Kansas star getting closer to decision on next step

Tuesday, April 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ All-American Drew Gooden is getting closer to deciding whether he'll be back for a final year at Kansas, promising an announcement ``sometime this week.''

Gooden and his teammates, who made the Final Four in this year's NCAA basketball tournament, were honored Monday night in the annual team banquet at the Lied Center.

Gooden, a 6-foot-10 junior, led the Big 12 in scoring (19.8 points per game) and rebounding (11.4 per game.) He finished second to Duke's Jason Williams in the balloting for the Wooden Award as the nation's top player, and would likely be among the top choices in the National Basketball Association draft should he turn pro.

``Whatever decision I make is going to be the best for me,'' Gooden said after the program during which he was named the team's most valuable player. ``But it makes the decision tough, just wanting to be on this team and play with these guys again and win it all. It goes both ways.''

This year's Kansas team went undefeated in the Big 12 and made the Final Four for the first time since 1993, finishing 33-4 after losing to Maryland in the semifinals.

In his remarks, coach Roy Williams urged Kansas fans to support Gooden in whatever path he chooses.

``I don't want anybody to say, 'Drew, you need to stay,' because that's not right,'' Williams said. ``If you could get the kind of money he can get, you'd give up your last yeart at ol' KU. And don't say you wouldn't.''

``I want everyone to understand that if Drew goes, he's given us a great three years,'' Williams said. ``If Drew stays, I'm going to enjoy coaching the heck out of him.''

``But there's going to be some time in the future when we hang that jersey in the rafters as a retired jersey,'' he said. ``And for the rest of my life I'll know that there's a guy up there that I coached.''

After his coach's remarks, Gooden rose from his chair and he and Williams embraced as the fans stood.

The player's father, Andrew Gooden Jr., said his son is struggling with his options because of the loyalty he feels toward his coaches, teammates and fans.

``The conflict is that Drew never dreamed he'd come to college, play for that school and fall in love _ with the community, the state, the teachers, the coaches, the players,'' the elder Gooden said. ``He's having the greatest time and doesn't want to give that up. That's half the calling card. He worried that he'd feel like he's deserting people. He's not a quitter.''

Nick Collison, a junior who averaged 15.6 points, said Gooden knows the best decision for him probably is to leave.

``But it's hard to actually do it,'' Collison said. ``He feels like he wants to stay...because he's having such a good time. But kids grow up their whole lives wanting to be in the NBA. When you have that chance, your mind tells you that you should do it. But sometimes your heart wants to stay.''

Collison and fellow junior Kirk Hinrich have both asked Williams to explore their prospects for the NBA draft as well.

``You might as well look at every option you have,'' said Collison. ``But chances are I'll be back.''