KU's Morningstar rises

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports


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Kansas guard Brady Morningstar is among a handful of impact players who have either recently become eligible or will become eligible at the end of the first semester.

Derrick Caracter, Texas-El Paso – The Louisville transfer played his first game for the Miners over the weekend.

Keon Lawrence, Seton Hall – The Missouri transfer was in contention for a starting spot before being suspended for a DUI arrest.

Jai Lucas, Texas – The Florida transfer will contend for major minutes in the Longhorns' backcourt, either as a point guard or a shooting guard

Ater Majok, Connecticut – At 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, the future NBA forward should make an immediate impact in a frontcourt that lacks depth.

John Riek, Mississippi State – Some analysts are comparing the 7-foot-1, 250-pound Riek to former Connecticut star Hasheem Thabeet.

Jeff Robinson, Seton Hall – Transfer averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in his lone season at Memphis.

Ibrahima Thomas, Cincinnati – The former Oklahoma State forward saw his first action with the Bearcats over the weekend.

Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seven-foot freshman originally signed with Arizona but left school after Lute Olson resigned prior to last season. He's not expected to play a major role until 2010-11.

– Jason King

LAWRENCE, Kan. – He's an integral part of a Kansas team that will contend for the national championship.

Still, when guard Brady Morningstar showed up for preseason conditioning drills at Allen Fieldhouse two months ago, coach Bill Self sent him right back home.

"He told me he didn't want to even look at my face," Morningstar said.

The reaction was understandable.

Two days earlier – the morning of Oct. 3 – Morningstar had been arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence after a Kansas Highway Patrol officer stopped him for speeding and veering out of his lane.

According to reports, Morningstar failed four sobriety tests and had a blood-alcohol content of .14. The legal limit is .08.

With his program already under scrutiny because of a series of well-publicized fights between basketball and football players, Self had no choice but to suspend Morningstar until the end of the first semester. Now, after spending nine games on the sideline, Morningstar will return to the court Saturday when No. 1 Kansas plays host to Michigan at Allen Fieldhouse.

"I'm just excited to get back out there," Morningstar said. "Needless to say, it's been a bad couple of months."

If only Morningstar could retrace his steps. Maybe then, he wouldn't have driven to Kansas City that Friday night to hang out with his sister, Linsey, and some of her friends.

The Jayhawks had just finished their first week of Self's mandatory "boot camp," a two-week, military-style conditioning program that's defined by early wake-up calls, intense weightlifting sessions and a gymnasium stocked with extra trash cans for those who can't handle the exhausting running drills.

Mix in the stress from the criticism brought on by the altercation with the football team, and it was understandable that some players would seek an escape. So when Morningstar asked Self if he could make the 45-minute drive to Kansas City to visit his sister, the coach agreed.

"OK," he said, "just make sure you're back by curfew."

Morningstar said he had every intention of obeying those orders. But instead of a quiet night at Linsey's apartment, Morningstar found himself hanging out with friends at Power & Light, a popular spot in the Kansas City bar district.

Hours later, at 3:25 a.m., Morningstar was pulled over on Interstate 70 near Lawrence. Along with watery eyes and the smell of alcohol on his breath, an officer noticed a club stamp on Morningstar's hand.

"I disobeyed the rules," Morningstar said. "I should've just stayed at my sister's that night. Instead I went out and did something stupid, and I ended up paying the price.

"It was embarrassing, more than anything. I had so much on my plate, and I let everyone down. Myself, my family, my teammates, our fans. I let them all down."

A suspension is tough for any player, but making things even worse for Morningstar was his status in the community. Morningstar grew up in Lawrence, where he was a star basketball player at Free State High School. His father, Roger, was a member of the 1974 Kansas squad that reached the Final Four.

Morningstar felt as if people were talking about him for all the wrong reasons. For nearly two weeks after the arrest, Morningstar said he holed up in his apartment, rarely answering the phone or responding to knocks on his front door.

"I didn't want to go out in public," he said. "I didn't want to see my family. I didn't want to see my friends. I just wanted to sit by myself and think about how stupid I was and what a dumb decision I'd made.

"But then I figured out that acting that way wasn't going to heal anything. The healing process is being around people that love you and care about you, people like my family and my teammates."

