Legendary Missouri Coach Norm Stewart looked at the cluster of coaches gathered in a hallway at Municipal Auditorium, a prelude to the evening’s Coaches vs. Cancer Season Tip-Off fundraiser, and cracked a wry smile.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
“If I could have recruited like this…” Stewart said.
Kansas coach Bill Self, Missouri’s Frank Haith, Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and UMKC’s Kareem Richardson had arrived to talk up their teams, sign items, pose for photographs and be part of what has become a fall highlight. The coaches help raise money for a fund Stewart helped launch 20 years ago, one that is approaching $100 million in donations to the American Cancer Society through Coaches vs. Cancer.
Stewart, with 731 career victories over a 38-year career, is taken aback by the amount.
“The main things, we’re raising the money and making advances on cancer,” Stewart said. “Survival rates are up. We’re building facilities; the research is tremendous.
“It used to be, when somebody said ‘cancer,’ you had your papers in order and you folded your arms. A young person today — and this is where coaches have helped — they don’t have that thought.”
Coaches of rival programs and ones that won’t even schedule each other, like Kansas and Missouri, Kansas State and Wichita State, put aside their differences for this cause, which started earlier than usual because new NCAA rules allow teams to start practicing two weeks earlier.
K-State, for instance, has already conducted nine practices. Last year, teams would have been a week away from blowing whistles for the first time.
“Now, we have a scrimmage in two weeks,” Weber said.
But coaches agree, the extra time is working well for teams that are largely reshaping.
The Jayhawks are dealing with their usual expectations, but this time with a twist. Those hopes are based largely on unproven players, led by freshman Andrew Wiggins.
That’s why Self didn’t identify Wiggins or freshman Wayne Selden or Memphis transfer Tarik Black as the player who, at least early in the season, needs to shoulder the greatest burden.
“I need Naadir Tharpe to be our most valuable player,” Self said of his junior point guard. “I didn’t say best player. But he needs to be the guy that regardless of the situation, it’s hard for us to play without.”
Tharpe has not started a college game. But Kansas isn’t the only team making adjustments at the position.
Missouri replaces Phil Pressey with Jordan Clarkson, a transfer who averaged 16.5 points at Tulsa two years ago. Clarkson can play several positions, but until freshmen Wes Clark and Shane Rector develop, he’ll likely run the show.
“He’s a very talented player,” Haith said. “Losing who we lost, we’re fortunate to have a guy like that. Plus, I like to have more than one player who can handle the ball.”
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