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2 Kansas With the bench thin and untested, the nation's strongest starting five must carry the Jayhawks--but it has the potential to take them all the way

There's a neat trick you can play with the Russian nesting doll
of last year's Final Four team that Jayhawks coach Roy Williams
keeps on his office desk. Even if you remove the outer shell,
Drew Gooden, the doll still has five significant components and
appears complete. It's an apt metaphor for Williams's team, which
lost Gooden to the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies but retains two
national player of the year candidates, seniors Nick Collison and
Kirk Hinrich. Yet Williams still can't figure out why some
pundits are tabbing the Jayhawks No. 1. "I'm absolutely stunned,"
he says. "I wouldn't pick us to win our own league."

That's partly because the Big 12 is the nation's best conference.
But it's also due to the Jayhawks' extreme reliance on their
starting five. Aside from them, the remaining players averaged
0.8 of minute of playing time in a Kansas uniform last year.
"I've been saying to our starters, 'You five guys have to stay
out of foul trouble, and you can't get sick or hurt,'" Williams
says with a sigh. "It's the least depth I've ever had."

Don't feel too sorry for him, though. Collison and Hinrich are
the top inside-outside combo in the land, and there were times
when last year's freshmen, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Wayne
Simien, carried the Jayhawks. Miles plans to validate his coach's
theory that point guards improve the most between their first and
second years; Langford should build on a season in which his
highest scoring totals came against some of Kansas' toughest
foes: Oregon (20 points), Arizona (19) and Illinois (15).
Meanwhile, the 255pound Simien inherits Gooden's position after
averaging 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in only 15.3 minutes last
year. "If he can play 30 minutes and keep that same ratio, he'll
be pretty good," says Williams.

But what if, say, Simien gets hurt again (he missed five games
last year)? Or if the hack-prone Collison gets into foul trouble?
Then the onus falls on 6'9" juco transfer Jeff Graves, who
reported to campus weighing 292 pounds (37 more than last year),
drawing his coach's ire. But as Williams admits, "He's extremely
important to us."

If Graves can earn his spot in this year's Jayhawks nesting doll,
Kansas could be rewarded with a more significant souvenir: a
championship trophy. --G.W.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH POWER PLAY In his new starting role, Simien may not get as many boards as Gooden, but he will get plenty.



SF Keith Langford 6'4" So. 7.9 ppg
PF Wayne Simien 6'9" So. 8.1 ppg
C Nick Collison 6'9" Sr. 15.6 ppg
SG Kirk Hinrich 6'3" Sr. 14.8 ppg
PG Aaron Miles 6'1" So. 6.8 apg

Returning starter

2001-02 RECORD: 33-4 (16-0, 1st in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Maryland in Final Four</box_body><box_body>

Points per game by the Jayhawks last season--tops in Division I
and marking the first time Kansas has led the nation in

An opposing coach's view

Stellar starters with diverse skills will make this team hard to

"It's the best starting five in the country. People question their
depth, but that shouldn't be a problem when you have five pros
and TV timeouts every four minutes.... Nick Collison is arguably
the best post player in the country. His only weakness is that he
tends to get into foul trouble.... You have to find Kirk Hinrich
in transition because he's a great shooter and he's not coming at
you with the ball all the time anymore.... Aaron Miles has the
entire point guard package, except for his shooting.... Keith
Langford will be an improvement over Jeff Boschee. Langford's not
as good a stand-up shooter, but he's a better defender, and he's
stronger.... Wayne Simien is a more traditional post player than
Drew Gooden was. Simien's a tremendous rebounder and should be a
solid scorer from 15 feet and in."