A black stretch limousine pulls onto the Fox studio lot on the
afternoon of Friday, Jan. 11, and out steps Kansas junior
forward Drew Gooden, who's perhaps the top college player not
named Jason Williams. For his appearance on The Best Damn Sports
Show Period, he's tricked out in remakes of the original
red-and-black Air Jordans, a gray sweat suit, a backward-turned
St. Louis Cardinals cap and a Michael Vick-model Atlanta Falcons
jersey. "I'm not a fan," Gooden says, even though his wardrobe
features eight other NFL jerseys, including Peyton Manning,
Charles Woodson and Brian Urlacher models. "I just get 'em for
the style." The ensemble is a tight look, as his pals would say,
but that Cards lid serves more than one purpose. Teammates,
citing Gooden's ebbing hairline, like to call him Recede Wallace.
For Gooden's 13-1 Jayhawks, the nation's newly minted No. 1
team, this is the eve of an eight-day, three-city Hell Week in
which they will play at No. 11 UCLA the next afternoon, at No. 6
Oklahoma State three days later and at home against No. 5
Oklahoma on Jan. 19. It's the perfect chance for Kansas to
enhance its bona fides as a contender for the national title,
and SI has come along for the ride.
This is also a good opportunity for Gooden to burnish his
rapidly growing rep. The son of a Finnish mother, Ulla Lear, and
an African-American father, Andrew, Drew adapts to almost any
setting, whether it's his grandparents' farmhouse in Jyvaskyla,
Finland, the streets of his native Richmond, Calif., or, in this
case, a celebrity-filled green room in Century City. Backstage,
he meets rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy, erstwhile NYPD Blue
actor Nicholas Turturro and former NFL great Rosie Grier.
A publicist hustles Gooden from the makeup room onto the set,
and soon cohost John Salley strides in with the force of a
hurricane. "Drew! Loosen up, son!" Salley screams. "Just say,
'Hey, I'm the next m-----------! That's me!'"
No need, Big John. Gooden sails through his first national TV
guest shot. Except for one faux pas (he describes coach Roy
Williams as "homely" instead of homespun), he deftly trades
barbs with Salley, laughs off comedian Tom Arnold's lame
girlfriend questions and plays a stylish rendition of Boyz II
Men's On Bended Knee on the studio synthesizer. He even fixes
Salley with an I-know-I-belong-here half hug as he leaves.
This No. 1 thing has its perks. "That was cool," Gooden says
back in the limo. "Salley had a lot of jokes, but I had some
While Gooden joins his teammates for an afternoon trip to Venice
Beach, Williams drives to Manual Arts High near downtown Los
Angeles. For 14 years he has built his program on Californian
talent--Gooden, Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn--and with two
scholarships still available he's here to evaluate a prospect
from visiting Crenshaw High. "There are so many players in
California, they can't all go to UCLA," Williams says. "Plus,
they don't have to fly over that many great places to get from
California to Kansas. If you're in New York City, you have to
leave the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the ACC and go past the
Big Ten to get to us."
For Williams, a day that began with a two-hour practice at
Pauley Pavilion ends with dinner at the Bel Air mansion of a
Kansas athletics donor and nearly a hundred eager boosters. "I
don't sleep very much," Williams confesses. "About five hours is
a good night." Small wonder he sneaks 15-minute power naps on
the floor of his office back at school.
SATURDAY, JAN. 12, LOS ANGELES
Williams had warned his players in practice about not being too
full of themselves, but right from the start of this afternoon's
game against UCLA, it appears they didn't listen. The Jayhawks
commit 16 first-half turnovers--five by freshman point guard
Aaron Miles--and trail 46-35 at intermission. A furious late
rally pulls Kansas to within three, but the Bruins, behind Matt
Barnes's 27 points, prevail in an 87-77 win, their third upset
of a top-ranked team in the past three years.
So much for the No. 1 ranking. Then again, things could be worse
for Kansas. "Thank God this was a nonconference game and we're
still undefeated in the Big 12," says Gooden, a member of a
sterling junior class (with forward Nick Collison and guard Kirk
Hinrich) that has yet to win a regular-season league title. "We
can't dwell on this because we have a big-time game on Tuesday."
It also helps that the second semester doesn't start till
Thursday, so there are no classes to worry about in the morning.
The players trundle off to board a cramped Southwest Airlines
flight back to Kansas City, while Williams stays behind to scout
another high school game. As he takes his seat in the gym, the
P.A. announcer says, "We'd like to congratulate the UCLA Bruins
for beating No. 1 Kansas today!"
"Definition of a bad day," Williams will say, shaking his head.
"We lose to UCLA, I have no tape to watch and no coaches to talk
to, and then I have to hear this guy. If I'd had a slingshot, I
would have hit him right between the eyes."
SUNDAY, JAN. 13, LAWRENCE, KANS.
"Bad Keith. Good Keith."
"Bad box-out, Boschee. No box-out, Drew."
"Bad defense, Nick. He's buried already."
Fueled by sodas and coffee, Williams's five
lieutenants--assistant coaches Neil Dougherty, Joe Holladay and
Ben Miller and administrative assistants Jerod Haase and C.B.
