Chaos theory has its "butterfly hypothesis"--the idea that the
flapping of a butterfly's wings in China influences events on
the other side of the globe. Jerod Haase holds a similar theory
for Kansas basketball: the T.J. Whatley mustache principle.
"Every player on this team has a crucial role, from the first
player to the 12th," says Haase, a 6'3" junior guard who was the
Jayhawks' top scorer last season. "Jacque Vaughn is our leader.
Scot Pollard is the off-court prankster. T.J. Whatley...." Now
searching for an example of a less salient contributor, Haase
suddenly brightens: "T.J. Whatley's mustache!"
Only Haase, it seems, knows how it came to be that Whatley's
mustache helped lead last year's Jayhawks to the Sweet
16--considering that it was attached to the upper lip of a junior
guard who averaged less than one point and one rebound per game.
It would be foolish, however, to discount Haase's musings.
Kansas does have one of those teams whose parts fit as snugly as
the pieces of a puzzle. Who's to say the Jayhawks aren't within
a whisker of replicating their feats of 1952 and '88 and winning
the national championship?
Take their front line. With 7'2" center Greg Ostertag departed
for the Utah Jazz of the NBA, the Jayhawks cry crocodile tears
because they are "smaller." O.K., Pollard is four inches shorter
than Ostertag, but he's also a shutter stop faster. "I haven't
seen a 5-man yet who can run with Scot," says Haase. And Pollard
actually played more minutes than Ostertag last season,
averaging 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. As for power forward,
sophomore Raef LaFrentz (11.4, 7.5) is 6'11" and was Kansas's
top rebounder in 11 games last season as a freshman. Coach Roy
Williams will simply discard the double low post he favored with
Ostertag and let Pollard work more often from the high post,
clearing room for the Jayhawks' slashing forwards and guards.
And what guards. If he averages 9.8 assists per game, All-Big
Eight junior Vaughn could, in just three seasons, break former
Kansas guard Cedric Hunter's Big Eight career record of 684
assists. But Vaughn does more than just distribute the ball. In
last season's 81-75 humbling of then top-ranked Massachusetts,
he had 14 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and two steals,
despite pain from a strained abdominal muscle. He is nothing if
not efficient. "I'm the kind of guy that always has to make sure
of things," he once said. "Like, when I turn off the car lights,
I'll go back three or four times, just to make sure."
The frenetic Haase, meanwhile, led the Jayhawks with 67
three-point field goals and led everyone in pursuit of those he
missed. "I've never seen anyone play as hard. You see him diving
all over the floor and you get pumped," says senior forward Sean
Pearson, a big fan of his backcourt buddies. "And Jacque is
special because he's not afraid to show his emotions. He makes a
great move, and there's this big smile and a look in his eyes
that says, Fun."
Fun for Kansas, that is-not so fun for the Jayhawks' opponents.
Williams rates both of his starting guards as superb pressure
defenders, and the return from injury of senior point guard
Calvin Rayford should allow Kansas to avoid repeating its one
embarrassing statistic from last season: sixth in the Big Eight
in steals. As for off-the-ball defense, Williams says that
Pollard, as a sophomore, "graded out as effectively as any big
man we've had."
It's easier for Williams to like Pollard's D than his 'do. After
Kansas lost to Virginia in the NCAA regionals, the big San
Diegan dyed his hair blond. Perhaps figuring that his surfer's
thatch, over black eyebrows, would not survive the autumn
scrutiny of the straitlaced Williams, Pollard shaved his head in
the preseason. But teammates say his months of parading around
like a movie villain have made him more intimidating, at least
to them. The studious Vaughn returns bald as well.
All this might suggest a team bored with its nice-boy image. Not
so. The nice boys are full of praise for the university, the
town of Lawrence, Coach Williams, their teammates, their
teammates' mustaches--even creaky old Allen Fieldhouse. "I get
chills running out on that court," says Pollard. "Wilt
Chamberlain, Clyde Lovellette and Danny Manning played in Allen.
It's got original air in it."
Original air or original hair, the Jayhawks have it. The
challenge will be to have it every time out. In the Virginia
loss, Kansas went 2 for 21 from three-point range, despite
having three players who had more than 30 treys on the season.
"We're a good shooting team," says Williams, "but we've got to
be more consistent." The schedule, too, will require Kansas to
sustain a high level of performance. Williams is most concerned
about his team's pre-Christmas gantlet of Utah, Virginia, UCLA,
Rice, Indiana and Temple: "I wonder if we can get through that
part of the schedule without dying."
Just as worrisome is the lack of a backup for Pollard, who
sometimes got into foul trouble as a sophomore. With only one
true center (7-foot sophomore Travis Williams) on his bench,
Williams will have to meet contingencies by moving LaFrentz
inside or subbing with 6'8" junior forward B.J. Williams. Kansas
also needs a defensive stopper against scorers who are between
6'4" and 6'7".
Oh, and Whatley's mustache could stand a trim. Vital as this
hairy lip is to the Jayhawks' Final Four aspirations, it will
come as no surprise to anyone if T.J.'s teammates subject him to
To do anything less, Haase will tell you, would be to invite
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Stocked with talents like LaFrentz (45), Kansas has the stuff of a national champ. [Raef LaFrentz dunking basketball over University of Massachusetts player]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Roy Williams
Career record: 184-51 (7 seasons)
Record at Kansas: 184-51 (7 seasons)
1994-95 record: 25-6 (final ranking: 10th*) *CNN/USA Today Poll
Big Eight record: 11-3 (first)
SF **Sean Pearson, 6'5", Sr.
Hit double figures once in last 11 games
PF **Raef LaFrentz, 6'11", Soph.
Top freshman marks since Danny Manning's
C Scot Pollard, 6'10", Jr.
Averaged more minutes in post than Ostertag
SG **Jerod Haase, 6'3", Jr.
Team's top scorer last season (15 ppg)
PG **Jacque Vaughn, 6'1", Jr.
Fourth in nation in assists (7.7 pg)
Nov. 25 vs. Utah
First game ever between the schools
Nov. 29 vs. Virginia
Chance to avenge 67-58 loss in '95 Sweet 16
Dec. 2 vs. UCLA
Jayhawks are 0-8 against the Bruins
Feb. 26 vs. Missouri
2-0 vs. Tigers in '94-95, 0-2 in '93-94
Jan. 22 vs. Oklahoma
Gave up 54 to Ryan Minor in two games last season
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
In pickup games this summer, Paul Pierce made an immediate
impression. "Athletic and talented," says senior Sean Pearson.
"Smooth," says center Scot Pollard. "Paul sweeps around the key,
floats across the floor--"
"You sound like a thesaurus," interrupts guard Jerod Haase.
The adjectives used to describe Pierce, a 6'6" forward from
Inglewood (Calif.) High, detail the qualities he'll display this
season as he comes off the bench to give the Jayhawks a scoring
To earn a starting spot, Pierce will have to show his stuff
between games. And, says a Kansas staffer, "a Kansas practice is
10 times more intense than the most intense game he's ever
played." But if Pierce performs the way he did this summer, he
could leave coaches grasping for words.