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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Big step for Mario Little: Family proud of Chicago native

Kansas guard Mario Little bemoans a foul called against him during the first half on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Mario Little bemoans a foul called against him during the first half on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Bill Self weekly press conference, Feb. 28, 2011

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Kansas head coach Bill Self addressed the media at his weekly press conference Monday, Feb. 28, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

O’Keefe Little, who delivers pizza in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Chicago, never has to dodge bullets while working his route.

“Nobody bothers me. It’s because I’m Mario’s uncle. Mario is a hero around here in the ‘Wild 100s,’’’ said Little, uncle of Kansas University senior basketball player Mario Little.

“The Wild 100s” is a nickname for Roseland — Mario’s old neighborhood, which covers 103rd to 119th Streets on the far South Side.

“Crime is down. The streets are clear whenever Kansas is on TV or the Bulls are on TV,” O’Keefe said proudly.

O’Keefe and several other members of Mario’s extended family will be about 500 miles from the mean streets of Roseland on Wednesday.

A group that includes Mario’s mother, Margie, and 85-year-old grandmother, Hazel Lucille, will be in Allen Fieldhouse for the final home game of Mario’s college career. KU will play host to Texas A&M; in an 8 p.m. Senior Day battle to be aired on ESPN2.

“I just want to say Mario had no chance of making it in life without Kansas,” O’Keefe Little said Monday in a phone interview. “Mario’s classmates have fallen by the wayside in the ghetto. The streets here are where people die.

“There’s gang life, drive-by shooters. If Mario had stayed in Chicago, he’d be involved in that. He’s had friends shot, beaten to death, sentenced to prison.

“We tell him, ‘You don’t want to be here. We’d rather you be in Kansas and “Dorothy.”’”

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing in the Land of Oz — “I’ve had a couple bumps in the road, but I’m still here standing,” said Mario, who received diversion for two misdemeanor battery charges in mid January.

Not proud of that situation, Mario is beaming over the fact he needs to pass just one three-hour math class to earn his KU degree in African-American Studies.

“Only one person has graduated out of my family, my cousin,” Mario said. “My uncle has pushed me to graduate — to make my grandmother proud and all that.”

O’Keefe and Hazel — she’s yet to see a game in Allen; O’Keefe’s been here before — helped raise Mario and push him through an especially turbulent time of his life.

“You know what is surreal for me,” O’Keefe said, “I remember when Mario folded his arms in grammar school, got straight F’s and said, ‘I’m not doing nothing and nobody’s going to make me.’ His grandmother loved him and nursed him in summer school, told him how to unfold his arms and not be angry at the world and do his assignments. Somebody (mentor Tommy Dobson) gave him a basketball and said, ‘You can’t play the game if you do not make the grade.’ He’s not looked back since.”

Mario Little admits attaining a college degree was not always a top priority.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do in high school,” Little said. “By my sophomore year of junior college, I figured I’d get a degree. I’m a good student,” he insisted. “I don’t start trouble, just maybe not always do my work or something. I’m not a bad student.”

Little — he starred at Chicago’s George Washington High, then moved on to become junior college player of the year his sophomore season at Chipola (Fla.) Community College — has been a key performer off the bench in his two seasons at KU. He also served a red-shirt campaign.

“I mean, I try to bring something to the table,” said Little, more than willing to play the role of an undersized 6-6, 218- pound power forward, as well as wing.

“I like to get out on the defensive end and get other guys open looks. I try to play with energy.

“I (also) take a couple open shots,” added Little, who averages 6.2 points a game off 51.9 percent shooting in 15.6 minutes a game.

Coach Bill Self likes to joke about Little taking A LOT of open, and guarded, shots.

“Mario’s role is to give us a boost off the bench and to score if need be. He will certainly try his hardest to oblige,” Self cracked.

On a serious note ... “He also give us an element of toughness. I think with Mario, this guy came in as a very heralded player. Then he had to have a rod put in his leg (surgery, April 2009) and fight through injuries and some obstacles. He’s a team guy. He’s my kind of guy. Mario is a tough winner,” Self added.

This tough guy, who happens to play a mean keyboard and still performs for the congregation at Roseland Presbyterian Church on trips home, does not know whether he’ll weep during pre-game introductions and/or his postgame Senior Night speech Wednesday.

