Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Terrific threes: A look at KU’s top small forwards in the Self era

The top small forwards in the Bill Self tenure at Kansas University, as recalled by the Journal-World and staffs.

The top small forwards in the Bill Self tenure at Kansas University, as recalled by the Journal-World and staffs.


In today’s world of college basketball, the small forward role is one of the game’s most ambiguous positions and, in some cases, has become obsolete.

Many programs plug a guard into the spot, choosing to play three guards and two “bigs” instead of going with the traditional two-guard, two-forward, one-center lineup.

Other coaches elect to use the spot to put more beef on the floor and wind up playing bigger lineups, with the “three” position manned by a guy who can offer help down low.

During Bill Self’s 10 seasons in charge of Kansas basketball, the Jayhawks more often than not have gone with the three-guard lineup. Because of that, classifying guys for Part III of our summer series that looks back at the top players of the Self era was a little tougher to do.

Here’s a look at who we picked and what we came up with:

Gary Bedore

  1. Keith Langford: I truly believe his jersey should hang in Allen Fieldhouse. He was a scoring machine who could slash and also shoot the jumper. He started hitting big shots his freshman year, like the one at Nebraska, and never stopped. Loved his attitude and the fact he’d say what was on his mind.

  2. Brandon Rush: Rush might have been the smoothest player in KU history. He definitely had the wildest recruitment, taking his sweet time before choosing KU several weeks after the semester started. You couldn’t help but like the easy-going Jayhawk.

  3. Xavier Henry: Though he never lived up to the hype (few one-and-done players do), he was a nice kid who had a sweet little left-handed jumper. That jumper isn’t dropping near enough in the NBA and his future may be in Europe.

  4. Brady Morningstar: He had his critics, mainly individuals who don’t know the game of basketball and preferred a more athletic sky-walker than the consistent Morningstar. Brady could score when the team needed points and was a lock-down defender. He may be the most underrated player in the Self era.

  5. Mario Little: Little was a decent junior college acquisition who always seemed to have somebody ahead of him in the rotation. I think he’s one of those guys who can play overseas until he’s 40 like Scooter Barry did. I always enjoyed checking in with his cousin back in Chicago, a pizza delivery driver and proud of it and proud of Mario, too.

Tom Keegan

  1. Brandon Rush: Unreal stamina, terrific shooter, great leaper, good defensive rebounder and a jet on the break.

  2. Travis Releford: Great finisher on the break, an efficient shooter and a lock-down defender, he could have reached coach’s forecast of a 1,000-point career if the collapse against Michigan had not occurred.

  3. Keith Langford: Some guys are shooters, some scorers. Langford was a scorer who could get hot from long distance, but didn’t have to get hot to accumulate points.

  4. Brady Morningstar: When he was told to guard a big-time shooter and not drop off him to help, that’s what he did. When he was told to keep the ball moving so that the defense eventually would break down, that’s what he did. Underrated at both ends.

  5. Xavier Henry: Loved playing at Kansas, even though he stayed just one year. A good shooter and defender, he was on the brink of blossoming into a star.

Matt Tait

  1. Brandon Rush: Despite the fact that he never seemed to break a sweat, Rush was one of the most skilled individual players Self has brought to KU. He could slash, shoot and rebound, and, defensively, his length and athleticism made life miserable for opponents. He gets a lot of love because he helped bring a title to town. But he probably should get more.

  2. Keith Langford: Few players in KU history have made scoring look so easy and done it in so many different and entertaining ways. Langford certainly earned the right to have those Superman-inspired T-Shirts printed.

  3. Brady Morningstar: The only justification needed for ranking the Free State High grad as one of the top small forwards in the Self era is this: The Jayhawks always seemed to look better when Morningstar was on the floor. Offensively, defensively, effort-wise or otherwise, the fundamentally sound scrapper did whatever it took and did it well.

  4. Travis Releford: When I first saw Releford play in high school at Bishop Miege, I was shocked by how unselfish he was and how willing he was to do whatever his team needed. Those characteristics served him well at KU, too, and he’ll be remembered by KU fans for a long time.