Eventually, Morningstar began to snap out of his funk. He wrote an apology letter to fans that was printed in the local newspaper. On the court, even though he wasn't allowed to play in games, Morningstar took it upon himself to spend extra time working with and counseling some of KU's younger guards such as Xavier Henry and Elijah Johnson. He also pushed the Jayhawks in scrimmages as a member of the scout team.

"I wanted to help out the guys in any way I could," he said.

Morningstar averaged 30.4 minutes per game as a starter last season and shot 42 percent from 3-point range. He'll likely be the first guard off the bench when he returns. His ability to feed the ball to preseason All-American center Cole Aldrich, who hasn't received as many touches as Self would like, is key.

"Cole will be that much better once Brady gets back," said Self, also noting that Morningstar was KU's best perimeter defender. "I don't think he's going to play 30 minutes a game for us, but he's going to be in our rotation and impact our team. We need him."

Self paused.

"What happened with Brady … it just crushed him," he said. "It's been very difficult on him and his family. Being local, they're reminded about it multiple times on a daily basis. The good thing is that he's learned from this and has moved on."

Morningstar said the last few months have been an "eye-opener." He said he now realizes how one dumb decision can impact so many people, and how magnified his actions will always be in a community where basketball players are the most recognizable faces in town.

"What I did was dumb," Morningstar said. "But I can't waste any more time worrying about what happened in the past. I got what I deserved. I took my medicine. I dealt with it and it's over now. I'm just excited to get back on the court."


Frank Martin
(Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo)

Xavier-Cincinnati – The most intense game of the season featured two technical fouls and so much jaw-jacking that both benches emptied to midcourt during a timeout. Luckily, no fights broke out, and fans were treated to a thrilling finish that saw Xavier emerge 83-79 in double-overtime against its crosstown rival on Sunday.

Georgetown – The Hoyas' non-conference schedule was relatively weak during the early part of the season. But anyone questioning their legitimacy can't say much after John Thompson's squad topped a pair of ranked teams –Butler and Washington – last week. Greg Monroe averaged 19.5 points and 11 boards in the two wins.

Gavin Edwards – What's all this talk about Connecticut not having an inside game? Edwards had 16 points and eight rebounds in an outstanding effort against Kentucky. He's averaging 12.1 points and six boards on the year. Edwards, who has exceptional hands and a nice shooting touch, will be even tougher once Ater Majok joins the lineup.

Temple – Last week, I forgot to mention the Owls when discussing teams with tough non-conference schedules. Temple's two losses this season came against Georgetown (by one point) and St. John's (by seven). And the Owls have defeated Siena, Virginia Tech and Penn State. None of those victories, however, compared to Sunday's 75-65 upset of then-No. 3 Villanova. Temple still has non-conference games against Seton Hall and No. 1 Kansas, both undefeated.

20 – That's how many 3-pointers Northwestern made in Sunday's 90-65 victory over North Carolina A&T. The tally shattered the Wildcats' school record of 15 and extended the team's winning streak to six games. Freshman Drew Crawford scored 35 points and made eight shots from beyond the arc.

Frank Martin – Fans and media members – including myself – thought Kansas State was destined for failure when it named Martin as Bob Huggins' successor nearly three years ago. But these days Martin – whose only head coaching experience was at the high-school level – has everyone eating crow. Kansas State demolished then-No. 17 UNLV in Las Vegas last week and is clearly the third-best team in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Texas.

St. John's – Could Norm Roberts finally be turning around the Red Storm program? St. John's is 8-1 with quality wins against Temple and Siena, and Roberts' team isn't even at full strength. Forward Anthony Mason Jr. is expected to be back soon.


Roy Williams vs. random fan – Williams is the best coach in the game and a strong ambassador for college basketball. But he was flat-out wrong for having an opposing fan ejected from the Dean Dome last weekend simply because he was heckling the Tar Heels while they were shooting free throws. It's a basketball arena, not a golf course. As long as he wasn't being vulgar, that fan had every right to heckle and taunt. Williams should apologize.

Boston College – Not many teams are as baffling as the Eagles. Two weeks after celebrating victories over Providence, Michigan and Miami, Al Skinner's squad is reeling after back-to-back losses against Harvard and Rhode Island.

Deonta Vaughn – Cincinnati's senior leader is struggling. A fourth-year starter at guard, Vaughn is averaging a career-low 10.6 points per game and is shooting just 39 percent from the field. Vaughn has just seven assists in his last three games for the Bearcats, who are 6-2 with both losses coming in overtime (against Gonzaga and Xavier).

