I've never pulled harder for Kansas senior basketball players to reach the big-bucks level of the NBA than I'm rooting for Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson and Russell Robinson. They've contributed greatly and reflected high credit on KU. I'd like to see patient pro teams sign them, refine their skills and give them a full chance.
Their prospects of going even as high as the second round in the coming draft are considered marginal. Glamour boys Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush are aiming for first-round selections and guaranteed contracts, though recent draft predictions are that Chalmers won't make the first round. He could return to team with Sherron Collins and give KU the nation's best college guard duet.
There never was doubt about the pro-draftability of Jayhawks like Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce and Julian Wright. It's the more modestly touted guys I really want to make it, especially this year's classy trio.
The less-heralded Robinson may wind up with some European team; Kaun and Jackson could, too. Yet the latter two have all it takes to make it in the NBA. Somebody like Jerry Sloan at Utah needs to open the door so they can be coached, developed and gain the roster permanence that befell Greg Ostertag. Trouble is, NBA teams always are rushing for instant achievement, so it's tough for a work in progress, like Kaun, to get a decent break.
Occasionally the window of fate cracks open and lets in a stunner. Grab onto your chair! In 11 seasons in the NBA, the erratic Ostertag amassed a salary total of $48,251,390, honest! Back to this monetary miracle later. Robinson, Kaun and Jackson should be half as lucky. Sasha and Darnell also have the bodies to persist in the pro ranks if they just wind up with a coach who can bring out more good things as Danny Manning did here.
Darnell is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, can jump and bang with the best, has a great attitude. He has much to offer. The Russian-born Kaun is 6-11, 260 with the chance to reach a solid 280. He has been playing organized basketball only six years.
I'm particularly intrigued by the future for Sasha. He's smart as a whip, eager to learn and never will be the kind of troublemaker so many prima donnas become. To Jerry Sloan: If you could tolerate the eccentricities of the 7-2, 290-pound Ostertag for 10 seasons, why wouldn't you grab Kaun and produce a better prospect?
Ostertag averaged 7.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in four years at Kansas. In the NBA, he averaged 4.6 points, 5.5 boards and 1.7 blocks. The active Sasha wound up at KU with senior averages of 7.1 points, 3.9 boards, 49 blocks and 17 steals. He's better now than Ostertag was and will keep emerging.
Ostertag was drafted by Utah late in the first round in 1995, spent nine seasons with the Jazz, one year with Sacramento and a final year back with the Jazz. He and superstars Karl Malone and John Stockton often clashed, and Greg at times drove Sloan nuts with his goofiness.
Ostertag's salary the first three years ranged from $498,000 to $647,000. Then, in a real shocker, he got a six-year, $39 million contract with a peak of $8,666,666 in 2003-04. A year at Sacramento brought $4 million and his final season at Utah $4,400,000. Total: $48,253,390, plus endorsements.
Hang in there, Sasha and Darnell: Impossible dreams can come true.