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Friday, March 20, 2009

Time to dance

Jayhawks’ younger players nervous for tourney debut

Kansas center Cole Aldrich delivers a dunk to start practice after the Kansas University basketball team worked through a weave on Thursday at the Metrodome. The Jayhawks, 91⁄2-point favorites today in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, will take on North Dakota State at 11:30 a.m. in Minneapolis.

Kansas center Cole Aldrich delivers a dunk to start practice after the Kansas University basketball team worked through a weave on Thursday at the Metrodome. The Jayhawks, 91⁄2-point favorites today in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, will take on North Dakota State at 11:30 a.m. in Minneapolis.

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Jayhawks face formidable underdogs

The Kansas University men's basketball team knows North Dakota State is capable of pulling an upset in their Friday morning first-round NCAA Tournament matchup.

— Sherron Collins remembers being frozen in fear before his first NCAA Tournament game.

“My palms were sweaty. I could hardly grip the ball,” Collins, Kansas University’s junior point guard, said of his emotions before KU’s 107-67 victory over Niagara on March 16, 2007, in his hometown of Chicago.

“I’m glad I wasn’t a starter then, or the ball would have slipped right out of my hands.”

Team leader Collins has tried to warn KU’s newcomers about what they should expect — at least at the start of today’s 11:30 a.m. first-round NCAA Midwest Regional contest against North Dakota State in the Metrodome.

“He told me he couldn’t breathe,” said KU freshman forward Markieff Morris, who will be making his NCAA Tourney debut today along with fellow newcomers Marcus Morris, Tyshawn Taylor, Mario Little, Quintrell Thomas, Travis Releford and Tyrone Appleton.

“He told me the collar around his neck felt tight, too.”

Markieff’s brother said he’d feel just as Collins did in his tourney debut.

“My hands are sweating right now, and I’m only doing interviews,” Marcus Morris said, speaking in the Minnesota Twins’ locker room 20 minutes before the start of a Thursday afternoon shootaround before about 1,000 fans.

“I’m sure we’ll all be fine. I personally get nervous before every game. I get the jitters, but they go away pretty quickly,” Marcus Morris added.

Frosh guard Taylor said he’s getting “nervous and excited, too,” just thinking about making his postseason debut against a 26-6 North Dakota State team led by 5-11 senior guard Ben Woodside and 6-6 senior forward Brett Winkelman.

“I’ve been keeping to myself, trying to get my mind right,” Taylor said. “My nerves and excitedness balances each other out. I just want our team to play well.”

KU coach Bill Self wasn’t alarmed some of his newcomers admitted to having nerves entering the 2009 NCAAs.

“I don’t know if that’s all bad. If you don’t have a few butterflies, you are not human,” Self said. “I don’t want them uptight, but you can perform your best when you are a little nervous or anxious going in. I think our guys are excited and looking forward to the challenge.”

There’s one topic that always seems to help athletes forget about nervousness: That’s the perception that they are being slighted nationally. KU’s players say they have noticed the fact that some pundits are picking N.D. State of the Summit League to knock off the defending national champs.

“I saw we’re on some people’s ‘Upset alert,’’’ junior forward Mario Little said. “We don’t worry about that. They big thing is us coming out with energy. If we have energy we feel we can play with anybody.”

“I think we’d be the perfect team for somebody to pick to get upset,” guard Taylor noted. “We are young. If I was an analyst, I’d probably pick us to get upset, too. I practice with these guys every day. I don’t think we’ll get upset.

“I actually like to hear people say we’re an ‘upset team.’ It will light a fire under us. I think we’ll play with a chip on our shoulder,” Taylor added.

Meanwhile, KU’s veterans — Collins and Cole Aldrich — may have some extra motivation trying to defend last year’s national crown.

Remember, the title is KU’s until somebody else takes it away.

“We are the defending national champions. Until the end of the run this year, it’s our title,” Aldrich said.

“I guess we want to defend it because last year’s team is the one that won it. But we do have a whole different group of guys. It seems to me it’s 15 new guys,” he added with a laugh.

“We are still last year’s national champions,” Collins noted. “If we lose, we aren’t (champs anymore). Right now we are.”

KU’s Self stressed playing with “energy,” working hard on defense and sharing the ball on offense — staples of his program — more than focusing on intangibles like defending titles or proving people wrong.

“Whenever you talk about defending something, you set a mind-set that we are trying to hold onto something as opposed to attacking to get what you really want,” Self said.

“I am not interested in us trying to hold onto something. I want us to go take it. We need to be thinking about winning as opposed to losing.

“The other thing, if we returned all our players like Florida a couple years ago when they repeated, we could talk about it. We have one player that scored last year in the championship game, Sherron. We have a whole new cast. That may be motivation a little bit, but I don’t think a ton.”

The winner of today’s game will meet the winner of today’s West Virginia-Dayton game at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. The loser’s season is over.

Comments

rawkhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

I hope any nerves will translate into energy and focus. Get fired up, KU! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

NYhawk13 10 years, 10 months ago

Let's dance boys!!! Wish I was back in Lawrence but I'm pumped to be going out to watch the game in an area that has a huge 'Cuse fanbase (upstate NY). HAHA Orange fans won't know what hit them ;) ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!

NH_JHawk 10 years, 10 months ago

This is what we've all been waiting for. WE ARE KANSAS! Rock Chalk Jayhawk Go KU!

KANSTUCKY 10 years, 10 months ago

NYhawk13, Just be careful you don't get sucker punched by a Devendorf fan. You should be ok as long as you aren't a female.

CRIMSONnBLUE 10 years, 10 months ago

NYhawk13, I love it. I'm in Binghamton. Even though we got stomped by Duke last night I still reserve the right to brag about KU even though Cuse beat them early this season because none other than Jonny Flynn hit a 3 to tie it. If KU doesn't go farther than Cuse then I'm in trouble haha.

NYhawk13 10 years, 10 months ago

Kanstucky, HAHAHA I am female but don't worry about me I'll be ready ;-) I doubt I have anything to worry about cuz if they are a fan of his...I can see annoying wannabe punks from a mile away.

sdoyel 10 years, 10 months ago

Sherron, you'll always be a champion....

Brett Forreal 10 years, 10 months ago

General Sherron.......The time has come to harness your power, gather up your troops and get to it. It is time to make the run again!

yellowjayhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

The thing I love about Bill Self is his aggressive attitude. In every aspect of coaching he encourages his players to take matters into their own hands. I love that he says they shouldn't be defending the title, but that they should go out and get it again. That's real life.

Robert Murphy 10 years, 10 months ago

"He who hesitates is lost". Low turnovers. Great defense. Confidence. Have fun.

sawman3333 10 years, 10 months ago

Go Collins! Now let's keep the lead....up 18-17 at the 12:30 mark.

pmohr13 10 years, 10 months ago

the cbs site doesn't work for me, can anyone give me a link for another site possibly?

sawman3333 10 years, 10 months ago

Looks like this is a game where I'm gonna need the nitro pills close by...

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