Langford concedes that he isn't the 100meter-dash type, but with the help of former Jayhawks forward and current director of basketball operations Danny Manning, he has learned to explode to the basket as well as any forward in college basketball. "Danny said those first two or three steps are what separate you," Langford says.
With coaches aware of how often an easy basket can decide or blow open a critical game, smallish, skilled, supersonic point guards like Smith; Illinois's 6foot junior Brown; Oklahoma's 5'7" sophomore Drew Lavender; Oklahoma State's 5'11" senior John Lucas; Wake Forest's 6foot sophomore Chris Paul; and Washington's 5'9" junior Nate Robinson are in demand. Smith's baseline-to-baseline bucket against Cincinnati was reminiscent of 5'10" Tyus Edney's end-to-end dash for the open layup that gave UCLA a second-round NCAA win over Missouri in '95, a play that helped send the Bruins to their title that year. To reach the hoop, Edney had to traverse some 90 feet in 4.8 seconds.
?Speed forces defenses to double-team. In the NBA teams tend to make the opponent double-team by dumping the ball into the post. In college they usually do it through dribble-drives from the perimeter, making a defender leave his man to stop the ball--which often leads to wide-open three-point opportunities. "Years ago, when the defenses were more packed, swinging the ball was the way to play," says Washington State coach Dick Bennett. "As people started to get into the passing lanes, the offenses started to need more penetration."
According to Smith, the key to penetrating is to have an immediate countermove that shakes off an overplaying defender. "I can change directions so quickly that I can just make [what looks like] one quick move, and it will actually be two," he says. Such maneuvers are all too familiar to Smith's admiring Buccaneers backcourt mate, 6'4" junior Ben Rhoda, who occasionally tries to cover Smith in practice. "He's so fast he sets his own picks," says Rhoda.
On the flip side a defense must find an equally fast countermove, which is made easier if it has a player with the lateral quickness to move in a flash from the low block to the three-point line. Syracuse's 6'8" senior forward, Hakim Warrick, needed only a split second to cover that very space in the closing seconds of the 2003 NCAA final, when he swatted Kansas guard Michael Lee's three-point attempt at the buzzer to seal the Orange's 81--78 win. "I didn't realize how much ground I made up on that play until I saw it on tape," Warrick says.
Besides possessing superior lateral quickness, Warrick also has long arms, which makes him even more disruptive in Syracuse's matchup zone defense. "It helps if you've got close-out speed, especially in this zone with all the moving we have to do," he says. Though the sinewy 220-pound Warrick describes himself as "always naturally quick," he works to get even faster by putting himself through sprint drills on the track at Syracuse's Manley Field House. "I really depend on my quickness because most of the time the guy I'm guarding is going to outweigh me," Warrick says.
Penetrating offenses will encounter other such lateral hazards this season at Wisconsin (6'5" junior forward Alando Tucker), Wake Forest (6'9" senior forward Jamaal Levy), Mississippi State (6'4" senior guard Winsome Frazier) and Stanford (6'6" senior forward Nick Robinson).
?Speed gets you rebounds. Yes, size still matters, but today's college big men need to be light on their feet to be effective on the glass. Oklahoma's Kevin Bookout, a 6'8" junior, is a former All-America shot-putter at Stroud ( Okla.) High who arrived in Norman weighing 260 pounds and played at 275 last season. He will begin this season at 258. "He came in one day talking about how much better he was jumping," Sooners strength coach Darby Rich says. "I said, 'Yeah, when you take that 20-pound book pack off your back, you can jump higher.'"
By contrast, Channing Frye, a 6'11" senior at Arizona, has added 26 pounds since arriving in Tucson at a wiry 222, but he has averaged 7.2 rebounds over his career by being what Lute Olson calls "a quick jumper and a good repeat jumper." Frye developed those skills by running hurdles on a track while carrying a one-pound ball over his head. He also learned running techniques from former Wildcats strength coach Brad Arnett. "We worked on knee-drive, stopping and going, moving your arms," Frye says.
Playing at Arizona, Frye has no choice but to run. It is his responsibility to inbound the ball after an opponent's made basket. That puts him several paces behind the Wildcats' slew of quick guards who are pushing upcourt. "If I want to see the ball again, I have to catch up," Frye says. His ability to beat his opposite number down the floor pays off, not only in dunks and easy layups but also in tiring out and neutralizing stronger foes. "Banging physical dudes is not my game," Frye says, adding this warning: "You can be as big and strong as you want, but if you can't keep up with me running down the court, you won't be able to use your size effectively."