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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Keegan

Keegan: Wright just gets better

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As a rule, the last thing you'd want a grade school boy to do is absorb words of wisdom from a whack job like Dennis Rodman. Next thing you know, he'll be wearing dresses and carving messages into his pink hair.

Unless, of course, that student has his head screwed on straight and knows enough to filter out crazy behavior and listen to helpful words.

Julian Wright, as easy a guy to root for as you'll ever meet, knows the right way to copy Rodman. Notice his hair isn't pink and has no messages shaved into it. Also notice that he knows how to rebound in traffic amid bigger bodies, and nobody did that better than Rodman.

"When I watched him get interviewed on TV, I would always listen to what he said about how he rebounded," said Wright, who grew up in the Chicago area and from the ages of 8 through 11 watched Rodman rebound for the Bulls. "He looked at the angles and figured out where the ball came off, and he'd run in and get the rebounds. Brandon (Rush) is really good at that, too."

Wright is neither a classic box-out rebounder nor a Rodman shoot-through-the-gaps guy.

"I can't hold my position long enough to just hold guys back and get the rebound, and I couldn't just read the angles that the shots come off of and run in and get the rebound because when I was trying that, I would get hit and knocked off my path to the ball," Wright said. "So now I'm working on doing a little of both. I try to make contact first and then go get the ball."

Gradually, Wright is figuring out how to use his quickness advantage and minimize his bulk disadvantage while battling the big bodies of the Big 12 Conference. He did so successfully in the one-point victory over Oklahoma. Wright matched a career high in points (14) and rebounds (eight) and had just one turnover in a career-high 31 minutes, a memorable turnover at that. Leading the break as 16,300 paying customers held their breaths, Wright threw a no-look pass to the right corner that was intercepted.

KU coach Bill Self has urged Wright to tighten his play - but not in a way that will damage the freshman's confidence.

"You don't want to take away his freedom to make creative plays," Self said.

Such as the passes that crank the volume in Allen Fieldhouse to even higher levels than his two-hand slams.

Even his mistakes, always immediately followed by pounding his chest with his palm to make sure everyone knows he knows he messed up, are entertaining.

Wright's enthusiasm is more important than ever now, in the dog days of February. During a major league baseball season, it's August when the grind can wear down a team. A flip of the calendar to September always rejuvenates a ballclub. And, of course, March heals all wounds to a college basketball team.

Wright is among the most vocal players on the court, forever gathering the players in a circle during stops in play.

"I just try to keep everybody focused and give them little reminders about things," Wright said. "And talking in games helps me a lot. It calms me down."

He plays better when he plays calmer, which makes the crowd explode. Imagine the ovations if one day Wright participates in Senior Day.

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