Rare Experience

Entering his fifth year as head coach at KU, Bill Self has stumbled upon a rarity in college hoops - talented and experienced seniors. Phog.net examines the impact of having five tried and tested players.

It’s a luxury most major powers don’t usually have. In fact, the mid-majors seem to thrive on it, while the “big” name schools seem to lack it but for KU in 2007-2008, the reverse is true. Head coach Bill Self’s roster includes five seniors who will all play key minutes this season. Together they bring experience and talent.

Among the five are three of Self’s first recruits at KU – Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson. This trio will undoubtedly post better numbers and more minutes than redshirt senior Jeremy Case, and USC transfer Rodrick Stewart, but don’t be surprised if Stewart and Case become key contributors this season.

It’s a rarity in college basketball when the most talented players don’t exit stage left before a four-year stint in college is up. These five may not have the NBA promise of a Julian Wright or a Brandon Rush, but they are solid college basketball players who want to end their careers on a high note.

Don’t dismiss the importance of having guys with a sense of urgency who are embarking on their last go around. It might be the last go around for a few talented underclassmen too. This should make Self’s squad hungry for a title and one that can say “been there, done that.” This group understands what it will take to get to San Antonio.

So let’s do some math – five seniors plus three viable Wooden Award candidates (Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers) equals one heck of a year for the crimson and blue.

It’s no wonder the expectations are so high in Lawrence.

Let’s take a brief look at all five seniors.

6-11 – C - Sasha Kaun

Sasha Kaun was one of Self’s most important early recruits. Sasha, Russell, and Darnell have been a big part of building a solid foundation for Self in Lawrence. The native of Siberia has showcased his shot blocking ability and has been a constant defensive force ever since he laced them up. He can also run the floor and is really an athletic 6-11. The only negative for Sasha has been consistency. At times he’s looked like an all league performer, yet there were times he missed way too many from point blank range. Just seems like he should’ve put up more than seven double-digit scoring games. That being said for his career he’s shooting over 54 percent from the field.

6-1 – PG – Russell Robinson

Russell brought his New York City toughness and win-at-all-costs attitude to Lawrence three years ago but has had an up and down career. The Rice High School standout struggled at times during his first couple of seasons and even contemplated leaving but he blossomed last year as the starting point guard for Self. His presence at the defensive end has never been questioned and he and Mario Chalmers are a constant distraction for the other team’s offense. Robinson had 14 games last season with more than three steals – an incredible tribute to his defensive prowess. Russell is the heart and soul of this team and speaks in only two terms – wins and losses. He surely doesn’t care who gets the attention and who receives the accolades, and he measures success by wins and loses only. His assists-to-turnover ratio has been one of the best in the Big 12 for the last two years and he’s led the team in assists for the last two seasons. Russell has done everything asked of him and continues to improve.

6-8 – F – Darnell Jackson

Jackson is living proof, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. The Oklahoma City product endured more than his share of adversity for most of the early part of his KU career. Now it finally appears that DJ has a free mind and spirit. Arguably at the end of last season, Darnell was KU’s most consistent performer. He has a big body and is an aggressive rebounder. He is the best per minute rebounder on the Jayhawk roster. Darnell possesses a gritty, tough, bruising 6-9 frame but he also has nice touch for a 6-8 forward. He’s certainly comfortable from the 12-15 foot range. He shot a team-best 55 percent from the field and was third on the team in rebounding in 2006-2007.

6-4 – G – Rodrick Stewart

Rodrick transferred from USC and became eligible in December of 2005 but he has struggled to find a rhythm at Kansas. Stewart might be one of the team’s top athletes and might just be the best dunker on the team. He can shut down the opponents best and even spent time guarding Texas star Kevin Durant last year. Stewart’s versatility and athletic ability has not earned him a solid spot in the rotation just yet. But he’s older, wiser, and now knows what Self expects. Rodrick played his best ball at KU as the season wound down last year. If he picks up where he left off, he will evolve into a consistent contributor for Self. Rodrick may just find his way into the rotation especially early on without Brandon Rush in the lineup.

6-1 – G – Jeremy Case

Self has always said fifth year senior Jeremy Case hasn’t played as many minutes as he deserves. Case has been caught at the short end of a very talented guard rotation with very little margin for error. If you ever attend a KU practice, you’d get to see how lights out this kid really is from long range. He can shoot off the dribble or spot up and he’s shown flashes of being a terrific creator. At times he struggles on the defensive end but is this the year his hard work and determination pays off? Like Rodrick he could reap the rewards of a Rush-less lineup early in the season.

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