A couple of dribbles toward the post, then, wham, with lightning-quick footwork, next thing you know, he’s shooting and making a turn-around jumper against Washburn in last week’s exhibition opener.
The first thought that came to mind: The Morris twins had played a prank, switching uniforms, and that had to be Marcus wearing Markieff’s No. 21 jersey.
It wasn’t, of course. It was Markieff looking more like Marcus than ever.
“I wouldn’t say I stole it from him,” Markieff said of the move. “I borrowed it from him. I was always able to do things like that, but last year I had a more conservative role of rebounding and bringing energy. I think I will do a lot more stuff this year that people didn’t think I could do.”
Kansas coach Bill Self sounded a similar sentiment.
“He’s better than what any of us have seen him play his first two years just because he will have more opportunities,” Self said. “We’re going to see a big jump in him. I’d be very hard-pressed to not say if you’re going to vote on a guy to have the most improvement this year from an appearance standpoint, it would be Markieff.”
“Just because where he was and how much he played to what we expect this year,” Self said. “He has a huge step he has to take.”
Last season, Markieff averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game and shot a stunning .526 on three-point attempts.
Self said he wants the 6-foot-10 junior from Philadelphia and his brother Marcus to play 30 minutes a game this season.
“It all comes down to conditioning, because when you get tired, you do what?” Self asked then answered. “Foul. If they’re in great shape, they’ll be able to play that many minutes.”
For his career, Markieff averages 4.8 personal fouls per 30 minutes played. Staying out of foul trouble represents his greatest challenge.
“Probably guarding for 30 minutes would be the toughest thing to do with different type bigs I would have to guard,” Markieff said. “Some games I might have to guard quicker bigs. Some games I might have to guard big, big guys.”
Fatigue makes for slower legs and a slower mind, which leads to getting beat, leaving the defender with two options.
“Foul or just let them get baskets, but I’d rather foul than give up points any day,” Markieff said.
Markieff said he quietly is doing extra conditioning work before practice on the exercise bike. He said he has run “a mile or two” on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Against Washburn, the less celebrated Morris twin totaled 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. He made both of his three-point attempts. For someone who shoots with such accuracy, he doesn’t attempt a lot of three-pointers. He chooses his shots wisely.
“I don’t force a lot of shots,” he said. “Whenever I feel like I’m in rhythm to shoot it, that’s when I shoot it.”
Watching him blossom into a star will be one of the more enjoyable aspects of this KU basketball season, at least on those nights he avoids foul trouble.