Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jayhawks’ Little takes one for team

Tuesday night's Sunflower State showdown was a game of firsts for Mario Little.


KU crushes K-State in conference opener

KU tipped off the 2009 Big 12 season with a 17th-straight conference opening win. It was their 33rd consecutive victory in Allen Fieldhouse.

UPDATED: 2008-09 Kansas Men's Basketball: Past, Present and Future

This multimedia feature will keep you on pace with the Kansas men’s basketball team throughout the season. We trace the path from last year’s national championship game to the team's new faces for 2009, its 11-4 record heading into conference play and a 14-2 Big 12 finish, including a record fifth-straight conference title. Check back for a final update when the season concludes.

Reader poll

Did Mario Little make the right decision by not red-shirting?

  • Yes 57% 929 votes
  • No 30% 490 votes
  • Undecided 12% 201 votes

1620 total votes.

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2009 KU-KSU basketball Jan. 13

There was one main reason Mario Little said he decided not to red-shirt.

“The team,” the junior said after Kansas University’s 87-71 victory over Kansas State on Tuesday. “The team needed me.”

Though the 6-foot-5 junior-college transfer still isn’t fully healed from a stress fracture in his left leg, he chose to play in Tuesday’s game fully knowing the consequences.

Because he stepped on the court in a game during the last half of the season, Little will not be able to red-shirt this year — whether he gets fully healthy or not.

“Coach always expressed how everything is bigger than us: this university, people that have been here, the people who came before us. That’s what it’s about,” Little said. “It really wasn’t about me. That’s what it was at first, but I kind of did it for my team and my teammates, because they really want me to play.”

Would a red shirt have been better for him personally?

“Of course,” Little said. “Getting a head start, working out and getting two healthy years would be way better than a half a year, a year and a half.”

He talked to family members, coaches, friends and teammates to get their opinions before telling KU coach Bill Self his intentions.

“I’ve been thinking about it. Should I do it for the team, or should I look out for me and what’s best for me?” Little said. “I wasn’t totally looking out for what was best for me, but I really didn’t think I could help the team, and I wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t me.

“I still haven’t showed what I can do here, and I understand that, because I haven’t been playing long. I just tried to do it for the team.”

All along, Self urged Little to test his leg before deciding.

Little said the coach promised not to be mad at him, whatever decision he made.

“I don’t want anybody to look down on me like, ‘Yeah, man, he’s sitting out. He doesn’t want to help the team,’” Little said. “That was the main thing. I didn’t really want nobody to look down on me.”

Self said the choice was all Little’s. The coach’s advice to the Chicago native, though, was to play if he was healthy.

“I think it’s one of those deals where there’s no right or wrong,” Self said. “I think it’s a right decision if he stays healthy, and it’s not going to look like a great decision if he doesn’t. But he could also hurt his ankle or hurt some other part of his body down the road. We talked about that.

“I thought it was a selfless decision, but he knows we didn’t recruit him here to red-shirt. We recruited him here to impact our team, and I really think that his thinking is, ‘I can impact this team.’”

Little, who started Tuesday because a few other players did not perform well in practice, contributed eight points on 4-for-6 shooting. He also added three rebounds in 13 minutes.

“I’ve been feeling comfortable with my shot,” said Little, who scored his first field goal of the season on a layup three minutes in. “It was just my timing, trying to get it off, or to stop thinking. I was doing a lot of thinking my first three games.”

There’s good reason for that. Little is learning both the small-forward and power-forward positions at practice while also getting caught up with the basics of the offense.

“A lot of stuff, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now,” Little said. “That’s probably the main reason my minutes are limited.

“Sometimes they have to stop and start over, so I’ll be like, ‘Man, I need to get it right.’ It’s kind of frustrating, but I still try to stay positive.”


Ted Toulouse 12 years, 1 month ago

This is a double-edged sword. I'm usually all for players to be fully healthy coming back from injuries mainly because we want them to be better suited for later in the season or full strength for next season. But in this case, this team desparitely needs his presence on the court. I'm less than impressed with Collins' leadership so far. Hopefully Little will provide some upperclassman thinking on the court. He's a little slow right now but once he's up to game speed, he'll be great for us. He's got a nice shot too.

