Gainesville, Fla. The last time Kansas University and Florida met in a basketball game, it was played in an arena inside a hotel-casino, the Orleans in Las Vegas.
I’ll never forget naively wondering why the man wearing a Jayhawk sweater was red in the face, on his feet, assailing the referee with an acidic tongue over a call in a game against Ball State that KU led by 18 points with less than a minute to play. What could it possibly matter to the man? The game long since had been decided. Relax.
Then it hit me like a nose-squashing Joe Frazier left hook. The man had placed a wager, no doubt not a small one because his never-empty pockets are oh-so-deep. Kansas was favored by 20.5 and defeated Ball State by 18 points. He returned to his hotel room unhappy that night about his wager and over how sloppy his school’s team looked in defeating a weak opponent in lackluster fashion. He didn’t need an airplane to fly home because the following night was more than any supporter of a young team could expect.
That’s the thing about young teams. When you least expect it, they fizzle, and just when you start to think they aren’t as good as you think, they put on an amazing show.
Kansas started a freshman, three sophomores and a junior for the games against Ball State and Florida in that two-day basketball doubleheader. Quite experienced compared to the squad Bill Self had start the second half of Saturday’s three-point loss at Colorado. That lineup had four freshman and a sophomore and could be the five to start both halves tonight.
Six-point underdogs against Florida one night after looking flat vs. Ball State, KU won, 82-80, in overtime.
KU was one year shy of winning the national title. Florida was the defending national champion on its way to a successful title defense.
No school had ever had three players chosen in the top 10 of the same NBA Draft. Florida became the first when center Al Horford went first, and forwards Corey Brewer (seventh) and Joakim Noah (ninth) quickly followed. Reserve forward Chris Richard and starting guard Taurean Green went in the second round.
KU’s Julian Wright went an unlucky 13th in that 2007 draft. Brandon Rush, the fifth lottery pick taken from that game, went 13th in 2008. Florida’s Marreese Speights went 16th, Darrell Arthur 27th. Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun were chosen in the second round.
It’s interesting to look back and see just how much talent was in that game against the Gators. Twelve players who played in that game went on to play in the NBA. KU center Kaun was drafted but opted to play in Russia, where he has greater earning power.
A look at the dozen who play or played in the NBA, ranked according to career points heading into Monday’s games:
Looks as if the NBA scouts in attendance that night did a pretty nice job of evaluating, although Chalmers was picked way too low, Wright way too high.
Some day it will be interesting to look back on last month’s United Center doubleheader to see how the scouts did in evaluating Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins of KU, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood of Duke, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and several others from all four teams who kicked off an interesting college basketball season with the Champions Classic.