McGrath--sit in front of the big-screen TV in the coaches'
office, grading the UCLA game tape. It's tedious work, but as
former Jayhawk Rick Calloway used to say, the eye in the sky
don't lie. "The tendency is to grade only the bad stuff because
you're angry you lost," Holladay says, "but this is supposed to
be pretty objective, so we're noting a lot of good things too."
The Jayhawks' staff is obsessive about grading minutiae like
screens set, balls deflected and charges drawn, as well as
keeping a Bad Defense Sheet that has 25 categories, such as bad
box-outs, failure to front the low post and not seeing your man
and the ball. Good defense is also noted, providing a
good-to-bad ratio that the coaches use to rank the players
The close scrutiny produces surprising grades. Though Gooden had
solid offensive numbers against UCLA--22 points and 10
rebounds--his uncharacteristic 30 defensive errors are more than
double those of any other Jayhawk (and perhaps the reason for
Barnes's big day). Also, while Miles struggled with turnovers
and indecisive shooting, his 26-to-8 ratio wins him the coveted
best defender award. As a result Miles's photograph will appear
on the wall outside the Kansas locker room until the next game,
and he gets to opt out of two conditioning drills during practice.
"Does it look any better than it did yesterday?" Williams asks,
peering into the room after returning from California. He has
been on the recruiting trail every off day since Dec. 26, but he
makes it a rule never to miss a practice. Although Kansas has to
prepare for Tuesday's game at Oklahoma State, at the start of
today's practice Williams doesn't want the Jayhawks looking
ahead yet. "No sense in forgetting what happened," he says.
"Let's show them the entire first half."
MONDAY, JAN. 14, ON THE ROAD
Following a two-hour practice that began at 1 p.m., Kansas buses
the four hours from Lawrence to Stillwater. Because of a rough
plane ride from Colorado a few weeks ago--and because he's still
mindful of the fatal Oklahoma State crash last season--Williams
has stopped using 30-seat charter planes.
Sitting in the back is forward Nick Collison, the best-informed
Jayhawk--he reads five newspapers on the Internet each day, though
usually only the sports sections--and one of the nuttiest, the
kind of guy who orders junk from TV infomercials for no good
reason. Paired with the explosive Gooden, the fundamentally sound
Collison helps give Kansas the top frontcourt in the land.
Williams concedes that the arrival of Collison, Gooden and
Hinrich kept him at Kansas after he thought about jumping to the
NBA following a spate of ugly recruiting episodes in the late
1990s. The most notorious involved Kansas City high school star
JaRon Rush, who orally committed to the Jayhawks only to sign
with UCLA after a highly publicized falling out with Williams.
"It had gotten so distasteful," Williams says. "Kirk, Nick and
Drew gave me renewed hope that there are still great families
and kids who are interested in finding the best place to play
college basketball and do their best to get their degrees."
For the last 90 minutes of the trip the players decide to screen
Dumb & Dumber. "If you don't mind, I'll fall asleep," says
Williams, who's parked in his usual front-row seat next to his
wife, Wanda. Within minutes, though, Jim Carrey's first-rate
bathroom humor has him howling, much to Wanda's consternation.
"Dumbest movie I've ever seen," he says later. "I was trying so
hard not to laugh, but I couldn't stop."
No laughing matter, however, is the hog farm stench that greets
the players when they arrive in Stillwater. "Ah," says Miller,
the assistant coach. "The smell of the Big 12."
TUESDAY, JAN. 15, STILLWATER, OKLA.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is without a doubt the most frightening
place to play in the Big 12. For starters, visiting teams
encounter thousands of foul-mouthed, leather-lunged
fanatics--and their husbands. Then there's Pistol Pete, the
Cowboys' gun-totin' mascot, whose cap blasts are so lifelike
that Pierce, the former Jayhawks All-America and an L.A. native,
used to duck instinctively when he heard them. Williams knows
how unsettling this gym can be. The last time Kansas played
here, two years ago, Oklahoma State won by 33 points, the
third-worst defeat in Jayhawks' history.
Yet Williams hasn't mentioned that game to the players this
week, choosing instead to point out that his teams are 5-5 in
Gallagher-Iba. In the visitors' locker room only minutes before
tip-off, he reiterates his three keys to the game: "Great
execution on offense. Do your job. If you're supposed to set a
screen, set that screen. Five guys working together on defense.
Not three or four, like we had against UCLA. And here's the big
one: Focus on our bench and the game. There'll be 13,000 people
and Pistol Pete will be firin' that gun, but focus on what we
want. Guard 'em like they haven't been guarded this year! Let's
Following custom, senior guard Jeff Boschee lays a towel on the
floor. It's the road version of the Jayhawk that's stitched into
the locker room carpet in Lawrence. Just as the team does at
home, everyone kneels, bows his head, puts a hand on the towel
and recites the Lord's Prayer.
"All right, guys!" Williams says when they're done. "Do your
best! Right from the start!"
