Self scores big

While Bill Self may have experienced a brief honeymoon with Kansas basketball fans, winning is still what matters most. With that in mind, coach Self hit the ground running and scored big with an impressive first recruiting haul during the fall signing period. <p>(Reprinted from the January issue of Jayhawk Illustrated magazine)

Although the spring signing period has to arrive -- with the possibility of a fourth scholarship opening up -- the Jayhawks have filled their three available scholarships for 2004-2005 with a class that ranks in the top 10 nationally and oozes toughness.

Headlining the group is the rugged and talented Alexander "Sasha" Kaun, a bruising 6-11 center from Melbourne (FL) Air Academy. A native of Siberia, Kaun erupted on the national scene from virtual obscurity with a series of inspired and jaw dropping performances during the spring of 2003.

A top 25 prospect nationally who should challenge for All-America honors on the high school level, Kaun chose Kansas over Duke. His signing served notice to the basketball world that Kansas can and will recruit the East Coast under the new regime.

Recruiting analyst Rob Harrington of PrepStars.com feels the Jayhawks got just what they were looking for in a big man.

"In an age when a lot of big guys prefer to stand on the perimeter and fire up jumpers, Kaun is a refreshing throwback to the tough, post-oriented centers of the past. Most likely, he'll end up popping some of these Kevin Garnett wannabees in the nose as he spins and dunks," said Harrington.

"Where most workhorse big guys have developed that playing style out of necessity -- because they lack skills -- Kaun does have innate talent. He simply prefers a physical, high percentage game. Once Bill Self gets his hands on him, he'll never want to let him leave Lawrence."

Just as Kaun represents the type of rugged and versatile interior player that Bill Self covets, New Yorker Russell Robinson embodies everything that Self looks for on the perimeter. Standing 6-2, the product of perennial power Manhattan (NY) Rice is a highly regarded prospect and can play either guard spot. He also has an uncanny knack for banging home game winning jump shots, as evidenced by his spectacular summer play with the New York Gauchos.

Interestingly enough, most analysts gave Kansas little chance at landing Robinson. However an official visit to Kansas -- where he helped frenzied students deposit a mangled goal post into Potter Lake after an upset over arch rival Missouri -- during late September was more than enough to sway Robinson. His commitment also gives Kansas a valuable presence in talent rich New York.

Bill Self couldn't be more pleased with Robinson's commitment.

"Russell Robinson was probably as valuable a player to his team as any player was in America in summer basketball last year," Self said. "He led the Gauchos to three tournament championships, and he was named MVP of all three tournaments. He is a combination guard that can score, but can also handle the point. The thing I like most about him is his tenacity. He's tough, he can really, really defend and he could be a stopper-type defender."

"Any time you can recruit someone out of Rice High School with coach Mo Hicks and its history of producing great players, I think that's a big feather in our cap. Coach (Norm) Roberts did a phenomenal job with Russell's recruitment."

Last but not least -- and actually the first to commit to Kansas -- the Jayhawks once again raided their neighbors to the south for Midwest City (OK) High big man Darnell Jackson.

Standing 6-8, Jackson is a powerfully built and athletic 230 pound specimen who only began playing hoops in the 9th grade. He relishes opportunities to bang in the paint, where he throws down dunks, blocks shots and goes after rebounds with ferocity.

He is still a bit raw and will have to learn to temper his enthusiasm with patience at times, but regardless of experience Jackson provides another top flight recruit who may catch some people by surprise according to Harrington.

"If Kaun emerges as the primary scoring option in the post, I expect Jackson to be the mosquito that bites you in the back while you swat at the one buzzing around your eyes. He has sneaky offensive talent but very noticeable potential as a post defender," said Harrington.

"In fact, that's where I like him best. He may not be able to stretch defenses with his shooting, but his strength will give Kansas an added dimension of power, considering he'll be only the second-biggest guy on the court."

In other words, the future of Kansas basketball continues to look bright as it heads into a new era. Most importantly, the class is made up of the kind of players that Bill Self needs to run his system to the fullest.

According to TheInsidersHoops.com's chief analyst Dave Telep, that is what makes this class a successful one.

"Kansas' recruiting class contains three top 100 players, two of which should challenge for All-American honors. The interesting thing about this class is that it is filled with Bill Self guys. Each is a tough, hard nosed player," said Telep.

"Robinson was the player of the summer and has serious intangibles. Kaun's best days are ahead of him and Jackson is that athletic rebounder with a great body. This is one of the top recruiting classes in America, period."


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