To sum up his approach to basketball, point guard Aaron Miles turns to a certain multiplatinum rap artist. "Jay-Z said it best," he says. "'Treat my first like my last and my last like my first.'"
And so it is that Miles, a fourth-year starter, will be attacking his senior season in Lawrence just as he has his previous ones: as though his reputation is on the line every time he handles the ball. That sense of urgency will be shared by three other seniors--forward Wayne Simien, guard Keith Langford and reserve guard Michael Lee--who reached the NCAA championship game two years ago (losing to Syracuse by three points) and made it to the Elite Eight last year, overcoming the departure of two lottery picks and adapting to the system of a new coach, Bill Self. "We have a good chance to win it all," says Miles, "but it's going to take a lot of hard work."
That will be nothing new for Miles, who usually exerts so much effort that Self, searching for something to prod him on, yells at Miles if he is merely playing as hard as everyone else. "That's not good enough," Self says. "I expect much more from him."
Last season Miles played longer than everyone else too, averaging a team-high 33.8 minutes. Now, at least, he has a reliable backup in 6'1" combo guard Russell Robinson from New York City, one of five talented freshmen who give the Jayhawks enviable depth. "Aaron would never admit it, but I think he got worn out last year," says Self. "Russell will be a guy who can take 10 minutes from him a game."
Miles, of course, is more eager to play with the quick and defensively savvy Robinson than to be spelled by him. "He can change the game, especially when we're on the floor at the same time," says Miles. "He'll allow us to pressure more and get out and run more."
Miles says he also will look to sharpen his shooting--in 2003--04 he hit just 40.2% of his field goal attempts--but dishing will remain his signature contribution. His 7.3 assists per game is the top returning average in Division I, and he is only 66 assists short of Jacque Vaughn's school record of 804. "Someday I might appreciate that record, but right now it's not important," says Miles. "The record I want to get is 36--0." --Kelli Anderson
2003--04 RECORD: 24--9 (12--4, T2 in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Georgia Tech in Elite Eight
Though the Jayhawks have slowed a tad under Self, Miles, Langford and Giddens are still whizzes.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"The best big man in the Big 12, if not the country, is Wayne Simien--especially now that he's stepping out and hitting the 15-footer. He'll demand a double team every game, so your rotation has to be in order.... J.R. Giddens is a super, super athlete. I knew he could shoot, but I never thought he'd shoot as well as he did last year. Nobody did.... Roy Williams played 10 guys, whereas Bill Self is sticking to seven or eight. That was an adjustment for them, but they got rolling at the right time.... Their three senior starters are so talented that if their bench gives them anything, they'll be really good."