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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mayer: KU looks good for ‘06-‘07

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A Kansas University basketball fan can find lots to love with the 10 current juniors and sophomores due back next season. Perhaps the most beautiful facet of this jewel is that none of them is ready to turn pro, and all seem to understand that.

Bring them back, add the likes of Sherron Collins and Brady Morningstar, and you may sense an undisputed 2006-07 Big 12 Conference championship.

For many, it was a foregone conclusion that freshman Brandon Rush was a one-and-doner. Not. He's deadly in catch-and-shoot situations, which opened the door for a lot of all-star honors. But he can be a turnover-in-residence trying to handle the ball out on the court or in a crowd. Pro defenders drool over such weakness.

Recently I wrote that Brandon should listen to his mom; she says he needs at least another season. Several respondents took that for "begging" him to stay. No need. He'd be nuts to jump now.

We hear how young these Jayhawks are. Not Rush. He turns 21 on July 7. He needs a lot more tutoring and maturation under Bill Self and Co. before he's near the level of brother Kareem.

Gone from the current 13-man roster will be Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody and Stephen Vinson. Micah Downs staged his Gonzaga Getaway, and that helped more than it hurt. We're left with 10 promising guys, including 6-foot-10 walk-on Matt Kleinmann.

With Kleinmann among the "bigs" next season, we'll have 6-11 Sasha Kaun, 6-11 C.J. Giles, 6-8 Julian Wright and 6-8 Darnell Jackson. That's a classy batch of seasoned frontliners. Add another good 6-8-and-up, and there'll be lots of fouls to give. KU has only scratched the surface with Kaun, Wright, Jackson and Giles. As these kids become men, turn out the lights and call the law.

Rush is listed as a guard and has Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers with their vast array of offerings to help him become the go-to guy he was hired to be. Other returnees will be Jeremy Case and Rodrick Stewart, who still have a lot to prove. But when you toss in Chicago whiz Collins - if he qualifies as expected - and get our own Morningstar adding more firepower, what KU fan can't get excited?

There's promise galore in that group, but my choice for player of the year would be Robinson. With theft-conscious Chalmers adding his many skills to the mix, RussRob has become the aorta who pumps fire and desire through the system, something he'll do even better later. Things pivoted the day coach Self installed Chalmers and Robinson as starters; I wonder if he kicks himself now and then for not using Robbie more last season when Aaron Miles would hypnotize himself into that perimeter trance.

These 10 guys are darn good, but there's almost no limit to how much better they can be with solid input by newcomers. Repeating, they're smart enough to know they're not NBA-ready and realize just how much better they can be by 2007. Hot dog!

l Pardon the parochialism. The Southwest Conference was floundering 10 years ago, and the Big Eight bailed out the Texas clubs with football television clout via Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma and basketball allure with Kansas. Now the Lone Star elitists forget to send Kansas its court trophy in time to celebrate. Didn't forget Texas with its 80-zillion budget, right?

Short memory, huh, for a league office whose butt the Big Eight pulled out of the fire?

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