Timmay97 12 years, 1 month ago

I have this funny feeling that Little is going to become a man among boys. He's got a nice short range jumper and I even think that his three will start going down. He's needed for this team to succeed. Has anyone else noticed that we seem to start out EVERY game (so it seems) hot and on a tear? Then suddenly, as soon as Self starts subbing players in and out, we come back to mediocrity. This is the problem with KU right now. There is no flow and the guys don't seem to gel together. It seems whoever starts is the good mix. It's probably just me.....but this is what I see.Good win last night. Let's keep it going. We are young, but this is when the team should start coming together. Let's ROLL through the Big 12 and prove to everyone that this team is maturing.

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago

“A lot of stuff, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now,” Little said. “That’s probably the main reason my minutes are limited."Little appears to anticipate playing a lot of minutes.Who will sit?

KUPROUD 12 years, 1 month ago

Little showed why Coach wants him to play now. Even at less than full speed, he was frequently in the right place to make a positive difference, whether getting a rebound, blocking out, getting open for a pass, or confidently knocking down an open jumper. As his confidence in his leg and in running plays continues to grow, I can see him playing 20 minutes per game. M&M might get a little less playing time, but they also might benefit from the leadership and competition Little brings.

justanotherfan 12 years, 1 month ago

Eventually, I think Little will cut into the Reed/Morningstar minutes. It's pretty clear that Releford is not going to get significant minutes this year. Sherron and Cole will both be around 30, maybe more in close games. The twins haven't gotten more than about 45 minutes combined a game. I don't see that going down. Tyshawn is our only other reliable ball handler. He's going to get 25 per unless he is hurt or really struggling.That leaves the 45-50 minutes that Reed and Morningstar play. I figure Reed drops from 20 down to around 12-15. Morninstar drops from 25 to around 20. Little plays about 12-15 until his timing is right, then he plays as much as his game dictates. The way I'm seeing it right now, Quintrell and Travis are the odd men out of the rotation. They may be big time players next season, but right now, they are on the outside looking in.

AverageCitizen 12 years, 1 month ago

I still have no clear take on whether Mario is better or not. I am not sure I understand why they don't know. It's either healthy or it's not. With all our high tech 21st century medicine can't we tell if it's healed or not? No one seems to be giving a straight answer.

d_prowess 12 years, 1 month ago

Besides Little still not totally comfortable in the offense, he definitely still has work to do on his conditioning. Last night, there were a few times when he had walked up the court with his hands on his hips and them stood there grabbing his shorts. This will come with time obviously, and hopefully it will make him that much more effective.

jasonsgill 12 years, 1 month ago

AverageCitizen-I'm a medical student, and I'm just saying this to let you know that I have at least a rudimentary understanding of bone healing and stress fractures (I am no expert). But stress fractures depend alot on the dynamics of the healing process in any given individual. After a certain point in the healing process, and prior to when the fracture is fully healed, increased tension/stress on the fracture will induce the body to give more resources to the break, both strengthening and healing the injury in the process. But if you come back too early, the fracture will re-injure at a quicker pace than the body can heal. The good news is that with a good diet and proper reintroduction to exercise a healthy 22 year old should have the capacity to heal the fracture. We can only hope that the KU training staff is nailing this one.As for playing time, if you listen to Little's interview he mentions that he is having some trouble adjusting due to learning plays from both the 3 and the 4. This tells me that if the Morris Twins develop properly Little will be taking minutes from Tyrel, who, IMO, is really struggling with his shot right now from a confidence perspective, which is bad news considering he is already a step behind when it comes to D.