  5. Xavier Henry: You have to remember that Henry was on a team loaded with offensive weapons. If he hadn’t been, his size, skill, shooting touch and athleticism might have led him to become one of the top players in KU history, one-and-done or not.

Jesse Newell

  1. Brandon Rush: His lowest three-point shooting percentage in his three years? That would be 41.9 percent his junior year. Self still raves about Rush’s defense when he’s asked to talk about the ‘08 title team.

  2. Keith Langford: Still ranks seventh on KU’s all-time scoring list. Smooth mid-range shooter who was able to create his own shot while keeping his turnovers down.

  3. Travis Releford: After barely playing in his first three years at KU, Releford ended his career with two impressive statistical seasons. As a senior, he finished eighth in the nation in effective field-goal percentage while also drawing the defensive assignment on the opposing team’s best offensive perimeter player nearly every game.

  4. Xavier Henry: Henry gets unfairly docked because of an unexpected NCAA Tournament exit against Northern Iowa. Henry made 42 percent of his threes in his one season while ranking in the top 250 in steal percentage. Cover up the names, and it’d be tough to distinguish Henry’s stats in his one year from Ben McLemore’s in his.

  5. Brady Morningstar: Morningstar filled an important low-scoring role for KU and did it well. He made at least 39 percent of his three-pointers in each of his final three seasons and also had a knack for sticking on players defensively through mazes of screens.


frank72 10 months, 1 week ago

What about Julian Wright? He is one of the guys I remember watching that was always exciting and a play maker to!


drum1984 10 months, 1 week ago

How on earth does Bedore leave Releford off his list?


Greg Lux 10 months, 1 week ago

I am guessing you are calling Paul Pierce a SG?

Rock Chalk


justanotherfan 10 months, 1 week ago

Brady was a good off ball defender. He was excellent at fighting through screens and sticking with his man. As an on ball defender, he was solid against taller guys, but struggled against smaller, quicker guards, hence why he often played against the other teams 3 man rather than one of their guards.

My criticism of Self playing Brady in that spot was that he was limited in what he was going to bring to the table. That is not Brady's fault. Brady's game was very well defined. He could hit open jump shots and move the ball offensively. He wasn't going to put the ball on the floor or act as anything more than a third ball handler (also why he played the 3). He didn't rebound much, but he would do what was asked of him. Brady made few mistakes because he understood the player he was and didn't try to go outside that or make a play that wasn't there.

But for Self to knowingly put a guy with that type of limitation on the floor for 20+ minutes in three different seasons put a definite limit on the overall potential of those teams. With Brady on the floor, you had to play him with 2 other ball handlers or the offense would bog down because Brady was not a primary or secondary ball handler against pressure. You had to play him with two strong rebounders inside (or an excellent rebounding backcourt) because he wasn't a particularly good rebounder for his position.

Brady would have been probably one of the most loved KU players of all time had he been a 12-15 minute per game guy, because his limitations would have fit in perfectly coming off the bench. In some ways I think it would have been similar to if KU had asked Darnell Jackson to play 25-30 minutes from the start of his career. The things he was always good at (rebounding, being physical) would have been overshadowed early in his career by the things he couldn't do (score, handle the ball). Instead, his minutes (never more than 16 per game until his senior year) were in line with his skills, so he was able to become one of the most popular players of the Self era.

That should have been Brady's career arc. Instead he played the second most minutes in 2008-09 behind Sherron, but ahead of Cole and freshman Tyshawn Taylor. He played the third most minutes in 2010-11 behind Marcus and Tyrel, but again ahead of Tyshawn.

In the end it was Self's desire for consistency that cost him a chance to have explosiveness, which was the difference between possibly going to another FF.


Michael Luby 10 months, 1 week ago

You guys, Jaybate pretty much said it regarding Brady and playing SF. He was a 2 guard but Self played him at the 3 because he was a good defender at that spot. Also, we weren't too deep at the 3 guard spot when he was around. It was Brady and a young Travis until Xavier showed. Next.


wyansas 10 months, 1 week ago

I don't understand all the Brady hate. It's undeniable that we played better when he was in the game. How can you hate on that?


