A Rising (Morning)Star

Bill Self may have surprised some Jayhawk fans when he started Brady Morningstar in KU's first exhibition game against Washburn on Nov. 4.

Brady Morningstar responded in style with 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting.

Now, over three weeks later, he’s become a familiar face in coach Self’s starting five.

A 6-3 redshirt sophomore guard from Lawrence, Morningstar has started every exhibition and regular-season games this year. He was never better in KU’s 85-53 victory over Coppin State on Friday night in Allen Fieldhouse, scoring 14 of his career-high 21 points in the first half, while also recording a career-best seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

He shot 7 of 9 from the field and 6 of 8 from three-point range. His six threes were a career high.

The former Free State High School star drew rave reviews after the game.

“I thought he played great,” Self said. “Of course, he shot it terrific, but he also got seven boards and was active. He and Tyrel (Reed) have to be guys that can make shots. That’s what I told  those guys, especially after the Syracuse game (the CBE Classic final last Tuesday in Kansas City) that they got to be able to step up and make shots because in that game I think Tyrel made two and Brady made one. That’s not going to win against zones, at least very often.

“But I thought Brady was definitely the best performer in the (Coppin State) game for us.”

After shooting 5 of 15 from the field the first four games, Morningstar scorched the nets against Coppin State’s zone defense the first half. He made his first four threes to propel Kansas to a 27-4 lead with 11:04 remaining before halftime.

“I was fortunate to hit some shots and my teammates got me the ball,” Morningstar said. “I shot the ball well. I’m still trying to get in the groove of things. It’s time to go out there and hit shots and help my team win.

“Tonight, I think I took a step forward.”

He not only made shots, Morningstar was active on both ends of the court. He had six boards the first half, once flying in the lane and grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw by freshman Travis Releford. The sophomore showed veteran poise as well. After catching the ball near the baseline the first half, two Coppin State defenders flew at him before Morningstar calmly threw a perfect pass to Cole Aldrich in the post for a layup.

It was perhaps only fitting that Morningstar ended the game diving on the floor for a loose ball with 3:22 left and then swishing his final three-pointer 30 seconds later. He came out of the game at the 2:31 mark after the best night of his life.

A longtime KU fan, Morningstar is indeed living the dream. But you’d never notice it by his workmanlike approach.

“As I was growing up, I thought about it like this, but since I’ve been here, it’s all business,” Morningstar said. “I’m just trying to take care of my role and help my teammates.”

“If I play 15 minutes or I play 30 minutes, it doesn’t really matter,” he added. “Just as long as we win and keep improving.”

Morningstar prides himself on playing an all-around game.

“If I’m not scoring, I need to get rebounds,” Morningstar said. “I need to rebound all the time. Getting steals, stealing extra possessions. That’s one of the the things coach stresses a lot. I had two turnovers. That’s not good. I need to work on that.”

Self will surely cut Morningstar some slack on that. After all, Morningstar entered the Coppin State game ranked second in the Big 12 with a 4.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s been a shining light for the young Jayhawks this season, averaging 7.8 points and leading the team in three-point percentage (.538), while ranking second in minutes (28.8), assists (3.0 apg) and  steals (seven).

Morningstar has definitely benefited from redshirting last season. He averaged 2.6 points in just seven games as a true freshman in 2006-07.

“I’ve come a long way in two years,” Morningstar said after the Washburn game. “I’ve learned a lot and I think that’s an advantage. My defense (is improved). ...(Just) knowing where to be when you’re supposed to be there on the offensive and defensive end.”

Self said Morningstar has made great strides.

“What you really see is how great it is to guard those other cats (like Sherron Collins and former Jayhawks Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush) in practice every day and have them guard you,” Self said.  “Those guys (Morningstar, Reed, and sophomore center Cole Aldrich) have all improved in large part because of whom they’ve gone up against.

“There are so many recruits that say they want to play immediately. Most of them aren’t prepared to play immediately. There are some that are, but most of them aren’t prepared to play immediately. That jump between your freshman and sophomore year, if you take full advantage of it, you have a chance to really grow up in a hurry just because of working against those older guys every day in practice.”

Just how it was at Free State High, Morningstar was the center of attention after his showcase performance against Coppin State. Reporters peppered him with questions, with many scribes asking him if he ever made six three-pointers in high school.

“I don’t know,” Morningstar replied. “I hope so, hopefully against Lawrence High, “ he added with a smile.

Finally, as the postgame media session was wrapping up, the humble Morningstar again deflected praise and talked about the team.

“It’s not about the six threes or anything. We just got to play better in the second half,” Morningstar said about the Jayhawks' sluggish effort after halftime, where KU lost focus and allowed 55.2 percent shooting from the Eagles.

Morningstar likely gets his unselfishness from his proud father, Roger, a former KU standout on the 1974 Final Four team. Roger Morningstar was the second-leading scorer on both the 1973-74 team and 1974-75 squad, averaging 11.7 points per game during his two-year career. He was an eighth-round draft choice by the Boston Celtics in 1975.

Of course, Roger is thrilled Brady is part of the KU basketball program. And like Brady, Roger is all about the Jayhawks.

“It’s a lot of fun for a parent to see that (Brady playing), but it’s not about him. It’s about the whole team doing well,” Roger said.

“He’s trying to find his role on this team and I think the team’s going to be pretty good. They’re young and inexperienced, but they have a lot of talent and ability.”

The elder Morningstar said Brady doesn’t feel any pressure following in his footsteps.

“No, I don’t think so at all,” Roger said. “Kids have real short memories today. Pictures are so different, everything is so different.

“I’m not sure he even knows that I played here anymore,” Roger added with a smile.

Roger said his son doesn’t remind him of himself as a player.

“He’s a much better player than I ever was. He’s a lot more skillful than I was.”
    
Brady Morningstar is indeed a very skillful player and elevating his teammates’ play with his overall game.

And he’s excelling despite playing out of position.

“He’s a glue guy that can shoot,” Self said. “It’s unfortunate for him because so far ... against Syracuse and Washington he (had) to defend the best athletes on the court. Physically, he can do it, but we didn’t recruit him to be our starting three guard or our starting small forward. We recruited him to be a guard. There’s some pressure on him to be able to do that. I think he’s handled it pretty well so far.”

“I think when we get Mario (Little, injured junior college transfer) back and as Travis grows, I think Brady can become more effective defending a smaller guy as opposed to the team’s best offensive rebounder,” Self added.

“I think he’s done a really good job. He makes guys around him perform better.”

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