No member of the 101st Jayhawks basketball team has visited the
gravesite of Dr. James Naismith, which lies a few miles from the
Kansas campus. That may not be a bad thing, for a keen sense of
history is something these Jayhawks can do without. When last
year's squad lost to Rhode Island in the second round of the
NCAA tournament, it became the fifth No. 1- or No. 2-seeded
Jayhawks team in the '90s to fail to advance past the Sweet 16.
This prompts a simple question: What on earth goes wrong in the
tournament? "All of the sudden we start playing not to lose,"
says senior guard Ryan Robertson. "I guess subconsciously we get
a bit tight."
No one expects the Jayhawks to compete for the national title
this season, not with the departures of All-Americas Raef
LaFrentz and Paul Pierce, who accounted for 42% of the team's
scoring in 1997-98. In their absence 7-foot sophomore center Eric
Chenowith will be expected to step in and provide more scoring.
After being cuffed around by LaFrentz last season in practice,
Chenowith lifted weights four days a week this summer and swore
off caffeine, carbonated drinks and fast food. The results: He
added 25 pounds to his 240-pound frame and beefed up his bench
press from 200 pounds to 285. "Eric's upside is way up there,"
says coach Roy Williams. "Guys who can move and have that size
are at a premium."
Maybe so, but for the Jayhawks to win their fourth straight
conference title, Williams needs his smaller, quicker players
like Robertson, sophomore forward Kenny Gregory and freshman
point guard Jeff Boschee to run his motion offense with Swiss
precision. A few more healthy bodies in the frontcourt would also
help; Lester Earl and T.J. Pugh had off-season surgery, and
Ashante Johnson (fractured right patella) is out until early
Recently, Earl, Gregory and forward Nick Bradford challenged
each other to a video-game version of the NCAA tournament. Alas,
even in the sanctuary of their dorm rooms, the Jayhawks couldn't
escape their program's recent history. Bradford (controlling
Arizona) won; Earl (controlling Kansas) sailed through his first
couple of games--only to lose before the Final Four.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP FOR SCHWARTZMAN SPORTS POINT MAN The exit of two All-Americas means more shots for Robertson. [Ryan Robertson in game]
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF Lester Earl 6'8" Jr. 7.6 ppg
PF [*]T.J. Pugh 6'8" Sr. 5.7 ppg
C Eric Chenowith 7'0" So. 5.9 ppg
SG Kenny Gregory 6'5" So. 50.4 FG%
PG [*]Ryan Robertson 6'5" Sr. 6.4 apg
'97-98 record: 35-4 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 8