'Kieff: KU's Next Rebounding King?

Markieff Morris crashed the boards with a mission in high school. He was a rebounding machine who averaged 15 boards per game at Philadelphia Prep Charter High School his senior year in 2007. Heck, he even pulled down a career-high 27 caroms in a tournament game in Florida that season.

Oh yeah, Markieff Morris also added 31 points and seven blocks in the contest.

He continued to hit the boards at APEX Academies (Pennsauken, N.J) last season, averaging 12 rebounds and 27.2 points in earning team MVP.

Now a freshman at Kansas University, the 6-9 Morris is proving he can be a rebounding force at the next level. If his opening game against UMKC (KU won, 71-56, on Sunday) is any indication, Morris might become one of the great rebounders in KU history.

With starting center Cole Aldrich in foul trouble and limited to just three minutes the first half, Morris took his place and grabbed seven boards in 15 minutes. He finished the game with 7 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes, the most boards by a Jayhawk in a debut game since at least 1989.

Only two other KU players have recorded double-digit rebounds in their first games since 1989 — David Padgett (10) in 2003 and Wayne Simien (11) in 2001.

Morris grabbed the third most rebounds by a freshman in KU history behind Eric Chenowith’s 20 boards (Jan. 14, 1998) and Raef’s LaFrentz’s 16 caroms (Jan. 9, 1995). It was also the best performance since Nick Collison cleaned the glass with 21 rebounds in the NCAA Championship game against Syracuse on April 7, 2003.

Morris was pleased with his effort, but not completely satisfied.

“I could have had more, but I fell like five times,” he said. “I should have got more than 20.”

Morris will have plenty more chances to reach 20-plus rebounds during his Jayhawk career. Now that his first game is in the books and he’s acclimated to the bright lights, that time could come sooner than later.

 It seems Morris had a bad case of stage fright before the game.

“I was nervous,” he said. “I talked to coach (Bill Self) about it. He said ‘just go out there and play. Don’t worry about nothing.’ And my teammates, Sherron (Collins) and everybody, just told me it’s going to be alright.”

“I talked to (Self) on the phone,” Morris added. “I text him. He just said ‘let the game come to you. Guys that came before you, it’s natural to be the way you are. They were nervous, too. Just go out there and play. Don’t think.’

“I took a real bad shot (three-pointer) in the beginning. After that, I was OK.”

Surprisingly, Self in the postgame press conference he didn’t talk to Morris before the game about his nerves. In any event, Morris calmed down during his 15 minutes in the first half and did a superb job replacing Aldrich.

“Cole’s so tall, I usually rely on him to get the rebounds,” Morris said. “But today, I just had to get them myself because he was out the majority of the first half. I know I was the other big. I was the tallest guy on the team, so I just had to go rebound.

“It was kind of up to me to show coach I could be in there and rebound without Cole in the game. We kept it close without Cole and then the second half, you could see Cole was in and made a big difference.”

While Aldrich came up big with five rebounds and 13 points the second half (and for the game), Morris continued his strong rebounding play with eight boards after halftime. He said he’s getting acclimated to rebounding and battling with bigger players at the college level after grabbing just eight total rebounds in KU’s exhibition games against Washburn and Emporia State.

“In practice, we always have rebound challenges. Hit your man and go get the ball,” Morris said. “In the first exhibition games, I was getting used to blocking out. I was always taller and bigger (in high school). The first two games, I was real raw. I just tried to go get get everything. Guys were hitting me before I got to them. But today, I started hitting guys before they hit me and (then) got after the ball.”

Self and Morris’ teammates were impressed with his rebounding. The KU coach said he didn’t think he’s ever had a newcomer get 15 boards in his debut game.

“But I probably hadn’t had too many freshmen play 29 minutes either in their first game,” Self said. “I thought he did a good job. He went after the ball for the most part. He had a couple of big blocks, too, where he played bad defense and they got a layup and he kind of saved us.”

Morris (0-3 FG, 7-10 FT), who also dished out three assists and blocked two shots, is still a work in progress.

“He’s not used to defending on the perimeter and obviously they drove him and  he put his hands on guys and fouled,” Self said. “But I thought he played pretty well. I really did. The thing about our big guys, other than Cole, we don’t finish in tight. You look at it, how many easy baskets we missed in tight. ... We got to finish those. If we finished those, we would have looked a lot better because those three guys (Morris, twin brother Marcus, and freshman forward Quintrell Thomas) got numerous opportunities the first half to finish in tight, and we came away with nothing.”

While Markieff came up empty with two missed shots in the first half, he certainly was huge on the glass.

“Coach (Danny) Manning pulled me aside (at halftime) and said (I) had seven rebounds,” Markieff said. ‘”Just keep going after the ball.’”

If Markieff Morris keeps going after the ball like he did in his opening game versus UMKC, he may end up breaking Manning’s career rebounding record at Kansas.

He “just” needs 1,173 more boards to go.

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