The Big 12 – I still think the league is as strong as it's been in years, but there have definitely been some bad losses. Oklahoma State was defeated by Tulsa, Texas A&M lost to New Mexico in Houston, Northern Iowa topped Iowa State and Missouri got beat by Oral Roberts and Richmond. Not good.

Jarrid Famous – South Florida's touted juco transfer played 32 minutes in Saturday's inexcusable loss to Central Michigan and grabbed just one rebound. Seriously, how can a 6-foot-11, 240-pound forward from a Big East school play 32 minutes against a mid-tier MAC team and get just one board? Unbelievable.

Vanderbilt – It isn't a good sign when starters A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal are held out of the starting lineup because of a lack of effort. The Commodores were supposed to be one of the top teams in the SEC behind Kentucky and Tennessee, but right now they're 6-3 with losses to Illinois, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky.


How many undefeated teams are there in Division I?

There are 11 teams who have yet to lose a game: Syracuse, Seton Hall, Georgetown, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Purdue, Missouri State, Kentucky and New Mexico.

Who has done the best job of coaching thus far?

Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Despite losing Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris, the Orange were in midseason form when they throttled North Carolina in mid-November. Beating Florida in Tampa was also huge. Syracuse doesn't play another ranked team until a Jan. 16 showdown against West Virginia in Morgantown.

How many NCAA tournament bids will the Pac-10 receive?

As of now I can't see the conference getting more than two bids. Washington is a solid team that should win the league and I also think Cal will receive a bid, although I can't see either team doing much damage in the Big Dance.


Augustus Gilchrist is hurting.
(Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Teams continue to get hit hard by injuries. South Florida has lost leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist (ankle) until late January, and Rutgers' leading rebounder Gregory Echenique is out at least a month after undergoing eye surgery … Texas point guard J'Covan Brown missed Tuesday's game against Texas Pan-American with an ankle injury but is expected to return for Saturday showdown with North Carolina … Duke freshman Andre Dawkins returned to action Tuesday. Dawkins had left the team for about a week following the death of his 21-year-old sister, Lacey, who was killed in a car wreck in West Virginia while attempting to travel to Duke's Dec. 5 game against St. John's … Freshman forward Jeronne Maymon has left the Marquette basketball team. Maymon was averaging 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds … Penn has fired head coach Glenn Miller after an 0-7 start … South Carolina coach Darrin Horn has agreed to a two-year contract extension that will increase his salary to $1.1 million per year … The Big East has six teams ranked in this week's Top 25 poll. Five Big 12 teams are ranked … The Big Ten is considering expansion, and Missouri is one school that says it would consider making the jump.


Damion James and Texas meet North Carolina in Dallas.
(Jack Plunkett/AP Photo)

Wednesday: Oral Roberts at Louisville – You wouldn’t think Rick Pitino's squad would lose this one, but then you remember that embarrassing home blowout against Charlotte and realize anything is possible. Oral Roberts has defeated Stanford and Missouri.

Friday: Pacific at St. Mary's – Underrated game featuring two of the best coaches on the West Coast in Bob Thomason (Pacific) and Randy Bennett (St. Mary's).

Saturday: North Carolina vs. Texas at Dallas Cowboys Stadium – Two of the deepest teams in college basketball square off in what could be one of the top non-conference games of the season. Texas has yet to be challenged, while the Tar Heels have already played Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State and Syracuse.

Saturday: Duke vs. Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden – The Blue Devils already lost to Wisconsin. Now they're facing an even stiffer challenge in the Zags, who are hardly intimidated by big-name opponents.

Sunday: Florida State at Georgia Tech – The Seminoles have shown flashes of brilliance but have been maddeningly inconsistent. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has won six straight.

Tuesday: Michigan State at Texas – Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Co. will be tough to beat at home, even for the defending NCAA runnerup.

Tuesday: Cal at Kansas – Only one team (Memphis) has given the No. 1 Jayhawks a test thus far. Will the undersized Golden Bears present much of a challenge? Not likely at Allen Fieldhouse.


Tim Buckley, Indiana– When former Marquette coach Tom Crean was hired nearly two years ago at IU, one of the first things he did was ask assistant Tim Buckley to come with him. Along with being a good game tactician – Buckley spent six seasons as Ball State's head coach – Buckley has also had tremendous success on the recruiting trail. At Marquette, for instance, he was instrumental in the signing of future NBA all-star Dwyane Wade. Buckley, who also worked under Steve Alford at Iowa, talked about Wade's recruitment and a handful of other topics during a recent interview.

