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No Jayhawk was more upset when Roy Williams left for North Carolina last April than junior forward Wayne (the Warden) Simien, who grew up in Leavenworth, Kans., "dreaming in the driveway that I was playing for Coach Williams." So why is Simien smiling these days? For one thing, new coach Bill Self's high-low offensive sets figure to give Simien plenty of touches in his first season as the team's top inside option. More important, Simien's balky right shoulder—operated on twice in the past two years—is strong again.
"I feel as good as new," says Simien, who averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 16 games last season. "When I got back on the court in August, I was going through some things mentally"—a reluctance to dunk righthanded or extend his right arm far from his body—"but the more I've played, the more comfortable I've become."
Self believes Simien can become one of the nation's top players. " Wayne's letting go and playing with reckless abandon again," Self says. "He has great touch, can score facing the basket and is a very good rebounder. But I will say this: We can all get better defensively."
Therein lies Self's challenge: to convince a team coming off two straight Final Fours that it has to change its M.O.—or, as Simien puts it, "learn and unlearn things at the same time."
"My emphases are probably a little different from what Roy's were," says Self. "I'm not saying Kansas didn't guard well last year, but they had so many good offensive players. I don't want our team to think they can just outscore people. I want our team to think if the other team doesn't score, we can't lose."
In other words, don't expect the Jay-hawks to average 83 points a game again this season. Not that Kansas is lacking firepower. Junior swingman Keith Langford is among the country's premier slashers from the wing, and senior forward Jeff Graves is a reliable post threat. If Simien and his teammates can learn and unlearn enough to suit their new coach, a third straight Final Four may be in store.
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