- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

ATLANTA Drew Gooden smiled as he heard the question: How did he, growing up near Oakland, Calif., end up at Kansas?

"I ask myself that every day I'm here," Gooden said yesterday. "It worked out well. I finally adjusted about a couple months ago."

Gooden's game needed no adjustment. A consensus first-team All-American, he was arguably the nation's best player on its best team while leading the Jayhawks to a 33-3 record, the Big 12 regular-season title and a berth in the NCAA tournament Final Four. The junior forward combines the perfect amounts of strength, agility and explosiveness in a 6-foot-10, 230-pound frame.

Not as skilled or as recognized as Gooden but almost as important to the Jayhawks is his partner in the post, 6-9 Nick Collison. Together, they form perhaps the best and most versatile frontcourt duo in the country, one that the Maryland Terrapins will have to deal with tonight in the national semifinals.

Collison, who split Iowa's Mr. Basketball honors with current teammate Kirk Hinrich in 1999, is the son of a high school basketball coach whom Gooden kiddingly refers to as a "corn-fed Iowan." Conversely Gooden is a city kid who honed his game playing pickup ball and came to Kansas with little knowledge of the "X's and O's" of the game and its structure.

Their contrasting backgrounds are actually the main reasons why they have become good friends. The pair complement each other, and over the last three seasons they have developed into a dynamic tandem that can be impossible to match up against.

"We can draw some mismatches because we're two guys that can play on the perimeter," Gooden said. "We try to take the best advantage we can get against teams on mismatches because we are so agile and versatile."

From playing Gooden, who averages 20.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, and Collison (15.4, 8.3) all season in practice, reserve forward Jeff Carey knows how difficult it is to guard them.

"Drew is more of a slasher he can drive to the basket," Carey said. "Nick is just a solid player with a lot of finesse around the rim. One of those systems is going to work, and whoever's got it going the best, we're going to go to them."

Though he can step out and hit the jumper, Collison's specialty remains more in the post, while Gooden's versatility allows him to roam from the block to the 3-point line. Both can get out and run in transition, which makes them even more dangerous.

"It's a question of getting back on defense for both teams." Maryland forward Tahj Holden said. "[Gooden] causes a lot of problems because he puts the ball on the floor, can take people off the dribble, posts up and gets down the court. It's pretty difficult to stop a guy who can do all that stuff."

More than anything, Gooden has given the Jayhawks a look they haven't had in recent years. Kansas has turned out a string of solid post players, from Greg Ostertag to Raef LaFrentz, but "the Truth" Gooden's nickname because "my game is real and it doesn't lie to you" brings a rarely seen versatility in the post.

Maryland must be most wary of the ability of Gooden and Collison the top two rebounders in the tournament to dominate the glass; as Gooden said yesterday, "just look at the Oregon game." In the regional final, Gooden and Collison combined for 35 rebounds as the Jayhawks dominated the Ducks on the boards 63-34 in a fast-paced game that tonight's could resemble. The Jayhawks aren't slighting the Terps, calling their frontcourt of Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox the toughest they've faced this season.

"[Rebounding] is going to be huge," Collison said. "If anybody can get a huge edge on the offensive glass, those are just extra possessions."

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