Flashback: Parallel Paths

<b>Originally published in the March issue of Jayhawk Illustrated</b> <p> David Padgett came into the season being compared to former Jayhawk Nick Collison. It was easy to see the similarities, especially when recalling Collison's first year in Lawrence.

Both were coach's sons with the solid fundamentals that often accompany that role. Both post players had earned a reputation for a strong work ethic. And like Collison, the 6'11 Padgett hit the boards hard and demonstrated a mid range ability with his jump shot.

The McDonald's All American spent the summer prior to his freshman campaign in pick up games with Collison, as well as other past dominating big men such as big men Danny Manning, Scot Pollard, Drew Gooden. At the time, Padgett described this experience as invaluable.

"Playing against Nick and Drew every night this summer can't compare to anything I'd done in the past. And Danny Manning…with all of his success here at Kansas and in the NBA, how can it not help?" said Padgett. "It does nothing but make you better. It was just an amazing learning experience."

The learning experience did not end when the season began. From November to February, coach Bill Self has routinely described Padgett as tough and competitive. He has also emphasized the learning process Padgett was moving through.

"Obviously, David is going to be a really, really good player for us," Self said in the preseason. "I think we need to be careful to be fair in our expectations though."

Fans had a hard time keeping those expectations in check during the exhibition games. Padgett had went 11-of-18 shooting and 6-for-7 at the free-throw line. He pulled down eight rebounds, had three blocks, and dished out four assists and two steals. In the home opener, he had another ten boards.

A player's performance can not always be measured in stats. Padgett was forced to attempt to live up to his impressive debut. In early December Self addressed the perception that David was struggling with his game.

"David is learning at an accelerated rate. All he has done is just slow down a bit," explained Self.

"David is going to keep getting better because he works so hard. The bar was set so high for him, being a double-double guy. There are going to be times where he has to figure out a time to help the team win without producing. He is just going through a phase and becoming more of a complete player, even though sometimes he doesn't think he is."

Passionate fans can be rough on a player. Like many fierce competitors, Padgett can be even harder on himself. Self has worked to alleviate this.

"We talk to him about trying too hard. He just needs to relax and play. David can be – maybe not high-strung – but put a lot of demands on himself," said Self.

Padgett echoed this. "Coach tells me I need to realize I am not going to dominate every game and put a little less pressure on myself."

That can be difficult for a player that wants to succeed as badly as Padgett. And then there was an injury. In January, Padgett missed two games and a great deal of practice due to a slight stress fracture in his left foot. As of mid-February his reps were still limited and he was wearing a soft cast, or a boot, a portion of the time he was off the court.

"I just wear it to class and around, to prevent any problems," explained Padgett. "I am fine though."

When Padgett returned to the court, a starting position was waiting for him.

"David Padgett is our starter," Self said emphatically. "David is definitely our starter unless he gets hurt or his foot starts bothering him."

Heading into the final games of the regular season, Self knew what he wanted to see from Padgett.

"He needs to be more aggressive," said Self. "It is just a continual learning process for David. "I think David can score more and rebound more. I hope the rest of the way he can be a double-figure scorer or an eight-rebound guy."

A guy like Nick Collison as a freshman? Well, sort of. In his first year Collison averaged 10.5 points and almost 7 rebounds per game. He endured similar struggles with expectations, from himself and from fans. He even needed to put on some weight. Like Padgett, Collison was content to avoid the limelight when possible and focus on improvement.

But David Padgett is not Nick Collison.

As the post season approaches, Padgett's journey to carve out his own place in history continues. While comparisons to the NBA lottery pick may be inevitable, every player makes his own way through the spectacle that is Kansas basketball.

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