Sitting in his cramped office in 3,200-seat Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, coach Phil Martelli looks for ways to make his mid-major Hawks a threat to go deep into the NCAA tournament. He points to an overused videotape resting on the VCR next to him, a cassette that contains the high-speed offense he's installing during the preseason. " Kansas ran more effectively than anyone else in the country last year," says Martelli, citing the team on the tape, the national runner-up Jayhawks, as his inspiration. "It's a style that creates better opportunities for our big people. Of course, if all you needed were a perimeter game...it's see you in San Antonio."
Indeed, the backcourt is Final Four-caliber, primarily because of the return of senior point guard Jameer Nelson, who took his name out of the NBA draft pool last spring after learning that he wasn't likely to be a first-round pick. Nelson accelerates like a Ferrari and orchestrates the offense with a deft but understated style. "A lot of guys just want to score and some guys can only pass," says Nelson. "I can do both." His role model now is Kirk Hinrich, who played four years at Kansas and then became a lottery pick (chosen seventh by the Chicago Bulls) last spring. "He came back as a senior and helped his team become very successful and moved up 12 to 15 spots in the draft."
Nelson's running mates—shooting guard Delonte West, who was leading the Hawks in scoring last season when he fractured his right fibula with six games left, small forward Pat Carroll and senior reserve Tyrone Barley—are good perimeter shooters as well, but they bow to the maestro. "Jameer can score anytime he wants," says West, "but he's always thinking of who needs to get involved."
In that vein Nelson has been contemplating ways to get more production out of the frontcourt. Junior John Bryant and sophomores Dwayne Jones and Dave Mallon combined for a paltry 6.8 shots and 8.8 points per game in 2002-03. "We have to show those guys we believe in them," says Nelson. "Getting them easy baskets is a good way to build confidence."
Layups and dunks by the big men will almost certainly mean that the Hawks have mastered their coach's new system.
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