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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Former teammates laud Pierce

Former KU player Eric Chenowith

Former KU player Eric Chenowith

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Eric Chenowith emptied a load of laundry on a table in the basement of Jayhawker Towers back in the summer of 1997.

The 7-foot Kansas University basketball center from Villa Park, Calif., had no clue what to do next.

"I was a freshman. My mom had always done laundry for me," Chenowith recalled.

"Paul Pierce saw me. He told me to wash whites in hot water and darks in cold. He told me how to do the whole thing. Paul Pierce taught me how to do laundry.

"He was a man among boys," Chenowith added, a sense of awe in his voice.

Pierce, a 6-7 forward from Inglewood, Calif., who on Friday scored 27 points to lead the NBA's Boston Celtics to an Eastern Conference-clinching victory over Detroit, was a leader not only off the court, but on the hardwood while learning his trade at KU (1996 to '98).

"Paul Pierce is the best player I've ever played with or against on any level at any time," Chenowith said of Pierce, who turned pro after averaging a team-leading 20.4 points and earning first-team All-America honors his junior season for the 35-4 Jayhawks.

"I've never seen anybody take over a game like he did against Oklahoma on Senior Night when he was a junior," added Chenowith, two years behind Pierce in school.

Pierce erupted for 31 points off 14-of-17 shooting - 3-of-3 from three-point land - in the Jayhawks' 83-70 victory over Kelvin Sampson's Sooners on Feb. 23, 1998.

"I remember on my Senior Night, Paul scored like 15 straight points the second half. He just made shot after shot after shot," said C.B. McGrath, assistant coach at the University of North Carolina.

"It was an impressive performance in a big-time game. It meant our senior class went four straight years without losing at home."

Pierce helped make sure McGrath, Raef LaFrentz and Billy Thomas wrapped up their careers 58-0 at Allen Fieldhouse.

"I remember he went on a tear the second half. Kelvin Sampson called timeout after Paul hit another basket and patted him on the butt when he came off the court," said former KU guard Ryan Robertson, who was in the same recruiting class as Pierce.

Sampson's Sooners were helpless as Pierce dominated in what also turned out to also be his last game in Allen.

"Coach Sampson called timeout and gave him a standing ovation. He was saying, 'What else can we do?'" said former KU forward T.J. Pugh, another KU contemporary of Pierce's.

"I know how he felt. I thought I could guard people, but guarding Paul? No way. He got so good his junior year it became embarrassing."

Robertson, regional director of marketing for The Hartford in St. Charles, Mo., and Pugh, a doctor in Denver, remember more than just the OU game, of course.

"The biggest thing to me was watching his development in practice," Robertson said. "I knew him as a freshman when he was a little lost and immature. He came back as a sophomore and was a different person - more serious about his craft.

"Something happened that summer between his freshman and sophomore year. After that, you knew he'd be a great player," added Robertson.

He and Pugh rank Pierce the second-greatest player they've played with or against, right behind Kevin Garnett.

McGrath, like Chenowith, picks Pierce hands down.

"Paul could really score, but he was unselfish, almost to a fault," McGrath said of KU's seventh-leading scorer of all-time who had his jersey hung in the fieldhouse rafters in 2003.

"I knew he'd be a good pro. Did I think he'd be one of the Top Ten players in the league the last six years? That's hard to say. He's a Hall of Famer. To score that many points, be a six-time All Star, get to the Finals (Boston's first trip since 1987) with a chance of winning it all, he has a real chance for the Hall of Fame."

Pierce, 30, who has averaged 23.1 points a game in his 10-year Celtic career, has seen his production "dip" to 19.6 points a game, his lowest total since a 19.5 mark in his second season in the league.

However he's still the team's leading scorer, first-year Celt Garnett right behind at 18.8.

Pierce has said he does not care about personal marks. With Garnett and Ray Allen, his quest all year has been for his first crown.

"He seemed awfully excited," McGrath said of Pierce screaming, "We're in The Finals! Let's get it on L.A.!" during Friday's postgame interview in which Pierce revealed he was a big-time Laker fan as a youth.

"He had a smile on his face the last minute of that game. I'd love to see him win a championship," McGrath added.

"He's having a lot of fun. It's been wonderful to watch," Pugh noted.

Pierce's friends are hoping he snares his first championship the same year his alma mater won the NCAA title.

"I saw Paul last September at coach (Roy) Williams' Hall of Fame induction," McGrath said of a ceremony in Springfield, Mass., attended by several ex-Jayhawks.

"All he wanted to do was reminisce about the old days at Kansas - the road trips, the locker rooms. He wanted to talk about all the good times he had."

"Seeing coach Williams was great, but the highlight for me was seeing Paul Pierce again," Robertson said of the Hall ceremony.

"The fact he's one of the best players in the NBA ... an all-star many times over and multimillionaire many times over ... he couldn't have been more humble, more down to earth."

