J. Brady McCollough
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Saturday, March 22, 2008

KU's Darrell Arthur prepares for the biggest games of his life 

 

By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

 

OMAHA, Neb. | Darrell Arthur walked through the lobby of the Kansas team hotel on Friday morning, said hi to his mother and disappeared with his teammates into a world of scouting reports, practice, team meals, video games and, knowing Arthur, a practical joke or two.

 

For Arthur, Friday was just another day in the life, the basketball-fed existence he's been living since that day in third grade when a tall, lanky kid walked into the Moreland YMCA in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood and met a man named Jazzy Hartwell.

 

Friday could have been any of the thousands of days Arthur has spent holed up in hotel rooms, passing the time until the next game.

 

It could have been the night in Las Vegas, when he played for Hartwell's Team Texas squad and called his mother, burnt out on the game he'd grown to love.

 

"I'm ready to go home now," Arthur would say. "Jazzy is trippin'. We can't do nothin'."

 

It could have been the time in Virginia Beach, Va., when Arthur was missing too many free throws in that day's set of AAU games. Hartwell took him to a park and worked with him on his form.

 

It could have been the day in Dallas during Arthur's junior year when his team played five games. Hartwell felt bad. The kids could barely move by the end.

 

There were so many games over so many years, how could Arthur possibly care?

 

"If you lose," Arthur said, "you know you're going to be playing again."

 

With that kind of upbringing, playing meaningful games in March is a new thrill to Darrell Arthur. On Friday afternoon, one day from a tussle with Nevada-Las Vegas in the NCAA Tournament's second round, Arthur stood next to the showers in the Kansas locker room and thought about the next three weeks.

 

"These are the biggest games of my life," he said.

 

***

 

Man, was Darrell Arthur lazy. Jazzy Hartwell couldn't believe it. Here was this kid, this 6-foot-5 seventh-grader who had been given a gift straight from God, Hartwell recalls, and he wanted to play baseball?

 

At least, that's what it seemed like when Hartwell would arrive at basketball practice and there was no Arthur to be found. Hartwell would drive into the neighborhood looking for him and would inevitably find Arthur and some friends playing baseball with a stick and a tennis ball.

 

"He'd just disappear in the neighborhood to keep from going to basketball practice," Hartwell said. "He didn't have that passion."

 

"I just thought I was a regular Joe," Arthur said.

 

In a seventh-grade game, Arthur dunked for the first time. Even he could realize he wasn't regular anymore.

 

"He thought he was the man," Arthur's mother, Sandra, said.

 

Something clicked for Arthur heading into eighth grade. He started calling Hartwell and asking him to pick him up for practice.

Basketball began to bring out Arthur's personality. He had always been quiet, reserved, a mama's boy. All of a sudden, he was wearing a cap with bells on each side, singing and rapping to Eminem.

 

"I'm the Real Slim Shady," Arthur would say.

 

Slim Shady became his nickname - it would later be shortened to just Shady at KU - and Arthur's career was off and running. At an eighth-grade game, a Nike representative approached Hartwell and said, "This kid's got potential to be big time."

 

To be big time, Arthur would have to showcase his game as often as possible. Baseball certainly wasn't going to happen anymore, and that was fine with him.

 

"I started to love the game," Arthur said.

 

***

 

Every spring, the day after Arthur's high school season ended at South Oak Cliff, he began practicing with Team Texas.

 

"He'd be the first one to walk into the gym," Hartwell said.

 

Arthur, like many AAU players, was willing to give up the life of a normal teenager for a chance at a big-time Division I college scholarship and a professional career afterward. He played basketball year-round, never taking a true break. Family vacations only existed after Sandra Arthur quit her job as a city bus driver during Darrell's sophomore year to follow her son around the country - although these trips were hardly vacations.

 

Sandra never realized what a grind the AAU circuit was until she joined up. With the stakes as high as they were, it seemed normal enough.

 

"I had some concerns because I could see how fatigued he was," Sandra said.

 

Arthur would play 35 high school games and then 250 to 300 games with Team Texas.

 

"It was tough," Arthur said. "We played like six games in one day. That just kind of wore us out a lot. At the same time, I enjoyed it a lot."

 

There was plenty to enjoy. College coaches were always on the scene, jotting down notes and dolling out handshakes to Hartwell. The kids couldn't help but buy in.

 

"It's a system," Hartwell said. "They just figure out that's what they're supposed to do. They love the game they learn to love it."

 

Hartwell said Arthur played five games in a day one time, but never six. Either way, it isn't a good memory.

 

"Their muscles were tightening up," Hartwell said. "They couldn't eat. I'm fussing, raising hell, trying to motivate them, and I couldn't because their bodies wouldn't let them go."

 

All those games led Arthur to the top of the recruiting wish lists for programs like North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, LSU and Baylor. His decision to attend KU instead of Baylor was tough - he didn't want to leave home - but it kept coming back to one thing.

 

"He loves to win," Sandra Arthur said.

 

***

 

Some people assumed Arthur would be one-and-done. And maybe he would have been if his production didn't decrease in the middle of his freshman year.

 

Still, Arthur's talent was obvious. A 6-foot-9 power forward, Arthur could hit shots from 18 feet routinely, and he was capable of making threes, too.

 

At the beginning of this season, with Julian Wright having left early for the NBA, Arthur was expected to have a big year and follow in Wright's footsteps to the NBA lottery.

 

To this point, Arthur hasn't had a dominant year. He leads KU in scoring at 13.2 points per game and is second in rebounding, tugging down 6.2 boards a game. Too often, foul trouble has kept him on the bench. No matter, the assumption remains that Arthur will bolt for the NBA after this season.

 

Sandra Arthur and Jazzy Hartwell don't know why people expect Darrell to leave. They are adamant that it's nowhere close to a done deal.

 

"It's nothing that he's rushing," Sandra said.

 

A big tournament, of course, could change everything. Projected as the No. 18 pick in this summer's NBA draft by NBADraft.net, Arthur would undoubtedly move up the chart with more games like he had against Texas (16 points and nine rebounds) and Portland State (17 and seven).

 

But Arthur isn't thinking about his own numbers as he would have if this were the Kingwood AAU tournament down in Houston. This tournament is too important.

 

"This is our year," Arthur said. "I want it pretty bad."

 

Kansas coach Bill Self is glad to hear it.

 

"It's reaching a point in time where guys have to step up and deliver," Self said, "and he's very capable of being as productive a guy as there is anywhere."

 

Hartwell has seen Arthur play thousands of games. Really, thousands. He says he still hasn't seen the Real Slim Shady at Kansas.

 

"There's a lot more he can do," Hartwell said. "He can really blossom, and it's going to come out in this tournament. I really believe that."

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