KU coach Bill Self suspended him indefinitely and there was speculation Mario Little might not ever suit up again as a Jayhawk.
But after missing six games, Self reinstated the 6-6 senior forward,
who received a diversion agreement for two battery charges.
"I believe in Mario," Self said. "He has been a pleasure to coach and I
am certainly proud of the fact he only has three hours left to
graduate. I'm more concerned about what's best for our program rather
than an individual, but in this case I believe he deserves a second
opportunity to finish his career in uniform. I have consulted with many
people about this, and after a lot of deliberation feel confident this
is the best thing to do."
A month after his reinstatement, and nearly two months since his career
and life hit its nadir, Little wowed the Allen Fieldhouse crowd Monday
night in KU's victory over Missouri with a career-high 17 points on
7-of-9 shooting and 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in just 16 minutes.
It was his second biggest moment as a Jayhawk behind swishing the
game-winning free throw with less than a second left as KU beat UCLA,
77-76, in the Phog on Dec. 2.
Little showed fans why he was the No. 1 ranked juco player in the
county his sophomore season at Chipola (Fla.) Community College. He did
what he does best — score. The Chicago native scored 12 of his points
in the first half, helping KU to a 46-42 halftime lead.
Little made some shots that players don't take, including a pivotal
three-pointer with the shot clock expiring with over 12 minutes
remaining in the game, giving KU its biggest lead yet at 72-60.
Heck, Little isn't shy about pulling the trigger. He's never seen a
shot he doesn't like.
"Mario is going to give himself a chance to score because he is going
to clip it off as soon as he touches it usually," Self said. "He was
feeling it and of course he bailed us out."
Little said he didn't feel extra pressure with freshman guard Josh Selby out with a stress reaction in his foot.
"No, I just try to play my game and just bring something to the table
every night," Little said. "They were just falling for me so I just
Little, who is averaging 6.4 points in 15.1 minutes per game while
shooting 56.6 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from beyond the
arc, may never score 17 points in a game the rest of the season. He may
never live up to the hype coming out of junior college since he plays
limited minutes. He will likely never get his picture on the cover of
But he will still be a key factor off the bench the remainder of the
year with his instant offense and a guy who can take the opponents' big
man out on the perimeter (and away from rebounding position) while also
playing small forward at times.
After redshirting last season, Little knows this is his last change to
prove himself in college and prove himself as a KU basketball
ambassador after his arrest.
If you watched KU's second-round loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA
tournament last March, you surely noticed how the TV cameras caught
Little with his head buried into the court by the bench and crying
uncontrollably moments after the final buzzer.
After pushing his teammates in practice all season, it pained him see
KU's dream season end after the seconds ticked off the clock as the
Panthers' players jumped in the air and celebrated like they had just
won the national championship.
Little, after being at KU for two years, finally realized what Self and
Kansas basketball was all about.
"I was just down. It was hard to swallow," Little recalled at Media Day
last October. "I really bought into the system, just being a student of
the game and learning and all of that. That's why I probably took it so
hard because I fell in love."
Self has seen Little buy into the system, he's seen the love, he's seen
Little's remorse for his poor judgment on Dec. 16, and he's seen Little
take responsibility and attend weekly counseling sessions as part of
the diversion agreement.
So he reinstated the senior and rewarded him for his work ethic by
giving him minutes in the rotation. Perhaps above all, he's seen Little
"He seems to have a little bit different focus since that (arrest)
occurred and he's very appreciative of being out there," Self said. "I
think he's done a nice job so far. When you look at it through his
eyes, this is his opportunity to maybe do something that will warrant
him having a career overseas or something like that. He's not getting a
lot of minutes, but his attitude's been great. That's the thing I think
where he's matured the most."
Self believes Little could have a long career overseas.
"Depending on which league, absolutely," Self said. "He's undersized,
but Mario puts up numbers. Shots per minute, he would lead our team
hands down. Passes per minute, he would be last place on our team. He's
a hungry guy, he's a natural scorer. That's what he does. A lot of
times when he's in the situations I put him in, he doesn't show what he
could really do because that's probably not what we want as far as
time, score, and momentum. But he's a natural scorer. I think he could
play overseas for a long time."
Little is putting the past behind him and moving on while poised for a
bright future. He's looking for redemption and taking advantage of his
"I have appreciated all the support people have shown me, especially my
teammates," Little said after he was reinstated. "I accept
responsibility for what took place that evening and have learned from
it and feel awful about it. I'm appreciative of the opportunity to come
back. The last four weeks have given me time to reflect and reevaluate
a lot of things with myself. I certainly anticipate not only handling
situations better but also feel I have become a much better person
because of this."
A Little Relieved
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