Yet focused, even at that event.

"That was about the time the Celtics traded for Garnett and Ray Allen," Robertson said. "Paul saw Jacque Vaughn (ex-KU guard with world champion San Antonio) and said, 'We're coming after you this year.'"

Chenowith - who still lives in Southern California and plans on playing overseas next season after a stint in the NBA Developmental League - said there's no way Laker fans will be sentimental about native son Pierce returning home to play in The Finals.

The series opens with two games in Boston then moves to L.A.

"The Laker fans are so brainwashed they are only gonna love the Lakers," Chenowith said. "But the people here do know he's from L.A. Paul will do fine. Knowing him 10 years, playing with him ... I've never seen him this hungry. He has such desire. He really wants it," Chenowith added.

Comments

frompekka2sasha 13 years, 6 months ago

I remember that OU game like it was yesterday. If he played the game more selfishly at all times we probably would have won a title during his time here. Not faulting him or Roy Williams though. It was just the system and that system provided everything but a Nat'l Championship. Let's go Lakers!! Sorry Paul but I can't root for the Celtics. I hope you go for 50 in a Game 7 loss.

sportdan30 13 years, 6 months ago

Isn't it about time we give Chenowith a break? My goodness. KU has finally reached that elusive championship. I applaud Eric for staying strong to his KU ties despite all the negative comments he continues to receive how many years later? I'm proud he's a KU alumn.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 6 months ago

Ahh, Chenoworthless, how's Dave Matthews these days??This article actually reminded me that I not only had an unbelievable opportunity to hang with Pierce and Bradford back in 96, but also that I saw Garnett play in high school.... I'm out in LA, but clearly I'm cheering for a team on another coast....Good luck to Paul and the boys.

sevenyearhawk 13 years, 6 months ago

I'm very happy for Paul Pierce!Good ol' Eric Cheno ...what can I say that hasn't already been said?

Hawklin 13 years, 6 months ago

People who take shots at Chenowith (gone 7 years ago) have issues within themselves they cant seem to handle.

killabees 13 years, 6 months ago

I always loved watching Pierce play. And it speaks to his character to hear other Jayhawks say the same. I'll be rooting for him in the finals.

NH_JHawk 13 years, 6 months ago

Paul Pierce is a cool guy for sure. Back in 1998 when he first came to Boston, I worked at SportsRadio WEEI the Celtics flagship radio station. Paul was in to do an interview and I had the opportunity to meet him. He was totally down to earth and very easy to talk with. He got a big smile on his face when I told him I went to KU and that I had followed his collegiate career. He shook my hand and said "Rock chalk Jayhawk." It was a great moment!

actorman 13 years, 6 months ago

Not to beat a dead horse, and I certainly respect your opinion of Chenowith since you know a lot more about him than I do, but I'm not that impressed with him being the 25th leading scorer at KU. For many years, freshmen weren't eligible. On top of that, Wilt only played two years, Pierce only played three and recently several players have left early. So I don't think being 25th is that impressive. Fifth leading rebounder is not bad, but of course the same things apply to that as well. I think the biggest problem with him was results vs. potential. If there had not been any expectations for him, I think fans would have been pretty happy with his career. So I'm not sure how much was his fault and how much was unrealistic expectations. But I do appreciate that he's one of your favorites; it sounds like he's a pretty genuine person and of course that is important too.

WisconsinJayhawk 13 years, 6 months ago

OK, I give... when did Ryan Robertson and TJ Pugh play with or against Kevin Garnett? (According to this article, they both rank Paul the 2nd best they ever played with or against, behind Garnett). I can see maybe Ryan, who had a short NBA stint, but TJ? Maybe somone who knows can enlighten me.

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

Good points, but do you realize Eric is the 25th leading scorer in KU history??He's also the fifth leading rebounder in KU history.I mean Is that underachieving?What do people think his ceiling was?I respect your opinion, but the guy was decent.

Carter Patterson 13 years, 6 months ago

I think Eric just won a D-League championship with the Idaho Stampede....defeating Coach Q's Austin Toros 2 games to 1.

stravinsky 13 years, 6 months ago

Paul Pierce. All star laundry washer. Although after being teased by that tidbit on the front page, I was really hoping that the LJW would have just had an entire article on how good Pierce is at keeping those whites sparkly bright and those colors unfaded until eternity.

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

Robertson: McDonald's game teammate.Pugh played against him on AAU circuit.

rcaltrider 13 years, 6 months ago

Hawklin--I couldn't agree with you more. Isn't it about time to leave Chenowith alone?Also, I'm not a Celtic fan but I hate the Lakers. So, I will be rooting for Paul to get the championship he deserves!

