Boulder, Colo. — Darnell Jackson averaged 2 points and 1.7 rebounds as a freshman at Kansas University. Four years later, LeBron James is his teammate.
Jackson made it to the NBA by learning to run the floor hard every day in practice, and then he played like he practiced. He reached his goal by opening his basketball brain and letting Bill Self and his assistants take over.
After doing some really good things and some really silly ones in KU’s 73-56 victory Saturday against Colorado in Allen Fieldhouse West, aka Coors Events Center, freshman forward Marcus Morris listened to Jackson tell the team in the locker room the way to the NBA, a path that doesn’t allow shortcuts.
Morris heard Jackson’s words, backed by the credibility of his Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. It will be interesting to see how quickly and thoroughly Morris applies them.
“He’s a cool guy,” said Morris, who said he spent time with Jackson during his recruiting visit and again during the time when the players came in for the ring ceremony. “He’s the kind of guy you can look up to, and it shows you what hard work does. Him coming in as a freshman, he wasn’t that talented. He wasn’t that good.”
Jackson, a relentless ball of fury during the national-championship season, understood the value of every possession, understood that a player must at all times play to win, not to showboat. Morris isn’t there yet. He knows it, and he chided himself for it after his 10-point effort in 19 minutes off the bench.
“We need to protect the ball a little more,” said Morris, who had three of KU’s 18 turnovers. “Things got out of hand a few times, especially the little behind-the-back pass I tried. That was just a bonehead play by me.”
The “little behind-the-back-pass” came on the fast break and was thrown into traffic. Shortly after that, he received a pass in the post and dribbled the ball away. He then sat for a long stretch.
Morris also criticized himself for not fouling harder to prevent three-point plays.
Yet, for most of the day, Morris appeared to play with good intensity at both ends. He seemed locked in, which doesn’t always seem to be the case.
Statisticians gave him credit for only three rebounds, but here’s guessing a review of the tape would reveal more than that.
During an 11-0 Kansas first-half run, he pressured his man into a turnover, picked up the loose ball, went coast-to-coast, finished with a spin move and was given credit for the bucket on a goal-tending call. He also picked up an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, stealing three points for his team thanks to Sherron Collins hitting a three.
In the second half, Morris grabbed another offensive rebound to steal three points, thanks to Tyrel Reed hitting a three.
Morris showed encouraging flashes and even hit a three-point shot, his second on the season in eight attempts. Morris attributed that to all the work he has put in with KU’s shot doctor, assistant coach Joe Dooley.
“Coming into college, I was a great three-point shooter,” Morris said. “... At the beginning of the year, most of the time when I was shooting threes, I wasn’t even close.”
Morris still isn’t close to being the player he could become, but he’s getting closer. There’s hope.