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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett continues to serve as KU’s ultimate X-factor

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and his teammates take off up the court as they get warmed up for a shoot around on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and his teammates take off up the court as they get warmed up for a shoot around on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

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Salt Lake City — Kansas coach Bill Self hinted this week that he may be looking at tweaking his starting lineup ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. NCAA Tournament opener against No. 13 seed Northeastern at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

But whether he switches things up or starts the same five he has for the past 11 games, Self can rest easy knowing he has a player on his roster named Marcus Garrett, who gives him maximum lineup flexibility, from the bench to pregame introductions and the backcourt to the paint.

Call Garrett an X-factor if you want, but Self has a different name for it. And, on Wednesday, he conjured up the name of a player from KU’s past who earned the same title when talking about Garrett’s impact.

“I think every team needs a blend guy or blend guys,” Self said. “People say, ‘Brady Morningstar, could he play?’ Well, he was the best blend guy you could possibly have. He made the other four guys better just by being on the court, and I think that’s what Marcus does, too.”

That’s high praise for the KU sophomore considering Morningstar started 67 of the 116 games he played in for the Jayhawks and was a part of four Kansas teams that won 33 games or more. But it’s also fair, according to Morningstar himself.

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Nick Krug

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) tries to recover a ball from Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) during the second half, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

In a phone interview with the Journal-World on Wednesday, Morningstar showered Garrett with love and talked for 10 minutes about how similar the two players were in one aspect of the game.

“Our strength is defense,” Morningstar said before outlining what his role was as a defender with the Jayhawks. “Whether that’s guarding on the ball or off the ball, the one similarity we really have is on the defensive end. When I first got in the game, my job was to keep my man under his average and make him shoot tough, contested shots if he catches the ball. I didn’t need to score. And I think Garrett’s the same way. I really like his game, and if people don’t think he’s a lockdown defender, he needs to show them that he is.”

Unlike Morningstar, who redshirted during KU’s national championship run in 2008 and enjoyed two full years of on-the-job training, Garrett has inherited a big role immediately.

As the first guard off the bench for last year’s Final Four team, Garrett learned a few valuable lessons about playing at Kansas and competing at the highest level, but did so without so much as a hint of pressure. This year, as one of the few Jayhawks with real experience, Garrett has been looked to for more of a leadership role.

Members of the Kansas coaching staff had different thoughts about their expectations for Garrett when they recruited him out of Dallas’ Skyline High, but there is no debating his importance to the program, particularly as the Jayhawks sit on the cusp of a clash with a small-ball squad like Northeastern that may bring Garrett’s versatility onto center stage.

“I actually thought Marcus would have the role that he’s had when we recruited him,” said Self, likely referencing Garrett’s role as an elite defender. “I think it hurt us more than people realize when he got hurt. We were a much different team with him injured, and I thought (the Big 12 tournament in) Kansas City was the first time where he showed signs of being close to 90 percent, and hopefully he’ll be close to 100 because we need him.”

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Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) grabs a rebound against West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

The injury Self referenced was a high ankle sprain on Garrett’s left leg that kept him out of the lineup for five games in February and has left him hobbled ever since.

Garrett opened up about the injury in the KU locker room on Wednesday, saying his initial guess was that he would miss just one game.

“I’d never had an ankle injury before,” he said. “So when I rolled it was like, ‘Dang, I rolled my ankle.’ But then, when I got up and I couldn’t walk, I knew it must be serious. It was definitely a hard thing to go through, especially because you’re trying and you really want to go out there and play, but you can’t do too much. That was frustrating.”

Garrett returned to the lineup on Feb. 23 and has been on a steady climb to full health ever since.

That last part — full health — is key, according to Garrett’s teammates, who have learned to lean on the 6-foot-5 sophomore as the identity and inspiration for their defense and figure to do so a lot in their NCAA opener, whether the Jayhawks play big or small.

“Before he got injured, he was playing really well and that injury brought him back a little bit,” junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “But if Marcus has a clean bill of health, he has an opportunity to be a factor, against anybody, not just an X-factor.”

That reality could be crucial against Northeastern, a team known for its 3-point shooting and offensive prowess.

KU assistant Kurtis Townsend said Garrett likely would draw the game’s toughest defensive assignment of checking Huskies senior Vasa Pusica, a 6-5 gunner who enters the tournament averaging 17.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting from 3-point range.

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Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) defends against a pass from Louisiana forward JaKeenan Gant (23) during the first half, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Garrett likes the matchup and said he’s comfortable guarding all five positions, but would prefer to stay his size or bigger rather than having to guard a jet-quick point guard.

He also said his standing as a defensive stopper was with him long before he arrived at Kansas.

“A lot of people don’t know that, in high school, I led the area in steals and I was known for defense in high school, too,” Garrett said Wednesday. “It just wasn’t the focal point because I almost averaged a triple-double.”

That was during his senior season. But as a freshman and sophomore who played with the varsity squad, the former 4-star prospect who was ranked 41st in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, Garrett played a role very similar to the one he’s had so far at Kansas.

