Kansas vs. UMKC
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Allen Fieldhouse
TV: ESPNU (Sunflower Broadband ch. 141); replay: 10:30 p.m., Sunflower Broadband ch. 6
Brady Morningstar - who during his days at Quail Run Elementary, Southwest Junior High and Free State High - often wondered what it'd be like to start a basketball game at Kansas University, had a final 24 hours to prepare for the big moment.
"Coach told him the day before the game. He was so nervous, I think I was nervous, too," said KU junior point guard Sherron Collins, red-shirt sophomore Morningstar's roommate the past three years.
Collins noticed a change in Morningstar's demeanor Nov. 3, the day Bill Self told the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Morningstar he'd start the Jayhawks' season-opening exhibition versus Washburn.
"Normally he's talking. We usually play a game or something. He didn't have anything to say. He was focused, quiet, nervous. He went to sleep early that night," Collins said.
One of KU's top performers the past two seasons who no longer suffers from pregame butterflies, Collins was determined to take care of his buddy on game day.
"Sherron said, 'Are you nervous?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I've got you, so don't worry about it,''' Morningstar said.
Morningstar exploded for 15 points off 7-of-11 shooting versus the Ichabods and followed that with 13 points off 6-of-9 shooting in Tuesday's exhibition rout of Emporia State.
Afterward, Self indicated Morningstar would be an important part of the rotation starting with today's regular-season opener against UMKC (7:30 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse).
"Early in the game, I tried to say something to him. I tried to get him a shot. Once he gets a shot and gets going, he's all right," Collins said.
Morningstar's proud papa - former KU forward Roger Morningstar, who started 48 games for Ted Owens in 1973-74 and '74-75 - noticed Collins' steadying influence on his son.
"The nerves thing : you can't get away from that the first time or two on the floor," Roger Morningstar said. "A word or two from Sherron - a wink or a pass - goes a long way. I'm sure Sherron and anybody who had a little more experience than Brady did quite a bit to help him get over it."
Roger actually hasn't noticed much of a change in his son, who figures to contribute heavily for the first time since the 2005-06 season at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire.
"He's totally different from me. You could read me a mile away. You have to walk around him 15 minutes to get a read on him," Roger said. "Like any kid, he wants to play, but he doesn't jump up and down and talk about it. He doesn't show a lot of emotion. I think it fits better with the sport, especially today.
"Danny (Manning, KU assistant coach) and I were talking about this. People think it's simple when you sit there and you watch the game. Offensively and defensively : the stuff they have to try to remember, where to be, how to help. You make one blink of the eye and somebody is dunking on you," Roger added.
Brady's knowledge of Self's playbook has helped him emerge as a rotation player on a young KU team. He led the Jayhawks in minutes played (51) and was second in scoring (14.0) in KU's two exhibition games.
"I think regardless of how much we play, we (four returning scholarship players and veteran walk-ons) are important to the team because we've been here more than anybody else. That's a big deal especially having a young team," Brady said.
"There's so much to learn. Having some older guys out there makes it a little easier on the young guys."
Self often mentions Morningstar and fellow sophomore guard Tyrel Reed in the same sentence, since they tend to be steadying influences.
"Brady and Tyrel understand better where the ball needs to go and where shots are coming from," Self said. "Defensively, they have a concept of what we are trying to do. I talk a lot about Cole (Aldrich) getting beat up every day at practice last year. Same for Brady and Tyrel. They had to guard Mario (Chalmers) and Brandon (Rush) and Sherron and Russell (Robinson) every day, too.
"Of course everything looks good when you make shots. Those two guys have been good shot-makers for us during our preseason practices and games."
Morningstar admits it was difficult at times to red-shirt - he could practice but not play in games a year ago - but "it definitely was worth it. It was enough to learn and watch those guys. It also would have been fun to play with those guys as well," he said.
"We had some of the best players in the country, so it helped going against them every day. Guarding all those guys in practice definitely helped my defense. It made me realize how good some people are and how tough it is to play at this level sometimes, how good you have to be sometimes."
Roger Morningstar, who attends all the home games, some road games and also some practices, believes the year off helped his son a great deal.
"If nothing else, trading a year of mop-up minutes for the possibility of a year playing meaningful minutes is worth it," Roger said.
"It's not like he didn't feel like he was a part of the team or was banished to go live somewhere else a year. He was still in the middle of it. He got to practice a whole season with kids who won the national championship. He practiced against kids who are now at the next level. It will make a huge difference."
A mature 22-year-old who turns 23 in January, Morningstar is confident he will contribute this season.
"I hope to be whatever the team needs when I'm in the game. If the team needs a stop, I hope I can be that guy to get it. If we need something else, I hope to help us get it," he said.
Morningstar's teammates believe he'll be a big part of a lot of victories.
"I think he's ready to step up to the plate, have a good time and play well in big games," Collins said. "We're going to need him. He's ready for this."
"I've been seeing it since last summer. Brady can shoot. He can play," junior guard Tyrone Appleton gushed.
"Tyrel and Brady ... a lot of people don't give them credit," noted sophomore guard Conner Teahan. "It goes for a lot of players on this team. We are kind of underrated besides Sherron and Cole.
"I was talking about this to Brady. We've got 11 people you can put out there, and we won't lose a step. Last year we had a deep team. I think we may be even deeper this year," Teahan added.
After a glorious offseason, one that included a lot of celebrating, the new year begins tonight - one with Morningstar in the mix.
"I'm excited," he said, "but we've got to go out there and play and win just like last year's team. We can't go and just show up. We've got to win."