"It’s going to be real exciting,” Arthur said. “Everyone is going to be hyped.”
Arthur, a ballyhooed 6-9 forward from Dallas, Texas, has been dreaming of this moment ever since he signed with Kansas in May. He said he’s trying to adjust to the college game and become mentally tougher and hone his post moves.
Watch Arthur play and an ordinary game suddenly becomes extraordinary. You see a future NBA lottery pick in action. You witness arguably the second greatest athletic big man (behind Wilt Chamberlain) in KU history. Whether it’s his explosive jumping ability in the paint, his tremendous speed running the floor, his lightning quick hands and uncanny knack to pickpocket opponents, or his feathery jumper from three-point land, Arthur pretty much does it all.
And then there are those golden moments when he literally takes your breath away and captures your imagination forever.
Take KU’s first exhibition game against Washburn on Nov. 2. After making his first appearance off the bench at the 16-minute mark in the first half, Arthur drew oohs and ahs from the fans 37 seconds later by leaping to the heavens and blocking a shot off the backboard. Then soon, in 1-minute 40-second stretch, Arthur gave the Allen Fieldhouse faithful an even truer glimpse of just how special he can be.
At 12:48, he rebounded a Washburn shot, then raced downcourt and caught a pass before swishing a 17-foot jumper. Over a minute later, Arthur stole the ball near midcourt, fell and lost control, picked up the ball while walking a tightrope along the sideline, and dribbled down for a spectacular layup with 11:08 remaining in the half. The crowd came to its feet and roared. This was King Arthur’s time, his own playground.
A star was born.
“He is not the freshman of the year, he is the freshman of the century,” Washburn head coach Bob Chipman gushed after watching 'Slim Shady' make his college debut with 21 points, six steals (five in first half), six rebounds, and two blocked shots in only 22 minutes.
“He is a fabulous player.”
Arthur has heard all the hosannas about his mad game, all the rave reviews, all the talk how he’s KU’s best big man since Danny Manning, and all about how he’s one and done and off to the NBA.
But listen to him talk and you hear a young Manning, just a humble kid trying to fit in and earn a spot on the team.
“I was just trying to be like a role player out there, look for my buddies, score when open, just run our offense basically,” Arthur said after having one of the finest exhibition outings ever by a Kansas freshman. “I think I see myself as a role player. Coach wants me to get a lot of rebounds. I think I need to work on that a lot more, and blocking shots and running up and down the court.”
Arthur knows he has a lot of work to do off the court as well, but couldn’t be happier about being a Jayhawk.
“College is a lot of fun,” said Arthur, who loves to write and added that English is his favorite class. “The toughest part is the time management between classes. We have to do a lot of studying and tutoring, and it just kind of wears you down with practice and weights and pickup. I socialize well with my classmates. We're all getting through it the same."
Collins is finding his way as well. An extremely quick and muscular 5-11, 200-pound point guard from Chicago, Collins has the makings of a young Darnell Valentine, the former KU All-American who played eight years in the NBA. Collins was slowed early in preseason with injuries, but is now showing signs of becoming an impact player.
Just five nights after Arthur’s uncanny performance against Washburn, it was Collins’ time to shine in KU’s final exhibition game versus Emporia State on Tuesday night. Collins, who started in place of the injured Mario Chalmers, wowed the crowd with his explosive, fastbreak drives to the hole, his deft shooting (4 of 7 from three-point land and game-high 20 points), and his aplomb in running the offense.
Collins also displayed his leadership ability. Self has called his prized freshman a “natural leader.”
“I just try to talk and get along with everybody,” Collins said. “If somebody’s having a hard time, just picking them up. All the little things.”
He said his biggest transition to college has been living in a relatively small town like Lawrence compared to the hustle and bustle of Chi-Town.
“At first the adjustment from the city where there were always things to do was tough, but it has gotten easier,” Collins said. “It has been good for me."
“Off the court, it’s been great,” added Collins, who loves dining at Longhorn Steakhouse. “I get along with a lot of the upperclassmen. They show me around. They take me out and try to get me from being in a big city to a small city. Grade-wise, I’m doing alright. I got good tutors.”
He also has two good teammates like Arthur and Morningstar, who is trying to make his own name at Kansas. Morningstar has lived in Lawrence since he was 7, and always dreamed of becoming a Jayhawk and following in the footsteps of his dad, Roger (“The Goose”), who was a KU standout on the 1974 Final Four team.
“It’s a reality now,” Morningstar said. “I went away to prep school (after starring at Free State High School). “I had to work on my game a little bit in order to come here. I did that and I got a chance to come. The season is starting now, and it’s going to be a fun one.”
Indeed, it is. Morningstar has shot lights out in practice recently and could be a designated zone buster this season. With great applause from the Allen Fieldhouse crowd, the hometown hero made his college debut against Washburn with 9:30 remaining in the first half. He showed good court presence the entire game, hustled hard, and swished his first college basket (three-pointer) with 4:22 left in the game. It was, quite simply, one of the greatest thrills of his life.
“It sent chills up and down my spine,” said Morningstar, who also drained a three-pointer versus Emporia State.
The crowd favorite will certainly have more magical moments this season. Despite his demanding schedule of classes, studying, practices, and, of course, games to come, Morningstar knows he’d have life no other way.
And no place he’d rather be.
“It’s all worth it,” he said with a big smile. “Coach Self is a great coach. I’m having a great time so far.”
Off the hardwood, Morningstar has probably had the best transition of the three freshmen since he’s from Lawrence and knows the town by heart. Morningstar said he’s enjoyed acclimating Arthur and Collins to the city and making them feel at home.
“The first time they got here, we’d go to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, Target, all that stuff,” Morningstar said. “I had to show them Iowa (Street), Sixth Street. I think they’re pretty good at it now. I think they know their way around.”
The Three Amigos have become inseparable. They hang out every day and play video games in Arthur’s room at Jayhawk Towers.
“We do everything together,” Collins said three days before KU’s exhibition opener versus Washburn. “Right now, none of us has a haircut because I didn’t want to go, and (they) didn’t want to go one day. We’re always close. We’re always together.”
Collins and Morningstar are roommates, while Arthur rooms with sophomore guard Mario Chalmers.
"(They're) clowns,” Morningstar said of buddies Collins and Arthur. “They open up, joking and playing around. They’re pretty funny.”
Like the time Arthur and his teammates played the best prank of the preseason on Morningstar.
“Brady was sleeping, and we put Carmex in his eyebrows and all on his face,” Arthur said. “He woke up and was laughing at me like, ‘What are you all talking about?’”
Arthur ended up getting the last laugh. But now, with the real season about to embark against Northern Arizona, Arthur, Morningstar and Collins are quite serious. They want to open their college careers with a resounding victory and make a statement about the Jayhawks’ rich potential.
Three high school stars. Three consummate team players. Three winners who talk daily about their excitement to don the crimson and blue. They came to KU to play for coach Self. They came to be a part of the great Kansas basketball tradition. And above all, they came to help KU win a national championship.
Their journey from Dallas, Chicago, to here in Lawrence officially begins Saturday night in the Phog.
“The mark we’re all trying to make is just to come in and help the team as much as we can,” Collins said. “I’m not trying to worry about expectations right now. I’m just trying to learn everything I can from the upperclassmen and do as much as I can for coach. We just want to get out there and execute what coach tell us to do, and (KU) should come out on top.”
For all time.