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Ready for March Madness

Aaron Miles is right at home with No. 1 team

A young man of few words, Kansas freshman Aaron Miles takes in stride his play as the starting point guard for the nation's No. 1-ranked college basketball team.

'I've done all right,' he says.

A year removed from being Oregon's top prep player at Jefferson High, Miles enters the postseason with pressure on him, but not as much as you would expect.

'I got great talent around me,' Miles told the Tribune. 'If I mess up, they back me up. I'm overshadowed by what the others guys do, and I don't look at the hoop at all. We've got great shooters, great post players Ñ the best in the country Ñ and I just get them the ball.'

Miles has started 28 of 29 games for the Jayhawks (27-2), who probably will get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Roy Williams placed him in the lineup alongside guards Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich and posts Nick Collison and Drew Gooden and asked him to complement their talents. Miles is averaging 6.6 points and 6.6 assists going into the Big 12 Conference tournament, and he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.31-to-1.

'His assist-to-error ratio for a freshman is just mind-boggling,' Williams says.

Still, Williams has been hard on his freshman, pointing out that Miles needs to shoot better (he's .412 from the field) and more often and defend more consistently.

'He can be an outstanding defender and, yet, sometimes this year he's been a very poor defender,' Williams says.

Kansas guard Michael Lee has heard these kind of comments before. Miles' best friend and former teammate at Jefferson says Williams always rides Miles in practice.

'He's got him frustrated at times, because he expects a lot from him and (Miles) has got a lot to learn,' says Lee, who has played in 23 games, averaging 3.4 minutes. 'At times, it looks like Aaron is the only person he's talking to.

'There's a lot of things he could do better, but he's young, a freshman. He's got a lot of pressure on him playing right away, especially at a major D1 program.'

Demanding more

Williams' goal is to make Miles one of the country's best point guards. In the short term, the Jayhawks need Miles to play with maturity and without turnovers in the NCAA Tournament.

'It's been a lot more demanding,' Miles says of the Kansas experience. 'For one, the season lasts a lot longer than in high school. In high school, you don't go as hard.'

Williams 'is definitely a good coach,' he adds. 'He has a lot of knowledge of the game. But it's not necessarily him, but having great players around me has taken pressure off me.'

Miles' beginning was inauspicious as he missed a potential winning shot against Ball State Ñ air ball Ñ and then got burned on the game-winning drive and suffered a leg cramp. 'Hey, you have some of those games,' he says. 'That's a part of playing. You can't change the past.'

Since then, the Jayhawks have lost once, at UCLA. Kansas leads the country in scoring at 93 points per game, ahead of Duke (91.1) and Oregon (86.2).

'The condition and unselfishness of our team shows,' Miles says. 'When you score 94 points, that means that you have to be running, pushing the ball, passing the ball and finding open people. I think that this is something that our team does really well.

'Teams are starting to catch on to what we're doing, so they try to keep two or three people back. Every now and then, though, we do slip in a nice quick basket.'

Lee, a backup behind Boschee and Hinrich, agrees that playing at Kansas isn't like playing at Jeff.

He hasn't been disappointed with his lack of playing time. 'I knew I wouldn't play a lot,' he says.

He says he and Miles were somewhat homesick in Lawrence, Kan. (just outside Kansas City) in the first semester, before basketball started. 'Everything was moving too fast,' he says.

'We hardly get out,' Lee adds. 'Everything's right here on campus; you go from the dorms to class to tutors and right to the gym and back. And once you get back from practice, you don't want to do anything but sit around.'

March motivation

The Jayhawks have been maligned over the years for being a flop in March, always coming up short of the NCAA championship. It haunts Williams and motivates the players.

The expectations are higher than ever because of Gooden Ñ a likely NBA lottery pick, should he decide to leave early Ñ Collison and the experience of Hinrich and Boschee.

'There's a lot to prove,' Miles says. 'They say Kansas doesn't win in March, which is something we're trying to change this year. People have always been watching us. But we're out there having fun.'

The conference tournament is one thing. The 65-team NCAA tourney is another.

'We hope to win the Big 12,' Miles says. 'But the big thing for us is to win our last six games of the year.'