Lone Star superstar

The University of Texas basketball squad that will be invading Thompson-Boling Arena this Saturday afternoon may not be a professional team but the Longhorns feature at least one pro-caliber player.

Kevin Durant, though only a freshman, almost certainly will be in the NBA next year. He'd be there now if the league hadn't adopted a new rule aimed at stopping high school seniors from jumping straight to the pro ranks.

"If folks want to see an NBA player, come and see Kevin Durant," Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "Had the high school rules not changed, (Ohio State freshman) Greg Oden might have been No. 1 (pick in the NBA draft) and Kevin Durant No. 2.

"He's a special, special player. He does things inside/out and he's a nightmare to match up with because he's a 6-9 guy that plays guard."

Good friend Duke Crews, a 6-7 freshman for the Vols, offered similar thoughts on the lanky Longhorn.

"He's a pro," Crews said, shaking his head in awe. "I'm not going to lie about that. He's a pro.... They're not just talking about him turning pro. They're talking about him turning pro AND having an impact."

Durant certainly is having an impact at the college level. He registered 28 points and 13 rebounds in Texas' 80-76 defeat of Arkansas Wednesday night. Still, Crews is eager to face him.

"If you want to make it to the next level, you're going to have to play against players of that caliber," Crews said. "That fires you up a whole lot, knowing that if you play well against him you've got a chance to one day play against those type of guys and get where you want to be."

Crews would be going head-to-head with another pro-caliber superstar Saturday except that 6-11 LaMarcus Aldridge elected to jump to the NBA rather than return to the Longhorns for the 2006-07 season. Aldridge wound up being the second player drafted last June.

"It would've been fun to play against him, knowing he's an NBA-caliber player," Crews admitted. "I like competition."

Even without Aldridge, Texas will be one of the most athletically gifted teams Tennessee faces this winter. The Longhorns are loaded with top-drawer athletes, most of whom Crews has competed with or against in the past.

"I played with all of the players on their team," he said. "Me and Kevin Durant are close friends. Damion James ... I played against him. Me and D.J. Augustin were on a team together at the Kentucky Derby all-star game.

"I know all those guys, so it's going to be fun."

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