Short-handed Kansas again favored in Big 12

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“Losing Laurence Bowers obviously hurts our team,” Haith said. “But I will tell you that our guys have handled that very well.”

The preseason player of the year belongs to Baylor. Perry Jones III set a school freshman record last year with 30 starts and seemed to get stronger and more confident as the season went along, averaging almost 14 points and eight rebounds while shooting 54.9 percent. The agile 6-11 center surprised fans everywhere when he decided to return for his sophomore season.

The Bears were picked to finish third in the league.

“I think when you have people like Perry Jones come back to school, it’s a great compliment for Baylor University but it’s a great compliment for college basketball,” coach Scott Drew said.

Always-tough Texas brings in a crop of top recruits and was picked fifth. The Longhorns will be counting on junior guard J’Covan Brown.

“He’s really improved. He’s gotten better,” said coach Rick Barnes. “He’s the kind of player that’s made coaching fun because you see where he started, where he came in, where he’s gotten better in every area.”

Kansas State has much to replace. Sophomore Will Spradling will be taking over from point guard Jake Pullen, who goes into the record book as the leading all-time scorer for the Wildcats.

“I’m not looking to replace anybody,” said Spradling, a deadeye foul shooter who was 87.5 percent from the line for the year and perfect in eleven games. “It’s a team effort, an entire team effort.”

For leadership as well as production, Kansas State will also be counting heavily on Jamar Samuels, a 6-5 fifth-year senior.

“He’s much more prepared to accept that responsibility today than he was back in April,” said Martin. “He’s lived it. He’s breathed it. He understands and he’s being a lot more consistent with the things that he needs to do to accept that responsibility.”

Besides Kennedy and Haith, the Big 12 welcomes two more new head coaches. Lon Kruger, who once starred and coached at Kansas State, takes over at Oklahoma and Billy Gillispie, another familiar name who once was head coach at Texas A&M, is now at Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders were understandably picked last since they have 10 new players.

“We’re a work in progress,” said Gillispie, who for many years was a No. 1 assistant to Self at Tulsa and Illinois. “We have three returning players. But it is a challenge. I’ve never been around a team that’s had 10 incoming players with absolutely no experience at this level.”

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