Preston Dwiggins 10 months, 1 week ago

Morningstar was a guard, not a small forward. Not sure why he is listed out of position.


Jack Wilson 10 months, 1 week ago

Absolutely absurd to list Little over Releford. Beyond absurd. Possibly comically absurd.

1] Rush

2] Langford

3] Releford

4] Henry

5] Abstain in protest. I refuse to list Brady Morningstar. Self's commitment to Morningstar is best summed up with a review of the Final Fours attended while Morningstar was an on-court participant. I appreciate his contributions (and it would have better as a 10-12 minute sub), but he was wildly overrated as a defender. I find it completely amazing that we were able to somehow get to the Final Four in 2011-12 without him on the floor. Seriously, how did we ever get the title game without that "glue"? Or without his crisp rotation of the ball? Somehow, someway, we did it. Amazing. Self continually playing BM big minutes was one of the few major errors the guy has made. Without Morningstar from day one, Self being forced to play another player or players those minutes, I am firmly convinced we win the national title in 2010-11. I know VCU was glad he was on the court. How about in 2009-10? Self wastes major minutes on BM in February and Mach, then barely plays him vs. UNI. And of course, BM's horrible performance vs. MSU in another elimination game in 2008-09. BM was just overmatched as big minutes guy. Would have been a fine sub.


gwenthejayhawk 10 months, 1 week ago

Bedore - please do us all a favor and give us your thoughts behind Mario Little vs the exclusion of Releford. To the well informed "outsider", it seems very silly. And maybe thoughts other than "he can play overseas."


justanotherfan 10 months, 1 week ago

I think it's pretty clear the top two "3's" are Rush and Langford. However, I can't understand how Morningstar consistently ranked higher than Releford. Brady and Travis basically filled the same role for their teams, but Travis did it at a higher level IMHO.

Brady scored 645 career points on 45% shooting. Travis scored 965 points on 53% shooting. Rebounds - Travis 392, Brady 264. Assists - Brady 305, Travis 190. Steals - Brady 133, Travis 114. Turnovers - Brady 124, Travis 133. 3pt % - Brady 41%, Travis 37%. Travis has a decided edge in points, FG% and rebounds. Brady has a decided edge in assists and a decent edge in 3pt%. The margin in steals and turnovers is pretty small.

And if you want to argue that Brady was better because of defense, remember, Travis could defend anyone from PG to PF. Brady typically only defended wings because quick PGs always gave him problems.

I just find it hard to say that Brady was a better player than Travis, especially because you can't argue that Travis took anything off the table as far as citizenship, leadership, intangibles, work ethic or teamwork was concerned. I just can't see a way to say that Brady was a better player under Self than Releford.


ArgyleJayhawks 10 months, 1 week ago

Pretty sure Bedore is just screwing with all of us. Case and then Mario Little?


optimist 10 months, 1 week ago

What do they say about opinions...?

  1. Rush- clearly his return was a factor in getting to and to some degree winning a championship.
  2. Langford- like many have said, a versatile and athletic basketball player that contributed significantly to 2 Final Four teams.
  3. Morningstar- an excellent defender, high basketball IQ, made the team better when he was on the floor without a doubt.
  4. Releford- intelligent, team player, did what the team needed no matter what it was at a given time
  5. Henry- good shooter, athletic.

There is more to a player's contribution than measurable states. I give more deference to how each made their team better.


Kevin Huffman 10 months, 1 week ago

My favorites since I REALLY started paying attention to KU basketball back about the '89/'90 season (though I was rooting for them in '88 as I HATED that OU team), by position:

"1" - J. Vaughn....maybe not the best, but boy, he ran well and more of a leader than most any of the other PGs we've had since.

"2" - B. McLemore....probably a St. Louis bias since I'm also from there.

"3" - P. Pierce - I'll never forget that last game at the Field House....was Sr. night but he stole the show going nuts against OU.

