Originally published February 27, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated February 27, 2009 at 10:44a.m.
One of the most delightful aspects of this Kansas University basketball season is the absence of incessant blattering about which Jayhawk underclassman will be turning professional after NCAA time. No seniors have even a faint prayer.
Lordy, we’ve actually become caught up in the excitement of a major scuffle for a conference title rather than that who’ll-go-pro stuff. What a treat!
There’s talk that 6-11 sophomore Cole Aldrich could achieve high NBA Draft status and that junior guard Sherron Collins might do likewise. Yet barring some incredible changes in the selection process, both would do well to spend another season at KU. Aldrich could continue to improve with the specialized help of coach Danny Manning, and Collins could sharply hone his erratic ball-handling and decision-making.
With the new talent Bill Self has lined up, Kansas could be a Top-10 attraction from the outset of 2009-10. Plenty of focus from the scouts and our faltering economy might improve enough to make the money prospects better than they might be in this troubled year of strained and leaking budgets.
Last season there was constant haranguing about whether Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers were NBA goners, along with sophomore Darrell Arthur.
Rush got through the season with no new knee ailments, Arthur began to deliver, Chalmers plunked in that game-tying trey against Memphis, and KU won the national title. It was obvious those three might fare OK in the draft along with Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson.
This season we have ourselves a real Big 12 horse race, and the battle for four, ideally even five, conference teams to make the NCAA Tournament.
Collins obviously can shoot the ball and is enough of an athlete that even at 5-11 he wouldn’t be too horribly undressed on defense as a pro. Lots of skills for the ultra-quick fireplug. But he needs more refinement.
Aldrich with his agility and variety of moves is going to be a bona fide pro star some day. The famed Bob Knight, ex-coach and now a television analyst, has enthusiastically sung Cole’s praises several times. Yet more Manning tutelage could really refine this package.
Team-wise, KU’s victory over Oklahoma gave the developing Jayhawks a great advantage in the league race. But deep, aggressive and speedy Missouri is good enough to break the 39-game home win streak Sunday, and the March 1 visit to Texas Tech is no cinch. While it once seemed the Texas visit on March 7 could be put into the bank, the Longhorns hooked mighty Oklahoma and, importantly, seem to have found a point guard capable of double-doubles in scoring and assists.
With Dogus Balbay, a 6-foot sophomore ball-handler from Istanbul, Turkey, Texas has become stronger. Balbay had a year as a prep in New Hampshire, sat out last season with a bad leg, spent the summer with a Turkish junior team and has done wonders for the Longhorns. He’s a new face Kansas has to cope with on March 7, now that he’s allowed A.J. Abrams to rejuvenate his long-range shooting skills.
But isn’t it great to be talking about teams, league standings and showdown contests without all that tiresome folderol about likely NBA hopefuls?