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December 6, 2007When asked Wednesday, Luke Sikma knew the identity of the nation's leading freshman rebounder.
What he didn't know was that he was second to Kansas State's Michael Beasley, who not only leads his class in rebounding but the nation at 15 per game.
Rebounding is in the genes of Luke Sikma, a 6-foot-8 forward at the University of Portland. He is the son of former Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks great Jack Sikma, a seven-time NBA All-Star who finished his career with more than 10,000 rebounds. He played 14 seasons in the league (1977-91), and he averaged nearly a double-double for his career (15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds).
"I wish we had gotten to go at it," said Luke Sikma, who's averaging 8.6 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Pilots (2-6). "He'd had shoulder surgery and some other health problems and really couldn't."
What he could do was to impart to his son a wealth of knowledge on how to play the game. Luke Sikma had played mostly on the wing in his formative years until a 7-inch growth spurt between the end of eighth grade and his sophomore year of high school transformed him into a post player.
"It was awkward adjusting to the height, but I've always been a quick learner," Luke Sikma said.
It helped that he had developed some perimeter skills before moving inside.
"I'd say my ability to pass and rebound had developed while I was on the wing, and they translated well for me," Sikma said. "Not being a taller player when I was younger, I had to learn different ways to get rebounds. I'd watch how the ball came off the rim, make sure I had good position, box out."
Like a chip off the old block. His father was a great rebounder because of positioning and instincts, and he was an outstanding passer. He twice averaged at least four assists in a season, and he finished his career averaging 3.2 assists per game.
"We're very close," Luke Sikma said. "He's coaching down in Houston now (Sikma took a job as an assistant with the Rockets before this season after spending the past four seasons on the SuperSonics' staff), but we talk every couple of days. He texts me on game days to wish me luck and I call him after every game."
More rave reviews for Beasley
George Mason coach Jim Larranaga had high praise for Beasley after his Patriots beat the Wildcats in the Old Spice Classic over the Thanksgiving holiday in Orlando despite Beasley's 30 points and 10 rebounds.
He dropped the names of several basketball legends in discussing Beasley's ability.
"He scores so easily, he rebounds at both ends, he plays above the rim," Larranaga told Rivals.com. "He's better than anybody in college basketball right now. He has a beautiful shooting touch, and he keeps his game very simple.
"I explained to my players he doesn't make moves; he just makes shots. He doesn't show you what he can do, then misses the shot."
Larranaga said Beasley made a play against GMU in which he drove to the basket from the top of the key, took one dribble and laid in the ball.
"We looked at the tape, replayed it and replayed it," Larranaga said. "We figured he had to have traveled. He didn't. It was like we weren't even on the court. It was a Dr. J or Connie Hawkins kind of move."
The coach wasn't done.
"The guys I would compare him to are Wes Unseld as a rebounder, and he has Elvin Hayes' jump shot," Larranaga said. "He combines both of their great skills."
'Bama transfer coming eligible for Butler
Butler may have played the best 20 minutes of anyone this season in its 65-46 comeback victory over Ohio State last week in Indianapolis.
The Bulldogs outscored the Buckeyes 45-16 in the second half. Over the final 13 minutes, the Bulldogs went on a 34-8 run.
But here's the scary part of that dominating performance. The Bulldogs may have done it without one of their top players.
Alabama transfer Avery Jukes, a 6-8, 215-pound power forward, will be eligible later this month, possibly in time for a home game against Bradley on Dec. 19. Jukes will provide a major boost to a team that is 7-0 with wins over four BCS programs (Michigan, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and Ohio State).
"(Avery) is going to bring another dimension to our team, especially with his post play," senior guard Pete Campbell said. "He's definitely the most athletic player on our team. He brings an element to our team that nobody else can offer."
Jukes, a former three-star prospect, is the antithesis of a traditional Butler player. While most of his teammates were passed over by major programs, Jukes had scholarship offers from Florida State, Georgetown, Georgia and Miami, and was ranked among the nation's top 150 prospects at one time.
At Alabama, Jukes was stuck behind two of the SEC's top big men ? Jermareo Davidson (now playing for NBA's Charlotte Bobcats) and Richard Hendrix (tied for third in the nation with 12.8 rebounds per game). Jukes played limited minutes in three games before leaving at midseason last season.
Jukes' arrival at Butler was a welcome sight for a program that often is undersized when facing opponents outside the Horizon League.
"He's probably the tallest guy here," said Butler point guard Mike Green, who led the team with 6.0 rebounds a game last season despite being just 6-1. "He's definitely the strongest guy here."
Jukes is the tallest player on the roster, an inch taller than freshman Matt Howard, who had a breakout game with 23 points and seven boards against Ohio State. Jukes and Howard could team to give Butler a far better frontline than it had last season, when Green and guard A.J. Graves carried the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 where they lost to eventual national champ Florida 65-57.
Green, one of four returning starters, already is convinced the Bulldogs are better this season.
"We are hungrier after coming so close," Green said. "Plus, we are a year older and a year wiser."
With Jukes, they are also more athletic, bigger and stronger.
North Carolina junior wing Danny Green hasn't started any of the top-ranked Tar Heels' seven games, but you wouldn't know it by looking at his stats.
Green ranks third on the team in scoring (14.0 points per game), fourth in rebounding (4.4) and is tied for first with 1.6 steals per game and nine blocks. He is also shooting a team-high 87.0 percent from the line (20-of-23).
Those numbers make Green an early candidate for the nation's most improved player. He averaged 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds last season.
Washington may not be waiting for senior guard Ryan Appleby, one of the Pac-10's top 3-point shooters, much longer. Appleby, who suffered a fractured thumb on his shooting hand, recently began practicing with the team and is considered "a game-day decision" for the Huskies' home game against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Appleby would return at a much-needed time for the Huskies (4-3), who are coming off a 96-71 loss at Oklahoma State last week. Appleby made 43.3 percent of his 3-point attempts (84-of-194) last season, which ranked fifth in the league. The team is shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc without him.
Staff writer Andrew Skwara contributed to this report.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.