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January 10, 2007

Longhorns' freshman earning respect

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By the first media timeout of Texas' game against Colorado in Boulder, forward Kevin Durant lumbered over to the Longhorns' bench winded from the Rocky Mountain air.

Only minutes into the game, the 6-foot-9 forward was unsure if he'd last the entire game in the Colorado altitude.

By the end of the 102-78 win, Durant was the one leaving people including a reported 14 NBA scouts breathless.

Durant eventually adjusted to the thin air to play 35 minutes. He scored a Big 12-freshman record 37 points against the Buffaloes. He also pulled down 16 rebounds to earn Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week honors.

Earlier in the week, Durant scored 21 points with 15 rebounds and four blocks in an 84-52 win over Texas-Arlington on Jan. 2.

"I'm glad I don't have to see him again," Colorado coach Ricardo Patton said. "He is certainly a top draft pick. I don't see any flaws in his game whatsoever."

In one of the top freshman classes in history, only Ohio State's Greg Oden was ranked higher than Durant. The Longhorns forward has lived up to his billing as an NBA draft pick by leading the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding.

In Boulder, NBA scouts eyed the matchup between the freshman Durant and Colorado junior guard Richard Roby. The rookie and the veteran matched each other point for point in the first half. Roby scored 22 and Durant 21 on the way to 51-48 Texas lead.

If Durant had any problem with the altitude after halftime, he didn't show it. The freshman outlasted his more seasoned counterpart with 16 second-half points. Roby finished with 30 points in the game.

"He certainly enjoyed the matchup," Texas assistant coach Russ Springmann said. "He has great respect for Roby."

With the start of conference play this week, Durant continued to carry Texas with his seventh and eighth double-doubles of the season.

His numbers and performance in Boulder drew high praise from Patton, but Durant would say his game is far from flawless.

If not for the new rule requiring NBA draftees to be one year removed from high school, the Texas start would likely be in the pro ranks. In Austin, Durant has used his college experience to refine his game.

He put on 17 pounds in the weight room since his arrival on Austin. On Sunday - the day after Durant's 37-point game against Colorado - Springmann found Durant in gym working on his shot even though the team had an off day scheduled.

"He wants to be great, always wanting to add to his game," said Springmann, who recruited Durant out of Suitland (Md.) Montrose Christian. "He's taken more pride in his defense, being more consistent rebounding the ball and becoming a complete player. He's not just a shooter. He's improved his back-to-the-basket game and his post game."

Among other nominees for national freshman of the week:

Ohio State's Greg Oden scored 21 points with five rebounds and four blocks in a 74-67 win over Indiana on Tuesday. He added 15 rebounds, four blocks and seven points in a 62-44 loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton scored 13 points with nine assists and three steals on Wednesday in a 97-46 win over Winston-Salem. He added 22 points and six assists in a 75-74 loss to undefeated Clemson on Saturday.

Arizona's Chase Budinger scored 23 points with four steals in a 96-87 win on the road against Arizona on Thursday.

Seton Hall's Eugene Harvey scored 21 points in a 77-72 win over Rutgers on Wednesday. He added 16 points in a 91-69 loss at Providence on Saturday. He was 13 of 26 from the field for the week.

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