of the more familiar and less formal “brutha” embrace. I bet Bill goes to bed at night smirking before he falls asleep, then wakes up with that same smirk, thinking, “I’m Bill Self and I coach the Kansas Jayhawks.” It must be a pretty baller reality for old Bill.

Andrew Wiggins only had 12 points the other day. 10 of them came in the 2nd half. He only had 1 rebound for the whole game, but he did have 3 steals and 4 assists. Not a great line but its still a treat to get to watch him play in person. People say he’s too calm, but I’d rather have that than a hot head like J.R. Smith. I don’t buy the whole “we need to see more fire” theory so many people have. That steadiness is going to be important come tournament time. Do what you do Andrew.

I’m officially starting the “Feed Embiid” campaign. This guy is not only my favorite player on this year’s team. He’s one of my favorite big men of all time. By the time he leaves he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Nick Collison and Julian Wright when it’s all said and done. He had 12 first half points and would have had more had it not been for Tarik Black going so hard in the paint in the 2nd half.

Speaking of big men, I wonder how differently things would be for Tim Duncan had he come up in this era? He was the last of the big men to stay all 4 years. Shane Battier did, but he was nowhere the prospect that TD was, despite winning Player of the Year. Would Duncan stay all four years in this era? Who knows? But seeing Embiid play makes me wonder how good he would be if he did stay in school an extra 3 years. Of course why not get the on the job training for millions of dollars if you are as good as he is. He will go into the league and immediately start. If you were a techie nerd and some firm offered to develop your software skills and pay you for it, you wouldn’t say ‘nah I’m good, being poor and having fun in college, going to classes and studying.” It does make you wonder though.

During a crucial stretch in the 2nd half we were told by an usher that we needed to sit down because we were obstructing people’s view. I wanted to say “tell them they need to be standing up” . I thought I was at a Jayhawks game, not at a dog show. I’ve been to NBA games where the fans didn’t sit for entire halves of play, and this usher is telling me to sit down? What is UP WITH THAT? I never thought I would encounter this at Allen Fieldhouse.

We spotted some former Jayhawks at the game Saturday, sitting behind the team bench. Travis Releford was there, sitting beside Aaron Miles and Wayne Simien. I randomly saw Tim Hardaway (yes that one) sitting in front of me and my buddy. What was he doing in Lawrence? Is he a scout now or something? I had seen him earlier and thought I was just being racist (Not all bald black guys look alike Mick.), but sure enough we realized it was him.
Not sure what to make of this photo here.

Collison and Hinrich are two of my favorite players, but the other side of me wonders if there is another message behind this “team photo”. I’m sure it’s harmless but it’s definitely one of those things that make you go hmmmmmmmmm.
That loss to Colorado doesn’t look so bad now. Colorado put up a fight against Oklahoma State and only lost by a couple of buckets (5 points). They are currently ranked number 20 in the country.

UCLA vs. Duke was interesting the first half. Kyle Anderson looks like he will be fun to watch in the NBA as a 6’8 point guard. He almost had a triple double in the first half, but neither he nor the rest of the tea played particularly well during the 2nd half. Zach Lavine looked good too and Bryce Alford looks like Steve Novak 2.0 (for better or worse). Their defense is terrible though. I could see them winning it all in the NIT or getting knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It does make me want to watch them play Arizona on January 9th.

Happy holidays to all you readers and non-readers out there. It’s time for me to sit down and watch KD go HAM against the Knicks in MSG (As of me posting this he’s 6 for his first 7 shots. If this Clippers-Warriors matchup tonight is half as entertaining as I think it will be, then we are in for a treat.

Peace.

Maple Jordan Lifts Off [Originally posted 1/12/14 on sportsblog.com]

I think that was the type of game Jayhawks fans have been waiting for. They picked the right game to break out the intensity. This was undoubtedly the best game they have played since the win against Towson. Kansas was dominant, efficient, and focused. The only mar to the game was the Embiid ejection, but I kind of liked the nasty side he showed. I know Bill Self thinks its “best for a player to think next play”, but I think him hitting K-State’s Nino Williams in the face will show opponents that he won’t be punked.

Quick thoughts from yesterday’s game:

How wet was Wayne Selden’s shot yesterday? He started out 5-7 from the field in the first half before he finished 7-10 with 20 points (3-5 from 3 point range). “Wet” Wayne set the tone early by being aggressive and looking for his shot. I like this new assertive Wayne Selden. He strikes me as the type who hates to lose. If he were to jump into the league today, he could compete in this year’s slam dunk contest. The powerful way he attacks the rim when he dunks physically reminds me of Russell Westbrook or Eric Bledsoe–two awesome physical specimens at their positions. I’m as excited to watch his progression through conference play as I am about any player.

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