Late Night, 2010, freshman Royce Woolridge has the ball on the right wing, snaps off a smooth fake and takes it to the hoop for a bucket.
Most of us in Allen Fieldhouse were wowed by the move. Woolridge’s coach, Bill Self, shook his head and wore a disgusted look inspired by how easily Tyrel Reed had been taken to the hoop. Offense sells. Defense is every bit as important to winning.
Most who talk about the career of Jerry West, honored along with David Thompson on Sunday night in Kansas City by the College Basketball Hall of Fame, marvel at his ability to hit clutch shots.
Those who played against him talk about something else.
Golfing with Calvin Murphy several years ago in his hometown of Norwalk, Conn., I asked one of the quickest players in the history of the game to name the best defender against whom he had ever played.
“Jerry West,” Murphy answered without having to think. “Quickest hands I ever saw.”
Players who don’t slide their feet consistently well never get off the bench. Defenders who complement their smart feet with active hands tend to annoy the players they’re assigned to guard.
Brady Morningstar is one such player. The senior guard out of Free State High does a better job of winning games than selling tickets, and his quick hands play a big part.
Morningstar attempted just five field goals and contributed seven points, 10 assists and four steals and was charged with one turnover in Friday night’s blowout victory against North Texas. His knack for keeping his eye on the ball and picking just the right spot to knock it loose from a ballhandler played a big role in helping Kansas to blow open the game in the opening stages of the second half.
He also uses his hands to his advantage in chucking players cutting to the hoop or those just standing in the corner waiting for the ball to come to them. A little nudge here and there and the player he’s guarding slaps at him with a disgusted look.
“Me being smaller, when I’m guarding a three man and him thinking he can take advantage, and then me pestering him with my hands and getting up in him might annoy him a little and take him out of his game,” Morningstar said.
Teammate Marcus Morris has a wide array of tools to abuse defenders of all shapes and sizes.
“Brady is the best defensive player I’ve ever played against,” said Morris, who has four inches on Morningstar. “In the summer, going against him, he’s the hardest person to score on, other than (twin brother) ’Kieff because ’Kieff knew all my moves.”
How does he do it?
“He knows how to come over every screen,” Marcus said. “He knows where the ball’s going to be. That’s a special talent a lot of people don’t have.”
Most of the preseason speculation on which player would be the fifth starter centered on Travis Releford and Mario Little. By the third game, Morningstar had ascended to the spot.
Now that a return date of Dec. 18 for Josh Selby has been set, many wonder whose minutes will dwindle most. Morningstar’s name will be the first mentioned, and he’ll be one of the last Self will feel comfortable leaving on the bench.