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Archive for Friday, January 9, 2004

Almost identical’

Roger Morningstar, son Brady see similarities between their looks, talents

January 9, 2004

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Roger Morningstar has seen this player somewhere before.

Something looks strangely familiar to Morningstar when he watches the lanky 6-foot-2 high school boy with the sharp shot and even sharper instincts on the basketball court.

The player's name is Brady Morningstar, and he wears No. 42 as a junior on the Free State High boys basketball team. That's all fine and dandy with Roger, but he insists he has seen this Morningstar guy before -- perhaps when he was looking at himself in a mirror in Illinois years ago.

"I was moving something in my office, and dug way back in the corner of a cabinet," Roger said, "and I found my old high school yearbook. I got it out, and I wanted to see how much we look alike -- him as a junior now and me as a junior then.

"I was shocked. We're almost identical."

It's not Roger Morningstar, the former Kansas University basketball forward, turning into the up-and-coming standout for the Firebirds. Instead, it's his only son, his youngest child and the next Morningstar to make a huge splash on the local sports scene.

Brady Morningstar has grown up, and with it comes similarities to his father that are, well, a bit eerie.

"I'm the same size he was in high school," Brady said. "I look just like him -- real skinny, long legs, everything."

Roger Morningstar's son, Brady Morningstar, a Free State High
junior, has much in common with his father.

Roger Morningstar's son, Brady Morningstar, a Free State High junior, has much in common with his father.

The similarities don't stop there. Brady is looking more and more like his pops on the basketball court, too. Not bad considering Dad is a former Jayhawk.

Morningstar comes to KU

After a standout high school career in Dundee, Ill., Roger Morningstar went to Olney Central Junior College, just about his only college-basketball option. His freshman year brought a pleasant surprise to both Roger and the Olney squad -- he sprouted four inches, topping out at 6-6.

Combining his size with his versatile game and great shooting touch, Roger became a hot commodity to several big colleges after averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds a game as a sophomore. He chose the storied tradition of KU, and departed to Lawrence looking to help turn around a squad that finished 8-18 under coach Ted Owens.

Whether it was Morningstar, fellow incoming recruit Norm Cook or just a remarkable team chemistry that clicked after a devastating 1972-73 season, something worked well for the 1973-74 Jayhawks. They finished 23-7 and advanced to the Final Four. Morningstar averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game as a junior that year.

"Everybody kind of knew their role," Morningstar said of that squad. "It was one of those weird deals that's hard to explain. We just felt like we knew how to play the game as a team."

Morningstar finished his two-year stint at KU with a career average of 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. He was drafted in the eighth round by the NBA's Boston Celtics, but didn't make the team. Eventually, his family -- including wife, Linda, a former synchronized swimmer -- settled down in Lawrence, where his two daughters, Jamie and Linsey, both shined on the Free State volleyball court to earn Division One scholarships. Jamie played at KU, and Linsey is a freshman at Temple.

Through those two, the name Morningstar became a mainstay in FSHS athletic lore. But, still, there's one more coming through the prep ranks.

His name is Brady.

Filling a void

Brady Morningstar lettered in basketball as a sophomore for the Firebirds last year, and was a key contributor to Free State's 15-7 squad. Among his highlights he hit the game-winning shot in the second showdown with Lawrence High Feb. 25, an instant classic in the relatively young LHS-Free State rivalry.

But as a junior, Brady has become a completely different player, notably because he grew five inches prior to this season. With the Firebirds losing several big guys to graduation, Morningstar can't camp out behind the arc and wait for a shot anymore. And that's fine. He doesn't want to.

"If our shots aren't hitting from the outside, I feel I can drive now," said Brady, who's averaging 14.4 points a game. "I'm stronger, quicker and taller this year. I have more size to drive to the lane."

That is exactly what FSHS coach Jack Schreiner needed. After losing four players taller than 6-4 -- including 6-9 forward Keith Wooden, now at Arizona State -- the Firebirds became extremely height-challenged. Anything any of his players could bring to the table would be helpful.

"Brady now is much more willing to take the ball inside," Schreiner said. "His sophomore year, he was primarily an outside threat."

'Coach's kid-type stuff'

Brady's best performance so far as a junior was Dec. 19 against Lawrence High. He led all scorers with 24 points, hitting pull-up jumpers, three-pointers, layups, putbacks -- you name it. The Firebirds, and especially Morningstar, played with such swagger and such poise, Lawrence High was run right out of the FSHS gym. The Firebirds won, 110-65.

Roger Morningstar was at that game. And what he saw undoubtedly made him a proud papa.

"He did a nice job," Roger said. "His whole game and the way he's been taught is the theory that basketball is a team game.

"There's a lot more to it than scoring. He's worked hard on all those aspects."

The versatility Brady Morningstar brings to the Firebirds is all too familiar with a certain former KU player with the same last name, same physical frame and same desire to succeed on the hardwood.

So what separates Brady Morningstar today from Roger Morningstar from some three decades back?

"At this stage, he's far better fundamentally than I was," Roger said. "There's been a lot of people that have had some effect on his basketball world. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a dad who's played."

Schreiner agreed.

"You can just see the coach's kid-type stuff out of him," Schreiner said. "He always knows where he's supposed to be on the floor."

As far as Brady's height, it's almost the only question mark left. Roger had his final growth spurt as a college freshman. Brady, currently at 6-2, still is a couple of years away from college. Whether he has one more spurt in him like his dad did remains to be seen.

"That's the big variable," Roger said. "I don't know if he'll get to be my height or not."

If he doesn't, Brady still can't complain about what has been passed on. Now it's just a matter of seeing what he can do with what he's been given. The good thing is, he has a blueprint for success within the family.

"I want to try to do as good as he did, and maybe go a little farther if I can," Brady said. "I know I'll have to work as hard as he did."

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