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Thursday, November 9, 2006

Keegan

Keegan: NAU nets Lawrence double

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The longest two-mile drive in four-year college basketball is right here in Lawrence.

It stretches from Allen Fieldhouse, where some of the greatest athletes in the nation battle each other every day in practice, to Coffin Sports Complex, where the Haskell Indian Nations University coach counts heads daily and seldom comes up with the same number.

The short trip starts at the elite level of NCAA Division I and reaches all the way to NAIA Division II.

Normally, it takes more than six degrees of separation to connect the Kansas University and Haskell basketball programs. This year, it took only one man. His name is Mike Adras, and he's the Northern Arizona University basketball coach.

Adras accommodated KU last season when it needed to drop a game in order to schedule University of New Orleans as a means of helping to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims.

When Haskell coach Jamie Morrison lobbied to play a game in Flagstaff against the regular-season champion of the Big Sky Conference a year ago, Adras eventually obliged.

Bizarre as it sounds, KU and Haskell have a common opponent. Northern Arizona will visit Allen Fieldhouse to tip off the season Saturday night. Haskell will visit Northern Arizona on Dec. 9 in Flagstaff.

"Since I've been at Haskell, every year I've tried to find an area to play where there are a lot of Native Americans," Morrison said. "The problem with Arizona is there aren't four-year universities other than the major ones. I knew it was kind of a shot in the dark, but I decided to call them to see if they were interested."

Adras said he liked to schedule one non-Division I opponent per year. They couldn't find a mutually convenient date a year ago. Morrison tried again this year, and the deal was finalized, "about six weeks ago," Morrison said.

The Navajo Nation - the largest Indian reservation in the country - is near Flagstaff, which Morrison said he used as a selling point.

"Our players are real excited to be playing a Division I school in a Division I facility and the fact that KU and us have a common opponent is pretty neat," said Morrison, who has several players from Arizona.

The Fightin' Indians have an afternoon game in Wichita on Saturday and will try to get back to Lawrence in time to scout NAU.

"Most of the guys were asking if we could get tickets," Morrison said. "Hopefully, we can get a few. If we don't get back in time, I'll watch the replay on Channel 6."

Morrison said NAU would pay budget-strapped Haskell an estimated $8,000 for the game.

"Obviously, my biggest fear is we go out there and get blown out bad," he said. "Hopefully, that won't happen."

Adras said by telephone of scheduling the games: "Why not make it geographically interesting from the standpoint of the Haskell kids coming home and playing? KU's giving my guys a highlight of their athletic careers. I've never been in the building. All my friends in the business say it's maybe the best atmosphere in college basketball. I want to see what it's like. I may not enjoy the outcome, but I think there are things you try to give your guys, and this certainly fits that."

Besides, Adras said, "I really wanted to get a team from Lawrence, Kansas, to play us at our place, and the Jayhawks refused."

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