"4" (tie) Collison & Tho. Robinson (First had this as LaFrentz & Tho. Robinson.....surprised myself....should've had Collison there & so switched it....yes, some other also plenty deserving like The Morrii or Simien)

"5" - Withey (another position w/ some good ones to choose from - Ostertag, Pollard, Aldrich, among others) - boy, was he fun to watch when he was "on"!!!


Michael Luby 10 months, 1 week ago

Gary, your catching some serious flak for not giving Travis the correct place.


kansasbb33 10 months, 1 week ago

Rush, Langford and Releford are my top three in the Self era but none are quite as good as Paul Pierce of the Roy Williams era.


Tony Bandle 10 months, 1 week ago

My vote on Brady doesn't count because of his off his court personality encounter with me, I am prejudiced against him.

Picture Sean Penn's Fast Times At Ridgemont High character Jeff Spicoli with the personality of Keifer Sutherland's Stand by Me character Ace Merril...that's how I remember Morningstar.

Possibly the only Jayhawk I ever came close to rooting against.


JayHawkFanToo 10 months, 1 week ago

Rush and Langford are definitely the top two and you can make a case either way.

Releford, Morningstar and Henry are the next three, and again, you can make a valid case for any of them. Mario Little had a few great moments (win over UCLA, MU game) but his body of work is not at the same level of the other three.

My top 5 based on their overall contribution to the program, and not on talent or potential are:

  1. Rush

  2. Langford

  3. Releford,

  4. Morningstar

  5. Henry


Keith Gellar 10 months, 1 week ago

From a pro perspective, all busts!


yovoy 10 months, 1 week ago

These guys did their jobs with their lists: look at the debate. Wonderful work to everyone involved.

I'd have loved to see a Self-coach Langford, or a Langford w/out Ego Giddens suckin' up more PT and shots than he truly deserved. That phantom charge agains K-Freeze kept up from greater things. He definitely has been one of my favorites. He pulled that team from the fire numerous times, as did Rush. It seems like Langford would catch fire in games, but lots of times he would be the only one. It seems that Rush would catch fire, and others would sort of follow his lead. I love them both, and I have lots of trouble putting one above the other. I also don't have a problem with Morningstar being on the list. Let's face it, the kid could play, and the team was better with him on the floor than without. If OurSelf put him on the floor, then he belonged out there.

I always point out that Releford and Little BOTH played out of position for at least a season. They were playing the 4 part-time, so their work at guard has been somewhat diminished from an offensive standpoint. Releford belongs on the list, and Little might as well.


Steve Gantz 10 months, 1 week ago

I wish we could somehow sneak Milt Newton in on this list.


GrammarPolice 10 months, 1 week ago

Because of the way they sorted out the players by position has reeeeeally made it hard to get into this thing. Brady guarded 3's a lot because of his defensive ability... but really, was he a WING most of his career? Or any of it, really? Same with calling EJ a point or Ben a 2... EJ should have been a 2... if we had a true Miles or Robinson, EJ would have NEVER played the point at KU. And Ben should have been a 3... yeah, we basically had two wings on the floor last year, because we know that Self likes all his guards to bring it up... and Ben certainly wasn't a good option to do that. I think Brady makes more sense as a 1 or a 2 than a 3. Basically, you've put multiple guys out of position on this list because of KU's lack of depth at guard just last year.


JayDocMD 10 months, 1 week ago

These lists are fun and for the most part I enjoy them, but it's beginning to feel a bit contrived.

Matt's comment on the PG article, "... Didn't want all four lists to be the same... That would be boring" and now Gary's list with the exclusion of Releford and inclusion of Mario Little gives that "let me throw a name out that's different from everyone else's" fake feel to it.


Eric TheCapn 10 months, 1 week ago

Shoes Langford for president! His jersey hangs outside my closet door, but belongs in the rafters for sure.


otaKU 10 months, 1 week ago

Langford is definitely one of my all-time favorite Jayhawks and absolutely deserves his jersey to be hanging in the Fieldhouse.