“I never know with me. I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I might be sad. I might be happy,” said Little, who said he plans on peeking at a “notecard with bullet points” to make sure he doesn’t forget anybody to thank. “I’m going to embrace it and try to focus on the game.”

That might be hard to do with teammates/buddies Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed also taking part in emotional Senior Day activities.

“It means everything to me,” Little said of KU. “When you first come here, coach Self tells you, ‘You will not get it until you leave.’ It’s almost that time. I get it now. KU means a lot to me.”

And to relatives such as O’Keefe.

“I’ll be the guy in the stands with the sign that says, ‘Bill Self For President,’’’ O’Keefe said. “KU has meant everything to Mario. KU has saved Mario.

“I need to stop now. This is making me cry,” O’Keefe added, politely ending Monday’s interview about Mario. “Mario is like a son to me. Mario never knew his dad. I tell him, ‘an uncle is like a dad. You’ve got family.’ He knows he’s got family here and at KU.”

Comments

Chris Shaw 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article on Mario! What a great uncle! Also, all of the other information in this article is the same info that's in "Gary's Notebook". Just pointing that out, LJW.

nnelson 8 years, 5 months ago

Not sure how that happened, but thanks for the heads up. It's fixed.

Nick Nelson KUSports.com Web Producer

Alohahawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Thank you, LJW, for these articles about the seniors, some information of which we, the fans, were not aware. Nice to know KU basketball has made it possible for Mario to escape the unfortunate environment in which he grew up. If KU basketball has influenced the South Chicago area crime level in such a positive way, hopefully, more recruits will be found from the same area.

Glad to have Mario (all three seniors) on the team. The tears won't be from just your own family, Mario, but from many KU family/fans in the field house and around the world. Congratulations beforehand on receiving your future degree.

RCJH, Go Mario !!!

KansasComet 8 years, 5 months ago

That's what I am talking about. We will miss the entire Senior Class!!!!!

clevelandjayhawker 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario has really came to play the past few weeks, take it to them tomorrow.

"When you first come here, coach Self tells you, ‘You will not get it until you leave.’

Love that quote and from a student/fan prespective it is very true, KU is the best

UmbertoConforti 8 years, 5 months ago

Before posters jump on these kids next time read this and print it so you can reread it:

"I just want to say Mario had no chance of making it in life without Kansas,” O’Keefe Little said Monday in a phone interview. “Mario’s classmates have fallen by the wayside in the ghetto. The streets here are where people die."

Also thank God you are probably in rural Kansas, that includes Kansas City and Wichita.

ldjayhawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Gary, I am a journalist and I just want to say that this article is journalism in perfection. The way this story ends bring tears to my eyes. Well done!

pixiejunkie 8 years, 5 months ago

I agree, Idjayhawk.... a great story, for a great kid. I wish Mario had another year (or two!) with us, because he's really coming into his game and is a Jayhawk – through and through. All the best with your future, Mario... we'll be watching and supporting you, wherever you go from here!

phi4life940 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article. Rock Chalk Mario...we'll miss you.

Take us out on a high note with that sweet jumper of yours!

gongs4ku 8 years, 5 months ago

Two things.

1) This article was touching, and I did tear up a bit reading it.

2) The line, “We tell him, ‘You don’t want to be here. We’d rather you be in Kansas and “Dorothy”" summoned an unwholesome but perhaps not entirely unwelcome image in my mind.

TenaciousD 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario strikes me as someone who might start off playing pro ball in Europe and quietly work his way into the NBA and surprise everyone with his hoops career. All the best to you, Mario! Your best ball is yet to come in March and hopefully April.

hawksforlife 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario, you are exactly the type of player we love at Kansas. You have fought your way back after the bump in the road this year, and you have to be grateful that you did. Kansas fans are.

This senior class is a huge part of the opportunity we have to make a big post season move in the tournament.

KU_FanSince75 8 years, 5 months ago

I, too, was the first to earn a college degree in my immediate family. That degree meant a lot to myself and my family. I can only imagine what it means to Mario's family.

Some folks on the outside might not care about Mario but to understand some of his struggles he had to go through and with the best coach in America, in Bill Self, applying "tough love" discipline, Mario has done well. Congrats, Mario. Play like there's no tomorrow against A&M.

