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Sunday, November 6, 2005

Transfer Stewart intense, athletic

Ex-Trojan won't be eligible for KU until Pepperdine game

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Teammates and friends call him Rod, not Rodrick, as his name is listed on the roster. So, tell us, Rod Stewart, have you listened to Rod Stewart's music?

"No, I haven't," the Kansas University sophomore guard answered. "Is he a country singer?"

No. More like an aging rock star, as opposed to a young rim-rocking star, which is what KU's Stewart is.

Stewart delivered the most memorable moment of Late Night in the Phog by successfully pulling off a through-the-legs slam that triggered a roar from the crowd. The flashy moments won't be limited to dunk competitions, Stewart predicts.

Asked to name his most memorable in-game jam, Stewart said it would probably be throwing one off the backboard, catching it, and slamming it home. Might he do that during a fast break playing for KU? He said he might. You never know.

"It just comes so fast, during the heat of the moment, you don't know you're going to do it until you're actually about to dunk," he said.

Imagine the conversation with Bill Self after the ball pops off the back iron, Stewart's taken out of the game and his explanation is, "But coach, I didn't know I was going to do it. It just happened."

Coaches tend not to appreciate unnecessary razzle-dazzle, yet one of the things they crave most from players is something Stewart can bring to a game. Intensity is the first asset mentioned by Stewart and those who talk about his game.

"He's just explosive," said sophomore C.J. Giles, a high school summer-league teammate of Stewart's. "He's hungry for rebounds, hungry on defense, hungry for everything. He's the fastest dude. He's the fastest off the ground going for an offensive rebound. He always tries to be the best at everything, and he can really get up."

He's not likely to be benched for lack of effort, but if his freshman season at USC was any indication, he could find himself getting taken out if he puts up too many three-point shots.

Pickin' up the pace

KU coach Bill Self on what each player needs to do to enable the Jayhawks to play a more up-tempo style this season: "If he could become great defensively, he could really help the team because he's really athletic and he's tough. Rodrick will be a guy who is high energy, a great defender, a loose-ball guy."

As a freshman at USC, Stewart started 17 of 27 games. He made three of 30 attempts from three-point range, and averaged 21.6 minutes, 4.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and .9 steals per game. He shot .659 from the free-throw line and .344 from the field. While his touch could use some polishing, strength isn't an issue. The ripped Stewart's father, Andrew Stewart, is a power lifter and personal trainer who has won titles at the World Drug-Free Championships.

Rod Stewart uses his strength and quickness to stand out defensively, not his mouth.

"I'm not a big trash-talker," he said. "Your game speaks for itself."

He and his Seattle pal Nate Robinson did plenty of jawing back and forth before games against each other when Robinson, now with the New York Knicks, was at University of Washington.

"I think my best defensive game was against Washington when I held Nate Robinson to 11 points, and he's a true scorer," Stewart said. "When I walked off the court I felt real good about myself, felt like I accomplished something real big. We talked before every game we played against each other. I'd say, 'Man, I'm gonna lock you up.' And he said he was going to lock me up."

Stewart, who transferred from USC in December 2004, won't be eligible to play for KU until Dec. 19 in the Pepperdine game. It could be difficult to crack the rotation, something he says he's not thinking about.

"I'm so eager to get out there I think about that Pepperdine game every day, all day," Stewart said. "I'm going out there every day in practice, working my hardest, and walking off the court every day knowing I learned something."

Stewart's twin brother, Lodrick, remained at Southern Cal.

But to hear Rod tell it, he's still close to family.

"At USC, we were close, but it was kind of just basketball," Stewart said. "Here, it's like a family on and off the court."

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