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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Langford: Have patience with freshmen

Junior guard remembers trying to adjust to college game as newcomer

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Keith Langford hasn't forgotten his first Late Night.

"I sucked," Langford, a Kansas University junior guard, said Friday before the Jayhawks tipped off the basketball season with Late Night in the Phog. "In the Late Night game, I don't even remember scoring. I remember missing layups. It's a big adjustment."

Langford was an unheralded freshman from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001 when he joined a program that already had established players such as Jeff Boschee, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. Langford said it was an "intimidating situation" his first time on the Allen Fieldhouse court.

It wouldn't be surprising if KU freshmen Omar Wilkes, Jeremy Case, J.R. Giddens, Nick Bahe and David Padgett had the same butterflies when first suiting up for a team that has been to consecutive Final Fours.

Whether the freshmen fizzled or sizzled, Langford said fans shouldn't draw too many conclusions from Late Night's meaningless practice.

KU will play exhibition games Nov. 4 and Nov. 11 against EA Sports and Pittsburgh State before facing Tennessee-Chattanooga Nov. 21 in its season opener, but Langford will withhold judgment of the newcomers until a Nov. 25 game against Michigan State.

"Not to say I'm overlooking the UT-Chattanooga game, but I'm anxious to see how our younger guys respond to a challenge that big in a big-time game," he said. "I don't care how they play in a pickup game or against EA Sports. If a freshman scores 20 points against EA Sports, that's not going to impress me. I want to see them in a game against Michigan State."

Padgett and Giddens were McDonald's All-Americans last season, and Wilkes is the son of former NBA player Jamaal Wilkes.

Langford said this recruiting class could be better than the group that arrived three years ago, including himself, point guard Aaron Miles and forward Wayne Simien.

"They're definitely talented," Langford said. "I think that group is probably more talented than my freshman year when we came in. But how they progress and how they play is what I'm concerned about. I don't care what all-star game they played in or anything like that. That has no relevance."

The hype surrounding the newcomers drew frenzied fans to KU's preseason pickup games. Some fans even posted their own evaluations from those games on the Internet.

If Langford doesn't think much of Late Night practices and exhibition games, guess what his opinion is of pickup games.

"I'm not going to say I hate pickup games, because it's good to play basketball, but you have people who come in there and watch pickup games, and if a guy hits a three-pointer, it's like, 'Oh, he's the greatest ever,'" said Langford, who is recovering after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Sept. 30.

"It's a pickup game, man. I don't make expectations from pickup games. I don't believe in, 'He's going to be an all-conference player,' off watching a pickup game. I want to see you in a real game -- not no EA Sports. I want to see you against Michigan State."

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