Just as every preseason basketball magazine predicted months ago, third-year sophomore Brady Morningstar played a huge role in Kansas University making its fifth consecutive Big 12 title an outright one Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Hold on a minute. A closer look at the preseason basketball mags reveals Oklahoma and Texas were supposed to contend for the conference title, and the last prominent mention of a Morningstar playing for Kansas came more than 30 years ago, first name Roger.
That’s why they play the games, to see where the bouncing ball takes teams. In many ways, Morningstar is the perfect symbol for coach Bill Self’s sixth Kansas team, which didn’t return a single starter and returned one player (Sherron Collins) who played more than four minutes in the 45-minute national title game.
Not much was expected of a team so young, even less of a player so unheralded. Yet, there they were, the young Jayhawks and their oldest player, winning an outright Big 12 title with an 83-73 victory in a game they trailed by 14 points late in the first half.
Morningstar scored nine points to go with four rebounds, four assists and a steal. His most important work came defensively. Texas guard A.J. Abrams entered the game with a team-best 16.9 points per game and was shooting .395 from three-point range. Morningstar quietly stayed in his face the entire game. Abrams made two of 11 field-goal attempts and one of six three-pointers.
Asked what flavor gum Abrams chewed Saturday, Morningstar deadpanned, “Spearmint.”
“To me, the player of the game for us was Brady Morningstar, without question,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He hasn’t been guarding the way that I think he was guarding earlier, but I thought he did a fabulous job on A.J., just fabulous.”
Winning coaches know how to put players in positions where they’ll succeed. When Morningstar guards a prolific perimeter scorer, Self often tells him not to worry about helping off the shooter. At the other end, Morningstar’s primary responsibility is shooting threes when Collins collapses the defense and fires a pass to him. Morningstar has hit 45 percent from long range, including three of four against Texas. His first two came within a span of 20 seconds in the first half and turned an 11-9 deficit into a 15-11 lead. His third was the biggest shot of the game. It gave KU its biggest lead to that point, 76-71, with 3:25 left. Texas never drew closer.
Watching Morningstar break a three-game slump in which he made two of 15 shots, one of 10 three-pointers and was torched defensively, recalled a quote from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim about Andy Rautins, son of former Syracuse great Leo Rautins. Andy Rautins played high school ball in Syracuse, and when he signed with the Orange, 95 percent of the respondents to a poll said that he would not make an impact at Syracuse and would transfer to a smaller basketball program. Boeheim’s reaction: “We don’t waste scholarships on kids who can’t play. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.”
Rautins is Syracuse’s top three-point marksman, Morningstar is KU’s. Sometimes, local kids really can play for the hometown, big-time basketball school.