Nov. 8, 2000
NEW YORK - Four of the 11 winningest programs in college basketball history are getting the new season started in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Kansas plays UCLA, and Kentucky faces St. John's in Thursday night's opening round as 318 Division I teams start paring down to the 65 which will play in the NCAA tournament.
"We celebrate the end of the season every year with the Final Four and this tournament has become the way we celebrate the start of the season and college basketball deserves that," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said.
The Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic has raised almost $1 million to help fund research against the disease.
"This is great for the betterment of the teams along with a great cause," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "It's a little early but it's the same for everybody."
No. 7 Kansas has almost everybody back after a 24-10 season, while No. 17 UCLA has 10 players returning from a team that went 21-12.
"Some of our up-and-down play was attributed to three freshmen (forwards Drew Gooden and Nick Collison and guard Kirk Hinrich) who are now sophomores so we can't use that as an excuse now," Williams said. "The biggest improvement I'm hoping for is that we went through those experiences and we are now more experienced."
"This team is not as athletic or as talented as even last year's but I like the experience and maturity and I'm hoping they will offset some of the firepower we lost to the NBA," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said.
Jarvis and No. 12 Kentucky's coach, Tubby Smith, make it sound as if they handed out name tags along with the practice jerseys last month.
St. John's has two starters back from its Big East championship team - Reggie Jessie and Anthony Glover - and six first-year players, including point guard Omar Cook.
Jarvis doesn't believe it's an advantage for his team to be playing in the building where they play most of their big home games.
"Most of these kids have never played a college game in the Garden," he said. "We will get to spend a little more time in our normal surroundings and that's a big plus."
Kentucky has three starters back from last season's 23-10 team, but newcomers Marquis Estill and Jason Parker will be getting a lot of attention.
The 6-9 Estill had surgery on both knees while he redshirted last season and is down to 240 pounds.
"Right now he is a lot more agile and that's helped his knees," Smith said. "He has good range for a guy his size but he is inexperienced at this level, inexperienced with high hopes and great expectations."
The 6-7 Parker signed with North Carolina, but was not admitted, so he went to Kentucky.
Last season, Duke lost both of its games in this mini-tournament, but then reeled off 18 straight victories and went into the NCAA tournament as the top-ranked team.
"This is as strong a competition as you can get this early in the season," Lavin said. "It's a great opportunity to learn about your team, to get that measuring stick and then go back and prepare for the rest of season."
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer