OUT OF THE PHOG.............
BY TODD PANULA November 7, 2000
Hello everyone and welcome to the first edition of "Out of the Phog." In this column I am going to report on some of the happenings that are going on here on Mount Oread. I will try not to show too much favoritism, but that'll be hard since I am right in the action at KU.
Let me begin by saying that the experience of being at an event in Allen Field House is awesome. Plain and simple. When you can fill a stadium for Late Night and two exhibition games, you know that there is something special going on around you. I have now been to two games that were both meaningless, but the crowd was still into it like a regular season game. The whole game was fun. I loved doing the chants, the distractions of their free throw shooters, and just being able to bum around with your friends in such a great atmosphere for a couple of hours. Now on with the basketball stuff.
As most of you know by now, the Jayhawks have been ranked #6 in the polls, #3 by Basketball News, #6 by Blue Ribbon Sports, and Dick Vitale of ESPN picked us to finish 4th in the country. I will admit that I don't know quite as much about basketball as those who might read this, but I can tell a good team when I see it. Just look at the talent. We have Kirk Hinrich, Kenny Gregory, Jeff Boschee, Drew Gooden, Luke Axtell, Nick Collison and Eric Chenowith as probable starters. Then you have Mario Kinsey, Bryant Nash, and Jeff Carey as strong bench players. Kinsey, along with other walk-ons Bret Ballard, Chris Zerbe, and guard John Crider may not see much time but will be valuable in case of any injuries. Finally you have "The Man" as I would call him, Roy Williams. Coach Williams has the ability to make any team, regardless of faults, better and he does have the talent to go far this season.
I have only seen two exhibition games, but I'll give you my take on how the team looks so far. The first game, vs. the EA Sports/California All Stars, was a decent game. The 'Hawks were very sloppy coming out of the gate. They showed that it was their first game. Poor shot choices, bad shooting, poor passing, and not being tough enough on the boards. Then about midway through the first half they cleaned thing up and played some sound basketball. They finished strong, but only one 98 to 80. Not a bad victory, but there was definitely room for improvement. The team only hit 2 of 23 from 3-point range(one of their bread and butters). The scoring line went like this: Gooden 14, Gregory 14, Chenowith 11, Hinrich 12, Boschee 4, Kinsey 3, Collison 15, Nash 2, Carey 6, Harrison 2, Zerbe 2, and Axtell 13.
The game against Emporia State was decidedly better. The score alone was a testament to that as the Jayhawks clobbered the Hornets by 69 with a score of 120-51. Once again the scoring went: Gooden 16, Gregory had 17, Chenowith put up 10, Hinrich only produced 2, Boschee upped his to 17, Kinsey had 14, Collison had 12, Nash put in 4, Carey had 2, Harrison had 5, Zerbe had 2, and Axtell led with 19. Obviously the team played much better, but still had some mistakes that were hidden by the fact of playing against a Division II team.
The Hawks will have their obstacles. They open the season against UCLA in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in New York. If they manage to win that they will have to play either St. Johns or Kentucky. The Big Twelve, though lacking in very tough competition, will pose its problems as well. Primarily the Hawks biggest conference tests will come from Oklahoma and Mizzou. The Sooners had a huge battle with KU last year and the Tigers always seem to give the Hawks trouble regardless of how good either are. The Iowa State Cyclones could also put up a road block on the trip to the Final Four as they did in the Big Twelve final.
There are inner problems as well. Chenowith, who supposedly bulked up over the summer, still looked timid and got pushed around slightly under the boards. As earlier mentioned, the Jayhawks struggled with their long range shooting in the first game. Kenny Gregory is also a slight question mark in my mind. At times he could look like the next Michael Jordan and at other times he looks like a high school player. Injuries will also play a role. Last year, key injuries to players like Luke Axtell brought down KU when they needed help the most. If the Jaybirds can stay healthy, overcome a difficult opening schedule, and overcome their own, few shortcomings the Hawks will definitely be a perennial contender for the National Crown. They have the skills, the depth, and (of course) the coach that can navigate them down the winding road to the Final Four. So with any luck we will be in Indy in March.