Bentleybook 10 months, 1 week ago

Jesse, got it correct again , by correct I mean the same order I was thinking, lol


Eliott Reeder 10 months, 1 week ago

If you think Travis Releford was a better player than Keith Langford then you were probably a little kid back then and not watching a ton of ball. Or you have a short memory. Keith Langford was amazing, although he was indeed affected by the coaching change and some chemistry issues (J.R. Giddens) in his last two years. Keith also may be better defined as a shooting guard than a small forward. Same with Xavier and Brandon actually. McLemore is another one of those small forward/shooting guard hybrids that are difficult to define. Releford is one of my favorites of all time, but I think he is #4 on this list. I'd have to say: 1. Brandon 2. Keith 3. Xavier 4. Travis 5. Brady


hawksince51 10 months, 1 week ago

Rush hands down no. 1. And, Wiggins will truly have to be outstanding to replace Brandon in only one year. Of course I'm pulling for him to do so. Those who bash Brady must not like outstanding D. And he could play adequate O as well. Definitely belongs on the list. Little, not so much--his 2 nonconsecutive years were just not consistent enough to earn a top 5 partly due to games missed due to offcourt issues. Releford earned his way to no. 2 his senior year. I gotta go with Keegan's list all the way.


KCJHawk08 10 months, 1 week ago

Don't get me wrong, I like Releford a lot. He was a great team guy who was highly recruited out of high school and didn't let his ego get in his way once he got here. He waited his turn, and when he got it, he performed at a high level. That being said, he definitely was not close to as good as Langford, who has a legitimate argument to be at the top of this list. Keegan must be simply trying to stir the pot with that one.


Andy Tweedy 10 months, 1 week ago

Mario Little over Travis Releford? Seriously, Gary?


Jim Erickson 10 months, 1 week ago

Wiggins... If he is as good as Ben McLemore he will be a disappointment! Expectations are sky high on this kid.


Jeff Suther 10 months, 1 week ago

Gary shame on you for putting little in front of releford. My list

  1. Wiggins
  2. Rush 3.Langford
  3. Releford
  4. Morningstar

nuleafjhawk 10 months, 1 week ago



I like Brady Morningstar as a person. I don't know much about Xavier Henry.

But if these two guys are REALLY two of KU's top small forwards in the past .....11 years, then Bill Self should have been Coach of the Year.

Every year.


wyansas 10 months, 1 week ago

Langford is probably my favorite KU player ever for all the reasons Bedore mentioned.


Joe Joseph 10 months, 1 week ago

Travis Releford's senior season was bananas. Couldn't hit a deep shot to save his life the first few games. Then, goes to KC and can't stop missing for the rest of the season.

Releford stepped up big last year.


jaybate 10 months, 1 week ago

  1. Brandon.

  2. Ben.

  3. Xavier.

  4. Travis.

  5. Langford

  6. Brady.

Everyone very good.

Brandon definitive. Unsurpassed. So great he could lead a team to a ring on a recovering knee. The greatest So far.

Andrew Wiggins?

Can't wait to see him challenge Brandon's great freshman season!!!!


Jim Erickson 10 months, 1 week ago

The Brandon Rush story doesn't get told enough... The guy was absolutely going to declare for the NBA Draft in a matter of days before he tore his ACL in a pickup game. No ACL tear, no KU... Do we win that National Championship without him?

The shot, the ACL, the missed free throws... Legendary.


Jim Erickson 10 months, 1 week ago

I don't understand where this negativity comes from with Brady... All he did was play his heart out in this program for 5 years. Say what you want, but the program was better because he was a part of it. He wasn't the stereotypical athletic winger, but he played hard nose defence, smart offense, and scored the basketball well.

One of the things I admire about him the most is that letter he wrote to the LJW after he made the mistake of driving drunk. Takes cahonnas to man up in a situation like that.


ParisHawk 10 months, 1 week ago

Brady and Xavier bashing are possibly my least favorite posts ever.

Can't believe Before left off Travis, an incredible defender and rim attacker.


Adam Gerval 10 months, 1 week ago

Brady Morningstar is possibly my least favorite KU player ever.


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