100 12 years, 1 month ago

C'mon, Clyde, this is common sense. We need to stop worrying about the guys who aren't ready for pressure for 40 minutes, yet. I don't need to name names here. Common sense should be enough.Listen, some of these guys will be great role players for years to come. There are 3 (probably 4) players out there in the starting lineup that will be part of the starting lineup next year. Yes, this is really about next year. And Sherron and Cole should be a huge part of this, knowing they have a great shot at winning 2 national championships in 3 years. The other obvious ingredient is Little. If Taylor continues his great play and picks up his D, he will be part of this too. So Clyde, it seems obvious Reed will not start anymore to get the flow for next year established. It's time for the big guns to take over this team. Especially in preparation for Withey being part of the best front court in basketball next year (which will go along very nicely with the best backcourt in basketball). In short, common sense says Reed will play much less this year. And Morningstar will be a huge factor this season, will be a great 6th or 7th man next year on the preseason #1 team.

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago

Little says they have him learning the 3 and 4, so we have to assume that Self sees him as a 3/4 swing man. But...I see Marcus Morris needing more help at 4 than Brady at the 3. Brady is, frankly, the best defensive player we have, and will be even better next year. He frankly needs very little help at the 3 and would need none at all at the 2. If he can shut down Chase Budinger and the guy at UTenn, plus hang tough with the Cheegan State butchers, he is not the weak link in this chain. Hence, you really can't sit him much and have a Selfdefense. Self may want Little in there on the perimeter to get some more rebounding, but he gets almost no other net benefit with Little over Brady and it is not clear yet that Little can feed the post reliably either. So: given Marcus Morris' struggles at the 4, I would expect to see a lot more of Little at the 4 than the 3, and yet Little has not indicated much ability to rebound with a D1-grade 4.It remains ominous that KSU outrebounded KU overall, and kicked KU's butts on the offensive boards, even with Little, who was supposed to deliver more rebounding. I just don't know how much KU can afford to go short with Little at the 4.So what then?As strange as this may sound, Little's greatest net benefit may be achieved with him subbing alternately for both Collins and Taylor. When either of them need to sit for fouls, or breathers, or because of defensive mismatches, bringing Little in and running with a single PG probably puts our best perimeter defensive team on the floor. And if it is a game where Marcus Morris can defend his man at the 4, this would have to be our best defensive team period.

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago

A team with Tyshawn, Mario and Brady on the perimeter could get stops, as Self likes to say. A team with Tyshawn, Mario and Brady could be a true Selfdefensive team, at least for stretches. So: when in a game might we see this team?It ought to surface either after we have had a run to ice it, or early in an opponent's run in order to stop it. These two circumstances are where Little adds some real net benefit to Self and the KU team. In effect, Little will learn the three and four. Under the two scenarios just laid out, he will play the three and Brady, a decent ball handler, and dead eye shooter, will move to the two, which is probably his natural position anyway. When Brady has an off game, or suffers from a mismatch, or when boards are needed, Little takes over for him at the three. But I think this will be very infrequent.When Marcus isn't bringing it at the 4, or has foul troubles, which is usually when he's dealing with someone big and athletic, Little has to fill, but Little is little more than a stop gap at the four. For this team to be a force, Marcus HAS to become a viable 4. There is no one else with the height necessary, except his brother, to fill there. What I am proposing is that Little's greatest contribution may come from being sort of a defensive equivalent of Sherron's offensive 6th man last season.Just as Self waited 5 minutes or so into the first half to apply Sherron's offensive spark, one has the feeling that Self will wait 5 minutes or so into the first half now to apply Little's defensive spark. And he will apply it by sitting either Sherron, or Tyshawn for 5 minutes and then have KU's perimeter defense apply withering pressure to either ice the lead, or stem the opponent's run. Then either Sherron, or Tyshawn, return, and the rest of the minutes in the half that Little gets will come from filling for Marcus mostly, and Brady occasionally.

100 12 years, 1 month ago

Jaybate, you're right that Little could be used this way for awhile until he's fully healthy. But it's just a temporary solution, if he is used this way. When he's healthy, we want him in the game as much as possible. He's a lock down defender and a great scorer. He is absolutely not being bred for the 4 either. He's learning the basis of that right now so he can plug some gaps this year if need be. He is a premier Self-style 3 man. Fits into all of those great tough guard molds of previous Self teams -- I think especially of Illinois in 2004. No way in the world he's being groomed to be a 4. If he plays in the NBA someday, he's a thick, stocky, great shooting guard, much like Dwayne Wade.

