A gritty guard from New York has helped make Pitt a title contender
PITTSBURGH SOPHOMORE point guard Carl Krauser will never be accused of forgetting his roots. Before every game Krauser writes ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE IN NYC on his sneakers, and whenever he makes a good play, he forms an X with his arms, which, hell readily tell one and all, represents the final letter of the Bronx. After Pitt's 66-45 drubbing of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last Saturday, in which Krauser scored just five points but had 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals, he mentioned either the Bronx or New York City seven times in one conversation.
Krauser is also all business, as evidenced by his photo in the Panthers' media guide, in which he's scowling at the camera as if he's just smelled expired milk. It's a look that Krauser no doubt used to good advantage when he was an amateur boxer, his other love until he decided to focus on basketball at age 15.
Krauser's New York City game and combativeness is a major reason why Pitt was 19-1 through Sunday and ranked seventh. He had big shoes to fill this season, taking over at point guard for honorable mention All-America Brandin Knight, whose eligibility expired after leading the Panthers to a 28-5 record and their second straight Sweet 16 appearance last season. Krauser went from an 18.6-minute-a-game backup to a starter, and if there were any doubts about his leadership abilities, they were erased early as he helped Pitt win its first 18 games. Quick, aggressive and flashy, Krauser was averaging 15.1 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals a game at week's end. Says junior forward Chevon Troutman, 'We're more of a running team with him [than with Knight], and he's definitely more of a scoring option. Even if he has two defenders in front of him, he's going to push the ball and get somebody open if he doesn't have a shot."
Such was often the case on Saturday, when Krauser would snare defensive rebounds and bolt down the floor, big men in tow. At the free throw line he would hesitate for a moment, just long enough to allow his rumbling frontcourt mates to catch up, then drop a no-look pass to one of them for a layup. It's a court sense he developed on the city playgrounds and polished last summer playing on an Entertainer's Basketball Classic squad at Rucker Park as he worked on what he calls his "point guard poise." His teammates included Nets forward Richard Jefferson, and he went up against several NBA players, including Bulls guard Jamal Crawford and Nets forward Kenyon Martin. Krauser says the experience helped him learn how to control games without necessarily scoring. "I try to feel the flow, get the ball to the shooters and reward the big guys for battling down low," says Krauser.
The big guys on the Panthers' imposing front line include the 6'7" Troutman and 6'10", 250-pound freshman Chris Taft, who was averaging 10.7 points and 7.3 rebounds at week's end and has already been named Big East rookie of the week four times. "They're a very strong, physical basketball team," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim after his Orangemen were held to their lowest point total since 1968. "They're at least as good or probably better than they were last year."
Flush with victory, Krauser offered a prediction and, for the first time, a longing for a city other than his hometown. "I see us going to at least the Final Four," he said, then smiled. "I'd love to be in San Antonio playing for the national championship."