Keith Langford: Kansas's Mr. March

Kansas' Keith Langford looks for help in front of Arizona State defender Donnell Knight, top, during the first half of this NCAA West Regional second-round game Saturday, March 22, 2003, in Oklahoma City.
Duke shouldn't feel embarrassed for not recruiting Keith Langford. Hardly any schools but Kansas did.

From the time he was a 6-foot-1-inch high school post player guarding guys half a foot taller, through voting this month on The Associated Press All-Big 12 team, the quiet sophomore has been often overlooked.

Kansas coach Roy Williams checked the first team on the All-Big 12 list and sure enough, Jayhawk seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich were right there where they belonged.

Then with increasing dismay, he scanned the second team and the third.

Not until he read the fine print under "honorable mention" did Williams finally find the name of 6-foot-4-inch Langford, who had merely averaged almost 16 points a game during the Jayhawks' drive to a second consecutive Big 12 championship.

"I was stunned he didn't make one of the first, second or third team," Williams said. "I think he's had that kind of year. I was just stunned. I do think he's kind of overlooked.

"But he's not overlooked by his coaches and he's not overlooked by his teammates. He's still a young pup, he's just a sophomore, and he understands that part of it too. He knows how much we appreciate him."

Langford is certain not to be overlooked by Duke's savvy coaches and players in Thursday night's West regional semifinals in Anaheim, Calif. They'll have seen tapes of the Jayhawks' victories over Utah State and Arizona State last week and the way Langford, with a variety of slash-to-the-basket moves, led the Jayhawks with a 20.5-point average.

Providing a much-needed scoring threat to complement Collison and Hinrich, Langford is certain to be a big part of the game plan against Duke.

"Keith's maybe as good as I've ever had at slashing the ball to the basket," Williams said. "So we've got to try to give him some space to do that."

Coming up big at tournament time seems to be a Langford specialty. A year ago when he was a freshman on a team that featured All-American Drew Gooden as well as Hinrich and Collison, he averaged 17.5 points off the bench against Illinois and Oregon and was named to the Midwest Regional all-tournament team.

"It's such a big spotlight. I know every game's important," he said.

"But there are no games that are as important as these. Everybody always talks about getting to this point, about this being their goal. But you have to do something when you get there. I thrive on having my best games in the best situations or against the best opponent. I did it in high school and last year and hopefully it will continue throughout the rest of my career."

Collison, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, is coming to depend on Langford.

"He's played well in a lot of big games," Collison said. "He gives us another scoring option. He's better than anyone on our team at breaking down guys off the dribble and getting a bucket. That's something a lot of teams don't have."

Getting snubbed by the all-conference voters did not bother him, Langford said. Then he grinned and tried again.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said it didn't. But that's been happening throughout my career so much that it's just something I wipe off and keep going.

"I wasn't a McDonald's All-American. A lot of people said I was too small and said this level would be too much for me. But I just keep going and I don't take anything for granted. I try to improve myself."

"I'm not done yet."

By Doug Tucker