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HomeSportsUT
Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

UT-Kansas game great for Chicago coach

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UT's Florentino Valencia. UT's Florentino Valencia.
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Anthony Longstreet has enjoyed this kind of thing before.

In March of 2004, he was in San Antonio for the semifinal game of the NCAA Final Four between Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State.

Tony Allen was the Big 12 player of the year for Oklahoma State. Will Bynum was the guy who hit the last second shot to send Tech into the title game against Connecticut.

Both played for Longstreet at Crane High School in Chicago.

On Saturday, he'll have three players on the court when the University of Toledo meets Kansas at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

"I get to save a little money this time," Longstreet said, laughing. "I'll get three players for the price of one airfare. It will be a special day for me."

Ex-Crane players Florentino Valencia and Tyrone Kent will be on the court for Toledo while ballyhooed freshman guard Sherron Collins plays for the Jayhawks.

It's only right that Longstreet gets to enjoy the game. According to UT coach Stan Joplin, he's the one who is responsible for it.

"I was in Chicago recruiting and dropped by Crane to say hello," Joplin recalled. "Anthony asked me if we needed a game. I told him we always needed games and he said we should play Kansas.

Tyrone Kent. Tyrone Kent.
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"I laughed and said, 'Kansas isn't going to play us.' He picked up the phone and the next thing I knew we were playing Kansas. Then I was told the game would be on national television [ESPN2] and we'd get paid $50,000. It was a no-brainer. But Anthony did everything."

So, the Rockets will play on the road for a seventh straight game, taking their 2-4 record against one of the elite programs in college basketball. The Jayhawks are ranked No. 12 with a 7-2 mark.

"Now I don't know if I should kiss Anthony or kick him," Joplin joked.

Longstreet's former players will go the kissing route.

"He's really a good man and a good coach," Valencia said. "He does a lot to help guys get into school and the only thing he asks is that we get our degrees. There are a lot of guys who can be real proud of where we come from.

"It's a tough area, but 'Street always made sure we stayed on the right track and followed the right path. I'm glad he's going to be there Saturday."

Kansas' Sherron Collins is from Chicago. Kansas' Sherron Collins is from Chicago.
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If the past two games are any example, Longstreet should see Valencia at the top of his game. The Rockets' post player has recorded the first two double-doubles of his career in points and rebounds in games leading up to the Kansas tilt.

"Florentino may not be blessed with the size you want inside, but I saw this kind of upside in him providing he went to the right program," Longstreet said. "I felt very confident that Stan and his staff would make Tino feel like part of a family, would nurture him, and that he would thrive in that type of environment.

"From what I understand, Florentino has been embraced in Toledo and is a very popular player. I'm proud of him. I'm most proud that he'll get a degree from Toledo and I know he'll be successful in whatever he aspires to be because of his work ethic."

Valencia played with Allen, who is now with the NBA's Boston Celtics, for one year and with Bynum for two seasons. But it wasn't until Valencia's senior year, when Kent was a sophomore, that Crane hit its full stride and went 26-1.

Two years later, when Kent was a senior, either he or Collins led Crane in scoring in 23 out of 29 games. The Cougars advanced to the state tournament after Collins scored 24 points and Kent grabbed seven rebounds in a super-sectional victory.

"That got us into the Elite Eight for the first time in 31 years and the day before we played our next game Ty came down with appendicitis, couldn't play, and we lost," Longstreet recalled. "He was on the point of the press and everything we did went through Ty."

Kent said he's "still kind of mad about that, but things happen. It will be cool, a good experience to play against an old high school teammate after playing together for so long. Sherron's a real physical player who tries to take over a game and put his team on his back."

Longstreet thinks Kent can be every bit as dominant a player for the Rockets.

"He's sitting on so much potential," the Crane coach said. "He's scratched the surface here and there, but the sky's the limit when he makes the adjustment. I think he's good enough to be playing for money someday."

Longstreet is in his 12th year as coach at Crane and has a 239-83 record.

"I've truly been blessed," he said. "I've had nine All-City players and all nine qualified academically to get Division I scholarships. My reward is that they come back with that piece of paper."

Another of his recent Crane grads is Lorenzo Thompson, and last weekend Longstreet didn't have to travel far to see Thompson and his DePaul team upset Collins and the Jayhawks in Chicago.

The coach is happy, though, to travel for Saturday's game.

"I'd really hoped that Tino and Tyrone would get to play against Kansas in Lawrence, to experience the tradition and the aura of Allen Fieldhouse," Longstreet said. "But playing at Kemper Arena isn't a bad deal either."

The only date UT had open for the game was the same date Kansas was contracted to play in something called the American Century Investments Shootout at Kemper Arena. So that's where the teams will meet. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m., Toledo time, and will be televised on ESPN2.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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