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September 12, 2006

Mailbag: Jayhawks young, loaded

I don't need to look at the magnetic schedules on my refrigerator door to realize it's Week 3 of the college football season my e-mail inbox is sending me all the signs I need.

It's flooded with questions from fans of the most tradition-rich basketball schools. I'm talking about the fans who are already counting down the days until Midnight Madness (it's 30 in case you were wondering).

Who's the best sophomore on the very young, but very talented roster at Kansas? Could Roy Williams start three freshmen at North Carolina? Will Kentucky's Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford live up to all the hype surrounding them before they arrived in Lexington?

We tackle all those questions and more in this week's mailbag.

Andrew's Mailbag
I know that Brandon Rush is a great basketball player, but could Mario Chalmers be better? He showed he could score last year and he plays better defense. Also, what is the actual skill level of Julian Wright. His averages didn't amaze from high school, and he looks uncoordinated out on the floor. Sometimes though he just makes his opponents look silly.
Jajuan from Lawrence, Kan.

Chalmers can and will be a better college player. I didn't feel that way when the two originally arrived in Lawrence, but Chalmers showed last season that he has a much better feel for the game. More importantly, he can do a lot more with the ball in and out of his hands.

The versatile guard from Alaska beat defenders off the dribble, something Rush is working on, and scored from just about every spot on the court. Chalmers finished in double figures in 12 of KU's final 13 games last season. The sophomore, who is an underrated passer, also got his teammates involved.

As you mentioned, Chalmers is a superb defender. He led the Big 12 in steals per game (2.7), a rare achievement for a freshman in any conference. He has extremely quick hands, which often create turnovers and ignite fast breaks.

Rush does have more long-term potential because of his size and extraordinary athleticism. The 6-1 Chalmers will be a tweener at the next level unless he proves he can play point guard full time.

Wright probably has the biggest upside of the trio. He's more raw, but he's very athletic, long and already possesses a solid mid-range jumper. Expect a breakout year for the former five-star recruit. If he can start putting the ball on the floor he'll emerge as a star.

I know that Brandan Wright and Tywon Lawson will come in and start right away but, will Wayne Ellington start at the two guard for UNC? Or will Roy Williams keep Bobby Frasor or Wes Miller in the starting lineup?
Dionne from Millville, N.C.

Ellington will win the starting job. It might not happen by the season opener, but he'll be one of the five Tar Heels on the court for tipoff by the time the ACC schedule starts.

Being a starter at UNC, especially in the backcourt, won't make that much of a difference in terms of minutes. Coach Williams knows depth will be his biggest weapon, and he'll try to take advantage by using a steady rotation of at least 10 players.

Frasor will be a strong part of that mix. Williams loves his basketball IQ and unselfishness. Same goes for the versatile Danny Green, who can play just about every role imaginable. Marcus Ginyard, the team's top perimeter defender, will also see plenty of action.

Look for each of those guys, along with Ellington, to average around 20 minutes per game.

Do you think Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford will ever become the superstars they were in high school?
Jimmy Smith from Louisville

That's asking for a little too much. Morris used to win one-on-one battles with Dwight Howard, and Crawford was ranked ahead of players like Marvin Williams (No. 2 pick in 2005 NBA draft) and Glen Davis (Reigning SEC Player of the Year) back in their high school days.

Still, I expect improvement from both, particularly Morris. He scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games last season and Tubby Smith seems determined to run the offense through his big guy. Not having to sit out the first 14 games (NCAA suspension) should allow him to hit his stride a little sooner this season.

Oliver Purnell is starting to make some strides in making Clemson's program more competitive in the ACC. Do you see them winning an ACC championship under him or returning to the level they were at under Rick Barnes?
William Matthews from Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Getting back to the glory days of Barnes is a stretch, but an NCAA Tournament berth - which would be a huge step - is within their reach.

Veteran Vernon Hamilton (12.0 ppg) is one of the top point guards in the league and shooting guard Cliff Hammonds and power forward James Mays have the physical tools to emerge among the league's top players.

Getting Mays, who missed the entire second half of last season with academic problems, back should provide a huge lift. He's a major force on the boards and can help replace some of the large inside presence that Akin Akingbala created.

Purnell has the program moving in the right direction. However, this is the pivotal season where they must come up with more than another NIT trip. Otherwise, he'll be on the hot seat when the 2007-08 season rolls around.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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