Sunday, March 24, 2002

An Oregon son now directing Kansas attack

Miles rejected Ducks, starts for Jayhawks

The Associated Press

        MADISON, Wis. — Aaron Miles wants to rebuff the Oregon Ducks again.

        The Portland, Ore., native spurned his home state for the chance to play college basketball at Kansas, and now the freshman point guard will try to keep the Ducks from reaching their first Final Four since 1939.

        “I do want to win so I have a little bragging rights, but the main reason I want to win is so we get to the Final Four,” Miles said Saturday, a day before Kansas and Oregon play in the Midwest Regional final.

        The top-seeded Jayhawks (32-3) haven't been to the national semifinals since 1993. The No.2 Ducks (26-8), meanwhile, are playing in a regional final for the first time since 1960.

        Despite Kansas' rich history and the lack thereof at Oregon, the Jayhawks offered Miles the chance to start right away.

        The Ducks already had Luke Ridnour, the Pac-10 freshman of the year in 2001, entrenched at point guard, so it was a no-brainer for Miles to turn his back on the team he grew up cheering for.

        “If he wasn't there, I would have thought about it a little more,” acknowledged Miles, who played against Ridnour in a pickup game during his campus visit to Eugene. “He's a great point guard. I like watching point guards like him.”

        Just not from the bench or the off-guard spot.

        Plus, Ducks coach Ernie Kent wanted to redshirt Miles' best friend, guard Michael Lee, because he already had sophomore Luke Jackson at off-guard.

        Miles wanted to play point guard and Lee wanted to play right away.

        So they went off to Kansas, where the childhood friends who won a state high school basketball championship now room together.

        “Mike's been my boy since I was ankle-low, since I was a little baby,” Miles said. “When Michael was offered his scholarship, that was the biggest help in my decision.”

        Lee hasn't played much, averaging 1.3 points and 0.4 rebounds, but at least he's playing.

        And Miles has lived up to his big billing. Although his 6.7-point scoring average has been a disappointment, he took immediate control of Kansas' up-tempo offense.

        He was the Jayhawks' savior Friday night when he had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists while hounding Illinois point guard Frank Williams in a 73-69 win.

        Kent doesn't look at the loss of Miles and Lee — the first Oregonians ever to play for Kansas — as a bad thing. He sees it as a validation of sorts.

        “We knew it was a long shot when I sat in their homes and went in there after Kansas did and there was opportunity for them to get on the court right away and play and I'm sitting here with these two wonderful players,” Kent said of Ridnour and Jackson.

        While Miles was helping return Kansas to the upper echelon of college basketball, the Ducks were making history of their own.

        Oregon won its first outright conference championship since the 1938-39 Tall Firs took the Pacific Coast Conference crown on the way to winning the first NCAA championship.

        The Ducks beat Texas 72-70 Friday behind 45 points from Ridnour and Jackson.

        That doesn't mean Kent doesn't look back with regret at losing out on two homegrown talents.

        “They would have been just a joy to be able to coach, but their decisions turned out to be good decisions for them,” Kent said.


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