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Wednesday, November 9, 2005

FHSU coach cites experience

Tigers can learn from playing Jayhawks at Fieldhouse

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It's obviously no disgrace for an NCAA Division II basketball team to lose to traditional Division I power Kansas University at Allen Fieldhouse.

Not even by 54- and 40-point margins - the differentials the last two times Mark Johnson's Fort Hays State Tigers have come to town.

"I think no matter what, the big thing is the experience our players get," said fifth-year Tigers' coach Johnson, looking forward to tonight's 7 p.m. exhibition contest.

FHSU fell to KU, 95-41, in an exhibition in the 2001-02 season and again, 80-40, in a regular-season game in 2003-04.

"It really is a big deal to our kids to play against these guys. They know who they (Jayhawks) are, whether watching TV or reading articles or magazines. Going to Allen - that environment - a lifelong dream coming true is a big thing," added Johnson, who has six Kansans on his roster.

Johnson insists the Tigers get a lot more than vital $20,000 guarantee money out of the KU trip.

"Of course, it (guarantee) helps all the universities in Kansas," Johnson said of KU playing in-state Div. II brethren on a regular basis the past 14 seasons. "It helps our athletic department, but we don't do it for that aspect.

"It's a fun thing for our players and community to get to come to Allen. We also get all the experience, all the benefits of it as an exhibition game. We appreciate KU playing us."

Those benefits include going head-to-head against some of the nation's best D-I players.

"They'll put us in situations we'll not face again during the season," Johnson said. "If we can handle what they throw at us on the defensive end, pressure and physicalness, we'll be successful in our conference."

Fort Hays State was picked to finish third of seven teams in the East Division of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Tyrone Shephard, a senior guard from Seattle who knows KU players C.J. Giles and Rodrick Stewart, is preseason all-RMAC after averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 boards last season. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior out of College of Eastern Utah prepped at Rainier Beach High in Seattle, where he was a former teammate of the two Jayhawks.

"He's a powerful kid who can get to the basket," Johnson said of Shephard, who teamed with current Hays players Jeremy Atwater and Derrick Turner at Eastern Utah. "He's looking forward to playing against the kids from Rainier Beach."

Stewart, who is ineligible to play until the conclusion of first semester, said Shephard indeed was fired up for tonight.

"I just found out he went there like a week ago when he talked to me," Stewart said. "He said, 'Are you going to be ready for the game?' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'You know I play for Fort Hays State.' I said, 'That's cool.'"

Of Shephard's game, Stewart said: "He's pretty good. He played out of position for us since we had so many guards. He was 6-2, 6-3 playing center. He played it well. He's a strong player and athletic."

Dennis Howard, a 6-7 senior from Fort Worth, Texas, is a transfer from Creighton.

"I think high-level Division II ball is a high-quality level of competition," Johnson said. "There are good players. A lot of these kids could play at the Division I level at a lower level and be very successful. Division II ball is a good brand of ball."

Johnson is a big admirer of the team he'll meet tonight.

"I know they will be a talented bunch," Johnson said. "He (KU coach Bill Self) will get them to play hard and do the right things. With that kind of talent and coaching they will have a successful season."

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