Former Jayhawk Mario Little grinding out pro basketball career

Richard Rosenzweig slaps hands with former Kansas player Mario Little as he is introduced before a game at the Bill Self Fantasy Camp on Thursday, May 2, 2013, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Richard Rosenzweig slaps hands with former Kansas player Mario Little as he is introduced before a game at the Bill Self Fantasy Camp on Thursday, May 2, 2013, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mario Little, with the help of former Kansas University teammate Tyrel Reed, put on quite a three-point shooting exhibition Thursday at the Bill Self Basketball Fantasy Experience.

The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Little, who played for the NBA Development League’s Tulsa 66ers last season, accepted pass-after-pass from Reed and swished trey-after-trey, working up a sweat after taking it easy on the 35-and-older campers during a full-court exhibition game in Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think I’m in better shape than when I was here, actually,” said the 25-year-old Little, two seasons removed from his KU days. “It’s more serious now. Not that it wasn’t then, but I was living the college life. My focus is at an all-time high.”

He concedes that it’s serious business now because he’s trying to make a living playing the game. Little played pro ball in Ukraine during the 2011-12 season, before going the D-League route last year.

“Coming from KU and everything, being in Eastern Europe is pretty different. It was good for me. I grew up,” said Little. “This year, they (66ers) invited me to their training camp. I made the team. I was playing well, but guys came down (from NBA) and took my minutes down a lot. At the end of the year, I played much more. It was cool.”

Little — he averaged 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds during the regular season — had a season-high 14 points in his final game, a second-round playoff loss to Rio Grande Valley.

“I’m trying to grind and make a team like me,” the Chicago native said of an NBA team. “I went to Phoenix last year. They liked me, but the timing wasn’t right. I went to the D-League. I’m about to go back to Phoenix Sunday and start working out with them (Suns) again, see where it takes me. Maybe I’ll do summer league with them.

“I’ve got an invitation with Oklahoma City. We’ll see how everything goes. I think I’m going to try to go play in Puerto Rico and make a little bit more money. The D-League is a great opportunity. The money is OK, but you know, you’ve got to try to make a little more money.”

Little said he had fun playing with and against the elder campers on Thursday.

“They were gunning, though. They wouldn’t pass me the ball,” Little said, adding, “I’m kidding. It was a good experience to get back on the court, play with the lights on a little bit (back in Allen Fieldhouse). It was fun.”

September hoops: The NCAA Board of Directors ruled Thursday that college basketball teams may start practice as early as Sept. 27 this upcoming season. Last month, the NCAA Legislative Council approved a bill to allow 30 days of practice in the six weeks before the first regular-season game. In the past, practice began four weeks before the start of the season.

This means KU could hold Late Night in the Phog as early as Sept. 27.

“It wouldn’t affect Late Night for us, because what we’ll do is still pick a time that coincides with what we think is best and still have Late Night, even if it’s after the first practice,” KU coach Self said recently, indicating the Friday closest to Oct. 15 (Oct. 11 or 18) still figures to be the likely target date. “We’ll do it the exact same way (as the past),” Self added.

Of the decision to start practice earlier than normal, Self said: “I am in favor of this because of this — injuries. The way it is set up, you will get the same number of practices (30 before first game). Starting earlier means you could take more days off. I think that is very positive for everybody.”

Shot clock: Next week, the NCAA rules committee is expected to vote on moving the college shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.

“I think the 30-second clock would be good and the fans would enjoy that,” Self said. “I also think there’s a couple other things you can do maybe to add another possession or two or three a game, which I think would be positive also. Scoring is down.

“I think officiating needs not necessarily rules changes but emphasis changes to make sure we maybe give a little more advantage to the offensive player in some situations.”