LAJayhawk 13 years, 6 months ago

Gary,Thanks for the Chenowith info. However, I brought that up as a bit of a joke. It wouldn't hurt if people lightened up a bit.I actually knew Eric. He lived next door to my girlfriend at the time in the Towers, and he hung out at their place fairly often. I always thought he was a decent guy.As for basketball, I just felt he had way more talent than we saw most of the time. It's nothing personal against him, and if I saw him playing I would undoubtedly cheer for him. He is a Jayhawk.

KEITHMILES05 13 years, 6 months ago

EC is one of Bedore's favorite Hawks? Come on guy. Get a life. In your business you have to pump up everything you write and if you believe what you said then EVERY Hawk is a favorite of yours. Surely you could have found somebody else to quote so much from besides Chenowith. What about Nick Bradford? At least he LIVED with Pierce for two years. You can believe what you wish about EC but the fact is he underperformed dramatically at KU and wasn't very courteous to the fans.

Sparko 13 years, 6 months ago

Chenowith played for Roy; if he had played for Self, it would have made a huge difference in his numbers. Roy had fallen in love with secondary breaks and was not the best half-court coach. Chenowith would have thrived under Self. Those who complain about him forget that Roy's system favors speed over toughness and size. Pierce and LaFrenz were perfect for that system. Chenowith too sluggish.

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

Folks, this is gb.I'm going to start a blog soon so I'd put this on there, but for now let me put it on here. ...Look, I was the person who "broke the story" if you want to call it that on Eric and the Dave Matthews band.Eric followed them around for two weeks that one summer to maybe 3-4 concerts. That's 2 weeks (after summer school) when nothing was going on campus.People make it sound like he was pitching a tent, chugging booze every night, getting fat and happy with the band.He was following them around with his buddies. He was not getting fat and happy with the band.People sometimes act like these college basketball players should have no lives and just obsess about basketball 24 hours a day.Forgive me if I disagree.BTW, I saw Eric three times at KU games this season, including the NCAA Tournament. KU fans were gracious to him, great around him.So I would say the Internet message board world is in the minority when it comes to the treatment of Eric. These people that blast him anonymously here do not give him grief in real life.He happens to be one of my favorite Jayhawks of all time.He's a good, good guy.Cheers to Cheno!My rant is ova!p.s. Here is what he was quoted on the Matthews Band thing followed by a story on him in 2000.here's the link to the storyhttp://www2.kusports.com/news/2000/au..."The truth is I went to eight concerts over a six-month period not just in the summer," Chenowith said. "I heard somebody say I went on a 21-show tour or something like that. Two of them I went with my high school coach after working out with him during the day. I don't worry about that (critics) at all."

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

Come on guy. I have a life.Eric Chenowith is one of my favorite players of all time.That's my take, agree with it or not.He's the fifth leading rebounder in KU history and 25th leading scorer.Only 24 more guys have scored more points than Eric Chenowith.-- I don't have Nick's phone number right now. I'd love to reconnect with him as well. Nick Bradford is a great man.

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

And to the guy who ripped Pugh ... congrats to T.J. on being a doctor. Super guy, T.J. Pugh. Actually all four guys quoted in my story are amazing individuals.

Gary Bedore 13 years, 6 months ago

Good points actorman. Your posts make sense.I'm saying Eric's numbers do not say he was a star, but they aren't shabby either.I think ranking 25th in scoring and fifth in rebounding at a place like KU is pretty amazing.I think many people believe 7-footers should dominate no matter what and people are actually jealous believing if they were that tall they would make millions.It's not that simple. It's a different life up in the rafters.Lefthanded pitchers and 7-footers tend to see things differently. Just ask Ostertag.A lot of people probably hate Eric for his quote, 'Ha ha I am playing for KU and you are not" in response to fans booing him.I say more power to Eric.If I got booed I'd fight back as well.But I like guys like Eric and Ozzie Guillen. Many others don't.

actorman 13 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for shedding some light on the Chenowith situation, Gary, but I can't help it, I still don't have good feelings about his career at KU. Maybe we've all been unfair about the whole thing with Dave Matthews, but the fact is that he was a Playboy Preseason All-American as a junior and never came to close to being an ACTUAL All-American as a junior OR senior. Maybe the expectations were too high, but he never remotely lived up to them. The other things I remember about him was his inability to catch the ball consistently and his one move that he tried every time he got the ball down low.As for Pierce, it's a crying shame that he didn't realize how serious the NBA labor issues were at the time. If he had known that he would have to miss the first 30 games of his rookie year because of a lockout, he probably would have stayed at KU, and who knows how good that '99 team could have been. I'm proud to say that after the first game I saw him play as a freshman, I said to one of my friends that he was going to be KU's best NBA player since Wilt. There was just something about him that stood out right away. (He may only be the best NBA player from KU since Jo Jo, but either way he's in pretty elite company.)

LAJayhawk 13 years, 6 months ago

By the way, Gary, do you know the answer to the question I posted to your basketball notebook article yesterday (considering the graduation numbers)? I just thought you might now.

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