Ben Kane 8 years, 5 months ago

i guarantee, that if we win it all, there will be one game in the tournament where if Mario doesn't step up and deliver we go down.

addlime 8 years, 5 months ago

Worded weird, but I think I know what Chuckberry means. Mario has been crucial when coming in and breaking a zone. This team seems to adjust to zones well now anyway, but early in the season his jumper from the top of the key kept other teams honest and usual sent them right back to man to man.

zsn 8 years, 5 months ago

A little help with English-to-English translation: What chuck is trying to say is that if we win the NC, we will all look back on one game where Mario played a key role, in that win. If it weren't for Mario's efforts ("step up and deliver") we might have lost that game.

Hi Chuck: send your one sentence comment to the LJW Editorial Staff.....with such talents, may be they'll let you sub-in for Keegan ;)

BTW, I totally agree with your point. We have been too reliant on the Morri and someone needs to provide a back-up scoring spark - TRob, Mario and Tyrel/Brady need to be consistent. This is because Josh has been consistently inconsistent.

Michael Bratisax 8 years, 5 months ago

Wasn't that hard to understand. Better than a HUH???

REHawk 8 years, 5 months ago

A really fine story, Gary. Kudos to Bill Self and the Kansas program for sticking with Mario after his arrest this season. My initial response to that incident was furious indignation. This article goes a long way to placing Mario's life journey into the wider perspective. Mario, here's wishing you the best in all future endeavors. Thanks for choosing the Kansas program and taking that red shirt last season. You've now the opportunity to finish your collegiate education and hoops career as a multiple champion. I look forward to seeing your Chicago family tomorrow night.

Kurt Eskilson 8 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the great article. Once again we see how KU's basketball program is so much deeper and more meaningful than what we see on the court. The impact on Mario's life goes far beyond the stats he'll accrue here, reaching into the lives of so many in his neighborhood … now and wherever he goes in the future. Make the most of your opportunities, Mario, and give back whenever and whatever you can! It's another fine day to be a proud Jayhawk.

jaybate 8 years, 5 months ago

"He’s a team guy. He’s my kind of guy. Mario is a tough winner.” --Bill Self

Holy cow! When Little reads this quote, he is going to go out on the court in the TAM game and set it on fire!

Turg better watch out.

Little may have his monster game against TAM.

Go, Mario, go!!

KansasComet 8 years, 5 months ago

I hope you are right. If Mario is feeling it, he is capable of a monster game.

addlime 8 years, 5 months ago

I don't want Mario to try and have a monster game. When he takes what the defense gives him, he is the most efficient player on this team. He'll go 4-4 with 10 pts. or something like that. To me, that's mastercard priceless.

Dale Koch 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article Gary, very touching. Rock Chalk Mario! Keep up the great work on the boards. KU fans are proud of you. What a great Uncle you have. Keep listening to him. Can't wait to hear you talk on Wednesday. Good luck always.

GabrielMichael 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario we Jayhawk fans will not forget you! Keep making your family proud (no matter what you end up doing) by using the courage and fortitude you've displayed on the court in becoming a man of virtue in every season!

KansasComet 8 years, 5 months ago

Yesterday, I made the comment about Mario Little being at Senior Night as well. The comment was made because we have 3 Seniors on this team and they are going out together. I will miss them all. Mario, Brady and Tyrel.

Mario Little gave up basically 2 years just to play at Kansas. His first year he was hurt and should not have played, but played anyway. Last year he redshirts for the good of the team. I still remember him being a complete wreck after the UNI game and he didn't play. This year he has accepted his role as a non-starter and has embraced it. Mario Little in my opinion is a true professional. I think he is a stand up guy for immediately confronting his off court issue. I admire him for that. It appears to me he did not look to place blame on anyone. To be one of the few in his family to obtain a degree, and from KU on top of that, considering where he came from is just amazing. I am very proud of him.

Brady Morningstar is a kid that was not good enough to get an offer from KU, but that did not stop him. He went to Prep School for a year to work on his game, and then came to KU as a walk on. Has waited his turn and became a starter at KU, that is one heck of an accomplishment. He has had to endure and overcome much during his time at KU. Like Mario, he stood up and took his punishment like a man and came back and gave his best. When you see Brady Morningstar play, you can tell this was the only College for him. I am glad he earned a Scholarship. Congratulations to him for sticking it out despite his many critics, myself included from time to time.

