Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mayer: Young squad to test Kansas coach Self


Some basketball teams are overcoached and undertaught, as in the NBA. Others are visa versa, as with some micromanaged college clubs.

Kansas University's Bill Self is going to have to do perhaps the best job of his career in both categories if his Jayhawks are to offer any semblance of contention for Big 12 Conference honors. Along with all that, Self and his staff will have to mother-hen, baby-sit and 12-steps counsel a lot of their charges, even if the controversial J.R. Giddens is not around.

The way Self has been talking, J.R. just might not be. There are lots of issues to address, hard-nosed and serious, and I don't think the coach is going to be lenient. He sure as hell shouldn't be, all things considered. Yet during the ongoing babble about who did what and with which and to whom in that Moon Bar debacle, nobody formally addressed one rather vital issue about Giddens: Will he be academically eligible to start the coming season?

J.R.'s out tomcatting around in the wee hours of a day he supposedly has a final exam. That's worrisome enough, but then he gets a knife slash on his calf that will keep him in clinical shape for several more weeks. He's not enrolled, at least yet, for summer school - when athletes often fill chinks in their academic armor.

Were his grades good enough before the leg problem that he could compensate for the final in question, or will he have to enter school later in the summer to rectify the books?

Giddens's silliness and immaturity will make him the target for horrendous abuse from road crowds - should he be kept on the roster. Imagine what those sleazy Antlers at Missouri will cook up. If J.R. got harpooned about the high school Wal-Mart incident, imagine what opponents will come up with after the "Do you know who I am?" utterance J.R. seems to have used. Such doesn't help a youthful, rebuilding team.

Present or absent, Giddens should not be allowed to become the centerpiece for the coming season. Especially if he keeps shooting bricks. There are a lot of notable and deserving young men we should focus on, guys who've earned the right for favorable attention.

The youth and inexperience of this '05-'06 outfit will be overwhelming, outstanding though the talent might be. Self and Co. have to teach them, coach and cajole them and blend them into an outfit that will be at least a spoiler if not a conquerer in a league where Texas and Oklahoma loom mighty large.

We have not begun to see all the wondrous things that sophomores Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson, C.J. Giles and and Darnell Jackson have to offer. I want to see Robinson get a full-fledged chance to blossom. Then there will be such promising freshman additions as 6-4 Mario Chalmers, 6-10 Julian Wright and 6-8 Micah Downs. There are seven guys right there who, with the proper tutelage and blending, could win titles in a lot of leagues.

There's size, versatility and there should be the kind of eagerness that will make these guys coachable and perceptive.

Young, sure. But bear in mind what Michigan's Fab Five did as freshmen and sophomores, reaching the NCAA title game two years in a row. It's far-fetched, but it could happen. Self, in my book, is a better coach than Michigan's Steve Fisher was, or is.

The veteran Christian Moody, as a 6-foot-8 senior, can help give this club the kind of stability and consistency that can get it into the league and NCAA hunt and keep it there. Already we've set an eight-man rotation that hundreds of coaches would envy. And if fifth-year senior Jeff Hawkins stops delivering promises, promises and promises as he has up to now, and produces an all-around game a veteran with his background should, there'll be added benefits.

I'm almost happy for Moulaye Niang, who has had to give up the game because of a bad back. Senior though he might be, he couldn't see much chance to get off the bench; he'll be spared embarrassment as a coaching aide. As for the itinerant Alex Galindo, his departure from this promising group is his loss.

What about Jeremy Case, the sharpshooting Oklahoma City kid who'll be a junior? Toss him in, and you have a doggone impressive 10-man outfit. That doesn't even include 6-4 Southern Cal transfer Rodrick Stewart, who falls eligible in December after sitting out the NCAA-required year.

Coach Self and his staff will have to work long and hard to develop this group, particularly the real green ones. We can only hope they get to concentrate on coaching the game and the more traditional issues rather than more late-hour frivolity matters which Giddens has visited upon them. So far, it seems that any other Jayhawks who might have been around for the Moon Bar Massacre can remain in good graces.

We can only hope nobody else decides he's above the rules of the common herd. Self has not sounded the least bit sympathetic about the fact Giddens besmirched the squad and the university with his after-hours activities the past season.

If J.R. is retained, he's going to be on a short leash with a bread-and-water social diet and warned to "be good or be gone." One malevolent hiccup and he's history.

If Giddens is not willing to grow up and measure up, he shouldn't be allowed to detract from a team that has tremendous promise. With Self and his people trying to overcome the Bucknell Bummer and make noise in the Big 12, there'll be a lot better chance for these kids measure up to their wondrous promise if they have no more distractions and don't encounter any "stage daddies" of the nature that helped send David Padgett packing.

With a little luck and minimum outside interference, Kansas could have a surprisingly good season.

On a personal note, a letter-writer got his nose out of joint earlier this year when I compared the four senior starters for the 1952 NCAA and Olympic title team to those of the overrated 2004-05 four-year crew. My point was that the old guys were clearly better and that to compare the other '52 starter, the inimitable All-American Dean Kelley, to last season's fifth starter, J.R. Giddens, was obscene.

In view of recent developments, I second that motion, popular or not.


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