Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tough wait nearly over for Stewart


It has been a long time - 21 months to be exact - since Rodrick Stewart suited for a college basketball game.

"Man ... more than a year. What a tough wait," exclaimed Bull Stewart, father of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Kansas University sophomore, who Monday finally will become eligible to play hoops at KU.

"Practice, practice, practice and wait, wait, wait," Bull Stewart added, speaking on his cell phone from Seattle, where the former world powerlifting champion works as a personal trainer.

"Now the wait's about over. He's called to say how excited he is. He's looking forward to playing for the Jayhawks for sure. The whole family will be tuned into the tube or, who knows, may even be at the game."

Rodrick Stewart last took the court while playing for USC. He started at point guard in the Trojans' 79-76 loss to Arizona in a first-round 2004 Pac-10 tournament game in Los Angeles. Academic problems shelved Stewart during the first semester of the 2004-05 season.

The twin brother of USC's Lodrick Stewart transferred to KU in January of '05 and has been on campus ever since, patiently awaiting Monday's 6 p.m. tipoff against Pepperdine - the first time he's eligible to compete for KU in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

"I've been thinking about this date for some time now. It's coming up fast, real fast now," said Rodrick Stewart, who learned the virtue of patience the past year or so.

"I think the hardest part (of sitting out) is just sitting there on the bench. You cheer for the team, but in the back of your head, it's, 'Man, I wish I could be out there.' There's nothing you can do except keep cheering the team on every day."

At home, anyway

Stewart didn't make this year's junkets to Maui or New York and didn't attend the Kentucky game or any Big 12 road contests last season.

"Me and Darnell ... every time we come to the (players') lounge and watch it together," Stewart said of he and Darnell Jackson, who is serving a nine-game suspension that expires Thursday against Northern Colorado.

"It would be good to go on trips, away games, just to get the feel for the crowd. I think the crowd is more into basketball in our conference than the Pac-10. But I watch 'em on TV to make sure what's going on."

Since leaving USC, the athletic shooting guard/small forward has spent countless hours working on his biggest flaw - shooting.

"I can shoot it all right. I don't have to prove I can shoot. I know I can shoot," said Stewart, who hit 43 of 125 shots (34.4 percent) his frosh season at USC, missing 27 of 30 three-pointers. "I go to work every day on my shot. I don't take any days off shooting.

"When I was at 'SC, I was kind of taking it for granted, coming in shooting. Some days I'd say, 'I'll do it tomorrow.' Tomorrow turns into a week. Here I make sure whatever I'm doing I get in the gym every day to make sure I can be the best player I can be. When the time comes, everybody will see it."

If he's not hitting the outside shot, Stewart, who has been known to drive the baseline for dunks and hit the glass for offensive stickback tips, might also help with his intense defense.

"He's just explosive," said sophomore forward C.J. Giles, who played with Stewart at Rainier Beach High in Seattle. "He's hungry for rebounds, hungry on defense, hungry for everything. He's the fastest off the ground going for an offensive rebound. He always tries to be the best of everything and he can really get up."

Lots of energy

Stewart, in fact, "brings energy," coach Bill Self said.

"He's a high-energy guy, loose ball guy, things like that. He gets his hand on a lot of balls defensively," said Self, who has made no promises to Stewart about minutes.

Stewart would have to battle teammates Mario Chalmers, Micah Downs, Brandon Rush, Jeff Hawkins and Russell Robinson for perimeter playing time as well as Stephen Vinson, who sparked KU to victory over California.

"I don't see us playing six perimeter players." Self said. "He will have to beat out one of those other five guys to warrant significant minutes. Right now, he'll be on the outside looking in that regard, but he will play."

Six minutes, 10 minutes, whatever, he's interested in providing a spark off the bench.

"Well, I was talking to Rush in the locker room. He said we need an energy player now. Somebody to keep it going so we don't come out flat in the second half," Stewart said. "Whatever coach feels is the best five should be out there, is all I can say. I just want to help in any way I can. If he wants me in the game, I'll play hard."

Stewart's defense might wind up impressing the coach and prove valuable in stretches.

"I think I am a good defender, somebody who takes pride in defense. I've been known for my defense since I got down here. When I'm in a game I'll try to lock down any player I'm put on," Stewart said.

Good shape

Stewart says conditioning shouldn't be a problem, even though he hasn't played in a college game in eons.

"Every day I'm trying to get practice in," Stewart said. "Every day I come in with coach Hudy (Andrea, strength coach) and do some extra running, StairMaster, so I can get my wind up. You can still gain by practicing," he added, "by going all out in every little drill. Most of the drills we do are game-like situations. You've got to make the most of it in practice to be ready in the game."

Bull Stewart believes his son will be ready Monday.

"I just want him to have fun and when given the opportunity take advantage of it," Bull Stewart said. "Work from that point and do whatever it takes to help Kansas. It's his main goal, when his name and number is called, be ready to perform. He said he's improved. I can't wait to see that in a game."

Finally, in a game.


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