Tyrel Reed is another young man that beat the odds. It is not easy to earn minutes in Lawrence Kansas. We sometimes have 5 star recruits and a National Juco Player of the Year riding the pine. So for Tyrel to hang in there at KU, become a starter, and contribute the way he does is truly remarkable.

I know for me personally, I will miss each of these guys next year and I wish them nothing but the best in their future endeavors. This will be one special Senior Night. Can't help but think what this night would have been like if Cole Aldrich had stayed?

SaltLakeHawk 8 years, 5 months ago

"Mario Little in my opinion is a true professional."

Mario Little most certainly is NOT a true professional.

Enes Kanter, now there's a true professional.

Danny Hernandez 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario, Congratulations! You've earned it.

and congratulations to your family as well for both pushing and supporting you.

Tony Bandle 8 years, 5 months ago

Senior Night this year will be special for many reasons:

1] Senior Night is always special..and we never lose. 2] We say good-bye to three kids who have given us all quite a ride. 3] Thanks to our K-State pals, winning this game assures another Big 12 title. 4] It is posssible that this may be the last appearances for Marcus and Markieff. 5] Also, the last broadcast from Allen Fieldhouse this season.....it's always extra special seeing a game in The Phog. [6] Bonus - Won't have to watch "Beakhead" any more.]

jaybate 8 years, 5 months ago

7) We say some knife wielding docs snatched Oak from that great belly ache in the sky!

Steve Gantz 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article. Too bad not every inner city kid has the opportunity like Mario had. It is exceedingly difficult for inner city kids to succeed. I teach them in Baton Rouge and have seen them killed, jailed, abused, and strung out. A few I've taught have made it, mainly because of sports. Two play football for LSU. Most however end up working at McD's or some other dead end job.

REHawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Oakville, good point re the twins. Will be sad for the Nation if they must move on this spring. But if the big money is there, they might have to take it and go. If that does occur, I hope they win for themselves and all of us a trip to Houston. DeAndre Daniels, keep your options open! And some of you recruits who have made the mistake of jumping too early to UK, Baylor or Texas, you might best choose to reconsider.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 5 months ago

“We tell him, ‘You don’t want to be here. We’d rather you be in Kansas and “Dorothy.”’”

We like you at Kansas, but you best stay away from Dorothy till after the tourney.

AverageCitizen 8 years, 5 months ago

"O’Keefe and Hazel — she’s yet to see a game in Allen; O’Keefe’s been here before — helped raise Mario and push him through an especially turbulent time of his life."

Hope 85 year old grandma Hazel brings her ear plugs if she isn't hard of hearing already!

ALL THREE seniors are going to cry. Yes, even stoic Brady! If you can't cry then, when is it appropriate? I hate saying goodbye every year to them but I'm just glad we have some to send on. Best of luck to Mario, Tyrel and Brady.

KULA 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario has been one of my all time favorite Jayhawks. Seems like the fates always conspired to keep him from getting as much playing time (and at his natural position) as he should have. I'd gladly trade another year of Mario (playing at the wing) for any one & done out there. As it is, I'd much rather see 4th year Travis starting at the wing next year than any one & done in the field.

HawkBBall 8 years, 5 months ago

Senior night. I want Mario, Tyrel and Brady to catch fire and score double digits each. I want to see another flash mob. I want the headless lady back behind the commentators. I want the show to feature the three speeches. I need a good fix of Jayhawk basketball at its finest! Break the century mark!

KU_alum_2001 8 years, 5 months ago

I hate to say it, but I, too, have a feeling it could be the Morris Brothers last home game. Analysts are calling this the weakest draft in recent history, which suggests that someone who might be a 2nd Round pick in any other draft could move into the 1st Round this year... and obviously the higher the pick, the higher the reward. Several mock drafts (for whatever those are worth - probably the price of a cup of coffee) believe Marcus, Markieff, and Selby are all 1st Round material so.... yeahhhhh... go out with a bang, boys. Might as well win a title in case you do decide to make the jump.

And I used to think an NBA lockout might save us but it's been stated that the NBA would proceed with the draft regardless so...

Rock Chalk Jayhawk and here's to the next 5 weeks!

Kurt Eskilson 8 years, 5 months ago

Total break from the thread – and no slight meant to the seniors being appropriately lauded here today – but it appears that a certain Troll whose alias includes the number 12 has been "disappeared." Is it merely lurking elsewhere today, or does it "sleep with the fishes (and nebr)"? Could it have been a package deal with "the end"? Only wishful thinking?