KOTC: Before we talk about your role as an assistant, I've got to ask you about the 2001 Maui Invitational, when your Ball State Cardinals upset a Kansas squad that featured Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison. And then the next night you beat UCLA. What do you remember most about that magical week?

Buckley: The gym there is air-conditioned now, but back then it wasn't. That's the main thing (laughing). Our guys went out there with a chip on their shoulder. They really wanted to prove that they were good players. We told them after we beat Kansas, 'If you do it once, it's a fluke. If you do it twice, you're for real.' Then they came back and beat a very good UCLA team the next night. That was back when UCLA had Jason Kapono and Dan Gadzuric and Matt Barnes and Cedric Bozeman. We lost to Duke in the championship, but it was a great week.

KOTC: OK, on to your time at Marquette, any good stories about the recruitment of Dwyane Wade?

Buckley: The thing I remember most was the in-home visit. His name on all of his high school rosters and transcripts was spelled Dwayne. When we got to his home visit, his future mother-in-law looked at all the fancy packets we had with his name on there and she started giggling. She said, 'Look at that, Dwyane. They misspelled your name.' My heart just kind of dropped into my stomach. Luckily, all of the other recruiters had been spelling it the wrong way, too.

KOTC: You've worked under two of the game's best coaches in Tom Crean and Steve Alford. Tell me one good trait about each of them.

Buckley: Tom puts you in a position to learn something new every day. He expects that out of you as a coach. The intensity it takes to build a program and build a team … he's as focused and as driven as anyone I've ever been around at that kind of stuff. He's relentless when it comes to helping people get better. Steve is an excellent coach, too. He has an excellent feeling of where his players are [mentally] and what to do at certain times. He knows exactly when to push and when to back off. A lot of that is because of his experiences as a coach, and a lot of it is because of his experiences as a player.

KOTC: How would you describe the mammoth task of rebuilding Indiana's program, which was in shambles when Crean accepted the job in April of 2008.

Buckley: The only people who could relate to it are people that are starting up a program from absolute scratch. We essentially started this program all over again. We didn't even start putting a roster together until April 15 – and that was just to get a team on the floor to play. The plus was that we had Indiana behind us – the state, the university and the tradition. I don't know how many places where you could wipe out a roster entirely and then come back and sign a Top 10-ranked recruiting class.

KOTC: Any fun stories about Crean? What's he like in public? Around the office?

Buckley: No funny stories or anything. He coaches his son, Riley, in little league football. He's as passionate about that as anything else. Whatever he gets involved in, he's very passionate about. He's very good at getting to know people in other sports and other professions. He's good at networking with those people.

KOTC: Speaking of which, Tom's brother-in-law, John [Harbaugh], is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens while another brother-in-law, Jim, is the head football coach at Stanford. So is it safe to assume that Tom is glued to the TV set every Saturday and Sunday?

Buckley: He's obviously on top of what's going on with their teams. If the opportunity is there for him to watch their games he'll do it, but he won't if it interferes in something we're trying to do. He has so much respect for both Jim and John. I know all three of them – or, actually, all four of them including Jack, his father-in-law – get together and talk about ways to make their programs better. They obviously give some good advice.


Wings are the key fare at a sports bar.
(Don Heupel/AP Photo)

Challenger's Sports Bar, Kansas City – I judge sports bars on three criteria: Wings, TV setups and service. On a scale of one-to-10, Challenger's scores an 11 in all three categories. That's why I'm confident in tabbing it "The Best Sports Bar in Kansas City." With nearly 30 flat screens and plasmas, there's no better place to watch a game.

Smoque, Chicago – I'm not quite ready to declare The Windy City a barbecue town, but Chicago has a hidden gem in Smoque, a rib-lovers haven on North Pulaski. You can't go wrong with the baby backs, although I prefer the St. Louis style ribs alongside a half-pound of brisket and a side of Smoque's signature cornbread.

The Ivy, Los Angeles – Surrounded by a white picket fence to fend off the paparazzi, The Ivy is best known for its star-studded clientele. But the food is pretty darned good, too. A simple fish and chips platter also included calamari, onion rings, shrimp and scallops. The fried chicken is also very popular along with a large selection of homemade desserts.

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