That connection to his past has kept Garrett comfortable through it all and allowed him to fill a key role for the Jayhawks at a young age.

“He’s very valuable, and he knows what we want defensively,” Townsend said of Garrett. “He plays exactly how coach coaches. He’s got that intensity.”

Added Lightfoot of Garrett’s importance in Thursday's 4-13 matchup, “He’s huge. They’ve got four guards who can all really play, so if our two-bigs approach doesn’t work, we have the ability to go to Marcus. So there’s opportunity for it to be huge.”

Whether you prefer the term "X-factor" or lean more toward Self’s description of “blend guys,” Garrett fits the part. More important than that, he also has a clear understanding of exactly what it is.

“I think an X-factor is somebody who can change the game,” Garrett explained. “And change in the game in a lot of ways, not just by scoring. Defending, rebounding and doing little things.”

Asked if he thought that definition described him, Garrett nodded.

“Yeah, it does,” he said. “I feel like I can impact the game when I’m not scoring.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. Although his college days are long behind him now and he’s down in Texas working as an assistant coach at Texas Wesleyman, Morningstar still lives and dies with the team he grew up following all the way through his solid career.

And while he concedes that Garrett has the edge in athleticism — he gave himself the nod as a better shooter — Morningstar said that, even while watching on TV, he can feel the energy from those little things that Garrett brings to this team.

“Of course, they coach the principles and what they want in their system,” Morningstar said of Self and the KU staff. “But it’s hard to teach IQ to someone. And Garrett is definitely a strength for Kansas. When he’s on the floor, I feel good about our chance of getting stops. Defense is a five-man unit, for sure, but when you take pride in really not letting your man score, it rubs off on everybody on the court.”

Comments

Dane Pratt 3 months, 4 weeks ago

No matter what happens in the tournament, here’s a bit of schadenfreude to help offset any possible disappointment. Mizoo did not make the tournament (I know, shocking isn’t it) and Wichita is a 6 seed in the NIT (not invited tournament). Just something to cheer you up.

And, although I can't endorse the celebration of injuries, looks like Wade is out for K-State.

Steve Zimmerman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Cut the x-factor crap. Listen Marcus, again, here are my advice to you:

Use your strong shoulder, use your strong arm to PUSH opponents, bounce with your mighty legs while dribble driving, go up and DUNK hard. Do NOT avoid contacts, do NOT throw the ball and cower, draw fouls, ATTACK the RIM instead of going to the short corner. Do not waste layups. It's embarrassing!! Kill the huskies! PLAY MAD, PLAY HUNGRY, PLAY ANGRY!! PROVE THE WHOLE WORLD WHO THE REAL MARCUS GARRETT IS!!! Rock Chalk!!!!!!

Edward Daub 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Steve, you know your stuff!! I think I read that you coach basketball. I have coached a little pee wee and rec in the my day, but not a Clair Bee (my hero).

I am big on Math so I love to dig into the Statistics. Marcus is shooting 58% from the free throw line, 25% from 3 point range, and 41% field goal overall.

Marcus has the potential to develop into a great player, if and only if he can improve his perimeter shooting. His shot release looks a tad awkward to me.

Tony Bandle 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Thank God there is someone else in the world who knows about Clair Bee besides me!! I have a complete collection of the Chip Hilton sports series in original release form and, unbelievably, it's worth a fortune. But I will never give it up because it reminds me of a time in America that was special!!

Edward Daub 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Tony, I am jealous , I have 15 of the 23 books (hard backed Grosset & Dunlap)!

Went to the Basketball Hall of Fame once, where Clair Bee is enshrined and Book#2 (Championship Ball) is in the display case!

In the mid 1960's , my buddies and I used to buy the Hilton Books in Downtown Lawrence at "Keeler's" I think.

I could spend all day talking about Chip Hilton! I have read them multiple times, packed full of sports action!

Steve Zimmerman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Edward, I have only little experience in coaching. You probably have noticed, too, Marcus has been progressing in terms of attacking the basket. Due to his poor 3pt/pull-up js shooting, as you also knew already, he better to just keep attacking the basket with more physical force. That's easier to fix than the 3pt shooting mechanic (if he every gets any coaching at all from the staff + repetition). But I'm with you, he has all the tools & potential to be a better player. He just needs to spend more efforts proving himself on the court.

Chad Smith 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Garrett needs to attack the rim like he did last year(2018) at Texas Tech, anyone remember that poster jam he threw down?

I want to see more of that, he's certainly athletic enough for it.

ROCK CHALK!

Steve Zimmerman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Oh, yeah, that's what I was talking about. A good reminder to everyone how bouncy Garrett can be. He can be that good. He probably needs to get a haircut. He'll be much lighter, I guess.

Vic Janeway 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Hope you players can GET ANGRY (from all the disrespect) and just play your hearts out! ROCK CHALK BABY!! forever fan.

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