Martin Rosenblum 8 years, 5 months ago

The computer he uses in the library is probably down. He's not able to use one at home, because his folks don't have one and he spends al of his money on comic books and "action figures".

HawkBBall 8 years, 5 months ago

12stumble too busy celebrating his mild cats' victory last night.

Debbie Mangen 8 years, 5 months ago

If they win tomorrow night, won't that assure them at least a share in the league title? If so, why won't they cut down the nets at home in front of all the fans? I'd rather they do that than to try to cut down the nets in Columbia. That is kind of classless and maybe a little dangerous. One thing for certain, I will be crying like a baby during the senior speeches, as always. Win out, guys! Do the unexpected, what no one thought would happen this year, win the league! One game at a time guys......

Michael Bratisax 8 years, 5 months ago

I'm sure Mario turned down a lot of offers where he would have been BMOC to come to Kansas and compete for minutes. Shows a lot about his character.

gchawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article. Mario, am very proud of the way you've "rebounded" through all your adversities. Keep up the great work and make tomorrow special.

AsadZ 8 years, 5 months ago

“It means everything to me,” Little said of KU. “When you first come here, coach Self tells you, ‘You will not get it until you leave.’ It’s almost that time. I get it now. KU means a lot to me.”

“I’ll be the guy in the stands with the sign that says, ‘Bill Self For President,’’’ O’Keefe said. “KU has meant everything to Mario. KU has saved Mario.

What a touching article. I am really happy for Mario and wish him all the best. I really hope his dreams come true and he has a successful and enjoyable life.

GDHAWKS 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article!!!! "So many roads, so many roads, just need one to lead me home" you will always have a home at KU Mario!!

hopsnhawks 8 years, 5 months ago

always been a big fan of Mario, love seeing some Chicago suit up for the Hawks, wish we had him for a few more years

good luck out there, congrats on the degree

Darrel Stice 8 years, 5 months ago

I've always been a huge fan of yours, Mario. I love your game, especially your silky smooth shot! Keep up the great job you're doing!!! Your story is so touching, but not completed yet!!

On a side note, I'm a math teacher and I'd be more than happy to help you out with that last math class to make sure you graduate!!

RCJH!!!

okiedave 8 years, 5 months ago

Mario and the rest of the Hawks are going to have to step it up. Missouri is going down at Nebraska and the Tigers are going to be fighting for their lives on Saturday in Columbia.

mispay4ku 8 years, 5 months ago

Tears This year has been a constant reminder of how great it is to be a Jayhawk! :)

PhogAdvisory 8 years, 5 months ago

First, great article. Stories like Mario's are the best thing about college sports, IMHO. So happy that he got the chance to go to college and now has so many opportunities available to him (and playing overseas is just one of many!). Great that his family will be there tomorrow. I hope 'Rio and all the seniors have a fantastic final night in the Phog!

Second, and on the subject of Chicago, thanks to the folks at Lotties Pub for making this Lawrence native feel at home over the weekend! How great is it that there are "KU bars" in darn near every city in the country? No wonder we call it Jayhawk Nation!

Scott Smetana 8 years, 5 months ago

Great article, now on to unrelated things....

I thought it was going to be a quiet night for college BB. Guess not!

BYU's Davies is out for the year... Wow. they are going to be the worst 1 seed ever. By the way, how is their strength of schedule in the RPI higher than Texas, Uconn, and Pitt?

Nice job Mizzery!! I'm somehow rooting for the Huskers to make the tourney. Scott Drew's seat is heating up fast. How does Baylor not make the tourney?!

Hank Cross 8 years, 5 months ago

Will this also be the last time at AFH for TRob? Before his surgery he was mentioned as a possible 2nd round pick. If he gets that type of rating again, I wouldn't be surprised to see him leave so he can start providing for his sister. If so, he will always be fondly remembered here.

KSseahawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Plays a mean keyboard at church when he goes home...I can dig it.

jayhawker_97 8 years, 5 months ago

i wish Mario is still here next season. can't get enough of him!! thanks for all the sacrifice & contribution in any way you've done to our b-ball history!! best wish for the rest of season & afterwards!!

rock chalk!!

amaubry2492 8 years, 5 months ago

Does anyone know where I can watch/hear the senior night speeches?

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