Miguel Colón 12 years, 1 month ago

I think Mario coming back is great! It gives us that lineup that is more flexible. The Morris twins need competition for minutes and this gives them that time they need to improve. I am all for him coming to play and I hope he has a great season. Anybody got any update on recruiting?

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago

100,If I understand you, you think Little takes over the three from Morningstar, and Morningstar, our best defender and glue guy becomes a fill guy for the 2 and 3 spots. This is certainly possible and it explains why Self has told a 46% trinitizer like Morningstar not to shoot the rock much. Morningstar's job has been to play the 3 spot as close to the way Little will be able to play it, as possible, so that he can be integrated without redefining the scheme in midstream. Little is not reputedly a great three point shooter.Moving Morningstar to a swing man between 2 and 3 means Self can back up Little and also strengthen the defense considerably by plugging Morningstar into the 2 and leaving Little in at the three. Again, this would be a serious Selfdefense.But can Little be a glue guy and can Little feed the post the way Morningstar can?Looks like we are about to find out.

jasonsgill 12 years, 1 month ago

Jaybate-I, maybe not as much as you, appreciate what Brady offers. But playing the three with with the trey as the only weapon in your offensive game does not cut it. Brady's lack of size manifests itself precisely in that area, his driving ability ranks right alongside RussRob (if not behind). We are led to believe that Mario has an unlimited offensive repertoire (I believe this) and that he has the potential to be a Self-ish defender. If this is the case then a defensive marksman specializing in drilling the trey could be more valuable off the bench. Especially as I see Brady more capable of playing the 2 than Little.This, however, is assuming that we have a certain depth at the 4-5, which depends entirely on the fortitude of the Twins resolve: they have every ounce of potential, which is slowly manifesting itself.As for being out rebounded by the 'Cats, they are actually quite capable rebounders, staying with OU 36-37 on the glass. If the Twins keep giving the effort they did against KSU we'll be fine, IMO. (Especially if they and Cole stay out of foul trouble). As I see it, our starting lineup by the Texas game will be Collins, Taylor, Little, Morris and Cole with Brady and Morris as the 6 and 7. 8 will be Releford or Reed, whichever progresses the most over the next 6 weeks. (Reed is regressing IMO, and Releford is like the Dow)

100 12 years, 1 month ago

Jasongill & Jaybate, that's exactly what the coaching staff is hoping for. Again, as exciting as this year could be, we all should know by now the agenda. Think about next year's "perfect" starting lineup (including Cole and Sherron). This is a scary good team and it certainly doesn't have Morningstar in the starting lineup. He's great and we'll need him for sure. Aldrich, Withey, Little, Collins & Taylor. Wow. But that starting lineup could be better than anything KU has ever had (better than '97, '02, '03, '66, and yes, '08). This starting five against any of these other teams in an Xbox dream game would be amazing. Two superior future First round seven footers (Withey & Aldrich), three dominating first round NBA guards (Collins, Little, Taylor). And the 6th-10th players on this team would start for just about any other top 20 team next year. Morningstar, Mk Morris, Mc Morris, Releford, Thomas. And that says nothing of the blue chip newcomers who are supposed to be top notch. So that is what we're doing, and that's the reasoning for using Little the way we will the remaining of the season. He's being bred to be a primetime #3. And jaybate, you're right about Morningstar -- as great as he is with 3's, we're learning the system right now. No need to teach quick three's yet, especially when his role will be to come off the bench with ice in his veins.At any rate, we are beginning (finally) to be able to discuss (thanks to Withey & Little deciding to play) an AMAZING starting five that's worth talking about.Rock Chalk

Lance Hobson 12 years, 1 month ago

It seems pretty clear that he'll be taking mostly Reed's and some of Morningstar's minutes. My guess is that won't be a whole lot because he'll probably not be playing more than 20-25 minutes per game.

Hibachi33 12 years, 1 month ago

Kid is showing some big time maturity and leadership. Unfortunately, this team really does need his type of athleticism if it has any chance of making the NCAA tournament. I am rooting for the young man to remain healthy and be successful.

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