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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Vinson ready to keep ballin’

Senior earning respect as Jayhawk career fades

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Senior Day might be looming, but Kansas University men's basketball guard Stephen Vinson has no plans to retire his sneakers.

Not a chance. He has a lot of shots left in the system, and KU's Student Recreation Center is next.

Even if no one playing up there thinks much of him.

"Every time I go up there, nobody thinks I'm very good because I didn't get to play very much (for KU)," Vinson said with a laugh. "I don't get much respect up there, so I had to earn it."

Vinson plans to be a bit of a ballhog when he makes more frequent trips this spring to the Rec Center. It's understandable - four years of being a seldom-used role player had Vinson itching to be a star.

"After the season's over, I'm going to go up to the Rec and get all that out," the senior said. "I'm going to go up there and see how many points I can score each game and do all that."

First things first: A start in tonight's 7 p.m. game against Colorado, a five-minute speech with thousands listening closely, and several more postseason games.

If Vinson has it his way, his career could end where his most memorable moment took place four years ago: college basketball's grandest event, the Final Four.

Vinson, Christian Moody and Brett Olson saw mop-up action during KU's 94-61 pasting of Marquette in New Orleans' gigantic Superdome. It's the proudest Vinson ever has been.

"Guarding Dwyane Wade in the Final Four. That's the story," Vinson said. "I didn't know what I was doing at the time, because I didn't know he'd turn out to be such a great player.

"I shut him down for five minutes. That's what I tell people I'm trying to impress. The truth is, I fouled him on a three-pointer, and he missed all three free throws. I kind of lucked out."

And to think, Vinson could've spent his career as a scholarship player at Missouri-Kansas City, or some other mid-major. The offers were there for the guard, who was voted Sunflower League MVP his senior season at Lawrence High.

But, citing a desire to be a part of the NCAA Tournament, Vinson chose to accept a preferred walk-on offer from former coach Roy Williams at KU. The offer stood for current coach Bill Self, who eventually gave Vinson a scholarship for his senior year.

"He and Christian are our spiritual leaders on the team," Self said. "They go the extra mile mentoring our young guys. They're always there on time. They're there whether their bodies hurt or not. All the conditioning workouts, they're finishing first on everything. Stephen has just been a great role model and the standard for our guys to work for."

Little did Vinson know he'd be earning every penny of the grant on the court. Thanks to the young Jayhawks' growing pains, Vinson saw plenty of action early in the season. It peaked in a 69-56 December victory over California, a game in which Vinson scored six points and added six assists in 25 minutes.

Vinson's career - in Allen Fieldhouse, anyway - will culminate tonight against the Buffaloes, where he'll start alongside fellow seniors Moody and Jeff Hawkins.

In Vinson's opinion, it couldn't have finished better.

"This year was a lot more meaningful," Vinson said. "It gave me a few more stories to tell.

"And, I think I get a little more respect at the Rec now."

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