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TO HEAR him now, it's hard to imagine that loquacious junior guard Kim English was teased, even bullied sometimes, as a youngster in his Baltimore neighborhood because of his first name and persistent stutter.
"I didn't talk too much in school," English says, "only at home around people I was comfortable with." It wasn't until he took up basketball at age 13 that he found another outlet to do his talking. As English matured and his skills improved, his stutter became less pronounced. "Subconsciously, I guess the confidence in my game made me more confident in myself," English says.
A gym rat, English spent the summer trying to develop a midrange jumper and fine-tune his ballhandling skills in pickup games, which included the occasional matchup against NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay, both of whom hail from Baltimore. In between sessions English studied tape of Anthony, Stephen Curry and Rip Hamilton in an effort to incorporate Melo's fluidity, Curry's poise and Hamilton's off-ball movement into his game.
These new skills should be a boon to a Tigers team that is the deepest in coach Mike Anderson's five-year tenure. The addition of Ricardo Ratliffe, who led Central Florida Community College in points (27.4) and rebounds (11.3) last season, gives the Tigers a bruising presence down low. "We wanted a very physical team," Anderson says. "Sometimes, you can get one guy and it just trickles to everybody else." Ratliffe's presence will bolster a frontcourt that already includes junior forward Laurence Bowers, who led the Tigers in blocks (48) and finished second in rebounds (193) despite playing with an injured wrist, and senior forward Justin Safford, who was having a breakout season before tearing his left ACL last February.
"I know all that work that I put in is gonna pay off for us," English says. He's certain the results will soon speak for themselves.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Mike Anderson (5th season)
2009--10 record 23--11
Big 12 10--6 (5th)
NCAA tournament Second round