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April 23, 2008

Kansas guard Chalmers will test draft waters

LAWRENCE, Kan. Miracle Mario wants to see where he stands in the NBA.

Kansas star Mario Chalmers declared himself eligible for the NBA draft on Wednesday, deciding to not sign with an agent to leave open the possibility of a return to the national champion Jayhawks.

The junior guard says he'll come out only if it looks like he'll be picked in the first round of the June 26 draft. If not - he's currently projected to go between pick Nos. 25-35 - Chalmers will return to Kansas, the team he helped win its third national championship with one of the biggest shots in NCAA tournament history.

"I looked at the pros and cons of all three options and I don't think hiring an agent right now would be the best fit for me right now personally just because I'm not projected that high in the draft," Chalmers said. "It's just great that I have the opportunity to come back if I can and the opportunity to go if I can. I think it's a win-win situation."

Rangy and athletic, Chalmers was one of the leaders in Kansas' run to its first national championship in 20 years, teaming with Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins to form one of the nation's best backcourts.

A superb on-the-ball defender, Chalmers led the Jayhawks with 97 steals and was just as good on the offensive end, tying Darrell Arthur for second in scoring with 12.8 points. He also had a knack for hitting big shots, none bigger than his last-second 3-pointer that sent the national championship game into overtime.

The key question, as far as the NBA draft goes, is whether Chalmers can play point guard.

Because of the Jayhawks' bevy of talented guards, Chalmers spent most of his three years in Lawrence at shooting guard, allowing Robinson and Collins to handle the point. Though he led the Jayhawks in assists at 4.3 per game, he hasn't played point guard since high school, a concern for some NBA teams, particularly because he lacks the size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds to play shooting guard at the next level.

But Kansas coach Bill Self believes it won't be an issue once Chalmers starts to prove himself during predraft workouts.

"I think he's a first-round player," Self said. "I think it's a deep draft, it's guard-heavy, but the bottom line is I believe he's as good as anybody out there. Next year's draft probably isn't as strong on paper and that's something I think he should consider, but he's earned the right to investigate."

Chalmers delivered one of the most memorable shots in NCAA tournament history during the national championship game on April 7.

Provided a sliver of hope after Memphis missed four of five free throws, Kansas raced the ball up the floor with 10.8 seconds, trailing by three points. Collins got the ball to Chalmers, who launched a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. The shot hit nothing but net with 2.1 seconds left and Kansas rode the momentum into overtime, beating Memphis 75-68.

The tendency after such a career-defining moment might be to ride the wave of momentum and see how far it might carry him into the next level. Instead, Chalmers took his time to weigh every option, talking it over with his family and Self before deciding the best route was to leave open the possibility of returning to Kansas.

"That shot is a one-in-a-million chance," Chalmers said. "I'll probably never again have a chance to shoot that shot on that big of a stage. That was a good shot and it brought us a national championship, but I think it's just time to move on from that."

If he does come back, Chalmers will likely find himself playing on a drastically different team.

Robinson, forward Darnell Jackson and center Sasha Kaun were seniors this past season and Rush declared for the draft for the second straight year, ending his college eligibility. Arthur declared without hiring an agent, but there's a strong possibility he could be gone, too.

Collins and center Cole Aldrich are the only returning players who played significant minutes during Kansas' national title run. Self doesn't see a problem.

"Coaching Mario after he's made the shot I don't think will be any more difficult than coaching Mario before he made the shot," Self said. "If anything, once you get that taste in your mouth, the more you taste it the more you want it. I think that would be a great opportunity to lead a bunch of young guys who don't know any better, help mold the team the way he wants it molded."



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