Next Wednesday night, Kansas fans will get a glimpse of the future when two wings from the West team combine forces at the McDonald’s All-American game in South Bend, IN. The 28th annual boys all-star game will feature three Kansas recruits, including a pair of small forwards that will be teaming up on the “Boys West Team” coached by Al Rhodes of Logansport High School.
Those two blue-chippers are 6-8 SF Micah Downs of Bothell, WA and 6-8 SF Julian Wright of Chicago Heights, IL. Both players appeared on KLWN’s “Rock Chalk Sports Talk” earlier this week and shared their thoughts on the McDonald’s festivities next week and their excitement to represent Kansas in the game.
Wright can’t wait to join up with Downs and future Kansas guard Mario Chalmers, but is also looking forward to seeing the rest of 2005’s best players.
“It's going to be nice just to get out and play with some elite players,” said Wright. “The top 24 players in the nation, it's good to see how everyone has improved. Just to get out there with some good guys and have a good run out there on the court.”
Wright, who averaged 15 points per game as a senior at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, hopes to make some nice contributions for the West team but isn’t about to caught up in worry about who will be named Most Valuable Player.
“I just want to get out there and have some fun,” admitted Wright. “That's one thing that's easy for me to do. Whoever gets MVP, that's great, but I just want to have a great run and just have some (nice) moments and make sure that everyone's having a good time and not just out there for themselves. That's what I'm about.”
Having fun shouldn’t be a problem on Monday night, when the Powerade Jam Fest is held at nearby Bethel College. Both Wright and Downs hope to participate in the slam dunk competition that will be taped that night and aired back on ESPN on Wednesday night before the game.
“I'm going to try to get in the dunk contest, maybe,” said Downs. “I think I can keep up with the rest of the guys, so we'll see what happens."
So which dunk in Downs arsenal would he label as his favorite?
"I don't know if I have a favorite. I just kind of go with the flow and make stuff up as I go along,” Downs explained.
That same spontaneity should also show up in Wright’s dunk attempts, but don’t expect this top 10 recruit to go into the competition without a few raw ideas.
“I try to think about the dunks I do on the day of,” admitted Wright. “But it'll probably be something that'll start behind the rim. I'll say that, something from behind the rim.”
Once the week of hype and hoopla is complete in South Bend, it’ll be time to start focusing on getting set for their careers at Kansas and both Wright and Downs are excited to head to Lawrence.
“Kansas is very prestigious. I just want to come in and keep that going,” shared Downs. “A lot of kids want to go to Kansas. The best players want to go to Kansas and win games, obviously. (I want) to play in the NCAA tournament and that'd be really cool to win a championship my freshman year.”
For that to happen a lot of leadership must emerge on the Jayhawks roster before next March and both Downs and Wright think they can provide just that if called upon to do so.
“I feel like a leader doesn’t have to be the leader of statistics,” Wright said. “I believe I can just lead the team and just give advice and be confident in what I do and it’ll be contagious and I think that’s the way I am. Next year I may not be the go to guy. We don’t know. There’s a lot to unfold over the next few months at Kansas. I just know my mindset is not going to change and that’s the way I can contribute the most – being a leader.”
Downs agrees that freshmen can lead, but he’s willing to take on whatever role the coaching staff asks of him and just plans to come ready to produce.
“Coach (Bill) Self, he expects me to come in right away and produce and be a leader like that. Even though I'll only be a freshman, that's something that I'm willing to come and take on the roll of that. Losing four seniors means we'll be younger than usual, but I'm just excited to come in and do whatever Coach Self wants me to get done.”
Both players appear to have great attitudes and high aspirations as they get set to begin their careers as Jayhawks. For Kansas fans wanting to checkout the game, it will air on Wednesday night on ESPN television at 7 PM and can be heard locally in Lawrence on Lawrence’s News Talk 1320 KLWN.