Mayer: Morningstar perfect for KU

Saturday, June 18, 2005

There's decent evidence that Free State High's Brady Morningstar will spend a year at a New Hampshire prep school, then return to where I'm convinced he belongs - on the Kansas University basketball roster.

For all his talents, Brady doesn't yet have enough meat on his bones. It's said he's a 6-foot-3 by 165-170-pound package, but I think some scale-master has been a bit generous.

Right now, Morningstar could go to any number of smaller schools and become an instant sensation. That would be a waste. A fine kid with his abilities and his solid Lawrence background deserves to showcase himself at a school like KU.

Given another year to refine his skills and get a little bulkier without losing any of his ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, he'll be a valuable addition to the Kansas program, ready to produce immediately as a freshman.

Further, coach Bill Self will have had a year to refine the promising crew he'll have the coming season and Morningstar can become another jewel in the crown.

All along when there was talk about another 2005-06 scholarship opening at KU, I was wishing they'd find some way to give it to Brady, raw-boned though he may be. But chances are with all the talent on hand and the promise of the newcomers, Brady'd have faced a red-shirt year. He'd have learned a lot about Bill Self's system and the people in it, but it would not have been the same experience and seasoning he will get at a prep school with other able-bodied kids sharing collegiate, or pro, ambitions.

The competition provided by the New Hampton, N.H., experience will be invaluable for the nifty Firebird product, who averaged 19 points the past season as a Free State senior. One of the greatest things about Brady is that in an age when there are so many ham-handed bricklayers in basketball, the kid can really shoot, and hit, from anywhere. He has remarkable soaring ability, can dunk if the prospect presents itself and already is blessed with slide-and-glide instincts a lot of kids never develop.

His daddy, Roger "The Goose" Morningstar, is a former star on a Jayhawk Final Four team (1974), and Brady the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Roger, at 6-6, averaged 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in his two seasons at KU after prepping in junior college. The family has been successful in business here, and it will be great for them to follow Brady as a Jayhawk. Could be the kid will become even more prominent in Crimson and Blue annals than his pop.

I haven't heard anything official, but I'm sensing this is the direction being taken. Considering how many recent KU players have been so pathetic as crunch-time shooters, it will be sensational to have a smooth, agile, alert ball-handler who can score points from anywhere - and who wants the ball in a pinch.

I've long felt that any time KU takes a local high school kid, including walk-ons like Stephen Vinson, it helps its relationship with Lawrence. That applies to football, or any other sport, male or female. The last LHS four-year basketball contributor was Chris Piper, the first guy coach Larry Brown signed, then made take a red-shirt year, in 1983-84. Larry had a good feeling about taking promising local kids. Chris gave Brown full justification from 1985 through 1988 after starring on a Lawrence state-title team.

OK, you can say Danny Manning was another LHS gem mined by Brown. Not quite. Danny's dad, Ed, was a Brown assistant, and Danny played only a year at Lawrence High after "the package deal" involving a shift from North Carolina. But bottom-line, LHS can claim it sent both Piper and Manning to KU, and it turns out that wasn't a bad pair to draw to.

My feeling is that KU ought never allow even marginal athletes of any sex in any sport to go elsewhere if it can possibly get them. One of the cardinal sins of the university for years has been to take Lawrence too much for granted, in many categories, when it would be so simple to make that extra gesture of respect and appreciation. The tattered town-gown relationship right now needs all the bolstering and refurbishing it can get. A process that will put a local kid the quality of Brady Morningstar on the campus, better late than never, is well-conceived - particularly when the youngster has the healing potential of Brady.

¢ There have been some sensational National Basketball Assn. playoff games this year but the fan interest seems to have lagged, apparently because of too many "unknowns" like foreign players. Teams like San Antonio and Detroit with their Kansas links via Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown and R.C. Buford play the game the way purists believe it should be but there must be too many other distractions to keep followers hypnotized. There are bona fide stars galore but no Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell confrontations, no Magic Johnson-Larry Bird legends and no Michael Jordan to work miracles. The miserable floppola by the selfish pros at the latest Olympics hasn't helped the NBA image, and there is concern about future attention.

All the more reason for the owners, players, union and such to find some way to prevent a lockout strike for next season, whether it lasts a week, a month or the whole slate. Pro hockey wiped out a year, and people didn't even seem to notice. Again, too many other things to do and see. If the NBA calls its quits, even for a while, will anyone really care a lot? How sad if Kansas's Wayne Simien should get shortchanged by some lousy strike.

NBA attention ebbs and flows. The late George Mikan did much to establish the league in the early days. But it was faltering. Along came the Russell-Chamberlain combat to really put things on the map. Then the likes of Johnson-Bird, then Jordan kept the lines moving productively. The tide seems to ebbing again, despite some brilliant playing and coaching. For whatever reason, the San Antonio-Detroit faceoff isn't matching up to the Michael Jackson circus, the runaway bride or some of these outlandish reality charades on television. "Desperate Housewives" and "Alias" have been eating basketball's lunch.

Does the NBA dare risk a year of absence in the face of such dwindling interest? Again, look at what happened to hockey.