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Original Issue

Inside College Basketball

Fearless Freshman
Brash newcomer Anthony Roberson has Florida winning the close

After hitting a shot to win a pickup game last fall, Florida
freshman guard Anthony Roberson ran up to senior forward Matt
Bonner, who had been on the opposing team, and laughed in his
face. Bonner responded by shoving Roberson and shouting, "Don't
you ever laugh in my face again!" Last Saturday in Gainesville,
with the No. 11 Gators trailing No. 20 Georgia midway through the
second half, Roberson again got in Bonner's face, after the
senior passed up an open look at a three-pointer. This time
Roberson wasn't laughing. "You've got to take that shot!" he
yelled. "Be aggressive! These guys can't guard you."

Bonner responded by scoring 10 points in less than two minutes to
spark Florida's comeback from a 10-point deficit. Roberson
followed up by scoring 15 of his team-high 23 points over the
final nine minutes, the last three on a high-arcing 25-footer
over Bulldogs swingman Jarvis Hayes at the buzzer to give the
Gators a 66--63 victory. It was the third time this season that
Florida (13--2, 2--0 in the SEC) had won a game that had come
down to the final possession, which is significant considering
that the Gators lost seven games last season by five points or

Florida is winning close games this year largely because of
Roberson and a fellow freshman, 6'6" forward Matt Walsh. The
rookies' value goes well beyond their combined 30.1 points per
game. "There's a level of fearlessness in Walsh and Roberson that
I think we were lacking at times last year," says Gators coach
Billy Donovan. "Our older guys can be a little unsure at times
about how to step up and make a big play. The freshmen have a
real passion for winning, and the seniors feed off that."

The 6'1" Roberson, who is from Saginaw, Mich., can come off as
too brash at times--after spending time with him during a
recruiting visit last year, Bonner thought he was a "wise guy"
whose attitude would need adjusting. But Roberson has won his
teammates over with his unselfishness and respect for the older
players, occasional trash talk notwithstanding. When senior guard
Brett Nelson was mired in a shooting slump in late December,
Donovan decided to replace him in the starting lineup with
Roberson so that Nelson would feel less pressure. Nelson was fine
with the switch, but Roberson objected, telling Donovan that
Nelson deserved the opportunity to play his way out of the slump.
Donovan decided not to make the move and continues to bring
Roberson off the bench. "That just shows how much character
[Roberson] has," says Bonner. Says Roberson, "I know I'll have my
chance to start someday. Right now it's the seniors' time, and I
want to learn all I can from them."

With two big wins last week--on Jan. 7 Florida knocked off No. 7
Mississippi State 74--66 in Starkville--the Gators are learning
how to win as a team, demonstrating the toughness that they will
need for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Just as long as they
don't get too physical: After drilling the game-winner on
Saturday, Roberson backpedaled to the far baseline before
allowing his ecstatic teammates to swarm him. "I was worried they
were going to hurt me," he said jokingly.

Western Kentucky Woes
Marcus Struggles Back

Western Kentucky center Chris Marcus took an important step when
he finally returned to action earlier this month, but he is a
long way from being the dominant player he once was. Marcus, a
7'1", 285-pound senior who has had two surgeries on his broken
left ankle in the last seven months, rejoined the Hilltoppers on
Jan. 4 and in his first three games back averaged 4.0 points and
10.7 minutes. He racked up almost as many fouls (seven) as
rebounds (nine). "I don't expect him to be himself this season,"
coach Dennis Felton said after Marcus scored four points in a
77--69 win at Arkansas State last Saturday, a victory that
improved the team's record to 9--6 (2--1 in the Sun Belt). "He
doesn't have his mobility, he's still limping, he's
uncomfortable, and he can't jump very well."