The Kansas players comply, racing to a jaw-dropping, Pistol
Pete-silencing 22-4 lead. As befits the highest-scoring team in
the nation, Gooden pumps in 15 first-half points, Hinrich
swishes his first six shots and Kansas scores 53 points by
intermission--two fewer than the Cowboys were permitting per
game at home. The all-too-easy 79-61 victory is coach Eddie
Sutton's worst home loss in 12 years at Oklahoma State.
Afterward the Jayhawks are ecstatic in their locker room.
"Everyone's hyped," says Collison, "but we're so worn out."
At 12:40 a.m. the Kansas bus stops at a Holiday Inn in Wichita
to discharge Williams, who's leaving in the morning for more
California prospecting, this time at a junior college in San
Jose. "Enjoy the heck out of this," he tells his players. "Come
back Thursday and get ready for another war on Saturday against
When the bus pulls into Lawrence at 3 a.m., a suddenly energized
Collison returns to his dorm room, flips on the tube, watches an
infomercial and orders a set of Sonic Ears (fun for
eavesdropping on friends!) for $19.95. When you've just notched
your most impressive victory of the season, you're entitled to
act like a college student.
FRIDAY, JAN. 18, LAWRENCE, KANS.
"Hey, Doc," Williams says, tapping the gravestone of
basketball's inventor and Kansas's first coach, Dr. James
Naismith, on one of his traditional jogs to Memorial Park
Cemetery on the east side of town. "Need your help tomorrow. Big
game." The opponent, No. 5 Oklahoma, is the hottest team in the
nation, having won 13 straight games, including a 16-point blitz
of No. 2 Maryland and victories at Arkansas and Connecticut.
After an off day on Wednesday and the start of spring classes on
Thursday, the Jayhawks dive into their Sooner studies during
practice. "They're vicious on the boards," says Holladay, as he
guides the players through the Oklahoma sets. "I counted them
having 16 offensive rebounds in the first half at Connecticut.
They also are using their post players to score, for the first
time in seven years. They've always used them as screeners,
defenders and foulers, but now those players are scoring inside,
Through a quirk of scheduling, Holladay, who played at Oklahoma
in the 1960s, has been responsible for scouting all three Hell
Week opponents. "I haven't slept in a week," he says with a grim
SATURDAY, JAN. 19, LAWRENCE, KANS.
A fresh blanket of snow has covered the winter wheat, and
Kansas's inside game is as frigid as the weather until the start
of the second half. Then a 27-10 run--featuring 10 points by
Gooden and six by Collison--increases the Jayhawks' bulge to
57-35. Allen Fieldhouse is quaking, as if the old barn is about
to leave its moorings and spin crazily skyward, like something
out of Twister.
When Kansas gets rolling like this, with Hinrich barreling
upcourt in transition, and Boschee gunning treys, and Gooden and
Collison dominating the lane, no team can match its
explosiveness. Not even Duke, which holds an edge on the
perimeter but lacks the Jayhawks' frontcourt strength.
Yet Kansas is a work in progress. Gooden has breathtaking moves
and can score in bunches, but his shot selection is sometimes
iffy. Miles is wise beyond his years, but how will he handle the
crucible of being a freshman in the NCAA tournament? Also, while
Collison is among the nation's steadiest forwards in most
aspects, he has a tendency to rack up silly fouls. There's a
reason that Williams always tells his players to concentrate for
"40 minutes, not 35, not 38, 40 minutes"--and as if to prove his
point, the Jayhawks let Oklahoma rattle off 14 consecutive
points and cut that 22-point lead to eight.
Kansas holds on for the 74-67 win, staying unbeaten (4-0) atop
the ultracompetitive Big 12. Tellingly, the Jayhawks outrebound
the Sooners 38-33, including a 12-12 stalemate on the offensive
glass. Once again the juniors--Gooden (19 points and 10
rebounds), Collison (17 and nine) and Hinrich (15 and seven
assists)--lead the way. "That's a big win, guys," Williams tells
his players in the locker room. "For about six minutes,
everything we did was kicking their butts. We didn't finish
well, and we know that. But if you had told me before the game
you were going to win by seven, everybody in here, including me,
would have been the happiest guy in the world."
After Williams leaves, there's a debate among the players: Are
the Sooners, who committed 24 fouls to Kansas's 15, a dirty
team? "Hell, yeah," Gooden says, laying his stained white jersey
on the carpet as Exhibit A. "See this shoe mark? That's from
getting stepped on. This one is just blood. Look, Nick has blood
on his jersey too."
"I don't know if they're dirty, just physical," argues Collison,
despite two fresh, bloody scratches on his left shoulder.
Flesh wounds aside, the Jayhawks have survived Hell Week just
fine, especially considering the way it started. It's one thing
to have gone 2-1, but more important, Williams says, "we got
better. We learned more about what you have to do to compete at
this level, particularly the freshmen. The biggest thing is
teaching them how high that intensity has to be--and how
consistent it has to be--to be successful."
It's a lesson that may come in handy again. Say, during another
Hell Week, in Atlanta at the end of March.
UCLA loss. "We're still undefeated in the Big 12."
a guy who orders junk from TV infomercials for no good reason.
"That's from getting stepped on. This stain here is just blood."