Durant hoping practice makes perfect

Texas phenom's unrelenting work ethic has put him among college basketball's elite - and maybe soon the NBA's

East Regional

Ncaa Tournament

March 16, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

P.K. Martin has seen thousands of basketball players come and go through the Washington suburbs.

But the youth league director couldn't believe the scene he witnessed one day. In an otherwise empty gym, an adolescent named Kevin Durant dribbled the length of the court to make a layup, then dribbled all the way back to make another. Up and down, up and down he went, tears dripping from his eyes.

What was the matter? Martin asked. Durant replied that his coach had told him to perform the full-court layup drill until 2 p.m. He had more than hour to go.

Martin told him to knock off and get lunch. Nope, Durant replied. He had to finish.

"Any other kid would have quit as soon as he saw his coach leave," Martin said. "But not Kevin. That's about the best way I can think of to explain him."

Martin and the other coaches hadn't thought much of Durant when they first saw him at age 9. But take that kind of determination and pair it with a body that never stopped stretching - while losing none of its coordination along the way - and you might have something. Yep, you might have the first freshman in NCAA history to sweep all the national Player of the Year awards and the next teenager to star in the NBA.

Those are the grand notions basketball experts toss about when they discuss Kevin Durant of Suitland, Md.

"I mean, this guy is a joke," Kansas coach Bill Self said after Durant scored 37 against his team in Sunday's Big 12 final. "You can plug him into any team in the country at any level and he can score. NBA, whatever, just plug him in and he can go get baskets."

Endless possibilities

When Texas tips off against New Mexico State in the NCAA tournament this evening, Durant will try to replicate the ascent of the last basketball prodigy to emerge from Maryland. Towson Catholic alum Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse in scoring and rebounding as a freshman in 2002-03 and then carried the third seed Orange to an unexpected national title. It was Anthony's only college season but one of the most memorable by an NCAA player in decades.

If anything, Durant, 18, has been better.

He scored 20 or more points in his first seven games and averaged almost 30 in Big 12 play. He's the only player who ranks in college basketball's top five in scoring and rebounding.

Texas coach Rick Barnes did nothing to play down expectations entering the season, calling Durant the most talented player he'd ever recruited. Yet the reality of the freshman's talent still exceeded any billing.

"Kevin, I think, has had the best season of anybody in college basketball," Barnes said. "When you have a guy as confident as he is, as willing to take so much on his shoulders, you have to feel pretty good about your chances."

Durant's game fires the imagination.

Is he Kevin Garnett with more shooting range and a scorer's mentality? A more athletic, unselfish Bob McAdoo? A bigger Tracy McGrady?

Durant maintains that he hasn't decided whether to leave school after this season, but already fans in cities with weak pro teams are salivating.

He will be the most exciting offensive prospect to enter the league in some time, said ESPN analyst David Thorpe, who serves as a performance coach for several NBA players. The Texas star's package of size, skill and attitude puts him ahead of previous phenoms such as Anthony and LeBron James.

"The thing I love most about him is his mind, that attitude of `No matter where I am or who I'm going against, I'm going to kill you,'" Thorpe said. "Dwyane Wade thinks like that. That's how Michael Jordan thought."

Durant still isn't likely to be picked ahead of Ohio State 7-footer Greg Oden, according to NBA draft experts. But some believe he should be the first pick because he has a chance to become something unique.

"How can you pass on a guy who has the potential to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding?" Thorpe said.

Though he's soft-spoken and frequently says he has not grown up, Durant sees the possibility as well.

"I just want to be one of the best players to ever play the game," he's said in several interviews this year.

`Best I've ever seen'

In the midst of Durant's latest demolition of Kansas, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla noted that "good defense doesn't bother him." It's a trait that separates NBA stars from the basketball rabble. Like McGrady or Anthony, Durant can catch the ball anywhere within 25 feet of the basket and within seconds, invent a shot that seems as likely to go in as not.

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