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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Self savoring time with young Jayhawks

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Coaches sometimes dread heading to practice during the dog days of February.

Not Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self, who is not looking ahead to March Madness and instead is savoring every day working with a young, yet eager-to-learn, Jayhawk team.

"From my perspective, they are so much fun to be around and watch because they are on a steady upclimb now," said Self, whose squad improved to 20-6 overall, 11-2 in the Big 12 Conference following Tuesday's 76-61 victory over Baylor.

"It's not just because we've been winning," added the coach, whose squad has won 10 straight games and 17 of 19 heading into Saturday's showdown at Texas. "You can see them maturing before your eyes and see the confidence level rise."

He thoroughly has enjoyed instructing a team whose top seven scorers are freshmen and sophomores.

"Last year's team was 20-1, but I felt some people, including the coaches, were saying, 'We're not playing that well.' We played good enough to win," Self said. "Now we're 20-6, and I feel these guys are playing well. I think it's the sentiment of all the fans now."

Self and the fans have applauded the improvement of freshman forward Julian Wright, who registered the first 20-point game of his career Tuesday.

The 6-foot-8, 218-pound Wright averages 8.3 points and 4.7 boards a game. He has become more and more comfortable, starting the last nine games after coming off the bench to open the season.

"The worst thing is putting somebody out there not ready, and (have him) fail and lose all confidence," Self said. "Julian began starting when he was emotionally and mentally ready to start. We knew all along he was one of our best players. He had to mature, grow up and do some things. There's pressure. The last thing you want to do is rush 'em and they lose confidence when they have so much God-given ability."

¢ Recruiting: Self made a recruiting trip Wednesday to the high school of Darrell Arthur, a 6-9 forward from Dallas' South Oak Cliff High who is considering KU, SMU and Baylor and considering letting some other schools - like UConn - get involved.

Davon Jefferson, 6-8 from Lynwood, Calif., has committed orally to USC. For a time, Jefferson had KU on his list of prospective schools. It's believed KU never had more than lukewarm interest in the player.

"I made the decision a couple of weeks ago and then let USC know yesterday I was ready to be a Trojan," Jefferson told Rivals.com. "It's a local school, and I've always liked USC."

Jefferson has not yet taken the SAT, thus the Trojans cannot officially accept his commitment, Rivals.com reports.

¢ Game Day showdown looms: KU and Texas each will take 11-2 league records into Saturday's 8 p.m. battle in Austin, Texas. UT hung onto a piece of first place by topping Kansas State, 65-64, Wednesday at KSU.

Saturday's KU-UT showdown will be part of ESPN's Game Day broadcast. Announcers Jay Bilas, Rece Davis, Andy Katz and Digger Phelps will be on hand as studio hosts all day Saturday.

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