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January 15, 2008

Seniors play key role for top teams

When Kansas senior Russell Robinson walks into the shower after a practice or a game, he knows the water will be warm.

"We make the younger guys go first, when it's still cold," Robinson said. "By the time we get in there the temperature is perfect."

Robinson smirks.

ALL-SENIOR TEAM
First Team
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
Joey Dorsey, Memphis
Chris Lofton, Tennessee
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
Darnell Jackson, Kansas
Second Team
James Mays, Clemson
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
Drew Lavender, Xavier
Kyle Weaver, Washington State
Joseph Jones, Texas A&M
Third Team
Aleks Maric, Nebraska
Malik Hairston, Oregon
Sean Singletary, Virginia
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
Derrick Low, Washington State

"They may not like it," he said, "but it's a way for them to show respect."

Respect? For a senior? That's almost unheard of these days.

Players such as Robinson might feel appreciated within their own program, but seniors across the country are garnering less publicity and fewer accolades than ever thanks to a talented crop of freshmen and sophomores using college as a fuel stop on their way to the NBA.

Once valued for their leadership and experience, many people now view seniors as mediocre players who will never make it at the next level. Otherwise they wouldn't still be in school.

"The vogue thing to do is to get in and get out," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It's a sign of the times. The longer you stay in school, the more chances people have to see your warts. Or at least that's what folks are telling these guys."

Still, even though the buzz surrounding them might be dwindling, seniors continue to play pivotal roles for some of the country's top programs.

Joey Dorsey is averaging 9.9 points for second-ranked Memphis while Roy Hibbert is hoping to lead No. 4 Georgetown back to the Final Four. Chris Lofton is averaging 13.5 points for No. 6 Tennessee, and Michigan State surely wouldn't be ranked 11th if not for Drew Neitzel.

A trio of juniors (Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford) keyed Florida's national championship run last season, but seniors Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard were crucial to the team's success.

"There are a lot of guys," Self said, "that can help a college team more than a young, incoming freshman but they don't have the ceiling of a young, incoming freshman. Plus they're not getting as much attention, because they're not the new kid on the block."

No elite team has as many senior contributors as Kansas one of the three remaining undefeated programs in the country.

Robinson is a third-year starter at point guard with Rodrick Stewart and Jeremy Case providing backcourt help off the bench. Sasha Kaun opened the season as the Jayhawks' starting forward, but he's been supplanted by Darnell Jackson, who is quickly becoming one of the biggest surprises of the college basketball season. Jackson averages 12 points and 6.9 rebounds despite playing just 23 minutes a game.

"Having seniors is making our team a lot better," Robinson said. "It's giving us a solid base for our underclassmen to work off of."

Robinson recalled an instance two years ago when Brandon Rush, then a highly touted freshman, went up against senior walk-on Stephen Vinson in practice.

"Brandon couldn't get by him," Robinson said. "You couldn't tell who was better.

"You may come in as a big name, but it's a whole different game when you get to college. (Seniors) may not get as much attention as we should, but it's something you have to live with. The key is to be the last one standing in the end. That's where the glory is."



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