Former Jeff stars primed for Jayhawks
Miles starts, while Lee comes off the bench
The Kansas basketball season starts tonight against Holy Cross, and the real abilities and potential of Aaron Miles and Michael Lee should start to show.
How good will the longtime buddies and former Jefferson High teammates be? You'll find out this season: Good players emerge in their sophomore years, coach Roy Williams says.
'Typically, if you were to go back and look at 100 cases, 75 to 80 of them are going to have huge jumps between their freshman and sophomore years,' Williams says. 'So, I hope our guys can get in that percentage.'
The Jayhawks know what they have in Miles, who started as a true freshman point guard last year and helped Kansas go 33-4 and make the Final Four. Miles can pass and rarely turns the ball over Ñ his 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is exceptional Ñ and he doesn't back down in big games.
A little stronger this year and packing 'much more confidence,' Miles says he probably will shoot and score more.
'The coach has a lot more confidence in Aaron's game,' Lee says. 'Aaron has confidence in himself, in taking it to the basket, pulling up and knocking down the 15-footer.'
Lee remains a bit of a mystery. A terrific, 6-3 athlete who can defend and potentially make the 3-pointer, he did not get the opportunity to showcase his skills last year, averaging three minutes in 27 games played. Will he be a player at Kansas, or simply go down as Miles' tag-along?
'It's just a matter of me getting the job done,' Lee says, who plans to play four years at Kansas. 'If I don't play this year as much as I'd like, it's all on me. I'm getting my chance.'
The play of Miles, Lee and fellow sophomores Wayne Simien and Keith Langford will be paramount for the Jayhawks, picked by Big 12 Conference media and coaches to win the league. Simien takes the place of Drew Gooden, an NBA lottery pick, and Langford replaces Jeff Boschee.
So it'll be Miles, Langford, Kirk Hinrich, Simien and Nick Collison in the starting lineup. An unproven bench has promising players in Lee, guard Jeff Hawkins, forward Bryant Nash, forward Jeff Graves and center Moulaye Niang.
Miles and Lee worked with Portland's Eric Cowan over the summer, but Miles also credits his cousin Wendell Raiford, a starting point guard for Jeff in the 1980s, for his improvement. Miles says he lifted weights to get stronger.
One would think the 6-foot Miles needs only more strength and experience to become one of the country's premier point guards. He held his own against Big 12 stars T.J. Ford of Texas and Hollis Stacy of Oklahoma. He played pretty good defense on Oregon's Luke Ridnour in their Elite Eight tournament game and notched 12 points (going 10 of 12 from the free-throw line) with 10 assists in the Final Four against Maryland.
'Aaron knows so much more about the physicalness, the intensity and having to keep such a calmness about himself on the court,' Williams says. 'I think he understands now how successful he can be at this level.'
Miles vows to be more aggressive on offense.
'I've always been able to shoot, but last year my confidence wasn't high,' he says. 'Last year, I'd have an open shot and I'd pass.
'I can get out to the 3-pointer, but I take a lot of 15-footers because that's what the defense gives me. I'm not an NBA '3' threat, yet, but I'll get there. You have to have your legs, and confidence is a big part of it.'
Miles and Lee are confident about another thing: On Dec. 7, when the Jayhawks play Oregon at the Rose Garden, it'll be quite the thrill.
'Ain't going to be nervous,' Miles says. 'I'm going to be anxious.'