LAWRENCE, Kan. — Now an assistant coach at Texas Wesleyan, former Kansas guard Brady Morningstar watched basketball practice at his alma mater Monday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse.
Chances are his eyes focused — for a while at least — on current Kansas sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who like Morningstar is developing a reputation as a defensive stopper on the collegiate level.
"Nah ... he's way better than me," the 6-foot-4, 32-year-old Morningstar said with a smile while walking through the northwest tunnel of the fieldhouse onto James Naismith Court. He had been asked if Garrett reminded him of say, himself?
Morningstar, a key rotation player in three of his four seasons at Kansas (2007-11) and member of the all-Big 12 defensive team his senior season, never averaged more than 7.1 points a game, though he was a career 41.3 percent shooter from three.
The 6-foot-5 Garrett has averaged 5.9 points a game on 31.9 percent shooting (4 of 16 from three for 25 percent) so far his sophomore season. At the same time, he's played suffocating defense against the likes of Villanova's Eric Paschall, who missed six of 10 shots in KU's 74-71 win over the Wildcats on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
"I think a lot of teams have a best defender. I don't know that a lot of teams have one quite as good as him," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Dallas native Garrett, who is expected to start his fourth straight game at the power forward slot at 7 p.m. Tuesday night against South Dakota in Allen Fieldhouse.
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"When we recruited him, we recruited him to be exactly what he's been. We'd like him to be a 40 percent three-point shooter right now, but that's not going to happen, at least at this stage of his career. The things he does in other areas are probably more valuable than him being a prolific scorer for us.
"I think he's doing well," Self added of Garrett. He's made 15 of 47 shots overall and is 13 of 22 from the free-throw line (59.1 percent). "He certainly has played a pivotal role in the games we've won where we've had to fight."
Self said he's most impressed with Garrett's "effort, his skill and smarts. He understands angles, understands how to take space away, understands scouting report, is a good team defender. He's been well-schooled."
Self noted that Garrett was coached at Dallas Skyline High School by Paul Graham, a former Oklahoma State assistant on Eddie Sutton's coaching staff.
"He (Garrett) learned to guard by being around somebody (Graham) who learned from one of the very best of all time," said Self, who also worked for Sutton at Oklahoma State.
Kansas sophomore guard/forward K.J. Lawson said he enjoys competing against Garrett at practice every day. Perhaps Morningstar was able to witness one of those Garrett/Lawson battles at Monday's pre-South Dakota game practice.
"It's just fun. Competition is fun. I wouldn't say it's frustrating," Lawson said of trying to score against Garrett. "I like to compete. He likes to compete. It's good to have the best defender on you because you know you are not going to take any plays off. That's what every player is trying to get on this team, take pride in not letting people score," Lawson added.
Lawson said Garrett, "has very quick hands and moves his feet a lot. He'll be in position a lot."
Garrett will gladly accept assignments of guarding taller players such as the 6-9 Paschall. However, he noted that what makes him a good defender "is being able to guard very smaller guards. I feel I can guard them but sometimes they are so low with dribbling the ball it's hard for me to stay in front of them. Sometimes it's better for me to guard somebody my height, just moving my feet and helping everyone. Knowing when you are in help or when you are helping a teammate, it makes it harder for the offense to score."
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Garrett had four steals on Saturday against Villanova; his teammates none. He also had three of Kansas' nine assists in 37 minutes.
"From an energy standpoint, he provides as much as anybody we have to give our team the best chance," Self said of Garrett, who the coach has compared to former Kansas wing Travis Releford for the energy he brings.
Self hopes Garrett's energy is contagious on Tuesday night against the Coyotes (6-5) of the Summit League.
"I guess there is," Self said, asked if there was any "challenge or concern" for his No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (9-0) playing a mid-major team so soon after beating defending national champ Villanova, "(but) our guys know we need to play better. Our guys know we need to get some offensive rhythm. I mean they know that. South Dakota is a team in which they make you score over the top of them. We know that can give us problems. I really believe we'll be ready to play. We took yesterday off (Sunday) because we'd gone six straight days. I think we'll be re-energized and ready to go."
Self said he did not expect center Udoka Azubuike to play Tuesday. He's missed the past two games because of a sprained ankle. Kansas plays Saturday at Arizona State before taking a few days off over the Christmas holiday.
"I would definitely say none tomorrow. I don't know moving forward," Self said of chances of the 7-footer playing against South Dakota or Arizona State. "If he does (play) he won't be 100 percent. We won't put him out there if he can hurt it worse. It's a sprained ankle. He can probably go as pain tolerates. As of now I can't see it."
Kansas will meet Eastern Michigan on Dec. 29 before opening Big 12 play on Jan. 2 at home versus Oklahoma.
"I think it'd be important for him to get out there as soon as he can before we start conference play for sure," Self said. I don't know if it's this week or after Christmas."
Self said "no," when asked if there was any update on sophomore Silvio De Sousa's status, considering first semester is over. De Sousa has yet to play in a game this season as he awaits a ruling from the NCAA on his eligibility.
This article is written by Gary Bedore from The Kansas City Star and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.