Just two years ago Marcus was projected to be a lottery pick
after leading the nation in rebounds (12.1 a game). He first
injured his ankle in practice in October 2001 and missed 17 games
last season. In the spring Marcus pulled his name out of the NBA
draft because the injury hadn't healed properly, leaving him
unable to work out for pro teams. After undergoing surgery in
June to insert two screws into the joint, Marcus hoped to return
in late November, but persistent pain led him to have the ankle
reexamined in December. His surgeon discovered that one of the
screws implanted to support the broken talus bone was backing
out, and a cyst had formed on the joint, so Marcus had to have a
second procedure, on Dec. 11. He has practiced a half-dozen times
in the last few weeks, but he must get treatment on the ankle for
two hours before and after each workout.

Marcus said he felt better during Saturday's game--"I'm finally
starting to get the rust out a little bit"--but admitted he was
in pain. "[The ankle] is very, very sore," he said. "This is
probably the sorest it's been in a long time. I'm just going to
take my time now and ice it up and hit the rehab and training

Conley's Transition Game
Score One for Missouri

Guard Jason Conley first considered transferring from Virginia
Military Institute to a more high-powered program early last
season, right before he scored 24 points in the Keydets' 99--57
loss to Kentucky in front of a throng of 18,077 at Rupp Arena. "I
was like a little kid," says Conley, who in 2001--02 became the
first freshman in Division I history to lead the nation in
scoring, with 29.3 points a game. "I just loved the idea of
playing in front of all those people."

The 6'5" Conley will have plenty of opportunity to play in front
of large crowds next season after transferring to Missouri last
week. He will become eligible in mid-December. Two weekends ago,
upon learning that Conley had been given his release from VMI,
Missouri assistant Lane Odom quickly got the inside track by
calling Conley and inviting him to the Columbia campus for a
visit. Conley accepted, met Quin Snyder and the rest of the
Tigers' coaching staff, and attended the team's 88--58 win over
Centenary before 8,105 at Hearnes Center on Jan. 7. Conley liked
what he saw and committed to the Tigers shortly thereafter. "It
was a little hard for him when [Kentucky's] Tubby Smith and
[Florida's] Billy Donovan started calling," says Conley's mother,
Karyne. "But he really liked Coach Snyder and the situation at

In Conley, Missouri is getting a slasher who is explosive and can
score from inside and out. (He averaged 22.2 points for VMI this
season.) After playing in relative obscurity at 5,029-seat
Cameron Hall for the past season and a half, Conley is eager to
showcase his skills. "It was a tease when we played teams like
Kentucky and Tennessee once a year," says Conley, who will begin
practicing with the Tigers this week. "This is my opportunity to
play at that level all the time."
--John O'Keefe

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Roberson sank Georgia with 23 points, including the game-winning three.

COLOR PHOTO: JOE IMEL/THE DAILY NEWS Marcus will be hard-pressed to regain the form that made him a likely lottery pick.



three Points

1. Brandin Knight's foul shooting is Pitt's Achilles' heel. At
week's end Knight was third in the Big East in assists (6.3 per
game) and second on his team in scoring (11.7), but he was
shooting just 41.5% from the line. Given that the Panthers want
the ball in Knight's hands in a close game, it's only a matter of
time before his poor free throw shooting hurts them.

2. Michigan has pulled off an amazing turnaround. After starting
the season 0--6, the Wolverines won nine straight, largely
because of the rapid improvement of freshman point guard Daniel
Horton, who averaged 19 points and 5.5 assists in wins over
Wisconsin and Penn State last week.

3. Oregon is duck soup on the road. The Ducks were swept at Cal
and Stanford last week, losing for the 17th consecutive time at
Maples Pavilion. They fell to 2--3 this season away from McArthur

Which One Would You Draft?

Nick Collison

Mario Austin

An NBA Western Conference executive weighs in on the pro
prospects of two of the nation's top power forwards:

"I don't think Collison [6'9", 255 pounds] will fail in the
league no matter who he's playing for, but I don't know if you
could say the same for Austin [6'9", 260]. If you look at the
history of undersized power forwards, the successful ones have
been able to stretch the defense, but Austin can't shoot from
outside. Collison had 31 points last week against Iowa State, and
he scored in every possible way. I think Collison can manipulate
a defense a little better than Austin can. Austin uses his body a
little better than Collison, but not by much. I believe that
Austin will play in the league, but for right now, I'd take