AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Carl Krauser grew up in the Bronx, a child of the streets who was a pretty fair amateur boxer in his early teens. But Krauser eventually discovered that words, not fists, are a man's most effective weapons. So if he ever makes it big in the world, Pittsburgh's star guard plans to impart that lesson to the next generation of kids.
"If God blesses me with the opportunity to make it to the NBA, I want to start a bunch of Read to Achieve programs," Krauser said Thursday at The Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Panthers meet Kent State tonight in the first round of the men's NCAA Tournament. "I'd like to open up a lot of YMCAs, maybe even open my own school in the future."
Krauser has a fondness for language, although it hasn't always manifested itself in the most polite and conventional fashion. Earlier this month, in a Sports Illustrated poll of the major college basketball conferences, Krauser was named the biggest trash talker in the Big East (and yes, Syracuse's Gerry McNamara was picked as the most overrated player).
He's actually proud of the designation. Krauser, a 6-foot-2 senior, insists he doesn't cross the line on the floor. He doesn't swear or insult an opponent's appearance or his family. He's a passionate guy who never stops competing and never shuts up. He likens his competitive style to that of his boxing hero, Muhammad Ali.
"Ali fights with passion and keeps his mouth moving," said Krauser. "He throws his opponent off and gets him frustrated. Then he attacks and he beats you. That's it. Game."
Krauser doesn't have the most elegant game. He has been skewered on the Pittsburgh talk shows for his 39.9 percent shooting. But in the one stat that truly matters -- wins -- he has few peers in the college ranks. The Panthers (24-7) have won 103 games in his four years. He is one of three Pitt players to win 20 games in four straight seasons.
In fact, coach Jamie Dixon calls Krauser the greatest winner in school history because he was a motivational force in practice as a redshirt freshman on the Pitt team that went 29-6 in 2001-02. The Panthers are playing in their fifth straight NCAA Tournament, a school record, and Krauser has been a part of all five.
Krauser has led Pitt in scoring and assists three years running. He is the only player in school history with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. He leads the team in scoring (15.0), assists (4.7) and steals (52) this season.
But there's one thing that has eluded Krauser, who will turn 25 in May. Pitt has never gotten beyond the Sweet 16 in an NCAA tourney, losing three times in the last four year, including an overtime loss to Kent State in 2002. Krauser admits it eats away at him.
"It does," Krauser said. "It hurts as a competitor. You always dream of going to the Final Four. I want to know how it feels to step out there at the Final Four and say, 'All right, we made it here. Now it's time to move on to the national championship game.' "
First, of course, the Panthers have to beat Kent State, which ousted UB en route to the Mid-American title. Krauser knows it's not good to look ahead, but he believes this is the year Pitt breaks through. He said it a month ago and again on Thursday.
"I definitely feel that way," he said. "We have a lot more weapons, a lot more guards who can make plays. We have a dominant 7-footer (Aaron Gray). Everybody has gotten better over the year. We all know our roles, and we've been playing well the last couple of weeks."
Pitt beat nationally ranked West Virginia and Villanova to reach last week's Big East tourney final before losing to an inspired Syracuse team in the title game. The Panthers are ranked 16th in the AP poll and playing like the team that started the 2005-06 season with a 15-0 record.
Krauser nearly moved on after his junior year. He worked out at some NBA draft camps, but scouts told him he needed to become a more consistent shooter and wasn't likely to be drafted.
He moved from point guard to off guard, but had the worst shooting year of his career, percentage-wise. Still, Krauser said he has no regrets about returning for his senior year.
"I looked at myself and said, 'Hey, you've got the opportunity to come back to Pittsburgh and be a better father, a better student/athlete, a better person,' " Krauser said. "I got to share my experiences with these young guys who needed my leadership.
"I learn from them," he said, "and they pick up things from me. So I wanted to come back and do those things. I love teaching and I love learning at the same time, and I love working with young people."