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NCAA TOURNAMENT Rare year: Each team has own superstar



Published: Tue, April 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Each standout player from the Final Four teams is in a different year of college.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Kansas coach Roy Williams looks at Marquette's Dwyane Wade and sees a momentary flicker of Michael Jordan.

When Marquette coach Tom Crean describes KU forward Nick Collison's versatility, he might as well be talking about Larry Bird.

T.J. Ford is a mini Baron Davis.

Carmelo Anthony reminds some people of Magic Johnson.

Yes, basketball fans, 2003 is the year the All-America team came together and a Final Four broke out.

"A few years ago, some basketball people said when guys started leaving early, that would be the end of college basketball," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "The opposite has happened."

Uncommon year

True to Boeheim's word, this is one of those rare years in which each Final Four team has its own superstar. Taking things further, each superstar is in a different year of college -- a telling sign of the overall good health of a sport thought in some circles to be declining.

When Kansas plays Marquette in the first semifinal today, Collison, a senior All-American, will go against Wade, a junior, and also an All-American.

The second game, Texas vs. Syracuse, matches yet another All-American -- Ford, a sophomore -- and Anthony, a second-team All-American and the only freshman to be named among the country's top 15 players.

"He's surpassed any expectations that I had for him," Boeheim said. "I think mine were probably higher than anybody else's."

For decades, college basketball has been a sport defined and dominated by coaches, their personalities and the stability they bring to their programs.

Real stars on court

Even though Williams and Boeheim -- two of the biggest names in coaching -- are here, the real stars this year are on the court, not the sideline. For any coach to upstage these four players, he'll have to come up with a super scheme to stop them.

Williams' strategy?

He said he won't even show his team the tape of Marquette's 83-69 victory over Kentucky, last week in the Midwest Regional final. Wade had one of the best postseason games ever for a collegian, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It was only the third triple-double in tournament history.

"You shouldn't compare anybody to Michael Jordan," Williams said. "But it was scary all the things he could do. I looked a couple of times to make sure it was still No. 3 I was watching, and not No. 23."

Collison's signature game was the 33-point, 19-rebound performance in Kansas' 69-65 win over Duke last Thursday. He shoots 55 percent from the field and averages 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds a game.

"I don't know if there's a more versatile forward in college basketball right now," Crean said. "He poses problems because you have to guard him all over the floor."

Passes the ball a lot

At 15 points a game, Ford doesn't score like the other three stars. In fact, Texas coach Rick Barnes had to persuade him to take more shots this season. The reason? He averages 7.5 assists -- fourth in the country -- and ranks both first (last season) and third (this season) on the list of single-season assist leaders at Texas.

Boeheim's strategy for stopping Ford is the same he uses to stop any point guard -- the 2-3 zone.

"Hopefully it's the right way to stop him," Syracuse's Kueth Duany said. "He's a great penetrator. When you have guys who can penetrate a zone, it kind of breaks down a zone. We try to keep that from happening."

May go pro

Anthony is so good, it's almost a given he won't return next season. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 22 points and 9.8 rebounds this season. Unlike most freshmen this time of year, Anthony is finishing strong. He averaged 19 points and nine rebounds last week in the regional. Some scouts think if he goes pro, as expected, he'll get drafted before LeBron James.

Could Barnes really be planning to use 6-3 Royal Ivey to stop Anthony?

"Certainly, a guy like Royal is a guy we've always tried to put on the other team's best player as much as possible," Barnes said. "All year long, we've been a team that's tried to be there for each other, help each other."




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