Duke gears up for Jeffries, recalls its recruiting efforts

Krzyzewski attempted to lure Indiana native to play for Blue Devils

NCAA tournament notebook

College Basketball

March 21, 2002|By Ken Murray and Christian Ewell | Ken Murray and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

When Duke faces Indiana's 6-foot-10 prodigy, Jared Jeffries, in tonight's South Regional semifinal at Kentucky's Rupp Arena, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski will wonder what might have been.

Two years ago, Krzyzewski recruited Jeffries in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., right under the noses of the Hoosiers - and nearly got him. Jeffries visited Durham, N.C., and appeared close to going there before experiencing a change of heart.

Can the coach imagine this Duke team with Jeffries' 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a game?

"You could go undefeated," Krzyzewski said unabashedly. "I liked Jared ... because of his versatility. He's a basketball player who happens to be 6-10. We knew it was a stretch [to recruit him]. On the drive to his home, we passed Assembly Hall. [But] I thought it was worth a shot, and it was."

Jeffries, who combines an outside touch with an inside game, said he ultimately decided to play for Indiana to stay at home.

Sleeping with the enemy

Anticipating a harsh reaction from Kentucky fans for longtime Wildcats' nemesis Duke, Indiana coach Mike Davis played to the locals yesterday.

"I love Kentucky," Davis said, tongue in cheek, drawing laughs in his interview session. "They're my favorite team other than Indiana. I apologize if I ever said anything to offend Kentucky fans. I let my little boy wear blue sometimes. I just want to make it clear, I do love Kentucky."

Homecoming and a payback

It will be homecoming for Pittsburgh's Jaron Brown tonight, and payback time for Kent State's Nate Gerwig.

Brown was regarded one of the top players in Kentucky his final two seasons at Bryan Station High in Lexington. Because of academic reasons and the departure of coach Rick Pitino, Brown never made it to Rupp Arena to play for the Wildcats.

"It feels great just to be here," Brown said.

Gerwig, a 6-9 freshman center for the Golden Flashes, grew up in Pittsburgh, but he wasn't recruited by the Panthers. That point wasn't lost on his teammates.

"We'll remind him his hometown team didn't want him and try to fire him up any way we can," said Kent State's Andrew Mitchell.

Pittsburgh's payoff

Coach Ben Howland, who has Pittsburgh in the round of 16 for the first time in 28 years, said yesterday he is close to a long-term contract extension to remain with the Panthers.

"It will probably be done early next week," said Howland, who was named winner of the Henry Iba coach of the year award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association this week.

J. Williams, Gooden honored

Duke guard Jason Williams and Kansas forward Drew Gooden have been named the co-players of the year by the National Basketball Coaches Association.

The two are the first players to share the award in its 28-year history. They've each led their team to 31-3 records this season and top seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Sampson's dad recovering

John Sampson, the father of Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, is recovering in a California hospital after emergency surgery for subdural hemotoma (blood collecting on the brain) on Tuesday. The elder Sampson, 72, is expected to remain hospitalized for the next seven to 10 days.

"He's had some problems for the last four or five days that we've been monitoring, and he had an episode," Kelvin Sampson said. "It was a tough night. I was with him all night and this morning. He's doing better."

Almost teammates

Jason Kapono and Kareem Rush could have been teammates for either Missouri or UCLA, the two teams that will square off tonight in San Jose, Calif.

The two star small forwards hung out at the Final Four several years ago, along with Missouri reserve Josh Kroenke. Kapono, a Lakewood, Calif., native, nearly signed with Missouri, partially because of a friendship with Kroenke - a teammate on AAU teams during high school - and a wish for a change of scenery.

"I wanted to leave the state of California," said Kapono, who obviously changed his mind. "I thought it would be less pressure ... [Missouri] had a great program and a great coach."

Rush, on the other hand, had ties with UCLA because of his older brother, JaRon, who was seen as a potential star coming out of high school. The Kansas City, Mo., native decided to stay in-state in part to get out of his older brother's shadow.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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